Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Adventures at Lollapalooza 2010
Another summer, another Lollapalooza. Under any other normal circumstances, I couldn't see myself walking back and forth across the entirety of Grant Park for eleven hours a day over three straight days in the hot sun, but it's my love of music and the energy I get from everyone attending that makes me do such a crazy thing, even if I'm completely exhausted at the end of each day. During Lollapalooza weekend, there really isn't any other place I would want to be, so I bear it all with a smile on my face and two bottles of frozen water in my bag. This past weekend also marked the fifth straight year I've been to Lollapalooza since it moved permanently to Chicago and this is also my fourth recap, which makes me feel like some sort of grizzled, accomplished veteran at this thing now.
Day 1 - Friday
These United States
I felt these guys were a pleasant enough way to start off the festival. Just some harmless folk pop-rock, but I appreciated their energy and they seemed genuinely excited to be opening up the weekend, as I'm sure most small bands would be. I didn't stay long, but I enjoyed what I heard.
It made absolutely no sense that a guy who has had two massively successful singles and a #1 album would be performing so early. Understandably, he only has one album under his belt, but so have other acts who've performed later in the day. Obviously he drew the biggest crowd I've ever seen at 11:30 in the morning and the kids loved him. This was my first exposure to songs from his debut album besides the singles and while I did appreciate the eclecticism of the songs, most of the tracks sounded like generic attempts for commercial glory and their shelf life for fun felt limited (I don't necessarily blame him. This is his first album with a major label). With that being said, B.o.B. is a good performer with plenty of energy and parts of the set were enjoyable, mainly due to his energy and easy-going nature. I just wish the songs were better.
Balkan Beat Box
I had a fantastic time with these guys. Very funky, lively blend of world music and hip hop. They reminded me how much I enjoyed their first album and that I should keep up with them more often.
Gritty garage pop with a driving sound and displayed with a cool demeanor. I enjoyed the songs but they just couldn't get the crowd moving though. Also, I had never seen the BMI stage that packed so early in the day. The only reasonable explanation I could think of is the expansion of the festival by 30-something acres which allowed for more tickets being sold.
Los Amigos Invisibles
One of the weekend's sets that provided non-stop fun, as I hoped it would since 2006's Superpop Venezuela remains one of my favorite albums to put on before I go out for a night of partying. This was probably was the first instance of the weekend where I noticed the crowd collectively dancing. Their music is hard to describe since I believe it's dance at its heart (Dimitiri from Paris produced Superpop Venezuela, but heavily includes elements of funk, jazz and African & Latin rhythms, but I usually enjoy myself too much with these guys to really care. Their show also included the biggest beach ball frenzy of any performance, courtesy of band who had their logo imprinted on them.
Armed with a whip-tight band, Saadiq blazed through most of his 2008 retro soul effort, The Way I See It with fervor and the stage show kept in spirit with the style of that album, in the process delivering one of the best performances of the weekend and showcasing just how much admiration and respect he has for music of the past. The crowd couldn't help but be brought to life through out the set and he also threw in favorites for older fans like "Dance Tonight," "Feels Good" and a rocking variation on "Be Here" that was one of the highlights of the day.
The Big Pink
I was surprised at how well the hazy tones of their shoegaze pop held up outdoors, as I imagined that a band like this would probably be better suited in a big club. The energy wavered here and there, so I'd be curious to see them again in a more appropriate venue, maybe opening up for someone.
Peanut Butter Wolf
The Stones Throw founder delivered a video DJ set full of crowd-pleasing hip hop hits from the mid 90's and early 00's. What was really cool was that you could literally see songs blend together thanks to the music videos on the screen, along with a few other standard DJ effects, such as looping and scratching that corresponded with the images. The most apt word I can think of to describe it is "awesome."
I've known of Devo's live reputation for some time and I was very conflicted between seeing them and one of my favorite bands, The New Pornographers, who were also playing at the same time. But hey, I've seen the Pornos about four times already, even once with Neko Case and Dan Bejar, who were also there on Friday from what I heard. If I had known this before, the decision might have been even more agonizing since I've never seen them perform before "Myriad Harbour," but I opted to go with the act I've never seen period. Of course, Devo has no shortage of good songs to perform, but they played with a vitality unexpected for most guys their age. Add to that their already humorous stage presence and the entertaining videos that played behind them and the result was one of the best sets all weekend. The new material sounded great, but the powerful way they ripped through "Going Under" was a highlight and the moment I knew that I was watching a classic set.
