Lollapalooza explodes in Chicago
by: David Medsker
The organizers of this year’s Lollapalooza were very
smart to announce the lineup well in advance of announcing the schedule. I went
down that list and thought, Dude, the Kaiser Chiefs and Liz Phair? The Dandy
Warhols and the Killers? Cake and the Bravery? This is going to rock!
Then I saw the schedule. The Kaiser Chiefs were scheduled to perform at the same
time as Liz Phair. The Dandys and the Killers also played at the same time. Cake
and the Bravery? Yep, same time. Suddenly, what seemed like a limitless number
of opportunities comes down to seeing about four or five bands a day that you
give a damn about. Even sadder, then, when bands you’ve waited years to see let
Day 1: Saturday
As we're walking over to Grant Park from the El, a passenger from a passing car
says, "Go home, hippies!" He was quickly met by a barrage of "Fuck you"'s. Go
home, hippies? Man, that's so lazy.
The line to get in took a little longer than I expected. They had to check
everyone’s bags and such to make sure they weren't bringing in booze, drugs, guns
or, horrors, three bottles of water. When I turned in my two-day pass, they gave
me a bracelet. That’s right, one bracelet. “So I have to wear this
wherever I go for the next two days?” The bracelet woman nodded. Lovely.
We got inside about 11:55. We find the first staffer we could. “Quick, where’s
the Planet stage?” We’re off and running. Our first band awaits, and we’re
12:00 - Hard-Fi, Planet stage
A London quartet that sounds a lot like the reggae/disco aspects of the Clash,
my wife Buffybot (BE’s “Apprentice”
Housewives” blogger) and I are big fans of their Cash Machine EP, and
they did not disappoint. Not looking a day over 19, Hard-Fi nonetheless
played like seasoned vets, with singer Richard Archer pulling every Jagger-esque
move he could think of, much to the delight of the four babes next to me along
the front railing. In fact, watching these four girls eye-fucking the shit out
of the band members was almost more entertaining than the band itself. Finally,
the bassist (I later learned that this was a
fill-in because their regular bass player couldn’t get a visa) waved to them
somewhat reluctantly, which just made them squeal even louder.
Completely counteracting the babes to my left was the geek to my right. A pudgy
redhead with his hair sticking out of the back of his baseball cap like an
eight year old, he yelled “Play the melodica!” after every song, since Archer
had used one earlier in the set. The band, of course, ignored him, and
eventually, Melodica Dude left. Not two minutes after he left, the band launched
into their raucous cover of “Seven Nation Army,” which is peppered with, you
guessed it, melodica. Everyone was happy, especially me and Buffybot, since we
didn’t have to listen to geek boy anymore.
I was pleased to see that the band didn’t phone it in, even though they were
playing to no more than a hundred people or so. In fact, they were as excited to
be in Chicago as we were to see them. My favorite bit of crowd interaction from
Archer was when he said, “We’re gonna play a song from our upcoming album,
Stars of CCTV. This is called “Stars of CCTV.” No one laughed, except for me
and Buffybot. We laughed our asses off.
They finished their set, the crowd went nuts, and when we walked back toward
the main stages, we saw the band walking offstage toward their tour bus, each
sipping a beer. It’s 12:45 in the afternoon. Ah, the life of a rock star. I
wonder if they wound up banging those girls in the front row.
2:30 – Kaiser Chiefs, Budweiser Select stage
We actually missed some decent bands in between Hard-Fi and the Chiefs -- M83,
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Ambulance Ltd., and the Dead 60’s,
about whom I honestly know nothing except that they are supposed to be a lot
like Hard-Fi – but we wanted to walk around a bit, since we had to haul ass the
second we got in the park just to see Hard-Fi.
The most amazing thing I observed was how incredibly well organized the entire
operation was. They had everything covered, from porta-lets to traffic
management to food and drink service. The lines were small anywhere you went,
something that a geezer like me is most appreciative of. Even the Virgin
Mega-Tent was stocked with great stuff (their book section had me salivating,
with books on the Smiths, Britpop, Joy Division, and a few I already owned, like
Ray Davies’ “X-Ray”), and everything was priced appropriately. What a pleasant
We got to the stage about 30 minutes before the Kaiser Chiefs were supposed to
perform, and were about 20 or so feet from the stage. Niiiiiice. The band comes
out on time (another great part of this weekend was that everyone was on time.
Not a single Axl Rose to be found), launches into “Na Na Na Na Naa,” and
Buffybot and I are pogoing like crazy…until two guys weasel their ways in front
of us. Now, I’m pretty tall, and I can see over these dorks, though I’m still
annoyed. Buffybot, on the other hand, is not so vertically blessed, and these
idiots completely block her view.
