Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Adventures at Lollapalooza 2009
Lollapalooza took place from Aug. 7-9 this year in Chicago's Grant Park. I had a great time as always, even if Friday was a bit of a downer with all the constant rain (but oh how I wish I took a picture of this one couple covered in mud, lighting each other's cigarettes with PBRs in their hands). The festival ran pretty smoothly and most of the folks I met were as friendly as all get. Sorry that I didn't get the recap up sooner, but the pressure from my wisdom tooth left me in such pain that I wasn't able to concentrate on much of anything. As usual, I saw a lot of acts. A lot.
Day 1 - Friday
She got the festival off to a good start for me. Very bouncy, accesible adult alternative tunes. There was a slight bit of quirk in the songs and the performance, but still pretty smart overall. I'd definitely remember to check out some of her recorded stuff.
They laid down some serviceable grooves and while I couldn't find anything wrong with their brand of dance-rock, the energy just wasn't there for me. The horrible weather might have had something to do with it.
Henry Clay People
These guys got my toe tapping a bit and they might have been much more fun in a bar, but I couldn't drum up much excitement about them. Not really that special.
At the time, they were the best band I had seen so far. True, the festival was barely over an hour old, but that's how they made me feel. A few elements of folk here and there, but pretty much in the vein of indie rock, but only with a cellist. I found their set calming and was impressed with the songs, which had a very smooth sound and sometimes ventured on the verge of epic.
Okay, I'm down with the scene in Chicago and I consider myself to be a pretty up-to-date person, but for the life of me I just can't get into Hey Champ. I had only seen them one time before and tried to give them a second chance at Lolla, but I felt the same way I did the first time: nice electronic beats, but the overall presentation seemed to forced in its resemblance to the 80's. It felt more like pretending instead of honoring. There are moments in their songs I do enjoy, but I can't be bothered to conjure up more than a "meh."
The BMI stage can be sleepy at times, but Gringo Star brought them to life. Everything would come alive when these guys rocked out and it became fun overall. A slight punk edge to their music, but I wouldn't really call them punk, just good use of punk's dynamics.
Wanted to see Zap Mama, but she came on too late. Plus, she was interfering with my Knux time. Her drummer kind of reminded me of Freeway though. And yes, that is a Phillies hat, which is why I instantly thought of the comparison.
I've been going to Lollapalooza for four straight years and I have never seen the crowd at the Citi stage so packed so early in the day. The Knux drew a crowd based on a blazing performance that mixed hip hop and rock. It was the kind of set that kept attracting more and more people out of curiosity. Not to mention that the energy of the songs was off the chart.
The Gaslight Anthem
The first act of the day I was extremely excited to see. After all, they did make my #10 album of 2008. Once again, I think the weather might have had something to do with my mood, but I just couldn't get into these guys as much as I wanted. Perhaps I built it up too much in my mind, but it wasn't what I had hoped for. I'm not entirely positive that it was the band's fault as they clearly brought it, but I was expecting a more frenzied crowd especially with the kind of pub-punk that they do.
Erika Wennerstrom's voice is one of the most distinct and fierce in all of current rock. It certainly held up live and I think I might have enjoyed them more than I did two years ago on the same stage. The band as a whole brought it with bluesy, whiskey soaked tunes that rocked at a hazy pace.
I was also excited to see Ben Folds, but then I realized I wasn't too much of a fan of his solo stuff. Not to take anything away from him as a performer—the stage show was lively, but the songs just did not hit it for me. Although it was kind of cool to see the interpreter onstage do sign language for "Bitches Ain't Shit." The song also included one of the weekend's biggest sing-a-longs. Also, I got to hear him perform "Kate" which didn't make my time there a complete waste.
As you can tell, the crowd absolutely loved this guy. I will give him credit for stage presence and having charisma, but he spent the first half of the set dancing to other people's songs instead of performing his own. One cool thing is that he did have a bunch of people running around on stage in costumes for "Sour Patch Kids." The randomness of it made it funny.
