Friday, September 7, 2012

Lollapalooza 2012....a Little Late!

How's this for a late post...I went to Lollapalooza!....a month ago!!! As my first real, multi-day music festival, I gotta say that Lollapalooza is perfect for festival noobs like myself. You don't have to camp out in survival mode for three days in the middle of the woods (Bonnaroo) or on grass fields surrounded by desert (Coachella). Me and my friends were in the lap of luxury at the Hilton Garden Inn, about a mile from the festival grounds at Grant Park in downtown Chicago. Roughing it, it was not. I can imagine "roughing it" at Lollapalooza translates to staying at a cheap hotel way out by O'Hare, which is not a bad option. Whether or not you get a "true" music festival experience out of that is up to you but hey, I'm not complaining. 

First thing's first, I was only able to explore a little bit, but basically, Chicago is awesome. From the gorgeous skyscrapers and great food to the easy transit and friendly people (unsolicited directions to the subway?!...not in DC anymore), I got nothing but good vibes from the place. Being an urban geek, I know that's not the full story, but at least we tried to branch out from downtown to soak up some local culture. After Day 2, we headed up to Lincoln Park looking for some non-touristy nightlife and found Barn & Company, a very loud but good-natured bar with beers in mason jars and a steady stream of attractive 20-somethings passing by our back wall perch. Too exhausted to breathe it all in, we soon moved on in search of food, and I knew just the place: the Weiner Circle. I got off pretty easily, with just a "don't you fuckin move!" and a "you better fuckin tip me...gimme dat!" from the staff making my hot dog, but just to have seen the chaos that was that drunken, vulgar, utterly ridiculous hot dog stand, I'm glad I experienced a true Chicago institution.

Anyway, more Chicago for another time. First and foremost, I was there for some muzak...


The band that's really small in this picture, trying to energize a mid-day, day 1 crowd would be Yellow Ostrich. My friend David and I stumbled upon them first, having no real must-see's for the first show of the day. And they were great, I wasn't blown away by hearing them for the first time, but they play a pleasant, melodic brand of indie rock that's toe-tapping and generally uplifting. Nothing to absolutely stop me in my tracks, but perhaps a band to give a fair shake at some point.

Next on the docket was Dr. Dog, who I was super stoked to see. I loved Shame, Shame and while Be the Void hasn't yet grown on me, I had not doubt these guys were awesome live, and I was right. The energy was incredible for a day show, and it never let up through the set, as they alternated between their sweet, melodic folk-pop numbers and more visceral psych-rock freak outs. I will be marking my calendar for their next DC visit. 2nd best show of Lolla!

A tough act to follow, we saw Metric next at the far opposite end of the park and it was easily the best performance I saw at Lolla from a band I had never listened to before. Their new-wavy type indie rock may be a little ham-fisted on record (as I checked out Synthetica once I got home), but live in front of a huge crowd, they killed it. Lead singer Emily Haines was simply mesmerizing, dancing across the stage and pounding on the keyboard (not at the same time, though I wouldn't put it past her). Whenever the jumbo screens would show her bobbing to the beat with the faded masses in front of her, I just felt like I was watching a very important in a documentary about a band making it big or making some huge artistic statement that would change Top 40 as we know it. Sure, that's a huge exaggeration for how I really see the band now, but the incredible thing about music, and these live concerts, is that there are legions of passionate fans for these bands who truly believe in them in that kind of way. And how can you not love that?

We rehydrated with some boxed water that was all the rage that weekend and settled in the trees to take in the most bizarre performance of the festival hands down: Die Antwoord. DJ Vuilgeboost took the stage first as I was in line for water and proceeded to loop a warped vocal sample that became clearer until we were all on the same page: "....fuck ya til you love me....fuck ya til ya love me..." Those of us queuing up, as in non-Die Antwoord fans, all did a nearly simultaneous head turn to the stage, as if to wonder collectively "what.....the going on over there???" Well what was going on was the self-described "futuristic rap-rave crew" from South Africa that' bad they're good?? Their lyrics are ridiculous, their videos are warped as fuck, and... yea if you haven't heard them yet, you should (did I just say that?).

After checking out the hypnotizing lights display at the Perry's electronic stage (aka dubstep all day, every day), we saw Friday headliners The Black Keys, who put on a solid, bluesy, soft-grit rock affair. Maybe Black Sabbath or Wale would have been better options at that time slot, but the Keys were crowd-pleasers nonetheless. I overheard some guy leaving the show afterwards actually matched my opinion quite closely: "All their songs sound the same...but they're all great so...[hardy har]".


