Lollapalooza 2008 Day 2: Everything. Yes, everything. Except Brand New.
They say it can't be done—see everything at Lollapalooza. I stubbornly disagreed on principle, but still had doubts. Originally, I was going to attempt to see everything on the six main stages, convinced that the side tents were indeed asking too much. But after managing to catch the first couple acts at Perry's DJ tent and Kidzapalooza, I realized the completely absurd feat was plausible. From 11am to 10pm I watched at least one song by 44 acts, logging nearly 9 miles of walking. I saw 9 DJs*, a few lightning bolt guitar straps, over a dozen keyboards, a feature length film, a drum circle of toddlers and two rappers. No, I'm not counting you, Zach de la Rocha.
Full confession up front—I missed two acts. But it was not my fault. The Lolla schedule blocks out theoretical set times, but some lazy chumps don't feel the need to fill up those whopping 45–60 minute blocks. I'm looking at you Brand New. I hit Hutchinson Field with (supposedly) 16 minutes left on the New York prog-emo band's set, and yet they've packed up. Guys, you have three records and one hour on the biggest stage at Lollapalooza, and you pull out after 40 minutes? The Boredoms have a SONG that long. Same goes for you, Steel Train. That being said, the festival is surprisingly punctual with start times (Uffie was the only late start I encountered).
I entered the park at 11am, just before the lines were allowed in. Grant Park had been magically swept clean of crushed cups, cracked frisbees and beer bracelets. As the gates open, I'm on the AT&T Stage field, and every speaker suddenly blares John Williams' theme to Star Wars at punishing volume. It just hammers home that artificial amusement park vibe. After stocking up on granola bars and bottled water in the media area, I quickly head across the park to catch artist #1.
The BMI stage sits the most off the beaten path, in a cozy shaded gulch just NE of Buckingham Fountain. Krista welcomes the small crowd of stragglers and kicks into what can be best described as the processed feel-good music of The Hills, as played by Sunset Strip cockrockers like Buckcherry. The guitarist sports a Travis Bickle mohawk, and Krista breaks into an awkward rap on a bridge, but this is bar rock. At brunch time.
Heading south, I pass the Dream Jam Band on the Kidz stage. Like the Wiggles, they dress in neon colors and sing songs about brushing your teeth. Over at the Myspace stage, the winners of Last Band Standing, Lolla's "Battle of the Bands," Minneapolis' The Melismatics bring back '90s alterna-rock. Think Shirley Manson of Garbage singing Cyndi Lauper with the Gigolo Aunts. They dress like the avatars in Guitar Hero, and the guy singer passes the mike to fishnet-clad Pony (yes, I think that was her name) for "Soulsucker."
Witchcraft sounds like Sabbath, but in the way that the fake band in Almost Famous, Stillwater, sounds like Led Zeppelin. Which means it sounds like Rainbow. But that doesn't look as cool on a press release. This is costumed stoner rock, down to songs about the devil and alchemy. Where they get it wrong is tempo—Sabbath were sloooow. Speeding up the dirges makes you just sound like Southern seeds-and-stems-sorting boogie. One song does completely lift the chord progression from "Iron Man," though.
Dressing in matching orange and yellow striped pajamas, De Novo Dahl bridge the gap between generic college pop of the '90s with generic college pop of the '00s. There's some Rentals-y keyboard, some "Slack Mutherfucker" guitar, and a cute redhead bashing a tambourine and toy Casio.
One of the pleasant surprises of the day is found back on the Kidz stage, as NYC's Tiny Masters of Today revive the twee noise-pop of K Records. The tween-aged singer could pass for Kathleen Hanna, vocally, and the drummer resembles a middle school version of that blonde geek with the glasses in the X-Files spinoff, The Lone Gunmen. Thing is, twee is so much more palatable when played by…twee people.
The eight-piece Margot & the Nuclear So and So's (against serious competition, the worst name of the day) craft pleasant Sundance filmscore pop with well-incorporated bells and whistles. So many of these over-stuffed indie acts tack on tuba and theremin for pomp and theatre, but MATNSAS work all the accoutrements into an smooth blend that sits somewhere between the Arcade Fire and smooth-surf masters Friends of Dean Martinez.
iPod ad duo Ting-Tings open up with "We Walk," the most humdrum number from their runway bubblegum debut. But when "Great DJ" starts, the crowd warms up a bit. Former girl-group singer Katie White sports a green miniskirt over red leggings, and her cute kicks distract from the sinking suspicion that her guitar isn't really doing much. One-man-band Jules De Martino strums a Fender on his drum stool.
