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Looking back at Lollapalooza 2012

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.

Or something.

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.

More Photos

First Aid Kit
Sharon Van Etten


Neon Indian

Franz Ferdinand

Jane's Addiction
Jane's Addiction
Jane's Addiction
Jane's Addiction
Jane's Addiction
The Walkmen
Sigur Ros

Florence and the Machine
Jack White

Photos by Alan M. Paterson.

All Good Music Festival 2012: Highlights

All Good Music Festival 2012

On our way back from All Good this year, we agreed it was – hands down – the best music festival we’ve been to. This is for a whole host of reasons, but must importantly, the music was outstanding. As I noted in our All Good preview, there were a number of bands we were excited to see. One of the great things about the All Good Music Festival is that they set up two stages right next to each other. While one band plays, they are setting up the next band on the adjacent stage. So there’s basically no gap to the music all day, once it starts, and you get to hang out in the same general area – not so much walking from stage to stage.

Add to that generally good weather, non-cramped camping accommodations, and extremely friendly staff, and you’ve got yourself a music festival to remember. Onto the musical highlights.

Thursday, July 19, 2012: The Music Never Stopped

The music didn’t start until 7 on Thursday, but I could have gone home happy after the first night alone. Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby, and Branford Marsalis, followed by Phil Lesh and Friends. Both sets were outstanding. I had earlier speculated that we might just see Weir, Hornsby, and Marsalis, without accompaniment. Or maybe just the addition of a drummer and bass player. What we got was Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, with special guests Bob Weir and Branford Marsalis, playing a whole lotta Grateful Dead tunes. Plus two Hornsby tracks. The set started a bit rough, but it only got better as they gelled on stage. You can give their set a listen over at the Live Music Archive.

I also speculated a bit about who was going to be playing with Phil Lesh and Friends. I wrote that I hoped he would have Jackie Greene with him, and he was. Plus Joe Russo on drums, two of Phil’s sons, Grahame and Brian, and – a very pleasant surprise – Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams from Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. The set was like Phil Lesh meets the Midnight Ramble. Some Grateful Dead tunes were in the set and some songs that you might have heard at a Levon Helm show – “Chest Fever”, “Long Black Veil”, and “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning”, for example. It was my first time seeing Phil Lesh and Friends live, and this line up was a treat. You can listen to their set here.

Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby, and Branford Marsalis (with Hornsby’s Noisemakers)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0CcLpbyQNE&w=560&h=315]

Friday, July 20, 2012: The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips were amazing! The first track they played, “Race for the Prize”, ended up being a top 5 rock and roll moment for me. I was standing stage left, in the photo pit, tucked in a corner by a big ass speaker, trying to take decent pictures of the insanity. Confetti and smoke all over the stage… I could have died happily in that moment.
They also played Pink Floyd’s “On The Run” – the psychedelic electronic experimental freakout from Darkside of the Moon – while Coyne climbed into the bubble and walked out over the crowd. He didn’t stay out as long as I’d expected to but it was a thing to behold nonetheless. If you haven’t ever seen the Flaming Lips, you should really try to work them into your live music schedule sometime. They will not disappoint. Q Magazine was spot on when they put the Flaming Lips in their top 50 list of bands you must see before you die. In the meantime, check out the video below of their whole show.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkt_y5F88-g&w=560&h=315]

Sunday, July 22, 2012: Non Stop Rock Block

Sunday was the hottest day of the festival, and I was feeling a bit physically run down by then. The good news was that the day’s lineup was a must see for me, the strongest afternoon of music the entire weekend. I think the organizers did a tremendous job lining up a solid block of great music to keep us going on Sunday afternoon.

Corey Harris and the Rasta Blues Experience

Corey Harris and the Rasta Blues Experience

Corey Harris was the first artist of the day. He and his band, The Rasta Blues Experience, brought a rich mix of reggae, blues, rock, and funk to the stage. Harris plays guitar and lap steel. I really enjoyed his slide playing. Great songs that cut across genres, one to the next. Conscious music that’s only occasionally preachy. I would have liked to see him in an evening time slot, but I’m glad All Good introduced me to his music.

