Thursday, August 11, 2011

Adventures at Lollapalooza 2011

Day 1 - Friday

Ryan Leslie

Although there weren't as many big name hip hop acts as there were in years past (which was an admittedly small list to begin with), it was refreshing to have a mainstream R&B singer at the festival. Ryan Leslie had an easygoing confidence about him that did not make it hard to be drawn into his show, but I felt it was lacking a certain punch, which could probably be remedied by adding more pieces to the band, which for this day was just a guitarist and a DJ. Still, Leslie is a talented songwriter and it would have been apparent to anyone passing by that he had an ear for beats and melodies.

Tab The Band

I think I enjoyed their stage banter the most out of all the bands over the weekend ("This song was on Major League Baseball 2K11. It's on the screen where you choose baseball players to do shit. Like play baseball, I guess.") Overall, they were fun and played some good time rock n' roll that provided a good jumpstart to Lollapalooza.


I know it's unfair, but I'm always leery of seeing bands live that gain their following through the internet. Sure, the songs can sound great at home or on your iPod, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it will be as enjoyable in person. I'm pleased to say that Tennis exceeded all of my expectations as they gave a set filled with pep as the summer weather seemed to fit their sun-drenched songs.

The Naked & Famous

Certain songs like "Young Blood" and "Punching In A Dream" brought the crowd to life, but the energy of the set wavered up and down as a midtempo song was usually placed in between the party starters, therefore stalling the momentum of the set. One thing that dawned upon me when seeing them live is that it appears that they are aspiring to be a huge rock band, the type that could play arenas on a regular basis. This is something that probably should have seemed obvious to me from their previous singles, but they'll have to polish up the stage show in order to fulfill their potential.

Los Bunkers

They drew a decent-sized but spirited crowd, which made them one of the more interesting early day sets. The atmosphere was pretty lively and the band built off of that as they rocked out.


Their live show was as spastic as their music, mixing genres at a pace that was likely to cause dizziness. With an animated stage presence, they were able to win over the crowd on pure charisma alone, but the music itself was electrifying.

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

There was sex appeal galore to be found during this set, and it wasn't just limited to Potter's short dress. She gyrated and growled through a blistering, blues-tinged set that was highlighted by an extended version of "2:22" that blew the crowd away. It was one of those performances that I kept thinking about over the weekend. It was just that damn good.

Smith Westerns

It was pleasing to see some native Chicagoans play so late in the day, but Smith Westerns have definitely earned it with a critically-acclaimed album this year in Dye It Blonde. At times, it felt like the Petrillo Band Shell was too big a stage for them and their presence wouldn't have registered with me if I had been further back. I did enjoy myself, but some bands just feel better suited for intimate venues.


I like the fragility of Madelin Follin's voice on record, but I don't think it held up as well outdoors, especially in her lower register. Once again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing as I imagine most of Cults' tracks being better appreciated in a smaller setting anyway. The songs themselves still sounded good but I wasn't that impressed with them as a live act.

Since Sade was performing that weekend at the United Center and she hardly ever tours, I had to make the tough decision of deciding which night of Lollapalooza to skip the headliner. There was absolutely no way that I was going to miss one of my favorite artists, regardless of how much fun I have every year at Lolla. I figured the night that I could sacrifice was Friday since I had already seen Muse, Ratatat & Girl Talk and I wasn't that big of a Coldplay fan anyway. Missing Eminem was out of the question and I enjoy way more songs by Foo Fighters than I do of Friday's headliners combined. The Sade concert was magnificent and I'll post pictures at a later date. Usually, I would rank the top five acts of the day, but since I headed out early, I'll only do a top three for Friday.

Top Three Acts for Day 1

1. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
2. Tennis
3. Los Bunkers

Day 2 - Saturday

Ximena SariƱara

She had a pleasant voice with a few solid songs mixed in. It was an accessible adult alternative sound that filled the time nicely.

J. Roddy Walston And The Business

These guys were a lot of fun to watch as they played rollickin', bouncy rock tunes that easily drew a crowd. Entertaining and a lot of zest.

A lot of the acts over the weekend had sign language interpreters on the side of the stage for the hearing impaired. I'm always curious as to who these people are because they're very animated and I wouldn't be surprised if they were huge fans of the artists. Take for instance the one that was on stage for J. Roddy Waltson.


Their set was filled with dark riffs that eventually became hypnotizing as they droned on. They're based in Chicago and are certainly a band I wouldn't mind checking out again. Just a very solid art-rock sound.

Chico Trujillo

One of the liveliest sets of the day. The atmosphere was one big party as they played cumbia music that had the crowd rocking back and forth. Hardly anyone in the audience was standing still.

Maps & Atlases

I only stuck around for the first two songs, but I'm glad that they opened with "Pigeons" since I'm a fan of that one. What I saw was very promising and I wish I could have stayed longer. Luckily, they're also from Chicago so hopefully there will be more opportunities to see them.

Skylar Grey

I've always liked Skylar Grey's melodies, but have always found the Alex Da Kid productions that they usually land on problematic. It's been a while since there's been some angsty female-driven rock in the mainstream and the songs I heard could definitely find a bigger audience. I think she had a problem connecting with the audience since most of them weren't familiar with her solo work, so there wasn't quite the emotional response that the songs begged for. That will probably change after she releases an album though.

Fitz & The Tantrums

They probably engaged the crowd more than anyone I saw over the weekend. There was constant interaction and stage banter and they seemed very to eager to please overall. While I thought the band was hard-hitting and displayed some chops, I thought their take on soul music was a bit corny and too showy, although still enjoyable.

Mayer Hawthorne & The County

Certainly one of the best sets I caught this weekend and a more authentic soul counterpart to the previous act. The main appeal with Hawthorne is his voice, which closely resembles Smokey Robinson, but he also has a charmingly awkward stage presence that contrasts with the deep-rooted soul surrounding him. There was just a genuine quality about his performance that evoked the spirit of Motown and Stax.

Death From Above 1979

Besides Eminem, they were my most anticipated act of the weekend since they had been broken up for five years now and their performance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien was legendary. The intensity level was unsurprisingly ramped up, but I felt that the beginning of the set felt ragged and didn't have the same punch they did on record. Due to my expectations, I wasn't completely blown away but I was still impressed and I think a lot of the people who probably never heard of them prior to the fest had a good time as well.


It seemed as if frontman Chino Moreno could never stay in one place as he frantically matched the excitement of the band's crunching dynamics. The band itself was powering and Moreno's movements gave an extra dimension to an already aggressive performance.

Ellie Goulding

She had a solid presence, but not much else was going on. The performance was satisfactory on all points, but I didn't hear anything that gave me any rush to hear her album.

Cee Lo Green

There's no question that Cee Lo gave it his all, but for the majority of the set it felt as if the crowd was just waiting for his big hits. The set was more rock-oriented than I expected it to be, with him opening up with a cover of Danzig's "Mother" and with his DJ spreading snippets of classics in between songs, which felt more like crowd pandering to me instead of staying true to the sound of The Lady Killer and his previous two albums. This approach was too jumbled for my liking and the overall effect came off as messy. It also didn't help that the vocals were up too loud to the point of being distorted. I expect a crowd to go crazy over the singles, but the gap in reaction between songs they knew and didn't know was very huge and it affected the energy of the set.

Lykke Li

Once again, she gave an amazing performance. I was over the moon about her the last time she performed at Lolla and she was just as magical and hypnotic this time. I heavily prefer Youth Novels over her latest, Wounded Rhymes and I knew that I would hear a great deal from that album, which I wasn't exactly looking forward to, but she made them all sound terrific and it's leading me to rethink my stance on her second LP.


He sounded as technically proficient as you would hope one of the great MCs would sound and it led to a good performance. Eminem mostly stuck to the first verse of songs, which I'm not a fan of, but I understand that you're able to squeeze in more songs that way. Still, it was thrilling to hear even parts of "Kill You" and "Square Dance" in person. The guest stars that he brought out included Royce Da 5'9", Bruno Mars and Skylar Grey, with Bruno receiving the biggest pop. The crowd was as into his set as anyone over the weekend, and personally, he was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to attend this year since he rarely performs now and I'm not sure I'd pay for one of his concerts. Based on the strength of his catalog and skills, it was one of my favorite shows of the weekend.

