Lolla 2011 Recap: Day Two
Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
Here’s a Lolla survival tip, folks: Don’t drink Belvedere cocktails like they’re water when all you snagged for dinner was an order of fried cheese curds with rhubarb romesco. Delicious? Yes. But is it likely that you’ll make it on-time for your first show the next morning? And thus the first real casualty of Lollapalooza: I missed Disappears. Luckily the day was jam-packed with enough aural goodness to fully alleviate the pain.
Grouplove – Andrew
“We’re from Los Angeles,” the bassist says with a thick English accent. Although that’s where the band has currently set up shop, the five members originate from LA, NYC and London, having all met in Crete one magically fateful evening. The friendship they developed is almost mythological, and it shows in their performance. Less of a band and moreso BFFs that just happen to also make music, Grouplove come off as hippie Pixies — frontman Christian Zucconi affecting Frank Black yelps but with longer hair. The band released a strong eponymous EP last year, but much of the set focused on tracks from their
forthcoming debut LP Never Trust a Happy Song (out September 13th) and already expanding their sound. “Spun” is a mandolin-led jam, and lead single “Tongue Tied” is a Blondiesque dance tune. The highlight was set closer “Colours,” leaving the crowd wanting more (lots more), denied by their noon timeslot. Luckily they’re back September 16th at Subterranean with Young Man to support the new album.
Maps & Atlases – Gene
The air around the Google+ Stage was thick with weed as a good chunk of people kicked off Day 2 of their bacchanal with the fractal nursery-rhyme stylings of Maps & Atlases. Right from the start the notes seemed to jump out of Shiraz Dada’s bass and chase guitarist Dave Davison’s melodies around the park. It comes together as the kind of music you might imagine was written for a contemporary (and slightly drug-fueled) Tom & Jerry cartoon — rapid-fire twinkles and blurps popping out over snappy, frenzied drumming. Davison thanked the crowd for coming out, explaining the band had just gotten home from touring the previous night. They didn’t seem any worse for the wear. The next songs began like a stoned swarm of bees the singer’s deep croon had to navigate through. Just as Davison began to bend his voice like it was a guitar string it was joined by some crisp chimes to create a pleasant, upbeat swirl. The set was perfectly complemented by the fact that the Google+ Stage is tucked into some trees in a quieter section of the park. All the leaves were glistening with the moisture from Friday night’s rain, creating a sort of Endor effect that left me wondering how Ewoks might dance to Maps & Atlases strange brew of folk and math rock.
Maps & Atlases | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
Friendly Fires – Andrew
After a cooling drizzle on my walk from the south stages to the north, the sun came back out for the English electro-funk band Friendly Fires. Lead singer Ed Macfarlane brought the spazzy dance moves immediately as the group started off with “Lovesick” off their self-titled 2008 debut. As if the dance party hadn’t already started, he left the stage to join the sweaty bodies in the crowd to amp things up a bit more. Likewise, the crowd went nuts when Macfarlane absolutely beat up some agogo bells at the end of “Jump in the Pool.” And again when he jumped back in the crowd for the end of ‘On Board.’ Needless to say, this was a hell of a dance party, the crowd undeterred by the beating sun. For a band with such an electronic sound, it’s nice to see they don’t rely entirely on preset synth settings or MacBooks. The sax and trumpet took care of the funk and various acoustic and electronic percussion made not dancing impossible. The set closed out with the trio of the slide guitar led “Hawaiian Air,” the crowd favorite and Francophile anthem “Paris,” and non-album single “Kiss of Life.” Definitely a contender for most straight-up fun set and best energy.
