Neon Indian at Lollapalooza 2012 | Photos and music review
Neon Indian’s set was cut about fifteen minutes short by an unprecedented evacuation announcement. It’s raining violently as I type this, but at the time, clouds barely seemed to loom over Grant Park’s south side. Reactions ranged from glum faces to chants of "Fuck that." Some crowds appeared more upset than others (I could hear the boos all the way from Perry’s stage). But Alan Palomo had our best interests at heart: “If this happens to be your first time on psychedelics, in this insane heat, please drink lots of water,” he said. “It’s gonna be okay.”
When the crew nudged Palomo to tell him he had ten minutes left, you could feel a pall cast across the audience. Like his chillwave contemporaries, Palomo has a devout following that couldn’t have been more bummed by the announcement. But his mellow would not be harshed. “If that’s all the time we have,” he said, “let’s make it fucking count.” And they did… for the most part. Neon Indian makes catchy synth-pop drowning in trippy effects, and to listen to Palomo’s records, you'd picture him looking like a stoned, scruffy member of MGMT or, I don't know, T. Rex. But in a fresh white tee tucked into white shorts, and a nice black coiff parted across his head, he just looks like a rich kid from 1983. He buckles at the knees and grips the mic like a Jonas Brother.
If I saw him out a bar or something, I'd wager he smoked pot once, coughed a lot and had a pretty lame time. But his aesthetics, down to a supposedly trippy animated sequence that looked like a Windows 95 screensaver, is consummately chillwave. This is, ostensibly, drug music. Even Palomo knows the kids are on acid. But that aesthetic seems to limit Palomo more than it bolsters his dreamy synth-pop. Rain evacuation aside, the whole set had a feeling of incongruity, like some instruments were missing or Palomo was trying these songs out for the first time. I suppose all of chillwave has that feeling of incompleteness, at least to me, but this was different. There was a sense of unrealized potential with Neon Indian's set, and while the Sony stage has seen its share of bad, weird sound (see M83), I don't think the lack of low-end was the sound guy's fault.
Palomo is clearly in his element with the '80s pop vibe. And not just because he looks like a Brett Easton Ellis character. He is clearly a man with tremendous vision—the band is his brainchild after all—but it's a vision compromised by audience expectation. The man's following is almost exclusively the stoney bro set, but his dance pop chops are far superior than that of, say, Youth Lagoon. It's in his blood: Palomo's father had a brief career as a Mexican pop star in the '70s and '80s. Palomo claims to have sampled some of his dad's tunes with Neon Indian, in fact.