Yellow ponchos dotted the Duck Pond Thursday during Pondamonium, a new music fest helmed by the Madison Mallards. Though the venue usually hosts Mallards baseball games, it was a good fit for a rainy evening of concerts. The field's mud zones were nicely limited, and the stadium felt cozy compared to the sprawl and squalor of many big outdoor fests.
Overall, the openers weren't exactly rousing, but they did surprise me at times. I arrived just in time to see the Congregation, a Chicago group with a three-piece horn section, wrap up a set of R&B tunes. Knoxville's Royal Bangs reached for big hooks while preserving some lean, rambunctious elements. Though their persona reminded me of vaguely irritated cats, California quartet Dum Dum Girls gradually won me over by pairing vulnerable, low-pitched moments with occasional hints of harshness.
Garbage, the first big attraction, showcased a new album, Not Your Kind Of People. After hearing the opening track, "Automatic Systematic Habit," fans reveled in '90s hits such as "Stupid Girl" and "Only Happy When It Rains." The newer stuff proved nearly as fun as the old, especially the tremolo-throb of "Control."
Though Garbage is known for its ostentatious cool, singer Shirley Manson moved about with remarkable ease, a sprig of red hair waving as she bounced across the stage. Guitarists Duke Erikson and Steve Marker lunged forward and back like they were auditioning for the Olympic rowing team. When raindrops returned during "I Think I'm Paranoid," Erikson gestured to the sky as if welcoming them.
Manson delighted in making her bandmates deliver little hometown speeches.
"Who shall we start with? Who shall we feed to the lions first?" she mused.
"I'm the one that still actually lives here," remarked Erikson.
Drummer and producer Butch Vig stood up and marveled, "We've been making music in Madison for 30 fucking years."
The Flaming Lips' set began with a quiet, somber intro to "Race for the Prize," a song from 1999's The Soft Bulletin. Momentum gathered during a wonderfully bendy synth hook, and before long, the stage brimmed with confetti cannons, fog, giant balloons and colorful videos.
"What is the Light?" -- another selection from The Soft Bulletin -- refocused the set, which had veered off on a tangent that included "The Yeah Yeah Song" and a version of "On the Run" from the band's re-creation of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Instead of bouncing like Manson, Coyne roamed the crowd in a giant plastic ball for one of the band's songs. A chorus cheered him on from both sides of the stage. Most of its members were women in short, blue milkmaid get-ups; another was a large, inflatable star.
Though up front is the place to be during a Flaming Lips spectacle, a brief retreat to the bleachers provided some perspective: While it's exciting to see the Lips play a fest in a remote field, there's nothing quite like seeing them at the local baseball park.