Words by: Robyn Rubinstein & Cal Roach | Images by: Dave Vann
Lollapalooza :: 08.01 - 08.03 :: Grant Park :: Chicago, IL
Friday - 08.01.08
By: Robyn Rubinstein
Lollapalooza 2006 was my first time at the fest since it had found its permanent home in Grant Park. For a brief moment, I turned away from the main stage at the south end of Grant Park to take in the breathtaking view of the Chicago skyline looming behind me. As I gazed upward, a good friend of mine, and lifelong Chicago resident leaned in and said, "You know you want to fuck my city. Look how hot my city is. How could you not want to get with something so gorgeous?" He made a good point. I have been in love with Chicago since my college days in Evanston, even though I know it will never work out between us. I can't handle the volatile mood swings that result in sub zero wind chills and horizontal rain six to eight months out the year. Even the scorching summers dripping with humidity are tough to endure, but they are worth it for the genuine warmth and openness that pervade the Windy City. There is something about Chicago that has always elicited musical excellence from the bands that pass through, making it the perfect location for Perry Farrell's legendary party.
| Lollapalooza 2008|
Lollapalooza has a much different feel today than the traveling alternative music circus it began as in 1991. It has aged and matured with us, and yet still kept its finger on the pulse of innovation, change and revolution. Perhaps it was this year's stellar lineup, or politically charged atmosphere with multiple artists giving repeated Obama endorsements, but something in the air crackled this time around. Maybe it was just me feeding off the giddiness that ensues when I get to have my annual summer fling with my crush city. Whatever it was, Lollapalooza 2008 was electric, charged by the city of Chicago, and powered by the distant glimmering light of hope and change at the end of the tunnel.
As I approached Grant Park Friday afternoon, lines to enter the fest stretched around several blocks in both directions. For the first time since its move to a permanent home, all three day passes and single Friday and Saturday tickets were sold out. A few thousand single day Sunday tickets remained but those would be gone by mid-day on Saturday. I thanked the powers that be for media entrances and proceeded south on Columbus Drive past the throngs of early birds. As I ambled inside the gates, I could hear Oakland's Rogue Wave on the MySpace Stage. "We love Chicago more than anything, and that's no lie," proclaimed frontman Zach Rogue, illustrating their affection with lilting, high energy versions of "Chicago X 12" and "Lake Michigan" right in front of the latter song's namesake. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who has an ongoing love affair with this city.
| Patrick Carney - The Black Keys|
My next move was an easy one – turn around and proceed to the AT&T Stage behind me. The front rails of the stage were already lined with rabid Radiohead fans, who only had six more hours to wait. In the meantime, there was Brooklyn's Yeasayer, a band whose star continues to rise with each new music blogger who declares this band the next TV on the Radio. The last time I saw them was at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, a club only slightly larger than my living room. I was definitely curious to see how the multi-ethnic, ethereal intensity would translate to a significantly larger festival setting. Not surprisingly, they delivered much of the same power and harmonic complexities on a large stage as they did on a small one. Frontman Chris Keating, whose live performance is so impassioned that it sort of looks like he is having a seizure, seemed slightly off, but not enough to detract from the strength of the overall performance. I'll cut anyone slack in ninety-degree heat with three hundred percent humidity. "Sunrise" blasted across the expansive concert field, creating the mystical alternate universe feel that this band is known for. Other highlights were "2080," their spinning yet up-beat interrogative about what the future holds, and "Wait for the Summer," where the modern-meets-primitive instrumentation mimicked the sounds of the season.
It was at this point that my phone decided to shit the cooler, and I got a tad apoplectic for a minute, now faced with the concept of trying to navigate the next three days of music and meet-ups without a phone (remember back in the day when we had to make plans in advance, then, actually be where we said we'd be? Oh, how times have changed). I hoofed it to the media area to get online and find the closest Verizon store. The friendly folks at the Q101 booth let me use one of their laptops while a slightly haggard looking Patrick Carney, drummer from The Black Keys, sat down on the other end of the table for an interview. When asked how he was feeling at his third Lolla, he responded, "Hot, and a little anxious. I always get anxious when I'm around this many people who are, more than likely, on drugs." Fair enough.
