Now that Zack and I are starting to settle into our apartment, we’re ready to show of some of our most prized possessions — the Easy Canvas Prints prints that we got during our favorite concert photography contest. The canvases are beautiful and our sad little digital camera doesn’t do them justice. They almost look like paintings — particularly Austin Writes Music’s winner Sarah Vasquez‘s Little Lo photo. Now just let us paint some walls and finish unpacking before y’all come over and see these in person, eh? Check out Zack’s post about Chad Wadsworth’s (Win)ning shot here.
Lollapalooza 2011 is special to me for quite a few reasons. Universally, it’s a big deal because it’s the 20th anniversary of the festival. 20 years ago, it was a traveling festival like Warped Tour, with a heavy focus on alternative rock groups. Now, the festival calls Chicago its home, taking full advantage of enormous, gorgeous Grant Park by setting up eight stages, with two main platforms on either end. This festival is also special to me because it is my introduction into my native Chicagoan boyfriend’s hometown friend group and family. Last year was my first time at Lollapalooza, and I was just getting to know my great music-obsessed buddy Mel at the time, so I was mostly exploring the town by myself. Now, I find I am surrounded by awesome, excitable music-lovers who grew up with Grant Park. I miss Mel sorely, but have loved rocking out with a new crew. Of course, at a festival, it all comes down to the music.
We kicked off our day early, because I haven’t been able to stop listening to Wye Oak’s debut on Merge, Civilian. Lead singer and guitarist Jenn Wasner has a deep voice she layers over her guitar shredding, and as a young female interested in music, this alone gets my blood pumping. Andy Stack is a great partner for Wasner. He plays a bellowing, heart-stomping drum and occasionally multitasks on the keyboard. The pair have painted a gorgeous, haunting picture on their album, and in the right setting, they can take their songs to another overwhelming level. Unfortunately, on a toasty day in the afternoon at a giant outdoor venue, the duo was plagued by technical difficulties, and the timing just seemed off. Wasner’s pedals were in and out during the first three songs, and you could see this talented musician slowly falling apart as a huge opportunity to gain new fans turned into a nightmare for her. After stopping in the middle of “Plains,” she looked to be at a loss, saying, “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” Finally, with some finagling and a bit of magic, things seemed to come together and the band started “Plains” a second time to loving hoots, hollers and applause. Highlights included the single and title track “Civilian,” which is a driving song that the audience recognized and got into, “That I Do,” which sounded much folksier than the remix by Mickey Free that was released on an old EP, and “I Hope You Die,” which is a desperate, destructive love song that was a sad but lovely send-off as the set winded down. Ultimately, it wasn’t the best venue for this band, but I think they pulled in some new fans and ended up having a good time.
We raced to Young the Giant as soon as Wye Oak’s set ended. This was a band that promised high energy, and they did not disappoint. Out of the gate, lead singer Sameer Gadhia’s voice was soaring, with crooner-style vibrato and intense power. The entire band is talented, but Gadhia is the show-stealer every time. As he beats himself up with his tambourine, dances and leaps up and down, it’s near-impossible to take your eyes off of him. “I Got” was the opener, and the crowd seemed involved immediately. Highlights were the best tracks off of the group’s self-titled album, including “My Apartment” and “Cough Syrup.” The latter song saw the first sing-along of the day, with hands in the air early on a Friday morning. A few slower tracks and an old one cooled everyone off before the one-two punch closer of “God Made Man” into “My Body,” which was clearly the most beloved song the band played. The entire audience was into it, dancing, singing and leaping along in the hot afternoon sun. Gadhia held nothing back, letting his voice rip out like a fighter jet. The swagger and energy of this set made it one of my favorites of the day.
