Lollapalooza | 08.06-08.08 | Chicago

By: Cal Roach

Lollapalooza :: 08.06.10-08.08.10 :: Grant Park :: Chicago, IL

Official Lollapalooza 2010 Photo Gallery
Lollapalooza 2010 Video Clips
Lollapalooza 2010 Setlists

Perry Farrell
Perry Farrell and the organizers of Lollapalooza get a D+ this year. They stretched the grounds out by several blocks, presumably allowing them to sell lots more tickets, but since the masses still clog the same main stages it's a net loss for fans. Sound problems plagued the main stage on the north end for the entire weekend, sabotaging several otherwise great sets. The least impressive bunch of headliners possibly in the fest's history (with one huge exception) didn't bode well, either. But festivals are about shaking off logistical failures and immersing yourself in the music and collective spirit, and by these measures Lolla was an unqualified triumph.

Lollapalooza 2010 MVP: Mother Nature. Lolla's usually worth suffering through 90-degress-and-humid Chicago in August, but nobody dares to hope for low-to-mid-80s and breezy. Plus, there was the new Sony Bloggie Stage, a tree-lined refuge from the sun. The planners got something right, at least. Please reserve this stage next year for all the awesome bands that only I know about.

Yer Elders Could Learn Ya A Thing or Two: My fest began with 71-year-old Chicago native Mavis Staples, and she set the bar high for class and energy. Her crack, ramshackle soul band evoked the hungry anxiety of green youngsters, and her own gracious enthusiasm and resilient, deep, smoky voice rang true as she announced, "You ain't seen the last of me!" Hometown boy Jeff Tweedy joined the band for two songs he wrote for Staples' forthcoming album, You Are Not Alone (due September 14 and produced by Tweedy).

Later in the day, Devo provided what would've been the most costume changes by an artist at any festival not also hosting Lady Gaga. It goes by a lot of different tags today, but New Wave killed every other 80s genre in sustained longevity, and here is a band sticking to a vintage sound and still coming off as futuristic. "It's 2010," Mark Mothersbaugh declared, "and we are here to fucking whip it…AGAIN!" They were so good. I find it hard to imagine that they could've been that much better in their heyday.

Then, for the penultimate set on Friday, there was Jimmy Cliff. I wanted to be there just to experience Cliff's godfatherly presence, but it was almost beyond words. Here is a man who has lost all pretension. He bleeds good will, and it's like having spiritual peace injected into the crowd. His 62-year-old voice is impossibly clear and bright and full, and his band reached levels of soulful abandon akin to P-Funk at its peak. A couple songs fell flat (particularly "Vietnam," which was retooled as "Afghanistan"), but Cliff is a sage with the power to expose the profundity in cliché, and the heights he and his band and the crowd hit during this set were as glorious as anything all weekend.

Lady Gaga
May or May Not Even Exist: Lady Gaga. Plenty of garish behavior: check. Gaga has a potty mouth: check. I don't even have a comment on whether her theatricality undermines or enhances her music, or if it's even worthwhile music at all. After just seeing something as pure and moving as Jimmy Cliff's set, Lady Gaga's performance was completely meaningless to me. I couldn't relate to a single thing she said or sang or did. But I was happy for all the people who danced and exorcised demons and whatever else they were all doing.

Worst-Kept Secret: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. This side-stage set demanded more crowd room, as love junkies were climbing trees to get a glimpse of their cult leader (née Alex Ebert). Straight outta Frisco circa 1969, the familial vibe extended as far as the ear could hear, and Jade Castrinos' powerful voice was reminiscent of Grace Slick in her prime. The Zeros cater specifically to their hardcore fans, but the experience is loose and appealing enough to entice outsiders to dip a toe in. The crowd interaction was infectious, the melodies were catchy, and the band provided at least a couple of wow moments, but the bottom line is you're going to have to delve in whole-heartedly if you want to understand and fully enjoy this show. Looks like more fun and less creepy than The Polyphonic Spree, at least.

Best Scottish Band: Frightened Rabbit. Are there any bad Scottish bands? Shut up, Nazareth rules! Frightened Rabbit is ensconced in essential Celtic bittersweetness but not a slave to it. The set had an intimate feel, like that first big personal history conversation after you've just met someone. Like a folkier, less dramatic cousin of Glasvegas (one of last year's Lolla highlights), FR plays subtle and noisy with equal aplomb, but frontman Scott Hutchison keeps things light-hearted when need be, so you end up with a varied but cohesive journey through song.

