It's 2010, everybody. We as a nation need to examine proper crowdsurfing situations with a more discerning eye. I'm not going to go so far as to say it's inappropriate in every situation, but there is no acceptable reason for why crowdsurfing is occurring during sets from Yeasayer or The Black Keys. Let's all make better choices. Go with yourself.
My Lollapalooza weekend started a night early, as I unexpectedly had the chance to see Soundgarden at the small Vic Theatre on Thursday night with a friend. It was a really fantastic show, consisting mostly of Badmotorfinger and Superunknown tracks. Cornell’s hair was at 1992 length, as was his voice which sounded great. Kim Thayil is now fat, with a gray beard and goofy hat that at first made me wonder, “When did Dr. John join Soundgarden?” Anyway, after getting the rock endorphins flowing, the weekend was off and running. And by running, I mean walking carefully. Nobody needs to run at festivals, kids!
I arrived at 11am, and the gates had not yet opened. Bad start, Lollapalooza! After silently wondering if I should protest by leaving, I instead waited to be let in, then wandered down to the south field, which for some creepy reason was already damp/muddy, despite the fact that it hadn’t rained in days. B.O.B. started the day off, and if you wanted to see any hip-hop at this festival, he was basically your only hope unless you liked Cypress Hill. (Just kidding of course. Nobody likes Cypress Hill.) B.O.B. has clearly tapped into the niche of rap for emo kids, as he showcased by strapping on an acoustic guitar for some terrible Dashboard Confessional-esque ballad about a soldier in Vietnam. His album is also besotted with guest appearances, so during the live show you’d often hear the disembodied voice of Rivers Cuomo screaming out of the speakers while B.O.B. danced and waited for his verse. He closed his set covering “Kids” by MGMT, and naturally the crowd went apeshit. I took the chance to make my first cross-park walk when Wavves was playing on the opposite end. It was a farther walk than I remember, and there wasn’t even a reward when I finally made it to the other end; there was just Wavves playing shitty and acting shitty between songs, and looking clearly out of place on the massive north main stage. I left, bored after 20 minutes, and wandered over to one of the small stages where The Ettes were rocking mid-set with a fuzzed-out, straight-ahead approach that was a refreshing cleanser from the overly precious brattiness of Wavves.
Friday turned out to be a day of one headliner after another. I headed back down south to take in a solid set from The Walkmen, then chose to go back up north for Mavis Staples at 2pm. She was scheduled up against Raphael Saadiq, which frankly sucked, as the two biggest R&B/Soul draws of the fest shouldn’t be paired against each other. I chose Staples, and was glad I did. She put together one of the best sets of the day, and had a surprise cameo from Jeff Tweedy to boot. (Side note: Between seeing The Autumn Defense in June, On Fillmore in July, and Mavis Staples, I’ve seen all 5 members of Wilco perform this summer, without actually seeing a Wilco performance. News you can use!)
While watching Staples, I met up with my friend Marc and we wandered to the opposite north field for Drive-By Truckers. I first saw them on a co-headlining tour with The Hold Steady a couple years ago. It was a natural pairing, as the Truckers are basically a southern country-fried cousin to the Hold Steady, right down to the everyman lyrics and goofy grinning energetic frontman. They were excellent then, and they’re excellent now. Their hour-long set flew by, and one they wrapped, we went back across the north field for The New Pornographers. It’s borderline embarrassing that I hadn’t seen them live before, but they were awesome. There were easily 35,000 people in the north field watching at this point, and not to be outdone by Mavis Staple’s surprise guest, the Pornos brought out their own help in the form of Tad Kubler from The Hold Steady. As great as their songs were, the highlight of the set may have been Neko Case’s hat.
This hat will kick the ass of any Lady Gaga costume.
Sticking on the north end, The Dirty Projectors started at 5pm.
Me at 5:00pm: "They sound pretty cool. I'm digging this.
Me at 5:10pm: "This is boring. I'm bored now."
