Even though I checked in briefly and dropped some thoughts on the first day of Lollapalooza, I really wanted to try and round up the entire staff experience considering that Mitch, Andrew and myself all attended the festivites (and on entirely different days). The festival has become a true staple of the live music scene in Chicago, including the forays into the “late night” shows and other extraneous promotions that spread the brand around the cities for months on end. With four successful years based in Windy City, I have no doubt that we’ll be talking about this festival for many years to come. Day one was pretty exhaustive when I think back.
The day started off with a meetup with my good buddy Alden — who’s done a review or two here already — and we went into the festival grounds with our sights set on the South end of the park where Holy F*** was set to go on 12:15pm. For a second or two after we picked up our info booklets, I was scared that they had cancelled, as their timeslot had Noah and the Whale listed as the band on that stage. Then we concluded that obviously the books had been printed way ahead of the schedule we had reviewed online the night before; crisis averted.
By the time we made our way to a spot close to the main stage, I was already completely sweat-soaked. It was stifling and the humidity was way above anything I’d call comfortable, but I knew this band would be worth every second in the heat. They kinda brought their own version of the heat with “The Pulse” as the opener, and everyone immediately sparked up and got down. It was a fun set to observe and I tried my best to dance along without burning too much energy. There were a few new tunes in the set that I hadn’t recognized at all from the two other shows I’ve seen of theirs earlier in the year, so that stuff was really impressive to me and I hope to sample that stuff again in the near future. Other standouts include “Bontempi Latin,” “Milkshake,” and the second-to-last song played, “Super Inuit,” (which we feel should clearly be the song this band closes a set with, not the often played “Lovely Allen”). What a set.
After Holy F*** was done, I realized that I needed to somehow reapply all of the sunblock that I had just sweated off, but applying sunblock on sweaty skin is no simple feat. Thankfully Lollapalooza provides a set of diversions that allow you to beat the heat, including the digital oasis tent smack-dad in the middle of the south field. We stopped there and enjoyed the sounds drifting over from the Rogue Wave set, and as much as I really wanted to see these guys I just couldn’t get the energy or body temperature right to care about what they were playing. I could kinda see them from where I was sitting, and at 1:30pm on a hot, sunny day, that was all I needed to get my fix. Alden and I made our way over to the other side of the park to meet a friend, and then we headed over to catch the first minutes of the second (or so we thought) Holy F*** set of the day. We were so blown away by the first one that it just made sense to see what Round 2 was all about.
We had a feeling it wasn’t going to be a full set and we were right — they had begun on Perry’s Stage (which was a DJ tent) right at 2:30pm and proceeded to immediately bring the untz — so we pulled another audible to see the end of the Yeasayer set on the other side of the park. I was walking over there and jamming to “2080” from very afar, and I didn’t mind missing most of it considering I had seen them three times this year already.
After Yeasayer finished up, The Kills were up next. I had heard different things about this band so I didn’t necessarily know what to expect, but a week later I was still pleasantly surprised with how interesting the set was. The thing is, none of it really stuck with me, though. Their music has the dark drone yet electro-pop sorta sheen to it and that’s a hard thing to present and pull off live, especially on one of the bigger stages at Lollapalooza. So I don’t know, I guess I could say, “I liked The Kills.” That’s about it.
From there I made the trek across the park to try to get a taste of what The Black Keys would be cookin’ up, not before after we grubbed a bit in the forest to get a taste of Perry’s crew was cooking up all weekend. Surprisingly, the food at Lollapalooza has always been good in the past three years I’ve attended. You don’t really feel like eating much, so when dinner rolls around I’m never the first in line to get my face stuffed. They seem to have a lot of “smaller” meal options which help people get fed and help people build a base for all the crappy beer that they’re guzzling down (no thank you, Bud Light).
I guess I remember hearing Duffy in the background before The Black Keys came on, but really all I remember from the day is that the crowd of people underneath the tree canopy at the back of the field had swelled to a truly uncomfortable number. Plus, the edges were lined with people standing up which effectively blocked any view that we may have had towards the stage, but at this point I couldn’t really handle the heat on my skin and taking a backseat for The Black Keys was still a strong play with plenty of day left to go. I guess I need to accept the fact that even though I feel young and youthful and vibrant in my approach to music festivals, that all goes right out the window if there’s a summer sun truly beating down on me. My Irish/Swedish skin just does not stand a chance.
After The Black Keys and a little bit into Cat Power, both of which I hardly paid attention to and just focused on having fun with my out-of-town friends, I finally decided that I needed to get back out to see some tunes and Grizzly Bear across the park was the best choice for me. When I got there, I was truly unimpressed for about one second — that second was a crew of friends telling me that the set hadn’t been that great so far — but immediately the music got interesting, fresh, light, breezy, almost summery. Given that the sun was starting to set and it painted the band and their sunglasses with a warm glow, I think it started to come through in their music.
