Written by Kiernan Scrima Wednesday, 22 August 2007 23:41
While Friday was mainly a dance rock day and Saturday an all-out rock show, Sunday was a hodgepodge of international bands, eclectic bands and good, old-fashioned Seattle rock 'n' roll.
Grant Park, Chicago
So another Lollapalooza has come and gone and I must say, this year they did a bang-up job choosing bands. They still had their fair share of WTF moments—like putting Cold War Kids on a small stage, Satellite Party's high billing and Perry Farrell's yellow jumpsuit—but that's what makes this festival that much more interesting. Founder Farrell was more visible this year, introducing some of the most anticipated sets, playing with his band, and playing with the School of Rock All-Stars. His vision for the perfect rock festival is creeping slowly into fruition with each passing year.
Friday began with The Fratellis opening up the entire festival. Of course I miss it, but I think that was the only band that I really wanted to see that I missed. I ended up walking into the festival listening to the grooves of electro-rock band Ghostland Observatory. The lead singer had great vocals and it was teamed up with some great beats. I wasn't listening too intently, as I was chilling in a tent, but it made for some good background sounds. Once they finished up, I wandered over to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists to check out the last half of their set. I first saw them at Pitchfork and compared to that performance, I thought this one was a bit less showy and more business. But according to Leo, in a setting like this, you have to focus on the actual playing rather than the spectacle.
Once Leo & the Rx had finished up, I made my long trek up to the Polyphonic Spree at the north stage. I didn't get that close to the stage, as this year the sound was much better on the north side stages, so you could stand farther back and still hear. Unlike Ted Leo, the Spree turned their set into a spectacle. It wouldn't have been a Spree show without a spectacle, and it's hard not to oblige when you have that many people in your band. The Spree are very much a festival band, and they proved it by splitting up their set and then marching back to the stage by walking through the crowd with the white robes on. The highlight of their set had to have been their cover of Nirvana's "Lithium." When was the last time you heard someone incorporate a horn section, pianos and flutes to reinvigorate a Nirvana song?
After the Polyphonic Spree put on the first memorable performance of the day, I had to make my first choice. Do I go see indie darlings Silversun Pickups? Or do I take my chances with the danceable Rapture? Well, despite loads of people telling me that there was no dilemma, that the Silversun Pickups was the way to go, I took a chance and went to see The Rapture. Was it worth it, you wonder? Yes, yes, and another enthusiastic yes. I don't know how I got so close but I didn't care. They played a large selection from their newest album, Pieces of the People We Love, and some of their earlier hits off of previous albums. The entire crowd was dancing away from the first note, which was ten minutes late, to the very last song. I spotted St. Louis' own Beatle Bob getting his groove on. Even the security guards were getting into it, especially the one who was getting a booty dance from a drunken festival goer. Another highlight of the festival came from this show, as I got my first cowbell solo of the day. It was a great way to kick off the rest of the night, and from what I've heard from those who chose the other option, I definately made the right choice.
I managed to take a break in the tents and here I was treated to a Janes Addiction tribute band. My mistake, that was actually Perry Ferrell's new band Satellite Party. Here's my beef. You're the face of Lollapalooza and you've booked your band to play. You then bill them higher than some bands that deserve it, give yourself a pretty sweet stage, and give yourself an even better time slot. Don't get mad when we all rail on your band. At least they spared those planted at that stage for Daft Punk by playing a large portion of Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros hits. I'm glad he went that route instead of playing all Satellite Party songs in order to prove the deserved that slot. (For the record, they didn't.) It wasn't hideous, but it was hardly anything special.
When you have Daft Punk headlining, what band would be perfect to lead into your headliners? Whomever chose LCD Soundsystem had their thinking cap on. When I discovered this nugget of brilliance, I began to wonder if there was going to be some sort of collaboration between Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem regarding the song, "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House." Unfortunately there wasn't, but I won't hold it against them, as I got yet another cowbell solo! James Murphy came out on stage looking like a painter, clad in all white, and for not moving around much, he definitely got the crowd moving. He even complimented the crowd's dancing skills and pointed out that the guys weren't such bad dancers that all the girls managed to not run away. Murphy's charming personality allowed for his lack of mobility on stage, and it also kept it from being a one-man show. Normally I despise having girls in bands, but I didn't mind it so much this time. Nancy Whang actually wasn't distracting nor did I get the feeling they had her in the band so that more people would take notice; she actually served a purpose. And despite Murphy's constant references to the drummer, Pat Mahoney, throwing up or getting sick, he was fantastic. I think he actually wins this year's award for the shortest shorts worn by a drummer. (Last year, Jamin from Be Your Own Pet took that distinguishing award.) They plugged in songs like "North American Scum," "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," and "All My Friends" earlier into the set—smartly, because halfway through their set, people started to wander to the main south stage to get a good spot for Daft Punk.
