August 5th to 7th, 2010
I’m back from an eventful trip to Chicago and, as much as I’m sure all of you would love to hear all about it, the main focus was the annual Lollapalooza festival. I’ve been going to Lollapalooza since I was a kid, attending my first one back in 1993 when it was a one-day touring festival. Last year I had the opportunity to attend for the first time since it had transformed into the massive music festival that takes over Chicago’s Grant Park and surrounding streets for three days, and made the trek from Toronto to Chicago again this year. The festival has a wide variety of music to choose from, but certainly focuses on the indie and alternative crowds. Lollapalooza has never given substantial stage time to hip-hop acts, but I tend to be forgiving as it was where I first saw A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. Judging by the amount of “Free Weezy” t-shirts my wife suggested Lil Wayne would be a perfect headliner next year and I think the organizers would be wise to listen. The festival has made gestures in recent years creating the Perry’s stage for electronic and hip-hop performers, an area that has grown in size in the years since it was first introduced, but there’s always room for improvement. Anyway, enough about what wasn’t there and onto what was.
A Thursday night out at Chicago’s famous Green Mill, followed by a trips to Kingston Mines and The Wieners Circle, took its toll on our plans for the Friday Lolla line-up and I missed out on seeing Javelin, the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Providence duo, whose Jamz n Jems record has really grown on me in recent months. I did get to see a lively Wavves set that included the bickering that they’ve become known for, including debates about song order and a warning from singer/guitarist Nathan Williams to bassist Stephen Pope that he’d “cut his fucking throat” if he talked over him again, and then followed that up with a solid performance by The Walkmen. Next came former Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl member Raphael Saadiq who has recently fully embraced the old-school r&b vibe. Both the band and Saadiq came out in full suits despite the blazing heat (a suit that he would rip off by the end of his set) and Saadiq has taken to doing a more classic style stage show. He puts a lot of energy into his performances and connects well with the crowd. However, having seen some great veteran performers the night before at the Kingston Mines, it struck me that there was still something missing in Saadiq. While connecting with his audience through his boundless energy and soul, he still lacks that seasoned showman quality necessary to take him to the next level. Not speaking much to the crowd in between songs, he lets the energy of the show dip slightly when he could be bringing them along throughout.
Heading over to Perry’s, Stones Throw Records’ founder Peanut Butter Wolf put together a solid and entertaining set that played like a who’s who. Spinning records by artists like Gang Starr, Pharoahe Monch, Rick James, ODB, MIA as well as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Hanson (yes, that Hanson) and a classical guitar performance of the Super Mario Bros. theme, PBW really hit the mark with a performance that was capped by a surprise appearance from The Cool Kids who tore things up for a few tracks since, as Chuck Inglish stated, they were “right across the street”. Opting to skip Kidz In The Hall having seen them at Rock The Bells for a chance to see Devo at least once in my life, I returned to see J. Cole take the Perry’s stage. Jay-Z’s golden boy, who’s Roc Nation debut isn’t expected until October, drew a decent crowd to see him in action. Cole, being a pretty charismatic guy on top of being a dope MC, had no trouble getting the crowd into the show which peaked with an energetic performance of “Who Dat” before wrapping up with a quick version of “A Star Is Born”.
Heading off to grab something to eat I was able to hear Matt & Kim off in the distance. Coming out to Terror Squad’s “Lean Back”, the Brooklyn dance punk duo later did a cover of Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend”, a song that would appear again later that night as the crowd would break into a rendition of it while waiting for The Strokes to take the stage (something that was more entertaining than the band itself). Before that, however, came a performance by The Black Keys, the band behind the underappreciated Blackroc collaboration project that was overseen by Roc-A-Fella co-founder Damon Dash. While sadly not including surprise appearances by RZA or Mos Def, The Black Keys put on a blues-rock clinic for a growing crowd. The performance didn’t have the intensity of a recent show I had seen in a club venue, but they still know how to drive the audience and provide a great experience.
