Lolla Recap 2010: Day Three
I’m not wearing the energy dome this morning. I think my body aches too much to support the additional, albeit minimal weight. For those of you that went to Lollapalooza this weekend, I hope you took Monday off too. I can’t imagine trying to be a productive member of society right now. I have these fine Sunday acts to thank for that…
Caught a little bit of the Dodos set when I first arrived at day three. They remind me a lot of the Little Ones, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Their friendly upbeat pop-rock had tired bodies shimmying under the overcast sky.
I like the Cribs. I’ve seen them at Lolla before and own a record. Problem is, I think I want to like them more than I actually do. They write a lot of tight aggressive pop-punk songs and perform onstage with a lot of energy. The last time I saw them I felt like there was something missing. Couldn’t put my finger on it. This year they were joined onstage by new member and ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. As you might expect, he added some washy dreaminess to the Cribs bouncy riffs. Problem is, I don’t think that’s what they were missing. The effect it created live only seemed to dull the edge on some of their songs. The main riff from “Hey Scenesters!” was a little buried in the guitar muddle and new track “Cheat On Me” would’ve seemed a bit more pissy if it came off a little more clear.
The buzz around this band is so tangible it’s edible, and probably delicious. Their first LP, Weathervanes, has been sitting on my turntable for about a month and a half uninterrupted. I was concerned that some of the moody and melodic swirls of their music might be lost live, especially on one of the smaller stages with a less crisp sound system, but that worrying was unnecessary. Judah Dudone’s crew opened with the lead track on their record, “Generator – First Floor”, and from there crafted a peaceful and at times totally danceable musical world for the crowd to get lost in for an hour. While I had been looking forward to mellower tracks like “Hannah”, which did come across as nothing short of amazing, it was the jaunty Of Montreal-inspired pop tunes that blew me away. I can’t say enough good things about Freelance Whales’ set or their album, so I’ll stop my mindless gushing. Just go pick up the record.
WE ARE? X! WE ARE? X! YOU ARE? X! YOU ARE? X!
Well, I sure as hell am now. Never, ever ever ever, has a band made me their new biggest die-hard fan so quickly. When I was bitching Monday night about the lack of what felt like, for me, a true headliner, Perry Farrell more than made up for it by tossing in an extra one on Sunday afternoon. X Japan’s massive set was only trumped by their massive sound; they drowned out everything, from other bands to conversation, across the entire south end of the park. You might be thinking to yourself, “Who the hell is X Japan?” So was I before the set. Apparently these guys are metal giants with a career stretching back to the mid-80s who have just reunited and, get this, played their first show on American soil Sunday at Lollapalooza. They sure as hell didn’t seem nervous. A flurry of orchestral noise in their intro was quickly obliterated by a stunning Motorhead-style guitar assault, complete with giant cones of flame erupting on stage. The band channeled everything from Journey to Metallica to Guns n’ Roses, complete with over the top piano solos and distorted violin breakdowns. On top of that, these guys clearly had their amps set to 11. By far the loudest band I have ever heard at Lollapalooza, or anywhere else for that matter. One of the shows coolest moments involved drummer Yoshiki playing the piano while a pre-recorded guitar solo accompanied him. What makes pre-recorded guitar cool? The guitar part was laid down by deceased former X Japan guitar player Hideto Matsumoto. The show ended on a song that dipped in and out of epic “November Rain-style ballad and full on metal firestorm.” The crowd ate it up, fist pumping crossed arms and declaring they too were X.
Ok, nothing short of a Beatles reunion was going to be able to follow X Japan, so sorry Eryka Badu. It becomes increasingly difficult to wow me when the first fifteen minutes of your set is some DJ spinning “Gin and Juice”, followed by everyone in your band coming out for a lengthy instrumental jam. When you finally came out you sounded ok, not my thing, but not bad, but also too late to stop me from mentally checking out.
Direct quote from my friend/huge MGMT fan: “Man, this is by far the biggest disappointment of Lollapalooza.” We all groaned in agreement. It wasn’t that the band sucked, well, I can’t say for sure if they did or didn’t, since we really couldn’t hear them through 90% of their set. We were by no means upfront, but certainly not that far back, and the sound from the Budweiser Stage (go figure) kept zooming in and out, but mostly out. For a band with an entire album made up of thumping dance songs it’s a special kind of hell when you can’t hear, let alone feel the bass. MGMT was like a boxer without fists for the vast majority of their set. After talking to friends who had pushed their way up front I can confirm the sound was miserable there too. “Time to Pretend”, which a good chunk of the crowd left after, seemed listless at best. The sound, and the show, picked up a little towards the end when MGMT busted out an old song, “Destrokk”, which has been reworked with a full band treatment and sounds fairly spectacular live. The show ended with what was left of the audience dancing to “Kids” and then the title track from their new album, “Congratulations”. The latter has a nice soothing acoustic pucker that seemed to go sadly under-appreciated by the mass exodus of hipsters.
