Lonely at Lollapalooza 2009
Grant Park, Chicago, August 7-9, 2009
This was my first trip back to Chicago since moving to Portland, Oregon in December 2008. As much as I love Portland, there is a large piece of my heart in that city by the lake. It’s where I was born, it’s where I formed my favorite band, and it’s where my son was born. It’s still my city.
So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I returned to see friends, drink a lot of beer and catch some live rock and fucking roll. I’d been planning and thinking of this trip since before we even moved so you’d think I’d have had all the details ironed out like the Arctic Monkeys‘ fitted shirts. You don’t know me well and the Monkeys no longer wear Fred Perry, but more on that later…
Day One: Lonely at Lolla
One of the first Tweets I sent was from the Brown Line heading down to Grant Park: #Lolla forecast: rain with periods of extreme humidity. Welcome to Chicago, sissies! Seems the joke was on me though because as the result of a number of factors working against me—and sometimes, mysteriously for me—that would also be one of my last Tweets.
The rain began almost as soon as I got off the train. A brief stop to visit friends at a Michigan Avenue office was designed to let it blow over but instead just made for my arrival to the appropriately drab drone of White Lies. I walked over with sometime GLONO cub reporter Scott Serilla but was detained at the gate briefly and was promptly left to soak alone so he could catch Gaslight Village. Note to Scott: Please leave your badge at the front desk, we’re done.
What’s a lonely soaked stranger in his own home town to do but get as drunk as possible in as short a time and then take in Bon Iver? I am a Professional, after all and I was not about to let rain and abandonment keep me from my duties as a tastemaker and rock and roll defender. The show must go on! And I was out of beer again…
At some point my iPhone got wet and a dead zone developed along the bottom of the touch pad. I could receive texts but couldn’t unlock my phone to respond or make calls. I was like a coma victim who can hear those talking around him but unable to respond or communicate. I was alone among 80,000.
Here’s a tip to festival goers who want to have fun: Do not catch Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes back to back in the hot drizzle of an early Chicago rain. Just don’t do it. Both bands put on solid sets, actually, but the beards grow fast in those circumstances and the polite nods from pretty young girls soon turn to derisive smirks and hurried steps. We have pride as men, don’t we?
All that beer runs fast through a sweating body, especially one wrapped in plastic and nodding aggressively to heady pop music in the dark. I will say this for Lollapalooza, it is one of the best managed festivals going and the number of porta potties is honorable. On one of my many journeys to the blue haven I met a jovial chap from Cardiff, Wales who would be my patron and host for most of the rest of the night.
Paul and Rich scheduled their summer vacation to the United States without any knowledge of Lollapalooza. They were in New York and stumbled into a Raveonettes show only to see that the Danish duo was heading next to a summer festival in the Midwest. Like most Europeans, I think my new mates underestimated the vastness of the colonies because without thinking they packed their rented car and drove west to the Paris of the Prairie without directions or tickets but somehow they made it.
Now, these Welsh nomads are crazy—CRAZY—for Kings of Leon. It’s all they wanted to talk about and they couldn’t believe the band was getting lost in Coldplay‘s shadow. I liked the first EP Holy Roller Novocain just fine, but their big hit here, “Sex on Fire,” makes me want to kill puppies. I hate that song—HATE IT—like not much else. But who am I to argue with a Welsh cop buying me beer? We hung out until the headliners set up their stages. I took the opportunity to pee as an escape and made my way to Depeche Mode. As I started to squeeze through the crowd Paul looked to Rich like a mother watching her son break away from the family home and said, “Better say your goodbyes. See that face. We’ll never see it again.” He was right, I never saw them again.
Depeche Mode was what you might expect with maybe fewer of the back catalog songs than any of us expected. They were the first act of Lollapalooza to deliver a bill of goods. In a year full of once-great bands, they weren’t the last.
Day Two: It’s Not Such a Modern World After All
I used Facebook updates delivered via my host family’s computer to alert my Lolla peeps to the iPhone predicament keeping me from making contact. This time I would use what little functionality remained to finally connect with my crew. The directions were simply to text me locations throughout the day but to never expect a reply. I have good friends—maybe too good and too many. The text messages came fast and furiously and soon my waterlogged and mostly disabled iPhone jammed up with multiple communications, which basically became macro messages like “Five messages from Jake Brown.” Thwarted again.
I wandered alone again throughout the first half of the day where I caught a loud and fantastic set from the Constantines and a confusing 40 minutes of electronica performance art from Miike Snow. I was drunk again but my luck was about to change.
One message somehow got through and I saw that some friends (but not the GLONO media team) was meeting on the left side of the sound booth for Los Campesinos! I’d never even heard this band so I wouldn’t have likely made my way over if not for the bit of electronic good fortune. At least I was with friends again but the site of a gang of pasty Britons leaping about the stage in the blazing sun made me wonder what had become of my Welsh mates. I needed something to eat.
Best food of Lollapalooza: Falafel Pita. Hands down, this damned thing was amazing and powered me through rain, heat, and gallons of Bud Lite.
There are a handful of bands of the last few years that have really captured my attention. It just so happens that they’re British and borrow heavily and proudly from their Mod forefathers. The Arctic Monkeys are one of those bands and on my list of MUST SEE acts for Lolla 2009. I have a closet full of Ben Shermans and Fred Perrys and once forced Jake to watch three hours of a Jam DVD just to prove they were his daddies. I love Mod music and the Monkeys’ debut album ranks high on my list of totems to Cool Britannia. I made my way to the Budweiser stage.
