“I stole my friend Leslie Feist’s album off the Internet because I was too lazy to go down to the office and pick it up. It’s that easy to steal music off the Internet. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I also think there are people who love the band and genuinely want to support the band and have 10 bucks to spare. If you don’t give people the option at least to buy a record, then you can’t blame them for stealing it.”
Lollapalooza is a funny event. There’s a lot of history around it, culturally and personally. I attended the first year’s Lollapalooza 15 years ago with a car load of my college pals, and I’m proud to say I’m still in touch with all of that original posse. We’re spread out across the globe now, but thanks to the internet we know who’s living where, who’s changing careers, buying houses, all that. Lollapalooza was a crazy idea back then, a strange celebration of (some of) the music we liked and the politics we were thinking about. Or something… Anyway, it felt like our thing in all its early-90s, pre-internet, slacker glory.
I went the next year, too, this time with my girlfriend. The highlight of the second Lollapalooza, for me, was Ice Cube. Although I remember being annoyed by the abbreviated versions of songs and all the “wave your hands in the air” crap (which was a huge hip-hop cliche even way back then!), it was still exciting to see my favorite rapper in person. My girlfriend was excited about Lush and the Jesus and Mary Chain. The headliner that year was the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band I didn’t care for even though Anthony Keidis is from my hometown. We both agreed they put on a good show, though, with the fire shooting out of their helmets and all.
Fast-forward fourteen years. That girlfriend is now my wife. And Lollapalooza no longer feels like our generation’s thing anymore. It’s not just that we’ve got about a decade on the age of the average attendee. There were plenty other people our age (and older, believe it or not), but there was a different vibe. Maybe it’s all the shirtless dudes. Maybe it’s the crass corporate branding on every possible surface. Who knows? It was still fun, and there were lots of great bands, and it’s cool that it takes place in my city so I can just take the El home at night. But is Lollapalooza any different than Coachella or Bonnaroo now? Does it have its own personality? Or is it just another victim of our cultural homogenization?
One other circumstance that might have affected my attitude, even when compared to last year, is that my wife is currently expecting our first child, a boy, and that seems to make you look at everything a little differently. And while I don’t necessarily want to be one of those dads who’s always deliberately pushing his own unfulfilled dreams onto his kid regardless of the kid’s interests, I’ve got to admit that since the cochlear structures of the fetal ear have developed, he’s already been exposed to several cool shows: Tom Jones and Etta James at Ravinia, the Mountain Goats, Art Brut, Mission of Burma, and Yo La Tengo at Pitchfork. The baby seemed to be pretty chill at those previous shows, but he expressed some strong opinions at Lollapalooza. For example, he hates the Dresden Dolls. And even though he let us know he didn’t appreciate Lady Sovereign’s warm-up deejay, he did enjoy Blackalicious quite a bit, particularly his freestyle.
What follows will be my take on sets I caught at Lollapalooza this year as well as the reaction expressed by another music fan in utero as measured by number of kicks…
Talk about out-of-character—Torquil Campbell taking a break in the middle of Stars’ Webster Hall set to introduce “He Lied About Death” with the joke du jour, something about Dick Cheney’s terrible aim. Yawn.
Out-of-character because politics have never been Stars’ specialty—they would much rather have you feel than think, their songs adorned with themes of tragic romanticism, whimsy, and despair. It’s an angle that has gained the Montreal-by-way-of-New York group a reasonable degree of success. They wear their hearts on their sleeves in the most un-ironic of ways, and the many smitten youngsters showed their appreciation on this night. Even the most cynical music fans have to feel weakened by the sugary kiss of Stars’ material. The band, who put even Belle & Sebastian to shame when it comes to twee, are great songwriters, and their cinematic brand of electro-pop translates well to the stage, despite the intricate sonic stew.
Shall I even tell you that this album bleeds lovelorn youth and defines emotional saturation, or have you figured that out by now? The Canadian group Stars are another one of seemingly endless bands currently devoted to reminding us that amore still has its rightful place in music. Luckily, for those of us willing to accept music that’s blatantly cardial, Heart offers an album of solid pop and lush overtones.
Like American Analog Set has discovered the “bombast” knob on the mixer, Stars maintain a steady formula through Heart—soothing vocals (either male or female, preferably both), pulsing bass, orchestral swoons, swirling keyboards and warm drum loops. The songs are a wash of blues and purples; atmospheres that appeal to the most tolerant of us, the elitist crowd. But what’s more, like The Postal Service, Stars also manage a record that binds us musically to our most bitter rivals—the “pretty” people, the ones that go out every night and dance without worrying how stupid they look, the people who get laid on a regular basis and own pre-bleached jeans. It may not be a universal cure of cancer, but the social effect this subgenre has had in finding common ground between two radically different subcultures is an interesting side note.
Throw any barbs you want, in the end, Stars will absorb them and shoot them back with all the delicacy of a Bath and Body Works lilac-scented candle. Just give in and accept the fact that whether you like it or not, Canada has done it again—another great band in their arsenal against American music. Kill ’em with kindness, I suppose.