Lollapalooza 2008 Day 2: Battles 'n Wilco
Battles heart Chicago. The indie supergroup has played our fair city somewhat regularly since appearing at last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. Not that I'm complaining. On the contrary, the NYC quartet are always in impeccable form and their appearance on the Citi Stage was no exception.
Dressed in business casual, they quickly got to work, supporting last year’s masterpiece, Mirrored. Forget math-rock, this is a unique sonic clusterfuck fusing effects-laden guitars with synthesizers, and anything else they can cram into their glitched-out periphery. Their performances often seem more like a flurry of mad scientists frantically twiddling knobs while relentless drummer John Stanier—he of the impossibly high cymbal stand—matches analogue beats to hyperactive electronics. The crowd began clapping along as soon as the thumping floor tom signaled “Atlas.” I was somewhat impressed that a healthy portion of the crowd was singing along with Tyondai Braxon’s over-processed vocals. I sure as hell never knew what he was saying until I found this. Happily, it turns out today is Stanier’s birthday, and Braxton launched into an appropriately tweaked-out rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Aw.
I expected to brave a fiercer crowd when making my way towards the front for Wilco’s headlining set on the Bud Light Stage. Thankfully, it wasn’t too hard—perhaps because all the meatheads were beating the shit out of each other over by the AT&T Stage. Jeff Tweedy and co. hit the stage wearing custom-made costumes, er, suits, reminiscent of Elvis’ rhinestone days, except with Hello Kitty characters and dildo-like appendages all over ‘em. Seriously, it was hilarious. In fact, Tweedy made several jabs about the suits, noting that Radiohead doesn’t sew their own suits. Touché.
Tweedy looked a bit haggard, but played a fantastic set that highlighted recent work like last year’s Sky Blue Sky and A Ghost is Born, though they touched on plenty of sing-along songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and older albums like Summerteeth and A.M. The beauty of Wilco’s live show is that they stretch out live, expanding their arrangements to suit the mood—consequently bringing an uncertainty to their set that’s immediate and compelling. Guitarist Nels Cline was blazing, ripping through ferocious leads all night. They even brought out a three-man horn section (including local trombonist Nick Broste) for a few tracks. Once Tweedy began clapping during a breakdown near the end of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” he cajoled the crowd to take over: “I don’t wanna do it, I want you to do it. If I do it, it doesn’t mean a thing,” and for a moment he seemed to forget where and who he was.