Lolla 2012 Recap: Day One
UPchicago’s Gene Wagendorf III and Andrew Hertzberg joined forces once again to cover Lollapalooza 2012. Enjoy!
Pre-Party – Andrew
Whoa whoa whoa, you didn’t think we were going to jump into the Lolla-pool without getting our feet wet first, did you? Thursday night, Filter and S.O.Terik through a party at Logan Square Auditorium featuring festival acts Neon Indian and Twin Shadow. Neon Indian is masterminded by Alan Palomo, the man mostly credited/blamed for chillwave, but one of the few artists that was able to put out a decent second album from the movement (Era Extrana). Unfortunately, the flat out awful acoustics of LSA didn’t play to their advantage. I sometimes couldn’t pick out what song was playing until a more noticeable melody at the chorus. Hard to say who’s at fault, so they’re still on my list to check out at the festival on Saturday. Luckily, Twin Shadow was not as marred by those issues. More energetic, clearer sound, and an overall better performer, Twin Shadow’s dark, new-wave inspired dance-pop was a great way to kick off the weekend.
Wax – Gene
There was no easing into this year’s Lollapalooza. The combination of being slightly hazy from the previous night’s Shonen Knife concert and Wax’s juvenile, Blink182-lite whine had me wondering whether I’d accidentally stumbled into Warped Tour. Wax lists his influences as everything from “Jay Z to Johnny Cash,” but all that came through onstage was a kid who loved Sublime and wanted to write dirty songs to embarrass his parents at dinner parties. That schtick could be entertaining, but here it fell incredibly short. After listening to the guitarist muse about how… loose his ex-girlfriend was, the only person who should have been embarrassed by the set was Wax himself.
O Rappa – Gene
Rio de Janiero sensations O Rappa did a solid job of making me forget the boner-joke of a welcome to Lolla, livening up the festival with their slick, hip hop-infused reggae. Sweaty beats laid the foundation for some simple grooving and turn table flairs. The group bounced through their set with veteran confidence and swagger, putting on a pleasant, though unspectacular performance. Good festival act though, as the band was perfect to take in while chilling in the grass, awaiting the heavy hitters.
Dr. Dog – Andrew
For some reason, Dr. Dog is a hard band for me to describe. I generally default to “a non-psychedelic Flaming Lips,” due to their weird-pop songs and one of their singer’s voice resembling Wayne Coyne’s. But live, they gain a certain power-pop stance, but with more rock, due to the two guitars and two keyboards that play seamlessly off each other. I wish I hadn’t left their set early, because whatever they are, they nail it. Running through their 10+ year career, they played “Shadow People,” “That Old Black Hole,” and “Jackie Wants a Black Eye” before I bailed to catch Sharon Van Etten. But at least before I left, they did manage to throw in a shoutout to Chicago’s skyline, as any band at the south stage properly should.
The Black Angels – Gene
Bands on the bottom half of the Day One schedule didn’t stand a chance. Austin, TX’s The Black Angels completely stole the show, steamrolling the crowd with their Southern American Gothic/psychedelic crunch. Built for the heat, the first few songs played were brooding, slow burns. Following Stephanie Bailey’s determined rhythms, the rest of the Angels sustained a calculated wildness, twisting into trippy swells and gloomy swallows before pulling back into the beat. Lead singer Alex Maas’ hazy vocals moved adeptly between all the reverb, switching between sounding darkly seductive and chillingly hollow.
Black Angels’ combination of disturbing raunch and kaleidoscopic melodies left me absolutely floored, not to mention wondering why the hell I hadn’t seen them before. For all the somewhat abrasive sounding descriptors I’ve used, the songwriting here is smart and fairly accessible. This isn’t a group for goth kids or metalheads, though they’ll probably dig it to. Black Angels walk the line between the sinister and the psychotropic with a distinctly American bravado. Upon even a brief listen, there is no doubt this band is from Texas. Just as I’d started to inch towards the Playstation Stage for Sharon Van Etten, guitarist Rishi Dhir produced a sitar and unloaded a fractal solo that immediately pulled me back. If you’re going to do psychedelic, you might as well do it right.