Grace Potter was up next, and the boys in my party were giddy with excitement for her set. She and her Nocturnals came out, guns a’blazin, as Potter channeled Tina Turner and roared out upbeat blues rock to heat up the afternoon. Potter is hard to take your eyes off of; she owns the stage, strutting from instrument to instrument (she plays guitar and organ) and often dancing harder than most audience members. Her long blonde hair whips around her face like a weapon, and at her Lollapalooza performance, her sparkly flapper dress accentuated her movements. My favorite songs were the ones with oomph, that came barreling out of the speakers with speed and force. The band slowed things down for three songs in a row in the middle of the set, and with the heat of the afternoon sun beating down on us, it felt a little like swimming through tar. The set ended wildly, though, with the Nocturnals’ big hits, “Paris (Ooh La La)” (edited to “Ooh la la Lalapalooza” in honor of the fest), and “Medicine,” during which the entire band circled up around the drum set and banged away. Grace herself threw as many objects as she could reach into the crowd, including a big fuzzy tiger mask and a white tiger stuffed animal, which nearly took out a mic stand on the way down. This throw was reminiscent of a time a tried to toss a garbage bag into the giant bin behind my apartment complex, and Zack bore witness as I overshot far wide to the right and the bag ripped open on its sad, sloppy way to the ground. I appreciate a fellow klutz.
Before the Kills came onstage, a firework for later in the night went off a bit early, erupting in smoke and gold sparkles. It was a nice transition between the two sets, sending Potter out with a bang and making way for some darkness. Whereas our group’s men fell for Grace Potter’s feisty sensuality, I prefer the subtle sex appeal of one Alison Mosshart. I fell in love the moment I first saw Alison, in the video for the Dead Weather’s “Treat Me Like Your Mother.” She seems so sure of herself in a way that is more understated than diva Potter, and moves around the stage like a woman possessed. The duo of Mosshart and Jamie Hince were clearly beloved, as they played a nice mix of tunes. My favorites were from the album Midnight Boom, including “Tape Song,” “Sour Cherry” and “U.R.A. Fever.” As soon as the telephone boops signaled the coming of this latter song, hands shot up in the air and screams bounced around the audience. Mosshart stomped around stage, balancing on speakers in her shiny black boots, shimmying and shaking and mostly entrenched by a waterfall of black hair. At one point, two back up singers came quietly onstage, and then disappeared a few songs later. It’s kind of representative of the Kills — like a thunderstorm, they rumble along, striking with force in a storm of sound, leaving an uneasy calm in their wake. I tend to leave festivals obsessing over a few bands for a number of weeks. I have a feeling the Kills will join me in my car for a while.
The band I thought would be my show of the weekend was next, and I was jittery with excitement, clinging to our little stretch of festival gate we were leaning against like I would float away if I let go. Bright Eyes is my band and Conor Oberst is my man, with fierce political motivation, clear and rich imagery and melodies in most genres you could imagine. The bands’ catalogue is so robust that it is always a crapshoot as to what the setlist might contain. This tour has seen a good mix of old and new, and I expected a number of songs from this year’s The People’s Key, but we only ended up with three. “Four Winds” kicked everything off in an angry hoedown, and Conor didn’t address the crowd until a few songs in. He seemed especially confrontational at this Lollapalooza performance, which I tend to enjoy, but seemed to be a complete turn-off for a lot of people in the audience. The band’s fans just didn’t show up, which made the performance feel a little bit flat, particularly in comparison to their Auditorium Shores performance during South by Southwest. Still, despite lackluster crowd participation, the band sounded impeccable and pulled out tons from my favorite album, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. “Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)” was emotional, with Conor angrily screaming out, “Just when I get so desperate I can’t speak!” “Another Travelin’ Song” was dedicated to all of the bands stopping in at Lolla, and “Land Locked Blues” was a tune I’d yet to hear the group perform live. It was missing Emmylou Harris, but more fists flew up during this song than any other preceding it. Conor announced “Shell Games” for “all the phonies in the audience,” to which nobody really knew whether to hoot or boo, so we just kept quiet and looked bewilderingly at one another. He brought everyone back together for the one-two punch of the set’s end, “Road to Joy” and “One For You, One For Me.” Kids got together behind the “Road to Joy” line, “So when you’re asked to fight a war that’s over nothing/It’s best to join the side that’s gonna win/And no one’s sure how all of this got started/ But we’re gonna make ‘em god-damn certain how it’s gonna end,” as Oberst spat the words with as much venom as he could muster. He thanked us as his friends and ultimately left a sweet aftertaste with “One For You, One For Me.” He was the first musician I saw all weekend who jumped down into the crowd, and he wandered just feet away from my little section, once again evading my hyper fangirldom. My heart beat in my throat when I saw his small frame hugging luckier kids a few feet ahead of me, before he turned around and headed back to the stage as Denny Brewer was played on repeat, saying, “Mercy.”