The Dirty Projectors do one cool thing very well, but hearing a two-minute-long trick over and over for an hour is like...it's like hearing a two-minute-long trick over and over for an hour. There’s no more appropriate analogy. It made me sleepy. But as I started to get sleepy, The Black Keys said “WAKE UP YOU JERK! WE WILL ROCK ALL BODIES AWAKE FROM YOUR MINIMALIST SWIRLING-INDUCED COMAS! WE MAY EVEN RAISE THE DEAD!" They slayed the stage, playing about 2/3 of their set as a 2-piece, and the other third as an expanded 4-piece, playing mostly songs of their new album. They’re killer as a 2-piece, but they’re actually even better with additional instruments. Go see this band now.
After the Black Keys wrapped, I trekked down south, stop for a few minutes on the way to relive a bit of 1980’s synth-pop courtesy of Chromeo (Guess what? The 80’s aren’t much better now than they were then), watched the beginning of what was apparently an underwhelming set by Lady Gaga, and saw The Strokes. I thought they were very good. And I'm not alone it seems.
My first thought when waking up Saturday was “I’m very sore, almost as if I spent all damn day yesterday repeatedly walking around a 2-mile radius.” My second thought was “I have a headache, even though I didn’t drink at all yesterday.” You know what they say is great for headaches? Rock shows! Tons of them! The more the better! So away we went.
While Friday seemed stacked all day with one headlining giant after another, Saturday did not. (“Who wants to go see Blues Traveler on the main stage at 1:45?” is a question nobody who likes music asks themselves.) With that in mind, and with friends checking out the DJ tent most of the day, I went exploring the small stages, and made several happy discoveries. Harlem (from Austin, naturally) not only have an impressively large kick-drum, but had a nice ramshackled garage-rock vibe that came off much more charming (and better overall) than Wavves the day before. Wild Beasts were strong as well, but the discovery of the day was Warpaint on the smaller northwest stage. I’d heard their name before, but never their music, and they were amazing, in a spaced-out Explosions in the Sky-with vocals type of way. They’ve only put out an EP so far, but based on the songs they played Saturday, their first album is going to be fantastic. Mark my words. Mark them!
Other impressive acts on the Saturday small stage included Dawes (1970s folk harmonies) and Deer Tick (alt-country rock endorsed by Brian Williams!) and Dan Black (he likes Prince). On some of the bigger stages, Against Me! proved my past suspicions correct. I would have LOVED these guys when I was in high school. Ex-Hold Steady-er (and still KING of the mustache) Franz Nicolay has joined the band on keyboards, for reasons unclear to me because I couldn’t hear any keys, but he’s still got the patented one-hand-up-while-yelling move that made me yearn for another THS show. Moving back north, there was a GIANT unmoveable clusterfuck surrounded the stage where The xx played. My head was still killing me, and with no cloud cover at that stage, I wandered back south, grabbing food and shade, listening to Gogol Bordello from afar while watching their gypsy escapades on the webcast screen. I checked out about 30 minutes of Metric afterward, and while I like a few of their songs, they left me underwhelmed. I bypassed seeing Spoon again to watch Social Distortion, and they were as good as I expected them to be. Mike Ness is gray and balding but is still a badass, not to mention one of the few living people who can pull off a Johnny Cash cover without sounding like a complete hack.
Have you ever said to yourself, “I’d love to watch a terrible ska/reggae band cover both John Denver AND Nirvana?” If so, then Slightly Stoopid is the band for you. Also, you should jump in front of a train because you are a terrible person. I don’t know how this band got such a great timeslot, but there was nothing redeeming about them. I sat and tried to remain still if only to avoid another cross-park walk. That said, I was still intrigued by how Green Day would close out the night.
People tend to forget that before American Idiot was released, Green Day’s popularity had taken a pretty substantial nosedive, though Nimrod and Warning were still very good albums. Their most recent album made it clear that they’re not a band for me anymore, but the kids still love them, and based on Saturday night, Green Day is still for the children. Billie Joe Armstrong still dicks around between songs A LOT. Escapades on Saturday included mooning the crowd, urging a teenage kid to stage dive into the crowd (he BARELY made it over the 15-foot-barrier to the front row of fans), and impromptu covers of Guns n’ Roses, AC/DC, and wedding reception staple “Shout.” They may have a Broadway musical to their credit, but it’s hard to imagine Billy Joel shouting “Who wants a fucking t-shirt?!” while firing shirts from cannons into the crowd. But the momentum kept moving. Simply put, the show was a big, dumb, explosion-filled two-and-a-half hours of pure fun. Armstrong repeatedly threatened to play past the 10pm curfew, and proved to be a man of his word, as the band blasted until about 10:15pm, infuriating union workers and likely incurring a huge fine in the process. Money well spent. Oh yeah, and some kid sang all of “Longview,” and got an awesome gift for his rendition (at the 5-minute mark). Best karaoke jam ever!
