Lollapalooza 2011 | Chicago | Review

Words by: Cal Roach | Images From 2011 Festival from Lollapalooza website

Lollapalooza :: 08.05.11-08.07-11 :: Grant Park :: Chicago, IL

Lollapalooza 2011 by Jack Edinger
The first question that pops into your head when you look at this 20th Anniversary Lollapalooza lineup is this: what’s so special about this 20th Anniversary Lollapalooza lineup? The organizers of the fest have been blanketing the internet and print media with look-backs at the history of the festival, from its early-90s heyday as a traveling alternative circus to its current seven-year tenure in Chicago’s Grant Park, where it’s been reborn as an increasingly-mainstream urban Bonnaroo. But 2011 featured no special nods to those historic early tours, where artists like Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Tool and nearly all of the Seattle grunge gods made their names, and where taste-making hip-hop acts like Ice Cube, Arrested Development and A Tribe Called Quest began their crossover journeys. Even festival head honcho Perry Farrell didn’t manage to squeeze any of his various projects into the schedule. In fact, only two artists from Lollapalooza’s entire seven-year 90s run made it (with little fanfare) for the anniversary celebration: Damian Marley and Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, who snuck in with A Perfect Circle. Then again, since the modern festival bears virtually no resemblance to the cutting-edge experiment that Lollapalooza was conceived as, maybe I’m over-thinking this. Here’s what went down…

Lollapalooza 2011 by Steve Wrubel
Friday

Lovely weather greeted fans on day one, and some sunny music to go with it. If you only know that one song by Foster The People that they play on the radio, “Pumped Up Kicks,” relax: several of the songs sound just like MGMT, and you’re not the only one who gets them mixed up. But somebody’s got to fill that pleasant afternoon pop music slot, and Foster did a fine job of it. The mile hike to the opposite end of the grounds should have been worth it to see Smith Westerns, but the sound on the PlayStation Stage was a problem all weekend, particularly for these Chicago natives. The guitars were barely audible and devoid of reverb, essentially castrating the band’s signature sound. And yet it was still a fun set! But to anyone who wasn’t impressed, pick up Dye It Blonde anyway. Seriously.


The Kills
Nothing in The Kills’ recorded output will prepare you for the intensity of their live show, though. They out-Black-Keys’d the Black Keys: dirtier, heavier, dare I say, bluesier? Alison Mosshart moonlights in Jack White’s relatively bland rock band The Dead Weather - why is that again? The Kills are clearly where her passion lies. Mosshart doesn’t emote quite as raucously on record, and of course, her physical, sensual onstage persona brings these songs to life. Likewise, Jamie Hince’s guitar is more menacing live, and his jagged, howling improv was utterly engrossing. The Friday lineup looked weak on paper, but by 5:30 pm, The Kills were already better than anything I had expected to see all weekend.

Muse @ Lollapalooza 2011 by Jack Edinger
A Perfect Circle has proven to be very hit-or-miss over the years, but Maynard still has that voice. And when he started singing “Imagine” as a sickening, minor-key dirge, I imagined my face turning puke green, but as it went on, the irony of it became a microcosm of this entire band, suddenly validating Keenan’s attitude and lyrics and the music of APC. It became even clearer when, responding to chants of “A-P-C,” he deadpanned “No no, it’s A-B-C…D-E-F-G…” This is a nu-metal band, folks; the genre whose every artist took the music of Tool and turned it bland and marketable and meaningless. And here is Tool’s singer, taking that pre-exhausted format and injecting just a little passion and a little creativity, showing you how easy it is, and how utterly pathetic the rest of the field is for being unable to do even this. Mock the people who don’t get it, and make it almost desperately meaningful for the few who do. Sure, it’s kind of a dick move, but Keenan’s treatises at Tool shows to “create something positive” don’t seem to be working.

I’m guessing Muse was good, and Coldplay, too, perhaps, but there’s a lot more booty-shakin’ potential with Ratatat, who did not disappoint. It was a little tough to get into party mode at first, what with the barrage of violent images projected behind the band, but eventually those gurgling and choogling noises and that trademark organ and those twin lead guitar melodies snake around in your bloodstream and move you involuntarily. This was a really good first day of music.

Saturday

My Morning Jacket @Lollapalooza 2011
By Jack Edinger
Early in the day, Black Lips became the next casualty of the PlayStation Stage; those cats were obviously performing their asses off up there, but it sounded like it was coming out of a dual-cassette boombox with only one working speaker. Next came Death From Above 1979, whose reunion has provoked titillation among the Pitchfork crowd. The reason soon became apparent: back in the early 2000s, this must have been the just-scary-enough band that made it safe for hipsters to inexplicably start flocking to black metal and hardcore. Fair enough, but for my money, Lightning Bolt does everything DFA1979 did, and much more, and with a lot more character and energy.

Also on a reunion tour was Big Audio Dynamite, sounding more authentic and fresh than most of the hybrid indie bands of today. Could it be just Mick Jones’ voice? Nah, it’s the fact that they, alongside Public Image Ltd., are the original post-punk/reggae/dance fusionists, and they never cluttered their sound up with more junk. Leave it to these stubborn 80s icons, just like Love And Rockets in ’09, to not play anything from their hit album and still be awesome…oh wait, there’s “Rush,” finally, at the end.

