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Payam Doostzadeh is understandably experiencing something of a high at the moment. The bass player has just walked off stage at the 2011 Austin City Limits Music Festival, and with his exit, he just kissed goodbye the biggest crowd that his band Young the Giant has ever played before.
"Did you see how many people were out there?" he asks, his eyes still wild with glee as he catches his breath in a backstage area of Austin's Zilker Park. "It was insane."
Certifiable, even. His band's set started early — 2 in the afternoon on a gray Saturday — but the crowd was unfazed. Tens of thousands had just finished jumping in unison to the beat of the band's unavoidable set-closer, "My Body," which, riding a wave of blogosphere, Clear Channel and MTV approval (including a performance at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards), peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard alternative charts earlier this summer. They fist-pumped along with frontman Sameer Gadhia's lilting vocals, clapped along with drummer François Comtois' beats. Were it not for the heavens opening up sporadically throughout the band's set, the whole scene would've appeared choreographed. Reality, in a funny twist, turned out even better.
"It just poured," Doostzadeh says with an incredulous laugh. "Right as we were coming on. It was epic. Epic! From the time I walked from the bus to the stage, I got soaked. I felt like I was one with the crowd. I was loving it. So were they. When it's raining a little bit, people get uncomfortable. But when it's pouring? People are just like, 'Fuck it!' y'know? Hell yeah. It worked out really well."
He can't contain his smile. The sun, having now breached the cloud cover, seems to be shining directly on him.
"There's just nothing like playing a festival," Doostzadeh continues, still clearly amped up by the moment. "Honestly."
Shame, then, that the summer festival season is over. It's been good to Young the Giant. All summer long, as the band's eponymous debut LP has gained traction with consumers, the band got to watch its crowds grow. Things started out fairly small at the Sasquatch! Music Festival in Washington state back in May, became pretty strong at Lollapalooza in August and then culminated in the zenith scene at ACL earlier this month.
"Everything lined up correctly," Doostzadeh says, shaking his head, almost not believing his band's good fortune.
Now, though, another task is at hand: The band has to transition from being a sought-after festival act to opening for Incubus on that stalwart band's fall tour. It's a different scenario entirely, one that the band got a taste of briefly before ACL and is now returning to after the fact. Doostzadeh offers a brief anecdote: "With Incubus, we ask the second or third song in, 'Who's heard of us before?' And there are, like, two hands. 'Who hasn't heard of us before?' Five thousand hands. You're playing to people who have no idea who you are."
That's changing, of course. Their debut album's third single, "Cough Syrup," is doing even better than "My Body" did when it first started earning radio airplay back in the spring, Doostzadeh says. The downside: It's the oldest song in the band's catalog.
"It's kind of hard for us to play it," Doostzadeh says. "I mean, we've had it for four years and it's just now getting on the radio? But our fans don't know that. You've got to sell it. You've got to love it."
That much is true of the band's entire live set, Doostzadeh concedes, considering how much the band has toured, the fact that their album has now been available for purchase for a year and the fact that the band was around for six years (once upon a time, they were known as The Jakes) before releasing their debut.
"I feel like our set has become stagnant a little bit," Doostzadeh admits. "We've played these songs probably 500, 800 times in the past year alone ... "
He's on the verge of complaining, on the verge of losing the smile on his face. Suddenly, he catches himself.
"At the same time, the energy from the crowd is always amazing," he says, remembering the triumphant feel of the show he just played. "It's just an honor, man. It really is."