Nobody really knew what to expect before the inaugural edition of Chicago’s newest music festival, otherwise and legally known as Mamby On The Beach.
To be honest, our expectations weren’t high. It’s a first-year music festival that had little pre-event hype. But given the failsafe beach setting – and an impressive lineup on the surface – they weren’t very low either.
Thanks to household name headliners both nights and plenty of lesser known talent before them, Mamby on the Beach attracted quite the audience in its first year – despite having a latitude further south than U.S. Cellular Field. (Thanks, Lyft)
Now the sixth major summer music festival in the city (Lollapalooza, Spring Awakening, Pitchfork, Riot Fest, North Coast), “Mamby” took on a life of its own way down Lake Shore Drive at Oakwood Beach this weekend. To put it bluntly, we’ll be back in 2016.
But first, here’s a recap of 2015.
Day 1 (Saturday)
The least you can say about Mamby on the Beach: It’s fun as hell.
The underground lineup was a treat for informed Chicago festival-goers, and you can lay your ass on the beach whenever you want. Where most festivals give you muddy shoes and an aching back, Mamby gave us a little sunburn and a lot of sand in our shoes.
Despite the minimal distance between the ‘Main Stage’ and ‘The Tent,’ the noise from Mamby’s two big stages didn’t overlap. Once you entered The Tent all you could hear was the music. On the other side of the beach, shows at the Main Stage came with a water view and a pretty clear shot of the Chicago skyline. Wherever you were Saturday, there were memorable performances on both stages.
Robert Delong’s wacky but exhilarating live set got the afternoon off to a bang on The Main Stage, and Cashmere Cat took over shortly after with a bass-cringing display of what’s to come in electronic music. You might not recognize the long-haired up-and-comer yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time seeing that he just produced a song with Kanye West.
One of Saturday’s most anticipated names was James Murphy, former frontman of the now-defunct, brilliant electro-rock band LCD Soundsystem. Murphy played a DJ set in The Tent’s second to last slot, and while the disco-focused show was certainly dazzling (and groovy), it was a bit disappointing.
Perhaps it’s our fault for expecting the musical genius to sample songs from the band that launched his career, but we can’t blame him for reserving LCD’s sacredness – or for making a concerted effort to establish himself as a solo artist.
Empire Of The Sun closed out Mamby’s opening night on the Main Stage with all the catchy hits we know and love. From “We Are The People” to “Walking On A Dream,” frontman Luke Steele solidified the hype with an audacious display of synthpop and theatrical wardrobes.
Some of the beer lines were painfully long, but the overall setup production was rock solid for a first-year event. Mamby on the Beach was a clear success after one day.
Day 2 (Sunday)
Day two got off to a bad start when French producer/piano & sax extraordinaire Klingande was forced to cancel his set.
But Sunday’s lineup was still loaded, a testament to the array of talent on display. We regrettably missed Chicago-based DJ Moon Boots, who apparently put on a show in The Tent.
After grabbing beers and a prime spot for last minute ray-catching, electro-indie duo Cherub took over the Main Stage and delighted a predictably large crowd. The obvious highlight was mega-jam “Doses and Mimosas,” but all of it was solid.
Nearly 24 hours after Murphy, Australian synthpop foursome Cut Copy played the role of big name DJ set at The Tent. The DJ tour version of Cut Copy sounds a lot different than the regular version – but Dan Whitford and Tim Hoey put on one of the best shows we saw all weekend. Not all bands transfer well to a DJ set, but Whitford and Hoey’s was impossible not to dance to.
The Sunday evening electro-pop rock party continued with New York duo Phantogram back at the Main Stage, who lived up to their “really good live show” reputation. Sarah Barthel flashed some serious talent on the microphone and keyboards; while also confirming her status as a legitimate babe.
Even as the beach filled up at night, the festival never lost its intimate feel. It was hardly difficult to move closer to the stage, (always say ‘excuse us’ obviously) and about 15 people complimented Peter on his Shawn Kemp T-shirt jersey. Including, of course, some bro wearing a Shawn Kemp jersey.
Then came the show everyone was waiting for. While the masses are still accepting Empire of the Sun into the mainstream, Passion Pit has become a staple in North America’s indie-pop scene since debuting their first album in 2009.
They showed as much on stage, playing primarily songs from April’s Kindred to start. “Cry Like A Ghost” was mixed in early, but Michael Angelakos and his live band wisely saved the rest of the hits from Gosamer (2012) and Manners (2009) for last.
Passion Pit closed on a well-received “Carried Away”-“The Reeling”-“Take A Walk”-“Sleepyhead” run, with the finale accompanied by fireworks off the lake.
It was a hell of a finish to a hell of a debut for Mamby on the Beach. We’ll see you next year.