Concert Review: Lollapalooza, Day 1

Lollapalooza Friday review, in bite-sized updates.

The Line: I felt like I might as well have just walked out of my apartment and gone a few blocks east to the lake to find the end of the line, we were that far north.  Alright, it wasn’t that long, but it seemed like forever. A+ to the friendly Bonnaroo-going hippies in line in front of me, F- to the clump of assholes who wanted to try to cut in line.  Don’t think so, kids.  Other amusing things about the line: the disclaimer stating that entering the premises allows C3 to use your image in perpetuity, across the universe, forever and ever.  Also, awesome to get to see the back of the modern wing of the art museum – I never have reason to go back in that direction, so I haven’t had the opportunity to check out the new addition.

The Security Check: lulz.  I think my expectations were too high.  Security dude barely even peered into my bag.  (Somehow, I had been expecting much more intense security.  Whenever I went to Grant Park for Obama’s Election Day rally, there were metal detectors and x-ray machines and everything.  Sure, Security of the President-Elect trumps Security of Drunken Fratboy Festival-goers, but, you know, whatever.

The Weather: Can it be both a fail and a win at the same time? One thing that’s kept me away from Lolla in the past has been my lack of desire to stand outside in upper-90s temperatures, so it was a nice surprise to not feel like I was going to instantly die of heatstroke.  However, being soaked to the bone (despite the umbrella) and shivering on an August day got to be a little bit ridiculous after a while.

Behind the jump: Reviews of the actual music!  April Smith, Hockey, Manchester Orchestra, Gringo Star, The Knux, The Gaslight Anthem, Bon Iver, Ben Folds, Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, Andrew Bird, and Kings of Leon.

April Smith: Unsigned artist from Brooklyn. I wasn’t able to catch all of her set, mostly just bits and pieces as we wandered around the area of the BMI stage, but I was incredibly impressed with what I heard.  She’s got a very strong voice and some catchy songs.  For being the first artist to take the stage on the northern end of the festival, her music was very commanding of attention.  I hope to hear more from her in the future.  Her music is available on iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby, for those of you who, like myself, still prefer to be able to hold a CD in hand.



Hockey: New-wave quintet from Portland.  Way, way better than I had expected from anything described as new-wave, as I usually shy away from that genre.  They had a great energy, and managed to persevere through some initial technical difficulties.  While I had never heard of their music, before, I enjoyed myself immensely… until the power went out a few songs into their set.  The drummer filled the space with an extended drum solo… but still no power.  The band members ended up tossing free beer from backstage out into the crowd while waiting.  The power came back up for another song and a half or so, and then, fzzt, out again.  Technology fail.  I was definitely impressed by their music, though, and would probably consider going to see them again, hopefully at a show not marred by loss of power.

Manchester Orchestra: Too much screaming, not enough to keep my attention.  Maybe they’re better on CD, I don’t know.  I ended up wandering off in search of food and merchandising and things that didn’t involve listening to Manchester Orchestra.

Gringo Star: What I expected: Spanish-language covers of Beatles songs.  What I got: Alt-country-poppy tunes.  Pretty good, wish I had stuck around to see more.  Will definitely be checking them out.

The Knux: The Knux are a pair of brothers originally from New Orleans, displaced after Hurricane Katrina.  They’ve got a great energy, pulling fans up onto the stage to dance with them and everything.  I’m not a huge rap fan, but these guys certainly kept me, and the whole crowd, entertained and engaged.

The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem: A very pleasant surprise for me.  I’ve heard of this New Jersey rock band, but I don’t think I ever bothered listening to their music before.  They put on an incredibly enjoyable show – only slightly dampened (pun vaguely intended) by the rain that kept pouring down throughout their set.  The energy and enthusiasm from the crowd was apparent even despite the rain and the fact that we were way in the back of the field.  The dude next to us kept singing and playing air guitar along with the songs, it was that kind of exciting.  This was their first big outdoor festival, and the singer/guitarist noted how fabulous they thought Chicago and the festival in general was.  I wound up picking up their CD later on that day – trust me, that’s high praise coming from me.

Bon Iver: I still stand by my assessment that Bon Iver just doesn’t work at a huge outdoor festival like Lollapalooza.  Maybe Pitchfork or Hideout’s block party or something, a festival that’s a little more niche-oriented.  But not Lollapalooza.  While I enjoyed the music, and while I think it would have been more enjoyable up front in the crowd instead of on the back fringes, between the Playstation and Budweiser stages, it’s hard to get into it when everyone else around you is talking/drinking/not paying attention.  Regardless, Bon Iver’s music is just downright beautiful, and somehow made even more poignant by the falling rain.  I would love to see him in an intimate little club or something, where his work is going to be more generally appreciated.

