Monday, August 6, 2007

Lollapalooza 2007 - Day 1

With a weather forecast worthy of challenging this year’s Pitchfork festival, Lollapalooza started out promising and took off from there. While most seem to agree that the lineup was not as stacked as last year, there were still plenty of acts worth seeing. I promised myself that I would take it easier this year, but I still caught part of ten sets today. Here’s what happened.

Getting a later start than I’d hoped, the rawk gods must have been smiling on me because I barely made a train and zoomed over to the Myspace stage in time to catch The Fratellis’ first Chicago performance (first visit, actually). There was already a moderate sized crowd watching them, but the start of the set was somewhat flat. That assessment was buoyed when Jon Fratelli said, “It’s too bloody early. We’ll wake up, though.” His words proved prophetic. After about their third song, the band really started to cook, with the vocal harmonies between guitarist Jon and drummer Mince playing together perfectly. Despite giving decent ovations between songs, the audience remained timid during them. Once the band “woke up”, the set was superb, with the faster songs getting more traction and playing better – no surprise given their position as first main stage band of the fest. The set peaked near the end with “Got Ma Nuts From A Hippy.” Despite the fact that Jon said goodbye by saying, “Sorry I wasn’t more awake,” they set a high bar given their unenviable position. I was ready for more rawk.

Fratellis’ setlist:
Baby Fratelli
Everybody Knows You Cried Last Night
Whistle for the Choir
Ole Black N Blue Eyes
new song (Sally all right? So I realize? I couldn't hear because they strummed the guitar when they named the song Apparently it's called "Tell Me a Lie")
For the Girl
Go Ma Nuts From A Hippy
Chelsea Dagger

From there I set up to be as close to the stage as possible for Ted Leo. Watching Ghostland Observatory from extremely far away, I was unimpressed. Perhaps I was not getting enough of the other sound, but the vocals came across as extremely whiny. It’s probably not fair for me to judge since I was so far away.

At Pitchfork last year, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists gave a blistering performance, replete with a forehead-to-microphone bashing that left Ted bloodied during the last song. I was hoping for similar antics today, not to mention another fine set. Ted did not disappoint. Dressed head to toe in black, he played mostly new songs as well as a few of his hits. Very early in the set, he took a tumble, cutting his hand open. When the song ended, he remarked, “It wouldn’t be a show of ours if I didn’t fall and cut myself.” Though last year’s injury was intentional, he’s two for two at Chicago festivals now. The excellent performance was marred only by two fugly women who decided to push up in front of me as soon as the set began. They were clearly not Ted Leo fans, and the thicker redhead in front of me was of course doing her own variation on the hippie dance. They actually split a group of kids who’d been waiting there for an hour. Then they left half-way through the set. Believe me when I called them fugly women, I was being as kind as possible. Anyhoo, the only true complaint I could have about Leo’s set was that it could have been longer. But they played with a lot of energy and got the crowd worked up more and more with each song.
After strolling around a bit and passing by the signing tents (The Fratellis had three gussied up models standing behind them in their booth), I checked out the second half of The Polyphonic Spree. The stage configuration is different this year, with the two main stages on the ends of the fields instead of in the corners. This is a vast improvement as they can fit a lot more people in the audience. Nice work, Perry. As I approached the north end of the grounds, it was clear that the speakers were crackling a bit. That’s a major problem. Compounding that problem was the fact that the singing was clearly not in tune. If you’re an act where your thing is to have twenty people singing at once, they’d better be in tune or it’s no better than a campfire singalong. There was a ton of action on stage, but it wasn’t doing much to mitigate the two above issues. All members of the band were dressed in black up until they said that it would be their “last song”. They surprised the crowd by changing into white robes and playing three more tunes, including a cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium.” That was a cool idea, but again, it just sounded bad. Perhaps they had an off day, but their version of the band-camp-experiments-avec-religion thing isn’t nearly as inspired as The Arcade Fire’s (if you read here often, you know what an unfair comparison that is for me to use).
The Electric Six started by saying, “We’re gonna play the hits ‘cause we know you wanna hear ‘em. But first, we’re gonna play this.” Through five songs, their set was pretty good. They’re a solid rawk outfit, but they also weren’t thrilling me, either.

So I hit the other end of the festival to catch Against Me! (I’m not yelling – there’s a ! in their name.) I arrived in time to see the most passionate fans of the day, pointing and hollering lyrics right back at the band for every song. This wasn’t everyone at the Citi stage, but a strong contingent front and center. These fans, along with the bands intensity, got the entire audience into the set. The fact that the sun had gone behind the stage, casting a refreshing shadow over the die-hards only fueled their enthusiasm. I wish I would have caught their entire performance, because it was real rock. After the set, they threw some setlists out to the audience, and I saw a dude go headfirst over the railing for one. He came back around to collect his girlfriend, and I asked, “Didja get it?” His response: “Fuckin’ got it, dude.” It would have been a shame if he hadn’t after taking that header. Full disclosure time – my brother is the tour manager for Silversun Pickups, so I’ve met the band a few times and kind of know them. I’ll try to maintain my objectivity anyway, which will be easy because their set kicked ass.