I was really impressed by the sound of their performance, but there really wasn't much to see, except for one dude at a floor tom and another making effects on a table. They did seem to be really into it, but that didn't stop me from taking a seat for the first time all day. This was also my first time at the Sony bloggie stage and its new location, which in years past was the Citi stage. One of the main problems I used to have with this stage was that it was placed on Balbo and if there was ever an extremely popular act who played, such as Girl Talk or Passion Pit, it made it impossible to walk through the crowd if you wanted to get to the food court or simply walk to Hutchinson Field. The new location was located in a grassy area on the corner of Columbus and Jackson, away from most of the traffic and with plenty of space to accommodate some of the more well-known acts. The organizers get a thumbs up for that one.
They played a scorching set full of synth pop tunes that emitted an aura of cool but were still engaging enough to make you want to dance. Just a very good band all-around and a damn good set.
The one set that beforehand everyone was talking about. While it may seem unusual for one of the world's biggest pop stars to play a fest such as Lollapalooza, she did play there previously back in 2007, which I was (un)fortunate enough to see. I'm not sure who hasn't seen one of her performances on television by now, which have varied from grandiose productions to stripped down with just her and a piano, but I can tell you that a lot more people were curious to see her instead of The Strokes. That isn't necessarily a knock against The Strokes, who I have a lot of admiration for and have heard nothing but good things about live, but you definitely know what you're getting when you're going to one of their shows, and you could probably catch the same exact thing at a smaller venue. With Gaga, the unexpected and the spectacle was the appeal, which is why I decided to close the night out with her.
The entire set centered around a storyline about her and her cohorts trying to get to the Monster Ball, a magical place where the freaks are welcome and you're free to be yourself. I actually found these scenes to be the weakest part of the show since they included a lot of unnecessary pausing and gazing into the audience and not exactly the best acting in the world, but since its main message was individuality, I'm sure it got over well with her fans. At the very least, the storyline gave an excuse for some very impressive set changes, including one where Gaga's keyboard was inside the hood of a car and the giant puppet creature known as The Fame Monster, which was good, campy fun. While Gaga did have a tendency for cheap pops, a la Mick Foley, by constantly shouting out "Chicago" and "Lollapalooza" to roaring approval, her talent as a showwoman stands. I found her stage banter about headlining Lollapalooza more endearing than anything that had to do with the Monster Ball because it not only involved fewer pointless goddess poses, but it seemed like she was on the verge of tears a few times.
When listing the various things that detractors and naysayers said she couldn't do as a means of encouragement for her fans, she mentioned that people called her show at the BMI stage back in 2007 a "fucking train wreck." And I definitely agreed. I saw her at Lollapalooza back then and while watching, 50% of me felt unenthused, 25% of me was shocked that it was so plain awful and 25% felt sorry for her because she was getting nowhere with the audience. I then thought to myself who would have even cared to mention Lady Gaga back in 2007. She was nowhere near close to being an anticipated act that year and she played on the smallest stage aside from Kidzapalooza. I know that a lot of smaller artists who play at Lollapalooza often come across my blog when Googling themselves to see if anyone saw them, so I became curious and when I looked back at my Lollapalooza recap from that year, I had indeed described her show as "a real life train wreck" (scroll down to Day 2). Is it possible that an up-and-coming Gaga read my blog back in 2007 and used it as motivation? Her use of the word "train wreck" certainly made me wonder. Looking back I was certainly harsh, but I wouldn't change anything because the performance simply was not that enjoyable. I don't get a kick out of trashing people just for the sake of it. I actually want anyone I see to do a good job! Now I'm certainly not claiming that I'm responsible at all for Gaga's growth as an artist, but I can definitely respect that when she saw someone trash her show, it set off a desire inside of her to prove them wrong. It's also kind of cool to see someone you didn't think much of in the past and watch them blossom into something they weren't before: memorable, confident and above all, entertaining.
Top 5 Acts for Day 1
2. Los Amigos Invisibles
3. Hot Chip
4. Lady Gaga
5. Balkan Beat Box
Day 2 - Saturday
I had a fun time with these guys. Everyone onstage was energetic, but it was the percussionist who had more than enough to spare. I was impressed with the solid tunes and felt it was a pleasant way to start off the fest. The touches of brass in the songs were also a nice touch.
