Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Lollapalooza: 2007.08.06 Grant Park, Chicago Review – In Memoriam

My second music festival in as many weeks (Rock The Bells last week). It's getting tougher and tougher for my body to keep up with the physical demands of standing in a field listening to bands play for 3 days, but, alas, another year of Lollapalooza (or "Lolla-pa-palooza" as Iggy Pop called it) is in the books and it’s time to take stock of the events.

Overall, I still maintain that Chicago has an amazing ability to host a festival of this magnitude, with plenty of space, an amazing backdrop, ample security, and easy access to and from the park with such a variety of public transportation offered. This being the third year of the "permanent" Lollapalooza, I was curious to see what improvements were and were not made…

Tales From A Topographic Perspective
The stage setup was kept largely intact from last year, with 2 stages on either side of Buckingham Fountain and a handful of smaller stages in between. For those who know Grant Park fairly well (or were there), you would appreciate that the distances between fields was therefore very large, rendering it almost impossible to see one band on one side and then catch another band right afterwards on the other side. Standing in a field for an entire day is one thing. Having to trek from one end to the other all day is even more taxing.

That being said, I can't think of a better way to do it while still preserving the sound clarity of each performer and avoiding sound bleeds. Which brings me to my second point, the sound. This year, the sound was infinitely better than in previous years, with speakers projecting sound to every nook and cranny of the park. I recall being able to hear Daft Punk playing with crystal clear sound while standing all the way at the fountain. Kudos to the C3 team for the upgrades!

My second observation is around the relative ease for doing the peripheral things that go with a music festival – food, drink, bathrooms, etc. Again, the festival delivered in magnificent fashion. Lines for food, drink, and bathrooms were very rarely more than 1 person deep, if that. Prices for food and drink were very reasonable ($4-7 for beer and $3-$10 for food items), and they had good selection of food (beer was limited to Bud and wine…yes, wine). The festival also allowed patrons to bring in 2 liters of water per person, which is plenty to keep you nourished for the day. I have been hearing and reading complaints about them charging for water, but, then, why didn’t you just bring your own?

The weather largely held up for us, with a brief spell of heat on Friday, some light rain on Saturday, and some humidity on Sunday morning. Overall, though, we got lucky with enough cloud cover and breeze to keep us fairly cool for the weekend. Perry gets no credit for that, though.

I am left with 2 suggestions for the planning committee:
1. Less bands more spaced out: in understanding of the size of the park and realizing how tough it is to get from one end to another, having 10 minutes in between the completion of one band and the beginning of the next round would be ideal. There were enough "dud" bands that reducing the quantity by 15-20% would allowed for this.
2. TV screen: I would love for them to put up a screen (no audio of course) on each major field showing the feed from the band on the "other side". This way, you’d be aware of what was going on across the park, and could make a judgment call as to whether you wanted to stay put or make the trek across.

Coupling all of this together, I think it’s clear that no one could really see all bands, so you had to pick and choose which band you wanted to see and commit. Some tough decisions (Patti Smith or Spoon? TV On The Radio or Café Tacuba? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or The Roots? Modest Mouse of My Morning Jacket?), but I made up my mind, and stuck with it. Here are the final highs and lows:

1. Polyphonic Spree (Friday)
2. Black Keys (Friday)
3. LCD Soundsystem (Friday)
4. Daft Punk (Friday)
5. The Roots (Saturday)
6. Iggy And The Stooges (Sunday)

1. Son Volt (Friday)
2. G Love And The Special Sauce (Friday)
3. Silverchair (Saturday)
4. Snow Patrol (Saturday)
5. Amy Winehouse (Saturday)
6. Paolo Nutini (Sunday)
7. TV On The Radio (Sunday)

Lollapalooza: 2007.08.06 Grant Park, Chicago Review – Part 3

So day 3 arrives, and I’m starting to feel the exhaustion of a 3 day event. It doesn’t help that Sunday brought on the heat, at least for the first half of the day…

With a late start, I got to the park in time to catch most of the set by the Welsh band Los Campesinos. Not bad, but I’m starting to wonder how much “quirky indie rock” that I can actually tolerate. I liken them to the band Architecture In Helsinki, but at least at the moment, I’d rather just listen to Architecture if I’m in that mood. One of my favorite rock writers, Jim DeRogatis from the Chicago Sun-Times, classified this music as “generic indie-rock jangle”, or “GIRJ”. Love it.