Black Lips – Gene
There was no ambiguity about what kind of set Black Lips had in store for Lollapalooza. Before playing a single note, singer/guitarist Cole Alexander shotgunned a beer, much to the crowd’s satisfaction. The group then launched into a rowdy little punk song that succeeded in bringing the inner mosher out of most of the crowd. It always makes me a bit nervous to see people bodysurfing over a well-inebriated mass of humanity who are standing on solid concrete, but oh well. The self-described “flower punks” were more concerned with getting people to dance to “Family Tree,” the first track from their recently released record, Arabia Mountain. The song sounded like a drunk tear through some long lost Kinks song, giving Alexander the chance to channel Ray Davies and his scratchy whisper vocals. Just when you start to forget Black Lips are from Atlanta (they do look an awful lot like your typical Brooklyn hipster) they go and toss a “y’all” into their stage banter. The next song they played showcased a bit of those southern sensibilities, coming off as a sort of cowboy punk song with just the right mixture of swagger and pop. The frantic Joe Bradley got in on the fun and sang lead on a song while still pounding away at his drum kit, a feat that has always impressed the hell out of me. The opening chords of “Bad Kids,” from 2007’s Good Bad Not Evil, got a huge rise out of the crowd and helped to turn the front half of the PlayStation Stage into a giant mosh pit.
Black Lips | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
Big Audio Dynamite – Andrew
Anyone who knows me knows my love of the Clash. It’s one of the few things I’ll be militant about, and I will verbally assault anyone who disagrees that London Calling is the greatest collection of music ever created. Alas, I’ll never have the chance to see them live, but I wasn’t going to miss out on Mick Jones’ post-Clash funk/hip-hop/dance project Big Audio Dynamite (B.A.D.). But here’s the thing, I’ve honestly given them a few chances, but can never really get into them. Even with a Jones / Joe Strummer pseudo-‘reunion’ of No. 10, Upping St, (Strummer produced the album and cowrote some tracks), they just never gave me the same jolt as the Clash. Seeing them live gave me a new perspective. One, following the Friendly Fires, who no doubt have listened to a B.A.D. album or two in their time, showed how influential they really are. And two, well, it’s really unfair to make any Clash comparisons.
They are a different band with different creative minds. Not to mention Don Letts, still one of the most influential DJs around and credited as the man to introduce reggae to the punk scene; his energy complemented Mick’s, an energy both of whom had in excess considering how long they’ve been playing around. And despite only reforming earlier this year, a new album is already on the way, a welcome surprise and I feel a way for me to try once again to get in to B.A.D. It sometimes feels anachronistic for older bands to release new music after taking such time off, but the contemporary musical landscape might be the perfect place for B.A.D. Although, a word of advice: ease up on the helicopter and siren effects, guys.
Lykke Li – Andrew
The darker tones of Lykke Li’s Wounded Rhymes didn’t quite hit me at first as much as her 2008 debut Youth Novels, but it has since grown on me to become one of my favorites this year. With the setting sun behind the stage and the moon rising to its left, it was the perfect atmosphere outside — Her backing band dressed all in black, herself donning a black vinyl poncho and black cowboy boots, her fashion matching her sound. It was powerful when all six musicians on stage sang the chorus to “Sadness is a Blessing” and the subtle crickets of Grant Park in the background “I Know Places” added to the somber ambience. We never did dance enough for her though apparently: “You’re so shy and you’re so sweet,” she called out. She varies things up a bit from her recordings, particularly on “Rich Kid Blues” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.” Gotta love the freedom she utilizes playing live with the full band. She covered the Drifter’s “(Don’t Go) Please Stay,” sampled a bit of “Power” by Kanye West on “Youth Knows No Pain,” (nobody tell her G-Side did it at Pitchfork last month) and closed with “Get Some.” If we weren’t dancing earlier in the set, we definitely were by the end.
Lykke Li – Gene
The hype around Swedish singer Lykke Li has certainly made the rounds, as the smallish Google+ Stage was swelled to capacity. Without aid of a video screen (those are only at the main stages) it was impossible for most of the crowd to get a look at the singer. Luckily all anyone needed to do was hear her to enjoy the set. Li’s voice is enchanting live whether she’s doing neo-Shangri La sounding songs or melting your heart with a sugary ballad. “Sadness is a Blessing” might have been the show stealer, sounding as perfect live as it would have coming out of an ice cream shop’s jukebox fifty years ago. Lament-filled lines like “sadness is my boyfriend” are delicate to pull off without sounding like melodramatic Live Journal pap, but Li’s sincerity combined with a songbird whisper and the right swell of music makes for powerful stuff. The next song was a bit new wavey, easily convincing people to stop swaying and start bouncing. “Little Bit,” from the ’08 album Youth Novels, got a huge applause out of the crowd at its conclusion, which I didn’t necessarily see coming. From the looks of the crowd at the beginning of the set, I figured a lot of guys got dragged to see Li by their girlfriends. By the end of the last song many of those same guys had been converted.
