Lollapalooza | 08.04-06.06

While I think the jury is out on who was wearing the shorter shorts in Be Your Own Pet (Jemina or her drummer Jamin), they were definitely one of the more entertaining bands to watch.

 

Grant Park, Chicago

Perry Ferrell is determined to make Lollapalooza this country's version of the Glastonbury Festival. By adding a day and increasing the number of stages, this year's lineup boasted a whopping 130 bands (that's 43.3 bands a day) spread out all over Grant Park, which I've come to realize is a very large park. Like many festivalgoers, I came to Lollapalooza thinking I had a chance to see all 130 bands, but I was sadly mistaken. Looking at the schedule grids, I soon realized I was going to have to sacrifice seeing some bands and do half sets so that I could see two bands that were so conveniently placed at the same time, yet on complete opposite ends of the park. All in all, I managed to see 33 bands throughout the three-day festival which, in retrospect, was probably more than most people managed. And so I began my march into the world of music festivals where tattooed kids, yuppies, and older folks alike stood shoulder to shoulder, waving their hands high with the hopes of finding their friends.

Day 1 | Walking up to Lollapalooza, my ears were filled with the sound of Editors' Tom Smith crooning out "You Are Fading" to a rather large crowd at the south stage. His vocals are so silky smooth that no matter where you were heading, if you could hear him sing, you wanted to linger a bit longer to hear more. After they finished performing, I made my way to the north stages to see a combo of Ryan Adams, Lady Sovereign, and Iron & Wine. I think it's fitting to mention here that if-or should I say when-the wind was blowing, there was a slim chance you were going to see a more than decent performance at this stage. With the wind pushing all the sound out of the park, you had to be standing really close, which didn't bode well for the legions of fans that made their way up to see performances by the likes of Wilco, Flaming Lips, and the Shins, among others. If you weren't tucked in tight, you just weren't going to be happy.

So needless to say, Ryan Adams was on this stage, and he was the first victim of the wind. While standing toward the back for the first half of his performance, I surmised that he was best suited for a indoor setting, as his stage show just couldn't compete with the wind and, later on, with Lady Sovereign at a nearby stage. Speaking of the pint-sized Brit, Lady Sov was slated to start her set at 5 p.m.; lucky for Adams and his fans, she was a half hour late. Not a good way to win over a very large crowd gathered to see her, but she soon surfaced and showed why Jay Z signed her to his label. Walking on stage brandishing a microphone in one hand and a beer in the other, Lady Sov definitely spit her game as one of the featured rap acts invited to this year's festival. With half a band (bass and drums) and a live DJ spinning the backing tracks, the most interesting part of her show was the large drawing board, complete with artist and paintbrushes in hand, creating art that presumably was inspired by her music. Completing the trifecta on the north stages, I gathered in close to see Iron & Wine. While Sam Beam wasn't on the main stage that Ryan Adams was on, he faced the same problem in the first half of his set. Lady Sov was so loud that there was no chance you could hear Iron & Wine for the first half-unfortunate, because he has such a melodic and relaxing style of music. He's another artist best suited for smaller venues.

Heading back down to the south stages, I was looking forward to seeing my first full set. After hearing the Raconteurs' first LP, Broken Boy Soldiers, I wasn't all that impressed, but I definitely wanted to see Jack White and Brendan Benson in action together to see if they lived up to the hype. And they certainly did. For being four guys plucked from the Detroit scene, the Raconteurs came together and have enough talent to smoothly make the collaboration work, especially live. Sharing time on vocals and creating some impressive harmonies, Benson and White make it seem as if they've secretly been doing this the entire time they've been playing music. Finishing off their set, they began what was to become the craze of the festival, and performed the Gnarls Barkley hit "Crazy," much to the delight of the crowd.

Following the mass that exited after the Raconteurs' set, I couldn't help but stop at the sound of probably one of the most recognizable voices that would be heard at this year's festival. Gordon Gano and the rest of the Violent Femmes began their set with one of their most popular tunes, "Blister in the Sun," causing festival attendees to literally stop dead in their tracks and sing along. While many younger kids joined in, it was the older crowd who belted out all the words to all the songs. The Violent Femmes didn't just stand up on stage and play the songs that everyone knows; they actually mixed it up and played songs the younger crowd wasn't familiar with.

Headlining this first night was Seattle's Death Cab for Cutie. Partly victim to the wind, Death Cab's set was rather lackluster and uninspiring and, truth be told, borderline boring. While they boasted the largest crowd of the day, it hardly seemed deserved. As they churned out songs from their latest offering, Plans, and a smattering of previous releases, the crowd was entertained but, unless they were die-hard fans, left unimpressed.