After that, I had to move into position for the one artist I had been waiting all weekend for, Iggy And The Stooges. In the interim, I got to hear a little of both Amy Winehouse and Paolo Nutini’s sets, neither of which sounded to be engaging in any way. Amy Winehouse just sounded amateur and boring – I cannot understand how people claim that she has a great voice or stage presence.

On to the most anticipated act, Iggy Pop. This was absolutely the highlight of the weekend, with Iggy bringing his trademark punk sound and attitude to Chicago and completely destroying all other bands with his energy and charisma. His band (The Stooges) were dead on with the accompaniments, but they were definitely accompaniments to Iggy. The crowd really woke up during “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, and during “No Fun”, the moment we will all be talking about for years to come happened. Evidently a fan was trying to cross the barrier to get on the stage, and Iggy Pop pleaded with the guards to let him do it. This opened up the flood gates, and over 200 fans stormed the stage to sing and dance with the band. From the field, it was a sight to see. After the song, somehow, amazingly, Iggy got everyone to leave the stage, and they played through the rest of their set, including “1970” and “Fun House”. To me, this was the end of the Lollapalooza weekend – there simply was no way anyone was going to top it.

But the day pressed on, and we caught a bit of Yo La Tengo’s set. I’ve seen YLT several times now, and, though I love them, they weren’t doing anything new, so I decided to move on. Next door to them was The Wailers, who sounded great but felt like a chicken running with its head cut off. What’s the point of The Wailers without Bob Marley? We moved further, and came across Sweden’s Peter, Bjorn, and John. I’ve heard a little of them, and of course the hit song “Young Folks” (I can’t stop whistling…), and their live set seemed to be pretty good. I hear that just before I got to them, there were sound problems that interrupted their set. From what I heard, sounds like they were able to recover.

After having a bite to eat, we caught the very end of !!!, who bode well for a live set based on their studio work, but unfortunately, I was unable to see any significant portion of the performance.

We stayed on Hutchinson Field for another anticipated performance, this one by My Morning Jacket, who promised a surprise-filled set including a collaboration with the Chicago Youth Symphony. Though I’m not familiar with their music, I thought this sounded enticing enough to check out, and I felt that it came off very well. They have a very summer-friendly jam-band sound, and the audience seemed to appreciate the performance. The symphonic aspect didn’t shine through acoustically too well, but I could tell that it added at least a subtle added dimension to the sound. Perhaps the highlight, though, was that they ended with a fun cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”, which, as I looked around, had the crowd moving.

Again we remained on Hutchinson Field to catch the set of TV On The Radio, in preparation for the final act, Pearl Jam. I have heard great things about TV On The Radio, and I like the studio works that I have heard so far, so I was looking forward to seeing them. Unfortunately, I got nothing from their performance, and found myself just waiting for Pearl Jam to start.

My love affair with Pearl Jam has taken many turns. As a young teenager, I was amongst the masses in believing that Pearl Jam was the greatest band around. I consider the Soldier Field concert in 1995 to be one of the finest live shows I’ve ever seen. I also feel that Pearl Jam has been getting progressively worse as a live act over the years, with studio albums following in the same suit. Whereas in the early 90s they were primarily focused on delivering an amazing rock show, today I feel like it’s all about Eddie Vedder and his politics. As a result, I considered Sunday’s show to be much more of a nostalgic thing – will this be the last time I ever see the band I once loved?

After Sunday, I hope so. They plodded through their hits, including “Even Flow” and “Alive” (staples), and none of it sounded fresh in any way. Where were songs like “Go”, “Animal”, and “Blood” (though they did throw me a bone with “Rearview Mirror”)? The crowd sang along to songs like “Elderly Woman” like it was karaoke night at the local Y. Eddie Vedder went on several [expected] mumbling political soliloquies, including a nonsense number about BP Amoco and an alteration of the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” from “Teachers leave us kids alone” to “George Bush leave this world alone”. Come on, Eddie.

During the second encore (which, by the way, was fully planned and expected), Eddie and Ben Harper played an “anti-war” song called “No More War”, which was utterly useless and sounded like it was being improvised on the spot. I just can’t listen to Eddie preach anymore, especially since the music itself has lost all of its luster.