Because of our excellent positioning, we decided to remain at our fencepost to let Coldplay end our night. We were 100% sure that Chris Martin would jump out into the crowd and run around, as he had in 2005 at Austin City Limits. We were 100% wrong. However, despite this slight disappointment, the Brits played tons of hits, with a number of new songs mixed in, and were so wide-eyed and thankful that you couldn’t help but love them. Lasers shot out from the stage, creating a giant nightclub in the middle of a field, and emphasized songs like “Yellow,” “Lost!” and “Clocks,” which were all huge sing-alongs. Really, every song was a sing-along, proving the depth of these hitmakers’ song cache. As Zack mentioned in his review of this show, we had a rolling bet for the weekend about how many times I would cry at performances: over or under 3 times. I picked under, thinking Bright Eyes, Coldplay, and My Morning Jacket might get me. Zack figured they all would for sure, and went over, hoping for a twofer at one of the performances. I ended up crying just once, during Coldplay’s performance of “The Scientist.” As Martin crooned, “Nobody said it was easy/No one ever said it would be so hard” over devastatingly tragic piano chords, I let my mind wander and lost myself in a stereotypical 20-something mini-crisis, and it was simultaneously so goofy and freeing that it made the moment a highlight of the weekend for me. Coldplay create songs that can soundtrack the overly dramatic moments of your life. If you’re like me at all, and fancy yourself a bit of a star of your own personal movie, I recommend digging through Coldplay albums for the slow-mo moments. Coldplay were the only headliners we saw who played an encore, and they killed it, with fireworks illuminating the night sky (and firework debris raining down on us) during “Fix You” and their new single, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall.”
The first band I wanted to see on Saturday wasn’t until late in the afternoon, so I trekked around some early morning mud with Andy while Zack figured out how to get in the gates, and we caught a bit of Phantogram, a band I’d wanted to see during South by Southwest. They sounded quite beautiful, although we rolled our eyes at lead singer Sarah Barthel whispering, “Thank you,” and, “This is a new song,” (to which Andy retorted, “I guess it’s a secret that it’s new.”) The group only held our attention for a few tunes, and although they sound like something I wouldn’t mind dancing around to at a club, the band suffered from another case of, “Wrong venue, wrong time slot.”
I watched Fitz and the Tantrums with Andy and Zack for a bit, but already knew I wasn’t a huge fan after Fitz’ (Michael Fitzpatrick’s) outburst at South by Southwest two years ago — he got incredibly upset about being cut off during the group’s set after the band took ages to set up due to technical difficulties, saying, “These people are here to see us! We get to play longer. Let us play longer.” (Actually, Fitz, I was there to see Miike Snow.) Still, I gave them a second chance, and left feeling similarly to the first time I saw them. Backup singer Noelle Scaggs is wonderful, a joy to watch; Fitz looks like Stephen Colbert with a white streak in his hair, pretending to front a soul band. His voice is nasally and flat, and just doesn’t compare with so many other singers playing that brand of music nowadays. Not my thing.
I raced by my lonesome over to see Dom, who were as adorably snotty as they were at CMJ. Lead singer and namesake Dom riffed with the crowd throughout the band’s set, offering some of my favorite banter of the weekend. Highlights of the banter included:
“This is probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to, so thank you — each and every one of you. We feel very, very blessed. This next one’s called ‘Jesus, Hail Satan.’”
“Tuning break. This one’s in the mixelodian scale … J.K.!”
Audience member between songs – “Time to get gnarly!”
Dom, flatly and immediately – “Nope. Not playin’ that one.”
During the song for his cat, “Bochicha”, Dom gave a small grin as a clap-along started in a wave. The band’s pretty, sparkly pop music coupled with Dom’s incredible soprano range went over very well with the music nerd crowd — who I can say with certainty were music nerds, as pre- and post-performance conversation revolved around Pitchfork, who had seen what where, and why someone didn’t get why everyone else loved so-and-so band so much. Before a begrudging, set-ending performance of “Living in America,” Dom tried to get a “USA!” chant going, but it failed so hard that he took a step back, looking distrustingly at the crowd and saying, “Buncha terrorists in the audience.” No, Dom. Just hipsters.