Devil Makes Three

Devil Makes Three

Devil Makes Three was also new to me. They play folk music that bounces with a punk rock sensibility. There’s some rockabilly in their sound, too. They are a three piece – guitar, banjo, and bass. All acoustic. The guitar player seemed to be the “lead” singer, with the other two hopping in on harmony pretty frequently. A particular treat form their set was their cover of Blind Willie McTell’s Statesboro Blues. Definitely want to see these guys again.

Mickey Hart Band

Mickey Hart Band

Well, I am now a big fan of the Mickey Hart Band. They had an hour and fifteen minutes to impress the crowd, and they did. Mickey has been able to move the furthest out from the “standard” Grateful Dead sound with his new band. He and his band have created something part Dead, part world music, and part the collective identity of the band members themselves. The lead guitar player is able to play in a completely non Jerry Garcia style of guitar playing – more Santana-ish to me – but will also weave some Jerry-ness into his playing when appropriate. Their version of “Fire on the Moutain” was a case in point. He broke out the familiar MXR pedal, or at least a reproduction of its sound – what my buddies and I called a “fart pedal” when we were kids. I love that sound almost more than life itself. I was dancing around like an idiot for the whole song.

So there you have it. Lots of great music at All Good this year, and I’ve only covered some of it here. I’m already looking forward to next year’s All Good. Hope to see you there.


The Levon Helm Band at The Michigan Theater

The Levon Helm Band at The Michigan Theater
Ann Arbor, MI, March 19, 2012

Me and Levon go way back. Waaaay back. All the way back to… 1985 or so. I was in my early teens, the Bob Dylan box set Biograph had just come out, and I was listening to that a lot. My dad’s copy of Dylan and The Band‘s Before The Flood was getting a lot of airplay, too. It documents their 1974 American tour together, and includes Dylan songs and songs by The Band. Double album. Gatefold. I’d also seen Scorcese’s The Last Waltz a couple of times, which documents The Band’s “farewell concert appearance.”

Collectively, these were some of the most formative rock and roll recordings for me. Just starting high school at the time, I became a bit of a Dylan freak for a while. The Band was still part of the picture, but I didn’t get crazy obsessed with them until 2000, when Capitol re-released the first part of their catalog, all re-mastered with bonus tracks. I scooped those up, and listened to them repeatedly. They were like brand new discoveries. I also read a few books about The Band, including Levon’s autobiography. I was steeped in it.

Living in Brooklyn at the time, my then wife and I had already decided to take a long weekend to visit Woodstock. It’s a quaint, beautiful town in upstate New York, whose name everyone knows from the music festival that was almost there. It also happens to be where Bob Dylan and The Band created some of the most amazing and lasting music that any American artist has ever created, then or since. There are interesting, musically historic spots all over the Woodstock area, including the house where The Band wrote the songs for their first record, Music From Big Pink, and where they recorded The Basement Tapes with Dylan. That’s the one I wanted to see. The house. Big Pink.

I found a Web page with some directions written out. It involved unmarked roads and warned against trespassing. Local people had gotten tired of the Dylan freaks. The hunt for the house did send us down a number of unmarked roads with lots of no trespassing signs along the way, but we did eventually find it. It was underwhelming. And why wouldn’t it be? Just an old house in the middle of nowhere. Some really big things happened here, yes, but they aren’t reflected in the structure itself. I dashed off a few photos with my camera, and we got back in the car. There wasn’t anyone around, but it still felt like we shouldn’t be there. It was time to go.

