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Just When You Thought They Couldn't Fit More People on Stage ...

By Sarah Dahnke in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 7, 2007 3:02PM

As promised, this post will briefly explore (in first-person singular) life on the other side of the gate at Lollapalooza. Why? Because we know you're dying to read more things about that giant music festival that took place in Grant Park this past weekend.

When The Polyphonic Spree recorded part of their newest album, The Fragile Army, at Steve Albini's studio Electrical Audio, they called up local tap dancer and Chicago Tap Theatre artistic director Mark Yonally to lay down a tap track on the song "Mental Cabaret." Although they were briefly in the studio, Mark developed a quick rapport with lead singer Tim DeLaughter, who told Mark he'd like to have him perform with the band when they returned to Chicago in support of the album.

2007_8_7_polyphonictap.jpgOver a year later, the album is released, and it just so happens that the Spree's first date in Chicago is at Lollapalooza. And for some reason when Mark pitched the idea of his whole company dancing with the band at the festival, they went for it. And because I'm a member of the company, on Friday I found myself tap dancing on stage in front of at least 5,000 people.

I have been performing my entire life and have never looked out into a crowd that seemed to go on forever, where I couldn't recognize a single person's face. I have never had a Jumbotron camera in my face, projecting me on a big screen five times my size. It was hard to come down from that high, and my friends are definitely tired of hearing me talk about it at this point.

2007_8_7_polyphonicaudience.jpgThat night, I Google searched high and low for coverage of the Polyphonic Spree's set. I searched every major music magazine's blog. I searched for local MSM critics' comments. As a member of the media who knows how quickly people turnover coverage during these festivals, I wanted instant gratification, and I wanted praise. It was clear from some of the coverage that some critics only witnessed the Spree's encore, which included a cover of Nirvana's "Lithium" and the entire band dressed in their signature choir robes. And not everything written was positive, but most writers were astonished that there was even room for 12 dancers on a stage already filled with a harp, horns, two drum sets and a choir.

I wanted to be more stoic about the whole thing. I really did. It's the "rock star" thing to do. But when you're used to dancing on tiny stages in front of about 50-100 people at a time, it's hard not to get excited about performing in front of such a large crowd in a show that people around the world are writing about. Now my inner rock star wants to demand to never perform for a crowd of less than 1,000, but I'm pretty sure it's back to the black box theatre circuit for me.

After the Spree's set, I was lounging in the shade when M.I.A. and her crew rolled up and were standing in front of me at the backstage bar. A drunk, shirtless, sunburned dude, who I had just heard tell someone he was in the Silversun Pickups (he wasn't), either thought I was M.I.A. or was at least with her, as he drunkenly fumbled to say something intelligent about her music and ended up just telling me he "really, really liked" my sunglasses. That's about as close to a "rock star experience" as I had, and that's like Beloit Snappers minor.