But, Sadly, Not Amy Winehouse
As I mentioned the other day, I spent the weekend in Chicago's beautiful Grant Park checking out this year's Lollapalooza. It was a pretty good show. What follows is my account of this weekend's festivities. I tried to keep it as brief as possible, because I know a lot of kids these days suffer from ADD, but I wanted to make sure I at least mentioned all of the acts that I saw, so it's still rather lengthy. My bad.
THE TRIP UP + SOME ADVICE
You can check my post from Friday at XXL for details on my epic 45-minute plane ride and the subsequent three hours or however much time I spent dealing with the could-be terrorists who run the hotel where I stayed this weekend. One thing I will say is this: if you're using one of these online travel companies to book your trip and you've got a choice between three or four hotels all in the same price range, it's probably not a bad ideal to call each of them just to check the accent of whoever picks up the phone. Needless to say, you're gonna want to go with the one that at least has the sense to have an American pick up the phone. Unless, that is, you pull teeth for a living and are hence used to the aggravation.
Since I arrived in Chicago way early in the morning, I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to get to Lolla in time to catch Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, who were going on at 1:30. I left the hotel at noon, but of course I didn't count on it taking way longer than an hour just to take the train from out by the airport to downtown. So I didn't end up getting there until about three, just in time to grab some water and a good spot for Against Me!
To hear the likes of Tom Breihan and SPIN magazine tell it, Against Me!'s new album New Wave is the best thing since... like, the most recent Lil' Wayne mixtape. And Nevermind before that. I downloaded it a couple of weeks ago and found it to be alright, if not quite worthy of the hype it's received. Some of their new songs are just plain catchy, though lead singer Tom Gabel's budget guy-from-Fugazi schtick can be a bit much at times.
Fortunately, for myself and the few dirty kids who showed up for their set, Against Me! generally come off better live than they do on record. If only they had enough good songs to fill out an hour-long set. You know how these punk groups don't like to spend any more than three minutes at a time on a song. Well you can do the math, but they must have played pretty much every song they've ever written. In general, I found myself liking the stuff from New Wave a lot more than the older stuff, though I'm sure some of their more devoted fan base would beg to differ.
THE RAPTURE + M.I.A.
After Against Me! went off, the next big sets were M.I.A. on the big stage at the other end of the park and the Rapture on a smaller stage nearby. I probably could've caught some of M.I.A. before the Rapture went on, but why would I want to do something like that? I could hear some of it though waiting for the Rapture (heh), and the main thing I remember is how ridonkulously loud it was. Joey from Straight Bangin', whom I met the next day, caught some of it and said it was crap.
The Rapture, meanwhile, were probably a bit better than you'd think. My own sense of internalized racism generally won't allow me to enjoy anything other than fairly generic guitar rock or sample-based hip-hop, but I found the Rapture to be the rare dance group that even a hater such as myself can enjoy. Obviously a lot of it has to do with the fact that I'm far too manly to do much dancing, but they've written their share of songs that seem to work pretty well regardless on their last two albums, 2003's Echoes, which is regarded as a classic in some circles; and last year's Pieces of the People We Love, which might be even better.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM + DAFT PUNK
It would've been cool to see some of the Black Keys, who were going on the big stage right after M.I.A., but I figured I'd better head over to the opposite side of the park to score some barbecue and catch LCD Soundsytem. But I heard they were good. Standing in the field where LCD Soundsystem would play you could hear Satellite Party, which, it turns out, is the group Perry Farrell is with these days. I honestly had no idea, until they kept doing Jane's Addiction records. Of course they ended with "Jane Says," which was a big lighters in the air moment.
Even more so than the Rapture, which I spin every now and again, I haven't been able to get into the actual albums by LCD Soundsystem. I can see what so many people like about them, but they're a bit too techno-y to bump on the ol' laptop speakers while I'm sitting around having a Bud Light and pontificating on the current state of hip-hop. I'd heard they were really good live though, and I figured this was probably the case.
As it turns out, it kinda is, and it kinda isn't. One thing you'll notice checking out LCD Soundsystem live is that their setup is probably a bit more organic than you'd think. There's an actual guy who plays the drums, and there's your usual guitar, bass, keyboards and what have you. Which is remarkable, since the sound they create is so faithful to the records themselves. To the extent that it does differ, it's because they stretch out a bit and jam on a few numbers, and it was there that they lost me. Obviously I'm not their target audience, but so often I found myself wishing they'd put the cow bell down and get to the next song already.