Ben Folds: A solid set, as usual.  The rain and relative lack of enthusiasm of the crowd around me put a bit of a damper on the show.  I would have loved to have been closer to the stage for this one, in the midst of the crowd.  He opened with the leak version of Bitch Went Nutz — something tells me that the songs from the fake/leaked version of Way to Normal are more popular than the ones from the album itself.  There was a good mix of new songs and old favorites, including “Army” and “Narcolepsy”.  I always enjoy Ben’s shows and his enthusiasm and his crazy, crazy piano playing, and all things considered, this was no exception.

Fleet Foxes: I only stayed for the first few songs of their set, as I was cold and  hungry and needed to use the bathroom, and I knew I would be seeing them the next night at Metro anyway.  Their harmonies are absolutely divine, though, and the crowd was way excited to see them.  (Their show on Friday at Metro, by the way, was fantastic.  There were drawbacks, of course: everything started late and it was about a million degrees inside Metro, but definitely a quality show.)

The Decemberists

The Decemberists

The Decemberists: Performed the whole of The Hazards of Love.  A+++ so glad they did.  It might be a bit blasphemous, but I think I prefer Hazards to a lot of their other material.  Shara Worden pretty much rocks my world.  One review I read mentioned that they didn’t think that she had much of a stage presence — I don’t know what show that reviewer was watching, because Worden was all over the stage, dancing and jumping and generally kicking ass at conveying the character of the Queen.  All of the band members played their parts well, since Hazards really is a story more than anything else, with each  member having a role to play.  I left the area after “The Rake’s Song”  so I could make my way through the crowd to get to Andrew Bird’s set, but I could still hear the rest of the Decemberists set from across the field, and it was as amazing as I would have expected it to be.  I’m sad that I missed seeing “The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing”, because it sounded amazing from where I was, but thankfully Youtube has allowed me to play along at home.

Andrew Bird: If I had it my way, I pretty much would have camped out in front of the Playstation stage all day in order to be right up front for this set.  The desire to do so was lessened by the fact that I managed to be within arm’s length of Andrew Bird when I saw him at Schubas on Thursday.  Besides, I don’t know how I would have dealt with going to the bathroom or eating, so maybe it’s for the best that I didn’t enact my plan.

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird

Anyhow, Bird, as usual, is a complete maniac on stage.  The way in which he wholeheartedly throws himself into his show is always amazing to watch.  He ripped through a set of new and old songs, the first half comprised largely of songs off of Noble Beast, and the latter with old favorites.   (Setlist, for the curious: Fiery Crash / Masterswarm / Opposite Day / Fitz and the Dizzyspells / Oh No / Effigy / Not a Robot, But a Ghost /  Anonanimal / Imitosis / Scythian Empires / Tables and Chairs / Fake Palindromes.) The addition of  “Not a Robot, But a Ghost” was met with much enthusiasm from the crowd; as I’ll mention in my Schubas review, he said that he rarely performs it live, but after the reaction he’s been getting, hopefully it will make more appearances in the future.   The last four songs were absolutely epic in intensity and excitement.  While I love the more sedate environment you get from other venues, there’s definitely something to be said for jumping up and down and shouting out Bird’s esoteric lyrics with thousands and thousands of other fans.  (As an aside, there were sign language interpreters on stage for Bird’s set: I really, really want to know how in the world they interpreted things like radiolarians and troglobytes.)  Bird promised that there would be snacks (a reference to a lyric in “Tables and Chairs”) and he provided them in great multitudes.

Kings of Leon: While I missed a good deal of their set, what I heard was very strong.  I’d never paid a whole lot of attention to them in the past; for some reason their music never really resonated with me, but I’ve been enjoying their new album, and their live show definitely had the crowd pumped.  After hearing their show, though, it’s got me motivated to check out more of their music.

There’s not much I can say about them, though, as I spent a majority of their set waiting in line at the FYE autograph tent to meet Andrew Bird.  Yes, I did, in fact, buy a CD I already own just so I could get a spot in that line.  Anyhow, it was a little difficult to focus on Kings of Leon when I was busy running over and over in my mind what, exactly, I wanted to say.  Eventually, after waiting forever, I finally got to the front of the line and managed not to trip over my words and turn into a blubbering idiot.  I told him simply that I feel like it’s a privilege to see him perform, every single time.  It’s the honest truth, really, and I was rewarded with a sincere grin and a thank you, which was worth more to me than an autograph or anything else.

Overall verdict on Lollapalooza: much better than anticipated, with plenty of nice surprises for me.  Will I go next year?  Maybe.  I’d need an incredibly strong lineup (like Friday’s) to get me to go out again, let alone go out for all three days.  But despite the rain and the fact that my legs still sort of hurt from all of that standing, there were enough priceless moments during my Lollapalooza day that I don’t have any real complaints.