Lollapalooza | 08.09.09

lolla_deadmaus.jpgIt’s been a long time since I heard something as beautiful as Lou Reed’s first strum of VU’s "Sweet Jane."






Millennium Park, Chicago

The Ra Ra Riot performance to begin my Sunday was pretty nice; violins are always welcome, especially outdoors when the sun is high and the skies are a cloudless blue. Neither Ra Ra Riot’s nor Vampire Weekend sets were as playful or fun or good as Discovery‘s would’ve been, and it’s a shame RRR’s Wes Miles and VW’s Rostam Batmanglilj couldn’t collaborate. Regardless, their peaceful set worked particularly well on the opening song "St. Peter’s Day Festival," the always-great "Suspended in Gaffa" and the Discovery-tweaked "Can You Tell?" A song that I had not remembered being so good before hearing it live at Lolla was "Too Too Too Fast" which came before the closer "Dying Is Fine."

It didn’t take very long for a band to blow me away on Sunday. Bat for Lashes did just that with 12 songs that made up one of the best start-to-finish showcases of the festival. The darkness that seems so one with Bat for Lashes—everything from Natasha Khan’s breathy/sexy voice, the echo-y howls and even the band name itself—made it strange to see them play live in 100-degree heat. The British band made it clear that the weather was getting to them, but ensured it didn’t affect their show. The dance-y "What’s a Girl to Do?," the tropical African beat of "Two Planets" and the glittery outfit the smiley Natasha wore went hand-in-hand with the summer sun. Before finishing with not only one of Two Suns’ best but also one of the year’s best, "Daniel," BFL was extremely impressive on "What’s a Girl to Do?," and "Siren Song." While poor sound in the early going coupled with a partner stage interfering a bit was a very slight downer, it was really the only problem in a nearly flawless set. Definitely one of the best, and a band that far too many missed.

I was slightly aimless in the 40-minute lull before The Raveonettes took the Playstation stage, and caught a little of Chicago’s own He Say, She Say and their blog-buzz joint, "Crash Dummie," as well as a little of the Kaiser Chiefs. My review for The Raveonettes is not unlike Bat for Lashes; each song was amazing and made the set as a whole stunning. Having seen The Raveonettes twice prior, and because they have been established for a few years more than BFL, it wasn’t such a surprise or relief to see them put on a stellar show. Good news is that between two new songs that will appear on their fourth LP, In and Out of Control, due October 6, The Raveonettes have not seemed to regress one bit from their last effort, the killer Blitz Blitz Blitz. The band packed a huge crowd considering Gang Gang Dance and The Hood Internet shared the 3:30 slot. The Raveonettes’ played as a four piece, although the Denmark outfit is a two-piece at heart, the two fill-ins playing the simple beats on a three-piece drum kit and backup guitar. "Hallucinations" got the ball rolling, "Dead Sound" battled minor technical difficulties, and "Let’s Rave On" paired the skin-blistering heat with ear-blistering distortion. "My Tornado" and "Expelled From Love" were on the shortlist of songs that didn’t play to their strong suits. The new In and Out Of Control track put a Raveonettes’ twist on The Drifters’ "Save the Last Dance for Me" with the guy, Sune, taking lead vocals except for the dual-sung chorus (the song is called "Last Dance" and begins the album). Raveonettes do not pull for anything out of their ordinary, and God bless them for that. Few songs are as good as their once-single "Love in a Trashcan," songs about Friday are rarely anything but awesome (see "Twilight"), and I had forgotten that "That Great Love Sound" is one of their best until they rocked it (see opening line "Changing your strut when you know I’m behind you"). This prepped their second new one of the day, a thumping, mid-tempo song called "Suicide." "Noisy Summer" or "You Want the Candy" would’ve really put the icing on the cake, but the band went with the "Ally, Walk With Me" finale.

I spent the empty 25 minutes watching Vampire Weekend before Passion Pit played, a band I believe is much more deserving of the indie buzz than Vampire Weekend. Without trying to weave my way to the front or anything, I found the performance enjoyable, relaxing and summer-appropriate. "Mansard Roof" and "M79" were as good live as on the album, and I was reminded of the cool "I Stand Corrected" cut. VW seem long overdue for a new album, and the band threw in "White Sky," "Boston" and "Cousins" as the non-debut-album tracks. To their credit, they are putting together some impressive collaborations, side projects and feature tracks.