By another stroke of luck I stumbled into Jake Brown on the path. We hadn’t communicated since earlier the day before, but there he was. Another round of beers was purchased and we began ferreting our way up close for the Arctic Monkeys. Things were looking up.
Imagine my horror at the site of Alex Turner in a tank top, jeans and engineer boots. It’s like if Phil Daniels (Google it, bitch) suddenly showed up on a Harley. Jake tried to calm my nerves by explaining that the band that started out as homage to the Kinks in 1965 was now just an homage to the Kinks in 1972. Maybe, but then the heavy shit went down and the band veered slightly (ever so slightly) into prog rock and guitar god mode. I’ll wait to pass final judgment until I hear the new album, part of which was produced by Josh Homme for heaven’s sake! I do dig the first single though so maybe I should lighten up. The fact of the matter is that their set was scorching, they just need haircuts and a trip to Burberry.
The rest of the day was a wash as I skipped headliners Tool and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I saw Tool in a 150 person capacity club in Grand Rapids, Michigan a million years ago and it scared the shit out of me but I had zero interest in seeing them again and the site of their peachy fuzz mustached fans creeped me out. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were a Meh Meh Meh for me so I stumbled back onto the El and went to bed.
Day Three: Nothing’s Shocking Except the Depth of Dave Navarro’s Douchebaggery
There was really only one band I absolutely had to see on Sunday and that was Kaiser Chiefs. As an anglophile and lover of chanting choruses, this band was made for me. And they did not disappoint. Through blazing heat and suffocating humidity these boys had the crowd pumping their fists and shouting out cockney phrases most will never understand.
I looked for Paul and Rich at the Raveonettes but couldn’t find them.
Neko Case is very, very white. So white that she nearly burst into flames on the stage. Accompanied by Nora O’Connor on most songs, who doubled as the comic foil Andy Richter to Neko’s straight man Conan O’Brien. Neko Case somehow managed to cool the crowd. It may be that red hair or her haunting voice but I had goose bumps.
Let’s make one thing very, very clear: Lou Reed is a cunt. He is an angry, self-important, rude man with nothing but disdain for those around him. Be it the crowd sweating before his wrinkled visage, the cowering band he leads through intimidation and berating, or the other bands on the Lolla bill who no doubt revere him as the rightful Godfather of indie rock. One of the most amazing and beautiful things about Lollapalooza is how smoothly it runs. Adherence to a schedule is what allows fans to precisely schedule their days and what provides so many of the bands the ability to reach a wider audience. It is the life blood of the weekend. Lou Reed cares little for lifeblood unless it dribbling down his geriatric chin. He started more than ten minutes late and ran more than twenty minutes over, thus stepping all over Band of Horses‘ set on a neighboring stage. To make things worse he delivered staid and mumbled versions of the songs that made any of us care in the first place. He is a fun killer.
Note to festival goers: If faced with a choice between Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg, always bet on black.
Yes, the Dogg Father is the anti-Lou Reed. He’s the consummate entertainer and America’s sweetheart. His music brings cultures together, if not so much the races. Like so many cross-over hip hop acts Snoop has an uncanny knack to make white guys act like the black guys they generally avoid out of fear and to make white girls dance like the black girls they usually deride and ridicule. He has the ability to cock 20,000 hats with the snap of his long, brown fingers and he’d need to play Knebworth to see more white hands waving the air. But there is nothing more annoying than watching otherwise sissy suburban dudes turn into hardasses when hip hop starts up. His fans prove that Seth Green is neither unique nor ironic. Snoop may be the new Grateful Dead: love his music, hate his fans.
Everyone knows Perry Ferrell birthed Lollapalooza. It’s his thing and it’s worthy of his pride. This year’s Big Story was that he finally reassembled the original line-up of Jane’s Addiction, including cantankerous bassist Eric Avery who had not played with the band since 1991. Now, I liked Jane’s just fine back in the day. What was appealing about them (and many of their contemporaries) was that they bucked the conventional rock star model of the late 80s. They were the antithesis to the cock rock bands that prowled the same back alleys and sticky floors of Los Angeles then. They were freaky and seemed to stink of drugs. Sunday night you could almost smell Dave Navarro‘s douchery. I mean, does anyone take this dime store Slash knock-off seriously? Their set confirmed once and for all that Alternation is dead.
“What is this, 80,000 punk rockers,” bellowed Farrell early in their set. The answer was no and I am sure of that because exactly one third of that crowd of “punks” filtered out of the gates and back to their $400 hotel rooms as soon as “Been Caught Stealing” closed. What’s more, I am pretty sure Ian MacKaye never had a VH1 TV show with his vapid model wife. To be sure, there were sparks of their old greatness but then Navarro went all CC Deville and loused up a good time. Can someone please string him up by those obnoxious nipple rings? Dude has to be like 50 years old by now.
In the end there were no mind blowing surprises on this year’s line up. I dug Chicago’s own Joe Pug, who I caught on the BMI stage at mid-day on Saturday, but nobody knocked me out this year like Kanye West did last year.
* BTW: Why the fuck does royalty collection agency BMI sponsor a stage at Lollapalooza? I guarantee 90 percent of that crowd has no idea what BMI is nor are they qualified to be members. Thank GOD I am ASCAP!
Lollapalooza is more than just the acts for me though; it’s the entire experience and one of precious few excuses I get to come back to the city I love. It’s a time for me to argue with my friends and drink way too much beer and leer at ever younger girls and berate bands I could only hope to be in. As long as GLONO keeps selling ads and licensing old songs to dopey cable shows I’ll keep going. See you at #Lolla2010.
Photos by Alan M. Paterson. See more here.