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Lollapalooza 2008: Day 3 Recap

By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 4, 2008 6:30PM

2008_08_04_kanye.jpgSunday Sweaty Sunday. The weather was somewhere between Friday's scorcher and Saturday's gorgeousness. We had our sunscreen applied, water packed, our beach towels ready, and were prepared for whatever Day 3 had to bring us. Lots of questions floated around the grounds, including the still-rumored Obama appearance. What some folks failed to realize was that said rumor was actually listed in the program making it feel manufactured for dubious promotional purposes more than anything else. With that in mind, we took advantage of a wide-open schedule to catch as many bands as we could amongst the (once again) sell out crowd.

Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by the dance-hop of Chicagoan Kid Sister, joined onstage by a trio of dancing ladies in futuristic football pads. It was a bit of surreality to start the day with, but the young lady MC was firing away, bouncing around the stage, reminiscing about her first time seeing Rage Against the Machine (with Wu Tang Clan at Tinley Park), and delivering good on our hopes for a bright future. Next up was a cross-park trip to catch Canadian band The Weakerthans only to be greeted by the end of White Lies and the beginning of Office's set. A few confused and frantic text messages later we received word that The Weakerthans had been forced to cancel due to (alleged) travel problems.

With some time suddenly on our hands, we did what any festival-goer should do when given such a chance: wander! We hit up a bit of What Made Milwaukee Famous (there were a helluva lot of Austin bands this year) at the Citi Stage and were impressed by what we heard: the edgy, moody music was laden with hooks and we felt it hard to pull away to scope out the guitar rock of Athens, Georgia trio The Whigs who, while not exactly our favorite on record, still came across with force live.

We studied the schedule and made some tough decisions, such as foregoing some bands we've seen plenty of in the past (Iron & Wine, The National) for some bands we haven't had the chance to catch yet. That is, after all, what these fests are all about, Charlie Brown. With the heat taking hold, we decided to slow things down a bit with Nicole Atkins & The Sea. We hadn't before had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Atkins, but we found her soothing melodies were nice background music to lay in the shade by. She pepped it up a few times and the crowd was entertained.

Afterwards, we darted over to the Kidz Stage to see Perry Farrell take the stage with a few students from Paul Green's School of Rock and...Slash? Yes, the former G'n'R axe-slinger is cashing in on his popularity with a new generation of youths thanks to his shilling for Guitar Hero. A nice rendition of "Superstition" was followed by a weird Farrell diatribe "for the kids" on life, death (!), and Heaven (?), which led into, of course, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." Next was up-and-comers Black Kids. While we dug the hit single, "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You," the rest of the set underwhelmed: many songs sounded the same and we couldn't recall another song if we tried.

Having seen the husband-and-wife team of Amadou & Mariam perform in settings ranging from HotHouse to Millennium Park we were anticipating the Malian couple to break down some walls during their set. They didn’t disappoint. Dressed in resplendent royal blue silk outfits and fronting a four-piece band, Mariam Doumbia was in fine vocal form, her clear voice rising above the rhythms, demanding to be heard. Amadou Bagayoko was also in fine form vocally, but it was with his guitar that he starred. Brandishing a gold-plated Fender Telecaster, Bagayoko’s solos were precise and fluid, worthy of any of the city’s better blues bars. In a highlight of the fest, a conga line formed early during Amadou & Mariam’s set that snaked through the crowd and kept growing longer.

Judging from t-shirts, one would think that Flogging Molly was the second-most popular band at Lollapalooza after Rage Against the Machine. Their brand of Celtic-influenced punk never did it for us; the Pogues and our own local boys, The Tossers, did it better. The set yesterday proved no exception. Over at the Myspace stage Blues Traveler was gearing up for another hour of John Popper fellating mouth harps. Between Blues Traveler and G. Love, it seemed as though the H.O.R.D.E. Festival never died. Saul Williams couldn’t hit the Citi stage fast enough. We've seen his rap/slam poetry in the past and were impressed by the intensity of his politically-charged set yesterday. Stomping through material like "Niggy Tardust," Williams had the gathering crowd enraptured, and topped it off with his own unique take on the U2 classic, "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

The aforementioned crowd was assembling for one of the most buzzed about sets of the fest: Girl Talk. As the crowd crushed forward, Gregg Gillis took the stage and launched into his set with the help of several dozen audience members invited on stage. Gillis was in fine form and had the packed crowd jumping and dancing like it was a club. On a side note, to the shirtless bros who insisted on pushing forward where there was no room (a problem that's always around but was particularly bad at this set), we hope you got a really nasty sunburn. Still, shovers aside, it was hard not to have a good time dancing at the show or enjoying Gillis' set-ending crowd surfing via inflatable raft. It was worth sacrificing sets by The National and Gnarls Barkley and we are going to do everything we can to catch him at his next club show here. And there was the endless entertainment from stage dancer Black Tanktop Guy (sorry, no sound):

And then we came to the headliner, Kanye West. We've been apologists of sorts for Mr. West, dismissing his antics as secondary to his amazing artistic output and we hoped for an equally stunning performance. What we got, instead, was something transcendent. While his backing band was dressed in black to blend in to the background, Kanye took the stage by himself with no assistance from hypemen or collaborators and for the next ninety minutes stalked, danced, and crawled across the stage. He would sink or swim by himself, on his talents alone. In the end, he didn't swim; he flew. Paying homage to his hometown and his deceased mother, Kanye stomped through a seemingly endless stream of hits including, "Heard 'Em Say," a thundering "Gold Digger," an epic, extended "Touch the Sky," and "Diamonds of Sierra Leone." But it was his bombastic "Jesus Walks" and stunning closer "Stronger" that stuck in our minds. In truth, though, his performance was so good, it's hard to pinpoint favorites.

To say Kanye was "on" would be a complete understatement. He left everything he had on the stage, bringing all of his energy full-bore on the home crowd. For all his claims to greatness, he continues to back up such swagger and last night was no exception. The huge crowd around the stage fed off of the energy and showed West their enthusiasm in return. It was a welcome experience after the endless chatter of the Bonnaroo debacle (we even saw a kid wearing a "Kanye Sucks" shirt yesterday). Barking lyrics with more ferocity than we could ever imagine, West gave it his all and even the haters would have a hard time finding fault with his performance. During a spoken interlude in "Touch the Sky," he admitted that he was striving to be "the best in the world," but also copped to not being there yet. After last night's performance, we consider him a few steps closer.

And with that, we were done. Dehydrated, sunburned, and exhausted, we made the long trek back into the loop where, with the crowds still roaming the street and cheering loudly, it actually began to feel more like a celebration of an apocalypse we weren't aware happened than the end of a major music fest.

Now, it's back to life and everything that we left behind three days ago.

This is gonna be rough.

- Additional reporting by Chuck Sudo

Photo by Marcus Gilmer