The area around the Citi stage was jammed almost immediately after the Against Me! fans cleared out. The band entered to strong applause and excitement. An absolutely roaring Well Thought Out Twinkles began the set, with Brian Aubert stalking the entire stage with his guitar. Despite some wry smiles from Aubert and bassist Nikki Monniger, there was surprisingly little onstage banter for the first four songs. That changed after “Waste It On,” at which point Brian took the time to talk up Chicago (“I’ve been happy since I arrived at noon yesterday”) and the people in the back of the audience. When Nikki took her turn on vocals for “Little Lover’s So Polite,” the crowd on the right side of the stage couldn’t get enough of her. Later, after messing up some lyrics on “Three Seed,” Brian confessed he was distracted by a woman passionately singing along in the audience: “You made me forget the words. Sorry. But I don’t like when bands apologize for anything. So fuck it.” When the time came to play “Lazy Eye,” it was clear that this was the song many had come to hear. Most of the audience really shouted along (“like wow!” say my notes), including some who’d been relatively sedentary for most of the set. People were seriously going nuts. I wish they would have done that on some of the other songs, but I understand the reality of the hit single at the festival show.
Silversun Pickups setlist:
Well Thought Out Twinkles
Dream at Tempo 119
Rusted Wheel
Waste It On
Little Lover’s So Polite
Future Foe Scenarios
Kissing Families
Three Seed
Lazy Eye
Common Reactor

After strolling and eating, we plopped ourselves down in a grassy spot on Butler Field and checked out The Black Keys from afar. Those boys can really play, but their live songs had a little trouble going beyond their studio work. I can’t offer a full review because I wasn’t exactly giving them my full attention. Their tunes fit our mood at the time perfectly. It is amazing how much sound they get out of two instruments. They manage to hit all the notes and get all the sound that is present with the album.

As we entered Hutchinson Field, we heard Satellite Party covering Porno For Pyros’ “Pets.” They closed the set with “Jane Says” and apparently also played “Been Caught Stealin’” earlier. I get that Perry has to give the people what they want to a certain degree, but if you’re going to play old songs, why not play the best of them? (I’m talking Tahitian Moon, Mountain Song, Three Days – anything but Been Caught Stealin’!)

I’ve never really gotten into LCD Soundsytem because I’ve never really gotten it. It’s clearly something new and unique, but to me it’s always been mediocre dance music. Well, I get it now. They put on one of the top performances of the day, one people were raving about long into the night. By the time they played their second song, “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” the whole crowd was worked up and everyone was grooving. Frontman James Murphy was modest, saying, “Thank you for coming to see us. Well, even if you didn’t come to see us, thank you for wandering over here.” That attitude continued later: “Are you ready? What do you have to be ready for? We’re playing. It should be, ‘Are we ready?’ That’s why we lumber into songs.” The set peaked about halfway through with “North American Scum.” People were jumping around, with a pocket in front of the stage going particularly crazy. Was all the jubilation because the crowd was finally, um, properly lubricated? That may be possible, but truly the credit belongs with LCD Soundsystem. Their rhythms were undeniable, getting even the most stoic observers to get down. The only (minor) complaint would be that they could have ended on a really high note, but played another four minute song that was kind of flat. They would have been better off without it. Superb set.
Daft Punk performed atop a giant pyramid, opening with the theme from Close Encounters. I didn’t realize quite how many huge hits they have. We didn’t get very close to the stage, but we had space to get our groove on and watch the indie hipsters cut a rug (always entertaining). I walked closer to check out the vibe, and there were concentric rings of behavior as you neared the stage. Up front, people were dancing and jumping around. Then there was a thick wave of people who were mostly standing and watching, or even sitting down. In this ring, probably only 20% of the audience was dancing at all. I found it odd since it was the last show of the night, and despite a decent light show, there wasn’t much to see on stage. Why didn’t these people go home? Behind that ring, there was a ton of space and most people were dancing their butts off, which is what you want to see. It was far less crowded than I anticipated, but I wasn’t complaining. The photos I took of Daft Punk are vastly below that of even my meager standards, so instead I give you the pizza Brad purchased for ten bucks. Brad, that was the most inspired move of the day. Top Notch. A-one. World Class. I salute you, sir! After one very full day of rawk and or roll, I was pretty beat and ready for a shower and a long nap. Nearly every act I saw today played really well. Tapes ‘n Tapes and Interpol are up tomorrow, and I’m certain that this festival is going to be an overwhelming success. Reviews for Day 2 & Day 3 will be published tomorrow and the next day. We'll follow that with some other tidbits that wouldn't fit. G'nite!


Kyle said...

Day one was definitely the day of the electronic acts. 3 of the top 4 acts I saw all day were electronic in nature
1) Daft Punk
2) Ghostland Observatory
3) Silversun Pickups (the non electronic act)
4) LCD Soundsystem

I tried to buy a Ghostland Observatory cd at the FYE tent a little bit later, but they said they sold out almost instantly after Ghostland played.

Kyle said...

Oh yea, the polyphonic spree sucked hard. Initially, there were one of the bands I was more excited to see, but I had to leave after 3 songs.