Beating The Heat On The Last Day Of Lollapalooza 2009
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 10, 2009 6:00PM
Jane's Addiction photo by Jim Kopeny
It was HOT yesterday in Grant Park, and Lollapalooza organizers went out of their way to help attendees beat the heat. Mobile crews and most of the beer tents were giving away bottled water in an attempt to keep music fans hydrated and happy. The day's overall vibe was a mellow one and brought us to our greatest realization about the festival.
This is the year Lollapalooza stopped being about the music and became more of an overall destination festival that happened to have a hip soundtrack.
While the line-up was solid there were no obvious heavy hitters and by the end of the weekend we realized we hadn't stumbled across anything earth shattering. We did have a really good time, and can't wait to see what they roll out for next year, but we're definitely aware that something has shifted deep within the festival's framework. Some may gripe about this but we feel it's more of an organic adjustment conforming to the crowds Lollapalooza now attracts.
I already stated my overall feelings above, and Marcus and Veronica covered most of my other Sunday observations below. For me Sunday was all about Lou Reed and Jane's Addiction, two artists that got me through those awkward late '80s high school years. And the two could not have stood in starker contrast to each other. Lou Reed came onstage and coasted through a set comprised o mostly his greatest hits, sprinkled with some self-indulgent audio spasms punctuated by saxaphone feedback and loop manipulation. Reed looks older than dirt -- literally -- but he can still give a confident fuck you to the crowd and be greeted with adulation.
If Reed depended on his icon status to get him through the set, Jane's Addiction came out to reclaim their piece of history in the alterna-rock canon. I've always felt their legacy has been slightly diminished by the reunion efforts that excluded Eric Avery and last night absolutely proved that those four guys were meant to share a stage with each other, and while all are extremely talented, anything they do that doesn't include the other three suffers in comparison.
I was lucky enough to see Jane's Addiction a few times their first go-round, and the last time I saw the original line-up was the first Lollapalooza in Chicago in 1991. Back then their shows were thrilling but could be erratic, depending on the moods of various band members. Last night all of that was set aside and the group turned in the best performance I've ever seen from them. Electrifying and hitting every right note from the opening of "Up The Beach" I walked out of Grant Park happy that one of my favorite bands of all time performed a final set for me that only deepened my convictions.
The Hood Internet powers up the dance machine photo by Jim Kopeny
After spending all Friday on the North End of the park and all of Saturday on the South End of the park, Sunday was a day to traverse the entire park. Starting with the first act of the day on the Chicago 2016 stage, I planned to move north, stage-by-stage, set-by-set, seeing a band at every stage along the way. First up was Syracuse, New York indie poppers Ra Ra Riot. If there was one word to describe the scene at the Chicago 2016 stage, it would be "pleasant." As lead singer Wes Miles hopped around the stage while the band bounced through its set of rough-edged twee, with songs like "Each Year" and "Dying is Fine," the growing crowd - which was impressively large for so early on a hot day - politely clapped and a few even bobbed their heads. After their set concluded, it was across the field to the VitaminWater stage for Bat For Lashes where I admittedly didn't last long. To be fair, I've never liked the band and I seemed to be in the minority judging from reactions from friends and colleagues. But to me, it's like Enya with a beat and not my thing, not on a hot, sunny day. [Ed. note: Tankboy here, I always thought she was more like a generic Kate Bush but I think I like Marcus' analogy better.] With no shade around, the set, featuring tunes like "Moon and Moon," weren't enough to persuade me otherwise and by 2 p.m. I headed to the Citi Stage.
Up on the Citi Stage were Cage The Elephant, another in a long line of bluesy garage rock bands that can lay claim to being huge in Britain. The set was nothing new, but what the band lacked in originality they made up for in energy, stomping through their set. They were a nice find and the crowd was into it. A quick stop-over at the Kidzapalooza stage for the sake of completeness found a small crowd of parents and their kids, as well as childless festival goers looking for a break from the bustle of the main festival grounds, sitting in the shade and enjoying the rock of Lunch Money. The stop was only a brief one and it was north to the BMI stage where up-and-coming soul-pop singer Priscilla Renea was performing to a criminally small crowd. Songs like "Hello My Apple" and "Worker Bee" provided some much-needed diversity from the onslaught of similar raucous rock sets.
Over at Perry's DJ stage, local boys The Hood Internet were throwing down their excellent set of jams. Having seen them several times locally, it was still nice to see them on a bigger stage and the large crowd going nuts in the mid-afternoon heat for Hood's unique brand of mash-ups. Next was catching the last few songs of the Ravonette's buzzy stomp rock, including a new song that I wasn't able to catch the name of. My trek north ended with chanteuse Neko Case on the Budweiser stage. Neko always puts on a good set and this was no exception, the lone problem being it was almost an identical (albeit shortened) version of the set she performed here back in April. Which is understandable as yesterday's performance was the last one of the same tour, so we can't hold it against her. Belting out new songs like "People Got A Lot of Nerve" and older tunes like "Hold On, Hold On" Neko held her own as one video screen showed the band's performance and the other showed animations accompanying each song. Like so much about Lollapalooza this year, it was solid but nothing mind-blowing.
