Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lollapalooza reminiscence

Originally published on the blog section of The Red & Black's website, but few people would ever think to go there and read it. So I'm taking things into my own hands and using my domain to my advantage.

In all seriousness, I worked quite hard on writing this and I find it to be a thorough account of the weekend, so please read:

My 2008 Lollapalooza Experience
by John Barrett
the Red & Black

FOR REFERENCE: a map of the Lollapalooza grounds

I know what most of you are probably asking yourself (Red & Black editors and moderators included): if Lollapalooza was held on August 1-3, why has it taken me almost a month to publish any sort of recap of the festival? Well, lucky for all of you readers I have some answers/excuses prepared.

First, this whole “blog” thing is brand new to me, so it took me a while to get my bearings on this whole project. Second, organizing my notes was a fairly tedious process. Third, the photos I took weren’t developed until a few days ago (which were taken via a disposable camera and turned out kind of lousy anyway), and I had to track down some video footage courtesy of my good friend Krista Slavik. Lastly, I was bitten pretty hard by the procrastination bug. Probably something to do with this not actually being printed in the newspaper, and also wanting to enjoy the last few stress-free moments of summer. Hey, honesty is the best policy, right?

But enough of this preamble. Since it’s been a few weeks, any news about this year’s Lollapalooza festival in Grant Park, Chicago, is quickly bordering on irrelevance. For those of you that wanted to attend but couldn’t, or those who attended and want to relive the excitement… or those who have been living under a rock and have somehow missed the entire boat on this whole “Lollapalooza” thing… I hope I can help provide a colorful account of the weekend.

Let’s take this by day then, shall we… So much music, and so little time…


Just a little contextual backdrop: my brother Andrew and I arrived at my aunt’s place in Chicago the day before the festival – free boarding is a major perk. My aunt lives in an elegant, trendy loft in the newly opened Palmolive Building, smack in the heart of downtown Chicago, literally a couple blocks north of the Hancock Building. (Fun fact: Vince Vaughan has a place there too. And no, I didn’t get to see him.) Festival destination Grant Park was a brief walk straight down Michigan Avenue and south of the river. Andrew and I had been there before in previous visits to Chicago: it’s a fantastic park, bordering the serene expanse of Lake Michigan on one side and the endless sea of downtown Chicago skyscrapers on all the others. In the center of the park is the majestic Buckingham Fountain.

We arrived at the park at 12:30 in hopes of catching an early performance by Atlanta flower-punk quartet the Black Lips. Didn’t happen. Though we heard them from the fence, we were forced to stand in an interminably long line until we could finally present our tickets and receive our weekend-pass wristbands. Security (if you want to call it that) was unbelievably lax, as people around me stuffed drugs into their shoes and hauled in massive backpacks filled with who knows what. Once we finally entered the festival premises, 2 hours had already elapsed. Meaning we’d missed not only the Black Lips but also Manchester Orchestra, Butch Walker and Rogue Wave.

But this was no time to be mourning these losses; we had already missed the first fifteen minutes of one of the most underrated bands on the circuit: tribal indie-rockers Yeasayer. We headed to the south side main stage (AT&T) to catch the bulk of their show. The Brooklyn foursome delivered a powerhouse performance to a surprisingly large and enthusiastic crowd, showing the power and momentum that debut album All Hour Cymbals has already gathered. Bassist Ira Wolf Tuton wielded a fretless bass, contributing a fluid, gliding backdrop for guitarist Anand Wilder’s ringing, atmospheric passages and singer/keyboardist Chris Keating’s progressive keyboard melodies. The set consisted of most of their debut album, including show highlight “Wait for the Summer” near the end. Fans watched in awe as the group combined indie pop/rock with world music and tribal-tinged effects into an irresistible genre-bending final product.

After Yeasayer, Andrew and I decided to grab lunch and explore Grant Park some. Since Lollapalooza was reconfigured in 2005 from a traveling festival to a three-day music destination very much akin to New Orleans’ Voodoo Fest or Atlanta’s now-defunct Music Midtown, the atmosphere has undoubtedly changed. This year’s festival drew all sorts of different fans to Grant Park… Ordinary people getting a taste of the festival atmosphere. Moms and dads with their children. Indie kids. Lots of indie kids. Everywhere. Wearing the latest ironic T-shirts and skintight jeans and weird-for-the-sake-of-weird hairstyles and raving about being more excited for Dr. Dog and the Ting Tings than Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine. Dudes that would’ve looked more at home in a frat house, drinking Keystone Light and wearing the latest rawkin’ stylz from Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch. Your occasional punk with the Mohawk – and the real deal, mind you, fully spiked and colored. (Your occasional misguided soul rocking the faux-hawk too.) Occasionally you’d spot a dreadlocked Rasta-esque guy or a tie-dye clad hippie, but compared to campout festivals like Bonnaroo or Langerado, the peaceful pot-smoking hippie demographic was vastly underrepresented. Not to mention that Blues Traveler and John Butler Trio were the only two bands in the circuit that could be considered “jam bands”. For the most part, the crowd leaned on the more mainstream side, and I struggled to soak it all in as we rushed from stage to stage trying to absorb as many bands as possible.

