Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wrapping up Lollapalooza

What a weekend.

Despite a sore back and feet, I survived Lollapalooza.

By my count, I caught 24 or 25 bands (not counting bands I listened to as I walked past their stage... that happened a lot) among 130 performing throughout the three-day festival.

I (obviously) wasn't the only one there. The fest was attended by 75,000 people a day over three days (though I have to mention that Friday's attendance was very light because of the rain). The whole weekend was a sellout.

I got to catch bands that I've never seen, some unknown ones and some that will be heading to town in the next few months. I saw bands I liked and some that didn't impress me. But overall, the experience was fantastic.

That leads to one question: Would I go again? You can bet on it. I'll almost certainly be there next year as long as the lineup doesn't disappoint - which it hasn't for the last several years.

Here are my thoughts on the fest, including my top five sets, highlights and a few disappointments.

Photos from Lollapalooza.com

1. Kings of Leon

2. Silversun Pickups

3. Vampire Weekend

4. Jane's Addiction

5. Gaslight Anthem

Honorable Mentions: Ra Ra Riot; Peter, Bjorn & John; Ben Harper & the Relentless7, Fleet Foxes, Ben Folds

As I mentioned in the blog, Kings of Leon had the tightest set of any band I had seen at the festival. That distinction held up for the rest of the weekend. No one else got the crowd going (and kept them going) like the Kings. That band played memorable song after memorable song. (Look a few up on YouTube if you want to check... some videos have already been posted.)

Kings of Leon were amazing to see headlining the show because only a few years ago they weren't that big or popular. Two years ago, they played in the afternoon at some side stage at Lollapalooza. On Thursday night, one end of Grant Park was wall-to-wall with people stretching on their tip-toes to catch a glimpse of the stage.

On Sunday evening as the sun went down, the Silversun Pickups were absolutely electric. Songs like “Panic Switch” had the intensity amped way up and songs like “Lazy Eye” sent the crowd into a frenzy.

It helped that the band was so smiling and grateful that lead singer Brian Aubert repeated “Thank you” into the microphone at least 30 times. I think he was trying to personally thank everyone in the audience (that would have taken awhile, considering there were thousands gathered).

Vampire Weekend had a memorable set, playing every song from its eponymous album, as well as a few new ones. They also changed up quite a few of the songs from their repetoire, picking up the tempo or subbing keyboards for violin and other instruments.

They get an A+ for crowd participation, having everyone in the crowd singing along. And while I wouldn't consider it makeout music, the band caused one sweaty couple to start making out (behavior I didn't see anywhere else in the fest before or after).

As for Jane's Addiction, they were, well, Jane's Addiction. Perry Farrell ran around spastically dancing, singing and shouting expletives while Dave Navarro ripped into his guitar. I have to be honest in saying I didn't remember a lot of the songs (when was the band last together?), but I loved every minute of it.

Best parts were Farrell's weird and lewd story about meeting a woman (he used a several different euphamisms) during a jam on “Been Caught Stealing” and Joe Perry joining Jane's for the festival-closing “Jane Says.”

Last in my top five is Gaslight Anthem, a band you may or may not have heard of. They were high on the list for me to see and I'm glad I stood in the rain and watched the band for an hour. The New Jersey-based band sounds like what Bruce Springsteen would if he were 25 today instead of in 1974. The Springsteen comparison is one they'll never live down, and I'm not sure they ever want to.

Check them out when they come to Omaha on Sept. 11. You won't be disapointed.



Airborne Toxic Event

Walking from one end of Grant Park to another, you will walk past all eight stages. You will inevitably hear from four bands. And, it's such a long walk across the park that you'll probably end up catching one or two songs as you pass each stage.

This leads to discovering some music that you've never heard of, for better or worse. Some made me stick around and others made me keep on truckin'.

My favorite catches were Hey Champ, Airborne Toxic Event and Davy Knowles. Hey Champ was performing when I first arrived at the festival and I like what I heard from them. Airborne Toxic Event was a recommendation from a reader, which I really enjoyed (especially their cover of “Goodbye Horses”). And Davy Knowles jammed on some outstanding blues rock. I'd see all three if they came through Omaha.

Ones I was not as impressed by were Gomez and Dan Deacon. Deacon had some serious sound issues that screwed up his weird noise jam orchestra. And while I like Gomez, I didn't hear anything to make me want to stick around the band's stage.

Autograph tent

Manchester Orchestra at the autograph tent

I didn't partake, but there was an autograph tent near one of the headliner stages where you could wait in line. Now, big boys like the Killers or Kings of Leon weren't at the tent, but a lot of the indies were. Bands like Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend, Blind Pilot, Ra Ra Riot and the Silversun Pickups did spend about 30 minutes each there.

Whenever I walked by, lines didn't seem to be that long. It was a cool thing for a lot of people who never get to meet the bands and people that they sheel out their hard-earned cash to go see.