Even the fireworks during “Even Flow” appeared to be a mistake in timing. Eddie himself asked “are there fireworks going on? Hmm, I guess we should change the song…”

Pearl Jam had their time and place. For me, it was Lollapalooza 1992, not 2007. Thank you Iggy for saving the day.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lollapalooza: 2007.08.06 Grant Park, Chicago Review – Part 2

Here we go with Part 2 of the review – Saturday's lineup. Our day started with Tokyo Police Club, a band that is starting to receive some buzz from the indie rock community, so I thought I’d check them out. I found them to be fairly interesting, certainly worth a closer look, but I also felt that they weren’t ready to quite play to such a big audience on such a big stage. They looked like a child who put on daddy’s shoes – something didn’t quite fit.

After their short set, we turned around to catch the set by Tapes 'n' Tapes, another band that has gotten some buzz in the indie rock community. After their first few songs, I was scratching my head wondering why that was – I heard nothing too interesting. However, I took back my words when I heard the second half of their set, which featured some new songs that came in with high energy, interesting song structures and sounds. They made a reference to having forgotten their giant pyramid at home, a reference to Daft Punk the night before, my second favorite line of the weekend.

I stayed around Hutchinson Field for some of the Silverchair performance, asked myself "Why, oh god, why?" and then left. Does the world need this band anymore? We then parked ourselves to get ready for Cold War Kids, who I was introduced to at this same festival last year, the difference being during 2006's performance, there was about 100 people standing around casually watching. On Saturday, there were many, many, more. While waiting, we met a very nice couple who had come in from Michigan while dropping off their kids in Minneapolis. That's commitment! On came the Cold War Kids, and they raced through their biggest tracks from their debut feature-length album, "Robbers & Cowards". As expected, this was a great performance which delivered against the expectations of what this band has been come to be known for.

On to another highlight for me, The Roots. After having seen them last week at the Rock The Bells festival, I knew that we were in for a treat with The Roots. They began the same way as last week, with ?uestlove on drums and Black Thought freestyling on top ("The Web", from "Tipping Point"). Immediately his skills as an MC became known, and the audience moved from merely dancing to being in awe. The full band joined them (including horn section), and they played through several songs, including the hit "The Seed (2.0)". In the midst of it all, they dropped talent-revealing medley, which included The Sugarhill Gang (“Rapper’s Delight”), Biz Markie ("Just A Friend"), Salt 'n' Pepa ("Pushit"), Wu Tang Clan ("Oh Baby I Like It Raw"), and Talib Kweli ("Get By"). All of this with neither Black Thought nor the audience ever missing a beat. The Roots are a tour-de-force in hip-hop and should not be missed.

While we wanted to see The Hold Steady next, we needed a break before the evening session, and thus we had a bite to eat and relaxed. Next up for us was either Snow Patrol or Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We started with Snow Patrol, and immediately realized that this was going to be a real yawner of a show. Take a teaspoon of Coldplay and mix with a tablespoon of Keane, and you have Snow Patrol. Nothing interesting, so we moved over to see Karen O. and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Again, what seemed to be great on paper did not deliver, and it appeared that they were just going through the motions. Karen O. had some energy on stage, but it wasn’t translating well to the audience, and we were resigned to waiting for the final two bands of the evening.

Which brings me to the only "mistake", if you could call it that, that I made over the weekend in terms of artist choice. On the strength of their new album, "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga", I selected to see Spoon instead of Patti Smith. Part of this decision was also, again, fueled by the need to select a side for the headliner. So, while we were sitting in the throngs of people waiting to hear Muse, we got to hear Spoon from afar. They sounded fine. Patti Smith, however, upon hearing and reading reviews, was legendary, including an anti-war rendition of "Smells Like Teen Spirit". I missed out.