Power-poppers The Postelles close with a tune that sounds suspiciously like "Lust For Life" as played by the Strokes. So, uh, just like the Strokes then.
I find Does It Offend You, Yeah? insufferable, not offensive. The soccer-hooligan take on Daft Punk feels so much like fashion. Ten years ago, they would have been lifting The Chemical Brothers. Well, the sad thing is, they still kinda do, but with such a mock punk attitude. Morgan Quaintance jumps off stage to grind the strings of his red flying-V aggresively against the edge of the stage, but the act seems pretty damn cliched when you consider the Bud Light stage is decorated in massive banners with red flying-V guitars. "We are rockstars," they announce. Actually, Justice and Daft Punk are the new rock stars. No need for those cheesy axes.
The Jimmies are slightly older than Tiny Masters, and dress in prep school uniforms, but stick with cheeky power pop.
Just a theory after nearly four dozen bands—the worst the group, the more likely the singer will take time to tell you the names of everyone involved. Thom Yorke never resorts to fake pandering like, “You guys are beautiful! Mr. Ed O’Brien on guitar, y’all!” Ferras does this. Also, he sounds like that goddamn “You had a bad day” song that infected America a couple years ago.
Terrible sound destroys Dr. Dog’s set. It’s a little lo-fi on record, but the band actually sounds muddier on the Myspace stage. It’s a distant mono mish-mash that seems to fade in and out in spots. “My Old Ways” could be coming from the bottom of Lake Michigan. Shame, because it’s one of the catchier tunes I come across all day.
Is technemo a genre? Innerpartysystem thinks so. A big crowd is packed around the BMI stage (“the biggest” the band has played for, they announce). Not shocking, as this is pure commercial cheese, like a more ambient version of Metro Station.
How was Mason Jennings not on the Kidz stage? At best, Jennings comes across like Lou Reed singing Raffi. At worst, he sounds like Adam Sandler doing songs on Weekend Update in a parody of Dylan. One man with an acoustic feels grossly out of place in the tough-to-see Petrillo Shell.
Dierks Bentley was sold as the token country act on the three-day bill, but when the Arizona honkeytonker starts, it sounds a whole hell of a lot like Metallica somehow. Like Re-Load era Metallica. Which isn’t so much a revelation to the rockin’ power of Bentley as much as a revelation to just how NASCAR friendly James Hetfield became once he started vocal lessons.
The Terrible Twos sing a dittie about mops and a shovel. Oh, they’re on the Kidz stage, I should mention, so this all makes perfect sense.
Foals come across better live than on record, if only because their world-music inflected post-punk sounds less like AfroBloc Party with more color. The guitars crunch a little louder, and one into passes for cod reggae. But an awful drum sound, with tinny snares out of a Pantera record, ruins the groove.
Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs feels like the alpha dog in the Gutter Twins. The synth-heavy man rock leans much more towards the past of Dulli (late Whigs and the Twilight Singers, to be exact) than that of Gutter partner Mark Lanegan. It’s not offensive, yeah, but I wonder why a little-known, little-heard side project is playing to a mass of waiting Rage fans.
“Hi, we’re Radiohead,” announce MGMT. Stripped of producer Dave Fridmann, the band sounds far less like the Flaming Lips, and somehow more like the Alan Parsons Project and 10cc.
Home Made Jamz play straight up blues. Even their “original” is called, um, “Voodoo Woman.” Might want to look that one up. But a funky, seemingly 10 year old drummer wows the crowd more than the incredible, er, home made instruments. The guitars looks like antique cigar boxes fitted with hot rod exhaust pipes.
The crowd for Perry’s slot at Perry’s reaches far beyond the shaded grove of the dance tent. All for the shot of seeing a 40+ man dressed like a lady pirate occassionally mutter ‘yeah’ into a microphone. The guest DJ does most of the work. (Any idea who this was in the Average White Band shirt and fedora? I’m guessing a Ronson.)
Devotchka bring to mind Margot, but with more mariachi and gypsy influences. Today seems heavy with ecclectic roots acts.
German neo-kraut-haus duo Booka Shade work the crowd into a frenzy. Hundreds jump with arms in the air as a bald guy gets Sheila E. on some electronic drums. A massive groove of a different sort develops over in Kidzapalooza, as a massive toddler drum circle is lead by an energetic councelor in a Hawaiian shirt. It’s complex and cool as hell. Throw a college dude yelping on top of it, and you’ve got the best Animal Collective song you’ve ever heard.