Daft Punk is playing at Grant Park. They hardly play the States, they bring a mean light show, they always dress as robots, and they're playing a show without supporting an album. That's all I was hearing going into this weekend. OK, so it's supposed to be a big deal. Part of the hype is what sort of put a damper on the actual performance, while some of the hype is what made the show great. I'll explain.
I've never heard Daft Punk live; the only songs I'm familiar with are the ones from when I was a sophomore in college and techno was all the rage and it was all you would hear on the radio. That was the extent of my knowledge going into this show. Now there were two types of people headed to see this show: the ones who loved Daft Punk and the ones who wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. I would fall into the latter half, although I do like the songs that I had heard previously, so I wasn't completely a gawker. (I danced!) However, I made the mistake of situating myself near a bunch of gawkers, as they later kind of killed the fun. A curtain hid the stage setup, but I had been informed that it would be the same setup as most of their shows: a large pyramid made of video screens in which the band would stand in and fiddle with their instruments and machines. Despite knowing what to expect, it was still a very impressive stage show and I highly enjoyed the fact that the duo performed dressed as robots.
Although, like many people, I'm still left wondering if they were actually doing anything up in their pyramid aside from pressing "play." I'm still not completely convinced that I actually witnessed Daft Punk. (What? I'm not the only person thinking this.) But that is the mystique that is Daft Punk, I guess. So in terms of set list, I would have said they played one hour-and-a-half-long song, but in actuality, they apparently played 23. When I say 23, I think I heard bits of "Around the World," "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," and "One More Time" more than once in the set, so you can be sure that several of those were mashups and remixes of several songs together. (And for those wondering: No, Kanye West didn't come out of the pyramid to sing along with "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.") I ended up dancing most of the set and I nearly got lassoed by a glowstick-on-a-rope-wielding fan.
The sad part was that I noticed a large amount of people in my area just standing and watching, and only really reacting to the music when one of the aforementioned songs had been played. Had the gawkers seen what they wanted to see earlier on and left for Ben Harper, I think the overall enjoyment would have increased and I would proclaim it as one of the best sets of the weekend, but since they stuck around and just stood there, it ruined the atmosphere needed to really have a kick ass show from Daft Punk. Just as much as the duo relies on the machines to make the music, they rely on their fans to create the vibe, and on Friday night, it just wasn't quite there.
Today is the rock fan's day at the festival. Friday was a lot of the dance-rock bands, but today was a pure rock day. Starting the afternoon off was Pete Yorn. I've tried to see him the past three or four tours, but something always comes up to ruin it for me. Today, I nearly miss my stop on the courtesy trolley, almost causing me to miss his set. But I manage to make my way to the stage and get in close to catch about half a dozen songs. Pete had his familiar backing band, Minibar, supporting him and played a large selection of his older stuff toward the beginning of the set. As his set wore on, some rarities off his older albums, including "Just Another Girl" and "On Your Side," were mixed in with newer offerings, such as "The Man" from his latest album. The best moment of his set was when he tried to describe—or, rather, not describe—what "Closet" meant. "I'm not sure what this next song means, but that's why I like it." OK, Pete. I just assume it means what any song about a closet would mean. Overall, it was the performance that you would expect from Pete Yorn: solid but not spectacular.
I left Yorn and hopped back on my shuttle to catch the last half of another set. On my approach, I could already hear the familiar sounds of Tapes N Tapes. Still touring on the back of their debut album The Loon, they had a large crowd gathered, and they made the most of it. By the time I made it closer to the stage, they were toward the last bit of their set, which was oddly the same as when I saw them play over a year ago. They finished up with "Insistor" and a drawn-out "Crazy Eights" before calling it a day.
So instead of checking out any of the bands scheduled next, I sat in the air-conditioned tent and listened to the soothing sounds of Silverchair coming from the nearest stage. Yes, I said Silverchair, those Aussie Nirvana wannabes. From where I sat, they didn't sound so bad. But I did get reports of their hardcore fan base being really annoying. They should meet the hardcore Pearl Jam fan base. Riots would ensue.