I wish I would’ve gotten closer for Passion Pit—or more realistically, I wish Lolla had given them a bigger stage. I stood on the outside sidewalk of the Citi stage straining to see the band, removed from the dance party that lasted from opener "Make Light" to closer "The Reeling." Perhaps it was the dance party atmosphere that kept me from taking a lot of notes for this one, but I think it’s that I had fairly high expectations for this young band—which were met—and nothing was too out of the ordinary. No covers. No crazy stage antics or things said. A few non-Manners tracks, but nothing unreleased. It was neat being around a crowd that was so familiar with a band’s material, and the chorus of the crowd singing "Higher and Higher and Higher" on "Little Secrets" probably sounds pretty damn good on some fan’s tape recorder.

I only caught Dan Auerbach from across the field waiting for Lou Reed to take stage, which came 10 minutes late (it’s cool; he went 18 minutes over). The Black Keys‘ front man drew from his debut Keep It Hid, including the highlight "My Last Mistake" and a few covers (Animals, Link Wray).

It’s been a long time since I heard something as beautiful as Lou Reed’s first strum of VU’s "Sweet Jane." Choosing between Deerhunter, Snoop Dogg and Lou Reed seemed to be a large part of the discussion on Sunday; I definitely don’t regret going with Lou. "Sweet Jane" was far from album quality; however, for anyone who wants to blame aging for this must-listen, recordings as far back as the ’70s show the live versions to be much worse than the album. Playing around with lyric delivery has always been Reed’s live approach. No matter the outcome, it was a beautiful moment seeing such a legend playing his best works: "Sweet Jane," "I’m Waiting for the Man" and "Take a Walk on the Wild Side." Reed can talk his way through a song and have it sound as brilliant as a soul singer belting out, and he is able to fit a whole bunch of words in very short spaces (which now makes me wish he played "Street Hassle," among a countless others). Throughout the show he kept his eyes on two monitors connected to a keyboard in front of him, and gave stage directions to the six or seven other members of his band, which blended right into his talk-y singing voice on the song "Mad." I could’ve certainly done without the 10-plus-minute distortion noise on "Paranoia Key of E" (we could let a whole wave of shitty new popular bands handle that) which segued into "I’m Waiting for the Man." Closing with "Wild Side" was so nice, and while the set wasn’t incredible, it was much cooler than the mere fact that it’s cool to have seen Lou Reed.

Afterward I watched Band of Horses. I set my sights pretty low; I was a semi-fan when I saw them at the Pitchfork Festival in ’06, and didn’t find much substance on the critically praised sophomore LP, and thus was curious to hear it live. Looking back, all the songs I starred were first-album tracks ("The Great Salt Lake," "Weed Party") with the exception of "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands." I didn’t stay for the whole set, but I will admit that they do put a somewhat cool twist on a country-folk-tinged rock. These songs were decent, but when I decided to watch the Killers there wasn’t a sense of regret that I was missing out on the second half of their performance.

The Killers. I don’t have a whole lot to say about them. I’ll let a true fan tell you how amazing the lights are, how different they sounded, what they wore and the subtle changes they made from the album. I will say that this band has grown on me a bit. When Hot Fuss came out, it was a little too cheesy for my taste and too painful to see them compared with The Strokes, when the Strokes were still in their dominating stage. Sawdust had some definite hits, and now five years after the "Mr. Brightside" release, it’s sort of fun and classic; it no longer matters how many times I wish I hadn’t been stuck listening to that song on the radio. Fans celebrated the last show of the last day with what looked like many people’s favorite band. Brandon Flowers was very talkative, but understandably so with the task of filling 90 minutes of music. "Joyride" came off pretty well; the cheesy moments weren’t as many as I expected. But the biggest disappointment was that Lou Reed didn’t stop by across stage and perform "Tranquilize," which would’ve been so incredible. Decent set, and a fair enough ending to a naturally awesome weekend. | Joseph O’Fallon

Photogallery: Lollapalooza by Nick Licata

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