The most notable bands playing early on Sunday (The Dodos, The Antlers, and Blitzen Trapper) were those I had already seen at previous Pitchfork fests. Plus it was raining, so I delayed my arrival until about 2pm, and watched the last couple songs of spirited roots-rockers Ike Reilly Assassination before arriving to an already packed stage for Mumford & Sons. I like this band, but the Bluegrass-via-U.K. routine seems a bit gimmicky to me. A little goes a long way, but the crowd loved it all despite the hottest sunlight of the weekend. On the north main stage, a huge crowd gathered for Yeasayer, and while their performance was far more engaging than their set at Pitchfork last year, the crowd around me opted for lazy swaying as opposed to much cheering.
If it’s raucous crowds you’re looking for, look no further than BIBJ-endorsed Frightened Rabbit. They were stashed on a smaller stage, timed up against Mutemath and Erykah Badu, but drew a massive enthusiastic crowd. This band has transitioned nicely from solo confessional songs to bigger and fuller arrangements, and have put together louder arrangements each time I’ve seen them, and Sunday continued the trend. It also continued the trend of Hold Steady connections permeating the festival, as Scott Hutchinson dropped in a reference to “Southtown Girls” during their set-ending “Keep Yourself Warm.” (Co-headlining tour guys. Think about it...)
2 unrelated sidenotes here:
1. I did not see Erykah Badu, but apparently she showed up 20 minutes late, and when she attempted to play past her 6pm cutoff time, she was blown off stage by Wolfmother from across the south field. Badu vs. Wolfmother: Best feud ever!
2. Celebrity encounters of Lollapalooza: The worlds of best drama on TV and best comedy ever collided violently, as I walked past Jesse from Breaking Bad chatting with Maeby from Arrested Development. I successfully fought my urge to scream “Marry me!”
I met a friend in the JAM PACKED north field for MGMT. (The festival grounds expanded this year, allowing C3 to sell an extra 15,000 tickets each day, but since the position of the 4 main stages didn’t change, they pretty much just added more people into the same area that’s always been crowded as it was.) MGMT were a terrible live act at Lolla ’08, and while they’re slightly better performers on their new songs, the crowd couldn’t have cared less about anything off their new album. They wanted “Time to Pretend” and they wanted it now! When MGMT acquiesced, the mass of colored sunglasses hopped approvingly, though the band took apathy to a new level on “Kids,” literally not even playing instruments, just dancing and singing to a pre-recorded music track. The delirious crowd didn't give a shit about instruments, they just wanted a dance party. Congratulations, indeed.
I love The National, but having seen them several times, and with possible plans to see them in the fall, I decided to listen to them from the other side of the north park while staking out a decent spot for Arcade Fire. That said, this clip of Matt Berninger serenading a 4-year-old (and removing the f-bomb from “Mr. November” while in the toddler’s presence) is a MUST SEE moment.
Arcade Fire. There’s not much more to say about them. They’re clicking on all cylinders these days. The setlist only contained 3 Neon Bible tracks, smartly focusing more on the debut and new album. I can’t really stand “Rococo,” and would have preferred the far better "Suburban War" in its place, but that was the only minor misstep in an otherwise full-throttle 90 minutes. The harmonies soared, with “Crown of Love” being a standout sing-a-long, and faces were melted during “Month of May” and the “Power Out/Rebellion (Lies)” combo that they perfected during the MSG webcast. An encore of “Wake Up,” complete with 50,000 synchronized “Oh ohs” was an amazing, spellbinding ending to a long weekend. I felt sunburnt, tire, sore, and couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Thanks to the friends I met up with at various points over the weekend. As I told you all, I’m too old to do any more of these. And I might see you again next year.
NOTE: Some outstanding photos of Arcade Fire's set can be seen at Robert Loerzel's blog.