Posted by: Jeff | August 11, 2010

Lollapalooza Recap

Over three days in summery Chicago, 140 acts performed in front of a total crowd of 240,000 people.  It was a fast-paced weekend of good music, (surprisingly) tasty food, and great memories.  Overall, I think the festival was far more enjoyable than 2009’s iteration, a result due in equal measure to better crowd control logistics and a deeper lineup of talent.  The festival included a number of highlights, as well as some disappointments, but altogether it was a memorable weekend that showcased some really cool performances.

One of the really cool things about living in the digital age is that memories can be captured and re-lived online.  I didn’t have a video camera at Lollapalooza, and to the best of my knowledge the folks that ran the festival don’t plan on releasing a festival dvd (which I would definitely buy).  Yet, due to the increasing quality of home videos shot by others, many of the best moments of the festival have been captured and put up on youtube – often from dozens of angles and perspectives.  It makes re-living the festival remotely almost as much fun as experiencing it in real-time – if for no other reason than that you are no longer stuck at the back of the crowd or – worse – on the other side of Grant Park during your favorite songs.  So included below are some of those videos that are emerging that captured what to me, at least, were the very best 10 moments of Lollapalooza 2010.

10. Yeasayer – “O.N.E.”

Yeasayer produced a solid set that showcased their experimental jam-band style, incorporating tribal rhythms with twinkly synths and guitar jams.  This year’s “O.N.E.” was the highlight of their set for me, and had the North Lawn bumping early.

9. Frightened Rabbit – “Nothing Like You” (Sunday)

This band from Scotland surprised with a pretty mellow, earnest set.  It was at a side stage and directly preceded MGMT, but to my surprise I enjoyed it quite a lot more than many of the more famous (and well-known) acts they shared a day with.

8. The New Pornographers – “Bleeding Heart Show” (Friday)

Oh, Neko.  This song always kills, and outdoors on a sunny afternoon was no exception.  The New Pornographers amaze me with their perfection – vocal harmonies, pacing, crispness of instrumentation – all is always perfect.

7. Hot Chip – “One Life Stand” (Friday)

Though the crowd was likely anticipating Lady Gaga more acutely than this geeky synth-pop band from England, Hot Chip put together a really great set of dance songs that had the crowd moving approvingly.  Though down a member (imminent baby arrival!), Hot Chip soldiered on, and the steel drum part in this track sounded especially cool.

6. Phoenix – “Rome” (Saturday)

Unfortunately for Phoenix, they drew a set time right after Cut Copy, who gave one of the highest-energy performances of the festival.  Phoenix was by no means bad – musically, they sounded incredible, and definitely solidified their standing as legitimate headliners.  But sadly, it wasn’t the dance party that Cut Copy had hoped to start.  That said, tracks like “Rome” sounded incredible in the open air.

5. Metric – “Gold Guns Girls” (Saturday)

This was probably my favorite alternative rock set of the festival, narrowly surpassing The Strokes in terms of energy and connection with the audience.  Emily Haines worked the stage, and the rhythm section sounded pretty awesome at the Playstation Pavilion.

4. The Strokes – “Reptilia” (Friday)

One of the few Strokes songs I knew going in (yes, Rockband), they destroyed it live.  And the whole crowd was singing along and dancing to the guitar solo.  On a night built for Gaga, the Strokes arrived to remind people that rock isn’t dead.

3. The National – “Mr. November” (Sunday)

Matt Berninger is one of the best frontmen around today – and this video is an incredible example of why.  The band delivers a blistering rendition of “Mr. November” while Berninger casually strolls along the fence of the crowd… before diving straight in, wading to the middle, screaming as the crowd erupts around him.  Rock and roll.

2. Cut Copy – “Hearts on Fire” (Saturday)

The peak of energy for the festival arrived in this rather unheralded set by an Australian dance-rock outfit.  Cut Copy played three unreleased songs over the course of an hour, but never lost an appreciative audience.  And when finally rewarded with this epic of a dance song, the crowd just let loose.  Watch the video and avoid the impulse to dance if you can.

1.  Arcade Fire – “Wake Up” (Sunday)

The smiles, the people dancing, the insane volume of the crowd’s chanting.  This is how I will forever remember Lollapalooza.  Arcade Fire put on an incredible live performance, and the encore was the icing on the cake of a wonderful show.

Biggest surprise of the festival: Frightened Rabbit.  A friend had recommended this band to me some time ago, and I regret that I hadn’t checked them out before seeing the second half of their late afternoon set on Sunday.  They were really good, and the first purchase I made after leaving Chicago.  Honorable mention goes to Raphael Saadiq – I’d never heard of him before the festival, but his set just oozed cool.

Biggest disappointment of the festival: Lady Gaga.  I’ve drawn some heat for criticizing Madonna’s heir apparent already, but I didn’t go into this show wanting to be a hater.  This ticket was the biggest draw for most at the festival, and the anticipation of her set was already palpable on the south side of Grant Park when Hot Chip took the stage for a sub-headlining set in the mid-afternoon.  I enjoy her music – if in a I-nod-my-head-when-I-hear-it-at-the-bar kind of way – and I was very much intrigued to see what kind of costuming and set design $150,000 could bring to bear.

I do have to admit – it was a spectacle.  Tens of thousands of people packed the park, and the audience was on pins and needles as soon as Chromeo finally finished playing on the side stage.  As the curtain dropped and Gaga’s first (of many) hype videos started playing, I was pretty optimistic that we were about to see something awesome.

