Stranded In Stereo: Lollapalooza 2008, Part One

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lollapalooza 2008, Part One

I’m now four days removed from this year’s Lollapalooza, and I find myself thanking God that nothing happened to me that would project flashbacks a la Vietnam. I still have matching bruises on my knees, albeit they are fading. My jaw, which suffered a blow from what I’m pretty sure was an unintentional fist thrown, has recovered. I’m now writing this finally, days later, in a car after a much-needed rest on the shores of New Jersey. You could now refer to this part of my vacation as Part One Million: The Sickening. My throat, sore and scratchy from the most yelling I have done in 24 years, finally gave way to a snotty head cold, probably from living in a hotel the past seven days surrounded by germs, air conditioning and cigarette smoke.

But what brought us here? What has brought us to a moment that, a week after we touched down in Chicago, finds me even more under rest than before?


I had never seen a line like this. It might as well have just gone around the entire diameter of Grant Park. It wasn’t like this last year; honestly Gianni and I don’t remember it being this bad. The mass of people outside of the Lolla locale was nothing like I had see before in my life. Maybe it was because nine hours later, Radiohead would grace the AT&T stage and would go on to play an amazing two hour set to somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000. What was the biggest downfall was after reaching the front gates, people were just walking in: we didn’t need to wait in line anyway.

We missed Bang Camaro start the day off, but we headed to the South end of the park anyway. Holy Fuck was the first band on the AT&T stage; people were already drinking their $5 Bud products, passing J’s and lord knows what else as turntableism was in battle with a furious live drum kit. I honestly had never been so hot in my life and I’m pretty sure day one, known in my group as The Bitchening, was the hotter than any day Gianni and I took in last year.

We planted are hooves and then asses in front of the MySpace stage, trying to stay cool as we awaited Rogue Wave to get their set started. I knew it was probably going to be the best Rogue Wave show I had ever seen – the band have many a time professed a love for the Windy City, as evident in the track “Chicago X 12”, a song about playing in Chi City. Before they even took stage, the Q101 DJ’s who introduced them had already made reference to the fact that the band, who had a song called “Lake Michigan”, was playing right before it. The set was odd: they opened with typical closer “Love’s Lost Guarantee” and closed on the assault of “Harmonium” which just signaled a great day was ahead for all. I also probably had sweat out five or so pounds, but I really didn’t seem to mind at all. I just did my best to stay hydrated and in the shade when I could.

Conveniently, as in up the steps on the other side of the bushes on the Citi Stage, Louis XIV was the next band on our to see list. Before that, I did manage to let my ears pick up on a few moments of Yeasayer’s set from the AT&T stage and it actually really made me want to sit with All Hour Cymbals. Yeah, I’ll get right on that. I wasn’t sure where Louix XIV was from – I thought they were either from across the pond because of Jason Hill’s snide and snarky vocals, or Detroit. They’re actually from San Diego, but apparently hang out with their friends in Las Vegas that moonlight as The Killers from time to time. I thought I’d notice some of the songs from The Best Little Secrets Are Kept since it was all over during my college radio tenure, but really the only song I noticed was their minor hit “Finding Out True Love Is Blind”.

A sausage and Sweet Leaf lemonade later, we headed to the North end of the park for the first time all day so Gianni could catch the Black Keys tearing it up on the Bud Light stage. We got there right in time for them to start, missing every last possible second of Duffy’s set on the Playstation 3 stage. They catered to their fan base, not only playing their most recognizable songs like “Your Touch” and “10 AM Automatic”, but also songs form their Danger Mouse produced
Attack & Release.

