Lollapalooza | 08.07-08.09 | Chicago

Words by: Wesley Hodges & Cal Roach | Images by: Dave Vann & Chad Smith

Lollapalooza :: 08.07.09 – 08.09.09 :: Grant Park :: Chicago, IL

Lollapalooza 2009 by Vann
It'd be hard to find a better-suited urban environment to host such an ambitious and enormous multi-day music festival than Grant Park. Set in a large, albeit slender, plot of land about a mile long and a couple hundred yards wide sandwiched between Lake Michigan and the stunning Chicago skyline, there is something inherently unique about this festival, and its influence on other alternative American music festivals is undeniable. As The Knux's Kentrell "Krispy Kream" Lindsey told JamBase, "Lollapalooza was the first of its kind, having something from almost every genre and fathering in the groundbreaking style of festival that all present day fests have followed since Lollapalooza's conception." Karla Muench, a Chicago public school teacher told JamBase that the best thing about Grant Park as a concert venue is "the view all around. You look one way, you see the lake, look the other and you see the skyline, look another way and you see Soldier Field."

No other American music festival of this scale is as easily accessible within a major metropolitan area. Krispy Kream also mentioned, "Most festivals are in rural areas that are very hard to access and Lolla is in Chicago, one of the biggest cities in the U.S." With public transportation all around, top-notch restaurants, clubs and music venues all within earshot of the park and enough history to write an epic about, Lollapalooza truly is a one-of-a-kind, albeit ephemeral, urban utopia. With enough quality bands to please the most fickle of music fans and after hours shows in just about every venue each night, there was little time to sleep this weekend and JamBase was more than happy to sacrifice some shut eye to soak it all in and give our beloved readers a full report. (WH)

Friday, 08.07

The Knux - 1:00-1:45 p.m., Citi Stage

Lollapalooza 2009 by Vann
Day one was a challenge for even the most road-hardened of music fans as unrelenting rain blanketed the early Lolla crowds for the first five hours of the festival. Unfazed, we headed on over to the Citi Stage to check out The Knux. Early in the weekend the fans were riled up and still light on their feet as Krisp asked the youthful crowd, "Who's ready to see some amazing music?" Getting hands up early, the rap duo's rabble rousing, humorously irreverent style, reminiscent of N.E.R.D. was the perfect party starter for what would be a marathon weekend of world-class music. (WH)

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - 1:00-2:00 p.m., vitaminwater Stage

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears tried to get booties shaking early on with their generic '70s funk, but they lacked three key ingredients for success in this field - a singer not blatantly impersonating James Brown, a seriously distinctive guitarist or other instrumentalist, and a cache of standout original songs. I guess they were playing their own songs, but they were in a singles bar cover band zone. (CR)

The Builders And The Butchers - 1:45-2:30 p.m., BMI Stage

I was able to duck out to the north for a bit to catch The Builders And The Butchers, a party band with a much more original sound. They blend rhythm-driven folk styles heavy on the mandolin with hip-hop and punk inflections, sort of like a high-speed urban bluegrass. What I saw was fun and engaging, and I wished I could stay under the shelter of the trees at the BMI Stage all weekend. Friday featured a nagging drizzle that fluctuated through all levels of annoying almost the whole day, and none of the main stages are near any reasonable shelter. (CR)

The Gaslight Anthem - 2:00-3:00 p.m., Chicago 2016 Stage

Perry & Etty Lau Farrell (wife)
Lollapalooza 2009 by Smith
New Brunswick's The Gaslight Anthem did get on my nerves initially. It seems there's a new Springsteen imitator springing up every day, and Brian Fallon is more blatant than most. Plus, the band's whole sound struck me as just a little too Hold Steady-meets-Kings-Of-Leon. So, how did it end up winning me over? I think it was the earnest empathy from Fallon, who seems too green for rock star contrivance, and an edgy depth to the songs that tempered the soaring ambition just enough. "Boomboxes And Dictionaries" was a particularly raw dose of soulful rock, and closer "The Backseat," with a "Lost In The Supermarket" quote sandwiched inside, amounted to a perfect working-class nugget. (CR)