Sharon Van Etten – Andrew
I can’t say I was shocked, but I was definitely surprised at exactly how low the turnout was for Ms. Van Etten and company. On the surface, her music is very simple, so passersby may not have had the patience for it. But where there is simplicity, there is subtlety, for those that do “simple” well at least. She mostly focused on tracks off ofTramp released earlier this year. The set started off with a harmonium-led “All I Can,” a track that perpetually builds up with swooning harmonies and perfect vibrato from Van Etten. “Warsaw” and “Save Yourself” followed, the small crowd was dead quiet in between songs, at least for the beginning of her set, which at least showed a certain amount of respect. It wasn’t the most boisterous crowd, but Van Etten was having fun conversing with the people that appreciated her most.
The highlights of the set? Definitely “Leonard” the vaguely Beirut sounding track (who’s Zach Condon guested on the album) and the omnichord-led “Magic Chord.” Despite the darker content of her songs, she was thrilled to play at Lolla, and her backing band gets as much credit as she does. For a weekend that’s shrouded in big names, glitzy DJs and a non-stop corporate barrage of advertisements, its nice to see an actual artist get at least some of the spotlight, even if the majority of the festival-goers missed her.
Afghan Whigs – Andrew
Initially, the Afghan Whigs fell into the “obligatory older band to see” category, but they actually held my attention throughout the set, mostly because of singer Greg Dulli’s intense singing, not missing a beat despite not releasing any new material since 1998. Originally from Cincinnati, they signed to Sub Pop and would come to be associated with the grunge scene of the early 90s. At Lollapalooza in 2012, they played original jams such as “Gentlemen” and “Somethin’ Hot” but also a cover of “See and Don’t See” and, most anticpated, a quite ominous cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes,” which Dulli took over the piano for. I was skeptical going in (as one should be for reunion acts), but the Whigs were solid, riding on the strength of Dulli’s penetrating vocals.
Metric – Gene
Quirky, Canadian synth-pop band made another trip to Lolla in 2012, playing a bunch of material from their May release, Synthetica. That album and this show found the group in traditional form, blasting out get away car music for the Red Bull generation. Frontwoman Emily Haine’s voice was electrified with it’s usual mix of adrenaline-fueled sexuality and dreamy lament, but what really blew me away was how much she was running around in the 95-degree heat. “Help, I’m Alive” proved to be the biggest crowd-pleaser, but it’s mellow pacing was easily overshadowed by the Metric’s torrid, whooping jaunt through “Stadium Love.” This group may never blow me away, and they may never steal the show at a festival, but their consistency is incredibly admirable. Metric do what they do- peppy, New Wave-slathered rock- and they do it well.
Die Antwoord – Gene
Boy, did I have egg on my face. Being very unfamiliar with their catalog (I’d heard parts of two songs) before the festival, I bought into the buzz and had high expectations for South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord. Expecting something glitzy and provocative, what I was force-fed proved to be little more than repulsive, substance-less slush lacking even an attractive gloss, or, at the very least, a spoonful of sugar to help the shit go down. DJ Vuilgeboost got the mess started, remixing and cutting an old Mike Tyson quote to create the bowel loosening “Fok You In The Ass.” Forgive me if that’s supposed to be typed in all caps, but with Die Antwoord it’s hard to tell how many of their songs are supposed to appear rendered by an angry MySpace teen and how many actually are. Vuilgeboost, apparently playing the “character” DJ Hi-Tek (the one who will “fok you in the ass”), was eventually joined onstage by sideshow clowns Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$er (Jesus, just shoot me now). Ninja launched into a tragically stereotypical and semi-misogynistic white boy rap while Vi$er chattered into her mic like Alvin from The Chipmunks. Kid’s might not be familiar with that cartoon anymore, and my dated reference may expose the heart of my problem with Die Antwoord.
Maybe I’m just getting old.
I don’t think that’s the case, but I came away from watching their set infected with the kind of grumpy, grandfatherly damn-you-kids cynicism that goes along with telling children to get off your lawn. After two songs I made my way to the back of the crowd, and after two more I was charging to the opposite end of the park to catch some of The Head & The Heart, or, you know, anything resembling real music. The audience for Antwoord proved to be mostly young teenage girls, which only affirmed my anti-procreation leanings. If I ever saw my fourteen year-old daughter grinding on some douche in a wife beater and orange sweat pants, gyrating to “Fok You In The Ass” or “I Fink U Freeky,” I’d wind up killing her, the guy, the band, my parents (for raising a failure of a son) and myself. Harsh? Yes. Justified? Yes. I seriously thought of writing this section as an obituary to creativity, or going with something like “The Death of Music,” but that was actually a bit too far. There are amazing, brilliant artists out there creating new and interesting music. Then there’s Die Antwoord. They’ll just fok you in the ass.