She taps the back of the nearest goon. He ignores her. She continues tapping,
tapping, tapping, adds an extra finger, bam bam bam POUND POUND POUND. Finally,
the guy turns around, and Buffybot spells it out nice and plainly for him.
“Either get behind me, or move to the side, because I can’t see over you and I
was here first.” The kid (I use the term loosely, being a geezer and all: he was
in his early to mid-20s) promptly obliged, which drew the ire of other
short women in the area, one of whom allegedly punched him. I’ll take the kid’s
side on that one, because I saw the alleged puncher interact with a couple girls
behind me before the show started, and she was every bit the drunk bitch he said
Now, with no foul poles in between us and the Chiefs, we had the times of our
lives. Singer Ricky Wilson is a fantastic frontman, providing enough energy for
the rest of the band (which is good, because most of them just sat in place;
their guitarist wore a sock cap, and it was 90 degrees, fer crissakes) and
working the crowd over like we were his concubines. He even climbed the rafters
during “I Predict a Riot,” jumping down to the stage from the Marshall stacks,
which stood at least 10 feet high. Who was the last Brit to pull that stunt,
At one point, Wilson asked us, “Who’s making that noise down there?” referring
to the stage on the south side of Grant Park. Someone in the front row informed
him that it was Chicago native Liz Phair. “Could someone ask her to turn it down
a bit? We’re trying to work here,” he said. This would not be the first time
that the south side band would interfere with the north side band. The southern
stages were emblazoned with SBC insignia, a major sponsor of Lollapalooza, and
pointed directly towards the northern stages. The northern stages were angled in
such a way that they wouldn’t remotely compete with the SBC stages to the south.
Anyway, the Kaiser Chiefs wisely skipped the low energy material on their album
Employment, and when they did dip into the mid-tempo stuff, they made
sure to get the crowd involved (we all had to raise our arms during the chorus
of “Caroline, Yes”). Wilson’s voice was shot by the end of the set, so he pulled
a couple out of the front row (and when I say couple, I mean a couple, a guy and
his girlfriend) to sing “Oh My God” for him, and much to everyone’s delight,
they fucking nailed it. Wilson starts pogoing during the chorus, and the guy
starts jumping too, though the mic stayed in the stand, meaning that all the
audience heard was “Oh – God – can’t – lieve- never – this – way – home.” But
that hardly mattered. The crowd was so pumped to see one of their own living out
his rock and roll fantasy. Wilson tried his best to sing the last song, which
was either a new song or a cover, I’m not sure, but towards the end, he sounded
like Kurt Cobain at the end of “Territorial Pissings.” His voice was fucking
gone. But that didn’t stop him from giving it his all, and I have tremendous
respect for that. I love these guys.
I read later that Phair had major sound trouble, and her set sucked. But that
was from the Chicago press, who are still slaughtered, gutted and heartbroken
over the fact that Phair dared to make a pop record and not another universally
ignored indie pop masterpiece. Personally, I find their shock and awe to be a
bit overblown. After all, how mad can you be at a MILF who writes songs about
swallowing your H.W.C.? Me, I’d beg for the privilege.
4:30 – The Bravery. Budweiser Select stage / Cake. SBC West Stage
I had a beer after the Kaiser Chiefs set, while Buffybot and I chilled out in
the shade. I almost instantly got dizzy, and I can hold my booze. And to think,
it’s going to be even hotter tomorrow. Note to self: stick with the Vitamin
Buffybot was pretty stoked to see the Bravery. They came out to a swirl of dry
ice and an icy wall of Goth synthesizers. They sounded just like the record,
with lead singer Sam Endicott doing his Morrissey thing. Two songs in, Buffybot
looked at me and said, “Cake?” She likes the band, and even she was bored. After
seeing the Kaiser Chiefs, these guys just didn’t compare. The only moment of
note from their set came when Endicott said, “This is wild, after all these
years of going to Lollapalooza as a little kid, now I’m playing it. I just met
Billy Idol. How fucking cool is that?”
“As a little kid.” I was 22 when it debuted in 1991. Sigh.
And speaking of Billy Idol, I see a large crowd forming in front of his stage,
and he doesn’t play for another 50 minutes. Better go stake out a spot now,
while I can. I can hear Cake from here, and that suits me just fine. They’re not
a band you really need to watch, anyway. They sound quite good, though I laughed
when singer John McCrea lambasted MTV for never playing a song in 3/4 time. I
seem to recall that “One More Try” from George Michael and “If You Don’t Know Me
By Now” from Simply Red got played on MTV a few thousand times, but I digress.
In fact, this makes his point; those songs are 18 and 16 years old,
I look at my feet, and they’re caked in dust. I have never felt so dirty in my
life, without playing sports beforehand. This is the first time I’ve had to sit
or stand on any of the infields in order to watch a band. Billy better be worth
5:30 – Billy Idol, SBC East Stage
Billy, fucking, Idol, baby!