This was a standout moment of the festival for me; these guys truly roped me in and I’ve been listening to their stuff ever since.
Given our proximity, it was clear that we needed to hit Bloc Party over The Raconteurs, which I find amazing considering the fact that I really wanted to see the band I love (the latter) over a band I’ve hardly listened to or paid attention to (the former). I know I have other chances to catch The Raconteurs so I opted for the closer stage, and in hindsight it really didn’t matter because I just kinda felt like wandering around at this point anyway. Alden and I fetched some beers and made our way over to the CSS stage because we wanted to be there when it began. This turned out to be the second standout moment of the festival for me:
Honestly, that 1:30 above sold me completely. The set featured about 10-12 disco rock tunes and they all sounded the same, yet completely different. I had so much fun watching this from afar, still feeling like it was too hot to get my groove on. Next time I see this band I plan on going crazy; it’s that simple.
While we were hanging back and watching the set from a decent distance away, you could see the mass and hordes of people coming from across the park to flood into the south field where the Radiohead headlining set was setting up while Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks were getting everyone warmed up with some noisey blues rock (kinda). We flooded into the field in the same way and eventually met back up with some of our friends camped on the sidelines. The frenzy never really had a chance to pick up too much because Radiohead started their set the instant that Malkmus got off stage.
They busted right into the one song that I really wanted to hear, “15 Step,” which seems to keep happening with me and concert-going lately. I’ve had a couple solid openers in my day, but hearing that one song that’s been floating in your head for days as it is always feels welcome. From there, the entire set kinda ebbed and flowed with some of the explosions of rock and bombast combined with the quiet, chilled-out elements that this band seems to perfectly melt into one set that always seems cohesive. Even if all the elements get rearranged, they still present a cross-section of tunes across their catalog that kept fair weather fans happy (with no audience-pandering “Creep” either) and die-hards singing along. The real standout moment of “Everything In Its Right Place” while fireworks began is still one that is haunting me, but given that I’ll be seeing them in a week or so at Outside Lands, I’m still looking forward to another Radiohead set. This time I’m getting close.
GG Lollapalooza. I’ll try to be back next year.
Posted by Justin Ward
Marked with absolutely beautiful weather and a large crowd, Saturday must have been a blessing for Lollapalooza’s promoters, C3. When I first arrived at Grant Park I was surprised to see a changed set-up once again. Back to essentially the 2006 set up, the only difference was Perry Farrell added his own stage, possibly to showcase his weirdness. Some of the photos of him on Spinner are absolutely priceless. He is bordering on Gary Busey strange.
Two friends and I immediately made our way over to Perry’s Stage to catch some of Devlin & Darko‘s DJ set. My buddy Chris hung out with these two in LA and wanted to show some love. The show was bumping when we already arrived and their deck work moved between decades pretty seamlessly. A really good start to the day, Devlin & Darko are two very solid DJ’s. Better than that dude from “That 70’s Show” for sure.
With time to kill before Foals, we grabbed some beers and reintroduced ourselves to a familiar place. I got in nice and close for Foals, ready to get a taste of a band I now must see in a smaller venue. The youthful group got through all the sound checks and instrument hitches that come with festivals and hit the stage on time. I already liked them.
Once Foals started playing, they killed it. Opening with the same song from the YouTube clip I posted, they worked over that electro opening nicely. The group played most of the Anecdotes highlights and the crowd responded each time with heightened enthusiasm. An energetic, tight set is almost all you can ask for in a festival setting from 90% of bands out there and Foals delivered with a bow.
I have attended a number of festivals all varying in locale and size but I have never seen a festival as crowded as Lolla was right before the MGMT show. We were 100 yards away from the stage and it took us ten minutes to get from the steps to the flags — apologies if you have no clue what I’m talking about. MGMT must be getting huge and it doesn’t surprise me.
Their show wasn’t mediocre but nothing to rave about as a whole. A few songs stood out, “Weekend Warriors” and “Of Moons, Birds and Monsters” to name two. The closer, “Kids,” is still done karaoke style but the song is so good the could have thrown on the CD and it wouldn’t have mattered. A lot of people bounced midway through the set — after “Electric Feel” — which tells me that they are MTV2 fans. I’m still very excited to see MGMT at the Aragon in October because I’ll probably be a little closer than I was at Lolla.
From the MySpace stage we strolled back over to the Citi Stage to catch Spank Rock into Battles. This is one of the annoying things about Lollapalooza that is just a negative due to its size. To get to Explosions in the Sky — who I would have rather seen instead of Spank Rock — with the sized crowd that was in attendance would have been nearly impossible. Grant Park is huge, plain and simple. Sometimes its not scheduling but rather the geography of the place that limits who is seen.