The sound from Asher Roth's set at the nearby Citi stage competed at times with Crystal Castles' set, but as I eventually found out, you have to go to the other side of the field for the best sound from the vitaminwater stage. Alice Glass had a lot of spastic movements and it made for a compelling performance at times, but all their songs started to sound the same to me after a while. I imagine them going over well in a dimly lit club. Their stage show just had the kind of eerie aura that would be fun in the dark.
As expected, Thievery Corporation delivered a pretty chill set with laid back grooves, as is their specialty. Everything about it was solid, but I can't say it really brought a smile to my face. Thievery Corporation make good background music and I suppose it's different when you're actually forced to stand and pay attention.
I've always kind of liked The Decemberists. Never been a huge fan, but I find them appealing for the most part. I figured this would be my best opportunity to check them out since I probably wouldn't be paying money for one of their concerts any time soon. They eventually ended up being one of the best acts I saw all day. They played their latest album, Hazards of Love, in its entirety and captured the complete attention of the crowd. It was amazing to see everyone so focused. The theatrical dynamics of the songs held up well in an outdoor setting and I can only imagine how grand they would be in a more intimate venue.
Simian Mobile Disco
This was my first stop at Perry's stage, which mainly centered on electronic and dance-oriented acts. All I can say is that they dropped some shit hot jams in their DJ set and it felt like the place to be.
Peter Bjorn and John
I imagined a Peter Bjorn and John set to be pretty calming—after all, they're not known much for rockin' out, but I was pleasantly surprised at the energy they brought to the stage. I've always found their songs agreeable, but never been crazy about anything with the exception of "Young Folks," which Victoria Bergsman deserves a lot of credit for making so special as well. The songs translated so well had a great deal of punch. I still didn't walk away a huge fan, but I'll definitely vouch for their live show now. It was some of the most fun I had all day.
While I thought some of the newer songs sounded good, I was mostly let down by Depeche Mode. There was a complete lack of energy. I knew things weren't looking good when Dave Gahan repeatedly kept pointing the mic to the crowd for the chorus of "Try Walking In My Shoes," which was a hit on MTV back in the day, but far from a hugely popular number. I couldn't hear any audible response and if I had never heard the song before, I would never know how the chorus went. I eventually left in the middle of their set.
I went back to Perry's hoping for some instant gratification, and I got it in a way with Crookers. While I thought some of their choices and transitions were predictable, I still had a little fun. Still, much better than what Depeche Mode were doing.
While I'm not quite sold on Kid Cuid the MC quite yet, I do think he makes good songs and is a good live perfomer. The old school-flavored beats mixed with a pop sensibility were enough to keep the crowd interested and the momentum never stopped. As expected, the crowd went nuts for "Day 'N' Nite,", but the set didn't reach a true fever pitch until the Crookers remix was dropped and Cudi jumped down from the stage. Also, kudos to the booking at Perry's stage for the entire weekend. Huge improvement from last year when Danny Masterson (Hyde from That 70's Show) actually headlined one night as a DJ. Seriously.
Top Five Acts from Day 1
1. Peter Bjorn and John
2. Heartless Bastards
3. The Decemberists
4. April Smith
5. Other Lives
Day 2 - Saturday
Band of Skulls
This was a good lively way to start the day. Hard-edged rockin' with a bluesy feel. I could instantly feel that the mood of the people had brightened.
Ezra Furman & The Harpoons
The day was already starting to feel like it would be better than Friday. Their music was jangly, country-fied indie pop with a light, bouncy feel. I found them immediately charming, also helped by the fact that the lead singer wore a raincoat onstage.
Okay, while, I wasn't really paying too much attention to the music for this, I had to stop by when I saw long-time Cubs fan and Wrigleyville mascot Woo Woo on stage at Perry's. I could not pass seeing him dance to electro house.
And here's a bit of video footage I took.