So you might understand how excited I was when I saw the Levon Helm Band was coming to Ann Arbor, just a few miles from me at The Michigan Theater. Levon Helm. The most recognizable voice in The Band. The only Southerner in the bunch — the only American (the rest were… Canadians!). Throat cancer survivor, road warrior, and three time Grammy winner. Drummer extraordinaire. Bringing his well seasoned 13 piece band (yes, that’s thirteen) to town. I had to go.

And it was great. What we saw wasn’t a run through a selection of The Band’s greatest hits (which everyone would have loved, by the way, myself included). It was a journey through the rich and varied landscape of American roots music — the music that forms the bedrock of rock and roll.

Which isn’t to say that there weren’t any songs by The Band in the setlist. The show started with “This Wheel’s On Fire”, followed a few songs later by “Ophelia”. Later there was a fantastic “Chest Fever”, starting with a guitar-driven “Genetic Method” from bandleader Larry Campbell. The finale was “The Weight” with Joe Pug (opener) and his bandmates.

In the spaces sandwiched between these classics by The Band, we heard country, bluegrass, folk, R&B, and more. A kind of late 60s heavy rock number, too. With two drummers, three multi-instrumental vocalists, a guitar player, keyboard/vocalist, bass player/vocalist, and a five piece horn section, the band was able to traverse any musical territory it wanted. On a few occasions, the horn section stepped off stage for a song or two. On other songs they were featured — like in their strut around stage during the cover of Wild Tchoupitoulas‘ “Meet the Boys on the Battlefront”. The crowd went nuts for it.

By contrast, another song, “Little Birds,” featured just one guitar, a mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, and two vocalists. Still another changed the configuration to an an accordion, 3 guitars, bass, two drummers. And, of course, a trombone, for the trombone solo.

Larry Campbell is the bandleader, a well respected multi-instrumentalist who sings and mostly plays guitar, with some fiddle and mandolin thrown in. Teresa Williams, his wife, and Amy Helm, Levon’s daughter, are both artists in their own right, bringing amazing vocals and more multi-instrumental awesomeness to the band. Brian Mitchell, the keyboard player, brings a New Orleans flare to the band, singing all the Cajun influenced tracks, including “Meet the Boys on the Battlefront.”

The five person horn section was the largest of any band I’ve seen. Those guys are awesome. One of them — Howard Johnson — played in the horn section The Band used for The Last Waltz. He’s a legendary tuba and baritone sax player. We were treated to a tuba solo in “The Weight.”

So the concert was absolutely fantastic. I didn’t know most of the non-Band songs they played, but each one really grabbed me. All for different reasons. Larry, Teresa, and Amy all have tremendous stage presence and the entire band has great chemistry on stage. They weren’t only fun to listen to — they were fun to watch (see the 2010 audience recording of “The Weight” below).

Unfortunately, I was also reminded of why I generally don’t get excited about rock shows at The Michigan Theater (except the Earth moving ones like this one). It’s a great place to see a movie with my kid, but a pretty stifling atmosphere for a rock and roll concert. The seats are bolted into the ground, and rows run all the way up to the stage. Standing up in your seat is generally frowned upon and there’s no where to stand up and dance. Sound is generally good, though, and site lines are pretty good wherever you are. Still, there’s just no rocking out. Despite that, the show really did blow me away.

The one thing that leaves me scratching my head is, why no tapers at the show? And why no option to buy a recording of the concert? Why not sell copies? There’s gold in them hills! They’re already taping the shows, I imagine. Run off some copies, sell them at $25 a pop. Instant memories for the fans. A little extra cash for the band. The band would benefit if they let tapers record and upload recordings to the Live Music Archive. It builds exposure, rewards the fans, and preserves their live work for future generations to hear.

Since I can’t link to any MP3s on the Live Music Archive, you’re going to have to see the Levon Helm Band for yourself. Which you should do anyway. It’s a great show, and you’ll probably get caught up in the energy of it. Check out this audience recording from 2010 to see what I mean.

