I had a bad attitude about Lollapalooza this year. I was not looking forward to it at all. I’ve covered Lollapalooza for Glorious Noise each year since the festival was resurrected in Chicago in 2005. Between Lolla and Forkfest, I was thinking I might just be festivaled out.
My wife’s advice as I left on Friday: “Don’t be old—be fun.”
Which sounds a lot harder than it actually turned out to be. Once I let go of some of my uptightness and decided to just roll with it, I ended up having a great weekend. Free your mind, and your ass will follow, right? Surprisingly, I think the lack of bands that I needed to see helped me relax and just enjoy myself.
Not to say that there weren’t a ton of great bands playing this year. There were, but I’ve seen most of them recently. At Lollapalooza two years ago. Or at Pitchfork last year. Or both.
I leisurely rolled in on Friday around 3:00. I was sad to miss the Black Lips (mp3), but what can you do? I can’t be expected to get there at noon. Not when it’s 89 degrees and muggy. My pals without media passes had to wait forever in ridiculously long lines to get in. Hey Lolla, how about hiring a few more (hundred) teenagers to make Day One entry go a little more smoothly?
As I was walking down Columbus Drive, I passed my man Johnny Loftus who told me he just saw a dude jump the fence. I wondered if he looked like a Radiohead fan. Loftus scoffed, “He looked like a meathead,” and we planned on texting each other later.
Unfortunately, that did not happen.
I sent and received my very first text messages back at Lollapalooza 2005. Since then, texting has become an indispensable part of the concertgoing experience for me. How the hell else are you supposed to meet up with your posse? Despite the fact that Lolla is “Delivered by AT&T,” service was spotty at best. And that’s being generous.
Once I got in, I sent a bunch of texts to my gang to coordinate our positions. But I didn’t hear back from them. The first two sets I wanted to see were Duffy and the Black Keys (mp3) at the opposite end of the park from the media entrance. So I started hoofing it. I heard enough of the Kills (mp3) to remember how much I hated the 80s, but as I made my past Louis XIV (mp3), I couldn’t remember why I didn’t like them. They sounded like a glammier MC5.
A half hour later I was at Duffy, but I hadn’t heard back from any of my friends. I looked at my phone and realized I had no service. So I walked over to the beer tent nearby and checked again. No luck. Then all of a sudden, I got an hour’s worth of increasingly frantic texts from people who had figured out that AT&T was not delivering shit.
Miraculously, my man Phil found me, and we watched the Black Keys from the designated light pole where we were supposed to meet the rest of the gang. One thing I learned a few festivals back is that it’s hard to get engaged in the music when you’re really far away and it’s not loud enough. There are just too many other distractions. So the Black Keys might have been boring, or they might have been awesome and I just wasn’t paying attention. Either way, they did not win me over.
But at least we found AMP, who for the first time in recent Lolla history was not granted a photo pass. I know it’s not cool to whine about stuff like that in public, but it pissed me off and created the extra hassle of having to find each other. Whatever though. So that’s why there’s no pro photos of the bands this year. If you want to see what they look like, I’m sure AT&T can deliver some officially sanctioned photos to you at the Lollapalooza web site.
AMP and my man K wanted to catch some of Mates of State (mp3) so they took off after Cat Power (mp3) started. Phil and I got more beer and we realized that Chan Marshall was actually performing. Like, entertaining. She was prowling the stage like Mick Jagger. I don’t remember that from when she played Pitchfork last year…
One more tip from an experience Chicago music festival veteran: When you order a beer, order a bottle of water too. And stick the bottle of water down your pants while you drink your beer. Not only is it a great look with that huge bulge pointing out through the bottom of your shirt, but it keeps you cool and frees a hand. You’re welcome.
The Raconteurs (mp3) were next. Their set had been a highlight of Lollapalooza 2006, so I was excited about seeing them again. Live, they had sounded so much tougher than the album. Would it be the same this year? Pretty much, but I found myself wondering what Supertramp had sounded like, live, back in the day. A little later, Phil wondered what Styx had sounded like, live, back in the day. We were hoping for a Tommy Shaw guest appearance, but it didn’t happen. These are not disses. Back in 2006, the Raconteurs had proven to me why they were more popular than a lot of indie bands: because they were better.
They had a two-hour slot, but after an hour I’d heard enough. One hour is plenty of time for any band at a festival to play. There’s no reason for anybody to play any longer than an hour. Even if we had the attention span, isn’t it better to keep us wanting more?
So we started the long haul back to the other side of the park for Radiohead. We passed the Cool Kids (mp3), who lived up to their name, and ended up in the AT&T chillout zone to watch Stephen Malkmus (mp3), who was good at Pitchfork last year, and his band the Jicks from an air-conditioned tent staffed by little girls in hot pants. Kids checked their Facebooks and played Guitar Hero. Even in their “digital oasis” I couldn’t get service on my phone. I considered pointing out the irony to one of the staffers, but I knew that I wouldn’t have been the first sweaty old dude to whine to them about his iPhone, so I kept it to myself.