Time rolled on and I again made use of that courtesy shuttle, having it drop me off at the stage where Cold War Kids would be playing. For the record, last year I made note of this band's Lolla set and said something to the effect that they need to learn how to utilize the size of the stage because they'll be playing on bigger ones soon. Fast-forward to today where they've sold out nearly all of their own headlining shows and are about to open for both Muse and the White Stripes, and the lovely festival organizers stuff them on a super-small side stage. People couldn't get from the north side to the south side of the park without having to wade through the massive crowd gathered to see CWK perform. Easily this was one of the biggest complaints I heard the whole weekend.
Anyway, the show. Some guy in a Missouri shirt (represent!) introduced them; sonically, the band was a bit slow to come out of the gates. But you can't entirely fault them, as the crowd was just as groggy. Once "In the Morning" hit, the pace of the show picked up as did the crowd enthusiasm. The harmonies between the lead singer Nathan Willett and lead guitarist Jonnie Russell were exceptionally good and took the songs to new levels of intensity. Easily their best moment was when they performed "Saint John." Singer Willett was soulfully singing the plight of Saint John while gesturing the sing along as if conducting the orchestra at Carnegie Hall. It was partially one of those moments you had to be there to understand the intensity, but there's always YouTube. The two new songs went down pretty well with the crowd. I booked it out to meet a friend right after "Hang Me Up to Dry" was finished, but I made sure to stay long enough to enjoy both of the vocals on that particular song. The Cold War Kids have definitely upped the ante with this performance.
After meeting a friend, we popped up to the north stage to see one of the more memorable shows of the weekend, Regina Spektor. To the delight of the crowd, Spektor sang her first song a cappella, the only accompaniment being the tapping of her finger on the microphone. After finishing the song, you could see the astonishment in her face, as she never expected the size crowd that she had staring back at her. It was a massive crowd. I didn't think that many people had ever heard of her, but I was wrong and I fully learned just how big that crowd was when trying to weave out of it later on in the show. During "The Flowers," Spektor stopped mid-song to come to the aid to a sick crowd member and inadvertently humor the crowd, as well. A group of people were trying to get the attention of the security people, but instead caught the eye of the performer, who immediately stopped her song to quiet the crowd and to get medical attention. After pleading for "Security" and the "Lollapalooza people" to come to the concertgoer's aid, she then helped part the crowd so the victim could be reached. Of course, she did this in a massively adorable fashion, which elicited some laughs (again, it's on YouTube). Once the fairly embarrassed and probably dehydrated person was attended to, Regina kicked right back into the song without missing a beat. Spektor is a very talented and engaging performer; team that with witty lyrics and a fusion of piano and guitar with Russian musical elements, and her set was a refreshing change from what many were exposed to at the festival. There's something about the stage she performed on, as last year I it was where I discovered Andrew Bird.
As much as I wanted to stay for the entirety of Spektor's set, my friend and I were informed that spaces were filling up fast for the main stage, and if we were going to see any of the performers for the rest of the evening, we best head out. My friend is a huge Snow Patrol fan, but she decided that she could see them anytime, so we dashed down to the south stage to catch the Yeah Yeah Yeahs instead. A good decision on our parts, that's for sure.
Admittedly, I have a very, very hard time enjoying bands that have female members, especially as frontwomen. I know it sounds sexist, and even weird coming from me, a female, but for the most part, they just bother me. I had just come from Spektor's show and I was very impressed and I'm thinking lightning can't strike twice, but how I was wrong.
My main issue is that female frontwomen don't quite know how to work a stage or a crowd without having to rely on sex appeal to engage them. Karen O comes waltzing on stage in this huge black and white cape with her dark eye makeup on and forehead covered in blue paint. She immediately caught the crowd's attention...and kept it. She's running from side to side on the stage, she's writhing around on the ground, she's all over the place. She's also wearing some crazy outfit made out of vinyl that probably didn't agree with the heat—or the rain, for that matter. At this point, the rain is coming down fairly steadily, but Karen O doesn't seem to mind and she continues to roam all over the place. And you know she's having fun, because she'll look very serious and then pull these rock star faces, but she'll always deliver a sly smile at the right time to let you know she's having just as much fun as you are. The YYYs wind down their set with a great live version of "Maps" (dedicated to summer love everywhere), "Date With the Night," and lastly "Y Control." I've been wanting to see this band live for so long and by the time it was over, I wanted to see more.