Any trepidation he may have been feeling had no effect on his performance about an hour later on the Bud Light Stage. Their set was a sweaty rock 'n' roll ritual steam bath designed to purge you of whatever you needed to shed. Live, The Black Keys are a sonic juggernaut, and it's nearly unbelievable that there are only two players onstage. Their aggressive blues-rock sound is so huge that I wondered if this is what early Led Zeppelin sounded like live, especially on particularly explosive tunes like "Strange Times" and "I Got Mine." While it may seem a little egregious to compare the two bands, since they are indeed apples and oranges, they definitely hang out in the same atomic blues-rock fruit basket. Carney pounds his drum kit with just slightly less animated energy than Animal, of Electric Mayhem Muppet Show fame, and guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach's cosmic chops are undeniable. If it hasn't already, this set should earn The Black Keys a spot at Lolla for years to come.
| Don't worry, Chan's not talking about you|
One permutation of the blues was followed by another with Cat Power. In the past, Chan Marshall was almost better known for her onstage meltdowns than her sultry, impassioned voice. I've never witnessed a meltdown firsthand, but personally I'm glad they are a thing of the past, because her voice warrants more than enough attention. Her set was peppered with covers, several of those from her latest album, Jukebox. Her deep tone is smoother than satin, and it was like a familiar embrace. Each cover bore her unique imprint, testifying to her skills as an arranger. Her version of "New York" sounds like the New York that I want to hang out in. No disrespect to Frank Sinatra or Liza Minelli, but I would much prefer to kick it with Marshall. Her version of CCR's "Fortunate Son" was interlaced with the prominent "Sympathy for the Devil" riff, making it a brilliant, languid combination of the two songs.
My last experience with The Raconteurs was my first trip to Lolla in 2006. They have only grown exponentially tighter during the two-year gap. "Consolers of the Lonely" opened their set like a car bomb, followed by an equally blistering "Level." The live version of "You Don't Understand Me" catapulted it to my favorite Raconteurs song. Being mistreated by your loved one is not new lyrical ground, even in the realm of power guitar rock, but songwriters Jack White and Brendan Benson minimize cliché with lines like "Maybe I just don't see the reason, but in the court of my heart, your ignorance is treason." The band's Nashville roots shined through and the entire set had an intellectual Southern rock feel. The Raconteurs tend to get categorized as White's side project but the power quartet with Patrick Keeler (drums) and Jack Lawrence (bass) stands strong in its own right. The only disappointment was the utter lack of movement by the majority of the crowd, and the dicey sound in spots. Lolla organizers made huge efforts this year to eliminate sound bleed between stages, but their efforts failed to eliminate that problem and unfortunately caused some new ones.
| Benson & White - The Raconteurs|
I had to drag myself away from The Raconteurs before the end of their set, in order to make the trek to the southern end of Grant Park for Radiohead. The plus side of leaving early was that I was able to hear some of Brazilian dance rockers CSS. Their groove was definitely infectious, as several people making the same trip as I slowed their pace to take in the brightly colored spandex spectacle. The opening bars of "Move" are nearly identical to those from "Naïve Melody" by The Talking Heads, furthering my theory that David Byrne and The Talking Heads left an indelible mark on all music that came after them. (Radiohead's name, inspired by "Radio Head" off 1986's True Stories, is a less potent but equally viable example.) Here, finally people were dancing, especially to fan favorites like "Music Is My Hot Hot Sex" of iPod commercial fame, their self-proclaimed love song "Alcohol" and "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death from Above."