There were some slightly moving tunes, but these guys just didn't really do it for me. A few nice experimental touches here and there, but my feelings toward them are pretty nonchalant. There's a chance they might sound better on record.
The first true ass kickin' experience of the weekend. These guys rocked their asses off and you couldn't help but be moved. The music had a very lively Southern rock feel and I'd recommend seeing them live if you're just looking to have a good time. They will certainly provide one.
Overall, I'd have to give Miike Snow a slight thumbs up. I found them soothing and their cool, laid back demeanor suited the music, but there's really nothing special about the songs that I could connect with. They did give it their all, but I'm not jumping up and down to go and listen to one of their songs.
When I heard Ida Maria's album, I felt that her voice was the best instrument on the album. In concert, her voice is definitely the real deal. That raspy growl attacked notes with a wild fervor that got everyone excited, as evidenced by the end of "Stella" where she sang accapella. On stage, her presence was carefree and loose, while the songs were often raucous. The ending trio of "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," "Oh My God" and The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" provided a spark of energy that rivaled anything I encountered for the weekend.
Los Campesinos! were one of the first bands of the weekend to get a crowd going while playing on one of the big stages. It felt like the perfect soundtrack to summer. Their manic energy knows no bounds, whether it's a small club or festival. By the time it was over, Gareth, the drummer and the guitarist had all bodysurfed in the crowd.
Seeing as how he was one of the few hip hop acts Lolla had this year, I made it a point to check out some of Prophit's set. He was definitely excited to be there as he gave his all for the crowd. Good beats all around and a nice swift flow. He also honored the Beastie Boys by rapping over the beats to "Paul Revere" and "Intergalatic," which warmed my heart a bit. In an effort, to show off his eclecticism, he also rapped over The Knife's "Hearbeats." The guy knows the way to my soul.
Very eerie sound with a strong female vocalist. The mood was calm all-around, but never really boring.
They played a pretty solid set. Of course, I'm a little biased because it was mostly new songs and their debut album is one of my favorites of the decade and it would have been nice to hear more songs from that simply because the newer stuff isn't up to that level, but I can't knock them for ripping it up like they did. And hey, I can't 100% piss and moan since I got to see them perform "I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor."
I don't really count Santigold since I was en route to Glasvegas, but the field was so crowded with folks there for her leaving from Arctic Monkeys and/or trying to get a good spot for TV On The Radio. It was so cramped that I was there for three songs before I was finally free to manuever around. From what I heard, Santigold's voice sound pretty good live and her charisma made me even enjoy songs that I wasn't too hot on before.
The shoegaze elements of their music held up wonderfully and even sounded beautiful at times. Unsurprisingly, they were all dressed in black, I'm assuming to better get across the point how moody their music was. While they did give a solid performance, it really wasn't as engaging as it could have been. My ears liked what they heard, but I sort of felt empty.
Lykke was one of my most anticipated acts for the entire weekend and she did not disappoint. Her stage presence was an odd mixture of snake-like and hip hop hypeman. All in all, it was very lively and fun. Every song sounded gorgeous, right along with Li's voice and the songs were more danceable than I had imagined. She also brought out Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow out for a duet of Kings Of Leon's "Knocked Up." As good as that was, the most jaw-dropping cover was when she sang and rapped over Lil' Wayne's "A Milli," f-bombs and everything. I fell in love with her by the time it was all over.
Animal Collective were trippy as expected, but that's about all I could say. I was blown away by their performance at last year's Pitchfork Music Festival and gained newfound respect for them after that, but their set on Saturday had none of that magic. All the songs segued into each other, but it became monotonous and droned on to a fault. It greatly bored me to tears. It might have been great for an audeince of one, but not thousands. The set picked up a bit with "Fireworks" towards the end, but by then it was too late.