Day 2 | Starting the day around 12:30, I found myself watching the Nashville-based punk band Be Your Own Pet. For being young kids, they really rocked the small crowd gathered to watch them perform. Singer Jemina Pearl wretched and slithered across the stage almost like a very blonde Karen O in a Joan Jett t-shirt. While I think the jury is out on who was wearing the shorter shorts (Jemina or her drummer Jamin), they were definitely one of the more entertaining bands to watch. Not a single member of the band was still during the entire set, except for maybe when they were putting the drum set back together or tuning their instruments, or when Jemina was puking onstage from the heat.

Moving around the park, I stopped to listen to a buzz band known as the Cold War Kids. Their music is definitely fitting the style that is shaking out of the indie circles, and despite what they think, larger venues await them.

While I waited to see the ultimate '70s band that wasn't from the '70s, I got an earful by Brit-cheerleaders-turned-rock-band, the Go! Team. What you see is exactly what you get with that band, and that's energy and songs entitled "Jump!" and "Huddle Formation." While waiting for the football team to arrive, I nearly got sucked into a crowd of dancing ninjas, clowns, hot dogs, and pickles. In any other case, I would give them a weird eye and yell something obnoxious; today, however, I couldn't help but laugh and wander off to see Wolfmother. If you were to take Jack White and sit him in a room to cover Led Zeppelin tunes, the result would be this Australian band. They are straight-up '70s and don't apologize for it. And while you think their set would be old hat, it was rather entertaining and slightly refreshing.

Following a break in the action, the band that I was most excited to see-not just because of their music, but also for their insanely coordinated outfits-took to the stage. Opening up with a cover of Queen's "We Are the Champions," Gnarls Barkley started off one of the most entertaining sets of the entire weekend. Clad as tennis players complete with rackets, headbands, and knee-high socks, they delighted the crowd with a full band and mini orchestra to highlight the silky smooth voice of Cee Lo. Not to be outdone by the Raconteurs, they made sure to highlight their hit song of the summer, and included their cover of the Violent Femmes' "Gone Daddy Gone." For being a mid-afternoon show, they brought in a large enough audience that rivaled some of the later acts.

On my way to check out the Flaming Lips, I made sure to have a listen to rock-goth-cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls. For being one of those quirky acts that honestly not everyone will love, they had a very impressive stage show. They were playing the stage just opposite the Flaming Lips, and it almost seemed too perfect. They finished their set with a tongue-in-cheek, acoustic song about praising Satan, which no doubt humored everyone in attendance.

Worried that the Flaming Lips' set would be yet another casualty to the wind, I wormed closer and closer to the stage not only so I could hear, but to also enjoy every bit of the Lips' antics. And they didn't disappoint. Singer Wayne Coyne climbed into a clear plastic ball of sorts to survey the audience firsthand by wandering onto the hands of those nearest the front, and then returned to a stage with giant inflatable astronauts, aliens, and Santa Clauses. To the sides of the stage stood Flaming Lips fans dressed as either martians or Santa Clauses, depending on their gender; they danced and took pictures from the very beginning to the very end. Smoke machines, confetti throwers, streamer shooters, lime-green guitars, 12-string guitars, and giant hands all made appearances during the hour-long performance in which Coyne led a cappella sing-alongs and encouraged the fans to sing so loud that they'd stop Chicago traffic and perhaps the violence in the middle east. That Wayne Coyne knows how to win over a crowd.

After a stage show such as that, it feels as if nothing else will measure up to it. But then we've got the headliner, Kanye West still to come, and make no bones about it, he caused enough of a scene to make watching him worth it. No, he didn't make a comment suggesting George Bush hates white people as well as black people, but he gave the festival organizers an undeserved tongue lashing. In short, West proved himself to be the prima donna he's rumored to be. Opening the show was a string section leading into his remix of "Diamonds Are Forever," and not to be outdone by the other festival artists doing covers, he treated the crowd with a cover medley featuring Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony," Jay-Z's "H to the Izzo," and the Eurhythmics' "Sweet Dreams," just to name a few. While he was entertaining, there was no need for backing tracks when he had a full band and backing singers more than capable of picking up the slack. And of course as we were leaving to catch a bit of Manu Chao, Kanye had his temper tantrum. Citing poor sound at the beginning of his set, he claimed to be embarrassed by the way his return to Chicago was handled; apparently, no one should be put through such a thing, and promised that repercussions will be had. Where was Mike Myers to diffuse the situation when you needed him?