Walking back towards the AT&T stage, I was acutely aware of the extra 20,000 or so people who had been missing in years past. They were all there for what is arguably the biggest band in the world. It's hard to know what to say about a band that has been talked about to death, so I can only offer my personal experience. The first time I saw Radiohead it brought a rush of heat through my body and gave me goosebumps. It renewed my faith in music, in art and in life. Lolla was the follow-up show, and it produced the same sensation. With the opening drums beats of "15 Step" my pulse quickened. Unfortunately, even directly in front of a speaker stack, the sound was muffled and distant, which was unacceptable. With concerted effort I maneuvered my way to the media area, and what it lacked in view it more than compensated for in much improved sound. Though the band was about a football field away, I could still see the incredible light show, which was a precisely choreographed match to the music. The set consisted primarily of newer songs from In Rainbows, as well as some older classics. "Airbag" was a huge explosion of intimate lyrics. For me, this is where the power of Radiohead lies. There is something in their delivery that evokes a literal emotional translation of their songs. "Lucky," though slow and melancholy in tone, made me feel like I am the luckiest girl in world. "Everything In Its Right Place" reminded me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and "Optimistic" drove home the point that if you don't do the best you can, life can eat you alive. "House of Cards" was light, airy and gorgeous, emphasizing that life is fleeting and time is precious. There is no other word to describe their set than intoxicating. And to be clear, I was sober - very, very sober - and yet truly higher than I'd been in quite some time. Radiohead is not for everyone. I have a close friend whose musical taste I trust implicitly who found it boring and lifeless. For me, it was an exhilaratingly perfect ending to a stellar first day.
Friday - 08.01.08 - Take Two
By: Cal Roach
Ah, Chicago... the skyscrapers... the lake... the traffic. Why can't I ever get out of my house on time? Construction the whole way down, so our timing was perfect to approach the city just as the Cubs game was letting out. Choice. But public transportation is incredibly convenient in the city, so there wouldn't be any more driving until Lollapalooza was finished. The double-decker Metra train was air-conditioned and fast, and I caught most of Mates Of State' set while getting situated. They actually sort of rocked, much more than I expected. Rumors of domestication have been somewhat exaggerated, I guess, not that you'd have mistaken them for the Vaselines or anything.
| Lollapalooza 2008|
I was still mentally preparing for a hot, sticky weekend as I drifted to the Citi Stage for Grizzly Bear's set. I don't want to dwell on the deficiencies of seeing a club band on a big, open-air stage, but the group is still finding its festival feet. The songs generally came off a bit better than at the Pitchfork Music Festival a year ago, as they've floated further away from their folk roots into an electric reverb swamp, but the absence of acoustic guitar has lost its novelty and the climactic "On A Neck, On A Spit" stalled in its development. A year ago, the novelty of hearing this song on electric guitar made it interesting. Today, it just showed its age. Overall, the group showed an amazing degree of growth between releasing Yellow House and last year's tour, but since then, not s'much. But on the strength of Ed Droste's songs, it was still a good set.
If Pavement was the world's first punk rock jam band (sorry, Television - jam bands weren't in the lexicon yet in 1977), then Stephen Malkmus is punk's Trey Anastasio, and his Jicks, like Trey's revolving cast, can sometimes sustain for brief periods the name-brand intensity that the singer's other band achieved consistently. But the Jicks have now moved beyond the need for Pavement as a reference point, and tonight's warm up set for Radiohead showed a band eager and more than able to prove itself. "Hopscotch Willy" went for the jugular early on, careening almost out of control, then, measuredly devolving into dust. Malkmus was in great voice, always just on the plus side of Lou Reed as far as pitch, but his guitar was absolutely the star of the show. He's sometimes just not fluid enough to be consistent, but tonight he just attacked the instrument in all the right ways and emerged triumphant. And these Jicks operated as an extremely cohesive unit under their captain's direction. Drummer Janet Weiss was phenomenal, even downplaying her thunderous capacity in favor of a prickly precision and omnipresence; she was copilot of a group that is growing further and more fiercely into its own identity and dynamic. The Jicks's performance contained everything anyone could ask for in a great live rock show, period. No other set would top this one for me the rest of the weekend.
Continue reading for Saturday's coverage of Lollapalooza...