Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lollapalooza 2009: A Recap

Lollapalooza 2009 took Chicago's Grant Park hostage this past weekend and brought an estimated 200,000 crazed fans into Perry Farrell's carefully orchestrated chaos for three days of music and ill-behaved, oppressive weather. Rain, mud, extreme heat, concert goers got hit with it all, and passed through relatively unscathed.
Day One got off to a shaky start as the ponchos came out and Portland-based popsters Hockey found themselves crippled by a power surge 3.5 songs into an otherwise crowd-pleasing set. The band countered with free cans of beer and an acoustic drum session that lead smoothly into me sneaking off for a drizzly dance session with local Lupe Fiasco-signed Hey Champ! a group you will most certainly be hearing a lot more about in the future. The rains increased and so did the crowds as the day wore on, with quiet swaying provided by the Fleet Foxes countered by the 8-bit rave scene at Crystal Castles where Alice Glass donned black leather and howled into the microphone while i stood at the end of a mud pit and rolled my eyes as an exhibitionist exposed himself and took what seemed like a 5-minute piss as a good 150 people looked the other way. Ah, music festivals. The evening saw the rain begin to slow for DJ-duo Thievery Corporation's massive set with smooth sitars and a host of guest vocalists. Though the downtempo trip-hop of Thievery seems custom made for Brazilian beaches and sun soaked weather, they made the best of it and inspired a slow-grinding hippie mud orgy stage left.

The real stars of Friday, however, were headliners Depeche Mode, who shirked the rain and transported their audience with roughly two hours of nostalgia (though technically, i'm too young to get nostalgic). Lead singer Dave Gahan is a bonafide rock star, plain and simple, with a stage presence that leaks charisma and a voice that incites riotous frenzy. Seriously. In line for the porta potties before finding a place in the crowd, a very drunk man informed the ladies in the vicinity that we had to see Depeche Mode as they were "the sexiest thing [we] will ever see". While the drunk man had reached the point of no return, and fumbled with the plastic porta potty door for several minutes before managing to close it, in his claim he was correct. Depeche Mode's music has always been relatively sexy; dark, decadent, and loaded with sado-masochistic themes. Their live performance does the music justice, and the crowd went wild as Gahan slithered like a male stripper and the Mode ripped into tracks like "Enjoy the Silence" and mixed them effortlessly with new songs from their album "Sounds of the Universe". "Wrong" was a standout, a song that i'd half-appreciated on my iPod, but that resonated with raw power when seen live. By the time they launched into an encore with "Stripped" (a personal favorite song), M. and I were quite literally squealing like we were suffering a bout of Beatlemania.
Day Two saw a shift in the weather towards hot and excessively humid. Thus continuing a trend in which the whole weekend was a pretty consistent bad hair day. Arctic Monkeys cemented their status as a success story on this side of the pond, Chairlift lulled a confused crowd who stood patiently waiting for them to play "Bruises", Santigold brought out the backup dancers and an (unfortunately) douchebaggy crowd, and Lykke Li found a way to amp up her otherwise low-key brand of Swedish pop rock. Li's a stellar performer, if Lady Gaga represents pop art in the pop world, Lykke Li is her minimalist combatant in both style and sound. But if you've got your ear to the ground, that's neither here nor there, the talk of the interwebs has been the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who slipped into their role as the Beastie Boys' replacement surprisingly well. Say what you will about Karen O., but in a weekend of multi-generational star performers with more attitude and charisma than you can shake a stick at, she was the perfect representative from the current generation. The woman is a holdover from another time, arriving with a giant neon headdress (she brings the sartorial edge, even broke out the KO studded jacket for "Zero") to run and shake, scream and howl, deep throat the microphone, prance and pose through high energy song after song until it seemed she might collapse. She survived however, sweat soaked and out of breath, she managed to forget the words to their most popular song "Maps" and relieve the burden of the ballad on a fawning, overjoyed crowd.
Day Three was all dry ground and bright sunlight as Lollapalooza got wound up to close down. It was hot. Not merely figuratively. Literally. The Chicago Fire Department set up a simulated rainfall near the Budweiser stage and festival employees were liberally spraying down overheated crowds and occasionally handing out bottles of Aquafina. As i forked over a couple bucks for Vitamin Water the folks working the bar were taking bets on who in the passing crowd was going to make it through the day. "The kids on drugs are gonna drop like flies," one told me. True enough, i'm sure, though i saw little evidence when compared to last year. British chanteuse Natasha Khan's Bat for Lashes was one of my most anticipated acts at the fest, and she delivered an even helping of tracks off her two albums that proved her unearthly, layered sound can be translated even to the most sweltering of outdoor concert situations. All while wearing a sequined leotard, no less. Meanwhile, The Raveonettes played new songs off their next album (slated for an October release), though their sound was perfect, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo themselves were remarkably low energy, standing glued in place on stage as hyped guards below ran back and forth splashing the crowd and offering to soak hats in ice water. The low key performative aspect forced this ADD kid to head south and catch the second half of the noise corridor (but not before hearing the swirling sounds of "Twilight"), in which Gang Gang Dance and Dan Deacon where playing literally about 100 feet from one another. Vampire Weekend dedicated "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" to the recently departed John Hughes, Passion Pit's act made me understand why Bob Boilen raves about the blissful, soaring joy of their music, and veteran Lou Reed played the part of aging, temperamental diva. Seriously. It was an entirely eccentric performance. Love him to death, but he and his band started late, finished late, switched instruments nearly every song (sometimes mid-song), and carried out a 10 minute + distortion loop that seemed to confuse the audience while simultaneously reminding everyone that the man does whatever the hell he wants. He made more noise than Dan Deacon and his marching band. But that distortion loop blended smoothly into the intro for "Waiting for the Man" which certainly was enough to pacify yours truly.

Somewhere in between this and twin headliners The Killers and the reunited Jane's Addiction, rather amusing (and likely inebriated) nitwits scaled Buckingham Fountain (by the way, the girl got arrested, her partner in crime (see below) somehow managed to escape and/or is lying face down in the top tier of the fountain) and a police horse got punched in the face, but that's neither here nor there. The Killers were a big draw, with a glorious light show and swaggering glamour. Call me crazy, however, but Brandon Flowers just didn't sound quite right. I'm not the biggest Killers fan, so after taking in the flash of the stage show for awhile, i opted to indulge in some Jane's Addiction. It was a wise decision. Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, and co. are pros at what they do, which is, namely, hitting the perfect blend of slime and polish. Though it was outside with the skyline as a backdrop, their set seemed fit for an extended run in a Las Vegas hotel...complete with showgirls mimicking the Nothing's Shocking album art in pasties, a guest spot by Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, plenty of banter, and even a touch of human interest voyeurism as the band brought a man onstage to propose to his long-term girlfriend. I'll admit i've always been a little bit ignorant when it came to Jane's Addiction, but their show turned me around and i've found an interest.
It was a good year and certainly a reminder of Lollapalooza's place amongst the larger American festivals. Here's hoping for Massive Attack at Lolla 2010!

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