And before I knew it, they kicked us all out. Radiohead was nigh.
We got fairly close, but it wasn’t loud enough. Close is relative, of course, when you’re dealing with 75,000 people. Friday was the only night of the weekend where one band was playing uncontested. So everyone was there. It was packed, but we managed to maneuver ourselves up to about 100 yards behind the soundbooth, which was about 150 yard in front of the stage. So if I stood on my tiptoes and strained my neck, I could see a figure onstage who I’m pretty sure was Thom Yorke. The lights were cool though.
But it wasn’t loud enough. We were right behind a row of infield speakers, but they weren’t on. I have no idea why not. It was only 8:30 for crying out loud! Since it was too quiet and we couldn’t see anything anyway, we backed up to behind the second row of infield speakers, which thankfully were turned on. So it was loud enough. But the crowd wasn’t that into it. Or maybe they were just exhausted. But it looked like they were bored. I wondered how many people were wondering, “So what’s the big deal? What’s so great about this?”
An existential crisis ensued: WHY ARE WE HERE?
On our way out, we stopped at the top of the hill to marvel at the size of the crowd one more time and to catch a final glimpse of the stage, and fireworks started going off from Soldier Field. It was certainly a moment. I’m not suggesting that the fireworks upstaged the band, but it was a great way to leave the first night of Lollapalooza.
The CTA tried its best to keep me from getting there in time for MGMT (mp3), but I made it. Was supposed to meet Phil at the chillout tent at 3:00 but I was late. As I was walking in, I got a text that said “Meet by sound board of myspace stage.” It was packed, but I wormed my way up through the dense crowd and made it to about 20 feet away from the corner of the sound board when I got another text: “Huge crowd for mgmt, forget sound board.” Too late. I was close enough to appreciate the 20 minutes of droning psychedelia that they opened with, but people I talked to who were further back just thought it was boring. I think they must not have been in the correct state of mind, because I thought they were great.
I was shocked by the number of people crammed in for that set. Why are they so popular? Their lyrics are actually pretty gloomy and the music is just standard issue psych pop. But when they got to the first chorus of their “live fast/die young” anthem “Time to Pretend” it all made sense. The entire crowd joined together to belt out the universal sentiment: “NOW LET’S HAVE SOME FUN!”
It’s undeniable. What’s even better are the next lines, which nobody seemed to sing along with: “Yeah it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do? / Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?” Maybe that’s a little too close to home for the considerable percentage of people in attendance who were beyond college age…
After the set we had some time to kill, so we wandered around in the general direction of the other side of the park with the idea that we’d spend the rest of the evening over there. Other than MGMT, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (mp3) were the band I was most excited to see this year.
We stumbled across a beergarden that was actually a ton of picnic tables in the shade with a couple of big screens showing stuff from the stages. It was a perfect place to relax and drink a beer.
We wandered closer to the music and there was a nice, anonymous racket coming out of “Perry’s Stage” and lots of kids pretending it was actually a dance club.
We could see Okkervil River (mp3) playing across the way but were in no hurry to get over there. I liked that album okay, but whatever. I was in “relax and go with the flow” mode. We eventually strolled over and were surprised how close to the stage we got. And, as usual, once we were nice and close, the band was engaging. At first I found the frontman’s (Google it yourself if you need to know his name) histrionics to be annoying, but by the time they did that “Sloop John B” song, I was totally into it. This turned into one of my unexpected surprise sets of the weekend. Worth seeing even if you think their albums are kinda meh.
After that we were headed toward Broken Social Scene but got distracted by another air-conditioned sponsorship deal. This one was a dome and there were skateboards dangling from the ceiling. Once again, computers everywhere for the kids and their Facebook, but this one had the added enticement of a couch. Which, of course, we took full advantage of. We watched dudes trying to play ping-pong on a table that was slightly larger than your average mousepad. We might have stayed there all night if not for the presence of an annoying “MC” who kept hollering into a distorted mic instead of just letting us chill and listen to BSS.
So we left and walked over to the stage. My experience wasn’t quite as transcendent as my man Tom’s recent Coney Island show, but I guess I’ve never taken them into the woods with me. (And I don’t measure my substances with the metric system!)
Then the Dap-Kings blew my mind. The music was great and Ms. Jones was amazing, but what really got to me was the crowd’s dancing. People were getting down. Plus, it was the only set of the weekend that was not, as my man Dusty would say, a total sausage fest. And the gals were into it. I’ve never been to a show in my life where there were that many women who were visibly feeling sexy. It was awesome. Not dirty, not slutty, not even particularly flirty. But you tell by their hips that they were feeling something. Something good!
