Lollapalooza Off To A Soggy Start (Hey, At Least We Didn't Make A Mudaplooza Joke)
By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 8, 2009 4:00PM
Hey Champ at Lollapalooza photo by Jim Kopeny
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the tragic element of yesterday: the death of a 39-year-old man from cardiac arrest shortly after the festival started (witnessed by Marcus). After having CPR performed by fellow festival-goers and some on-site paramedics, the man was transferred by ambulance to Northwestern Hospital where he was pronounced dead, the fest's first death since beginning its residence in Grant Park in 2005. It was the only ambulance call for the fest all day and officials promised they'd be prepared for this weekend's expected heat wave. According to the Trib's Greg Kot:
Promoters expected near capacity crowds of 75,000 each day of the festival, and with temperatures expected to soar near 100 degrees Sunday, medical facilities and personnel were bulking up to handle a rash of heat-related emergencies.
Eight ambulances and four air-conditioned buses with a capacity of 160 people each were on site to chill out overheated fans, double the number from previous festivals, said Jacob Willens, head of operations at one of two first aid tents. The number of medical personnel also was increased to 40, up from 30 to 35 in previous years.
"Sunday will be a tough day," Willens said, "but we're ready for any problems related to the heat."
It was a trek to the North Side of the field for me, where I camped out for the duration of day. By the time I reached that side of Grant Park, Manchester Orchestra was just taking the stage and getting the Budweiser Stage off to a thunderous start with a serious set of hard rock for the poncho'd, belting out songs like Pride, In My Teeth, and getting serious brownie points from me for "My Friend Marcus" (thanks, guys!). It was then over to the Playstation stage for the Brazilian/Soul/Funk fusion sounds of Zap Mama. But mostly we waited in the rain. And waited. And waited while the crew worked to get the sound levels right. In the end, the delay caused the songstress to take the stage half-an-hour late but she made the most of her time. Decked out in a bright, funky yellow dress, her attire matched the music and she stomped through songs like "Show Me The Way," and another song I wasn't able to name that featured samples of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." It was a bright spot in a dreary early afternoon.
Because of the late start time, however, only a song or two into her set, fans were already moving back over to the Budweiser Stage for a spot to catch England's White Lies. I can't imagine why. I enjoyed them enough the first time I saw them in 2004 when they were called The Killers. Maybe that's too harsh; the band was entertaining and had their set down, but they offered nothing new. It took me almost a full minute to realize their set-opener wasn't a cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart." After a series of energetic, rocking sets to open the fest on the North Side, I was expecting a certain restlessness among the crowd during Bon Iver's set, but the crowd adapted and was one of the quietest crowds you'll ever stumble across at the fest. Backed for most of the set by a full band, vocalist and lead Iver Justin Vernon rollicked through "So the Story Goes" and led the band in a rousing version of "Blood Bank" and kept the crowd engaged later with some participation on "Wolves Parts 1 and 2." And proving me wrong, the crowd was enraptured in Justin's stirring, soulful solo version of "RE: Stacks," giving a new meaning to the songs opening lines, "This is pouring rain/This is paralyzed." The downpour, the eerie hush, the haunting songs: it was a rare, genuinely introspective moment.
Of course, things got goofy again real quick with piano pop veteran Ben Folds back the Budweiser Stage as he opened with an alternate version of "The Bitch Went Nuts" and even threw in his well-known cover of Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit." He threw in a few old Ben Folds Five nuggets - "Kate," "Narcolepsy," and "Army" - but your enjoyment of the set probably rested on your enjoyment of his latest LP Way To Normal. With a ticket to see Fleet Foxes on Saturday night at Metro, I skipped their set and instead headed over to check out the redesigned and relocated Perry's stage to check out The Bloody Beetroots and A-Trak. It was an impressive site as the new set-up was popular and the rain didn't deter the kids from having a good time, bouncing up and down with the loud, thumping beats.
After that, it was back over to the Budweiser Stage for The Decemberists' set. What I said about Ben Folds - your enjoyment of the set resting largely on your love of his last LP - held doubly true for Portland's indie prose pop band as they performed their latest LP, The Hazards of Love, top to bottom. I was skeptical at first, but I have to give it to Meloy & Company - including guest vocalist Shara Worden - the performance of the concept album (would that be called a "concept set"?) had some of the hardest rocking moments I saw all day on the North End, including the percussion jam on my favorite track of the LP, "The Rake's Song."
Gaslight Anthem photo by Jim Kopeny
I stayed on the south end all day and was struck by how much the vibe reminded me of Lollapalooza's first year in Chicago as a destination festival. The rain must have kept loads of folks at home because things never got uncomfortably crowded. In fact we were stunned that even Depeche Mode's set left plenty of room on the field for folks to get around.
Is the such a thing as a dance mosh pit? Because that's what Hey Champ's early set on the south end triggered. After that we wandered a bit, grabbing some food, checking out the digs, and discovered that some restructuring of bungalow and VIP placement had occurred. The new digs benefit both those willing to lay out cash for plush treatment (much better sightlines to the stages) and for regular attendees (leaving more room near the front of the main stages). After eating we caught Gaslight Anthem and while we think they're just a tired retread of The Old 97's and latter day Social Distortion, the crowd was really into them, and given the weather, that was impressive in itself.
Let's get this out of the way: the rain was a huge bummer. That's why it was all the more impressive when both The Virgins and Crystal Castles were able to poke through the mist and spread some much deserved sonic sunshine on the masses. The Virgins' '80s dance pop was particularly well received by the Gossip Girl set and Crystal Castles stunned us with the high energy spasmic dance attack on the adoring throngs waving their hands in the air.