And as quickly as they had started and we had arrived in that end of the park, we vanished and headed back south in time for Grizzly Bear. I had been wanting to see them perform since not going to that TV On The Radio / Grizzly Bear tour in the fall of 2006, so this was one performance I was not going to miss. The band never looked more cool and confident. Adorning shades, polo shirts and shorts, it was Ed Droste that got me entangled in a momentary conversation with another fan. He said that if he were 10 or 15 pounds lighter, he’d wear those shorts, too. I just confessed that if I were in a band, that would be my wardrobe for a summer event like this. Really, Will Sheff and Jason Hill I’m talking to you, the three-piece suit is not appropriate in terrible heat. Thank you. New songs were tested and sounded fabulous, as was my jam, “Knife,” which of course Droste would then be keen to point out that CSS was up after them (their rendition of “Knife” was featured on last year’s
Friend EP).
We then headed over to the AT&T stage for the rest of our Friday, trying our best to stake out a spot for Radiohead, and we did succeed in my opinion. Before them, though, we had to get through Bloc Party. It would be the fourth time I saw them, and I really wasn’t looking forward to it, but I must say I’m happy to have caught them again. The band played a set like it was a greatest hits tour, playing the best songs from both
Silent Alarm and A Weekend In The City, an album I’m not super fond of, but live the songs finally transpired for me. Sadly, they wasted a few minutes of our evening by playing new single “Mercury” which, sadly, does not hold over well at all. Sorry, Dany Sloan.
All day, I had been making predictions of what Radiohead was going to start with. This being the first night of the second leg of their US tour for
In Rainbows, I referred back to previous set lists for pointers. “All I Need” and “Bodysnatchers” were frequent openers, but it would actually be “15 Step” that would get the night started. The thin lights were in place, dangling from the rigs and placed around members of the band. They would eventually light up the night sky, competing with the city’s skyline. The screens behind the band were long, with cameramen up high, focusing in on each member so we were not to miss a note or a sneeze for the next two hours. They would play all of In Rainbows, breaking it up with some of the best songs of their career. Ganni was overjoyed with “Paranoid Android” and “Fake Plastic Trees”, I was happy there was no “Creep” and that “The Gloaming” snuck in the middle. “The National Anthem” was a multimedia assault; the red, white and blue lights flashed amidst samples that made me feel like we were eavesdropping on people on phones and other modes of communication. Maybe we were and I don’t even know it. But what might’ve been the clutch moment was the second encore of “2+2=5” in to “Idioteque”. After that, it was 10:01 PM, and we could all say that it was easily the best performance of the day. The real question was how would it stand up to the rest of the weekend? Was there someone else who could challenge, even defeat the ‘Head?
Day Two, known among this year’s travel collective as The Insultening, was a drastic change in temperature and scenery from Day One. The humidity was gone as the festivalgoers were treated to a lake effect breeze and clear skies. This would prove to be our busiest day, with nothing but two hours that would were spread out that featured no one we wanted to see.

We started off on the North side this day, catching Does It Offend You, Yeah? as they played to a rather large crowd on the Bud Light stage. We were nice and close to the front for optimal photo opportunities. Going in to it, I was nervous since I had read their live sets were pretty much amazing or horribly awful. Lucky for us, the band was on the spot. There were some off moments, like the unplugging of a mic here or the breaking of a string there, but who cares, they had the crowd’s full attention. I was so enthralled by the fact that they were performing my favorite song off of You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into (“With A Heavy Heart (I Regret To Inform You)”), that we missed one of the band’s members throw up. After that, I was excited to run over to the Playstation 3 stage and catch Mason Jennings, but was sadly let down. After five or six songs, and not a one off of this year’s pristine In The Ever, I was ready to walk away. Something about DIOYY in to Mr. Jennings just didn’t work for me. A bad transition I was not ready for.

Something else I was not ready for, rather not expecting, was who was next. For many a month now, I could not get in to Foals to save my life, but their set that afternoon on the Citi Stage gets the award for Most Surprising Set To Be Rather Enjoyed By Me. Their musicianship was tight: they played like they had been doing it for centuries, not missing a step or a beat. I guess I need to track down Antidotes now.

