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ACL Fest review: Walk the Moon

Eric Webb
ewebb@statesman.com

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 12, 2013

There will be no bad moods on Walk the Moon’s watch. Not if frontman Nicholas Petricca has anything to say about.

Toward the end of the Cincinnati dance-rock quartet’s frenetic 2 p.m. Samsung Galaxy set, Petricca turned sweltering, tropical weather into a pep-talk about sweating out negativity and embracing the wonder of festival life. The positivity might have been more for his own benefit, as Petricca started to brush drenched hair away from his face by the end of explosive opening song “Next In Line.”

Such is the hazard of a Walk the Moon show, if Saturday’s set was any indication. Saying something was a “dance party” is just such an easy out, so let’s call it what it was: a particularly rhythmic riot. From beginning to end, Petricca hoofed it like a preacher shepherding his flock with the gospel of synthesizers. Guitarist Eli Maiman cranked out his solos like he was having rapt conversation with the screaming fans pressed against the railing. Bassist Kevin Ray, affixed with a permanent smile: “Texas, it’s hot and sweaty, but we don’t care. Let’s dance around a little bit, how about that?”

Well, if you insist.

“Colorful” was Walk the Moon’s go-word: streaked face paint, neon windbreakers (quickly shed), Petricca’s rainbow-striped drum and bright blue sticks, twirled for maximum spectacle. On tight, ebullient dance-rock numbers like “Quesadilla” and “Shiver Shiver,” the lead singer became a musical Swiss army knife, pounding his drum, attacking the keys, showing off his pipes with nary a crack, going to town on the tambourine, and, of course, moving his body in an inhuman fashion.

But the real victory of the set? The vibes. You can practice a setlist, but you can’t practice vibes.

The audience — mostly young, but there were a few people with a 401(k) in the crowd — was completely carried away. Petricca’s aforementioned pep talk came right as the band launched into “Teenage Dirtbag”-aping motivational anthem “I Can Lift a Car.” When Petricca beckoned the audience to pantomime lifting said car (a guerilla raise-the-roof), it was so. When he launched himself into the ritual crowdsurf, the hands were there — Petricca didn’t even have to stop singing. When the chorus of “Tightrope” came, there were so many “oh oh oh’s” that it sounded like a chorus of Gregorian monks had filled one corner of Zilker Park. When it was time for set-closing lead single “Anna Sun,” the roar probably perforated the eardrums of those 401(k)-holders. Heck, everyone even sang along to the brand new song they played.

I’ve never heard a band say “thank you” so many times before walking off stage.