As I said before, Spank Rock was unimpressive. Uncreative, Run DMC styled MC-ing constantly distracted from the more skillful production. The sophomoric lyrics come across as just stupid, not edgy or mold breaking. It took about a half set for us to call it quits and take to the grass for some sun away from the stage.
The crowd was large for Battles set but it wasn’t as choked with people as MGMT’s show. It was easy to move around a bit and shoot, which wasn’t happening during many of the other shows. These guys played an absolutely mesmerizing set. Their sound really pulls you in and John Stanier keeps you there with his metronomic drumming. The highlight of the set was the slowdown during “Tonto,” which was absolute perfection. The only other band I’ve seen manipulate time like that live is Medeski, Martin & Wood when playing “Bubblehouse.” Battles get my pick for show of the day.
From math-rock to soul to alt-country is one interesting way to finish a day. As we made our way over to Wilco we were able to hear the last few songs of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings set. It sounded great in that one permanent stage at Grant Park and I only wish I could have heard more. Wilco took the stage in some really weird part western, part Hello Kitty outfits. They almost looked like an art piece by Takashi Murakami. Tweedy kept things light though with some self-effacing humor.
As always, Wilco played a really professional set and I was pumped when they brought some horns out for a few songs. A highlight had to be a new tune, “One Wing”, Tweedy called a WIP (work in progress) that you can get a listen over at You Ain’t No Picasso. Wilco was a good wind-down to the day and probably the opposite of what was going on over at Rage Against the Machine‘s steel cage match. Mitch is gonna fill you in on Sunday’s events and I’m especially excited to hear how good Chromeo was.
Posted by Andrew McMahon
I walked up to the masses at Grant Park on Sunday, sunburnt and already thirsty. Could there be anything more frustrating than possessing a material body when all I want to do is lose time and dance? Shit, not Bonnaroo – Lollapalooza.
Chromeo started the day off with the right combination of humor and hipster, represented by the dynamic between Dave 1 and P-Thugg. If you ever get the chance to see these two “kids from Canada” live, take it and dance as hard as you can. They give as much as the crowd gives and the crowd was giving it as hard as one can expect in 90-degree heat.
Even though Chromeo sufficiently warmed me up, I was not prepared for Saul Williams. I don’t think I ever will be, nor should I. It was hard, aggravated and intentional. He started off the set asking “Chicago, are you ready?” The crowd used the default arms in the air, cheering loudly response to denote that they were in fact ready, but Williams had his doubts: “We’ll see.” Given that his material is anything but safe, it was not a surprise to feel skeptical about the message falling on deaf ears to the festival crowd. Through a complete crowd optimism and Williams’ trust in the public judgment, the performance was contemplative and charged, not an easy task for a late afternoon slot. I think everyone there (minus the 75% waiting for Girl Talk) felt rejuvenated and part of something both extreme and political, a combination that was removed from the violence of “militant youths” that dominated the Rage set from the night before. Whatever the motivation, purpose or definition behind Saul Williams, he is an exciting performer that is able to mesh the political and the aggressive without seeming false or misguided. As he says in this interview concerning the Rage set, “I’ve had more fun at Cat Power concerts.”
Next up was The National. They really are one of the best bands I have seen live. They consistently reach levels of energy unpredicted by their album material and end up converting hundreds of people at every show. The sun was setting on Grant Park and I could not think of a better band to cap the evening. Plus, the set was at the Petrillio Shell with its theater seating and I was able to see the entire show without stepping on my tip toes.
Still, the collective will of the people was focused on one man, and one man alone. Despite the presence of NIN just a few yards away, there was a mass exodus towards the South end for Kanye West’s homecoming. I had my reservations like everyone else, but I was honestly rooting for the rapper to blow my mind. He seems to be struggling with his persona, but his performance came off as a true representation of Kanye West if West was merely an entertainer and not a planet.
Yet every song was big, soaking in the grandeur that West stripped away during his recent Glow in the Dark tour. There were no animatronic anythings, no DJ interludes, no guest stars, nothing but the man, the lights and the fans. So when he paid tribute to his mother towards the end, it came off as a culmination of emotions rather than a side-tracked distraction. Then West’s backing band played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” while West sat on the stage, overcome by a smiling disease. It was a weird moment, and I want to forget it, but he was smiling so much I had to just hold my breath until it was over. Much has been said and will continue to be said about his live performances, but as an anti-thesis to LMB, the next chapter will be written by his next record. He promised on stage to return to studio immediately after the show, so we shouldn’t have to wait long. He also said that he deserves to be in the same breath as James Brown, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, so I don’t think we can expect a humble West, just a more focused pop star.
I am still waiting for some good video from the set, but in the meantime check his music videos on his website, especially the alternate version of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” featuring Zack Galifianakis and Will Oldham.
Posted by Mitchell Bandur