The Kissaway Trail
Their atmospheric songs surprisingly played well to a bigger crowd, but overall I wasn't too crazy about them. I did enjoy them to an extent and just felt that they were solid at best. With bands like these, I'm usually 100% sure they sound better on record and would probably be worth investigating. The songs felt anthemic, but didn't quite provide the rush that it should live.
The Morning Benders
Very warm and mellow indie pop . Just a really beautiful sound I could wrap myself in and that just made me want to be at ease in the grass. It's surprises like this that make coming to the festival early worth it.
The Soft Pack
One of the better surprises of the weekend. Very lively indie pop and they also made me smile by including a traditional roll-call of the band members near the end of the set—something usually reserved for genres like jazz and soul. I appreciated that they weren't afraid to have fun and that just made them stick out even more in my mind.
Even though some songs stuck out more than others, they had a magnetizing sound overall. Fairly standard art rock that didn't inspire me to write down any more than I already have.
Their stage show is just as lively as their music, with spirited frontwoman Martina Sorbara leading the charge and serving as the catalyst. The electro-pop jams were kicked out furiously with style and I can only imagine how much more insane the set could have been if they played at the dance heavy Perry's stage instead of at BMI. With a short but strong discography, they turned out to deliver one of my favorite performances of the weekend.
One of the best sets of the weekend. It was one of those performances where you could tell that half of the crowd was unfamiliar with them, but were totally won over by the time it ended. It's not surprising considering the amount of good songs that the band has in their arsenal, which bounce back and forth between indie pop, chamber music and synth rock. "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" was a majestic highlight and I could only wonder why I hadn't seen this band at least twice by now. Members of the band also shot confetti and threw flowers randomly into the crowd, which gave off the impression that they were there to have fun, but were classy about it.
I really couldn't stay in the northern part of the park for very long since it was too crowded to even try to enjoy this group. With the PlayStation stage/Petrillo Band Shell being located right by one of the main entrances onto the field, things became cluttered quick as people tried to catch one of the weekend's most anticipated acts or were gathering to wait for Grizzly Bear. If I had been able to hear them loudly enough, I would have been tempted to stay longer, but they sounded so uninspiring and dull. By listening to them, you could at least tell that the album would be interesting or at least worth investigating, but hearing them outdoors just seemed like a perfect case of a band that can work wonders in the studio but haven't quite mastered live performance.
Initially, I wanted to stay for The xx's set, but as I mentioned before I found the circumstances too unbearable. Having seen Gogol Bordello twice before, I felt I could sacrifice not seeing them. I often claim them to be one of the best live acts going right now, so I would have done an injustice to myself if I had not seen them at all, for which I have The xx to thank partially. As expected, Eugene Hutz was his typical madman self with the rest of the band matching his energy. I'm always impressed whenever I see these guys in concert and I'm glad I caught them for at least a little bit.
It was easy to let yourself get washed away in the sounds of this set. It was absolutely gorgeous and entrancing. I probably can't think of any better compliment than that they sound exactly like they do on record, which is usually of a pristine quality. They delivered the kind of epic moments I had been waiting for all weekend.
It never dawned upon me how suitable Metric was for festivals, but with such big choruses they were a band that was made to unite large crowds. Songs that I've only known in the comfort of my home sounded as if they could fill an arena and simultaneously energized the field. While they may not be the most popular band, they took the stage with a rock star presence as if they were determined to make their set one of the most talked about of the weekend. The only problem I've had with their albums is that sometimes a lot of the songs can start to sound the same after a while and that happened for a stretch during their performance but it did not derail anything. The highlight for me included an extended version of "Dead Disco" which completely ripped and confirmed that they're just not swagger onstage, but possess real chops.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes
Once again, thank goodness for the location of the Sony bloggie/former Citi stage. The crowd that they drew here would have brought Balbo to a complete halt and I could actually enjoy a closing act comfortably. The animated demeanor of the band matched the joyous-sounding songs, which provided many fun moments to sing along to. It was overall a laid back set, but I'm assuming that part of the fun in watching them is that it's better to be up close to catch their lively expressions.