The Levon Helm Band – “The Weight”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GD8ZABTt0Cg&w=560&h=315]

Photos by Mike Vasquez. See more here.

Lollapalooza 2011: Escape from No Future

Lollapalooza 2011 - Perry's Tent

Twenty years ago, when the inaugural Lollapalooza tour made its Detroit stop, I was a 19-year-old goofball with a head full of chemicals wandering around Pine Knob, just having a good time with my friends. I don’t remember seeing any 40-year-old dudes there that year but there might have been some; there’s a lot I don’t remember about that show, like the Violent Femmes playing for example.

I also can’t remember if I was freaked out about turning 20 later that summer, the waning weeks of my teenage years.

Twenty years later, it’s easy to scoff at the kids with their filthy feet and body paint. But set aside your cynicism for a minute and you’ll appreciate the fact that a festival like Lollapalooza gets most of its energy and excitement from the under-30 set. We get older; they stay the same age. Yes they do.

I actually had a young girl ask me to buy her a beer this year. As I waffled, my man AMP shot her down with a shake of his head and a curt “No way.” Smart move. But still, I couldn’t help being flattered. Do I look like a kindly old gentleman now that I’m approaching the big Four-oh? Or just an easy mark? Aw, who cares?

I’ve gone to every Lollapalooza since its resurrection as a destination festival in Chicago. But this was my first time as a visitor after moving back to Michigan last year. It was weird not being able to crash in my own bed afterwards, but AMP took good care of us. There’s a different set of factors when you have to figure out whether or not you actually want to make the effort to travel to a music festival.

When the lineup was released, it was as weak as I’ve ever seen it. I’ve rarely been thrilled by the headliners but that’s usually made up for by an abundance of great afternoon sets. Not this time. There were huge holes in my schedule where I couldn’t care less about anything. I figured that I’d mosey around and hope to bump into something awesome. That’s how I witnessed mindblowing sets by Matt & Kim and Deerhunter in previous years. So I had high hopes despite the lackluster schedule.

Plus there was a bunch of stuff I was really excited about, mostly groups that I should’ve caught a few years ago but missed for one reason or another: Girl Talk, Black Lips, Titus Andronicus, the Cool Kids. Notice that all four of those groups had played the Pitchfork Fest recently. I missed them there, so I was determined not to let that happen again despite being relatively old news (in certain dorky circles).

And they were all great. Titus Andronicus, especially. Man, there is something about that band’s earnestness combined with their ambition that just gets to me. Every time I try to explain The Monitor to people who haven’t heard it, I feel like an idiot. “It’s a concept album about the Civil War…and getting out of New Jersey…and…girls… It’s awesome.” And finally seeing them live, they exceeded any expectations I had. It’s impossible to take your eyes of Amy Klein. She’s awesome and my wife was impressed by her cute dress.

There were other good sets too (Mountain Goats, Bright Eyes, Fitz & the Tantrums) but the undeniable truth of the event was that all the real action was happening underneath Perry’s giant tent. It was just a couple years ago that the Perry’s stage area was so small that I was able to casually stand at the very back and could still tell that DJ Mom Jeans was the guy from “That 70s Show.”

Not anymore.

20,000 shirtless bros bobbed up and down with girls in short shorts and half shirts, pouring in and out of that area throughout the weekend. Perry’s made the rest of Grant Park feel like a tired twentieth-century throwback to a place where bearded old cavemen rubbed pieces of wood together hoping to make fire. It was thrilling to witness but impossible to fully participate in. Which is fine, of course. That’s the way it should be. You can’t trust anybody over 30, not to mention oldsters pushing forty.

It was still the most fun I had, standing at the back of the tent, soaking up the vibe from the crowd. It was mesmerizing, just watching a football-sized mass of people swaying around to the strange, futuristic beats. It’s not necessarily my thing but it’s a cool thing, and it’s important for a generation to have its own thing.

