Monday, August 16, 2010
The truth is... I did attend Lollapalooza for the whole weekend, contrary to my lack of updates. Here's a recap of Saturday.
Saturday was a test of endurance and without question the busiest day of the Lollapalooza weekend. Waking up early with the Morning Benders and seeing Phoenix headline against the Chicago skyline alone would be enough, but in between were some of the shows I was most excited for all weekend.
The Morning Benders
The Morning Benders took the near impossible to find Sony Bloggie stage promptly at noon to take full advantage of their 30 min time slot. Despite the disadvantages of the early set and time limit there were plenty of fans to support. The Bender's are riding the acclaim and buzz of their album Big Echoes(#6 on my top 10 albums of the year so far),and pleased the crowd as such by playing songs only from that album. They opened with a rendition of "Stitches" that built in tension throughout, growing to an unstable and unsustainable finale and then kicked it down a notch with their following tracks only to build with the last three. They changed up a lot of their songs from the album and seemed to be holding back some, especially in the middle of the set. Along with "Stitches", the sing along finale to "Excuses" was the highlight with the entire crown in unison mimicking the La's and Da's of the band. With killer harmonies reminiscent of the Beatles and Beach Boys, the Morning Benders are sure to be a band that consistently gets later and longer festival time slots each Summer.
Asleep at Heaven's Gate, Rogue Wave's 2007 release has become one of my favorite albums, and their 2003 and 2005 releases are never far from my stereo, but since the end of 2007 nothing but bad luck has come their way. They have experienced lineup changes, the death of a bassist, near fatal kidney disease of a founding member Pat Spurgeon and two slipped discs in the neck of front man Zach Rogue rendering him paralyzed for months. With his creative juices flowing once more Rogue and crew have but together their most ambitious release yet with 2010's Permalight. Regardless of how ambitious it is, I can't seem to enjoy it in the same way as their previous albums. Partly due to thin production and partly due to a new, somewhat forced direction, the record comes off as tinny and forced. I checked their 45 minute set out and suffered the burning sun eager to hear some classics and hoping that the new tracks live would change my mind about the album. The first 4 tracks of the set came straight from Permalight and did nothing to change my mind about the record. I held out to be rewarded with the final 5 songs coming from previous releases, each one sounding more confident, louder, and grander than anything from the first four.
The crowd was packed tight for the xx's 3'oclock Saturday set. This indie buzz band has a sound more fitting for a church or a personal show than an afternoon festival slot but despite their minimalist sound they held up well in the sunshine and open space. With xx super fans clinging to every whispered word, the band played almost straight through their debut album, xx. Like their album, the live show was all minimalism and careful consideration of space, and for playing out of their comfort zone, a very worthwhile set.
I saw Grizzly Bear play at the Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri last fall and was blown away. It took me a while to get into their latest Veckatimest, and I still can't get into some of their older material, but once I finally reached that point with their 2009 release, it really spoke to me. I was excited to see them again, but their epic sound just doesn't translate very well to festival setting. They played 11 tracks all of which were picked for outdoor play, but some of the more subtle intricacies heard on their record or in a more personal setting were lost in the open air. The crowd responded well to most of the songs from "Veckatimest" and were especially warm to "Two Weeks". The harmonies were on and they built tension and emotion just like on the their latest but were really missing some indoor acoustics.
Veteran indie-rockers Spoon have become festival mainstays and rarely disappoint. Reeling off of this years release and my #2 record of the year,
Transference, Britt Daniel and crew proved immediately why their were so many people waiting for the show to start. Daniel opened solo with an acoustic rendering of "Me and the Bean" before the rest of the band and supporting brass musicians entered for "Nobody Gets Me But You". The brass section gave the band some extra muscle under the quickly sinking sun, really adding emphasis to select tracks fromGa Ga Ga Ga Ga but also to older classics such as "Jonathon Fisk". Daniel as always was punchy and emotional on the guitar but his real power comes from his lungs, crooning one second, switching to falsetto on the fly, screaming and bellowing only to arrive at a sweet serenade of a finish. Daniel was dressed all in white for the show, but even without the flash he stuck out. I was lucky enough to catch them twice on this tour seeing them at the 80/35 festival in Des Moines on the 3rd of July, and was rewarded both times. Because of this, I didn't feel too bad leaving a second early to make some serious ground for the next band on my list, Cut Copy.
Everyone's feet were busy during perhaps the danciest show I have ever been too. Cut Copy played a couple of new songs to positive response but mostly stuck to their trumping hits from their last and near perfect In Ghost Colours. "Lights and Music", "Hearts on Fire", and "Out There On the Ice" were the hits but the rest of their catalog was almost as moving. If the show had a fault it was that the mix was a little off at the beginning with the vocals started too high and then vastly over-corrected. Before the first two songs finished the problems were fixed and the band got better and better with each passing track.
When I read the lineup for Lollapalooza I could hardly believe that Phoenix would be one of the six headliners. It has only been a year since the French group gifted the earth with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix but by this time it's a sure bet that indie kids and dentist dads alike have heard either "Lisztomania" or "1901". Phoenixmania has definitely infected the musical world, however they're not a new band as their surge of popularity might suggest. In fact they've been crafting perfectionist pop anthems since 1999 and have a strong catalog of four full-lengths and a live album but also having spending some time backing another little French band called Air. The show itself was good, like the music they perform it was well scripted and super precise. The setlist didn't change and the songs are played mostly like they are on the studio albums. However the band cruised and Thomas Mars is a showman if there ever was one. Phoenix played a memorable show and it was a nice cap on a great year, I just wanted a breakthrough performance to go with it.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
After a month's spell in Europe I was ready to land stateside. Primary reason-- Lollapalooza. This year's Lolla came prepackaged with a lineup carrying a serious punch. Mainstream enough to sell a mass amount of tickets, indie enough to maintain hipster credibility and Canadian enough to Include the Arcade Fire, Stars, the New Pornographers and Metric.