Perry's Dance Area Introduction and Dark Wave Disco - 2:45-3:45 p.m., Perry's

My crew headed northward towards Bon Iver, but not before making our first stop at Perry's, an impressive venue entirely devoted to dance music that Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell described to JamBase as "a hybrid area with the ability to accommodate 10,000 people. It's not a dance tent, we like it under trees. It's a custom built DJ Tower that has LED screens, new DJ software with fresh capabilities so that the young people that are producing this music and creating their own videos will be able to do all this and work their machinery on stage."

The party atmosphere was emanating from Perry's as DJ Trancid managed to encapsulate the entire vibe of Lollapalooza past, present and future in the first three minutes by sampling Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" seamlessly into a slowed down, pitched up twist on MGMT's "Kids" as a horde of young fans formed a tribal dance circle while passing around a shoe (much like "The Conch" in Lord of the Flies) signifying the leader of the makeshift dance troupe. The realm of dance music has undoubtedly bled into the mainstream as evidenced by such popular artists as Santigold, MGMT and the huge crowds at Perry's throughout the weekend providing further evidence of the burgeoning acceptance of the medium. (WH)

Bon Iver - 3:00-4:00 p.m., Playstation Stage

Bon Iver :: Lollapalooza 2009 by Vann
Bon Iver took the stage for an ill-timed set as the rain continued to pour down. Justin Vernon's glowing, pastoral harmonies weren't enough to keep the audience's attention as many people only stuck around for a few songs after hearing the band's surprise underground hit "Skinny Love" in the early portion of the set. The North End of the park contains two stages, with the larger main Budweiser Stage backed up to the end of the park and the Playstation Stage tucked in the area's opposite corner making for a quick and easy scoot to the other stage to see Mr. Folds. (WH)

Heartless Bastards - 3:00-4:00 p.m., vitaminwater Stage

Clearly, the Heartless Bastards weren't about to get the dance party started in earnest; so, for me, this was the most unfortunate scheduling choice of the day. I'll give singer Erika Wennerstrom some credit for coming off a lot like Chan Marshall, but with actual stage presence. She is the clear focal point of the band, the first of many charismatic, intriguing female artists on this year's Lolla stages. The other two guys were another story, either confined within the droney constraints of the songs or just not able to assert themselves. In another setting, this could have been an hour of pastoral dirtiness, harnessing the crawling beauty of old My Morning Jacket, but in the middle of an afternoon of mostly uptempo music, amidst a dreary rainstorm, this set just lost me. (CR)

STS9 - 4:00-5:00 p.m., Chicago 2016 Stage

STS9 :: Lollapalooza 2009 by Vann
STS9 was poised to be the antidote to the Bastards. An opening combo "Shock Doctrine" and "Atlas" popped and crackled, getting at least the actual Sound Tribe fans moving, although much of the soaked crowd seemed pretty lethargic. The flow did hit somewhat of a lull in the middle, but in the end it was a very well planned set. "EHM" began to build the momentum back up, "Rent" was the comfort food that everyone was waiting for, and "The Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature" blew the roofs off the porta-potties, an earth-shaking bomb that also seemed to acknowledge our weather-themed predicament for the weekend. (CR)

Ben Folds - 4:00-5:00 p.m., Budweiser Stage

Ivory wunderkind Ben Folds took the Budweiser Stage to a largely sedate crowd and unfortunately had some problems with the sound mix early on. Always the showman, Folds managed to keep the audience engaged with his dazzling flourishes on the piano and unabashedly poppy lyrical hooks running through his staple cover of Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit" (always cracks me up to see the sideburned Folds summoning his inner '90s rapper) and new single "You Don't Know Me" before closing the set with the always enjoyable "Army," a song about the soul searching quarter-life period of living. Rain and music festivals are rarely a good mix and their was no end in sight as forecasts called for heavy rain and thunderstorms throughout the evening. (WH)

