It’s been 25 years since Perry Farrell kicked off the annual freak show of Lollapalooza. The definition of “freak” has changed a lot since then. Back in 1991 it was still strange to have blue hair and a bunch of tattoos. All of the imagery that made Jane’s Addiction so outlandish back in the day has gone mainstream. Sorority girls watch porn. Bachelorettes get lap dances at strip clubs. Housewives openly read 50 Shades of Grey at the country club swimming pool. Nothing’s shocking.
It takes a lot to freak us out these days. And we certainly don’t expect to see anything genuinely disturbing at a summer music festival.
This year Lolla expanded to four days with 175 artists. The slogan of Lollapalooza in its original touring incarnation was “Take the whole day off,” but now they’re expecting grownups to take off both Thursday and Friday? That’s ridiculous. Then again, passes sold out immediately just like they always do, so what do I know?
Well, one thing I know is that with 175 artists there ought to always be something great happening on at least one of the seven stages. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. More is not always more.
Lollapalooza: the great granddaddy of music festivals. Or would that be Woodstock? Or Monterrey? Or Newport? Maybe Lolla is just the weird uncle of music fests. Who’s not even that weird anymore. Lolla is your uncle whose basement used to smell funny, but now he’s just a regular old guy who wears golf shirts.
I went to the first two Lollas back in its original incarnation as a touring freak show, and I’ve been to all of them since it settled down in Chicago as a dest-fest in 2005. So I’m a seasoned expert at this shit. An OG (old grump).
People always complain about the headliners. It’s what we do. But this year it was particularly bad. Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Keys, Black Sabbath, and Jack White are the only bands on the lineup to get the “extra big” font size. Avicii and Justice headlined the other two “main stage” slots but they don’t warrant the extra big font because apparently nobody cares about them. There were eight other bands with the “not quite as big” font size and six of those were scheduled to play before 6:30. Sigur Ros played at 4:00.
But usually it’s the undercard bands with the tiny font size that make Lollapalooza worth the hassle of sweaty bros and sweltering heat. For me this year there wasn’t even much of that, but I went in full of optimism because every year I always stumble across something unexpectedly great. In the past, I’ve been turned on to Saul Williams, Deerhunter, Matt & Kim, and lots of other interesting stuff. That’s what makes a big fest potentially exciting.
If I still lived in Chicago I would’ve totally showed up on time to see First Aid Kid, but they were playing at noon on Friday and I had to drive from Michigan, so I missed them. I got there in time to see Sharon Van Etten who was charming and gracious. It seems that Lolla has finally solved its stage bleed issue that has plagued most fests where more than one band is playing at a time. Except for the quiet moments where you could hear the bass from Perry’s stage from just about anywhere in the Loop.
Once again, Perry’s stage with its DJs and EDM artists made all the white dudes with guitars seem irrelevant. This was most pronounced when walking from Porter Robinson to the Head and the Heart. You go from Robinson’s audience who are all young and dancing and half naked and glittery to the Head and the Heart where everybody’s sitting on blankets or standing with their arms crossed as some beardo plucks the strings of his acoustic guitar and warbles a little folk ditty. It’s pretty clear who’s having more fun.
But there comes a point when you need to chill out on a blanket in the afternoon sun, and the Shins are a fine soundtrack for that. I had completely forgotten that I had seen the Shins the last time they played Lollapalooza in 2006 with their original lineup. This set was more rock and less Garden State, but Mercer cannot even come close to hitting the high notes in a live setting. I enjoyed it, but I wonder if in six years I’ll remember it at all.
I’ve seen Dawes a couple of times in the past couple of years (including at 2010’s Lolla), and although I love their albums, they hadn’t won me over in concert. This was going to be their third strike for me. But we ended up right up front and they played enthusiastically and engaged the crowd and put on a great show. Taylor Goldsmith still makes ridiculous “L.A. guitar guy” faces when he plays his solos, but he’s self-effacing enough to get away with it. Plus his lyrics are just so damn good.
