Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Lollapalooza Saturday

Friday night ended with my being exhausted, but not in that wonderfully elated way you often get after a full day of rock and/or roll. Instead, it was packed crowds and a neck sick of straining to see over the tops of all the beanpoles around that led to a certain crankiness. Saturday night, I would end up totally wiped out all over again, but this time it was a gleeful exhaustion.

I began the day a bit late because frankly the morning left a lot to be desired. I could have raced down to catch Does It Offend You, Yeah? who I heard put on a solid set, but I instead waited until 2:00 to catch Foals on the Citi stage. Their Battles-esque math rock occasionally bended toward some New Wave rhythms, but then immediately bounced back to some high-energy math-rock with real power. They played tight, with their guitarists oscillating wildly all the while. The crowd ate it up, and I can't wait to see them again. Basically, they were what Bloc Party would have been doing if they had the chops.
It's hard to discuss The Gutter Twins without mentioning Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli's previous efforts with The Screaming Trees and The Afghan Whigs, respectively. But that's mainly because they were popular acts and not because their previous musical lives relate to what they're doing now. The quality of their set varied from song to song. Some fit the afternoon expanse while others were clearly designed for an evening set at a medium-sized club. The music does sound a bit nostalgically dated, but it's from an era I happen to adore, so it wasn't a problem for me. The highlight for me was a cover of Jose Gonzales' "Down The Line," which they did in wholly their own style. It had me questioning who actually wrote it. Anyone have more info on this?

I took in half a set from MGMT from afar, but after most acts being overly bass-heavy, from across the field, they sounded bright in a tinny sort of way. There was a gigantic crowd amassed to hear them, but unfortunately they didn't do much for me. A location move on my part only served to lessen the experience as they were getting blown away by Booka Shade on the Citi stage. From where I sat, they sounded like Pink Floyd on a bad day, but any review from that far away is probably unfair.

After seeing Explosions in the sky in smaller venues twice in the last year and a half, I was worried if the festival crowd would react correctly. Would they be appropriately rapt with attention in the way that is required to fully appreciate this band? Aside from a draked dickhead behind me, the audience impressively gave the music the proper reverence. Not only that, the band impressed by taking advantage of the more powerful soundsystem and put on a dazzling performance. Early on, "Have You Passed Through This Night?" was particularly raucous, but the set hit its apex near the end of "Memorial." I don't think it's possible for anyone to have watched this without coming away at least a little moved. Of course, their closer, "The Only Moment We Were Alone" was also impressive and and the perfect cap to one of the best shows of the weekend. This was probably the best I've seen them play.
Okkervil River's set began a little bass-heavy, but that sorted itself out as they went along. While they were playing well, there wasn't much traction with the audience initially. However, once they got to the Sloop John B portion of "John Allyn Smith Sails," they had fans young and old eating out of their hands. From there, they went straight into "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" followed by "For Real." At their best, they were compellingly catchy, giving people the chance to sing along and bop back and forth on the cement awning in front of the Petrillo Music Shell.
After amazing everyone who saw them perform a 45 minute set in 2006, Broken Social Scene had perhaps given themselves too high of a bar. From the outset, it was clear they were not going to match their previous Lolla efforts, unfair as it may have been to expect such a thing. Still, they didn't exactly come out blazin'. Doing mostly new songs with a couple old favorites interspersed, the first half of their set had a "going through the motions" feel to it. They sounded extremely clean, particularly Kevin Drew's vocals. But in general, there wasn't much fire in this set. That is, until they closed with "It's All Gonna Break." Probably their best song, it had the energy that the rest of the set was lacking. Perhpas it was because they were missing certain members, but the bulk of the set felt very flat despite the pristine sound and rampant musicianship.

I know this picture's blurry, but all the clear ones were just people standing around. Deal.

I don't have much to say about the Toadies. They were loud enough. The vocals were a bit crappy. They didn't sound really very worthwhile at all. Everyone who caught any of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings had glowing things to say. I would've liked to check them out, but instead we set up to have a decent spot for the last band of the night.

A few minutes later than scheduled, Rage Against the Machine entered the stage to sirens blaring and another packed field in front of them. Kicking off with that killer opening riff from "Testify" got a frenzy going everywhere. I couldn't help but be a part of it. I was jumping up and down on my new knee and screaming every lyric. For some reason, the volume had been lowered. I immediately removed my earplugs, and throughout the set, the audience broke into chants of "Turn it up!" to no avail. I had to wonder if the Lolla folks were either afraid of causing a riot or having Wilco being blown off the Bud Light stage a mile to the north. Unfortunately, the band had to stop three times because the scene up front had become dangerous. On the second two breaks, they urged the crowd to take ten steps back, and, surprisingly, people accommodated the request. It was clear they couldn't continue playing until some measure of safety was restored. Just in front of us, a pit broke open. I had every urge to join in, but between thoughts of my orthopedist's scorn and the sight of two black eyes and a split lip reminding me that this is amateur night I remained in my spot, jumping and screaming (and surely irritating those around me). I was surprised to discover that I knew every lyric to every song. They played no new tunes. This was a nostalgia show, which I normally scorn as a concept, but it was especially fun for me. Rage hit the scene right as I entered college. They ended with "Killing In the Name," kind of the anthem from my freshman year for those who were not into Dave Matthews. With intensity from Zach de la Rocha and crazy riffing from Tom Morello buoyed by the pounding on drums and bass of Brad Wilk and Tim Bob, it was a sonic onslaught and the best performance of the entire festival. Joyful anger ruled the day. In my excitement, I didn't take any photos, nor did I bother with a setlist. Instead, TheWindyCitizen put this up on youtube. Enjoy:
See, not loud enough. But awesome anyway.

Muzzle of Bees review
Brooklyn Vegan photo review, also here and here
Derogatis review, also here and here
Live Music Blog review
HearYa Indie Music Blog review
Stereogum Photo review
Greg Kot review

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