So two things: I enjoy a good concert, and I have never been to Chicago. In an effort to satisfy both of these things, on the weekend of August 6th – 8th, I embarked on a trip to Lollapalooza 2010, located in Grant Park, Chicago, IL. For those unfamiliar, Lollapalooza is an annual music festival, consisting of a diverse range of bands (though mostly alternative rock), performing on about 8 different stages throughout the day. Thanks to my former college roommate Mark, who now resides in Chicago, across the street from Grant Park, I was able to have easily accessible lodging for the weekend. What followed was an awesome set of days consisting of a solid rock and roll experience matched with some sweat inducing humidity.
Note: I’m going to apologize right now for how I describe my enjoyment of music as mainly “good” or “solid”. I’m no music critic, all I know is what sounds good in my ears, and it was rare that I didn’t enjoy what I was hearing.
Starting off the music festival was Friday’s show, which would be headlined by The Strokes and Lady Gaga on stages at opposite ends of the park that night. I’m going to mention right now that I was attending because I wanted to rock out at this festival, not so I could report on it, meaning I didn’t try to see everything; therefore, I have nothing much to say about Lady Gaga (not that I don’t like her, I just had other groups I’d prefer to see). Anyway, back to earlier in the day, things started off well enough, as I got a taste of a band I had never heard of before – Foxy Shazam, who were performing on one of the smaller stages, but made sure to bring some manic intensity. A 70s rock inspired group, these boys were going all out, complete with a keyboardist who matched his high-spirited performance with his impressively huge beard. Following this performance, I decided to take things down a notch by settling in for some alternative rock sounds from The Walkmen. This was another solid show from a band that will probably grow to be larger in the years to come.
Foxy Shazam’s Keyboardist
At this point in my day, the sun was shining quite brightly in the sky, with little wind to cool anyone down. My solution: head into the PlayStation 3 tent, where I got a chance to be in some shade, as well as test out the upcoming motion-sensing game controller platform – PlayStation Move, and play some Guitar Hero. Getting some rest from the sun turned out to be even more beneficial, as I managed to win some free swag in the form of a PlayStation themed floor mat, perfect for parking myself on the grass, while waiting for upcoming performances to start. With this new form of comfort in my possession, I was ready to head out for some more concert fun.
The next performance I was psyched to see was DEVO, performing on the largest stage, The Parkway Foundation Stage, during the mid-afternoon. After arriving and waiting for the band to start, while sitting on my mat, the group finally came out on stage, dressed in full body suits and wearing masks. This would be the first of four costume changes. DEVO put on a great show, complete with a large LED screen behind them, projecting their bizarre sense of humor for all, and a mix of tracks from their latest album (Something for Everybody) as well as some of their old classics (such as “Whip It” and “Uncontrollable Urge”).
Following this performance, I made my way back to the Budweiser Stage, the second largest stage at the festival, where I would await another of my most anticipated performances from The Black Keys. Along with a random fellow I managed to befriend on my way to the stage, effort was made to get as close as I could to the front, which resulted in a solid spot towards the front and to the right of the performing area. The Black Keys actually started early and delivered just what I was hoping for, a blast of indie-blues-rock, sounding wonderful to the ear and pleasing to see live from such a close distance. The band, which consists of two members, wisely mixed things up for their performance, bringing in a number of collaborators on stage, performing songs off their latest album, Brothers, as well as playing some of their older hits. This was another solid set that brought us into the twilight of the evening.