The Shins – Andrew
I had high hopes for the Shins, I really did. They started strong with “Caring is Creepy” and during “Simple Song” I even got an Elvis Costello vibe from lead singer/guitarist James Mercer. “Know Your Onion!” has always been my favorite and I was glad to see it live and the sea of hands that were in the air during “Phantom Limb” was all in positive vibes. For me, the Shins were a band I listened to a lot in high school that I sort of lost interest in recently. Like last year with Bright Eyes, I was hoping the live performance would be so captivating that watching them would move beyond nostalgia and into something more profound. Alas, I was let down. It was dull. I mean, they were fine and everything and were pleasant enough, but it was nothing inspiring, Mercer looking more burnt out than anything (don’t blame the heat, they’re from New Mexico). As I crept away from the crowd early and towards the back noticing all of the people sitting on blankets, smoking weed, watching the band from afar, I couldn’t help but feel I was in a Ravinia for 20-nothings. Listening to them now, they still sound great recorded and Port of Morrow moves in a more mature direction. But live? Next time I’ll pass.
Black Sabbath – Gene
What can I say about Black Sabbath that hasn’t been written in Rolling Stone or on some metalhead forum? They’re legends, they rock, these things are true. What I was most curious about was would they, and their music, stand the test of time.
I can’t go any further than those two sentences without commending Ozzy Osbourne, whose exuberance and mobility were almost as astounding as his voice. The aging frontman warbled on a harmonica during the beginning of “The Wizard,” a weighty tune that showed off the band’s early blues influences. I was surprised to find it one of my favorite performances of the day, as I’m not a particularly big Sabbath or metal fan, but the mix of signature Tommy Iommi riffage and blues crunch proved to be irresistible, Iommi is still a master of his instrument, and it was delightful to watching him alternate between tearing through iconic solos and hammering into unmistakably Sabbath hooks. The watching was easy too, as the camera men gave Iommi’s hands the Les Claypool treatment (yeah, I’m coining that term for the way the jumbo screen camera’s zoomed in on the Primus bassist’s hands as he made a mockery of anyone other than Flea who has attempted the instrument during Lolla 2005).
Geezer Butler proved to be a damn-fine if not underrated bassist himself, holding down the fort during Iommi’s wilder moments while also making time for a few funk-riddled solos. While I was mildly disappointed to learn that original drummer Bill Ward had opted out of the reunion, his fill in, Tommy Clufetos, was more than adequate. Sharing the stage with rockers like Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie and Ted Nugent seemed to have prepared Clufetos for playing with music legends, and he certainly didn’t shrink in the spotlight. As a matter of fact, his awe-inspiring primal blitzkrieg of a drum solo before “Iron Man” almost completely overshadowed the hit itself. I was excited to hear that “Electric Funeral” had more bite and zest to it than the Kuma’s burger of the same name that I’d devoured earlier, but Sabbath’s searing take on “War Pigs” had my mouth watering over what that would taste like in burger form. That song, more than any performed that night, answered my initial question about how Black Sabbath have aged. Their music is still vibrant, and in the case of “War Pigs” still disappointingly relevant. The players themselves haven’t lost a step. Ozzy and company do what they do, consistently and excellently. If you can’t stand metal you’re not likely to dig its godfathers, but if you’re on the fence, see these guys live. You won’t regret it.
After Party: the Big Pink, Grimes at Logan Square Auditorium – Andrew
The Big Pink are a weird band live. The London based duo has added a drummer and live they essentially remix their own songs. I haven’t seen anyone happier to perform this weekend than guitarist Robbie Furze, and Milo Cordell was holding down the programming, playing DJ to their own set. They closed with “Dominoes” which was just about as perfect as you are imagining. The lovely Grimes (Claire Boucher) followed. She tweaked and looped her vocals, making eerie IDM, backed by a drummer and two dancers. Like the Big Pink, she finds an intersection between rock music (or in her case, girl-group), experimental electronic music while still giving her audience more than enough opportunities to dance.
For more of Andrew’s thoughts on Grimes, check out this review from Windy City Rock.