Felix da Housecat
Another Chicago native, and the only DJ I caught at Perry’s (Lollapalooza’s Dj stage and outdoor dance club), Felix da Housecat didn’t disappoint. As a matter of fact, he made up for early disappointments by spinning some killer versions of MGMT songs that had a few thousand people fighting the urge to pass out while, dancing. There were a lot of people lounging in the shade near Perry’s around Felix’s set, presumably resting up before Soundgaren or Arcade Fire, but one by one they seemed entranced, re-energized, and soon were raving all across the park. I met a boisterous group of flag-waving Brazilians who demanded that “Devo” dance with their flag for some pictures (I was still wearing the hat). Their whole crew had about one persons worth of clothing spread out over seven people and they seemed to be having more fun than almost anyone I’d seen all weekend, save Matt and Kim.
Another group that isn’t really my thing, but damn were they on. Caught the end of their gig as I was trudging over to Soundgarden and wound up wishing I had cut out of MGMT earlier to hear them. Their crowd was worked up into a frenzy, and despite the fact that half of the people there looked like anything but your typical Cypress Hill fan, all were still moving. Even the cops. Yeah, weirdly enough the only time I saw a heavy police presence, not just event security, was at Cypress Hill. I’m talking about twelve officers, arms crossed, standing at the end of the crowd bitching. Did they think Cypress Hill was going to whip a bong out on stage? Ok, fair enough. One of their members was introduced to the crowd as Captain AmeriKush. Best. Superhero. Name. Ever.
When the world does finally end, hopefully soon, Soundgarden will be the soundtrack. The first guitar-slam sounded like the wakening of a sleeping mechanical doomsday beast, which was perfectly appropriate for Soundgarden’s first big reunion show. The crowd had little time to settle in before Chris Cornell and the boys launched into a scathing version of “Spoonman” that got people to rush the stage like the Beatles had just landed. From there everything went to hell, in the best way possible. The band seemed more aggressive with each second, playing like a group of men with something to prove. The highlight for me came when they unleashed “Outshined” on Grant Park, a dazzling array of lights blinding the audience as they belted out the lyrics in their best Cornell-death-scream-impression. Another track off “Badmotorfinger” followed as Matt Cameron’s tribal drumming and a series of hypnotic guitar riffs signaled the beginning of “Jesus Christ Pose”. Cornell’s smoother vocal stylings were on display with the hits “Fell On Black Days”, “Blow Up the Outside World” and “Black Hole Sun”. Each of these songs had the classic grunge combination of slick vocal work and guitars suddenly devolving into a catastrophe of distortion and ear-busting gritty chant-along choruses. What a better way to close out Lollapalooza? The festival organizers completely nailed it with this band. Every note felt epic, every word immediate. The sound was incredible and the light show lived up to the quality of the band it was set to illuminate. Cornell looked onstage exactly as he did in 1991 — skinny, muscular, long curly tangled hair covering his face as he leaned into the microphone. Soundgarden took Chicago to another place and time Sunday night, and I don’t think I’m speaking only for myself when I say I wish I could’ve stayed there.
Making my way out of the festival grounds for the final time this year provided me with one more glimpse of Aussie madness. With Australian bands like Wolfmother, Cut Copy, Temper Trap and Violent Soho all performing over the weekend the largest entourage of foreign fans were all waving Aussie flags and showing hardcore Aussie pride. Most of the ones that I spotted on Friday just seemed to be relaxing & drinking, dancing a bit at Perry’s, but Saturday was a different story. During Phoenix’s set two flag-as-cape-wearing daredevils scaled opposite sides of the soudstage to raucous applause. After finally being coaxed down by event security, and stalling Phoenix’s show a few minutes, the two were thrown back into the crowd. It takes balls to pull that kind of maneuver off. It takes even more balls to bum-rush the same scaffolding again twenty minutes later an re-annex the soundstage. After being dragged down and having his flag taken by security, one of the Aussie’s raced back from the spot he landed in the crowd and swiped back the flag to many cheers.
Sunday these guys were out of their mind. With a few emboldened Cub’s fan-looking bros deciding to stick up for all of the United States near Wolfmother, the Australians had the chance to win a fight with wits instead of fists. Hilarious. As the crowd spilled onto Michigan Avenue there seemed to be Australian trouble-makers at every corner getting the people riled up with “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” chants. Everyone joined in. The invasion was complete.
The best shows I saw at Lolla are as follows. 1- Soundgarden, 2- X Japan, 3- Gogol Bordello, 4- Devo, 5- Freelance Whales. What were your favorites?
It’s hard to come back to reality after Lollapalooza. The hangover of festival life and culture requires a few days to wear off. A friend once described to me how depressed he felt after trying ecstasy for the first time, saying that even when he was happy afterward he was saddened to know that he’d never felt as happy as he did under the influence, and even more troubled when forced to acknowledge that that happiness was artificial. While there isn’t anything artificial about how good Lollapalooza makes you feel, there is a bit of sadness involved in coming back to a 9-5 and bus stops and full inboxes and girl problems. Those things don’t really exist at Lollapalooza, and that, even beyond the music and the people watching, is what makes it so great. You spend some time in Australia. You spend some time in Soundgardenia. You see old friends and you make new ones. You see people who look like James Iha and people who look like Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And they’re talking to each other. And smiling.
For the record, I’m still smiling.