Following The Black Keys, my most anticipated performance of the whole festival, The Strokes, would be up next. As they would be performing on the same stage, this meant I would have to wait an hour and a half for the performance on the field opposite stage (reggae artist Jimmy Cliff, who sounded great) to end. In order to deal with the wait, one would have to combine fun with other terms, such as dirty and sweaty. As I was already close to the stage, the only appropriate thing to do was work my way closer, and although I was successful, this resulted in a long stretch of standing, uncomfortably, in one spot, shoulder to shoulder with many others. Luckily, my laid back and quip-heavy demeanor kept myself and possibly a few others entertained. Finally, at 8:45 P.M., fifteen minutes past the original start time, The Strokes walked on stage and rocked the night away. It was as if none of us had been standing for the previous amount of time, as a sudden burst of energy awoke the crowd and managed to keep everyone on their feet swelling to the music. While not playing any new material, their last album, First Impressions of Earth, was released in 2006, it’s always satisfying to hear a quality performance from one of your favorite bands and be able to sing along with nearly every song. A truly great experience capped off the night and ended day 1 of the festival.
For Day 2, which was the nicest in terms of weather and least crowded, I probably managed to hear the most music, but I will only highlight the few I was really looking forward to. Starting out the day on the largest stage, despite the early afternoon time slot, was Rebelution. For some context, I attended UC Santa Barbara, starting in 2004. Rebelution formed during my time there, and would perform on the streets of Isla Vista (the college town located next to campus) nearly every weekend. Getting to see the popular garage band now play at this huge music festival, years later, was quite a treat, once again hearing songs I had once heard nearly every Saturday night years prior and seeing that the band had now formed a much larger following. I made damn sure to go to their signing booth afterward and introduce myself to the group as a fan from the old days.
Later in the day, I made my way towards that same large stage once again to see the performance from Gogol Bordello. The easiest way for me to describe this group’s music is as gypsy-punk. This was a very lively and energetic performance. Standing from afar, I could still watch the large crowd completely embrace the show they were watching, as well as see the highly energetic band rock out very hard, without stopping to catch a breath. Even from a distance, there were still a great number of enthusiastic audience members letting their love for this performance show by dancing in groups throughout the grassy/muddy fields.
My next music experience would be with the group Metric, but while on my way to that stage, I did manage to see some of the performance from A.F.I. While I am fairly indifferent towards A.F.I., I can say that from what I got to see, I was very much enjoying their set. Anyway, after making it back to the PlayStation stage, I managed to catch the show from Metric. A Canadian indie-rock band, who happen to also be providing the music for one of the bands in the film, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Metric did in fact start with their song “Black Sheep,” which is featured in that film. The rest of the performance was quite stellar as well, mixing some high energy tracks with some softer beats, as the day settled into the late afternoon.
I decided to leave the Metric set early, as the next group up, Spoon, was next to perform on the opposite stage. In order to get a decent spot, I headed over to that area, and worked my way up to a fairly close, midway point. Once Metric ended, Spoon started up, playing a nice set, as the sun shone brightly in their faces (this just seemed very noticeable). Spoon’s set was quite untheatrical in terms of stage setup, but may have been one of my favorites, as they chose a solid track list to work from and maintained a steady rhythm throughout, mixing in older songs with many from their latest album, Transference.
To conclude day 2 of Lollapalooza was Green Day, however, as it’s not the mid-90s, Dookie is over ten years old, and I’m no longer in my teens, I went to watch Phoenix instead, another of my most anticipated performances. Playing on the same stage as Spoon, this time out, opposed the previous day, I planned on being able to sit and wait before the show started. I still managed to get fairly close, however, and once the show did start, a rush closer to the stage solidified my decision as the right one. Phoenix was great. This group from France, who have been around for years, but broke big last year with their album Wolfgang Amadeus, made sure to please the crowd by opening and closing with their biggest singles, “Lisztomania” and “1901,” but also managed to play up their strong instrumental ballads as well, complete with some heavy lighting theatrics on stage, including a glowing logo and built in lights on their amps and drum sets. Lead singer Thomas Mars would end the night by entering and being lifted by the crowd, thanking the audience and providing an extended encore for “1901.”
The final day of Lollapalooza started off on a wet note. It was raining in the morning, which, although wasn’t cold, would mean that the humidity later in the day would be stronger than ever. Despite the rain, however, that wouldn’t stop me from starting my day at one of the smaller stages to watch Company of Thieves. A band, native to Chicago, who I had only heard one song from previously, but had given me enough hope to check out their entire show. This hope was validated, as the group played an enthusiastic set, thanking the crowds for tolerating the rain as they performed. I could have done without the guest stars helping to end the show – the lead singer’s friends from her dance class, providing an interpretive performance, but I enjoyed the music set nonetheless.