Daft Punk, who I'm not crazy about either, was playing that same stage Satellite Party played, next to LCD Soundsystem, so it was easy to wander over there afterwards. I didn't stick around too long though, because I was a bit techno'd out at that point, and I made the mistake of pregaming for the flight up, let alone the festival itself, so at the point I was feeling the effects. Walking out I could hear the evening's other headliner, Ben Harper, on the stage at the other end of the park. He sounded pretty good. I hadn't even considered checking him out, since the one Ben Harper song I'm familiar with is literally history's greatest crime against music, but I kinda wish I did. Oh well.
MATT & KIM + I'M FROM BARCELONA
The other two days I managed to get downtown right as the festival began. As much money as that shit cost, I couldn't afford to miss half the day sleeping. Hence taking the day off yesterday. The first group I was really jazzed to see was Silverchair, but first I figured I'd check out these two groups, which were playing back to back on adjacent stages at one end of the park.
I'd hear Matt & Kim's album once and found it cheap-sounding to the point where it was distracting - more like a demo tape than a proper album. Plus, that's not really my kind of thing anyway. And I'm From Barcelona I was altogether unfamiliar with. I ended up enjoying both of their sets quite a bit, though I can't see myself running out and copping either of their albums anytime soon. But if Matt & Kim are ever in your town and the price is reasonable, they're worth checking out, if only for Matt's hilarious stage banter.
I realize it's entirely indefensible, but I still consider myself a somewhat more than pedestrian fan of Silverchair. Maybe it's because I'm roughly the same age as them and grew up glued to MTV, especially in the era spanning from Frog Stomp to Neon Ballroom. They haven't been able to tour the states as much, both a) because they're not from around here, and b) lead singer Daniel Johns ran into some medical issues the last time they had an album to promote, so I imagine this was a lot of people's first time in a long time, if not ever, getting a chance to see them live.
At the risk of getting too loose with the hyperbole and leading anyone to believe that Silverchair is any more than the grunge era also-rans that they are, let me just say that they were pretty good if you're into that sort of thing. They played a set that was heavy on some of their... um, heavier numbers, which was a nice change of pace from so much generically jangly indie rock, but you kinda wish they'd busted out more of their epic ballads. In particular, I was disappointed that there was no "Across the Night," from Diorama, I guess because it would've been impossible to pull of with their relatively limited instrumentation.
RHYMEFEST + THE ROOTS
I wrote about the sets from Rhymefest and the Roots, plus the annoying trend of rappers opting to tour with a live band, for XXL today. I would rehash it here, but this post is going to be long enough as it is.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS
If I was on top of my game, I probably could've caught sets from Spoon and the Hold Steady and Interpol, all of which I've really liked at one point or another, but I only ended up catching bits and pieces of them. Part of it's that I got Jim Morrison drunk after I caught the Roots, and part of it's that the park was so big and there were so many people there that you'd spend half the evening walking around looking for people.
I did end up getting a pretty good spot for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs aka "the group that does 'Maps,'" which turned out to be a pretty good set for a group that you'd think would come off better in a small club or theater rather than on the same stage that Pearl Jam would play at the same time the next evening. Both of their albums (especially the most recent one, from last year) are nails, which I'm sure helped matters. As Joey from Straight Bangin' remarked, Karen O kinda looks like Marilyn Manson, and I also picked up a bit of mid '90s-era PJ Harvey, to give you an idea of the creepiness (not to mention the awesomeness) on display. If you get a chance, you might want to check them out.
THE CRIBS + RODRIGO Y GABRIELA
The Cribs, and Rodrigo y Gabriela ended up being the first two acts I saw Sunday. Neither of them were awful, but neither of them were particularly memorable either. I'd had high hopes for the Cribs, since I enjoyed the video for the first single from their new album (I know), but to me they just sounded like a way more generic version of Franz Ferdinand. Rodrigo y Gabriela I'd never even heard of, and I'm convinced they may have just been buskers Perry Farrell found on the platform of the Red Line train and gave 20 bucks each, the better to promote diversity amongst the weekend's performers.
Speaking of diversity, Amy Winehouse was the first big act I was looking forward to checking out Sunday, and damnit if she didn't turn out to be one of the highlights of my weekend. (If only I'd gotten to bang her...) I wasn't sure what to think, since she's developed a reputation for being kind of a drunkard, and she showed up a good eight minutes late (almost everyone else this weekend was right on time), but once she finally did hit the stage she kinda tore it down.
