There were people in odd Japanese costumes waiting for Japan X, who opened a 4 p.m. set with a surprising (for me, at least) amount of pyrotechnics, but it seemed like a bit of a slog until the sub-headliners hit the stage. The DJ heavy Perry's stage, which was packed everytime I visited it Friday and Saturday, was half full for acts like Mexican Institute of Sound and Chicago's own Flosstradamus. Frightened Rabbit were more energetic than I expected, but still a little depressing. Erykah Badu went for a more smoky, smoldering version of soul, although, for me, it's hard to feel that sensuality when you're standing a muddy version of what used to a grass field.
There was quite a bit of buzz for MGMT, albeit not all positive, over the weekend. To some extent, people just wanted to see what they were going to do live with an album that hasn't received the best reception, either critically or from casual fans who embraced the band after they heard "Kids." From where I stood, people seemed to be ok with the band's new found love of psychedelic rock, sticking around in-between bookends of their two previous hits.
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For me, the highlight of the entire festival might have been The National's performance, which took their already stellar catalog and translated it to a live show full of intensity. Although there's something a little disconcerting in hearing a crowd sing along to the line "'Cause I'm evil," the entire set had a passion that wasn't seen all that often over the weekend. Lead singer Matt Berninger spent some of the end of the set deep in the audience and while the band's lyrics aren't exactly upbeat, it felt like a group therapy session ending in a camera flash heavy group hug. If the band's show at the Marquee in October doesn't sell out, I'll be wildly disappointed in you, residents of the greater Phoenix area.
After The National, I caught a little of Arcade Fire, which wasn't anything spectacular for me, although I suspected it would have built to same crescendo as their shows generally do. Then, I walked across the park again for Soundgarden, who sounded exactly as I remembered them with Cornell's voice searing over solid hard rock riffs, but I wasn't really in the mood for the return of grunge after seeing forty bands over three days. For me, the National were a perfect end to a great festival. I stopped by the food court one more time for a vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone and made my way to the exit.
Thanks, Chicago. I won't miss the endless walking from stage to stage, but otherwise, I can't really complain.