Upon arriving at Serena Ryder, a friend asks, “Is this Taylor Dayne?” She introduces all of her band.
It’s so difficult to work up excitement for the cinematic sounds of Explosions in the Sky. Even the jumbotron operator cuts to shots of the skyine frequently for something a little more active. They’re good at what they do, but they’ll forever be compared to Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai. Who do this louder and better.
Words overheard at Spank Rock: dick, pussy, fuck. Actually, those are pretty much the only words overheard. I think that’s a verse. Oh, so naughty! Amanda Blank wears hotpants and gets the boys drooling.
When Jamie Lidell leads his band into his new, straght-up soul record, it sounds a bit too much like Jamiroquai. Things get a bit more interesting when Lidell builds a song with little more than his mouth and a sampler, until I realize this is just the Warp Records version of Bobby McFerrin.
The electro acts continue to kill the crowd over at DJ Bald Eagle’s set. These people are desperate to dance, which oddly doesn’t happen too much in the cramped dance tent. Local favorite Bald Eagle takes watching DJs to a real spectacle, dressed in full eagle costume behind massive letters spelling "BAH CAW” across the front of the stage. He locks his thumbs and raises his fingers in the air, and the entire mass answers back with their own avian shadow puppet. Hilarious.
I catch the last song of Okkervil River and find difficulty in trying to describe yet another rootsy indie band with fiddles and shit. Simiarly, I’ve never understood the hype behind Broken Social Scene’s live act. The dudes dress like the Doobie Brothers and play long hookless songs that sound like Dinosaur Jr. without a good guitar player, or for you older readers, a tiny more rock than Chicago’s Chicago V.
Uffie is another discovery—little more than a poppier Peaches, she still manages to shine with something sorely lacking in many of today’s bands: personality. Wearing gold sequins panties and a white shirt reading “Eff Yoo See Kay,” the blonde prances before a bass player dressed as the Joker in a blonde wig. A cigarette dangles from his lips as Uffie sings, “I’m a hot chick that you can’t even touch.” Thing is, on the quieter BMI Stage, the front row reaches out and manages to do just that. But it’s a little too perv-creepy.
No greater rock & roll thrill can be found beyond watching tuff Battles drummer John Stainer smash his seven foot high crash cymbol. I catch “Tonto” and the sublime Seven Dwarf–metal of “Atlas” and it’s the one time today that a band sends shivers by just being an amazing band. Two shirtless teens manage to make it on stage, from the side, and dance like goons before being roughly ushered off.
With a slick backing band, Matthew Santos’s breezy hooks and dressed in all white, Lupe Fiasco comes off like yacht-hop. Well, not in the Jay-Z “Big Pimpin” way. Call it soft-hop instead. “Paris, Tokyo” and “Superstar” close the tight set, and Lupe manages to convince the anxious Rage crowd that hip-hop can go over beautifully live without tattoos and shrill, wicky-wicky guitars.
I vaguely recall the Toadies from the heyday of alternative, when bands that sounded like Puddle of Mudd covering ZZ Top could slide a song on radio playlists. I’m not sure what’s most shocking—that I recognize “Backslider,” the grey-haired age of the players (were the ‘90s that long ago?), or the horde of Toad-heads (I think/hope I just made that up) gong nuts to hear this.
Heading over to Sharon Jones, I realize that I’ve done it. All that’s left are the headliners, who play for 90 minutes. That gives me just enough time to catch the Flaming Lips’ insane b-movie Christmas on Mars inside a circus tent. A full review on that later. After that intense, befuddling experience (the movie is LOUD), I stagger out with my souvenier popcorn box and snag a bit of Wilco and Rage Against the Machine before the 2 mile walk back to the train. Jeff Tweedy wears a red blazer, a mundane note that stands as a pleasant contrast to the bullshit going on at Hutchinson Field. People start to run for lives. I just want a foot rub and some aloe for my neck.
* Not much to say here about the DJs. They were behind laptops and turntables. But I heard Dani Deahl spin house, Devlin & Darko drop Hercules & Love Affair, Dash Mihok crank MIA "XR2," Does It Offend You, Yeah? play one of their own damn songs, DJ AM trigger generic techno for celebutantes, and DJ Momjeans, a.k.a. the least interesting one in That 70's Show, work an awful industrial remix of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" as anarchy breaks out on AT&T.