As long as Green Day has been around, there isn't much new to say about their stage show. Sure, almost two decades in the business, they're still rambunctious as ever with a heavy sense of humor, but with this being my first time seeing them live, it was intriguing to see the American Idiot/21st Century Breakdown incarnation of the group embrace their status as one of the biggest rock bands in the world, packing their show with such arena antics as non-stop pyrotechnics and shooting t-shirts into the crowd with a bazooka. The crowd pleasing didn't stop there, and not just with their own songs as they did short abbreviated versions of popular classics ("Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Highway To Hell" with matching goofy falsettos and bouncy punk versions of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Hey Jude" and The Isley Brothers' "Shout"). If anything, they were great at pumping the crowd up and it made the whole thing feel like an event. To keep themselves from appearing too godlike, they brought people from the audience onstage on four separate occassions: once to get a fan stage dive, a young girl to help act out a song, another fan who was brought up to sing lead vocals for "Longview" and the classic "hey, let's bring everyone on the stage!" manuever. It all made for an entertaining show and I got to hear all my favorite Green Day singles, except for "Walking Contradiction," but I'm certainly not complaining since they played with plenty of zest and attitude.
Top 5 Acts for Day 2
1. Grizzly Bear
4. Green Day
Day 3 - Sunday
Son Of A Bad Man
I'll admit that they played with conviction, but their brand of Southern-flavored pop/rock was just not my cup of tea. They're not a bad band and they were actually fun in spurts, but I would have probably enjoyed them better if I happened to walk into a random bar with low expectations.
It was starting to rain a little bit around the time they started playing, which fit their abrasive sound just well and gave a sense of chaos to the environment. With music as intense as theirs, one would hope they'd would with ferocity, and that they did.
I've been told by a few people that I should check out Nneka and this was my first exposure to her. She had a very smooth sound with some nice grooves and while I did find it enjoyable, it all felt too standard to me. Fans of soul looking for some new music would probably find her serviceable and it surely wasn't a bad way to spend 40 minutes. She's got a very solid band behind, as evidenced by the scatting her bass player did while picking his strings at the same time.
Company of Thieves
Ashamed to say, but this was the first I had ever listened to this band, even though they're from Chicago. Their music is a mixture of yearning indie pop and soft-edged alternative. They've definitely got some good songs under their belt and the band itself was jolting at times as they packed their performance with plenty of vigor. It's always a good feeling when a band you've never seen before makes you want to listen to their album.
I would have never thought to use the word "lush" to describe the music of The Dodos before, because while although it is beautiful it feels too minimal to be considered lush for my taste. But when I saw them perform, it just felt lush listening to them, even though it was just the three of them. The music maintained the same beauty and power that it has on record and it was also a nice little treat when Neko Case was brought onstage to sing backing vocals on "Walking" and "Red and Purple." These guys play haunting and eerie indie folk like very few.
I thought that with such a throwback sound, Blitzen Trapper would have been one of the bigger hits at the festival, but some songs just came off as very blah. The pacing of the set didn't feel like they were trying to play for 20,000 people, considering that they have songs in their catalog that could have made more of an impression. They were enjoyable at moments but ultimately forgettable.
The Ike Reilly Assassination
Whoever was able to catch these guys were in for a treat. These guys delivered old-fashioned robust rock music with songs big enough to bring the house down at a bar but detailed lyrics that show a true songwriter at work. The choruses packed plenty of punch and they provided a nice revitalization at the perfect moment that my body needed after three straight days of walking across Grant Park.
Mumford & Sons
I was curious about them after their recent Mercury Prize nod and I wasn't disappointed. Although I felt that the volume at the PlayStation stage was too low during their set, the rousing nature of their bluegrass rock still translated pretty well. The musical chops on display easily won over the crowd and they delivered one of the best sets of the weekend.
I didn't catch much of their set but felt that they were worth mentioning because of their high energy and that they rapped over samples of Yelle's "Ce Jeu" and Ellie Goulding's "Under The Sheets." It would have been worth it to stick around to see what other pop tunes might have been in store.
Behind Lady Gaga, they had the second most dramatic show of the weekend. With a futuristic androgynous look and soaring power metal anthems, their set was never short on entertainment. A ton of theatricality and a ton of screaming. The phrase "WE ARE!! X JAPAN!!" was stuck in my head the next morning.
It's very unusual to have to wait long for an act to perform at Lollapalooza seeing as how things usually run smoothly and the artists start promptly, but Ms. Badu did not take the stage until 15 minutes past her start time. The DJ kept the crowd warmed up with hip hop classics from the Golden Age which helped eased the downtime but most of my time was spent looking at the clock on my phone. All was just about forgiven when she finally showed up onstage after her band spent a few minutes jamming and when she blew a whistle that she wore as a ring and told the crowd to settle down, I just about nearly died from laughing. She would do this often throughout the set and it killed me just about every time. Her sense of humor seeped in here and there, but the real show was the woman herself, or her essence rather. Badu oozed a certain star quality that was not matched by anyone over the weekend and it says a lot that she nearly stole Lollapalooza with a 45-minute performance. From her buttery voice to her band, everything was running on all gears and in sync with warm precision. The set was heavy on material from her last two albums but she offered fresh variations on old songs, such as an electro version of "Appletree," which eventually turned into a scat and then a vamp on Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock." To sum it up, it was a terrific performance but I'm sure that would be a surprise to few people.