Biggest Sound Mix Casualty: Yeasayer. This should have been one of the best sets of the weekend. Too bad all we could hear were the bass, drums and occasionally, vocals. By the end of the set, Anand Wilder started to scat his keyboard hooks in "Ambling Alp," obviously aware that nobody could hear the instrument. The band was killing it for much of the set anyway, with an intense, creepy jam to end "Rome" and a brilliant yelping dance groove climax of "Sunrise," but they seemed justifiably frustrated in the end, as it was clear the crowd had given up. Epic-est fail of the weekend.

Best Wildlife-Themed Band: Grizzly Bear. Great bands sometimes let their audience fill in some of the subtleties in order to broadcast the raw power of the songs. These guys know how to adapt their best-experienced-indoors show to a big outdoor stage, and it's a testament to the tunes as well as the versatile creativity of the players. Outdoor GB is much more bombastic and raucous, which actually improves some of the slightly stuffy material from last year's Veckatimest. Highlights were "Fine For Now," "Two Weeks" and "Ready/Able," which was almost unrecognizable at first, turned into a woozy, upbeat stumble.

Best Broken Social Scene Offshoot: Metric. BSS underwhelmed at Pitchfork a couple weeks ago, but there's no doubting the individual talents of its members. Emily Haines fronts Metric in a completely different guise than her relatively demure BSS persona. She brings to mind a slightly more brash Debbie Harry, and the Blondie metaphor continues into the music, a modern sound but essentially stadium-sized New Wave with a touch of sweetness.

Hey, Remember the 90s?: The last time I saw Green Day, the show ended abruptly after about 45-minutes when Billie Joe Armstrong halted the band, berated a security guard for roughing up a fan, threw his mic stand at the guard, and stormed off stage. It would've made a great last memory, but after 16 years, I got curious about the very different band that Green Day is now. It turns out that Billie Joe has become a cross between Dave-Grohl-as-Gene-Simmons and Zoo TV Bono, tossing out more 'hey-o's' than a Sting show and generally hamming it up like a bonafide Hollywood rock star. I may not be a purist when it comes to punk, but sticking guitar solos in "Paper Lanterns" and "2000 Light Years Away" (the only pre-Dookie tunes of the night) and telling us to do the hippie hand wave smacks of disrespectful de-punking, or a desperate attempt to not be nostalgic. Still, halfway through I surrendered to the rock and roll circus and enjoyed the show, complete with oldies medleys and rote versions of the greatest hits, tons of fireworks, hauling kids up onstage, and the acoustic serenade to end the encore. It was another big spectacle, about as genuine and universal as Lady Gaga, but this time I knew the songs.

Dirty Projectors
Biggest Pleasant Surprise: I was pretty dead set on seeing Dirty Projectors, a breathtaking live act on their best nights, but found out I'd be seeing them headline a theater show in a couple months, so a friend's advice led me to Fuck Buttons. I expected the massive walls of sound, but the subtle, sweet melodic layers inside were endlessly engaging. If you take modern Animal Collective, nix the vox and crank the distortion and BPM, you'll come out with something like Fuck Buttons. Intricate and mesmerizing music, and you can dance to it!

Biggest Unpleasant Surprise: There's no shortage of glowing reviews of Drive-By Truckers' live show, so this was a top priority of the weekend. It's one thing to have an off night, but this set exuded less energy than The xx, for chrissakes. Maybe the band members got in a fight before the set, or were running on no sleep, or were on drugs, but if you can't fake it for an hour at a big-name festival that's not a good sign for your future.

No Surprise At All: The best set of a festival is rarely the last one, but that's just what happened when Arcade Fire closed out Lolla. The band's new album, The Suburbs, just came out, but it's obvious that the band has been playing the tunes for a while. "Rococo" and "Sprawl II" were mid-set highlights, and the climax came with a version of "Month Of May" that verged on post-metal, ten times heavier and more dynamic than the album version. Of course, "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" yielded the most intense jam of the entire weekend. "Crown Of Love" was incredibly powerful, dug out as a special dedication to The National (who played a choice set just prior). But really, there wasn't a dull second. Win Butler seems to have learned the Thom Yorke lesson a bit sooner, toning down the bitter self-righteousness without losing the fervor for the cause, so the overall good will of the music shines that much brighter for it. This is a stadium rock band with the perfect balance between agenda and affirmation, and this felt like a busting-out party. Those who still hadn't jumped on board certainly did tonight, and the resonant chant from set-closer "Wake Up" was kept alive by the exiting crowd all the way to Michigan Avenue. Could not have orchestrated a more perfect end to the fest.

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[Published on: 8/12/10]

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