I read the Chicago press on the way home, and they were not kind to the
50-year-old Rebel Yeller. But they also had no choice: Jim Derogatis of the
Sun-Times singled him out in advance as one of the acts to skip (to his credit,
he also singled out the Bravery, and he was dead right about that one). Me, I
thought Idol kicked ass. With Steve Stevens back in the fold, and a
surprisingly good new record on the shelves, Idol ripped through a
thoroughly enjoyable hour-long set. The set list was well chosen, consisting of
the first two albums and Devil’s Playground, skipping the popular but
poppy “Cradle of Love” and “To Be a Lover.” “Flesh For Fantasy” killed, and
while we would have liked to hear “Blue Highway” or the Generation X classic
“Kiss Me Deadly,” at least we didn’t have to suffer through “Mony Mony,” saints
be praised. He did make the mistake of riling the crowd up too much from time to
time, especially on his last song, “Rebel Yell.” Idol continuously demanded the
crowd scream “More, more more,” even though he’s leaving the stage and there was
no way we would get more, more, more.
The best part of the show, something I didn’t exactly share with Buffybot, was
that when the scores of (hot) women squeezed past me to get closer to the stage,
I wound up getting a backrub from their breasts in the process. Sweeeeeet.
Blonde Redhead played on the northern stage. Couldn’t tell you a thing about
We grabbed something to eat at this point and sat on the hillside within range
of the Black Keys. They played the loopiest version of the Beatles’ “She Said
She Said” on record. Buffybot and I stayed on the grassy knoll until Primus was
finished. Then we made our move, only to discover 30,000 people beat us to it.
7:30 – The Pixies, SBC East Stage
I love the Pixies. I was lucky enough to see them at the Orpheum in Boston in
1992, so I didn’t have to wait the extra 10 years like a lot of people did, but
I was just as stoked to see them again as everyone else was to see them a first
time. After tearing into “Bone Machine,” they did a bunch from Doolittle
and Trompe Le Monde, including “UMass,” “Wave of Mutilation,” “Head On”
and “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” Kim Deal, when they showed her on the ‘tron, was
grinning ear to ear, and the band was tight.
So why was I so bored?
Twenty minutes into the set, I had heard a ton of my favorite Pixies songs, and
was utterly bored. Maybe it was Frank Black not saying a word to the audience.
Maybe it was that they sounded so good, so identical to their records, that I
felt like I may as well just be listening to their records. Maybe it was the
fact that at this point, I had been there for nearly eight hours and was hot,
sweaty and filthy. Whatever the reason, Buffybot and I hit the road, hosed down
at the hotel, and grabbed a margarita at Blue Agave on State and Maple with a
couple friends. This meant committing what to some is an unpardonable sin and
skipping Weezer. But John Paulsen
just saw Weezer a couple weeks before at Summerfest. I’ll let him tell you
all about it.
Day 2: Sunday
The forecast: hot and sunny, with highs nearing 100. The early lineup: OK Go,
Saul Williams, the Ponys, Blue Merle, Kasabian, Louis XIV, Dinosaur Jr., Ben
Kweller, Drive-by Truckers, G. Love & Special Sauce, Arcade Fire. Screw ‘em. I’m
not baking to death for any of those bands. Buffybot and I slept in, did some
shopping (the sandals I wore on Saturday were so trashed that I threw them out
and bought new ones), and basically lounged around the hotel room. At one point,
it was 102 outside. I like OK Go, but I don’t like them that much.
6:30 – Spoon, Budweiser Select stage
We ventured down to Grant Park about 6:00. The Arcade Fire is playing that New
Order-sounding song as we walk in, and friends later tell me that they were
awesome. The sun is starting to fall beneath the awesome Chicago skyline, making
it only slightly less miserable. Spoon is playing with their backs to the sun,
much to the delight of the band and the people watching them. They sound quite
good, doing their angular art pop thing. Singer Britt Daniel doesn’t talk to the
audience much, but at least he says hello, which is more than I heard from Frank
Black the night before. But as I listen to them, and occasionally sing along
(lots of people shimmied when they played “The Way We Get By,” no doubt thanks
to its inclusion on the first “O.C.” soundtrack), I look over at Buffybot and
think: Spoon is really a guy’s band. She must be bored.
“Having fun?” I ask.
“Not really,” she says.
We watch a couple more songs, then get moving when the herd began the pilgrimage
south. I’m secretly bummed; I never got to hear “Everything Hits at Once.”