The evening closed out with a set from Depeche Mode that was sadly lackluster. Perhaps we have too many visions of the band in their '80s hey day when we were in high school, but the men onstage last night did not evoke any strong emotional pull, partially because of their reliance on their newer material.
Afterward we caught a DJ set from Peter Bjorn & John at The Hard Rock Hotel afterparty -- those Swedes do love spinning '80s mainstream pop -- and then we caught a late night set from Lykke Li at Bottom Lounge. Based on last night's performance, a highly energetic and seductive set, we highly reccomend checking her out at Lollapalooza later today.
Crystal Castles photo by Jim Kopeny
I awoke Friday excited to kick off the weekend ahead. Yes, you heard me correctly, I actually still get excited for music festivals. My excitement quickly turned to grumpiness when our check-in was delayed, the skies opened and rain greeted my unwelcoming, poncho-less body.
Finally checked in, and just late enough to miss most of Hockey's set, I decided against sprinting to catch the tail end and settled on the first order of business—acquiring a rain poncho. Over an hour later, wet, and annoyed I finally had my trophy—a way-too-thin and completely useless poncho purchased at the Lolla general store.
After coming to terms with the dismal reality of my lack of rain protection, I did the only thing that was sure to cheer me up—headed to the Chicago 2016 stage to see how well the music of my favorite local electronic-rocker boys, Hey Champ, held up in a large, outdoor setting. I didn't have to get very close to hear that they sounded their best to date, and see that, even early, the crowd embraced them with dancing feet. They've come a long way in the past year and a half and I was glad to spend a snippet of my day sharing the kickoff to the next chapter of their success story.
Next up I headed over to the Perry's stage (aka the rave tent) to check out Fool's Gold DJ, Nick Catchdubs. Catchdubs played a Chicago-centric track selection, which I felt was a bit of an overkill, but the crowd of out-of-towners loved it and as usual, his skills as a DJ were spot on.
I always try to throw a couple bands I'm less familiar with into the weekend's mix and chose to meet up with some friends and check out London postpunk rock outfit, White Lies. White Lies proved to be one of the big winners of the day for me. There was something perfectly fitting about their dark, loud rock transposed against the backdrop of the gray skyline and now-steadily falling rain. In retrospect, I wonder what my take on the band's music would have been under sunny skies, but sometimes you just need to let a perfect musical moment speak for itself.
White Lies closed their set, it was now pouring and my makeshift poncho had long disintegrated, leaving me with a sheer, soaked, see-through dress. I made the executive decision to forgo The Virgins and slip out to the nearby Target, hellbent on making it through this day with some level of comfort. After acquiring, literally, THE last poncho in the entire store, I rushed back and was happily ready for some more music.
Why I decided to give Asher Roth a chance shall remain a mystery. I guess it was morbid curiosity that landed me at his set. Under all the hype there had to be a spark of something, right? Wrong. I lasted 20 minutes, staring in disbelief the entire time. I'm still confused if Asher Roth has actual songs. The music portions of his set lasted no more than two minutes at a time before Roth would launch into what can only be described as desperate attempts at comedic stardom. Except, nothing was funny. Not even a little bit.
Post-Roth I wandered back to Perry's and caught the tail-end of The Bloody Beetroots who surprised me by interjecting a little disco into their crunchy electro beats. A-Trak was up next and I sort of feel bad for anyone who ever has to play before of after the former DMC champ. A-Trak has great crossover appeal, applying his technical prowess to tracks that get bodies moving and mouths singing along. I think it's often difficult for electronic music to translate at large, outdoor festivals, but A-Trak leads by example.
Of Montreal was my biggest misstep of the day. I enjoy their brand of candy-coated pop rock and pleasantly listened to the first few tunes from their set, but it just didn't thoroughly click with me and I opted to wander elsewhere. I ended up back at their stage for their closing number and the air tasted like my own stupidity. I could feel the excitement radiating off every body in the crowd and the band was all smiles on stage. I knew I had missed something great and I'm still kicking myself for my impatience.
It had been at horribly long day, made longer with unending bad weather, but it was finally time for the headliners. I closed in on the 2016 stage for Depeche Mode as the masses took flight in the direction of Kings of Leon. It was as if you had split the attendees in half by age, with most all the younger festival-goers opting for Kings of Leon. Depeche Mode began with smoke, video screens and great stage presence. But when the smoke cleared and the stylishness wore off, much to my dismay, the sounds that came from the stage left me feeling that Depeche Mode has lost "It". They played their hearts out, but they were unable to win my heart.
I left exhausted, mud-covered and headed home to shower before the URB/Asics afterparty. Depeche Mode should have served as a good indicator of the unpredictability of the night ahead. After a late start back out, I arrived with a group of friends at a nondescript warehouse on Ogden around 12:30 p.m. We were ready to listen to Kid Cudi, The Knux and the slew of DJs slated for the evening over a free hosted bar. What we got was abrasive security reiterating that the venue was at capacity. Funny, it looked pretty empty through the wall of windows. We finally got in to realize it wasn't at capacity, just long out of all alcohol and all the live acts had already long-since performed. The booze-coated floors proved a good time was had, just not by us and apparently only if you arrived at 10 p.m. After waiting an eternity for cabs back to civilization, we closed our night uneventfully over some drinks and conversation at Evil Olive.
Long, wet, and a bit of a letdown is an accurate summary of my Lollapalooza Friday. But hey, as I wrap up this recap I see the sun trying to peek through the clouds, and I have a feeling today is going to be memorable in a very good way.