For the third year in a row Johanna and I attended Lollapalooza in Chicago. It’s become a tradition and a great excuse to return to a city we love. (As I type this, I’m watching My Boys on TBS. Yes, I love Chicago so much that I’ll even watch My Boys.)
I thought I would share my belated thoughts on the festival, along with some photos I took and a few terrible, shaky, fraction-of-the-full-song videos that I took. Because who doesn’t love terrible videos?
Friday, August 6th
4:00 – 5:00 The New Pornographers
During the first act of a music festival I’m always relatively distracted trying to get my bearings and people-watch, so it’s a shame that we started things off on Friday with The New Pornographers, a band that I actually like quite a bit. I don’t remember much from their set. I know Neko Case was wearing a big floppy hat, and I know that they played a nice version of “Challengers.” That’s about it.
5:00 – 5:50 Dirty Projectors
Reviews of this performance were pretty mixed, and seemed to be less about the performance and more about how much the individual reviewer actually likes Dirty Projectors. Well, I like Dirty Projectors and loved Bitte Orca, and I thought they were great. The tempo of the songs was even less stable live, and several seemed just about to collapse before Dave Longstreth pulled everything back together. The erratic nature added a nice bit of tension and seemed to snap me to attention, which was good since I’d been sleepwalking during the New Pornographers.
Johanna and I really enjoy this stage because it’s usually easy to get pretty close to the action, and also because we’ve seen some of our best afternoon/early evening shows here (Sharon Jones, Santigold, Band of Horses).
5:50 – 6:00 Matt & Kim
We left Dirty Projectors a few minutes early to grab some food on the way to Hot Chip and try to catch the last few minutes of Matt & Kim. It was really the only band conflict we had this year, but considering how good Dirty Projectors were and the fact that we still made it down to the other side of the park in time to hear “Daylight,” I think we made the right choice.
Our food run also resulted in the first of several orders of delicious chicken tenders from the Robinson’s #1 Ribs tent that I would have over the course of the weekend. Or, perhaps I should say the first one and a half orders of chicken tenders, since I ate most of Johanna’s, too.
6:00 – 7:00 Hot Chip
Great set, but boy do I always have trouble getting at all close to this stage, as evidenced by the following terrible video.
Considering how far away we were, though, Johanna and I were both remarkably engaged in this fun, dance-y set. She even decided to buy the rest of their albums; I only have The Warning. In addition to the good music, we got to hang out next to this huge San Antonio Spurs fan.
7:00 – 8:00 Chromeo/Lounging
I knew pretty much nothing about Chromeo coming in and basically only saw the set because of the proximity to Hot Chip and Lady Gaga. Sounded pretty good, though.
We also took this opportunity to check out the toilet situation, which was a vast improvement over previous years. The entirety of Columbus Drive was Port-O-Potties!
We then purchased “sport bottles” of wine in preparation for the evening’s main event.
8:00 – 10:00 Lady Gaga
Things were pretty crazy all day long on this end of the park. Lady Gaga was obviously pulling in fans that had no interest in the rest of the festival and just hung out near her stage all day.
The pulsing mob of humanity was not enough to convince some people to stand up and abandon their blanket, though.
Interesting way to find your friends in the huge crowd:
The show began with a huge white sheet blocking the stage that was built specifically for her Lollapalooza performance and supposedly cost $150,000.
I’m not sure this neon bird’s nest was worth the money.
Maybe it was the sport bottle of wine talking, but I was kind of bored. I’m apparently not as interested in getting to the Monster’s Ball as some people. I still like her songs a lot, but I think I’m over her shtick.
I was happy to hear “Just Dance” relatively early. Everything else was pretty back-loaded.
So, I guess it was pretty good, but by the end of the night I had sworn off sport bottles of wine and was kind of wishing I’d seen The Strokes instead. There’s something to be said for the sheer spectacle of her show, though.
Saturday, August 7th
3:15 – 4:15 The xx
We again chose lounging at the hotel over an early start on the day, and missed out on opportunities to see The Morning Benders, Stars, and Rogue Wave. Oh, well. Our old friend Mike, who was appropriately dressed in a t-shirt featuring the logo of a beloved band from our college years, joined us for the day.
Everyone seemed to be saying beforehand that The xx would not translate well to the hot Chicago afternoon, and I guess I let that set the tone for my enjoyment of the show. I don’t really remember much about it, other than thinking that The xx had obviously outgrown this secondary stage. The place was absolutely mobbed.
4:15 – 5:15 Grizzly Bear
You know what’s no fun? Standing behind Rik Smits at a concert.
I was a bit worried that Grizzly Bear would be either too mellow or too sonically fragile to stand up to a festival setting, but I was wrong on both counts. The set was peppy and very well mixed.
The show also featured a really awesomely exuberant sign language translator who, thanks to me, has become a YouTube sensation.
5:15 – 6:15 Metric/Food
We stood around for a few songs of the Metric set, with me hoping for “Monster Hospital,” but eventually gave up and decided to get some more chicken tenders and a drink and sit down for a bit before Spoon.
6:15 – 7:30 Spoon
Spoon is great. You can really tell they’ve been playing together for a decade and a half.