Next on our agenda was the Kills, a stylishly minimalist duo featuring vocalist Alison Mosshart and guitarist Jamie Hince, playing at the south side’s second stage (Myspace). On the way over we caught part of Louis XIV’s show at the smaller Citi Stage, which was ho-hum at best. Most of their songs sounded similar, and the lyrics were so blatantly and overtly sexual that it was actually distracting. And not in a good way. I would periodically find myself tuning out the music and thinking, “Did he actually just say that?” After their fluke single “Finding Out True Love Is Blind”, a good portion of the audience (ourselves included) left in a mass exodus. The Kills’ lo-fi indie vibe was impressively high-energy for a mere singer and guitar player. They got the crowd on their feet and dancing with a set list comprised of new tunes from this year’s Midnight Boom as well as past albums like No Wow.

Shortly after the Kills left the stage, it occurred to me how ungodly hot it was. Though we had only been at the festival for an hour and a half, I could feel my entire face getting sunburned. A note to all people planning on attending a summer festival: for maximum enjoyment, don’t forget to put on sunscreen. Seriously. Don’t do what I did. The hot Chicago sun brought temperatures well into the 90s, and the lack of a breeze left fans quickly dehydrated and exhausted, often seeking refuge in the various clusters of trees lining the park. But we had no time to rest – we were still pissed about standing in line for two hours and didn’t want a single moment to pass us by. We rushed back to the AT&T stage to watch the first half of Gogol Bordello’s set. The plan was to leave halfway through and head to the north side of the park to catch the Black Keys, who were playing at the same time.

I can say with the utmost certainty that Gogol Bordello is one of the most bizarre and unique bands I’ve ever encountered. Eastern European immigrants from New York playing punk rock with a flair for Eastern/gypsy melodies, the large ensemble was led by the eccentric, shirtless Eugene Hutz, strumming a classical guitar maniacally and bellowing multi-lingual lyrics into the mic, jumping around all parts of the stage like a maniac on the loose. Aside from Hutz, violinist Sergey Ryabtsev and accordionist Yuri Lemeshev harmonized together with exotic minor-key melodies, which was fascinating. Gogol Bordello also included six other members playing to maximum potential, resulting in a whirlwind concert where there was hardly a moment to catch your breath, much less a dull one. Biggest eyebrow-raiser: around the third or fourth song, two girls in skimpy green outfits rushed out onto the stage and began dancing hypnotically to a pummeling punk rhythm, then out of nowhere launched into a chorus of piercing high-pitched screams. My head was starting to spin. Was I really watching this? At any rate, it was one of the most fun shows I saw that weekend.

We migrated to the other end of the park to check out the Black Keys on the north side main stage (Bud Light). As a blues-rock duo consisting of singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, the Black Keys have drawn heavy comparisons to the White Stripes in the media. Truthfully, the bands are extremely similar (and the Black Keys were scheduled to play right before Jack White’s full-band outfit the Raconteurs on the same stage – coincidence? I think not). But the Black Keys came off as a less messy (but also less idiosyncratic) version of the White Stripes, turning out a bluesy, no-frills set that made ample reference to greats like Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. Though not nearly as maddeningly exciting as Gogol Bordello, the Black Keys certainly had an attentive crowd and kept their interest till the very end. Something that kept my interest in particular was the duo’s effortless time signature gear-shifting.

Andrew and I took a bathroom break at the dreaded port-a-johns, most of which were already completely out of toilet paper and smelled like ten East Campuses in one spot, before heading back to Citi Stage to see Brooklyn experimental rockers Grizzly Bear. The ethereal, psychedelic textures that characterize albums like 2007’s Yellow House was well-represented and eagerly taken in by a reverent audience. As impressive as the band was, we opted not to stay for very long. The day’s two bands of greatest magnitude were just around the corner: the Raconteurs and Radiohead.

The Raconteurs were back across the park on the Bud Light stage. By the time we got there, the group had just taken the stage and were tearing into a fiery rendition of “Consoler of the Lonely”, the almost-title track from this year’s Consolers of the Lonely. Following that with “Level” from debut release Broken Boy Soldiers, it quickly became clear that this was not going to be anything like the last time I saw Jack White (with the White Stripes in 2005). No, these guys were full-powered rock n’ roll at its finest. Studio-wise, the White Stripes are probably the more unique and interesting of the two groups, but the Raconteurs deliver a more thoroughly rewarding live experience. Though he will never replace Meg White’s irresistible minimalist bashing, Raconteurs drummer Patrick Keeler played with precision and finesse that acted as an entirely different template for Jack White’s fiery guitar freakouts. Another welcome addition was Jack Lawrence’s slithering basslines. But alongside White, the member who shone the most was his longtime friend and solo artist Brendan Benson, whose professional, fluid approach to the guitar meshed perfectly with White’s comparably raw, frantic style. The two tossed solos back and forth and often engaged in harmonized twin guitar runs that kept the crowd thirsting for more. Not to mention that White is an engaging, charismatic performer and, by virtue alone, continually found his way into the limelight. Smash hit “Steady as She Goes” included a crowd chant-along to the oft-repeated phrase “Are you steady now?”. And if it weren’t for White’s spontaneous use of a small Dubreq Stylophone causing me to double-take several times over, my answer might have been yes. All in all, the Raconteurs delivered a powerhouse performance, mixing heavy blues-rock with the occasional tender folk-influenced ballad.

It wasn’t easy to do, but Andrew and I pulled ourselves away from the Raconteurs a half hour before they were due to finish in order to secure some kind of favorable spot for Radiohead. If I’d been able to have my way, I would have been front and center for Radiohead. But the painfully mediocre indie group Bloc Party played before them on the AT&T stage, and quite frankly, I wasn’t gonna sacrifice seeing the Raconteurs and endure an entire Bloc Party set just to secure a close spot for Radiohead. We figured we’d take our chances. As we neared the south end of the park and passed the Citi stage, where eccentric Brazilian group CSS was busy kicking up a storm (I think the lead singer was actually wearing flowers all over her body – but then again this observation was just in passing), a familiar face caught my eye from the Myspace stage. There in all of his subdued glory was Stephen Malkmus – for those of you unawares, Malkmus was the mastermind behind 90’s indie-rock heroes Pavement. He was playing with his new project, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, a co-ed quartet with a female rhythm section. Though we only lingered for a few songs – and would have stayed longer if we hadn’t noticed that the AT&T stage was growing exponentially more crowded with every second – Malkmus turned out a quirky, progressive-tinged indie set to a small and surprisingly less than enthusiastic crowd. I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw, but there were bigger fish to fry. We hurried into the gaggle of fans and pushed our way forward as far as we could go, assuming we could eventually push our way into the front. We were wrong. We got stopped somewhere to the left of the main light booth, finding ourselves pressed shoulder-to-shoulder and side-to-side, with hardly even enough room to comfortably breathe. It was 7:30, meaning we would have to stand like this for a half hour until Radiohead took the stage. In short: it was f***ing packed.

Just when I thought I wouldn’t be able to stand it anymore, the off-kilter electronic beat of In Rainbows’ opening track “15 Step” permeated the audience and liberated the rabidly excited crowd, resulting in immediate cheers and screams of ecstasy from all around. One by one, each member emerged onto the stage as they launched into a flawless performance, led all the while by vocalist/pianist/guitarist Thom Yorke’s aching falsetto. Immediately, Radiohead turned the clock back to 1997’s landmark OK Computer, unleashing the eerie, twisting melody of “Airbag.” Recent radio staple “There There” followed with such an intensity that it took my breath away. And these were just the first three songs. To try and select highlights from their stellar set list is an entirely pointless and self-defeating task: every song was its own indispensable highlight, all a glowing part of a beautiful whole that can only be understood after experiencing Radiohead live. Nevertheless, I’ll try to name some of the best moments or I’d wind up raving about Radiohead’s show for pages upon pages… Thom Yorke, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, bassist Colin Greenwood, guitarist Ed O’Brien and drummer Phil Selway (yes, I had to list them all by name because that’s what kind of mega-Radiohead-dork-fan I am) were phenomenal, playing a red-hot set list that didn’t lose steam for a single waking moment. They played cuts from every single studio release (except for their mediocre debut Pablo Honey – but thankfully I didn’t spot any wannabe/poser Radiohead fans yelling for them to play “Creep”), including every single track from newest album In Rainbows. Yes, that’s right, the entire album, though not in order. “Weird Fishes”, “Reckoner”, and “Jigsaw Falling into Place” were positively jaw-dropping. For the majority of the concert, there was very little movement or noise among the 70,000+ crowd – a reverence that you hardly ever witness at large-scale festivals like Lollapalooza. For me, make that never. Which speaks volumes about the type of crowd Radiohead draws. The band has fans like few other: ones that know all the obscure lyrics, who can anticipate all the unusual changes in each song. In short, fans whose attention to every moment of the concert shows how much they’ve listened to and cherished every part of their epic, sweeping catalog. Unfortunately, from my position in the crowd, any attempt at a photo of the band was a complete shot in the dark – raising my disposable camera high above my head, snapping, and hoping for something (anything) to develop.

With much difficulty, I have thought long and hard and selected the one song that was the unquestionable peak of the show: “Fake Plastic Trees.” Although it’s one of Radiohead’s most ubiquitous songs, let’s not forget that it’s also one of their most gorgeous ballads to date, with enough fragility and passion to make the most iron-hearted of souls collapse and sob into their hands. It was a shocking moment in the first place that Radiohead chose to play it (they typically stray from playing their major 90s radio hits, and probably for the better – “Creep” is overplayed and “High and Dry” is probably the worst Radiohead song ever written), but their timing couldn’t have been more perfect. As Thom Yorke opened “Fake Plastic Trees” alone with his acoustic guitar, the entire crowd was deadly silent – so quiet you could hear a pin drop over by the bathrooms. Everybody was rapt with complete attention. As the song continued, the sun sank just below the horizon, lending the Chicago skyline a deep emerald green hue. All around the park the towering downtown skyscrapers began to light up with the excitement of the night, and from a building not far from behind the stage, fireworks were being shot off. Of course, all the indier-than-thou snobs were quick to point that it detracted from Radiohead’s performance – and it very well could have, had Radiohead planned the fireworks themselves – but the fireworks were actually complete coincidence, coming from an unrelated event being held nearby at Soldier Field. Meaning it actually enhanced Radiohead’s already fantastic performance tenfold. The way it synced up with “Fake Plastic Trees” was nothing short of magical. For five minutes I was literally trembling from head to foot and couldn’t stop for the life of me. After a mind-blowingly intense closing encore of “2+2=5” and “Idioteque”, Radiohead left the stage rather abruptly, leaving several fans hoping to prolong the magic in the dark. Leaving the park was an absolute stampede – moving bodies in every direction as far as the eye could see. I was still floating in an almost surreal state of awe. There would be no partying for me tonight – I could do nothing to taint the performance I had just seen. Plus, Saturday afternoon would arrive in a hurry and we were nothing short of exhausted.


Andrew and I got a later start than planned, finding it pretty difficult to wake up in the morning. Luckily, the schedule for the beginning of the day comprised mostly unremarkable indie bands (Does It Offend You Yeah, the Ting Tings, etc.). The first band we’d really wanted to see was Dr. Dog, who we completely missed. We arrived around 3:00 and managed to catch the tail end of the Gutter Twins’ harrowing performance. It was nice to witness former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan and former Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli collaborating together, albeit with a much darker edge than we’ve grown accustomed to from these guys. Unfortunately, we saw a full two songs before they left the stage, so we decided to check out the bands on the other side of Grant Park. On the way to DeVotchKa on the north side’s second stage (PlayStation 3) we stopped to watch some of Steel Train’s performance on the smaller BMI stage. They were full of energy and had the crowd’s full attention, but they were a band clearly in their infantile stages still developing their sound. All the same, it was enjoyable and fun. But DeVotchKa was truly a sight to see. We planned to catch half of their show and then bail for MGMT back on the Myspace stage on the south side, but wound up so engrossed in DeVotchKa’s performance that we wound up staying for nearly the whole thing. The band’s unusually eclectic choice of instruments was the most distinguishing feature of their show – accordion, violin, double bass, trumpet and even sousaphone – and delivered a thrilling romantic Latin-tinged set. After leaving we got a quick lunch and rushed over to the Myspace stage to catch popular indie-psychedelia duo MGMT. Sadly, as we walked into the crowd they pretty much played their last chord, took a bow and left. Nothing much to report.

Frustrated, we decided to stop skipping around – the park was a little big to be traversing all over it so much, and we kept missing large chunks of bands’ shows – and opted to duck emo-esque rockers Brand New in favor of experimental rock group Explosions in the Sky, playing on the Bud Light stage across the park. We showed up just as they were getting started. The quartet’s all-instrumental set was invigorating despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of vocals. Each song was laden with feedback, ethereal textures and melodies, and volatile, explosive dynamic shifts. The band would dial it down to almost zero and then thrash away full-steam in synchronized movements in the blink of an eye. The amazing part? It sounded completely natural instead of forced and contrived. Nobody wanted their set to end; the enthusiasm of the crowd was positively electric. Random onlookers were shouting, “Best band of the weekend!” Aside from Radiohead, they were dead-on.

Okkervil River was next, just across the field at the PS3 stage. This indie-folk hybrid, led by eccentric singer/guitarist Will Sheff, whose lyrics were at the center of the band’s performance for the duration of the show. And rightfully so; if you ever read Okkervil River’s lyrics, Will Sheff is a poet in every sense of the word. His lyrics are multi-faceted, brilliantly constructed and never mundane or cliché. It was especially exciting to hear cuts from both halves of their two-part double album: 2007’s The Stage Names and the upcoming September release of The Stand Ins. Not only was the large ensemble exciting to watch, they were clearly excited, going to extra lengths to involve the crowd – including witty stage/audience banter and tons of multi-speed hand-claps and chant-alongs. At the end, Sheff leaped down into the front row of the crowd to pay a personal thanks to his loyal fans, resulting in the most genuine live show of the weekend.

Back to the Bud Light stage across the way for Canada’s indie supergroup Broken Social Scene, who had around 9 members onstage at all times. Although echoing a bit too much of the repulsive twee-pop sound that their country has unfortunately made famous (think the New Pornographers or Stars or other similarly unappealing bands), the band’s constant whirlwind interplay was surprisingly captivating and kept us watching long enough to completely miss Lupe Fiasco – whose feverish, verbose and backflip-filled set I’d heard from everybody was fantastic. The 9 members of Broken Social Scene employed various unorthodoxly-strung guitars (some only had 3 strings on them, and in different places). And though I usually turn my nose up and indie-pop, I found myself embracing their catchy, invigorated brand of it, especially the delicate male-female vocal interplay. Midway through the set, frontman Brendan Canning encouraged everyone to vote for Obama in Novmber – a sentiment that resonated well with the young crowd, myself included. Seems these guys have more going for them than I’d originally thought.

After showing up for Lupe Fiasco’s final bow (this was happening annoyingly often on that day), we got dinner and braved the port-a-johns again, which were (if possible) in worse condition than the day before. After struggling not to puke my guts out from the smell alone, we rushed over to the south side for the remainder of the night to check out Toadies before staking our ground for legendary political rap-metal band Rage Against the Machine. I’d like to clarify that Saturday night’s lineup presented me with the toughest choice in bands that I’d have to make for the whole festival – because you see, a little band called Wilco was playing at the exact same time as Rage on the opposite end of the park. But since I’ve seen Wilco twice already, was supposed to see Rage at New Orleans’ Voodoo Fest in 2007 but missed them (long story), and not to mention RATM’s future is uncertain, the decision wasn’t as hard as you might think. I was just sad that, to my chagrin, I would have to sit out on Wilco’s always welcome chill country-indie-alternative hybrid, complete with guitar virtuoso Nels Cline. Side note: Barack Obama himself was rumored to be making an appearance at Wilco’s show, but (as I suspected) this just turned out to be hearsay.

90’s rockers Toadies (remember that song “Possum Kingdom”?) newly reunited in 2007 after their initial breakup six years ago. And it showed. The band had a vigor and drive that made their borderline-generic post-grunge take on an edge and freshness I hadn’t expected, and it was clear this foursome was happy rekindling their chemistry onstage. The set was juxtaposed with classics like the aforementioned “Possum Kingdom” and “I Come from the Water” and songs from their brand-spanking-new album No Deliverance. (Seriously, it came out like 5 days ago.) We left early to make our way closer to the AT&T stage in hopes of landing a good spot for Rage Against the Machine, this time almost 45 minutes prior to their show. Our luck turned out to be about on par with the Radiohead show: as we neared the light booth (again!), we found ourselves immediately in the middle of a tightly compressed sea of anxiously waiting RATM fans. We fought our way through people – literally pushing with all our might – until we could not go any further forward for the life of us. But I was starting to think that maybe that was for the better: the crowd was so tightly packed that I didn’t even want to think about what it would turn into once Rage’s ferocious rap-rock set in. Well, I wouldn’t have to think long. After standing wall-to-wall with Andrew surrounded by people on all sides for 45 minutes, the moment had arrived at last. Again, it would be a shot in the dark taking photos of Rage, but I did my best.

I’d always heard a Rage Against the Machine show is intense, but you have to see it – er, feel it – to really believe it. Once the first whirring guitar noises of “Testify” dropped, it was an absolute free-for-all in the crowd. Andrew and I had to jump, mosh and push with all our tired, sunburned, dehydrated power to avoid getting crushed, trampled, or worse. During the popular “Bulls on Parade”, I was being pressed hard from both sides by bodies and at one point thought that I would not be able to breathe if I tried. Mosh pits were breaking out in every direction you looked, and I participated in a mosh pit for the first time in my life. I’m relatively small – 5’10” and 150 pounds thereabouts – and even I was able to hold my own in the pit for awhile. That is, until someone from behind nailed me in the spine with their elbow, forcing me to recoil to the sidelines and take a breather. Never have I felt in serious danger for my life at a concert until Rage. I kid you not. If you weren’t ready to step up and take the heat, you’d best get your ass out of there stat or you weren’t gonna live to see tomorrow. It was so violent, in fact, that rapper/frontman Zack De la Rocha, one of the most aggressive voices in modern music, had to stop the show three times to settle down the overwhelmingly wild crowd, asking us repeatedly to take five to ten steps backward. People were breaking or twisting their ankles or passing out from dehydration, and from outside Grant Park 60-80 people crashed a gate. The surprisingly humane De la Rocha was aware of this. He stressed raging against the machine, as his band name implied, not against ourselves, reminding us that we had an obligation to take care of one another. The crowd listened somewhat, but not much; it was still an absolute frenzy.

Zack De la Rocha never shied from his extreme-leftist political messages: a warning to “Brother Obama” that if he didn’t stay true to his word to pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, a whole new generation of blacks and Hispanics would revolt and burn the United States’ corporate and political centers to the ground. Rage against the machine indeed! If Obama doesn’t follow through (knock on wood), I’ll be right there alongside those vigilantes, setting all the corporate fat-chewing liars’ dens ablaze and rejoicing as their hideous money-bitten lives incinerate with the smoldering flames. (A note to any authority figures reading this who might take that as an anti-patriotic threat: I’m not gonna say anything more about that except that you should only take that statement in the context of me making a point about RATM’s powerfully inspiring show.) As far as the songs themselves went, Rage drew from their absolute best material (almost exclusively from their 1992 eponymous debut and 1999’s The Battle of Los Angeles), including a blistering encore of “Freedom” bled straight into “Killing in the Name” without a moment’s pause. Though Zack De la Rocha dominated the concert, guitarist Tom Morello cannot be overlooked – his blistering, experimental solos that take the possibilities of feedback, tremolo and alternate tunings to vast new levels give Rage a singularly unique sound and mesh brilliantly with the pummeling, rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk. Again, the mass exodus from the festival grounds was a difficult endeavor. The bottoms of my shoes aching and blistering and so exhausted and dehydrated from moshing that I thought I would keel over, Andrew and I dragged ourselves home to sleep – no scratch that, to pass out – in preparation for the final day.


I guess you could say Sunday was the day when all the loose ends were tied together. Until today, Andrew and I had been completely unsuccessful in meeting up with anyone we knew at Lollapalooza (mainly due to the horribly spotty cell phone service), wandering around from stage to stage together in search of anyone we knew. We got going a little faster than the day before, which was a miracle considering how heavily we slept after Rage Against the Machine. We once again set off down Michigan Avenue and arrived at the festival grounds in time to catch most of the set of Athens’ very own The Whigs, who put on a gritty, no-muss-no-fuss rock-n-roll set on the Myspace stage. For just three members, the Whigs displayed an incredible amount of seemingly boundless energy: guitarist Parker Gispert was pouring sweat and slashing away at the guitar like his life depended on it, and drummer Julian Dorio was a whirlwind of motion, pummeling the drums into submission every chance he got. They blazed through a set consisting of new tunes from this year’s Mission Control and their debut, 2005’s Give ‘Em All a Big Fat Lip. For the closing song, Gispert relinquished his guitar duties to bassist Tim Deaux and assumed the role of keyboards. A tight, rousing and effective three-man performance all-around.

We ventured over to the AT&T Stage to watch Brazilian Girls, a trio hailing from New York and containing only one female: the sultry, eccentric singer Sabina Sciubba. Her unconventional beauty and charisma, coupled with an extremely short skirt, provided suitable ear and eye candy for an eclectic, danceable set which included the summery lounge anthem “Pussy” (perhaps better known as “Pussy Marijuana” due to its unforgettable chorus). It was here that we finally met up with my friend Jackie, a college student and native to Chicago; we had been trying to find one another all weekend but only finally succeeded now. Jackie was with a few of her friends, who were all content to stay put at Brazilian Girls. Andrew and I decided to catch the end of John Butler Trio, performing at the Bud Light Stage on the north side. And so the tedious march across Grant Park in the blazing summer sun began again. John Butler Trio put on a great show with multiple solos that showcased Butler and company’s stellar musicianship. Bassist Shannon Birchall played an upright bass with as much power and finesse as a bass guitar, and Butler joined drummer Michael Barker in a show-stopping drum/percussion solo right before the final song. The funky bluegrass-jam rock hybrid was enticing and alluring, and John Butler Trio received just as warm a reception at Lollapalooza as he would receive at a more jam-oriented festival like Langerado or Rothbury.

Andrew and I grabbed lunch and some water and regrouped. We caught the tribal, polyrhythmic world music of blind African duo Amadou & Mariam, though only briefly, at the PS3 stage nearby. We cut this act short because A) I wanted one of those cool Radiohead In Rainbows shirts and the lines were extraordinarily long, and B) we were due to rendezvous with Jackie and her friends again. We hung out at the Q101 FM-sponsored Hammock Haven, which was essentially hammocks set up in a thick cluster of trees near the center of the park. Oh, and there were various Q101 dudes shooting people with super-powered water guns periodically. I eagerly took my place within their line of fire, desperate for some refuge from the heat. We found Jackie and her friends under one of the hammocks and passed around rum and coke and reminisced about the best bands of the weekends. They didn’t seem in too much of a hurry to leave the shade (and it honestly would have been nice to continue relaxing there), but Iron & Wine had already taken to the Bud Light stage and Andrew and I didn’t want to miss any more of their show. We bid Jackie farewell, as unbeknownst to us this would be the last I saw of her. Iron & Wine is, in the studio, essentially the one-man project of perennially grizzled singer/guitarist Samuel Beam, so I was expecting a downbeat, mellow performance in the vein of somebody like Jack Johnson. Probably for the better, I was proven far from correct. Beam was accompanied by 7 or 8 other members and led them through a set of spacey, folk-infused jams on a variety of instruments, including warm, ringing lap steel guitar passages and chaotic piano solos. They closed with a monumental rendition of the title track from 2007’s acclaimed release The Shepherd’s Dog.

A split second after Iron & Wine finished, an announcer across the field at the PS3 stage loudly proclaimed the arrival of Irish punk-rockers Flogging Molly. The band, touring in support of their newest album Float (which was prominently on display behind them on stage), was as in-your-face as could be, and the only band to rival the Whigs in terms of raw energy. Instead of straight-up rock, though, Flogging Molly mixed in plenty of authentic Irish flavor. The seven-piece outfit played instruments ranging from banjo to mandolin, violin/fiddle and accordion, in addition to the usual guitars-bass-drums backbone. Their music was blissful good-time bouncy exuberance with a Celtic twist, exactly the unique sound that they became known for, leading the crowd through favorites like “Drunken Lullabies.” It was here more than ever that I wished I had a pint of Guinness in my hand to merrily toast to their punk-infused drinking songs. After half of their set, Andrew and I figured it was time to pay our dues to jam-band favorites Blues Traveler, and on the way out of the crowd ran into my old friend Krista, who I hadn’t seen in nearly two years. It was a surprise and total joy to see another familiar face. Krista was running around with a higher-quality camera that was video equipped, and I immediately asked for her help in getting footage for the festival. The video clips that you see on here, as well as some of the photos, are courtesy of her stunning photography talents. Krista luckily also wanted to check out Blues Traveler, so the three of us made our way to the south side of the park. Blues Traveler was well into their set on the Myspace stage, and their jam-filled set list lit the crowd on fire. The band was anchored mainly by the interplay of singer and virtuoso harmonica player John Popper, relentless guitar shredder Chan Kinchla, and dexterous 6-string bassist Tad Kinchla. The set was rounded out toward the end by a surprise cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” and closed with a bang with one of Blues Traveler’s most popular songs, “Hook.”

From there, me, Krista and Andrew proceeded to work our way into the already forming crowd of Gnarls Barkley on the AT&T stage. This was one of the harder decisions we faced in terms of who to check out: Gnarls was playing at the same time as Love & Rockets (essentially Bauhaus minus lead singer Peter Murphy) and popular DJ/mash-up artist Girl Talk. I had no qualms about sticking around to watch Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse in action, though, and figured Gnarls Barkley was the most appealing of the three options. Although Atlanta native vocalist Cee-Lo and producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse are the only two official members, they were joined onstage by a full-band outfit. Cee-Lo led the group in all its soulful glory with his stunningly powerful pipes. Danger Mouse meanwhile stuck mainly to the keyboards and organ. Thankfully, after smash hit “Crazy” was played midway through the set, most of the fans stayed firmly put. The biggest surprise came shortly thereafter when Gnarls unexpectedly broke into an impressive cover of Radiohead’s “Reckoner.”

Once Gnarls Barkley finished with a moving bow from Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse, we migrated back toward the food area to get dinner and stopped to check out guitarist/arranger Mark Ronson, who showcased a flurry of guest musicians, singers and rappers in his grandiose, and above all fun, performance. But 8:15 was drawing near, which meant so were the final two acts of the entire festival: the ever-hyped and ever-egotistical Chicago native Kanye West, and legendary industrial rock group Nine Inch Nails. Not as difficult choice as one might think; I tend to lean heavily on rock over hip-hop (obviously) and figured seeing Nine Inch Nails would mean a lot more to me. We caught some dinner, visited Green Street, the environmental section of the festival, for the first time, and bid farewell to Krista, who was going to catch her friends near the AT&T stage for Kanye West. Andrew and I trekked once again across the park to the north side in preparation for Nine Inch Nails.

As soon as we arrived at the Bud Light stage, we knew we were in for an intense ride. Nine Inch Nails had just taken the stage, opening with the first four tracks from their latest release, this year’s free digital download and full-length album The Slip. The reception was fairly enthusiastic, but there was a noticeable spike in noise and excitement once “March of the Pigs”, from 1994’s acclaimed The Downward Spiral, sounded over the speakers and turned back the clock to Reznor’s hate- and drug abuse-filled years. Their light show was wildly chaotic, blinding and impossible to take your eyes off of – and although Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine may have put on technically better performances (or maybe I’m just biased to liking their music a little bit more), but Nine Inch Nails’ light show easily topped any band of the weekend. Trent Reznor and his loyal, low-profile minions brought the heat like only veterans of their stature can. For the majority of the show’s duration, Reznor looked and sounded positively frightening – pouring with sweat, bellowing menacingly into the mic, and always with an enraged sort of gleam in his eyes. Which is ironic, because in actuality, his life has gotten much better. The proof was in their live show: Nine Inch Nails was currently touring in support of not just The Slip, but Ghosts I-IV (also from earlier this year) and 2007’s Year Zero. (Year Zero Pt. 2 is rumored for release later this year.) That said, NIN had an incredible wealth of new material to draw upon for use, and Reznor’s recent outpouring of material is largely due to finally kicking the cocaine and heroin habits that plagued him for most of his career pre-2005. Aside from the new material, Reznor and company blazed through a set of tunes ranging from late ‘80s/early ‘90s classics to fresh material from Year Zero and With Teeth. Even a handful of Ghosts I-IV’s ambient soundscapes cropped up here and there, during which the reverent crowd was transfixed in a state of awe. The singularly most defining part of the NIN live experience is the quality of the music: Trent Reznor has a knack for writing songs that are incredibly danceable, yet also retain an unbelievable amount of aggression. The band’s final song before exiting the stage was the classic radio- and fan-favorite, “Head Like a Hole”, which got the entire crowd shouting along to the cathartic chorus.

We skipped NIN’s encore to catch Kanye West’s encore on the AT&T stage at the other end of the park – after all, it was Kanye and to totally miss his performance altogether would be kind of sad. We showed up to find Kanye West playing with a visible backing band in a greatest-hits-style setting, rather than the high-concept space theme I’d expected to see. He played “Hey Mama”, followed by a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which I guess instills a positive message into the turmoil of the present day, but was slightly puzzling and frustrating to watch. But fortunately he ended with a bang, closing with recent smash hit “Stronger.” A perfect cap to the weekend that sent the audience into hysterical screaming and cheering. Again it was a madhouse getting out, but this time there was a certain bright, happy rejoicing feeling floating among the throngs of moving bodies. Even after the insanely hot and exhausting three-day weekend, spirits were high upon exit: cheers and hollers and celebratory whoops were fired off from all directions of the magical downtown cityscape of Chicago.

For a look at all the pictures from the weekend (some are good quality, and some are beyond horrible), click here:

For video clips of Iron & Wine, Blues Traveler, Newton Faulkner, and The Whigs (courtesy of Krista Slavik), click here:

1 comment:

Insert Songtitle said...

That sounds like the most fantastical and ridiculous weekend ever and I am...very jealous.

You should drag me to/around a music festival sometime :)