Monday, September 8, 2008

Lollapalooza Sunday

This review obviously comes much, much later than it should have. But I moved to another continent so this blog is still in bounceback mode. Please forgive the delay. I promise to try to be snide in as funny a way as I know how.Despite some major high points, on the whole Lollapalooza had been a bit lacking after Saturday and Sunday. I couldn't quite put my finger on the problem. Probably a combination of the lack of pleasant surprises on stage and the sellout crowds that overstuffed Grant Park. I was determined to make the most of Sunday and I managed to catch at least a portion of 14 acts, so these blurbs will generally be short and sweet in the interest of my time and yours.

I had high hopes for Ha Ha Tonka who, at their best, sound a lot like Kings of Leon. While they sounded very much in tune, they were awfully vanilla. I'm sure it's hard to be first up on the last day and all, but if they brought the rock a little harder, they'd be a far more compelling act. There's potential there, but that's all we were left with.
From there, we messed up. Wanting to see Octopus Project, we went to the wrong stage. This would not have been a major gaffe, except that one of the bands due to perform on that stage canceled and they never bothered to tell the audience that was gathered there. After fifteen minutes of watching a roadie tap each drum, as roadies often do, a dude in front of angrily muttered to his girlfriend, "Forget this - let's go see Octopus Project." Wha-huh? We felt pretty stupid, so I at least took a picture of the non-announcing roadie:

I think that one dude's already asleep!

Missing the first half of Octopus Project's set proved to be a major mistake. Musically, they're a bit all over the place and feature a theremin played pretty much as well as a theremin can be played - artfully interesting. On some tunes, they rocked out with some serious crunch to their sound, and that's when they were at their best. It was a shame we missed so much of their set. They wanted to play one last song that reportedly only lasts two minutes, but the powers that be cut them off. The next band didn't start playing for at least seven minutes. Booo Lollapalooza!

The Blakes brought some fuzzy, blues-influenced rawk - and the two dudes out front looked rather fuzzy themselves. It was all pretty straight - kinda uninteresting, but it felt good. I don't know if that makes any sense. There was no climactic finish. Maybe they were high.
I previewed Wild Sweet Orange by saying that they are so from Birmingham, Alabama. Seeing them live, I didn't have much to say. They didn't leave much of an impression. My notes actually say: "They sounded fine I guess."
It was far less intense than this photo makes it out to be. Yes, I realize this isn't a very intense photo.

What Made Milwaukee Famous sounded somewhat on, but play just way too cheesy, sentimental wimpy stuff for me.

I think I was in kind of a sucky mindset because when The Whigs began their set I wrote, "I'm already bored." But then we moved closer to the stage and everything suddenly got better. With My Morning Jacket-esque vocals, pounding drums and garage-rawk strumming, the band made for a winning combo. With each song, the crowd got more into the set and the band brought more fire. Definitely a happy highlight.

Drummer Julian Dorio resembled Animal - right down to the crazy red hair.

Eat Drums!

The first thing I wrote about Brazilian Girls was, "I'm bored already." Unlike The Whigs, the situation did not improve. Everything was just ridiculously slow, boring and uninspired. Perhaps if you were closer and could apprecaite the crazy outfits, it was more worthwhile. I swear I heard lead singer Sabina Scuibba say "This is a song about the slowest orgasm I ever had. It goes waaaaaahhhhhhhhh wahhhhhhh." Or maybe that's just how it felt to me.

Nicole Atkins sports a good voice, though she goes in for the warbling too often for my tastes. Unfortunately, the songs weren't anything to write home about. She's cute, though!