I landed in the late afternoon August 5th, one day before the start of the festival. Jet lag didn't creep up on me like usual, it greeted me the second I stepped off of the airplane with a concussed blow to the skull. I staggered through the airport to find my friends who (bless their hearts) were still waiting to pick me up in the airport 4 hours after scheduled time. We had planned on going to the city, and they were not going to let my disorientation throw off their game, so I threw my bags in the boot and we metro'd it downtown. In the two days prior to Chicago I took stops in Florence and London, two decent spots to hang out, but I had forgotten just how striking the city of Chicago is. A couple dizzying hours of shopping and dining later, we headed to the suburbs where I was staying with a friend and her parents. They were great and made the weekend comfortable and inexpensive.
Friday morning came too early and my body was still a little shaky. I boarded the train in the late afternoon, but not in time to catch some of the early shows I had planned on. B.o.B, Wavves, and the Walkmen were sacrificed for some sleep. This is what I saw Friday--
The Big Pink
My Lollapalooza virginity was stolen by the Big Pink and their giant wall of sound. A maelstrom of noise shook the crowd from the opening seconds, and I found myself envying those around me with ear plugs. Without question the show was one of the loudest of the festival chalk full of reverb, static and plenty of feedback. The crowd responded to singles "Velvet", "Tonight", and "Dominoes" with fervor, but also responded well to other songs from their debut A Brief History of Love. Regardless of how much raw sound they were able to feed the audience, the Big Pink suffered from their festival placement. Under the 3'oclock sun many in the crowd were more worried about re-applying sunscreen than the music. Not that they could completely ignore it. Put the Big Pink into a church, night slot or a more intimate venue and without question the audience would be more impressed and not veering off for good spots at Devo or the New Pornographers.
The New Pornographers
I was able to catch about 12 of the New Pornographers 15 song pop run through. Super group is always a label thrown around while discussing the New Pornographers, but onstage they do a good job of staying humble and passing the torch amongst themselves. It is amazing what this band can do with simple catchy chords and lyrics, and harmonies that when on could make any band at the festival envious. The band needed a few songs to really catch on, maybe it was the bright sun on their faces or general nervousness, but for a while in the beginning their harmonies were almost uniformly off-key. This was fixed quick enough and by the time the fourth track "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras" rung, the band was in full swing.
The Dirty Projectors
The New Pornographers mentioned the crowd turning around for the Dirty Projectors set at the opposite stage. They also mentioned they were big fans, a trend that cool bands seem to be following. The Dirty Projector's make music made for musicians. It's complicated, mathematical, and contains enough key changes and time signature shifts to keep anyone who hasn't heard them before guessing. At the same time it is semi-poppy and fairly accessible. Not quite as populated as I thought, the Dirty Projectors played one of my favorite sets of the weekend. With a comfortable slot on the shady Playstation stage the Dirty Projectors played mostly songs from their latest Bitte Orca with a few others thrown in including "Knotty Pine" their song off of the Dark Was the Night charity album (hmmm familiar?). Rumor had it that many of the festival's other musicians were at the show as well as some other celebrities. The three female singers that accompany Dave Longstreth's experimental indie rock band each have platinum-coated jaw flooring scream pipes that harmonize unlike anything I've ever heard. Hearing them recreate the latest Projector's record was something I felt fortunate to see. However, this also turned into annoyance as the people around me tried to replicate the voices and sing along. The Dirty Projector's are not a sing along band.
The second the Dirty Projector's finished, I strapped my dancing boots on and high-tailed it to Hot Chip at the Parkways stage. Hot Chip was missing one of its founding members Joe Goddard, absent on account of his near bursting pregnant wife (thank god for musical babies). I forgave Joe quickly, but could quickly tell that the band wasn't fully functioning. Goddard is a frequent harmonizer, percussionist and he fumbles around with some synthesizers as well and with his absence, the set sounded a little hollow. Given the circumstances, Hot Chip played a fantastic show feeding the crowd mostly bangers such as "Over and Over" and "Ready for the Floor" that were all received well. Hot Chip benefited from being the last on the Parkways stage before Lady Gaga and found themselves playing to a sea of fans, one of the biggest non-headlining shows of the weekend. The Gaga fans were ready to dance and Hot Chip served up synthy-dance rock with a touch of humanism that many dance groups are missing these days.
Part of the job description for being in the Strokes is being cool. If I could be in a band it would be the Strokes. If I had kids in a band, I would want it to be exactly like the Strokes. Singer and enviable rock-god Julian Casablancas wore sunglasses at night, a studded leather jacket with a sweatshirt underneath (Dude, it is like 90 degrees out!)and can scream and sing exactly like he used to. In their first show in the states in four years the Strokes picked up exactly where they left off. They played a tight set that lasted the better part of an hour running through all the hits and classics of the first two albums while largely ignoring their third. They played a set nearly identical to the one they always have, they didn't change or jam on any of the songs. It was a no frills rock show, exactly what I had expected it to be, and exactly what the fans wanted. What enables the Strokes to act in such a way? Partly because their image is a part of their appeal, but mostly because no one else can quite do it like they can. Just an opinion but the Strokes are a rock band set apart, and they know it. As long as they keep delivering, I'll keep listening, and I won't get too frustrated when they only play an hour when given an hour and a half.