Contrast that with Wilco (mp3), who was up next. Where the guy-to-girl ratio was considerably crappier. And the two girls (total, no shit) who I saw “dancing” were clearly not feeling the same thing that the girls at the Sharon Jones stage had been feeling. Were they feeling anything at all?
I like Wilco. I used to love them. I used to be a fanatic, but now I’m just a fan. I still like Jeff Tweedy‘s personality but we’ve been going in different directions musically for the past couple of albums. It’s not them, it’s me. No, actually, it’s totally them. They’ve changed, which is fine, but I don’t particularly like where they’re heading. I’m not saying they shouldn’t go there—I’m just saying I’m probably not going with them much farther.
But most of the things I no longer like about Wilco get downplayed in the live setting. Nels Cline‘s guitar tones tend to sound a little less “processed” (i.e., arty) in concert. And even the annoying songs like “I Hate It Here” lose a little of what annoys me about them. Plus, Tweedy’s funny. Since they were headlining Saturday night at Lollapalooza, they all had new Nudie-inspired suits. “We’ve been doing a LOT of sewing these past few months to prepare for this show.” Tweedy’s suit had what looked like Pokemon characters embroidered on it. “So did you guys see Radiohead last night? They were pretty awesome, right? Didn’t look like they did much sewing though…” You can’t help but like them.
Rolled in around three again. I heard enough of Chromeo (mp3) to remember how much I loved the 80s, and how lame and unfunny Chromeo is. Guess what, Chromeo. Newcleus was good, you’re not. You guys are idiots.
Like everyone else crammed around the Black Kids (mp3) stage, I was there based on having downloaded a song or two and having been pleasantly surprised that it didn’t suck as bad as you’d think. And the title of that one song about your boyfriend is funny. They were alright. But I was not engaged.
Back to the beergarden where we were forced to listen to G. Love and wonder why that guy gets invited to these things every year. What demographic is he drawing?
Iron and Wine (mp3) was playing just over there a bit, but we couldn’t be bothered to get up. I saw them at Lollapalooza 2006 where the sound bleed from a nearby stage was almost hilariously inappropriate, and again at Forkfest 2007 where they were just okay.
Saul Williams (mp3) had blown my mind at Lollapalooza 2005, so I was excited to see him. Back then, it was just him and his DJ. This time, he had a full band. Despite their awesome costumes, I just wasn’t that into it. I really like him, but a lot (most?) of his music is lacking something for me. The songs I love, I really love. And I’ll read anything he writes. I like the idea of his music far more than the execution of it.
We’d planned on catching the first bit of Gnarls Barkley (who I missed at Lollapalooza 2006 because they were playing opposite of the Raconteurs who, as mentioned above, were awesome) and then skipping over to see Girl Talk (mp3). But Gnarls was good live, so we hung out. Cee-Lo creeps me out a little though. There’s some weird about him. His teeth?
We stumbled into a good spot for Mark Ronson. But that set was not good. He trotted out a bunch of guest vocalists and played a bunch of covers that stripped all of the soul out of the originals.
I was not expecting much from Kanye West (mp3 clip). I haven’t even heard his most recent album. But I like the first two, minus the pointless skits. Hip hop sucks live. Everybody knows this. Even the greatest hip hop groups resort to grossly abbreviated medleys, unknown cameos, and tired cliches like commanding us to make some noise and wave our hands in the air, etc.
Someone told me that Kanye’s current tour was a big stage production involving a spaceship and Kanye saving the world. Which might sound promising, but most likely wouldn’t be.
But there were no spaceships at Lollapalooza. Kanye doesn’t need a spaceship to save the world. He can do it on his own with the help of a shit hot band and the force of his enormous ego. Which, this performance proved, is thoroughly justified. His opening song, “Good Morning,” gave me goosebumps. I literally had tears pouring down my face when he played “Hey Mama.” And I am not an openly emotional guy. This was just an amazing show. Not only the best hip hop show I’ve ever been to, but one of my all-time best concert experiences ever. For real. (Don’t tell Kanye, though—he doesn’t need to hear that.)
And to think I was thinking I was probably done with musical festivals after this year. Looks like I’ll be back for Lollapalooza 2009 now. Kanye restored my faith in the idea that an outdoor concert could be worth the hassle.
Photos by Alan M. Paterson. See more here. And hey Lolla, give him a fucking photo pass next year!
Previously: Lollapalooza 2007; Lollapalooza 2006: Day One; Lollapalooza 2006: Day Two; Lollapalooza 2006: Day Three; Lollapalooza 2005: Day One; and Lollapalooza 2005: Day Two. And check out the 2006 photo gallery!