I wasn’t expecting much from Black Sabbath. I assumed Ozzy would be propped up like a marionette and forced to lip-sync to a pre-recorded vocal track. And I was grouchy about Sharon fucking over original drummer Bill Ward, who was replaced by some kid. But I’ll be damned if they didn’t pummel me into submission. They sounded way better than anybody had any right to expect.
Whenever I started to get tired or bored or grumpy a stroll past Perry’s stage would recharge my festival batteries. I certainly wasn’t going to spend all day there, but five or ten minutes of standing on the edge and looking in at the mayhem and debauchery does your soul a lot of good. Bassnectar blew my mind for a couple minutes when I need it most.
I know that the Black Keys play every festival and that lots of annoying people really love them, but I’d never seen them before (that I can remember) and I like several of the songs I’ve heard from their recent albums. So I ventured down into the sea of bros to experience it first hand. We ended up standing next to shirtless Canadian boy who kept shouting, “WOOOOOO! THE BLOOOOOOOOZE!” every 15 seconds. Normally this would drive me nuts, but something about him made me chuckle instead. When a huge orange moon rose over Lake Michigan, my wonderful wife thought she should tell the bro to check it out. “OH MY GOD, I THOUGHT IT WAS THE LIGHTS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR POINTING IT OUT TO ME. SERIOUSLY: THANK YOU!” It was a moment. And I’m happy we got to share with that guy.
We walked back to catch the end of Black Sabbath, and I was shocked that Ozzy was still upright after an hour and a half. They played “Paranoid” for an encore and everybody went home happy.
I made it down in time for JEFF the Brotherhood because I’ve heard a couple of their songs and they remind me of early Weezer. Had no idea they were a two piece until I got there. Spent a good amount of time trying to figure out whether the main guy was playing a guitar or a bass before I realized that — either way — they were terrible. They earned that 1:30 slot, I guess. Yikes. Just a shambles. And when there’s only two of you, at least one of you has to keep it together. Oh well.
Got some food and listened to a little Aloe Blacc who was soulful and nice. Met up with pals who wanted to watch Neon Indian, so we did. They played pleasant synth-pop for a half hour until an announcer came on and told us there was a big storm coming and we’d all have to leave. Everyone had to evacuate the park. That’s it.
So we startled shuffling out with no idea whether that was it for Lollapalooza or what. It wasn’t even raining at that point but the skies looked ominous. We passed Perry’s stage on the way out where we heard a similar announcement. Everybody had to leave the park. For our own safety. We asked some of the security guys what’s up but they couldn’t give us any additional info. All they knew was that we all had to leave the park.
I couldn’t get an internet connection until I ended up at an Anthropologie that had wi-fi. That’s when I saw Lolla’s claim on their website that “Festival-goers are being directed by staff and the Chicago Police Department to pre-established underground evacuation and shelter sites.” That was 100% bullshit. Nobody mentioned anything about underground evacuation and shelter sites. Nobody. And we asked. Later, I even talked to some kids who tried to stick it out inside the park for as long as they could. When they finally got hustled out, nobody mentioned underground evacuation and shelter sites to them either.
I was annoyed by the clusterfuck of the evacuation, but I wasn’t angry about it until I read the lies. I got even grouchier when I couldn’t find my friends and had to go without beer for an additional two hours. The little grill we ended up at had two waitresses on staff, which is more than enough for the typical Saturday afternoon in the Loop. But when you’ve got 100,000 Lollapalooza refugees demanding beer and french fries, it gets a little overwhelming.
Eventually we saw a tweet that they were letting people back in. The schedule was all fucked up and it was hard to figure out what was going on, but we found out FUN was playing right now. We made it over there in time to hear them do the summer song of 2012 and they seemed to be effectively washing away the bad vibes from the past couple of hours. It’s hard to be cynical when a whole field of wet kids are shouting, “WE ARE YOUNG. SO LET’S SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE!”
Next up in the newly compressed schedule was Franz Ferdinand. We got pretty close and ended up having a great time. As far as I’m aware, those Scots haven’t done anything since 2005, but seeing them gave me the same feeling I got from the Strokes a couple years ago after my Lady Gaga disappointment. It’s only rock and roll but they do it well and I like it. By the end of their set I was in a great mood.
