Lollapalooza | 08.03-05.12

lolla2012Speaking of headliners, how do you choose between Black Sabbath and The Black Keys?


lolla bloc-party_500

It’s been three years since I’ve gone to Lollapalooza. It’s not like we had a big embarrassing public fight, or one of us slagged the other off on Twitter; it was just time for us to go our separate ways. And here we are trying to spend the weekend together amicably—you know, as friends. I definitely was confused, as Lollapalooza left me with mixed signals. You see, last time we got together, Lolla was a hard-rocking, ass-kicking kind of festival, and this time around, well, you can tell it’s going through an identity crisis. Sometimes it’s a straight-shooting rock festival, other times it’s a nonstop, DJ-helmed dance party, and still other times, it’s an electro-pop ’80s new wave hybrid. I found myself wanting the poor festival to just make up its mind already.

lolla black-keys_300So who did we decide to go see? A little bit of everything. I started with the one band that probably sums up the identity crisis the best: Die Antwoord. You don’t really know what to make of them, but at the same time you really dig it. They are fun, loud, weird, and energetic, and put on one hell of a show, even if it’s still daylight out. After that, Passion Pit came on and reminded me why I can’t listen to this band live. If you’re going to sing falsetto, you should actually be able to sing in a falsetto. This particular singer can’t; it’s more shrieking than singing, and it’s painful to the ears. I’ve seen them before and thought maybe the festival setting would be a better venue, but I’m afraid now I don’t think it is.

I moved on to a stage that was far enough away that the bleed through of sound wouldn’t find me, and ended up at Band of Skulls. Ahhh, rock music. It’s like a palate cleanser. Band of Skulls were gritty, bluesy, and just the thing to get me in the festival mood. I did get a bit distracted watching a guy decked out in full pads, horribly break dancing in the dirty field. My favorite part of these fests is the people. After that, I sort of just wandered around and kept people-watching until the headliners came on.

Speaking of headliners, how do you choose between Black Sabbath and The Black Keys? You can’t. I did about 45 minutes of the Black Sabbath, because, let’s face it. It’s worth it to see which Ozzy will show up. Rocker Ozzy appeared and dismissed any notion I had that he wasn’t what he used to be. He was singing extremely well, engaging and antagonizing the crowd into getting louder, and really controlling the stage. I would imagine this would be similar to what it would be like to see Ozzy in his heyday. I finished the evening catching the Black Keys, which to be honest, seemed to be a little flat. They just sort of did their thing and didn’t really engage the crowd, which is rather necessary at a festival, and the sound was crappy the more distorted the songs got. Toward the end, out of sheer randomness, a huge disco ball filled the stage for the last few songs. I admit I did regret leaving Black Sabbath a little bit. Oh well.

lolla passion-pit-300On day two, things got a bit dicey. As soon as I was about to walk outside and head down to the festival, ominous rain clouds warned me to not bother. Moments later, I was getting a string of texts alerting me to the evacuation of Grant Park till the weather cleared out. After some impressive storms, they opened the grounds again, and while some bands were straight-up cancelled, they rescheduled as many acts as they could, and were able to push everything back about 45 minutes. Credit to the organizers to minimize the cancellations and try to get as many artists back on stage, even though some had to overlap and created a bit of sound bleed to other stages.

lolla jack-white_300I targeted one of my must-see artists, the perfect band to get the crowd back into the feel of a festival in situations like this: Franz Ferdinand. You can tell which bands are from the United Kingdom, because they are born and bred festival bands. The way some kids spend their summers at camp, bands on that side of the pond spend their summers playing festivals. Franz delighted the crowd with an up-tempo, Brit pop set to get the energy levels back to normal. The big screens weren’t working for most of the set, but that didn’t deter the crowds from dancing and singing along to Alex Kapranos and Co. After Franz finished up, I set my sights on another U.K. band, Bloc Party. This is another band I’ve seen live—in fact, this one was Lollapalooza in 2008—and I was let down. This time around, I wasn’t expecting them do much better and, sadly, I was right. I just didn’t feel like Bloc Party were as powerful as they could be. Maybe they need to be indoors where the energy is boxed in, because the open-air venue isn’t their friend.

After that, I stuck around the area to watch Red Hot Chili Peppers. I wasn’t expecting much from RHCP, but they dug into their vast catalog and put up a greatest-hits set list with lots of crowd sing-alongs—which, in a festival setting for the least-exciting headliner, is a smart play: If you have the crowd on your side, you win. I did enjoy hearing a few oldies like “Under the Bridge” and “Suck My Kiss,” because back then, they were edgy and cool songs.

lolla florence-machine_300Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. This was the most eclectic day in terms of bands seen. I started the day watching Columbia, Missouri, natives the White Rabbits. They were tight, energetic, and solid on stage. For an early afternoon show, they had a very large crowd that was digging it, myself included. Moving on, I found myself at the Perry Stage, which throughout the weekend was a nonstop dance party. Named after the main man Perry Farrell, the stage featured nothing but emcees, DJs, and dance bands. I caught Little Dragon here, an act with whom I’ve been intrigued since they contributed to some Gorillaz songs. The Swedish group was a fine mix of jazzy beats, smooth vocals, and new-wave pop.

After that, I headed to see another foreign band, Sigur Rós. Now this is a front man who uses a falsetto correctly. Sigur Rós was easily the weirdest band I heard all weekend. I was originally wondering how exactly you can translate their music to a festival setting, but they managed to recreate such a lush sound and engage the crowd. Usually I’d be bored 15 minutes into a band like this, but they really surprised me. I’ve seen them in a very small setting and this was quite the change, but they were up for it. After that, I wandered some more. I checked out the Sheepdogs, who I learned all about from an episode of Project Runway. Walked past an African band, Amadou & Mariam, playing such upbeat, bongo-driven music, people couldn’t help but stop and dance for a bit before moving on to their destination. I got there right as they started, and by the time I left, the crowd had definitely swelled to a much larger number.

Caught Florence and the Machine after that. Flo is everything you expect her to be: ethereal, vintage, classy, and just the orchestrator of a love-in. She engaged the crowd from the minute she stepped foot on stage, and sang with conviction to the extremely large crowd. It was a perfect band for sunset. The final headliner of the night was a man of many talents—and apparently many backing bands. Jack White started his evening with his all-male backing band the Buzzardos, and tore through several songs from his new solo album, Blunderbuss. About halfway through, the men gave way for an all-female backing band, the Peacocks. Playing as himself and not the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, or one of his other incantations, Jack White had less original material to offer. He sprinkled in selections from his catalog, but aimed to stick with his solo stuff. It was a heavily twangy and you could easily hear his affection for his new home city of Nashville; still, it was weird hearing country takes on songs like “Hardest Button to Button” and “Steady as She Goes.” Overall, White delivered a solid set; sometimes his voice would get lost in the noise from all the jamming on stage, but it seemed like the crowd dug it.

And so concludes my rendezvous with an old flame. It was at times fun and reminiscent of times past, but also had those awkward long pauses in which you didn’t quite know what to say. There was a little something for everyone, and I mean everyone—but overall, it was a good time. | Kiernan Scrima

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