7:30 – The Killers, SBC East stage / Dandy Warhols, Parkways stage
Buffybot likes the Killers. The majority of people at Lollapalooza like the
Killers (they played to a crowd three times the size of the one the Warhols
played to). Everyone likes the Killers, it seems, except me. I personally find
them to be vastly overrated. Still, the choice between the Killers and the
Dandys was an easy one. For as much as I love “Not if You Were the Last Junkie
on Earth,” I know that the Killers put on a dynamite live show. Their stuff is
far more high energy than the Warhols, so they had that going for them as
well. They rip into “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” along with the rest of
Hot Fuss. I liked that song
about indie rock & roll, but mostly it just kinda floats by, perfectly pleasant
but ultimately empty.
The most amusing aspect of the Killers’ performance came from watching the
audience. When they launched into “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside,”
several girls started dancing. There was only one problem with that: none of
them knew how to dance. They were like what my friend Brett said about Celine
Dion when he saw her in Vegas: they’re all elbows. These were attractive women,
and they looked painfully awkward, even when dancing in place. Why doesn’t
anyone know how to dance anymore? I guess that’s the downside of pop and
alternative radio largely featuring music that isn’t made to dance to. Sigh.
Their set is winding down, and once again, the herd is moving. My last band of
the weekend starts in 10 minutes. Hey, is that Seth Cohen I see?
8:30 – Death Cab For Cutie, Budweiser Select stage
The Dandy Warhols are going past their cutoff time, and so while we patiently
wait for the bane of Summer Roberts’ existence to hit the stage, we’re subjected
to the Warhols playing the same series of notes over and over again, with no
variation, for about 10 minutes. Buffybot and I look at each other and smile,
knowing that we made the right decision to see the Killers.
For a band as mid-tempo as Death Cab, I was surprised at how lively their live
set was. They opened with the superb “A Movie Script Ending,” and Buffybot and I
were on the high, way, high, way. They featured a generous portion of
Transatlanticism, including my personal fave “Expo ’86,” although singer Ben
Gibbard’s vocals were completely drowned out on that one. In fact, this was the
first show I had personally seen all weekend that had questionable sound.
They played this really great tune that says “I loved you Guinevere” over and
over. I didn’t recognize it, but it made me want to run out and buy whatever
record it came from. I look up their lyrics online, and discover that it’s “We
Laugh Indoors,” from The Photo Album, the track right after “A Movie
Script Ending.” Hmmm, maybe I should pull that album out again.
I heard two songs from their upcoming album, Plans. The first single,
“Soul Meets Body,” felt a little flat, but another new song they played later in
the set was much better, a very bouncy, almost power pop kind of tune. But it
got to about 9:10, Buffybot and I hadn‘t eaten, and we’re facing the prospect of
dealing with about 30,000 people heading to the subway at the same time. So we
checked out. Yeah, we missed “The Sound of Settling,” and quite possibly “Transatlanticism.”
But we had tapas on our minds, and Emilio’s closes at 10:00. Sorry, Ben, but I
have a glass of sangria and an order of datiles con tocino (dates wrapped in
bacon, with red pepper sauce) with my name all over it.
The show, by all accounts, was a smashing success. Everything was reasonably
priced, there were no lines, and the audience, for the most part, was incredibly well
behaved and sober (though I did have the misfortune of stepping into a porta-let
on Sunday that someone had puked in). I didn’t see any fights, and didn’t see
anyone get kicked out. The bands, by and large, sounded great, and no one was
Someone does need to address the issue of the stages, though. That space is
simply too small for four stages without any carryover of sound. If you must put
all four of them on the softball diamonds, then angle the SBC stages inwards
more, so they don’t drown out the other stages. Or, perhaps they make it a more
traditional Lollapalooza setting and simply have two main stages and a side
stage, so that there is less direct competition between the bands. I thought I
was going to get to see a ton of bands this weekend, but wound up not seeing
nearly as many as I had hoped.
But you should know that, while I say this, there was a part of me that wanted
to blow off Sunday entirely, even though it meant missing Death Cab, Spoon and
the Killers. Maybe I’m just too old (36) to do two-day music festivals anymore.
All in all, I had a great time, but I’m not sure I’d do it again, under the
current arrangement. Plus, when word leaked that they were looking at moving it
to the east and west coasts next year, they really lost me. The west coast has
Coachella. The east coast has CMJ. The south has South by Southwest. Why not
leave Lollapalooza where it is? Also, I agree with Derogatis’ suggestion that
they change the name, and give it something Chicago-based.
One last note, from the Sun-Times: Perry Farrell, when introducing the Arcade
Fire, said that he couldn’t wait to see them play. Then he walked offstage and
slipped into his trailer. This was after MTV tried to get a series of
“unscripted” clips of Farrell backstage, only to make him do multiple takes.
Unscripted comments being rehearsed? Perry Farrell playing the role of
shill-happy spokesperson? This is not your father’s Lollapalooza. But it ain’t
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