I was probably most excited for the Drums’ performance on Saturday, and they really blew everyone out of the water. They’ve garnered attention from fellow musicians with their throwback pop rock — I spotted Andrew Wyatt and the red headed drummer from Miike Snow wandering around on the side stage before the set started. The band had a great, Ed Sullivan-like backdrop during their set, and pumped out a few new songs that will be on their upcoming album, as well as old favorites, like “Best Friend,” “Me and the Moon,” “Book of Stories,” and “Forever and Ever Amen.” Although they performed their hit, “Down by the Water,” their biggest song to date, “Let’s Go Surfing,” was noticeably absent from the set list. Although this seemed to confound some of the kids in the crowd, there were few complaints to be had. “Money” is the latest single, and got a good reaction, as people twisted and bopped to the beat. There are a few members of the band who are fun to watch, including drummer Chris Stein, who seems the most punk of the group, and keyboardist Jacob Graham, who seemed to be directing an orchestra of one, as his arms waved to the beat in the back. As always, though, I found myself watching Jonathan Pierce most intently. Whereas Young the Giant’s Sameer has a fierce, explosive rock voice and sultry dance moves, Jonathan dances robotically, in a sort of strange, in-his-own-world tribute to David Byrne, and his voice is more angelic and crooning. But what makes Jonathan more fearless than Sameer is that Pierce makes intense and unwavering eye contact with fans as he sings. He’ll linger on a person for a full 30 seconds before moving on to his next victim. It was a bit unnerving the first time I saw the band play, but now, it is something I revel in. The guys sounded totally tight, and the musicianship and showmanship combined made them a band to beat for the whole weekend.
I only caught a chunk of the Local Natives’ performance, but I just had to see my boys before we headed over to Ween. They looked as Californian as ever spread out on the stage, and sounded beautiful, with their harmonies twisting and intertwining in the warm early evening. “This is the biggest crowd we’ve played to by far,” singer and guitarist Taylor Rice said, and it was such a treat to see them rocking it out to a sea of bodies. I couldn’t help but think of the time I saw them in a tiny club with ten other people, mostly their family members, in Austin. Their devoted fanbase online slots is so well-deserved, and I can’t wait to hear what they have in store for us in the future.
Next up, it was time to delve into darkness for some creepy, creepy Ween. The highlight of this set, for me, was the fact that I was able to recognize three different songs with just a teaser chord from the band. I remembered “Ice Castles” from their performance at Free Press Summer Fest, which is a mostly instrumental piece that weaves in and around heavy metal rock chords. I only needed a chord to call their cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” and the flute tease of “The Mollusk” was instantly recognizable. The guys seemed to be more out of it than at their Houston performance — Gene Ween mistakenly gave a shout out to Bonnaroo, although he immediately corrected himself — but they were still on target musically, and the performance reinforced my belief that they’re great to see live, but I just won’t ever sit around and spin their records on the reg. The Chicago crowds were far tamer this year than last, but I did get my one rough-up from the weekend during Ween’s set — during “Let’s Dance,” Zack and I got up to boogie, and he accidentally elbowed me in the temple. It ain’t Lolla without some physical pain.