Anyway, we were in prime position for the headliner, Muse. We had selected them over the other headliner, Interpol, for a few reasons. One, I do not care for the new Interpol album. Two, I have seen Interpol several times live, and Muse only once. Three, Muse tend to be a better live act, especially for a forum like this. The crowd certainly appreciated Muse as they played a high octane set including their hits "Hysteria", "Starlight", and "Stockholm Syndrome", but I couldn't help thinking that this was fairly generic alternative music that was better served to exist in the mid to late 90s than today. Matthew Bellamy throws in some flashy classical piano moments, and, as a pianist myself, I can say that he is talented, but none of the showy piano riffs seemed to make any sense within the context of this music – it felt very gratuitous, as if he was trying to make it a point for everyone to know how good he was. Muse can be thought of as "Radiohead-Light", and, after this second Muse performance I've seen, I’d rather just go see the big boys themselves. Muse is good, but not great.

Another day of good music behind us, and on to some much needed rest before the final day…

Lollapalooza: 2007.08.06 Grant Park, Chicago Review – Part 1

My day-by-day review of this weekend's Lollapalooza extravaganza in Grant Park, Chicago...

Part 1: Friday
Today’s itinerary included Son Volt, The Polyphonic Spree, Sparklehorse, M.I.A., G Love, The Black Keys, LCD Soundsystem, Ben Harper, and Daft Punk.

Son Volt started off our weekend, and, sadly, not well. I have little patience for generic American roots rock with that alt-country sound. I felt that the band lacked any originality (or energy), and found myself crossing the field to get ready for The Polyphonic Spree.

Our first hit of the weekend! Tim Delaughter (formerly of Tripping Daisy) led his band through a high energy set that included my favorite cover of the weekend, Nirvana’s "Lithium". The first part of the set found the choir in the Fragile Army outfits, playing through songs that almost seemed to be written with Lollapalooza in mind (lots of songs about the sun, smiling, happiness, etc. The band left, only to return in their more traditional white robes, moving into "Lithium". With the audience joining in, especially during the "Yeah yeah yeah!" chorus of the song, we knew that this was going to be a highlight of the weekend.

After the Spree, we moved on to see Sparklehorse, who, though demonstrating his strong songwriting abilities, felt to be a bit of a let down, coming after the energy of the band before him. However, his songs seem to be worthy of taking a closer look.

We took a short break during the set of M.I.A.. However, we could still hear her and watch some of the performance from afar on the large video screen next to the stage. I appreciate her studio works, but I find myself only able to listen to her for 10-15 minutes at a time, and I felt like her performance was equally choppy, and, frankly, uninteresting. I was ready to move on.

Our next anticipated band was The Black Keys, but first we had to plod through another lackluster performance, that of G Love and The Special Sauce. I don’t understand this guy – I’ve never felt he does anything remotely unique, interesting, or, frankly, good. I can think of hundreds of bands in whatever genre you want to put G Love into that are infinitely more interesting than him. My friend outright fell asleep.

The Black Keys were on next. I had seen them open for Radiohead last summer, and, as a result, was excited to see them again. I liken their sound to Jimi Hendrix’s "Band Of Gypsys" project, with a huge guitar sound soaring above the drums. The Black Keys are just two guys, but their sound was big enough to fill the entire field, and the musicianship was top notch. Our second highlight of the day!

I then raced across the park to catch LCD Soundsystem, who, though I’m not a big fan of their (his) studio work, I wanted to see live based on the strength of previous reviews. I was not disappointed. James Murphy has a presence on stage, and the way he built up songs into a hypnotic fervor is inspiring. He also delivered my favorite line of the festival: "All you guys dancing up here in the front…look around you. If there aren’t any girls nearby, then you’re doing it wrong!". It has also been noted many times as to the irony of hearing "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House", when Daft Punk was about to finish the evening a few hundreds yards away (James himself acknowledged that).

We stayed on for Daft Punk, who transformed Hutchinson Field (the south field of Grant Park) into a giant dance floor underneath the lights of the stage, and Chicago’s magnificent skyline (for those who haven’t seen Daft Punk live, do some internet searching for some pictures of their stage – the "pyramid" is hard to describe). By this point, I was really optimistic about the success of this year’s festival. We decided to see what was going on with Ben Harper, and immediately you could see the dichotomy of the two headlining acts. I realize that Ben Harper is talented, but within 10 minutes of seeing Ben, I wanted to go back over to see the remainder of Daft Punk’s set. I hear that Eddie Vedder joined Ben for a spell, but even that wasn’t enough to convince me to stay. Too much roots rock for me.

Daft Punk ended the set with a fiery version of "One More Time", and the crowd left with smiles on their faces, ready for 2 more days…