Right after the Yeah Yeah Yeahs finished, we managed to get even closer for the headliners, as people were exiting either because they wanted to see Interpol play or they just wanted to get out of the way of some seriously hardcore Muse fans. Either way, we got to get much closer and see a lot better. Now this is Muse's first official U.S. festival headlining show and it's also Perry Farrell's most anticipated set of the weekend, so we got to endure a yellow jumpsuit-clad Ferrell for an introduction. Farrell insists they're moving up here in the States and that soon they'll be a household name, while I laugh at his attempt to sound like he didn't just jump on the Muse bandwagon. Farrell exits and so begins a recording of a JFK speech that conspiracy theorists claims is evidence that JFK knew he was to be assassinated; words appear on the screens above the stage.
The recording finishes and Muse take the stage and begin the show with the opening song of their latest album, "Take a Bow." The song perfectly revs up a crowd that is largely familiar with current release Black Holes and Revelations and previous album Absolution. Much like Daft Punk, Muse brings a stunning visual and light show to accentuate the music. Soon into the set, singer/guitarist/pianist Matt Bellamy's classical piano training is best displayed in a piano solo during "Butterflies and Hurricanes," which is then followed by "Apocalypse Please," "Sunburn," and a cover of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good." Muse finish off their set with a stunning performance of "Stockholm Syndrome" before returning to complete it with an encore of "Plug in Baby" and crowd-pleaser "Knights of Cydonia."
Afterward, chatter around the park echoes similar sentiments of that being one of the best rock shows they've seen in a long time. But if you asked the band, it was the worst show they had ever done. According to XM radio, the guitar and vocal monitors were the only monitors working, so they were performing unable to hear what anyone else was doing. Now, really, if that's what they call their worst show ever, I would love to see the best show they've ever done, because what they gave the crowd in an hour and a half was ridiculously intense and out of control. You would have never have known they couldn't hear themselves. Well done, lads; well done.
While Friday was mainly a dance rock day and Saturday an all-out rock show, Sunday was a hodgepodge of international bands, eclectic bands and good, old-fashioned Seattle rock 'n' roll. Starting off the day was one of my most anticipated acts of the weekend, Rodrigo y Gabriela. I caught a small bit of their set when they opened for Muse in London and I was dying to see more; finally I had a chance. Fusing Latino elements of Flamenco-style guitar with hard rock, Rodrigo y Gabriela know how to put on a show. Despite the set being them two sitting in chairs, acoustic guitars on their laps and each one taking turns playing a foot pedal bass drum, they managed to engage the crowd by playing a mix of hard rock/heavy metal covers and their own material. Noticeable guitar riffs played were Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" and, toward the end of the set, a very moving version of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," vocals courtesy of the crowd. Rodrigo and Gabriela would take turns speaking with the crowd, with Rodrigo often waving his arms to encourage more audience participation. Toward the end, Rodrigo got a three-part clap started quite effortlessly with the crowd and then the two of the them just rocked out to the beat served up to them. While looking to be an unassuming set, they were probably one of the best shows that could have been the whole weekend.
After Rodrigo y Gabriela, another international star was getting ready to take the headlining stage. I was still doubtful of the show not getting cancelled, and as time wore on and still a no show, I began to think I was right. Soon enough, though, Amy Winehouse did arrive, but I don't think she was all there. And not in a good, entertaining way either. Winehouse started her set off with many of the songs from her new album, Back in Black, but she hardly engaged the crowd or even acknowledged their presence. She stood still onstage, occasionally swaying from side to side; her only real movement was when she kept her skirt from flying up, baring what the Brits would call her knickers for all to see. A large crowd showed up and some were disillusioned to say, post-show, that it was one of the best shows of the weekend. I think they were on drugs. I don't know why I even bothered to stick around to hear her last three songs, "You Know I'm No Good," "Rehab," and "Valerie." Probably the highlight of her set was when she did a small cover of Lauryn Hill's "That Thing." I think I caught Winehouse slurring the words. Yeah, that was a highlight—the only highlight. It was a boring show, and that's unfortunate, because I was actually hoping otherwise. Oh, all the jokes I could insert here about her being no good, but I'm going to resist.
After leaving one debacle, I wander right into another one. What luck. I check out a side stage to see up-and-coming band The Annuals perform. Their album Be He Me is fantastic, and I've been told they are great live. Not today. I will say that they endured a seriously bad sound system that kept resonating bits of the piano the entire set, but at the same time, I think they were suffering from having too many people onstage doing too much of the same thing (two drummers, two keyboardists, three singers). The vocals were good, as were the harmonies, but I don't think anything could have saved this set. I ended up meeting up with some friends and then heading out to check out some other bands.