Finally, it was time for the sun to go down and My Morning Jacket to emerge. We stayed back for this set, relaxing in the grass and avoiding the super-wasted dude-bros, drinking in the entire stage. The setup was fairly modest, with a few twisted-looking TV screens and their latest album’s cover, Circuital, as the backdrop: a green, robotic dinosaur eye. I’d seen Jim James and company a number of times before, including their 2005 Austin City Limits taping where Jim leapt into the crowd and ran right into me for a raging guitar solo, but I feel as though I forget just how hard rocking they are until I am back at a show. Nobody questioned it by the end of Saturday night. They kicked everything off with the first two tracks off of Circuital, “Victory Dance” and the title track. “Victory Dance” was particularly powerful, immediately sucking in audience members to groove around, and “Circuital” let Jim’s gorgeous falsetto “Ooh”s ring out in the night air like a friendly siren’s call. The group performed a lot of their hits from Z, which was a happy treat for me, since that was the album that initially pulled me in. “Off the Record” garnered tons of excitement, grooving along with a deep, almost reggae beat, and “Gideon” sent me skyward, leaping up and down with my fist in the air as we all declared, “Truly, truly we have become/Hated and feared for something we don’t want/Listen, listen/Most of us believe that this is wrong.” “I’m Amazed” was the most recognized and beloved song for this particular crowd, but my favorite from the same album (Evil Urges) was “Smokin’ from Shootin’,” which rumbled through the air and overwhelmed us with power and emotion, as Jim’s bellows at the song’s end morphed into “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2.” The light show mirrored the vibrations from Jim and Carl Broemel’s explosive, emotional guitar playing — colors flashed, sparkled and ripped up the crowd as chords and riffs boomed from the speakers — and I heard at least four different people mumble, awe-struck, about Patrick Hallahan’s wild drumming. Hallahan literally looked like Animal on the kit, his hair flying wildly with every motion, and he inserted his signature clock-hand movements near the end of the set. There was no encore; it was the first time in a long time I saw a headliner pack in as much as they could without trekking off-stage, and more shocking, seeing as Jim and co. were dressed to the nines in suits, jackets, and even a vampire cape (on Jim, of course) in the hot, sticky night air. It was what I imagine rock ‘n’ roll should be like; total ownership over instruments, the crowd, and the mood. A perfect ten, and hands-down the best performance of the weekend.
There’s a moment during a festival weekend where you want to give up. As much fun as you’re having, your body aches all over to the point of pinching you awake when you try to fall asleep, and your eyes are puffy and heavy from hard, hard rocking, and your neck feels creaky from head-banging. Somehow, you drag your dead, beaten corpse out of bed, rinse it off, stuff some kind of sustenance in your mouth, zombie-like, put on dirty shoes and slowly walk back into the park for more. It’s the last day. You have to summon any energy you have left, and even some you don’t have, and give it all you’ve got.
There was rain in the early morning on Sunday, so Zack and I took umbrellas with us to look somewhat presentable at a brunch with his friends. Unfortunately, there was no where to drop the umbrellas off after brunch, so we each took one under our arm, grumbling at the annoyance, not knowing that these clumsy, striped white-and-red objects would end up saving the day later on.
We laid out in the shade of a big tree to the side of one of the main Lolla stages, and enjoyed the sounds of The Joy Formidable. The band played big, fast synth rock with strong female vocals from Ritzy Bryan, and simultaneously cooled us off and pumped us up. Noah and the Whale, the band we actually camped out to hear, was less impressive; they were cute, but seemed to be doing a poor impression of Fanfarlo, who we both love. The music was a tad bit too sleepy for the early afternoon, and we wandered over to a different stage before the group’s entire set was up.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. had a lot more energy during their performance. Although I figured they’d be some kind of alternative country the first time I saw their name, they surprised me by pumping out twee pop tune after twee pop tune. They make fun, gentle electronic pop that is positive and youthful, with an emphasis on living life and anti-corporate messages. At certain points, their set was a little too “excitable choir kid” for my comfort, but overall, they managed to get a crowd of indies dancing and smiling and having a blast. They covered “I Will Always Love You” non-ironically (I think), and “Bring Me a Higher Love” with some “99 Red Balloons” thrown in for good measure. They also were one of the more theatrical bands I saw during the festival, coordinating in white shirts with thick red lettering that said, “YOUR AD HERE,” in all caps. They also brought on a chorus of friends in creepy bone masks for the song “Skeleton.” My favorite was the song “Simple Girl,” which was perfect for the breezy and warm summer afternoon. Oh, and seeing Cappie (Scott Michael Foster) waltz by near the beginning of their set.
I was on my own for the next chunk of my afternoon, and I made my way slowly over to one of the main stages for my favorite Irish punks, Flogging Molly. I’m glad I did, because this performance was a big highlight of my weekend. Band leader Dave King is always the most pleasant, funny, self-effacing, blue collar-loving frontman, and his idiosyncrasies (e.g. joking about drinking in between almost every song, transitioning from his non sequiturs to song intros with a rousing, tongue-rolling “Right then!”) have become beloved quirks that I look forward to almost as much as the quick paced and political punk songs the seven piece band churns out. They ripped out tons of fan favorites and peppered in a few new tunes, too, and most wonderfully, incited what was probably the friendliest circle pit I have ever seen. A group of about 15 young men all wrapped arms around each others’ shoulders, and one or two would enter the middle of the circle every now and then for a skank solo as the rest twirled around him. There was minimal ramming into one another; it was mostly just a fun-looking synchronized dance that I found myself yearning to join. I remained back for the set, though, jumping up and down in my own little world, clutching the bulky red-and-white umbrella with one hand and throwing my other into the sky for tracks like “What’s Left of the Flag” and “If I Ever Leave This World Alive.”