I think this was probably my 6th time seeing Flosstradamus and it was fun as always. This set was heavy on house music and they didn't play as much hip hop as I would have liked. I find that their sets that include a good dose of hip hop are usually the most off the charts as far as energy goes. Their performance was still crazy and there's really no reason to complain. It's Flosstradamus and they made it hard for me to leave and go see...
After fruitlessly searching for a non-smoking section of the field, I simply gave up and just tried to enjoy the show. The entire set had a party atmosphere as expected, complete with giant bong hits and charged classic cuts. It seems as if Lollapalooza has reserved this late Sunday slot for legendary West Coast hip hop acts (Snoop Dogg played a similar timeslot last year) and it's something that I hope they continue, seeing as how there were very few hip hop artists on the schedule this year. The ideal thing to do would be to find more current artists, which would be even greater in addition to having more established veterans like Cypress Hill each year. Moving on though, I was very entertained, but please Lolla, more hip hop acts next year please. Thank you.
I remember it being sort of a sad day when Soundgarden broke up. I thought they still had a lot left in the tank and felt their mainstream presence could only increase. I never could lump them amongst my top favorite bands of the day, but only because the alternative era was stacked with so many great acts. I did really like a great deal of Soundgarden songs, so naturally I was excited to see them. One of the first things I noticed when they took the stage is how Chris Cornell grew his hair out similar to the Badmotorfinger days, perhaps to make everyone remember how much they loved him before his failed crossover attempt with Timbaland. It felt like something more for the fans since Cornell has kept a short 'do for over 15 years now. As the set started, I felt the riffs move me a little bit but there was no sense of urgency on the stage. No one can deny Soundgarden's heaviness; it's just that there was nothing else going on except for some great musicianship. I felt no soul. It also didn't help that Cornell's mic was constantly having feedback problems and the sound mix was too low for such a band like Soundgarden. I should have been able to feel those drums cracking my ribcage, but I mellowed out after about a half hour. One highlight of the show was "Jesus Christ Pose," which was as intense as a fan would have hoped. It was a blistering, intense experience that came very close to melting my face off. That's how much they ripped it. It seemed to temporarily spark the band back to life, only for them to fade back to their lulling state. Even "Black Hole Sun," which should have resuscitated the crowd, failed to move me, but to be fair a lot of that pesty feedback didn't help the moment. It was then that I knew that the battle had been completely lost and there was no way that Soundgarden was going to regain any kind of spark on this night.
Top 5 Acts for Day 3
1. Erykah Badu
2. Mumford & Sons
3. The Dodos
4. The Ike Reilly Assassination
5. Cypress Hill
Some random observations/non-related music pictures over the weekend:
Maybe it's my perverted mind, but everytime I walked past this statue, I immediately thought "golden shower."
As if pee were a theme for the weekend, when I first walked past this port-a-potty, I thought someone was urinating towards the outside from inside. Turns out it was just a hose with a leak, but I certainly wouldn't put it past anyone at this fest to do something like that.
Early on Sunday it started raining and people became creative and starting using trash bags as rain jackets. I'm always intrigued at how when you have large amounts of people in one place, how many folks are sharp enough to improvise and come out ahead.
For most of Sunday, all of the screens were lowered at or near ground level for the majority of the day. Every single one of them. Pretty damn frustrating but it was cool to be up close to something so pixelated though.
Sometimes I look out at the crowd and go, "Damn, there sure are a lot of people" and then I'm compelled to take a picture. This was one of those moments.
I thought it was kind of funny that these cops were standing watching Cypress Hill perform the whole time as they smoked ridiculous amounts of weed onstage. "Insane In The Brain" isn't exactly the most law enforcement friendly tune either, so I had to wonder if these guys were secretly Cypress Hill fans. If I were a cop, I'd probably still get hype over that song.
Probably the biggest display of hatred towards one band I've ever seen in all my years at the festival, but then again I kind of wish she had the balls to do this on the day that Green Day actually performed instead of on Friday.