Britt Daniel was in all white and the rest of the band wore all black, which was kind of fun, but sort of weirdly staged. They had a full brass section, though, which is something I always love.
7:45 – 8:15 Green Day
We hustled across the park (unfortunately, missing Cut Copy) to see the beginning of the Green Day set.
The theatrics were certainly exciting and Billie Joe Armstrong is, at this point, a pretty good showman.
I have trouble caring, though. And it all felt really artificial. But this guy was certainly into it:
8:30 – 10:00 Phoenix
We head all the way back across the park to get to Phoenix, one of the bands I was most excited to see.
When a band can open with “Lisztomania” and close with “1901,” they are really going to have to screw up the rest of the set for it to be a bad show.
Phoenix exceeded expectations, though, and this turned out to be one of the more fun concerts I’ve ever been to. The energy level stayed high throughout. It was kind of shocking to me how into the show and familiar with the music everyone was. And the crowd was huge. I love Phoenix, but I didn’t realize how big they had become. Good for them.
I’m not sure they realized how big they had become, either. Thomas Mars seemed almost overwhelmed by the crowd and said it was the biggest audience they had ever played a show for. This seems to happen a lot at festivals and is one of my favorite things about Lollapalooza. There’s nothing like the pure excitement of a band that’s used to playing tiny clubs getting to play an afternoon set in front of five or ten thousand people.
They closed with “1901” and then did a reprise of it for their encore. I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun singing along at a concert.
Sunday, August 8th
4:00 – 5:00 Yeasayer
Remember how I was worried about Grizzly Bear being sonically fragile? It turns out I should have been more concerned about Yeasayer. Lots of instruments onstage at the same time led to a weird audio mix and the songs seemed to sort of halfheartedly drip out into the hot Chicago day.
Things tightened up near the end, though. Two solid albums have helped these guys carve out a pretty solid set list. A few more years of touring and one more album and they’ll be putting on a hell of a show.
I think I like the songs that Anand Wilder sings better than the ones sung by Chris Keating, but that might just be because Keating looks like an extra from the “Dick in a Box” video.
5:00 – 6:00 Frightened Rabbit
These guys have certainly outgrown the third-tier stage they were playing. We couldn’t get anywhere close to them, and ended up stuck behind the tree line without a clear view of the stage.
They sounded good, though. I didn’t know much about them going in; they were one of Johanna’s picks. Walking up to the stage I heard the lead singer say “cheers” and was annoyed, thinking they were American. I was relieved to find out they were Scottish. I’ll have to buy the album.
6:00 – 7:15 MGMT
We saw MGMT at Lollapalooza back in 2008 and were really disappointed. We had been listening to Oracular Spectacular all year and they were one of the acts we were most excited about. They turned out to be very raw, unprepared, and ultimately sort of boring. They have definitely tightened things up over the past couple of years, though, and sounded great.
Andrew VanWyngarden is trying VERY hard to be young Bob Dylan. It seemed a bit desperate to me, but Johanna seemed to very much enjoy the look.
This is another band that is BIG now. I mean, I knew they were popular, but the crowd was huge, and populated by lots of high school and early college looking kids. They must be using MGMT as background music on Jersey Shore or something.
7:15 – 8:00 Food
Every song by The National sort of sounds the same to me, so we took this opportunity to grab our last food of the festival. On the way, we found Waldo.
I should say we attempted to grab our last food of the festival. Johanna got some tacos, but there were crazy lines for everything that looked good to me, and we didn’t really have time to wait or to walk to the other side of the festival, where Robinson’s #1 Ribs was located. And we all know that I just wanted some more chicken tenders from Robinson’s #1 Ribs. My mood quickly soured.
8:30 – 10:00 Arcade Fire
My mood did not improve when we headed back to the Budweiser stage to get ready for the headliner and discovered that the drink tent was out of wine. Also, we ended up jammed in front of a girl who felt obligated to scream along with every song in one of the more shrill voices I’ve ever heard. Arcade Fire was really going to have to bring it to salvage the evening for me.
They did not disappoint. As much as I wanted to be grouchy, I couldn’t resist the draw of what turned out to be one of the better shows I’ve ever seen.
The Suburbs is a great album, and Johanna and I had been listening to it on repeat in the days leading up to the show, so we were prepared for a set heavy with new songs. They played a great mix of songs from all three albums, though.
Here’s another band that has gotten unbelievably big. They seem to be completely up to the arena challenge, though.
Closer “Wake Up” could not have been a more triumphant end to Lollapalooza 2010. (In this video you’ll notice that I keep shakily pointing the camera at the sky. I was not drunk. I was unsuccessfully trying to capture all of the glow sticks that were flying through the air.)
To close things out, I’m going to rank all of the headliners I’ve seen in my three years at Lollapalooza* from best show to worst show:
1) Yeah Yeah Yeahs
3) Arcade Fire
4) Kanye West
6) Lady Gaga
7) Kings of Leon
8 ) Wilco
* Some of you might be thinking that if I were to see a headliner all three nights of three years of Lollapalooza, I should have nine bands listed here. Explanation: Sunday night, 2009, faced with deciding between The Killers and Jane’s Addiction, I chose a shower at the hotel instead.