The Orwells: From suburban garage band to Lollapalooza

Matt O'Keefe's first trip to Lollapalooza was as a kid tagging along backstage with his dad, a Flaming Lips fan.

It was 2006, and O'Keefe - then a middle-schooler from Elmhurst - screamed "Hi, Wayne!" until Flaming Lips lead singer Coyne turned around and waved.

Sunday, he'll be back at Lollapalooza - as a performer, not a fan. O'Keefe's band, punk group The Orwells, takes Lollapalooza's Grove Stage at 1 p.m. Sunday in Chicago's Grant Park.

So might some fan be screaming his name this time?

"Maybe," said O'Keefe, now 18, with a laugh. "But I doubt any 40-year-old and his kids will be doing it."

The Orwells - O'Keefe on guitar; Mario Cuomo, 19, on vocals; Dominic Corso, 18, on guitar; Grant Brinner, 18, on bass; and Henry Brinner, 18, on drums - banded together as freshmen at York Community High School in Elmhurst.

There are family ties as well: Cuomo and Corso are cousins, Grant and Henry are twins.

The Orwells started practicing and performing in "some kid's basement," O'Keefe joked. Eventually, they moved on to "real" shows at Chicago spots Schubas Tavern and Beat Kitchen.

Then, in February 2010, the Orwells got a bit of a break.

They closed with a few songs after Greta Morgan (of the Hush Sound) and her band, Gold Motel, finished early at the Wicker Park venue Subterranean.

O'Keefe's older brother Eddie was dating Morgan and surprised the Orwells with stage time.

O'Keefe remembers the reaction his band got from the crowd.

"They were being nice because we were young," he said.

Cuomo dropped out of high school. The rest of the band graduated early in December 2012 so they could focus on concerts and songwriting.

Their first album, "Remember When," debuted last August, with their single "Mallrats (La La La)" gaining popularity among music critics, especially on the music website Pitchfork.

The best part about performing at Lollapalooza?

O'Keefe said it will be exciting to see friends from high school and family members in the crowd.

"That's who we started playing in front of," O'Keefe said, recalling their garage band days.

While they're performing on bigger stages these days, O'Keefe said he still likes playing garages and basements best.

He likes the garage band vibe, which makes for more personal sets. And he also relishes the mere 5 feet of space between the band and the audience, along with "all the sweating," O'Keefe joked.

The band's stance on audiences meshes with Master Yoda's: Size matters not.

"We don't measure how big the crowd is, but how well the crowd is," O'Keefe said. "If there's 300 people, but they're all stiff, it's a bad show."

Up next for the Orwells is a U.K. tour and a recording with British producer Jim Abbiss in September, along with a November recording session in Woodstock, N.Y.

But for O'Keefe, nothing is bigger than the concert at Lollapalooza.

"When you're a band growing up in the Chicago suburbs," O'Keefe said, "it feels like the biggest show you could ever imagine."

The Orwells

Ÿ 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, Lollapalooza aftershow at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, (773) 525-2508 or Tickets cost $15.Ÿ 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 4, at Lollapalooza in Grant Park, Chicago, Sold out.

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