Beats Antique by Brad Hodge
The day really picked up momentum at six, when Ween came out to the spastic strains of “Spinal Meningitis” and kept up the bizarreness for a perfectly-paced hour-long set. The funny thing about Ween is how every show is sort of a greatest-hits show once you become familiar with the tunes, even though they have no actual hits, just lots of really good songs. Dean and Gene may have heard Walk The Moon covering David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” early in the day and decided it was lacking in Bowie weirdness; the Ween version was fantastic, as was the quickie finale of “You Fucked Up,” a greatest hit indeed.

The quirkiness continued into Beats Antique’s set, possibly the most unique of the weekend. The group is basically a modernized, more up-tempo Thievery Corporation (please tour together!) in sound, but more minimalistic and very different in terms of performance. The key is Zoe Jakes; her evocative dancing was both hypnotic and electrifying, and she also produces and arranges some of Beats Antique’s music. Meanwhile, drummer Tommy Cappel and multi-instrumentalist David Satori crafted lustrous beats and melodies, steeped in Eastern and Western traditions alike. The skeleton dancers probably work better in the dark, but they did add to a general carnival-esque atmosphere, and the small crowd was entranced for the every movement and sound.


Eminem @ Lollapalooza 2011 by Dave Mead
Start hurling insults and calling my credibility into question: I didn’t stay for all of My Morning Jacket. MMJ is a reliably great live band that tours plenty, and they were not disappointing on this night by any means, but when will I actually pay money specifically to see Eminem? Most likely never, so following a typically monstrous performance of “Lay Low,” I defected to see if Em could live up to the hype. Answer: sort of. This was the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at Lollapalooza, but presumably the hard-core fans were all very near the stage. Did those kids get much out of the “My Name Is”/“Real Slim Shady”/”Without Me” medley, or watching the icon just do the first verse of “Stan” and then move on to the next track? Call me old fashioned, but that seemed a tad disrespectful. Despite some mic difficulties, it was clear that Mr. Mathers is in fine form as a rapper, and he kept the time-wasting banter to a minimum, and his infectious persona and songs had the crowd moving for almost the entire performance. But this is an artist whose best work comes from the darkest depths of the soul; the disconnect between those songs and this dance party was a little hard to fathom.

Sunday

Lollapalooza 2011 by Jack Edinger
It’s really tough to top the energy that started off the afternoon on the south end of the festival: Titus Andronicus, Irish-style punk filtered through hyper American indie rock, and Imelda May, an actual Irish lass belting out ass-kicking rockabilly with a phenomenal backup band. Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses found it impossible to keep that excitement flowing; they played a decent set of dusty roots music but couldn’t overcome that questionable scheduling slot.

One question for The Cars: was Ric Ocasek drunk or just lazy? I don’t mind him coming here, wasting all my time, but I hadn’t heard most of these songs in years and I got more words right than he did. The Cars were a slick, catchy and tight new wave-then-pop-rock band, but this was a sloppy, nonchalant performance by Ocasek, as guitarist Elliot Easton struggled to cover for Ric’s missteps. It was still entertaining hearing those classic singles, and Ocasek’s distinctive voice sounded practically ageless, but lots of older artists with less to prove are still out there giving their all onstage, and this felt mailed in.

It was during Portugal. The Man’s set that we all started glancing uneasily to the north and snapping pictures of the Windy City skyline draped in ominous dark gray clouds. The band seemed to catch on in the second half of the set; what had been a fairly straightforward outing for the usually proggy group suddenly got a lot more interesting, and near set’s end the drops were starting to fall. P.TM made the most of it, first with a riveting “Chicago,” and then as the downpour began in earnest, their own “People Say” mashed smoothly into Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back In Anger.” Who knew there were so many Oasis fans in America? Everyone who wasn’t dashing for shelter was belting out every word in one of those magical festy moments.

Foo Fighters @ Lollapalooza 2011 by Cambria Harkey
Music was shut down for a while as thunder cracked and the field became Mother Nature’s Slip ‘n Slide. It was still warm enough to enjoy the downpour, and there is just something awesome about tens of thousands of music-lovers turning Chicago’s front yard into a mud pit. It no longer felt like being in the city at all; it was pure festival. The place to be as the sun was going down was at the steep banks leading out of the Perry’s tent, where you could watch intoxicated revelers wipe out trying to get up and down the hill while Modeselektor cranked out its frenetic hybrid of electronica, hip-hop and random sound effects.

Foo Fighters soldiered on through bouts of rain to close out the festival. Frontman Dave Grohl’s back-to-basics ethos is apparently no joke; during the past decade he had been gradually transforming into Gene Simmons, but he kept the cliché rock-star banter to a minimum tonight and let the music speak for itself. Most impressive were the jams; the band took “Stacked Actors” on a lengthy ride just like in the old days, and unexpectedly, “Monkeywrench” stretched way beyond its four-minute punk-rock script into an impressive piece of improv. What could justifiably have been a rote run-through of the greatest hits was instead redemptive, multifaceted rock and roll, no filler and no bullshit.

JamBase | Chicago

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[Published on: 8/15/11]

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