Over on the PlayStation stage, Jimmy Cliff made his way out to begin a nostalgia heavy set. Cliff is still enthusiastic after all these years and made the crowd, heavy with middle-aged white men jammin’ out, very happy. Cliff is past the point in his career where he can put on blow-away performances but he still puts in a ton of effort and you look forward to seeing the man perform just because he’s a legend and he’s earned it. We then made it through about a third of The Strokes set before getting bored and deciding to see what kind of spectacle Lady Gaga had on. It wasn’t too long before I could hear Gaga off in the distance as we made our way across the park. She was yelling “Show me your teeth” (which I’m told comes from one of her songs) while going on about something I couldn’t make out. The whole walk over I was met with streams of people walking in the opposite direction from her show, while at no time did I actually hear anything that could be classified as music. She talked our entire trip to her stage. When we finally navigated the exiting hoards enough to see Gaga in the distance, I was surprised to see that there really wasn’t that many people there. While still impressive, the crowd certainly wasn’t as big as Depeche Mode’s crowd the year prior, or even as big as MGMT would have in an earlier timeslot two days later at the same festival. The next day, the people I spoke to, who had seen the whole thing, said that they felt her show was her public therapy session and that there was far too much talking. Thankfully, I left her show after only a few minutes to catch some of the 2manydjs set and wished I had gone there from the beginning. The Belgian duo had more life in their performance than either headliner combined that night. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.
The following day saw great performances by The Morning Benders, The Soft Pack, Harlem, Wild Beasts, Warpaint and The xx. Grizzly Bear, a band very popular in the Knowles household as Solange even took Jay-Z and Beyoncé to a concert a while back, put on a great show highlighted by the band successfully pulling off “Two Weeks” without the presence of Beach House’s Victoria Legrand (who provides backing vocals on the recorded version of the track). Over on the unfortunately named “Sony bloggie” stage, Deer Tick put on a workman’s country-rock performance while Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros held the overflowing audience like a cult leader as people climbed trees to get a better view of the band who’s increasingly beginning to look like this generation’s Grateful Dead. Next came proof that even if you expand the amount of room in the Perry’s area, you could still use more. Coming fresh off his buzz producing for MIA and releasing his debut on Diplo’s Mad Decent Records, Rusko played to a massive crowd that was heavily into the dubstep buzz-boy. He fed off the live audience who were jumping, dancing and throwing around water and put on a frenzied set that only riled the crowd up more. The night then wound down with a few minutes of Cut Copy and a decent but unspectacular set by Phoenix.
Sunday started off with a rain-drenched and emotional performance by The Antlers. I had to give away tickets to see them earlier this year due to other commitments so I was itching for this. The band penetrated the sky with their sound and made the rain seem incredibly appropriate. The rain then stopped for performances by The Dodos, Mumford & Sons and Yeasayer, who all did a good job of distracting people from the sweltering heat that followed the rain. There was a long delay waiting for the founder of Baduizm as Erykah Badu had a DJ spin, and then her live band jam, for about twenty minutes before she finally took the stage. Playing every bit the artsy-diva part, Badu put on a mellow show that had everyone swaying and head-nodding. This was cut short by Wolfmother, however, as they chose not to wait for Badu to finish and started promptly, the sound blaring over Badu’s rich vocals. Cutting her off during her big finish to Didn’t Cha Know, she shot them daggers with her eyes as she belted the rest of the song in their direction. We refilled water and got snacks as we walked over towards the MGMT stage for a few minutes and, as was previously mentioned, the crowd was bigger than some of the headliner’s this year.
Moving to the other side of the park, Cypress Hill took the stage and played most of their hits while sprinkling in their new material. B-Real told the crowd he was high and would only get higher. He wasn’t kidding as he would later bust out an expectedly fat joint and followed that up with what must have been a six foot bong. Julio G, who was subbing for a disappointingly absent DJ Muggs, would have an impressive dual with the band’s percussionist closer to the end of the show. The festival wrapped up with what ended up being the highlight of the event: Montreal’s Arcade Fire. Being Canadian, it felt great to see such a huge audience embrace the band in a “hometown boy makes it in the big city” sort of way. The crowd was rabid and live the entire time as Arcade Fire put on the sort of show that earns you a reputation. As they walked off stage at the end of their set, the crowd chanted “Wake Up” as a cue for the band to come out and play the fan-favourite. The band did just that and closed the festival in a big, big way. On a weirdly unexpected note, Green Man, made famous in one of the greatest episodes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, jumped out in front of us out of nowhere in a tightly packed crowd during the dying moments of the show. He stopped and did the Spiderman/jazzhands stance before somehow bounding away through a crowd so tight that a virus couldn’t get through, and disappeared completely in three bounds.
As we were exiting the park and walking down the street to catch our bus, a sea of people filled every sidewalk in the surrounding area. The stop must have been at least six blocks up and the entire way the crowd would burst into spontaneous cheering and clapping that would then travel like a wave down the street and around several blocks before coming back and around again. Everyone exiting the park that night seemed satisfied and thankful. Even though they’re light on hip-hop, the organizers at Lollapalooza know how to stage an event that will make a crowd go home happy and already eager for next year.