Top Five Acts for Day 2

1. Mayer Hawthorne & The County
2. Lykke Li
3. Eminem
4. Chico Trujillo
5. Disappears

Day 3 - Sunday

Gold Motel

As fun as I expected them to be and a nice laid back way to start the day. They're another Chicago band who has done well with solid indie pop songwriting instincts.

Titus Andronicus

A raucous set that matched the energy of their album. They ripped it up for 45 minutes and never let up once.

Imelda May

She provided the crowd with some rockabilly stompers that pleased just about everyone and was pure fun overall. I can only imagine how much more impressive she could be at smaller venue where it would be easier to connect with people since she already did a fine job on this day.

Lia Ices

The shaded BMI stage was the perfect place for her as the music was calming and her strong voice provided a soothing change of pace. With quieter artists, I'm always impressed if they can translate their songs to a big outdoor crowd, which usually bodes well for the recorded work. She sounded good enough for me to do some further investigating.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

More spirited than I thought they would be due to the mellow nature of It's A Corporate World and the Horse Power EP, but no matter what the tune, they played with vigor more fitting for an arena band.

The Cars

There were moments of life during their set, but other intervals sounded less polished. The fact that they have so many good songs was enough to make the set fun, but they played like an average band.

Best Coast

At this moment in the day, the rain really started to pour down, which contradicted the themes of summer in Best Coast's music, but it didn't deter the fans and the set was more stimulating than expected. There is a hazy, relaxed sound on their album, but the band played as if they were ready to kick someone's ass instead.

Nas & Damien "Jr. Gong" Marley

Despite Nas stumbling over a few words, I was still excited to finally see one of my favorite rappers of all-time. The chemistry between Marley and Nas was just as strong onstage as it was on record and it made for a very hype set. Marley's whip-tight backing band helped to elevate both performers.

Explosions In The Sky

Both intense and ethereal at the same time. With them being so late in the day, I don't think as many people were prepared to listen as closely and probably expected more traditional verse/chorus structures or the fact that the Foo Fighters were performing right after might have altered the crowd's energy. The last time I saw them at Lollapalooza, I remember everyone being in awe of what they were seeing and totally focused on the band. Their performance was still worthy of such attention.

Foo Fighters

The rain once again made its presence known during the Foo Fighters' set, but it probably invigorated them even more than Best Coast. During "My Hero," as Dave Grohl riled the crowd by amping up his delivery, I couldn't help but be caught up in the fervor and sing along with the rest of the crowd as raindrops pelted my umbrella and soaked my shoes. It will probably go down as one of my most memorable Lollapalooza moments. The band soldiered on and delivered extended versions of songs that provided a nice surprise and never once lagged.

Top Five Acts for Day 3

1. Titus Andronicus
2. Best Coast
3. Foo Fighters
4. Explosions In The Sky
5. Imelda May/Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (TIE)

Other random things at Lolla:

I didn't spend a lot of time at Perry's this year, but I did like the idea of a huge tent to give it a rave feel, although it seemed like they might have had more space to accommodate the crowd last year. It looked like it would get cramped pretty fast, but I also did like that they had the stage positioned further south in the park, which lessened the sound carrying over to other stages than in previous years. This is what it looked like.

I wish I had this backpack.

I wonder what this guy's story was. He looks like he's related to Super Hugo, a mascot for the New Orleans Hornets

If you can't make it out, that's a guy in a moped with a hook for a left hand holding to a beer. He was probably the coolest person I saw all weekend.

The northern part of Grant Park is no stranger to geese. This was the first year they made an appearance during Lollapalooza as far as I can remember. The picture was taken early in the day on Sunday.

The Camelbak Filling Station was one of the smartest ideas they've ever had at this fest and it's something I hope they continue. In past years, if you wanted to fill up on water, you had to go one of a handful of water fountains throughout the park, which usually resulted in very long lines on days where it was hot. They had people squeeze water into your container and I never had to wait more than five minutes to fill up my bottles.

With rain comes mud, and with mud comes messy fun. This particular crowd tried to outdo each other by sliding and just plain slopping around.

About an hour later in the same field, a mud wrestling racket had started. I love the communal nature of Lollapalooza, but I also admire the creativity of the people as well.

He was cheered on by the crowd to do a third slide. He obliged them.

This rainbow should headline next year due to all the attention it got from people.

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