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Looking Back: Lollapalooza, Day 3

By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 9, 2010 5:30PM

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Arcade Fire photo by Jim Kopeny

Day 1: Lady Gaga, Mavis Staples, The Black Keys and more
Day 2: Stars, Spoon, Green Day and more

After two days in the (relatively bearable) heat and sun, we came to the homestretch, one more marathon day of music and food and lots and lots of people, bringing the major fest portion of the summer to a close. But could it live up to expectations? On Friday, Lady Gaga disappointed while The Strokes were about what we expected and on Saturday Green Day delivered while Phoenix was pleasant enough. But this was the main event of the entire weekend: the reunited legends of Soundgarden and the new kings and queens of indie rock Arcade Fire. Opinions will, of course, vary, but we found that the weekend, for all the criticism the fest may take, came to a triumphant close even if it meandered a bit along the way.

After the early afternoon rain delayed the start of my day, it was time to bounce around a few smaller stages to catch some bands I hadn't gotten the chance to hear before. The Band of Heathens sounded nothing like their name would imply. It was as close to country as Lollapalooza got all weekend but, unfortunately, in the post-rain heat and humidity, it was also far from compelling. Across the way at the terribly-named Sony Bloggie stage, locals The Ike Reilly Assassination, by comparison, ripped through a roaring set of roots rock (a common theme for many bands on this stage throughout the weekend), with songs like "Valentine's Day In Juárez" that kept the crowd bouncing under the sun.

There was a shift in sound for Freelance Whales at the BIM stage, my first chance to see one of the bigger buzz bands heading into this year. The band was a pleasant listen and I enjoyed their kitchen-sink approach to their performance - glockenspiels! - and the gathering masses seemed to agree. If their was a downside to the performance, it's that it didn't quite grab my immediate attention - their brand of indie rock certainly sounded like it owed something to Arcade Fire which could be both a blessing and a curse for an up-and-coming band - and I felt like I wasn't missing out on too much as I left to check out another band about whom I was not at all familiar: Hockey, whose uptempo, guitar-heavy dance-rock was also well-received by the crowd gathering around the the Bloggie stage. Even as the mid-afternoon lull set in, the shuffling beats were enough to keep feet tapping and heads bobbing even under the shade to the side of the stage.

The crowd that enjoyed that performance continued to grow for Scotland's Frightened Rabbit, another in the long line of bands that has graduated from Pitchfork's fest to Lollapalooza. There's a charm to Scott Hutchison's brogue and it shone through their set of warm, folky indie rock. The jangly pop of "Old Old Fashioned" and the slow burn of "The Twist" were perfect compliments of each other and the band showed they could crank it up, too, on songs like "Living in Colour," that drenched the crowd in stomping joy.

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Erykah Badu photo by Jim Kopeny
Across the field Tankboy watched Erykah Badu test fan's patience with a late arrival to the stage that was drawn out even further by a DJ playing party hip-hop and stretching his set out, oh, about four too many songs. Once Badu finally arrived, she concocted a swirling stew of sultry sound but by that time it was too late. The crowd stayed attentive throughout her entire set but the energy that had built up before her slotted start time had dissipated leaving the crowd feeling slightly cheated. Wolfmother started on time, across the field, angering some Badu fans by cutting off the end of her set, but their show was everything hers was not; explosive, energetic, and giving back to the crowd every ounce of energy they had in them.

Jake staked out Perry's again and here's what he had to report on the final day:

The final day at Perry's was a memorable one, bringing the festival to an appropriate close. The first venture was NERVO, an electro banger fiend with a knack for setting dance floors on fire. His set seemingly separated the clouds that began day three, bringing out the sun that stayed with us the entire day. His set was fun and refreshing in comparison to many of the other electro sets during the weekend that settled for stale, safe tracks that would always get the general masses moving. From there I took some much needed time away from Perry's, opting for Yeasayer, Wolfmother and The National.

I arrived back at the most appropriate time, however, catching most of Felix da Housecat's amazing set. Felix played the classics and the new school of house music, most notably the traditional Chicago house sound. The highlight of our weekend just may have been his epic drop of Daft Punk's "Rollin' and Scratchin'", a house sizzler on the album Homework. This return to house after a long weekend of dubstep and electro was the best thing we'd witnessed, and it was incredible to see the citizens of Chicago embrace a local sound they've largely turned their back on.

The night ended finally with Digitalism, whose DJ set went--yet again--back to electro bangers. While their set was energentic and moved the crowd at an impeccable pace, I left Lollapalooza wondering just how many incarnations it would take for Perry's stage to bring more variety - to cater to all forms of dance music, not just the ones embraced by 17-year-olds with no concept of the chronology or narrative of this great musical form.