Company of Thieves
The next portion of my day was spent watching two groups – Minus the Bear and Chiddy Bang. By this point, the sun had come out and the humidity had kicked in (this also happened to be the day that I didn’t fill up my water bottle until much later in the afternoon – bad idea). Getting back to Minus the Bear, this was a performance I wish I stayed for longer. The group has a certain sound that appealed to me, which I’ll probably be exploring more in future music downloads. However, I left early so I could check out the performance from Chiddy Bang, playing on Perry’s Stage, mainly headlined by electronic groups. Chiddy Bang’s songs range from freestyle rapping to remixed song samples met with hip-hop lyrics. It’s an alternative sound, which I enjoyed, and the crowd was certainly responding positively as well. The best part was having the group ask for suggestions to make an improv rap to. While my suggestion for Chicago politics circa 1928 didn’t take, hearing a rap about weed, Gatorade, and the color green was just as good.
One of the more interesting performances came next from neo-soul and R&B sensation Eryka Badu. Her performance was supposed to begin at 5. Once the time hit, a DJ arrived on stage, blasting A Tribe Called Quest’s hip-hop ballad “Scenario,” getting the crowd pumped up. However, four songs later and no Badu started to make us all anxious. Finally, after her band had played an instrumental track, Eryka arrived on stage, sporting a bleached mohawk, fitting her tendencies to go big in the hair department. Eryka Badu played a fine set, delivering some of her hits, like “On & On,” as well as a few of her own favorite jams. Again, interestingly enough, Eryka ran over her allotted time, which led to the band Wolfmother to begin playing on the opposite stage. With an insulted look, Eryka continued on, playing louder than the heavy rockers nearby and finished her set. Well played.
To finish off my final day at Lollapalooza, I once again headed towards the stage I’ve been to in the previous nights. This time, the night would be ending with MGMT and Arcade Fire, two groups both fitting the mold of alternative rock and could easily have been switched around in order, except that Arcade Fire had the more recent album release. I made the choice to be here, opposed to at the opposing headliner stage, which would be featuring a reuniting of Soundgarden (interesting note, the Lollapalooza website informed me that Soundgarden had about half the appeal as either of the opposing groups playing at that same time – times have changed). Anyway, MGMT may have had the largest crowd, from what I could tell, as I wasn’t able to get anywhere near being close to the stage. Still, MGMT provided a solid enough set. I am among the minority that appreciated their new album, Congratulations, more than their debut, Oracular Spectacular, and was pleased to hear many tracks from it, along with standards like “Kids” and “Time to Pretend.”
Following up MGMT was the final act of the night, Arcade Fire. Another Canadian indie-rock band, already with a strong audience, only to be propelled further as their song, “Wake Up” became uber popular, particularly after its use in the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are; this was one strong set to finish on. Managing to once again reach a fairly close spot for the show, I benefited greatly from a wonderful performance that was met with much fan appreciation. Mixing songs from all three of their albums, providing an elaborate stage setup, and having a responsive and synchronized crowd, the whole performance really (alternatively) rocked.
Overall, Lollapalooza 2010 was a great experience. I’ve mainly covered the musical aspect of the event, but plenty of other things occurring at the festival were pleasing to see as well; free water refills, affordable and delicious food, people painting each other, frequent amounts of Frisbee play and lots of other great elements to be a part of. I got to see a lot of my favorite bands and was not disappointed by anyone that I had planned to see, let alone some of the impromptu performances that I managed to show up for. Best of all, Chicago was a great experience in itself, having a couple extra days just to hang out in the city. This is a place I’ll be sure to revisit in the future. Party on dudes.
WSB’s Aaron Neuwirth @ Lollapalooza 2010