In a jarring mood-switch, singer/songwriter Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst) took a seat on the stage and poured his heart out in a passionate acoustic performance. Members of headlining act The Faint surrounded him on bass, keyboards, and drums, but during the opening number they had little to do but stare forward with blank expressions while Oberst writhed in his chair. As he belted out such lines as "But will you still want me?," he seemed genuinely desperate in his search for approval. Finally, the band kicked in to explosive effect, pounding out a cathartic chorus after a lengthy crescendo. During another song, Oberst sang "sunrise, sunset," strumming out a haunting guitar line while the drummer kept a morbidly metronomic pace. The earnest Oberst emoted convincingly, making his lyrics about how love exists in reality and not only in long-distance commercials seem touching instead of cloying. During Bright Eyes' last song, Oberst gave new meaning to the term "rocking chair" as he spun in his seat, swayed his head from side to side, and shook his guitar vigorously during the tune's climactic conclusion.
Pumping up the volume and eliminating the emotional vulnerability, The Rapture pounded out rhythm-heavy tunes that provoked the first dance-floor action from the previously polite yet stationary fans. While the drums were impossibly loud and the bass served as the spine of the songs, the distortion-heavy guitar and the indistinguishable vocals seemed like an afterthought by comparison. The singer screamed into the microphone with his back to most of the crowd, making it impossible to put together the lyrics by reading his lips. However, unlike most noise-loving bands, The Rapture managed to settle into a decent groove from time to time, with one such occasion inspiring the bassist and a handful of fans to clap to the beat.
There was no shortage of dance-worthy beats once The Faint took the stage. Opening with a spoken-word number that boasted a better light show than Nine Inch Nails' blinding exercise in overkill at Kemper Arena, this Omaha-based new-wave revival group delivered a satisfying set filled with synthesized melodies and pulsing industrial beats. This band has been likened to so many acts that its label keeps a list of such comparisons on its Web site, and a stroll around the room revealed several scenesters invoking the names of everyone from Depeche Mode to Duran Duran to Nine Inch Nails. With stellar vocals reminiscent of The Cure's Robert Smith, airtight transitions, and an assured yet theatrical stage presence, The Faint offered a new level of professionalism at a venue known for embracing rough-edged do-it-yourselfers. Closing with the irresistible throbbing beats of "Worked Up So Sexual," The Faint inspired fans to make a mockery of the oft-mocked anti-dancing ordinance imposed on the all-ages club by the powers that be. There was some clamoring for an encore, but a member of The Faint explained, "That's all we have," from the suddenly darkened stage, and fans reluctantly headed out, still hungry for more of the nontraditional sounds produced by one of the year's most eclectic four-band lineups.