Just as the group’s set ended, I looked up to see robust, foreboding deep grey clouds hanging above Chicago, and I had a feeling I knew what was on the horizon. Less inclined to dump my umbrella somewhere, I gathered my things and trekked over to try to see some of Cage the Elephant. Unfortunately, their large fanbase had already set up camp by the small Sony stage, and it spilled into the sidewalks and beyond, making it not only impossible to see anything, but also very difficult to navigate around. I still tried to listen in for a hot minute, but after a muddy sandal was thrown vigorously into the air and landed on my head, I decided enough was enough. I pushed through the masses, sensing the dramatic decline in temperature, and rushed to the food court to stuff down some dinner before it got soggy.
As soon as the last bite of Connie’s pizza was swallowed, the skies parted, and a torrential downpour beat down on us heavily. Some Lolla-goers looked annoyed and in a hurry to escape, but most had huge grins on their faces as we all initially felt the refreshing cool of the water. I popped my umbrella up over my head to protect my electronic gear and notepad, and as I peeked out from under it, hordes of kids ran by, singing, cheering and playing in the rain. I was a full hour and twenty minutes early to the side of the field I was supposed to meet Zack on, but figured I’d try to spot his umbrella anyway, in hopes that we could meet up and make a game plan. I wandered over to where the Arctic Monkeys were supposed to play, and watched as crew members tried desperately to protect instruments with big, white plastic canvases. I didn’t see Zack’s umbrella in the crowd, so I turned around to wait at the balloon where we said we’d meet. As I stood there, rain beating down on my back and totally soaking me to the bone, I watched a small group play in the mud, slipping and sliding and generally having a blast in the now-quite-chilly weather. After standing and soaking for twenty minutes, I turned my head to the right to see Zack sitting on the ground, huddled with three friends under his umbrella, and I trudged over to figure out what we would do. Zack was determined to see the Foo Fighters, and although I was momentarily doubtful that they’d play at all, I stuck by him.
Twenty minutes later than their scheduled set time, the rain had let up, a rainbow decorated the sky, and the Arctic Monkeys took the stage. I’d never been a rabid fan of the band, but they pumped through tons of their tunes at lightning speed, dedicating a few to the weather and ending with “When the Sun Goes Down,” as their devoted fans danced around, wet, cold and happy.
I was never a huge Foo Fighters fan, but I tried to keep an open mind going into the band’s set, and they really were dynamite live performers. They filled the festival grounds with ease, and despite the mud and rain, managed to keep a huge audience around for their performance. Just a few songs into their set, the rain started up again, just as strong as before. This time, I just accepted my fate and let it soak me through, and although I was cold, tired, crabby and self-conscious, it all seemed right. I imagined Glastonbury, where muddy conditions seem to be the norm. I imagined the Woodstock festivals of yore, where everyone accepted that they were going to look and feel beat by the end of the experience. I embraced it as just another part of the festival, and it really added to the emotion of the Foo set. Dave Grohl was a strong figure, giving off tons of attitude during the band’s performance. I admired his gusto and guts, as he rushed into the crowd and ripped out impressive, gut-twisting solos from the masses. I was a little turned off when he railed against using computers in live performances, bragging, “This is how music should be performed, with real fucking instruments.” I know he was preaching to his own kind, but it’s part of the reason I’ve had so much trouble latching onto the band — I don’t feel like they consider me a part of their audience, so why should I be? I sometimes like bands that use computers, and I think that these days, electronic instruments have become just another form of expression. Electric guitars are a far cry from mandolins and cellos, but if we had gone along with the norm and said that they weren’t acceptable forms of expression, I think we’d be lacking a lot of important, moving, and rocking art.