Day 2, the day I was most anticipating, was almost literally a complete wash, as severe storms caused the evacuation of the entire park just as we had arrived to catch the tail end of Neon Indian. For some comic relief from the buzzkill, as we crowded to the exits, we saw the most poorly timed gate crash of the festival...nice goin' guys! Just in time to avoid the downpours, we took shelter where we could: Petterino's, where we took in an afternoon snack of tomato bruschetta, pesto risotto fritters and red wine (talk about roughing it).

Thankfully, the storm soon cleared and Lollapalooza went on with the schedule pushed back two hours. So while we missed Neon Indian, we arrived back in the park to see another anticipated act: tUnE-yArDs. I've always respected tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus for her risk-taking with her music particularly vocally. She shouts, croons, screams, pants, hisses - anything and everything to build a humanistic looped beat. Along with tribal drumming and playful guitar, she builds the foundation of her layer-cake songs. It's avant-garde and yet, particularly with her latest album w h o k i l l, widely approachable and tons of fun. Seeing her create her loops live on stage, and backed by a kick ass saxophone section, it was definitely a highlight of the weekend.

Next up was the Weeknd, a soulful but brooding R&B singer Abel Tesfaye from Toronto that was a must-see for me. His debut mixtape House of Balloons was my hands-down favorite album of 2011, which was a shock for me, since before that I didn't even know I liked R&B. Tesfaye simply has an amazing voice, which flows gracefully over the dark, unsettling moods and subject matter of his three mixtapes. Seeing him on one of Lollapalooza's two main stages in late afternoon, I had to admit it wasn't the best venue for him; a small, smoky club with dark corners is more his style. But to see one of my favorite new artists with thousands more who knew the words like I did...simply amazing.

In the weeks leading up to Lollapalooza, I had accepted the inevitable: I would be seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers Saturday night. Which would be amazing, I was sure, as I've never really been an RHCP fan, but you're not a true American unless you've seen THE Chili Peppers live and sung along to the songs EVERYONE knows. I only wished I could have seen Frank Ocean, who was playing at the same time. Channel Orange will probably be my album of the year for 2012, which would make it the second year in a row I would give an R&B album top honors. But it would ultimately be futile to pull my friends away from seeing the alt-rock legends that are RHCP. And was legends at work. They played their still-unfamiliar new stuff, but only when buffered by three or four classics that everyone was there to hear: "Californication", "By The Way", "Suck My Kiss", "Otherside", and "Can't Stop" were all there. The masses singing along, my shoes caked in mud, the smell of pot drifting through the was what Lolla was all about.


At this point in the weekend, we were just about spent. After a long brunch at Grand Lux Cafe, for the second day in a row, we lounged in the grass and let Sigur Ros mellow us out. Although they play a much different kind of music than the Weeknd, they too were another band that didn't benefit from the music festival, afternoon show atmosphere, and perhaps they were worse off than the Weeknd. If I was to really get into Sigur Ros' slow, meditative ambient, it would be with my headphones as I drift off to sleep. So in that respect, Sigur Ros didn't really do it for me.

Once all 87 member of Sigur Ros took their bow, David and I were cutting through the crowd to be front and center for the recently reunited At the Drive-In. This was a big sacrifice, as I would be missing Toro Y Moi across the field, but I knew that if any band at Lolla was to truly rock my face off, it would be AtDI. So we stood in wait along with my college buddy Jon until showtime. And as soon as "Arcarsenal"revved up, one of the greatest openers in rock, I knew this would be the best show of Lolla (and finally...a mosh pit!!!). The set was blistering, with a heavy dose of Relationship of Command, Cedric Bixler-Zavala's rambling stage banter, and the electrifying closer "One Armed Scissor". Best show at Lolla = face sufficiently rocked off.

And then it all came to a close with Jack White, who we enjoyed from the relative nosebleed section of south Grant Park before making an early, easy exit. No disrespect to the legendary Jack White, but we just didn't have it in us to crowd by the stage at the culmination of a long, exhausting, exhilarating weekend of music.

And that was Lolla. I hope it wasn't my first and last time, as the festival is not only incredibly easy and the bands are top-notch, but it's very easily scalable. The park isn't terribly large if you're intending to criss-cross it all day to see the bands on your list and if you're lucky enough to stay in a close-by hotel, coming and going is a breeze.

So...go to Lolla...or at least go to literally cannot regret it.

* And yes some of these photos are "instagrammed"... because sometimes I'm just a slave to cool.