Down the steps we trekked after the infamous Chicken On A Stick, and saw what had to be the biggest crowd at the MySpace stage all weekend for MGMT. Rather than scoot up in to that, we took the advantage of the AT&T stage being somewhat empty and getting a good spot for Brand New.

Brand New. Brand New. Tsk tsk. Almost two years ago now, Gianni bugged me, begged of me, to listen to
The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Of Me. When I finally did, it came in to my life at the perfect time and I can still listen to it and enjoy it. I was about as excited as he was to see them, being his first time seeing one of his favorites. What we ended up being treated to was something we were not expecting. Maybe it was something we were not even ready for.

The crowd was huge. Were they all Brand New fans or were there people staking out a spot for Rage Against The Machine that night? Whatever the case, lead singer Jessie Lacey was none too pleased. Between two songs, he asked the crowd “Why are you not seeing Explosions In The Sky?” referring to the fact they were playing at the same time as them a mile away. “You should be seeing them, you’re all fools.” A song later, they introduced the following number as “Go See Explosions In The Sky”. Was Lacey surprised and upset by this many people seeing him? Was he upset because his guitar was totally out of tune for part of “Sowing Season”? Did somebody forget to take their meds? Whatever the case, they started “You Won’t Know,” introduced as “Bomb Track”, a Rage Against The Machine song. During the song’s bridge, Lacey finally cracked a smile, swaying back and forth as he belted out the line ‘Cause you’re the apple of my eye anyway,’ but I’m convinced that was all sarcasm. Moments later, his guitar came off and he threw it right in to the drum kit. I was surprised no one was hurt. 15 minutes before they were due to end, it was all over. Were there more songs, no one knows. Chuck caught a glimpse of the out of focus set on the big screen like I did, and that could’ve been it. We were all convinced that it was a premature finale. While MGMT played and we sat and listened, right before their first song they stated “We are Radiohead, thank you for coming to see us play,” which I found hysterical, but for some reason, Lacey’s ungratefulness didn’t sit so well with me. This would lead me to a great joke later on about him joining Joy Division at the BMI stage.

We stopped for a round of beers as we headed over to catch Broken Social Scene on the Bud Light stage. Two years ago, many easily deflected that the Canadian superpower were the performance of the entire weekend, mainly in part to the hot indie sex dream of Feist, Amy Milan and Emily Haines altogether on the same stage. Would we get an encore this year? Of course not. The band took the stage as the sun hid behind the Sears Tower and Brendan Canning immediately caught my attention. It was not his burly beard and safety goggle glasses, but more his colorful tank top, white pants and matching shoes. I declared it was a rather indie Elton John look he had bestowed upon the crowd. I guess I was right. “Pacific Theme” would start the show off, leading in to “Cause = Time”. Amy Milan would eventually join them to sing Feist’s part of “Shoreline (7/4),” and they would end an hour later with a gut wrenching take on “It’s All Gonna Break”. As a long time fan, I was a bit let down they ended a festival set with the 10-minute epic that closes out their self-titled album and would’ve loved for them to close on “Ibi Dreams Of Pavement” but it was still good none the less. They did, after all, play “Love Is New”.
And it was back across the park we headed, that long mile we were all so familiar with by the end of that day, for Rage Against The Machine. We staked out a spot on the right, and inched in a bit to the left. I was convinced that maybe the crowd wouldn’t be so nuts back that far, while the rest of my friends said I might be surprised. We could hear the Toadies playing to their masses, running through “Possum Kingdom” and “Tyler” from the MySpace stage, as the camera started to focus on the crowd in front of the AT&T stage. The crowd was already shifting and moving, and the red star hadn’t even been erected yet. But once the lights went out and that banner came up as the backdrop, and the band took the stage, it was coming. Tom Morello’s never to be replicated guitar style ripped open and Brad Wilk started the drum roll that would introduce “Testify”. The crowd surged forward, the song launched, and so did all of we. And then, a fist clocked me right across the chin. I also lost track of two of my closest friends. The next 90 minutes would be interesting for all.

To Be Continued.

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