Even though all of Amadou & Mariam's songs kind of ran together, they each were driven a great beat - like each tune was pushing forward. The blind, married couple stood beside each other during the entire set. It was cute. The smallish crowd had a ton of fun, dancing and clapping along the whole way. A conga line that grew to ridiculous proportions was surely dorky, but the kids had fun with it anyway. I somehow didn't condemn the practice.
Eli "Paperboy" Reed's music is part Wilson Pickett, part Sam Cooke and nothing else, but what's wrong with that? Seeing his act at a smoky club late at night would be more atmospheric than late in the afternoon in Grant Park. The bigger problem was that the mix was way too low on the guitars and horns. Eli's voice isn't strong enough to carry everything on his own. He carries his guitar with him the whole set, but rarely plays it. It's more of a prop. Eli needs to work on the showmansihp thing a bit, but he's going about it the right way. My exhuastion was becoming palpable at this point, so perhaps there was nothing Eli could do to wow me anwyay.
From the shady grass somewhat near the stage, Saul Williams sounded like he was breaking down musical barriers. Worried I'd just run out of gas, I jumped up and over to the stage. Then a slower song went on for too long and all the energy dropped out of the performance. The place was packed, and Williams probably should have been on a bigger stage, especially on "rap day." His female vocalist was voliently out of tune. I mean, someone should have killed her mic. This was not intentional. Directly in front of the stage seemed like the place to be. People were going nuts up there, particularly on "List of Demands." They closed with a horribly out of key cover of Sunday Bloody Sunday. Trimming the fat out of this set would have resulted in a brilliant half-hour. He should have gotten BSS'd.
When the Girl Talk set began, we had 3 tall dudes wearing Notre Dame hats directly in front of us. None of them danced a step. It was brutal. Of course, the area was packed, so we had to make a forceful move to get away from the trio of stringbeans. Once we did, all was right in the world. Everyone (aside from those three Domers) was really getting down. Gillis is amazing in that forces me to like songs that I detest. That's right. I danced to Whoomp There It Is with no regrets. I'm even writing about it.

Greg's in there somewhere

Way better than the smushy mess at Pitchfork last year, this was a jumpin', laughin', clappin' good time. Too many dancers on stage actually bent the platform. Good thing Gillis was the last artist to perform ont he Citi Stage. He closed the set by tossing an inflatable boat on the audience and jumping into it. What's more smiley than that?

Look at these happy people!

I really wanted to take in the set by The National, but Girl Talk was such a blast, I didn't get over to the north end of the grounds until their set was at least half over. I set up for Nine Inch Nails and took a load off for twenty minutes. From where I sat, The National sounde fantastic. The rockers were rockin' and the others were slick. Also, I finally figured out why some dorky people talk really loud. It's because they're afraid of making eye contact so their heads are not pointed in the direction of the person listening to them. Yes, that's quite the non-sequetur, but it's part of the Lolla experience. Nerds!

Nine Inch Nails opened with 1,000,000 which got everyone all crazy. 80% of the crowd were pretty intenst fans, with the other fifth mainly there out of curiousity. At this point, I had kind of forgotten what I wanted from the performance. I'm a devout fan, but haven't yet dug through Ghosts I-IV. I guess I was hoping for more of the classics.
So I don't know whether it's just me, or not, but it seemed pretty clear that Terrible Lie was the pinnacle of the set with Wish and Head Like a Hole not far behind. The middle of the set had a roughly 20 minute segment where various songs from Ghosts were performed with Piggy in the middle. It was a major downer, and for much of it, the band performed from behind a screen. So we weren't hearing anything catchy or heavy, and we couldn't even see the performers. This would have been bad at a club show, but at the end of a three day festival, it really didn't play well. Still, when they played them, the rockers fucking kicked. Trent Reznor tossed guitars and mic stands across the stage and ended up with a bloody hand for his trouble. Along with many of the die-hards, I found the strength to jump my ass off for just a few more tunes. The encore closed with Hurt and Reznor explaining that his voice was not at its best. I didn't really notice. A NIN show where they play even a handful of the songs I want to hear is still a win (and a handful was really all we got). Not the best I've seen them, but still brought some much needed intensity to day 3.
All in all, It was a relatively uninspiring Sunday. Girl Talk and NIN saved the day from being pretty much a waste. This is definitely the weakest overall Lollapalooza since the brough the festival to Chicago. There were high points, but few pleasant surprises. My top ten in order: Rage Against the Machine, Explosions in the Sky, Girl Talk, Yeasayer, Radiohead, Okkervil River, Nine Inch Nails, Gogol Bordello, Bang Camaro, The Whigs. The fact that I had to think hard to get to ten speaks volumes. Do I fly back from Argentina for the festival next year? Leaning towards Pitchfork instead, actually. See you then!

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