Perry Farrell clearly sees the writing on the wall. He recently told USA Today, “My mission is one day there’ll be live music on one side and electronic music on the other side. It looks like the world is really going in that direction where dance music is the new punk rock.”

A lot of my non-music nerd friends find it amusing that I continue to go to Lollapalooza. “Will you still go when you’re 60?” My stock response has always been, “Depends on the lineup.” Then again, this year I realized that even though I don’t know a Skrillex from a Modeskeletor (and I don’t really care), it can still be fun to hang out and watch the true fans get into it. I am totally comfortable with the idea of being just a casual fan of electronic music. Not sure that I’d drive for hours and crash at a pal’s house to bask in three days of it, but hey. You never know. Twenty years is a long time.

Lollapalooza 2011 - Cee Lo Green

Photos by AMP. See more here.

MP3: Titus Andronicus – “A More Perfect Union” from The Monitor.

Where the Shark Bubbles Blow: Zappa Plays Zappa in Chicago

Zappa Plays ZappaZappa Plays Zappa at the Congress Theater

Chicago, December 1, 2010

This past Saturday was the third time I’ve seen Zappa Plays Zappa, and it was the best show so far. That’s saying a lot, because the first two were incredible performances, and I had high expectations for this one as a result.

A couple of things made this show special. First, they played the entirety of Apostrophe, after a great rendition of “Gumbo Variations” from Hot Rats. Apostrophe is one of the greatest rock and roll albums ever recorded. There is not a bad song on the record, and a whole bunch of brilliant ones. It was my introduction to Zappa (if you don’t count “Valley Girl,” which they also played on Saturday), and it holds the top slot in my ranking of Zappa records. So I was really excited to see them do the entire record, and they did not disappoint.

Continue reading Where the Shark Bubbles Blow: Zappa Plays Zappa in Chicago

Photos: Jesse Malin Live in Glasgow

Jesse Malin Live in Glasgow

Jesse Malin at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut

Glasgow, Scotland, December 5, 2010

Tonight Jesse and the St. Mark’s Social were recording a live album at the legendary King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in the centre Glasgow on his “Won’t Be Home ‘Til Christmas” tour. He brought Christmas cheer in his nearly two hour set playing a selection of old and new songs for his Christmas album. He even treated the crowd to his version of “Fairytale of New York.”

The gig kicked off with “Burning The Bowery” from my album of the year Love It to Life, and this show will definitely be one of my gigs of the year.

Continue reading Photos: Jesse Malin Live in Glasgow

Photos: Happy Birthday Live in Newcastle

Happy Birthday Live in Newcastle

Happy Birthday at Head of Steam

Newcastle, England, November 3, 2010

I have read Todd’s scathing review of the album, but I enjoyed both their gigs: an in-store at RPM, a local independent record shop, and at Head of Steam, a pub that features live music in the basement. I give them credit for coming to Newcastle on a rainy Wednesday night and playing a venue that holds only 96 people maximum.

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Photos: The Jim Jones Revue Live in Newcastle

Jim Jones Revue Live in Newcastle

The Jim Jones Revue at Newcastle Cluny

Newcastle, England, October 19, 2010

Shit-hot garage rock from London. Recommended if you like Jon Spencer and Little Richard.

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Photos: Carl Barat Live in Newcastle

Carl Barat Live in Newcastle

Carl Barat at Other Rooms

Newcastle, England, October 20, 2010

Reminiscent of his first tour with Dirty Pretty Things, Carl played an intimate sold out club to showcase his new album. Carl introduced the crowd to his new material as well as some favourites by Dirty Pretty Things and The Libertines. For some new songs he abandoned the comfort of his guitar and just took on the role of lead singer.

The audience chanted Carl’s name in a style more familiar with the football terraces than a gig, which spurred Carl on to played a full blooded set that exceeded the curfew and sent his fans on their way still chanting, “There’s only one Carl Barat”.

Continue reading Photos: Carl Barat Live in Newcastle