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.
Photos by Alan M. Paterson.