Lollapalooza 2007: A Final Reflection
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 7, 2007 5:30PM
We've finally recovered (well, mostly) from the whirlwind weekend that was Lollapalooza 2007. There were certain highs, and definite lows, but overall we've still pleased that the festival has chosen Chicago as its home.
In its third year many of the past problems (like sound bleed or wonky scheduling that necessitated obscene amounts of walking in extremely limited spans of time) seemed mostly solved. There were a few cruel overlaps schedule-wise, but when you have 130+ bands playing over three days, that's going to happen.
We also noticed that while it seemed like there were more people in attendance this year, we never felt like we were fighting through a crowd to get from one end of Grant Park to the other. And we were again surprised at how well-behaved everyone was. People were looking out for each other, and aside from one or two barreling drunks, folks seemed to remember how to say "excuse me" when making their way through the crowd.
Ironically our biggest complaint about the weekend is one that was completely out of the organizer's control; the heat and its penetrating and debilitating attacks throughout the weekend. Security did its best to provide water to the packed crowds near the stages, and we noticed folks taking advantage of cooling stations, but when all was said and done, it was pretty hard to remain comfortable — much less lucid — when the sun was bearing down. We actually had to leave for a while during The Rapture's set to regain our own battered sensibilities. But a few liters of water and some time in the shade later fixed us right back up.
And what about the music? Glad you asked.
Each year we go into Lollapalooza with a list of bands we know we're going to see, alongside a list of groups we'll try to catch in hopes we discover something new. After Friday night we decided the weekend had already set a pretty high level of excellence. Between The Polyphonic Spree's rapturous set — complete with tap dancers, Beatle Bob, and a cover of Nirvana's "Lithium" that was an exuberant nod to a past Lollapalooza that never was — lay near the beginning of the day, and we walked away wondering how the weekend could get better. Daft Punk answered that question decisively with their massive dance party that closed out Friday night. It was easily the most anticipated set of the weekend, and the French robots did not disappoint as they doled out French-tinged house from atop an eye-blasting pyramid.
Saturday, while we were bummed CSS had to pull out of the schedule at the last minute, we were still excited about the line-up. Rhymefest appeared with a band, and while the beginning of his show was beset by sound problems, he kept the party going while the technicians frantically tried to sort the problems out. He provided dance lessons, roller-rink reminiscences, and kicked out tracks both familiar and new to a pretty big crowd. A little further away, The Roots were carrying out the same vibe to an even bigger crowd, and while we give them props for being a terrific live hip-hop group, and can't complain about an iota of their set, we still found ourselves enjoying Rhymefest just a teensy bit more. Sorry, ?uestlove.
The Hold Steady were the drunken party kids of Saturday, who came off as the kind of guys who threw a party at their parents house, and when 3,000 people show up they don't freak out, they just get more excited and order more kegs. Craig Finn beamed throughout their set, chugging beer and kicking off riff after ass-kicking riff. Muse closed out Saturday with a set that took the crowd on the South end by storm. While the group has been a festival-sized act overseas for a few years now, they've only recently grown known enough in the States to be able to play the size venues they've grown used to. And while we usually prefer our music in small, smoky clubs, Muse's sound needs the big open spaces. And their light show fills in the teensy cracks not left by oceanic guitars, rumbling pianos, or tribal drumming.
Saturday night we stole over to catch Juliette and the Licks play a night-time set and were wowed by her stage show. Her songs may be looking backward sonically, and Iggy might have discovered her dance moves long before she did, but her mixture of dangerous charisma and "anything-goes" abandon keeps your attention. Then we hit an after-party with Ted Leo + Pharmacists and The Ponys. Luckily for us, since it as an industry event far off festival grounds, the room wasn't exactly packed, but the folks that were there were returning the bands' energy ten-fold. And while Ted Leo was excellent as expected, The Ponys delivered the best set we've seen out of them in years. Maybe it was the relaxed environment, or maybe it was just because they didn't give a fuck and could just play, but man were they good.
By the time Sunday rolled around, we were beginning to get a little fried around the mental zones. Not even a stand-out set by Iggy and the Stooges could really revive us as the heat and humidity permeated our bones, driving every last ounce of water to our skin. We had hopes that Peter Bjorn and John would save us with their sunny pop, but when their sound cut out three songs in — surprisingly only the second sound problem we noticed all weekend — we decided it was time to find some shade and take a breather.
Until we walked past !!!.
We saw !!! last year at the Touch and Go anniversary party and walked away unimpressed. We reviewed their new album this year and were left wanting. Their show on Sunday turned all that around. While we still get a little tired of the repetitiveness, we now "get" them as a live band. Nic Offer's weirdly ambisexual dancing and menacing vocals would seem jarring against the band's angular dance rock, but when you see them up close and interacting with the crowd, the party all starts to make sense. Offer spent more time dancing and eluding security guards bent on keeping him out of the crowd than he did singing, and that was just fine with us. Offer obviously understood that at a festival, it's all about the show, and he was going to be the showman to deliver.
The other "holy cow" moment came as TV on the Radio took the same stage an hour later, and delivered a soul-walloping live set that reached its climax when the crowd all surged as one during "Wolf Like Me." On album the band is bravely adventurous and is willing to crawl into dark, cramped regions of sound in order to extract just the right mood. Live, the band keeps that spirit alive, but expands it with an almost religious expansiveness that sucks the crowd helplessly along.
And after their set came the swarm. People were just flowing to the south end, filling up every available space with the speed of a flash flood, and climbing into trees and onto fences when ground space was gone. Pearl Jam came onto the stage to meet what was the biggest audience of this or any past Lollapalooza. And while the crowd for Red Hot Chili Peppers last year seemed big and dangerous, the crowd for Pearl Jam came off as massive and good-willed. Evanstonian Eddie Vedder was obviously excited to play for the crowd, and if the show never attained the legendary height of the massive Solider Field show years ago, it did prove that the band was the prefect choice to close out the festival.
So what is there to complain about? Not much, really. We understand that folks might not have been jazzed by the line-up, but we saw it as a fair balance of established and unestablished acts. Others complained about ticket prices and "tiers" of service. We still feel the basic price is fair for a festival, but if you only want to see a few bands on the bill then, yes, it's high. And if folks want to pay more money to hang out in a Lolla Lounge, what's wrong with that? It's not like the extra money brought them perks at the expense of other festival goers' experiences.
We have also heard grumbling from the media (most recently on a local radio station) complaining about security. We feel this point needs to be clarified. Security on the grounds was polite and seemed intent on making attendees safe while staying out of their way. On the media side, there was some confusion over what passes got access to what areas, and in those instances we witnessed more than a few angry photographers and writers yelling at security for not letting them through a certain gate, or into a certain backstage area. So the bitching you hear is because journalists with an overblown sense of entitlement were upset with not getting their way. One young security guard asked us, "Why do the older guys on my team hate you guys so much?" Our only response was, "Because, truthfully, some of us are dicks."
So there you have it, Lollapalooza 2007. The highs, the lows, and a bit of behind-the-scenes dirt. The Chicagoist team at the festival did its best to bring you coverage that was a little bit different over the weekend, and we hope it either brought back some pleasant memories or gave you a taste of what you might have missed.
See you next year.
Photos, by the author, from top to bottom: TV on the Radio, The Polyphonic Spree, The Hold Steady's rabid crowd, !!!, Pearl Jam's audience takes in the skyline.