photo via Kate Gardiner
Of the 37 Strokes songs on my iPod, roughly 2/3 of them have been listened to 4 times or fewer each. Of course the first two Strokes albums were released before I had an iPod, so those numbers may seem a bit deflated in relation to my actual enjoyment, but the fact remains that as much as I still love hearing one of their songs, I haven't particularly had an urge to listen to them much in recent years. With Lollapalooza serving as their U.S. reunion debut, I was looking forward to the set, but by the end of a long, action-packed, not-that-hot-but-still-pretty-hot Friday, I wasn't expecting a whole lot.
Since Lady Gaga started 30 minutes before The Strokes, I watched the beginning of her set. If it had been worthwhile, I was contemplating staying there, but it ended up being mediocre community theater, complete with terrible between-song "dialogue" and lots of screaming the words "Chicago!" and "Lollapalooza!" to force undeserved screams. So to the North stage I moved, noticing when I got there that in all honesty, the crowd disparity was 75/25 for Gaga. Huge gaps in the crowd allowed me to move within 100 feet or so from the stage. And then we waited. The 8:30p start time came and went. After about 15 minutes (during which time I honestly thought to myself "Maybe they've broken up for good just now!") At that moment, the stage went black, and Queen's "We Will Rock You" blared through the speakers. And another thought took over. This might be good.
What it ended up being, hyperbole aside, was one of the best shows I've ever seen. As in, top 5 in my life. Since the moment it ended, I've been trying to think about what made it so fantastic. The band was as perfectly tight as ever. Casablancas' voice was on point, bouncing from slurs to screams while still rocking a hooded sweatshirt AND leather jacket in decidedly non-chilly conditions. But what put the night over the top was the crowd, and I don't think I've ever thought that at any point during a festival show.
I'm placing the credit firmly on the counter-scheduling of Gaga. Throughout the day, it was shocking to me how many Gaga fans were in attendance, but it was also obvious that she was going to get all the casual Lolla-goers as well. This of course is perfectly understandable. If she had been playing opposite Phoenix or Green Day, I probably would have gone to her set as well out of sheer curiosity. The Strokes, on the other hand, were not going to have anyone seeing them out of ambivalence. Even people who hated Lady Gaga were going to opt for just going home as opposed to standing and watching a band they don't really care about sing songs that were never on the radio. If you were going to see The Strokes, it was because you loved The Strokes, not because you wanted to stand and watch while chatting with friends. Again, this a mindset that really never happens at festivals, but last night was a perfect storm, and from the moment the band opened with "New York City Cops," it became evident that this was something different.
Festival shows can provide a lot of great performances, but they hardly ever result in transcendent moments. When they do connect, it's a lightning strike of collective energy. LCD Soundsystem at Pitchfork this year was a perfect example of an otherwise outstanding set, that contained within it a moment of something different during "All My Friends" wherein a switch was flipped, and the collective power of the crowd went off the charts. The Strokes' set last night was that moment, for about 70 minutes straight. Every word to every song was screamed by every person, fists in the air and dumb grins on our faces. (Okay, maybe not every word, but only because nobody can really sing the chorus of "Hard to Explain" without butchering the order of the lines.)
Gaga had the majority of people on her side of the park, but there is no possible way they were louder or happier than we were. Her stage set was the most expensive in Lollapalooza history, and from what I saw it was sterile and underwhelming. The Strokes had an Atari version of Pac-Man being played on the screen behind them, and it was perfect. From one song to the next, the collective energy just kept going, to the point where everyone had a look in their eyes wondering "Is this happening?" and the only answers you would get were the looks in other peoples eyes asking the same thing. The set was a little short, but nobody cared. We just filed out, hearing seemingly every person around mumbling "Oh my God," at what just happened. Everyone was saying the same thing, but it wasn't quite as synchronized as our collective chorus of "Juicebox."
Your work is cut out for you on Sunday, Arcade Fire. Act accordingly.
New York City Cops
The Modern Age
Hard to Explain
What Ever Happened?
You Only Live Once
Is This It
Vision of Division
I Can’t Win
Heart in a Cage
Take It or Leave It