A stroll past Perry’s stage made it even better. Calvin Harris was playing (or whatever he does) and there were thousands of muddy kids going crazy. Not just kind of muddy, but like mud-bath-at-the-spa muddy. Head to toe, covered in mud. I was nervous they were going to touch me but we got up pretty close for Santigold. Young couples were making out and grinding all around us. Glad to see the kids are doing ecstasy again.
Probably should have gone over to see a bit of Frank Ocean, but we got lazy and ended up splitting. We had an aftershow to go to.
Saturday Night at the Aragon
I already told you I’m a Lollapalooza OG. I get super nostalgic about Jane’s Addiction. So when I heard that Jane’s was doing an aftershow on Saturday, I had to go. The last time they played Lolla I had a horrible experience. The band was great, everything I could’ve hoped for, especially with original bassist Eric Avery, but there was a guy standing next to us at that show who had brought his six-year-old son along with him and got way up front where it was very loud. The kid didn’t have earplugs and was getting upset. I gave the dad some earplugs for his kid, but the kid didn’t like them in his ears. He was starting to cry, and we told his dad to get his kid out of there. Then we found out the guy we were talking to wasn’t the kid’s dad; the dad was laying on the ground, tripping his balls off, leaving his kid to be taken care of by strangers. Long story short: we got the dad up off the ground, dragged him to the medical tent, while my social worker wife tried to explain to security what to do with the little boy. Needless to say, that ruined our night and we went home disturbed and depressed. Which sucked because Jane’s Addiction was playing a hell of a show.
I love loud concerts. And I love drugs. And I love kids. But you’ve got to be a real asshole to mix all three together at once.
At the Aragon this year, there were no abandoned children to distract me. And Perry Farrell is the consummate entertainer. Dude understands show business. Strippers on swings, monsters on stilts, stag flicks on screens, I mean come on. They put on a show!
And the music sounds like it did twenty years ago, which is all we could ask for. Right? “Mountain Song” and “Ted, Just Admit It” are massive songs. They will always bring me back to my sophomore year of college, getting wasted with pals, and expanding my mind. The fact that this band represents everything I loath about Los Angeles isn’t really their fault. You can’t blame Dave Navarro for the fact that he’s become the “model” for every Hollywood casting call of “edgy rocker.” Just look at every backing band that plays behind a “rock chick” pop princess on Saturday Night Live or American Idol. It’s embarrassing and everybody involved should be ashamed of themselves. But that’s what happens when you pass off the alternative to the mainstream. They co-opt the weird shit and make it silly. So maybe we can blame Jane’s Addiction after all. Oh well. Whatever…
The Dum Dum Girls were fun. They’d be better in a club, of course, but instead they played in the bright light of the afternoon. The weather was perfect on Sunday. Sunny with a cool breeze. Not hot enough to dry up all the mud. But that’s okay. Just watch your step.
I spent most of the Gaslight Anthem’s set standing by the medical tent watching various kids get wheeled in and out on gurneys. Nothing gruesome. Just a bunch of exhausted party people who don’t understand the value of sunscreen and an occasional sip of water. The music veered back and forth between sounding like rootsy punk and awful current alt-rock a la Nickleback. Do these guys have two songwriters in the band, one cool and one terrible? Or is that just what it takes to cross over these days? Should’ve gone to see Sigur Ros; I heard it was cool.
My wife likes Florence + the Machine so we got up close for that. People around us seemed to think Florence is weird and freaky, apparently because she makes cosmic hand gestures. Other than that she seemed like a normal singer in the vein of Sinead O’Connor or Sarah McLachlan. She channeled a little Yoko when she told everybody to turn to the person standing next to them and hug them. (Now that I think about it, maybe she is weird.) And then she encouraged everybody to put a girl up on their shoulders, which a lot of wimpy dudes actually attempted. “More dancing! More girls on shoulders!” That’s actually a pretty good rule for concerts in general. But the corollary to that rule is that if you’re going to sit on someone’s shoulders, you have to take your shirt off. That’s the way it worked in the 70s and I don’t see why, in this liberated era, we should take a step backwards toward Puritanism. Or is that just me?