Tool started the set while Animal Collective were still playing. I guess the folks running the show keep a pretty tight schedule, even though AC only went one minute over. Without question, they were more immediately satisfying than Animal Collective and were even louder than Rage Against The Machine who played on the same night and stage last year—which I believe was an issue with the mixing, not the band itself, as a lot of acts last year sounded muted. The most striking thing visually was that the band played against a video display screen, which gave off the effect that they were silhouettes. Maynard Keena rarely made any movements, instead just holding long poses while holding the mic. I had never seen anything like it, but it also made sense considering that Tool has never been the kind of band to thirst for the spotlight (How many of their videos have they appeared in? I'm guessing zero). The entire experience was exhilarating and despite the dark riffs that make up their music, I was impressed with how everything sounded so clear and precise. Much better headliner than Depeche Mode.
Top Five Acts from Day 2
1. Lykke Li
2. Ida Maria
4. Los Campesinos!
5. Ezra Furman & The Harpoons
Day 3 - Sunday
Mike's Pawn Shop
These guys were one of the most energetic bands I saw all weekend. There were elements of 80's pop and synth rock in their music, which provided ample opportunities for the keyboardist to do the Running Man and splits. To be honest, he danced around the stage for practically the entire set. They make fun contagious.
Sam Roberts Band
There was a heavy Canadian contigent here to represent here (they even sang "O Canada," which received applause from most of the Americans in attendance. The band had good tunes and I remember enjoying them as much as I did when they played the fest back in 2007. As accessible as any band you were to find over the weekend.
As expected, they got everyone dancing with their own brand of funk mixed electronic music. Frontman Ed Macfarlane's herky jerky moves gave off a sense of sincerity that made it easy for everyone to have fun. I hadn't listened to too many of Friendly Fires' songs before this, but they impressed me live.
Davy Knowles and Back Door Slam
Very bluesy band with shredding guitar heroics that won the crowd over. Seriously, this dude ripped it.
Bat For Lashes
I'll admit that I would have preferred to see Bat For Lashes in a more intimate venue walking in, but after her darkly sexy performance, it didn't matter. I found myself, along with the rest of the crowd, enraptured by her songs and her beautiful, soaring, voice. I was always find it impressive whenever an artist can capture the attention of a crowd at a big festival and have almost total silence while they perform, which is what Natasha Khan was able to do. On record, the songs are eerie and compelling and they maintained that same power, with the thumping "Priscilla" being a highlight of the set. By far one of the best sets of the weekend.
He Say, She Say
I will give props to He Say, She Say for having amassed a good amount of quality of songs while still being relatively new, but live it's not quite there yet. Not to say they're not worth seeing, but once you realize that you enjoy what you're hearing, you're left wondering why you haven't been whipped into more of a frenzy.
Priscilla Renea was surprising for a few reasons. For one, I had no idea that she was a replacement for Neon Hitch until she got onstage. Then there was the tutu, so I really had no idea what to expect. Then she opened up her set with a gorgeous gem of a pop/rock tune called "Dollhouse" that Rihanna or Katy Perry would probably kill for. It was just good ol' fashioned pop music without any pretenses and a small dash of soul. Her sunny demeanor went over big time and you have to admire anyone with the gall to do an acoustic cover of Drake's "Best I Ever Had" and actually pull it off. I can't wait to hear more of her recorded stuff because the tunes were pretty high quality.
Anyone know why they're placed so far apart onstage? I thought they would have been at least a little bit closer. They were pretty solid and maintained that stoic stage presence all throughout. Probably the only act where feedback was welcome and not a mistake.
Gang Gang Dance
Now this was an experience. Unlike Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance proved that you can perform experimental art rock without being a total snooze. Tons of tribal sounds going on and it was all epic and trippy. Would highly recommend seeing them whenever they come to your town.
I expected Deacon's set to be insane and spastic, but what I didn't expect was for the entire crowd to go wild, with seemingly someone bodysurfing every 15 seconds. The entire scene was one big party, especially with the marching band collective, What Cheer? Brigade, filling up the stage. It was one of the most joyous and exciting sets I've ever been apart of in all my years of going to Lollapalooza. The best part came when Deacon commanded the crowd to make a big circle in the middle of the field so that one of his crew could lead everyone into an interpretive dance.