Nevertheless, I was totally hooked by a few songs, including “Everlong,” which I only recently figured out was a love song. It was moving and beautiful in the dark, stormy night, and just as My Morning Jacket before them, the Foo raced through their set, packing in as much as possible instead of opting for a fake encore. Grohl was also incredibly thankful of Perry Farrell, insisting that he was the reason we were all there that night.
When the set closed out and we all turned slowly around to trudge through the slippery mud, there was a smile on every face I saw. From the kids who had climbed the speakers to catch a better glimpse of their “Hero” to the older man who slipped and fell in the mud, but still managed to get up and shake it off, the weekend had satisfied that festival itch for us all.
It’s that festival time of year again, and I’m kicking off my season with the 20th anniversary of Lollapalooza in Chicago. Whether you’re going to be up in the Windy City, or if you’re just tuning in online, here are my picks for acts to see and hear.
Wye Oak – Noon, Sony Stage
A woman with a deep, warm voice who shreds guitar in a duo that writes songs to shake the earth. Get up early, or you’ll be saying “if only” down the line.
Young the Giant – 1PM, Bud Light Stage
I was lucky enough to catch these guys at South by Southwest, and they put on a forceful, high-energy show that will set you on fire. After the cool tones of Wye Oak, nothing will be a better system reboot than Young the Giant. Their Jools Holland performance really speaks for itself.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – 2:30PM, Bud Light Stage
No matter who you are, if Grace Potter doesn’t turn you on, you’re not paying attention. The sexpot songstress has a powerful voice and booming stage presence, and with her hard-rocking band backing up her soulful tunes, you’ll be sweating ooh-la-la’s before you know it.
Foster the People – 3PM, Sony Stage
I doubt I’ll be pulling myself away from Grace Potter, but in the event that you’re looking to go a little more indie, Foster are your people (oooh, forgive me). There are a lot of things about this band that make me want to call them Yeasayer-lite, but they’re such a new band that I don’t think it’s worth pinning them down like that yet. “Pumped Up Kicks” is their big hit, with a catchy chorus that has some punk attitude.
The Kills – 4:30PM, Bud Light Stage
The Bud Light Stage is where it’s at for afternoon female ferocity. I’m almost tempted to write “Alison Mosshart” and leave it at that, but for those of you unfamiliar with the siren who partnered with Jack White in the Dead Weather, the Kills are her original home. It’s raw, with some pop inclinations drizzled on top of its rock core.
Bright Eyes – 6:30PM, Bud Light Stage
To me, there is nothing else going on at this time. The world stops when Oberst opens his mouth. My fangirldom is no secret, and it does make it difficult to pitch to people who may be unfamiliar with Bright Eyes’ immense catalogue. If you’re unsure about this one, I’ll put it to you this way: if you love incredible, moving writing matched to tons of different musical genres, performed by people who put all their heart and soul on the line, this is your show.
OK Go – 7:15PM, Google + Stage
I won’t be leaving Bright Eyes early, and our team may decide we have too great of crowd positioning to leave, but I’ll be a bit heartbroken if I don’t see some of OK Go’s set. Their 2010 release Of the Color of the Blue Sky is quickly becoming one of my favorites. They are creative artists not only in their musical talent, but also their visual spectacle, and they write hella fun pop rock music that’ll get you grooving.
Coldplay – 8:15PM, Bud Light Stage
It is an honest toss-up for me between Coldplay and Muse; I’ll likely be at Coldplay because I’ll have been standing over on their side of the park the whole day, and because I’ve seen Muse 5 times and Coldplay only once. At their 2005 Austin City Limits performance, Chris Martin was the perfect big rock showman, running through the crowd and climbing soundstage scaffolding, making us all forget our lungs were filled with dust and we were sweating mud. If you’ve never seen Coldplay, don’t let yourself miss out because the hipsters of the world like to make fun of this British hit-making machine. I’ll be the one near the front, singing along to every song.
Maps & Atlases – 2:15PM, Google + Stage
I have only ever heard this band’s name thrown around, but they sound similar to Dirty Projectors and other guitar-leaning indie rock groups, so I’m very interested in seeing what they can do.
Dom – 3:30PM, Google + Stage
I saw Dom perform at CMJ 2010, and they really surprised me. They were tons of fun, like the best parts of MGMT minus the pretty-crappy-live aspect. They can get far punkier and beachier than MGMT, too, and they wrote a song about a cat (“Bochicha”) – I’m sold.
The Drums – 4:45PM, Google + Stage
The Drums are another CMJ 2010 discovery, but beyond surprising me, this band knocked me on my ass. Lead singer Jonathan Pierce is intoxicating to watch – he has some of the strangest mannerisms and dance moves since perhaps David Byrne, and his voice is showy in a playful, almost sarcastic way. The band are all fantastic performers, and the music is catchy and danceable. You will fall in love.
Local Natives – 5:30PM, Sony Stage
My history with this band has been well documented, so I’ll just say – if you somehow haven’t managed to see this band put on their incredible live show, you really can’t miss this.
Ween – 6PM, Bud Light Stage
I’ll be at this show for two reasons. One, because my boyfriend loves this band. Two, because I actually really enjoyed their set at Free Press Summer Fest, because they were silly, haunting, rocking and, above all, entertaining. They’re underground legends and very much worth seeing live.
My Morning Jacket – 8PM, Bud Light Stage
Jim James is the hero of so many people I know. He seems universally beloved for his bear-like appearance, angelic voice and everydude sense of humor. His band crafts huge rock epics that are unafraid of veering into the sweet and simplistic, or out on a jammy limb.
Titus Andronicus – 12:45PM, Music Unlimited Stage
I’ve been curious to see this group for a while. They’re a political, heart-stomping rock group with smart, straight lyrics, which is definitely up my alley. I’m excited to see what they’re like in a live setting.
Noah & the Whale – 2:30PM, Bud Light Stage
This is another band I’m curious about, and know very little about to date. They’ve been spun frequently on turntable.fm, and each song I’ve heard is beautiful and heartfelt. They remind me of a slightly happier Frightened Rabbit that plays a little bit more synth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – 3:15PM, Google + Stage
This band came through Austin and blew audiences away. Unfortunately, I missed their set, so I won’t make the same mistake at Lolla. I expected something like country rock based on the group’s name, but they’re a prefect blend of airy and poppy.
Flogging Molly – 4:15PM, Bud Light Stage
Raucous, familial Irish punk rock on the same label as Gogol Bordello (and rightfully so). After a rocky first experience with Flogging Molly (when another concert-goer threw up on my shoes), I’ve never been disappointed in their live show. They stopped by Stubb’s a few months ago and totally blew me away. Be careful, though – Chicagoans have proven to me they’ll crowd surf and circle pit for just about anything, so this is bound to be wild.
Lissie – 4:30PM, Google + Stage
It excites me to see so many strong, incredible, uplifting female voices on the Lollapalooza lineup. Lissie has a classic attention-grabbing voice that emotes over folksy rock tunes. She can use it subtly, and then let it explode when it’s called for. She’s also totally precious, the kind of artist you root for because she is deep-down good-natured.
Cage the Elephant – 5:15PM, PlayStation Stage
I tended to roll my eyes at Cage the Elephant at first – their two big hits, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “In One Ear” sounded near identical to me, so I wasn’t particularly interested. However, “Shake Me Down” won me over immediately, and I’ve heard stories about how wild and energetic the bands’ live show can get. Seems to me like this is gonna be straightforward alt-rock fun, and I wouldn’t miss it.
Foo Fighters – 8PM, Music Unlimited Stage
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Foo Fighters. I loved “Learn to Fly,” but all the other songs in their enormous catalogue sounded the same to me, and I wasn’t a Nirvana diehard, either, so it was hard for me to be nostalgic about them. However, I’ve recently fallen in love with their covers album, and have enjoyed Dave Grohl’s sense of humor in various online forums. Plus, I have been promised time and again that they put on an unforgettable live show, and I wouldn’t want to end my festival experience without the Festival Crashers, so this is where you’ll find me, happily head-banging and fist-pumping along.
Kid Cudi – 9PM, Perry’s
I won’t be able to sneak away for this, but if you can, I highly recommend running over to see Kid Cudi on festival founder Perry Farrell’s stage. Cudi bends genre rules, rapping and singing with indie rockers to make music that appeals to all stripes. My younger brother introduced me to Cudi, explaining his intense past and how impressive his mixtapes were when he was starting out.