In general, there wasn’t enough genuine weirdness this year. Maybe it’s time to bring back the Jim Rose Circus. Or better yet, the Emergency Broadcast Network.
We tromped across the park to get in place for Jack White. While we were waiting we watched a wasted teenager stumble around and get ditched by his friends. He ended up passing out in on his back in front of us. Medics and security eventually dragged him away. Jack came out with his male band and then brought out his female band. They both sounded great, and it was cool to hear the oldies performed by a full-band lineup. The countrified “Hotel Yorba” worked particularly well with its new arrangement. I miss Meg though.
Overall, it was a weird year for Lollapalooza. The fact that most of the excitement was centered around Perry’s stage leaves old guys like me feeling a little out of touch. That’s okay, of course. That’s the way it should be. Kids deserve to have their own scenes without a bunch of hairy old weirdos falling all over themselves trying to prove how cool and “with it” they still are.
As the music I personally connect with gets further relegated to the side stages and crappy time slots, I’ll just have to adjust my schedule to get down there at noon and leave early. Which is fine. I get tired. Or maybe I’ll skip the fest entirely and just start going to aftershows. Not anytime soon though. I’m still optimistic for the unexpected. You never know.
“You never really change like they say” Perry Farrell says on “End To The Lies” from Jane’s Addiction’s latest The Great Escape Artist, “You only become more like yourself” like some sage realist speaking from the years of toil his band has endured in the past two decades.
What he doesn’t tell you is how Jane’s Addiction hasn’t really toiled that much in the past twenty years.
In fact, let’s remind everyone that for 15 of the band’s 25 year-existence, Jane’s Addiction has been little more than a brand of their former life, a credible and-let’s be honest-critically important band in rock and roll’s underground.
What began as a stand-up gesture (breaking up) has now turned into a bunch of compilations and a few reunion gigs that sounded more like money grabs than a reprise of a creative rebirth.
Same goes for Strays, the first return that they tried to sell me as album number four.
However, The Great Escape Artist certainly doesn’t sound like they’re trying to “become more like yourself,” in fact, it kind of sounds like they’re trying to become Interpol. I’m sure a lot of this is from the band of Dave Sitek, on loan from TV On The Radio, who took over bass duties while shoving his nose into both the songwriting and recording process and certain points.
His entry came after the departure of Duff McKagan, the former GnR bassist who pulled out because he was worried about the amount of electronics the band was implementing for their new direction.
For me, this event signaled trouble-regardless of how regarded Sitek is, I was sure that Mc Kagan’s concerns were valid, because Jane’s Addiction was primarily a rock band underneath all that pretention and Jewish dreadlocks. To put ‘em all in front of electronic gadgets would surly cause a creative overdose.
Surprisingly, all Sitek has done is remind the band of their darker overtones, thanks to an armful of Joy Division records and a messenger bag full of studio gadgets that guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Steven Perkins can build riffs upon. His role, it seems, is that of the band’s program director. And while original bassist Eric Avery is noticeably missing on the low-end duties, Sitek has done an admirable job of piecing together a collage of sounds that Jane’s Addiction would have aspired to without actually being able to with their original line-up.
“We’ve become big business…God is a merger” Farrell declares on “Irresistible Force,” speaking to our societal perceptions while sounding completely blind to the fact that it also speaks volumes about Jane’s Addiction.
And you know what? When you begin to look at it from that perspective-that the band is at least aware that they’ve become more of a brand image than a real threat, then The Great Escape Artist became surprisingly easier to listen to.
This is a record where it’s obvious that they’re not following the conventional wisdom of considering a direction that would be more favorable to their retirement package. Instead, it’s a record of trying to squeeze as much muse into the project as they can, even if that means letting an outsider pull it all together in a manner completely different to what they’re accustomed to.
It’s going to be a tough pill to swallow for old fans, particularly the ones who enjoy Avery’s role as band unifier or Navarro’s shirtless power chord posturing. They’ll have to come to terms with the reality that Jane’s Addiction is ignoring to the very tools that made them successful in those early days of the “alternative” overthrow.