Beirut – Andrew
Beirut is a band I never want to cover live again. It wasn’t the anxiety I felt for not being familiar with the new material (The Rip Tide was released earlier this month), but moreso the impossibility to think critically or properly objectify a review. Really, I just wanted to sway back and forth to the brass dominated Balkan folk and gypsy jazz inspired tunes. The band started as the solo project of Santa Fe native Zach Condon but has since retained a full cast of musicians, all of whom look like they need to finish preparing the next exam for the AP Literature classes they teach. The music itself is whimsical and otherworldly, mostly due to the Eastern European influence. The combination of accordion, electric upright bass, simplistic drumming and almost every brass instrument you can think of create such a pure sound, and gets so much better live than on record. Condon’s croon is dead on as well. As for the new tunes, there doesn’t seem to be much of a departure from familiar Beirut waters, but they do find the band honing their craft as tightly as possible. Naturally, the crowd favorites were the most familiar like “Postcards from Italy,” “A Sunday Smile,” and “Nantes.” Throughout the whole set though, I don’t think anyone else felt that we were missing any of the headliners on the main stages. And even after a noon set from Grouplove and the beating sun during the dance party at Friendly Fires, I still felt this was the sweatiest I got all day, due to the density of the crowd and uplifting energy we all felt. When the set was done, the obligatory ‘one more song’ chant began, and the band exceeded their allotted timeslot to oblige. Zach Condon and his cohorts are not only true performers but true musicians. I highly recommend getting to the Congress Theater September 26th to see them yourselves.
Saturday Headliner: Eminem – Gene
Detroit rapper Eminem came out to an applause that probably registered on the Richter scale. From beat one the south end of Grant Park was transformed into a crowd filled with amateur rappers, a thought that sort of terrifies me in retrospect but wasn’t irritating in the least at the moment. I found myself rapping along to lines I didn’t know I knew, which is a testament to just how big Eminem is. “Kill You” was the first song that everybody seemed to know, and only helped build the anticipation for some of his bigger hits. Just how many people can we get singing along to this? There weren’t any crazy lights or props on Saturday night, just a whole lot of talent. Eminem’s voice was speedy and sharp and his beats came off like they were manufactured in a dance factory on some distant, far more evolved planet. “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” was even more eerie live than on record, especially with the full hundred thousand man choir helping out on the chorus.
The singer, famous in the past for his pissy demeanor and massive ego, belied his tough-guy image as he gazed into the titanic crowd and exclaimed, “Man, there’s a lot of fucking people here.” It wasn’t a remark to get people jacked up so much as it was possibly an I’d-better-step-up-to-the-plate moment. “Stan” got the biggest reaction of the night and was one of his stronger performances.
The more people rapped along the more energy Eminem brought to the next verse. Fellow Lolla artist Skylar Grey appeared onstage for “I Need A Doctor” from this year’s Look At Me Now. Mathers then dipped into his back catalogue, playing songs he said he wrote “when I used to get fucked up.” He ran through a medley of “My Name Is,” which turned the crowd into some MTV Spring Break destination from ten years ago, “The Real Slim Shady” and “Without Me.” By the end of the latter every flat surface in the park was covered with people bobbing, juking and smiling. The beat-the-traffic crowd began to file out while Shady tore through “Not Afraid.” Those who stuck around for the encore ended up witnessing what could wind up being the coolest moment at Lolla: Eminem and his thousands of fans jamming to “Lose Yourself.” An undeniably catchy song, it has the uncanny ability to get people pumped up like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Maybe it’s that so many people like to imagine themselves as something nobler than they are, that we feel more important when we aggrandize our personal struggles, though I tend to lean towards the less cynical on this issue. Rare, I know. Anyway, “Lose Yourself” speaks to the best of each of us, serves as a rallying cry for whatever we’ve got to face, and witnessing the mass-scale catharsis that took place during the encore is something I’m not likely to forget. Eminem is a huge superstar and it’d be a farce to suggest that he only has one shot at anything anymore, but I can say that he showed up to Lollapalooza and owned the moment.