The biggest selling point for Osheaga 2012 was its incredible lineup. It truly felt like someone had just raided my own personal iPod, picking my favorite acts and setting them on a complimentary schedule so I’d be able to see everyone I wanted to. I was revved up for the music and a festival experience, so when I arrived at Osheaga and found that the layout was going to be more difficult to navigate than I expected, it was disappointing. I also had high hopes for the Canadian music-lovers, keeping my fingers crossed that they’d be more like the Austin crowds of old. Wrong again. These kids were as fashion-minded as Coachella attendees, with the every-man-for-himself attitude of the Lolla ’10 crowd. Though these factors were certainly disappointing, Osheaga still delivered on amazing festival amenities, as well as unforgettable performances that will last a lifetime.
I kicked off my Friday far later than I wanted to, but was still able to make it in time for the much-hyped Of Monsters and Men. I was excited to see this Icelandic band, mostly because they were Icelandic but partially because I had high hopes for their abilities. Maybe it was the heat, or the trip exhaustion, but I just was not impressed with these kids. They weren’t doing anything particularly innovative — they sounded just like a replica of the Head and the Heart, and all of their songs sounded very similar, with big swells and lots of hand-claps. Even the band’s fairly undeniable hit “Little Talks” didn’t keep me drawn in, and I left in the middle of it to seek shelter from the surprising heat.
Yes, it’s summer everywhere and no, I don’t think the north is always supposed to be cold. Still, I expected some refreshing breezes or kind clouds to allow some shelter from the sweltering sun. No dice. Thus I chilled out on a bean bag under a vendor tent, in between the two side-stages located quite literally over the trail and through the woods from the festival entrance. I got to hear all of the Dum Dum Girls’ set, which was like a less-snarly Best Coast and a perfect summery soundtrack.
Besides excellent surf-rock, Osheaga was smart enough to prepare for the heat by featuring huge water blasters at the main stage that they’d hit fans with periodically throughout the day, soaking them and refreshing them back from the brink of heat exhaustion. They also had multiple water refilling stations so you didn’t have to shell out money every time you wanted a drink, as well as misters at both ends of the grounds so you could soak yourself at your leisure. The abundance of water sources was excellent and, as far as I know, unmatched in any festival I’ve ever been to.
Gary Clark Jr. was the first musician I was really floored by. His guitar riffs are simply on fire, and his bluesy rock scorched through the warm summer air. Men all around me moaned with envy and adoration after Clark would wail, emoting through his guitar, and in between songs, choruses of male voices raised, proclaiming, “Gary! Gary! Gary!” It filled my heart with pride to watch this hometown guitar hero be so embraced by a foreign crowd.
Were there other bands I saw in the late afternoon and early evening of Osheaga on Friday? