Ax and the Hatchetmen are familiar with small, independent Chicago venues, but they have never played a Chicago show quite like this.  

Kicking off Day One of Lollapalooza, the band’s set was one of their favorite shows—but performing at a big festival can feel different.  

“The time crunch is weird,” says bassist Hunter Olshefke. “You really have to cater to your set time and know when you should start and what you should fit in.” 

Vocalist and guitarist Axel Ellis says the band prepped to avoid going over their set time, “Though, we still did, which was my fault,” he laughs.  

The band, made up of Chicago college students, are used to knowing that people who attend their shows are likely fans of their music. At a festival like Lollapalooza, a majority of the crowd are new to artists. Ax and the Hatchetmen try to use that as an advantage and win the crowd over.  

It’s not often you see an up-and-coming indie rock band on stage with so many members—seven to be exact. It gives them a full and complete sound, as everyone on stage is playing an instrument.  

With low, baritone vocals and a large band on stage, Ax and the Hatchetmen bring to mind the Southern California band The Growlers. Songs like Grace offer an upbeat drum section, evident bass riffs and the pleasant ringing of a trumpet. It’s a groovy surf rock.  

Ax and the Hatchetmen at Lollapalooza
Ax and the Hatchetmen played their first-ever Lollapalooza set on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. Photo by Kendall Polidori

The Growlers are certainly a source of inspiration for the band, as are Hippocampus and The Strokes. But they also pull from other genres, Olshefke being a fan of Mac Miller. 

Guitarist Sal Defilippis says new listeners should start with their song Victim. Sonically, it’s the most dynamic song in their discography, and acts like a mountain range of sound—going up and down in tempo frequently.  

A band since 2018, Ax and the Hatchetmen considered Lollapalooza a major accomplishment to check off their list. They don’t necessarily have goals of growth as a band. Instead, they want to keep doing what they love and playing music for as long as possible.  

“It has always been in the interest of fun. Kind of still is. I guess we just know each other really well and so, it’s easy to work with each other,” Ellis says. “For the most part, it’s just communication is smoother. And so, I guess that’s the biggest difference from when we started. I already know what everyone’s going to do.” 

Ax and the Hatchetmen recently released an Audiotree Live session, which is recorded live in Schubas Tavern, a Chicago venue. When recording their music, the band typically uses a max of three people at a time and edits it all together. But the Audiotree session brings to life their connection and energy when they perform live. It’s the closest you can get to being right there with them.  

After their set at Lollapalooza, the band went on to perform an official after show with The 502s at Lincoln Hall.  

“We really love to play live—that’s been the most fun for us,” says Olshefke. “We want to get into the studio more and more. But it can be difficult with school. We’re all in college. So, I mean, I think after this year, once we finish senior year, there’ll be a lot more music coming out. If you want to experience us, in the best way, the most fun way come out to a show.”  

Keep up with Ax and the Hatchetmen here.  

Kendall Polidori is The RockhoundLuckbox‘s resident rock music critic. Follow her reviews on Instagram and Twitter. @rockhoundlb