Back at the main stages, the last time MGMT was at Lollapalooza, they were notable for being the band with the surprisingly humongous crowd (this year: the xx). Two years later, they were on the big stage as warm-ups to the big acts. From as far back as I was, it was hard to tell how well the newer material like "Brian Eno" were received, though there was the distinct image of a Green Man crowd-surfing. But even from where I stood, the crowd was most into the danceable cuts from Oracular Spectacular like "Electric Feel" and "Time To Pretend." MGMT didn't blow my mind but they held their own even if it did feel like they should have swapped stages with the next act.

I knew The National was going to be good but had no idea how the slower, simmering songs of new LP High Violet would translate live. For the most part, they worked. "Anyone's Ghost" (with guest Richie from Arcade Fire) and "Bloodbuzz Ohio" carried the crowd despite the gloomy tone. Matt Berninger sounded like he was shredding his vocal chords as he abandoned his usual croon for an all-out scream on the "My mind's not right" chorus for "Abel." The National's performances always seemed best-suited for a mid-size venue like the Chicago Theater, warm settings that can amplify their quieter moments and contain their louder ones (if only barely). That's not to say the performance wasn't solid - and it was helped by scheduling, a good set for dusk - but even with horns to help fill out the texture of some of their songs, as the music wafted across the field, it just felt like the set lacked a bit off "oomph."

Taking the stage to the gentle strains of "The Suburbs (continued)," the outro to their latest LP, Arcade Fire proved to be anything but gentle in a rollicking, dazzling 90 minute set that went beyond what we expected. Opening with a revved up version of "Ready to Start," - an appropriate opener - the band showed from the first song they were giving it every ounce of energy they had. Following up with the ramshackle beauty of "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," Arcade Fire set the tone for a night heavy on the new album as well as cuts from their heralded debut, 2004's Funeral, only hitting three songs from 2007's divisive Neon Bible.

I was curious to see how some of the mid-tempo songs from the new LP would translate live and songs like "Rococo" and "The Suburbs" impressed, especially in the context of a setlist where the songs flowed well between cuts from the other records. Even these songs provided a nice slow burn for the main set's peak, a run that began with the thundering "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" and escalated into a cacophony of noise before feeding into the thumping "Rebellion (Lies)" as the crowd pogo'd to the beat. The run wrapped with a rumbling, teeth-chattering "Month of May." It was a fantastic job of controlling the flow of a set and keeping the crowd engaged, the attention never wavering (at least from where I was standing).

For all her theatrics, this set was everything that Lady Gaga's wasn't: kinetic, energetic, and rapturous in a way Gaga could only dream about. The set was filled with enraptured exuberance, an all out emotional blitz that climaxed with tens of thousands of fans joyfully belting out every single word of "Wake Up," the band's encore. It was this moment that made the entire fest worthwhile. Every drop of sweat, every Advil consumed to ease the aching of feet and my back, every bump from sweaty hipster bros in basketball jerseys, it was all worth it for that moment.

And that's why we bother with fests like Lollapalooza. Yes, there's truth to the perspective that it's, as our pal DeRo calls it, the "Wal-Mart on the Lake." But we still go. For moments that will linger with us for long after we've washed off the dirt and sweat and put the jostling through crowds behind us. We go to discover bands we've missed - Dawes, Freelance Whales - and to see bands we know will deliver our money's worth. For all the costumes, talk of "Little Monsters," and spectacle of Gaga, she ultimately failed because she couldn't do what Arcade Fire did: she couldn't genuinely connect with the audience. All her trappings and set and costume changes only got in the way of her ability to reach those she really need to reach. Yes, the dance routine and sensory overload of "Bad Romance" was enjoyable, but nothing Gaga trotted out even came close to the catharsis of tens of thousands of fans all belting out every word, every "Oooooh" of "Wake Up's" chorus with genuine emotion, unadulterated joy without a trace of irony. And, if nothing else, that's the moment I'll take away from this weekend, that moment of joy.

For 90 minutes, Arcade Fire showed us these shows aren't about spectacle but rather - at the risk of sounding cliche - they're about the music and our connection with that music. If the songs are catchy pop tunes relying on visual spectacle, there will still be a barrier preventing us from full enjoyment. But Arcade Fire tore down that barrier - they ultimately smashed it to smithereens - and showed us how transcendent a show - no matter the setting - can be and why, as much as it pains us to admit it to our aching, sleep-deprived selves right now, we know we'll be back.