And then: the let downs.  The first annoyance was a minor one – the entire first song was played with Gaga behind a curtain, her silhouette standing still in a Madonna vogue pose.  She shifted about four times – adjustments of her hips and contortions of her wrists – and the crowd obliged her with a scream each time.  Mercifully, the curtain lifted at the conclusion of the first track to reveal a very cool stage designed to look like a New York City back alley.  There were neon signs, fire escapes, and even a rusty car on stage with Gaga.  Anticipating a launch into the meat of the show, it was thus disappointing that Gaga took the time to perform… a skit.

Ok, so I get that Gaga views the concert experience as performance art.  And I understand that for most Gaga fans, the spectacle is more important than the music itself.  But for a music festival, where the focus of attention is generally on the performer as musician just as much as on entertainment alone, watching the high school musical from hell with an occasional dance interlude was obnoxious.

Gaga preached and preened, and occasionally, let loose a primal scream that did Courtney Love proud.  In the first half of the set, dramatic poses outnumbered songs two to one, and the ratio of hype videos to musical instruments on stage was probably even less favorable.  Yes, Gaga appeared to play a piano that resided inside the hood of a car.  And yes, Gaga invited a burly guitar player to do his best Slash impression during some unknown song.  But what struck me was that the whole show is an elaborate live re-creation of a music video, where the radio version of a song plays in the background while the artist twists and contorts in an effort to visually shock and amaze.

And Gaga did bring the imagery – she danced with a figure of Jesus (“you’re the most famous man in the world, and I’m the most famous woman, so let’s dance!” she proclaimed), she bit into a bloody heart, and she serenaded a “Fame Monster” during “Paparazzi”.  But mostly, Gaga just lectured the crowd, informing them that because of her, it is now ok to be a little different.  She reminded the audience more than once that she was picked on in high school, booed at her 2007 Lollapalooza performance on a side stage, and constantly criticized and slandered in the media (I think that informing the Chicago crowd that she “has a huge c*ck” was a joke, but maybe it went over my head).  But now she’s on top of the world, so it is ok for all of her “Little Monsters” to join together and “lock the f**king doors” on all the square normal people.

This, in essence, was the Gaga gambit: big tent revivalism perverted by dark imagery and sexual fantasy.  And profanity – that, I did not expect.  And going by the crowd, neither did many of the parents of small children who fled the scene shortly after Gaga implored the crowd to “get your d*cks out”.   And did I mention the simulated rape by a two-story beast with tentacles?

At one point in the set, Gaga informed the thousands gathered in Grant Park that festivals were created solely as a means of making a political statement.  But one can certainly be forgiven for wondering what statement Gaga was trying to make.  That one should be comfortable in their own skin?  Ok, fine.  But telling everyone to “fight for what you believe in” while shooting fire out of your bra is a bit muddled.

“Just Dance” was awesome, the stage was spectacular, and the size of the crowd was truly amazing.  But, Gaga’s insistence on self-aggrandizement and campy theatrics kind of ruined it for me, and I left for The Strokes after an hour with the sense that she may be all spectacle and little actual substance, and happy that I hadn’t spent $200 to see only her.

Act that felt most out of place: The xx.  I love this band, but outside on a hot summer afternoon just did not suit them.  To their credit, they sounded great, but a hot, sunny Saturday is not the right fit for a minimalist dream-pop act.

Act that felt most at home: Arcade Fire.  Win Butler walked to the microphone after playing a new song and confided that it’s very intimidating to play new songs to a crowd so large (their new album came out just five days before the show), but the fact that the entire crowd was already singing along to the new stuff was unbelievable.  This felt like a band born for that stage and that crowd.  And I get the sense that people leave every show feeling the same thing.

Most charismatic act: Metric.  This answer surprises me, too, but front-woman Emily Haines put on an awesome show.  The band sounds more raucous live than on record, and with Haines racing back and forth across the stage (with intermittent stops to play a keyboard part), this was a very exciting show to watch.

Least charismatic act: The Strokes.  Honestly, I didn’t expect this answer either.  The Strokes sounded amazing – so much so that I now know that this is a band I need to get to know.  However, Julian Casablancas largely just stood there, hunched over a microphone in his studded leather jacket and dark sunglasses.  The vocals were on point, but visually the band was just somewhat lifeless.  Casablancas may have just been jealous of the fireworks gushing into the air from the other side of the park, where Lady Gaga toiled on.

Act I wish I’d skipped: Spoon.  I love Spoon – when I saw them in April, I declared it to be one of the best shows I’d ever seen, by one of the best bands touring today.  And there was nothing really wrong with their set on Saturday.  I just felt that the band wasn’t on top of their game, and that the set was a bit flatter and the setlist a bit tamer than what I’d really hoped to see.  Having seen them once before in a better venue, this was one I probably could have passed on in favor of seeing Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Act I wish I’d seen: The Black Keys.  Put simply, they played at the same time as Hot Chip, another act I’ve wanted to see but haven’t had the chance.  I’m just less familiar with the music of the Keys, though I knew going in that they would probably put on a great set.  Toughest scheduling conflict of the festival for me.  Honorable mention goes to anything at Perry’s stage – I visited twice and it looked like a lot of fun over there, but I never really stayed to fully enjoy it.



  1. I bet you wish george bush was still president now

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