Lou Reed photo by Jim Kopeny
Day three greeted my sore feet and tired eyes with heat that can only be described as dangerous. Luckily, many of the acts I was slated to cover for the day were conveniently located in the shaded areas of the park.
Drenched in sweat less than five minutes after entering the gates, I booked it to the North Side to catch the Friendly Fires. I feel in love with the UK act after their debut album last year, and was curious to see if their live show upheld their electronic leanings. While their set inspired the crowd to dance, the band left behind the electronics and opted for a jazz backing, which included trumpet and sax. It was far from what I expected, but in the best way possible. Vocalist Ed Macfarlane danced until he looked close to passing out. He ran along the fence, ramped up fans, jumped until his legs seemed ready to give out and poured his heart and body into a set that quite honestly, it was entirely too hot to be performing. Friendly Fires were a brilliant start to the closing day of Lolla, and I was eager for the remainder of the afternoon and evening.
Next I headed nearby to the Playstation stage and found a shady vantage point for Portugal The Man. The band kicked off their set with loud, cascading noise, but quickly moved into their signature classic rock tinged tunes. Vocalist John Baldwin Gourley played muse to a bygone time, looking, acting and sounding every part the lost Woodstock-era frontman. Touring member Zoe Manville added a modern touch to the band's music on vocals and synth. Portugal The Man is a band that commands attention on stage and I was pleased with my decision to have chosen their set over Bat For Lashes.
I had some time to kill before Gang Gang Dance's set so I wandered over to check out local act He Say, She Say at Perry's. He Say, She Say debuted their new live format with an added guitarist and drummer and it's a good fit for the act's bubblegum retro dance rock. It took the band awhile to sync with one another, and it wasn't until the end of the set that everything came together. When they finally got it right, it was worth the wait and nothing short of 100% fun as the newcomers ended their performance with a cover of Foo Fighters "Everlong" that had the early afternoon crowd going crazy.
Gang Gang Dance at the Citi stage was the next order of business for the afternoon. The NYC experimental prog-rock outfit began their set with minute upon minute of crashing, washes of noise that were indiscernible from their soundcheck. For one hour on that stage in the shade, with the wind blowing in the air, Gang Gang Dance created something beautiful and fiercely under appreciated. My skin crawled to the beat of the keys and my hair stood on end with every thud of the drums. I danced like I was on peyote to the tribal breakdowns, and praised the nature gods with my hands raised to the heavens. Sweaty and outdoors was a perfect way to experience the music of Gang Gang Dance live for the first time. I could easily write 5,000 words on their one hour set, but I will end with officially awarding Gang Gang Dance the high point of my Lolla weekend.
My heart shattered into a million pieces as Gang Gang Dance's set ended and no one moved. The one performance that had left me awestruck seemed to have been attended by 90% Passion Pit fans queuing for an early spot. I tried to not let this cloud my judgement as the crowd packed in around me. By the time Passion Pit went on, it was clear the Citi stage was FAR too small for their swarms of fans. The band started and I knew right away my suspicions were correct and this was a band who was not going to hold up live. A few tracks in, I made my official call—Passion Pit was to Lolla '09 what MGMT was to Lolla '08. Vocalist Michael Angelakos could not project to the crowd and held back his enthusiastic bandmates. The poor performance went vastly unnoticed by the young crowd who made it clear they were there to sing along and dance.
Lou Reed was an act I had been massively looking forward to for months. I was concerned I had set myself up for disappointment, and to some extent this proved true. His performance was on another level from anything else at Lolla in terms of its maturity and polish. This man has not only aged well, but is a complete master of his craft. But the Lou Reed I fell in love with was his Warhol-era persona, shooting smack in the silver painted Factory and hanging out with Nico. The despair and darkness I associated with his music was stripped from my brain and replaced with a maturity I just wasn't prepared for. An amazing set was played, but it was a set that I had to take it at face value. I got a reality check last night and came to terms that I was born far too late to ever experience a live performance from the era of Lou Reed that I had romanticized.
Band of Horses were next on my schedule, playing at the Playstation stage. Fans were upset that Lou Reed's set ran over, but the band was finally able to take stage and kickstarted in lush overdrive. Band of Horses were the perfect act to experience at dusk and are one of those rare bands that sound even better when stripped of album production. A cool breeze blew in the air over sweeping, gentle melodies and the crowd lost themselves for an hour as the sky turned to night.
I chose to end the night with The Killers and quickly trotted to the South Side of the park. The band had already begun their set as I passed the fountain and the stage looked positively luminous in the distance, shrouded in smoke and audible from afar. Brandon Flowers is a solid modern rock frontman who commands attention and interacts with a huge crowd like he's performing for an audience of one. It's a rare feat to keep an audience of this size (and exhaustion level) engaged through the slower songs, but The Killers pulled it off with ease and proved themselves headliner-worthy and a fitting close to the weekend.
I slipped out a tiny bit early, hopped right into an awaiting cab and soared off across the city reflecting on an amazing weekend in much-deserved, seated calm. Is it too early to start speculating next year's lineups? I'm exhausted, but ready to do this all again.