I mentioned eating a gyro in the blog, but I must mention that the food was pretty excellent. It was not carnival, deep-fat-fry-everything-and-put-it-on-a-stick food. Food areas were catered by local Chicago eateries that had everything from Thai to Mexican and vegetarian to burgers.

And, all things considered, it wasn't that expensive. Five bucks for a burger. Six bucks for a heap of delicious guacamole and some chips. Two bucks for a Coke. Considering it was that big of a festival, they could have charged a lot more money for a lot less.

Favorite foods were the aforementioned gyro and guacamole as well as pot stickers, an Italian beef sandwich and Pad Thai.


Ray Ban red Colorize Wayfarers, $109

I also mentioned fashion in the blog. There were some interesting choices, but my favorite thing was the multi-colored sunglasses that people were sporting.

I now want a pair of red, Ray Ban Wayfarers. I just need to find a way to round up about $110 to buy a pair.


As entertaining as the music and the art and the food are the people that attend the festival.

From the interesting ponchos people created to stay out of the rain on Friday to the mini-Great Pyramids built in one of the mud pits (see above), folks at the fest did some fantastic stuff. People had hilarious T-shirts and costumes and did some creative stuff in the mud.

It was also entertaining to watch people watch a band. Some would dance while others sat on the ground next to them staring into the distance. People formed mosh pits during bands like Vampire Weekend (a band whose set is wholly inappropriate to be moshing to) and beach balls came out during every set I saw over the weekend.

Rock festival attendees have to be some of the kindest people on the planet. Fights and the like tend to be rare. But at this fest, folks took it to a whole new level. At the end of the festival, some people made signs asking for rides to various parts of the country or for donations to help pay for gas money. Twice I saw people say something like, "You need a ride to Columbia, MO? We're from Columbia. You can come with us."

Perry Farrell

The guy who created Lollapalooza is ever-present at his festival. There's a dance/DJ area that bears his namesake and the guy put on three different performances over the weekend. He did a DJ set at Perry's, a short set at the for-children Kidzapalooza stage and the festival-ending Jane's Addiction set.

The enigmatic Jane's Addiction frontman appears to be more than just a name associated with the fest and an active part of it's creation.



The day in general was not as exciting as Friday or Sunday. Without the thought of the Beastie Boys waiting there at the end of the day, it wasn't as fun.

Also, some of the pairings were weird. At the festival, there could be as many as five bands performing on any of eight stages at any given time. Therefore, there is a lot of picking and choosing that one must do.

On Saturday, one had to choose (at various points) between Santigold and Glasvegas, TV on the Radio and Rise Against, Ben Harper and Animal Collective and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Tool. While I know where my heart lies on all of those, I know it wasn't as easy for other people.

The most popular bands that day seemed to all be pitted against one another, which was weird. Other days, it seemed like there would be an obviously popular choice at one stage with some other more niche or indie groups elsewhere.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

My chief complaint would be that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are not the Beastie Boys. But, there's nothing the band can do about that. Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (aka MCA) was diagnosed with cancer and the Beasties cancelled their performance. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were stuck in there to replace them.

My complaint would instead lie with the festival organizers. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the best you could get to replace the Beasties? The YYYs are great for Lollapalooza and would have been a great afternoon/evening band (also kind of begs the question why they weren't booked for one of those spots in the first place). But a headliner? Not so sure.

Other artists like Ben Harper or even Ben Folds (yeah, not as popular as he once was, but still entertaining) would have been better to move up from an early spot into the headliner spot.

My other problem lied with the YYYs themselves. Frontwoman Karen O, at least, didn't seem to realize how lucky they were to be performing as a headliner at the festival. At one point, she even said, “We weren't even supposed to be here.”

The set was also all over the place and Karen O even forgot the words to one song. I know, I know. It happens to the best of them. But the best of them laugh it off or start the song over or just make up new words. Miss O stood there with a blank look on her face, trying to remember the words to “Maps.” For the record, “Maps” has about 10 (very short) lines, (four of which are repeated about 10 times). Not a lot there to remember.


I'm sure I'm not the only one that doesn't like this, but the layout of the fest is frustrating. Want to watch The Decemberists and then catch a good spot for Of Montreal? Tough.

They play back to back and one stage is about a mile away from the other. There's no way you can catch all of both sets because it will take you 20 minutes to wade through the crowds and make it to the other end of the park. Better plan on having a good spot on the lawn for one and getting to the other a little late.

I do, however, realize that there's nothing much organizers can do about the layout of the fest without moving it to another place. The park is long and thin.

For the record, they shouldn't move it anywhere. One of the coolest things about the fest is that it's in Grant Park, which is in Chicago. It's not in the suburbs or just out of town. It's in the middle of downtown, right on the lake.

That means in front of you, you can watch the Silversun Pickups while behind you, you can watch the sun go down behind the Chicago skyline. Fantastic.

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