Day 3 | The final day had probably the best lineup of all the days, making it the day where choices would have to be made. I began the day with one of the bands I was most looking forward to, the Mercury Prize-nominated, British electronic-dance band Hot Chip. After a small bit of trouble with the sound, they got started and so did the party. The crowd was one of those varied crowds that had everyone from your frat boys to your hippies, all dancing to the beat. Probably one of the better shows of the festival, Hot Chip recreated their sound live without missing a beat, and for some of the slower songs, like "Colours" and "Boy From School," they sped it up to keep the pace, which kept the everyone dancing. Their finale was a version of "Over and Over" during which, every time the band seemed close to ending, they'd kick right back into the song, teasing the crowd before finally winding it down and promising to return to the States soon. That's a promise more than half the audience will hold them to.

Andrew Bird was next on the must-see list and for the life of me, I don't know how I haven't ever heard of this guy. He had come highly recommended by several people, and I'm definitely glad I made a point to see him. Standing onstage with nothing but a violin and a drummer, Bird's set began with him plucking the violin and whistling. He launched into his song called "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left" and the crowd dutifully sang along. Never have I seen an artist switch between guitar and violin so effortlessly and seamlessly; it was one fluid motion. He did so well for a festival setting that I could only imagine how awesome he would be in a smaller venue.

Before beginning the cross-park trek to see the multiple shows booked for the same time slots, I stopped to check out one of the bands that was obviously misbooked. On the Kidzapalooza stage, the School of Rock All Stars played a second, last-minute set. The band featured kids ranging in age from 12 to 18, playing classics from artists such as Zappa, Fleetwood Mac, and Queen. The talent on this stage easily surpassed the talent of some of the bands I had seen the past few days, and to have them displaying this talent on a side stage tucked away for music-loving parents and their unappreciative kids was a disservice to the musicians. Next year, they should be featured on a main stage.

At this point, the real trek began, as I headed up to the north stage to see the Shins. Once I make it up there, I realized that the Shins were subject to the very strong wind blowing the sound straight out of the park. In fact, this was the worst of all the wind-riddled sets, and even festivalgoers standing nearby mentioned that you can't hear anything. I even positioned myself in a spot where I should have been able to hear yet wasn't. So instead of trying to make out which songs were being played, I gave up and headed back to the south stage to catch Matisyahu, the rapping Rabbi. Not a bad consolation prize, but his set was nearly exactly the same as when I had seen him previously. So while I sat and scripted his set before he went on, I moved along and caught part of Of Montreal's set, and then parts of She Wants Revenge.

Neither band boasted an overly memorable set, and so I headed to claim a spot close enough to hear Wilco back at the infamous north stage. Jeff Tweedy emerged onstage, and I literally did a double take: He was standing there with his guitar in a bright green jacked and full-on, bushy-as-hell beard. There was something almost Unibomber about his look, but once he began singing, his new look was forgiven. Wilco is definitely a festival band and was loud enough so that the wind didn't affect the show too much. Before getting too settled into the Wilco set, I made my way back to the south stage to catch Queens of the Stone Age. I was quite surprised by the set from the modern rockers led by Josh Homme. Their sound was loud but not overpowering, and the guitars and vocals were crisp and clear. With a crowd beginning to pile up in anticipation of the headliners, Homme gave them something to pass the time and then some, with some kids spilling out of the pit with bloodied heads and limbs.

It was beginning to get out of control when Queens left the stage, but order was restored when Broken Social Scene took the nearby stage. While originally seeming like bad placement á la Lady Sovereign, Broken Social Scene held their own between Queens of the Stone Age and headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers. Filling the air with a style much different than the bands they were sandwiched in between, BSS made the most of a rather large crowd. Using trumpets and bringing in several of the guests on the album, the Canadian collective delivered one of the most surprising sets of the night, and even had the crowd begging for an encore. The crowd carried on for at least ten minutes after their set ended and before the Red Hot Chili Peppers began.

Once the crowd died down on that side of the field, they turned their attention to the headliners and obvious crowd favorites: the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Always the entertainers, the Chili Peppers did not disappoint. They opened their set with a jam session sans frontman Anthony Kiedis, but soon he took to the stage and they ripped into "Can't Stop." While the show in itself was energetic and high paced (there was a huge crowd surge at the beginning), overall it seemed somewhat like business as usual. There was some fan interaction, but I think the band took the stage and did their thing, and that was that. The three memorable moments were when they opened a song with the Clash's "London Calling," the very presence of John Frusciante, and watching some kid try to run up on stage from the back and getting tackled by security. While the material coming from the RHCP's camp is less than stellar these days, Frusciante's guitar work is the reason anyone should attend a RHCPs gig from here on out.

After three days of walking, talking, and hob knobbing with bands in the media tent, my legs had had enough of the action. A job very much well done goes to the festival organizers who, despite the sound issues with a few of the stages, put on a wonderful festival.

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