Crystal Castles - 5:00-6:00 p.m., vitaminwater Stage

Lollapalooza 2009 by Vann
What STS9 does with instruments (i.e. get people dancing), Crystal Castles continued to do with buttons and keys, without the jamming but with the added attraction of Canadian fireball Alice Glass. I was enthralled for the first 20 minutes or so. Ethan Kath kept the beats coming, never boring or too homogeneous, but Glass' jumping around and shrieking went from exciting to annoying after it became apparent that her shtick wasn't really going to vary much and it was impossible to understand any of the actual words (if there were any). Still, overall the music was good enough to offset the antics. (CR)

Fleet Foxes - 5:00-6:00 p.m., Playstation Stage

One of the biggest indie rock success stories of the decade (playing SNL only months after releasing their debut LP on Sub Pop), Fleet Foxes were one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend and the "beard rockers" (see Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, and Bon Iver for other examples of this growing sub-genre) showered the poncho-wearing audience with their shimmering vocal harmonies and intricately arranged pastoral folk jams. Tunes like "Ragged Wood" had the crowd doing their best to sing-along with the gifted young band. The lighthearted banter between songs was a welcome diversion during tuning as drummer Josh Tillman offered to sublet his beard on Craigslist for the rest of the summer. In perhaps an attempt to part the clouds and end the relentless rainfall, the band opened their set with a pair of tracks off their debut Sun Giant EP, starting with the title cut before playing "Sun It Rises," a couple of lustrous tunes that couldn't conjure a break in the clouds. The Foxes' chills-inducing brand of folk rock reached its apex at the end of the set with the trio of "He Doesn't Know Why," the jaw-dropping "Mykonos" and "Blue Ridge Mountains" as the rain shockingly subsided for the remainder of the day, much to the relief of the sold out crowd in Grant Park. (WH)

Thievery Corporation - 6:00-7:00 p.m., Chicago 2016 Stage

Kevin Barnes - of Montreal :: Lollapalooza 2009 by Smith
Next came my first real Thievery Corporation set, and I was very quickly bummed that I'd missed the pre-party Thursday night. It wasn't just the impeccable grooves - you can get those on any of Thievery's records – or the talented guest singers (led by the seductive Emilíana Torrini) or the photogenic Rob Myers on sitar. It was the aura of awareness and positivity emanating from the stage and the juxtaposition of downtempo music and a rebellious bent that just caught me up in its swell. That's not to downplay the beats, and the infectious smiles on stage were reflected in the happy, dancing crowd, and the music never really stopped. So, even amidst rants against racial injustice and war, it was a joyous celebration at the Chicago 2016 Stage, and the highlight of the day for me. (CR)

Peter Bjorn & John - 6:30-7:30 p.m., Citi Stage

I was anxious to catch a little bit of Peter Bjorn & John's set and headed down to the Citi Stage to check out the Swedish indie pop trio. Some far out vocal effects translated well on stage for the live reading of "Objects of My Affection," then we drifted on down to the vitaminwater Stage for of Montreal. (WH)

of Montreal - 7:00-8:00 p.m., vitaminwater Stage

Andrew Bird :: Lollapalooza 2009 by Vann
The first of several glam rockers to appear at the fest over the weekend arrived in a dizzying array of colors and flamboyant feathered costumes to deliver a noise pop heavy set amidst the ongoing circus on stage. Not hiding their obvious influences, the band covered David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream," a tune that had frontman Kevin Barnes shrilling, "Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!" The crowd responded best to the gimmicks (smoke, confetti hoses, masks and lots of random dancers), but even people unfamiliar with the band were able to recognize and appreciate "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games," a song and melody synonymous with Outback Steakhouse and their delicious Bloomin' Onion. Androgynous, psychedelic and vaudevillian, of Montreal is guaranteed to bring something different to the table with each performance and they certainly left an impact on hordes of casual fans with this particular freak show rave up. (WH)