What's a festival without some good, old-fashioned Southern rock? It's not! And that's how I found myself at the Kings of Leon set. I saw them not too long ago and they really put on a great show. I always wondered if singer Caleb Followill would be able to recreate that raspy, sultry vocal for the span of an entire set, and sure enough, he is. This particular show I decided to park it in the shade (hottest day of all three days, easily) and just enjoy the tunes from afar. Unlike me, loads of people stood in the field and enjoyed the set, and they weren't just camped out to see Pearl Jam, either. These people were singing, rocking, and throwing the devil horns every chance they could. KOL played a varied set, but it was a crowd-pleaser with just enough from both Aha Shake Heartbreak and Because the Times. Those waiting for Pearl Jam and fans of the band alike enjoyed themselves.
Soon after they finished, I headed up to catch another international act, Peter Bjorn and John. I end up missing the first two songs, and when I wander up to the stage, nothing is happening. Midway through the second song, the sound had cut out (a problem all weekend at this stage) and so the band was just mingling with the fans while they tried to get the sound going. While this is unfortunate, it lets me jet off over to catch a nice bit of !!!'s set instead.
Having seen them recently, I was originally going to forgo seeing them so that I could check out PB&J, but next thing you know, I'm dancing to "Must be the Moon." A few more songs of dancing and I get a text saying that PB&J are headed back on soon, so I make my way to catch the restart of PB&J.
So yes, it's Peter Bjorn and John part 2. The sound is working and we're treated to a wonderful version of "Amsterdam." They sound exactly like they do on record, which is cool as you get a bit of the accent mixed in with some awesome harmonies. It was nice to see that most of the crowd stuck around for the rest of the show, and the band also thanked the crowd for it. Of course the crowd is waiting around to hear this summer's hit, "Young Folks." When Peter—or is it Bjorn?—announces a special guest, some are upset that it's not Kanye West; ultimately, most were happy to settle for Nikki from Silversun Pickups and Apostle of Hustle's Dean to assist with the song. A great rendition ensued (I wonder what they do on tour, when there is no girl?), and they finished up their set with what they say were some of their most influential and popular songs in their native Sweden, one of which was a personal favorite, "Objects of My Affection."
After that, I wandered up to catch a decent bit of Seattle's other band, Modest Mouse. Hi, Johnny Marr. To be honest, I thought they were going to kind of suck, mainly because it took a long time before lead singer Isaac Brock's vocals grew on me. So after realizing they don't suck, I enjoyed myself. I liked that they busted out a stand up bass and a banjo. Unfortunately, the crowd around me was more into hearing the hits like "Dashboard" and "Float On" than any of the other songs, which sort of put a damper on the experience—but to be honest, I was leaning toward being part of the "give me the hits and I'll leave" crowd. I felt bad leaving halfway through their set, especially as I wasn't exactly looking forward to seeing Pearl Jam top the night off, but what good would this review be if I skipped out on the headliners?
So, yeah, Pearl Jam.
Highlights: a new song entitled "Don't Go to BP Amoco"; "Crazy Mary"; "Better Man"; fireworks going off randomly during the set; Eddie Vedder saving the bulk of his political rant for the second encore (as I had already left and couldn't hear much after I crossed Columbus Ave.).
Lowlights: Pearl Jam fans suck, especially the drunk ones; Eddie Vedder not wearing flannel; Eddie Vedder clutching a bottle of wine during "Crazy Mary" (that's so rockstar); Eddie Vedder making a typical Bush comment and his political ranting; Pearl Jam.
Basically, they were on par with last year's headliner, Red Hot Chili Peppers, in that they have a loyal fan base and can sell tickets, but for us the casual fan (and I use that term very loosely here), it's a nostalgia set that if you've seen it once; you don't really need to see again.
Overall, it was a very, very wonderful festival, as the variety of bands that came this year was awesome. This year, they managed to restructure the entire staging areas, which was great for the sound vs. wind fight, but bad for us in the media tent who couldn't see the stages thanks to the cabanas. They learned a lot of the lessons from last year, but this off-season, they'll be stuck trying to figure out why the sound itself was so shitty. Peter, Bjorn and John, Annuals, Muse and the other bands victim to sound bugs should be brought back next year to redeem themselves. Besides that, they really focused on the quality acts that graced the second tier of the schedule and the side stages; I hope that they maintain this focus, because it really will cement this festival and the festival of the summer. | Kiernan Scrima
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