And some video footage too.
Oh, how awesome it was.
The BMI stage on this day was kind of off-kilter since no one started on time and I pretty much caught the end of most sets since seemingly everyone went before their allotted time. Same thing with Ke$ha. I wanted to see her because I was curious how well the hook girl to Flo Rida's "Right Round" would go over at a festival like this. I can't give a full review since I was barely there, but she did get the crowd moving and she ended the set by shooting out confetti and condoms into the crowd with an air cannon. Can't go wrong with free condoms, so Ke$ha gets a partial thumbs up from me.
I can say for sure that this was one of the most amped up crowds of the festival, mainly because of their popularity. It was also crazy crowded at the Citi stage, maybe even more than Girl Talk last year. The songs were good, but I was bit bored by it all.
Alright, I wanted to catch some of Lou Reed's set, because, well, it's Lou Reed, but the man went on 15 minutes late, which cut in heavily to my Deerhunter and Snoop Dogg time. He opened the set with "Sweet Jane" which at least made things better, but I split right after that. I can die fairly happy knowing that I got to see him perform one of The Velvet Underground's best songs and also take a picture of him.
Snoop was backed by a live band that brought nothing but pure funk. He could have easily been a headliner with the kind of crowd he drew and the whole atmosphere felt like one big party. Snoop has always been a showman, so I wasn't surprised that he was able to get the crowd into it. It was a very high energy set, and while most acts usually try to cram in as many songs as they can, Snoop and his band mostly did vamps and engaged the crowd in chants. It felt like an actual show and not as if he were going through the motions. This guy probably had more hits than anyone who performed over the weekend. Why wasn't he a headliner again?
I'm a fan of "Lazy Eye," but the rest of their songs nearly put me to sleep. Everything was just so meh.
I did kind of question Jane's Addiction status as a headliner 2009, but there was no way I was going to watch The Killers for an hour and half when I only like about four songs while Nothing's Shocking is one of my favorite albums of the 1980's. The choice between the two was obvious and I can't imagine that The Killers put on half the show that Jane's did. It was just pure, raw and sexy rock music in the traditional sense. Chops galore from everyone and one hell of a frontman. I was aware of their technical capability, but being able to be there in person and feed off the energy was amazing. Like any good concert, Jane's Addiction made you feel alive. There were no shortage of great songs to choose from and the encore for "Jane Says" with Joe Perry of Aerosmith was one of the biggest sing-a-longs I had ever experienced.
Top Five Acts from Day 3
1. Gang Gang Dance -TIE-
1. Dan Deacon -TIE-
3. Bat For Lashes
4. Jane's Addiction
5. Snoop Dogg
I had a pretty great weekend besides what happened on the stages.
Remember how I was telling you how crowded it was for Santigold? Well, this guy had the right idea when she took the stage.
Random crowd shot.
During Animal Collective, a group of kids got the idea to start a Slip 'N Slide out of garbage bags. Once they ran out of water to soak the surface, people started using beer.
Least intimidating security guard ever. Can someone check this kid's birth certificate?
The Chicago Fire Department was nice enough to set this up on Sunday so that people could stay cool.
One of the more interesting developments on Sunday was the chaos that What Cheer? Brigade, the marching band that performed with Dan Deacon, was causing. I caught them performing near the steps of Buckingham Fountain where they amassed a pretty nice crowd. There were smiles and dancing all around. Once they were told to move from the stairs, they went over to the empty Kidzapalooza stage where they encouraged everyone to follow, to which many people obliged. Another dance party was started right there. Then they were forced to move again, so they encouraged everyone to follow while doing a conga line. They found another spot but were shut down again. Talk about guerilla tactics.
I stopped in my tracks when I came across this and I knew immediately I had to take a picture of it.