Andrew Bird - 7:00-8:15 p.m., PlayStation Stage

Kings of Leon :: Lollapalooza 2009 by Vann
The dance party continued with of Montreal, but I had to check out native son Andrew Bird on the other end of the lengthy park. Bird has been evolving his songs on an almost daily basis for years now, although he has virtually abandoned everything he did prior to The Mysterious Production Of Eggs, his 2005 breakthrough album. As his quest for the perfect pop song has intensified, his live shows have often picked up the slack in instrumental dynamics, and he has definitely earned his second-to-last slot at the fest, but you wouldn't know it from this display. The energy simply wasn't there from any of the players, and the improv seemed like more of an intellectual exercise than a performance. I wouldn't say I'm losing faith in the guy, but unless this set was an anomaly, he is in real danger of at least temporarily disappearing up his own ass. (CR)

Kings Of Leon - 8:15-10:00 p.m., Budweiser Stage

I have to say I think Bird topped Kings Of Leon, though. Okay, I confess I was not a huge fan prior to this show, but I went out there with love for at least a couple of their songs and a real desire to be converted by their headlining set. But as usual, the overbearing impression I got from this band, intrusively from singer Caleb Followill in particular, is a suffocating need to be admired - rock star bravado without the substance to back it up. These guys write solid pop music that for some reason sounds like it's from England, no doubt about it. They also play that music competently on stage. I simply don't believe these emotions they're trying to project, the ones that produce the combustible sex. I hoped I'd feel like pumping my fist or banging my head or at least clapping rapturously at some point, but I was just bored.

As a partial concession to KoL, maybe I was just feeling the dance party that day. I caught the tail end of Crookers' set and thought it killed, and then Kid Cudi came on quickly and kept Perry's bumpin' for another half hour to close out my Friday. It was a welcome pick-me-up; I couldn't let the first day end in a nosedive. (CR)

Depeche Mode - 8:00-10:00 p.m., Chicago 2016 Stage

Depeche Mode :: Lollapalooza 2009 by Smith
A show many Stateside fans were anxiously awaiting, Depeche Mode took the stage just as of Montreal played their final notes to an uproarious and eager audience. The New Wave legends' influence on music is immeasurable - lead singer Petter Ericson Stakee of the British rock band Alberta Cross told JamBase that DM was probably the band's biggest influence and described lead singer Dave Gahan as "a god on stage." Live sampling and electronic dub segments have become so prevalent in mainstream rock music and much of that can be traced to Depeche Mode and their international popularity. As for the show, the band opened with a trio of new songs from Sounds of the Universe with "In Chains," the single "Wrong" and "Hole to Feed." Every headliner of the weekend had their own stunning visual display and DM's video wall fit their style well. For "In Chains" the screen featured an old white man's face next to a young black boy's face. As the song progressed, the faces slowly transformed until the old white man was the young black boy and vice versa.

The crowd dynamic was something I had only previously witnessed watching videos of Glastonbury as the entire audience swooned with their hands in the air as DM poured through their vast catalogue with hit songs like "Enjoy the Silence," "Personal Jesus," "Policy of Truth" and "A Question of Time" rousing the crowd to their highest levels of euphoria. Gahan's voice has a commanding power from the lower register that billows out clear as a bell all the way to the back of the field. Industrial strength drum lines and synth-ed out keyboards are Depeche's modus operandi and seeing it unfold in the flesh is something I would have never imagined if they hadn't been brought to the Lollapalooza stage. That's the beauty of an event like Lollapalooza, as Perry Farrell told us the Monday before the fest when asked what his favorite thing was about music festivals, simply offering, "Everyone wins, the musicians win, [the fans] get to hear the music that they've been listening to on their iPods or online all year. They get to actually see them perform. Everybody at the festival wins." (You can read the entire Perry Farrell interview here.) (WH)

Continue reading for Saturday's coverage of Lollapalooza...


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