She doesn't have very much of a catalog at all, especially if you don't count that first album of hers, which she didn't draw from at all, and which isn't very good anyway, but, fortunately, Back to Black is pretty much nails straight through. If I'm not mistaken, she may have done the entire album in more or less reverse order, beginning with that song about smoking weed and ending with "Rehab." (Ha!) And since she was playing an hour-long set, she probably busted out another half as many covers, including whatever that one Lauryn Hill song is that she does, and "Valerie" from Mark Ronson's Version.
KINGS OF LEON
Again, the logistics of trying to catch every group you'd like to see at these festivals is just impossible, and Sunday afternoon there was a whole slew of sets by artists I would have liked to have seen but didn't, including Apostle of Hustle, Iggy and the Stooges, Peter Bjorn and John, Modest Mouse, and TV on the Radio. The next big act I did get to see, and one of the biggest draws all weekend besides Pearl Jam, was Kings of Leon.
I've heard Kings of Leon are huge in Europe (just like Tina Turner!), and I've found all three of their albums so far to be alright, with the second one probably being my favorite of the three, but that's been about the extent of my appreciation of them. Having caught them live this weekend, I can't say I'm in any rush to dig up my copy of Youth and Young Manhood, but I'd definitely pay upwards of $30 to check them out again live. Part of it might be that southern rock just sounds good in an arena setting, but I even thought they blew My Morning Jacket, who went on right after them, off the stage.
MY MORNING JACKET
Granted I wasn't paying that much attention to My Morning Jacket. Modest Mouse, who I'm not crazy about either but might still be more my speed, were playing way at the other end of the park, but it would've been impossible to catch them and still get a decent spot for Pearl Jam, and a man's gotta have priorities.
Also, MMJ were up to some silly shit where they had a youth orchestra on stage playing with them and you were supposed to record it all with your digital camera and upload it to some website so they could make a video out of it not unlike that one Beastie Boys concert film. They did close with that one song Just Blaze sampled for Kanye Toodles' "Touch the Sky." If you recall, it was also in an episode of the Wire last season.
And finally it was time for Pearl Jam, who played a nice two hour-long set. As I was telling Joey, I spent a decent amount of time listening to Pearl Jam back in the day, but I've never found that they had very many really memorable songs, especially when you consider that they were probably the most commercially successful band of their era. I can name (and sing along with - god forbid) way more songs by Nirvana, and I haven't listened to them in a while either.
But, as Joey replied, Pearl Jam has a ridonkulous amount of fans who come to their shows, and they were definitely out in force Sunday night. If he wanted to, Eddie Vedder probably could've just stood there and strummed along on his guitar while the audience (a truly insane amount of people) sung all of his songs for him.
I'm no expert on these sorts of things, but according to Joey the set may have been a bit more pedestrian than some of the more hardcore Pearl Jam fans would've liked. If I'm not mistake, they hit all of the big singles from their '90s heyday except for "Jeremy." Which would seem pretty egregious, if they played to that many fans and didn't bother to play their biggest hit. Maybe they did, and I just didn't notice. I can't imagine that I wouldn't though.
With this being Lollapalooza, and Eddie Vedder being Eddie Vedder, of course he had to do a little preaching. Apparently, some kids had convinced him that BP Amoco is planning on dumping toxic waste into Lake Michigan, so Vedder had this whole spiel about how maybe the next time you need some gas you should skip BP Amoco and go across the street to Shell or whatever. And then they actually played a song called "Don't Go to BP Amoco." Hilarious.
Later, in a scene right out of Born on the Fourth of July, they brought (er, wheeled) out a guy from Iraq Veterans against the War, and then Eddie and Ben Harper sang a song called "No More War" for him. Later, after they finally did "Betterman" (I know I was worried), they played this ridonkulous encore of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World." A shiteload of people, including Wheel Chair Man and Dennis Rodman came out and bashed tambourines and sang along. It was nuts!
And that was pretty much it for Lollapalooza '07.
Overall, I'd say it was a pretty good time, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's considering coming up next year. The weather was far from perfect, but it was probably a bit better than you'd expect this time of year. And I didn't get to see every group that I wanted, but I saw enough that I didn't feel gypped (don't even get me started about some of the tang on display). I still wish I didn't spend nearly as much as I did this weekend, but what are you gonna do?
NOTE: I took quite a few pictures this weekend, but I've been suffering from some rather devastating tech issues (I had to borrow a computer to even write this), so that'll have to wait for the time being.