The Great Escape Artist makes the band seem like they’re making a sincere attempt at trying to add to their cannon and while it doesn’t reach the heights of their earlier work, at least it’s working to get there again.
The level of commerce that is associated with rock and roll is something that is best not thought about. It’s sort of like the old line that you never want to go into the kitchen of a restaurant—regardless of whether it has three Michelin stars or it is a McDonald’s—because you’re likely not to have much of an appetite as a result of what you’ll discover.
So it is best that we enjoy the filet—or the Filet o’ Fish—without much consideration beyond the object itself.
It is best that we enjoy the work of our performers without knowing what it is that has gotten them in front of us, assuming, of course, that the performers in question are those who have visibility that is perceptible beyond a small group of like minds.
But sometimes it is bracing to see how things are.
Case in point: the boiler plate description of Clear Channel Radio. This is how that company describes itself:
“With 237 million monthly listeners in the U.S., Clear Channel Radio has the largest reach of any radio or television outlet in America. The company’s radio stations and content can be heard on AM/FM stations, HD digital radio channels, Sirius/XM satellite, on the Internet at iHeartRadio.com, and on the iHeartRadio mobile application on iPads, and smartphones, and used via navigation systems from TomTom, Garmin and others. The company’s operations include radio broadcasting, online and mobile services and products, syndication, event and promotion creation and operation, music research services and national television, radio and digital media representation. Clear Channel Radio is a division of CC Media Holdings, Inc. (OTCBB:CCMO), a leading global media and entertainment company. More information on the company can be found at www.ccmediaholdings.com.”
Sort of sounds like that Skynet from the Terminator movies. Or, to take another science fictional analogy, the Borg. Resistance is futile.
This past weekend Clear Channel launched iHeartRadio, its competitor to Pandora. And it just didn’t hold a press conference followed by a cocktail party.
Rather, it held a two-day event at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It calls it the “inaugural iHeartRadio Music Festival.” A music festival in a stadium in a casino seems a bit odd, but there it was.
The event started with the Black Eyed Peas. It closed with Lady Gaga. And in between there were performers ranging from Jay-Z to Sting, from Kelly Clarkson to Jeff Beck, from Jane’s Addiction to Kenny Chesney. It was hosted by Ryan Seacrest.
That’s entertainment circa 2011. Sure, it’s long been this way. Just not so widely and well packaged.
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…
Perry Farrell is struggling to keep the recently reunited Jane’s Addiction together before they’ve even kicked off their summer touring schedule. It seems the reasons the band broke up in the first place are still there and not even mediation by Trent Reznor can help.
“He did his best to be both producer and psychologist,” Farrell told Reuters. “He was very respectful, trying to get out of the way and not overproduce. I wish honestly he would’ve produced a little more, but he was a little gun shy after seeing us explode on each other in the studio. He became the referee for a day and after that day I think he was done.”
All the bitching is worth it though, according to Farrell. He has a nice summation of what it means when the original members of a band reform and why it’s important.
“Any time you get a chance to put the original members of a group together, (you should do it). Look at Pink Floyd. I consider Roger Waters to be the greatest live rock act for a festival today. He has a great guitar player, but it’s not David Gilmour. You need the original members if you can have them. I love The Who, love Led Zeppelin, but nobody’s the same when they’re not original members, the people that wrote and recorded those songs and set their vibrations down into those tracks. That’s why it’s important to try to keep your crew together.”
Farrell also says that ticket sales for Lollapalooza 2009 are better than ever.
“At Lollapalooza, we’re selling more tickets than ever,” he said. “People need an even bigger excuse to escape more than ever and there is no better escape than going to a festival and just tripping and taking in music.”
Depeche Mode, the Beastie Boys and a reunited Jane’s Addiction are expected to headline the fifth annual Lollapalooza Aug. 7-9 in Grant Park.
Though promoters would not confirm the information Friday, multiple sources inside the industry said the three headliners are a lock for the festival. Three more arena-level headliners are expected to be included when the complete lineup is announced next month.
Excited? Or were you hoping for something more…um…timely? I haven’t seen Jane’s Addiction since the first Lollapalooza in 1991. But then again, I’m old and crotchedly.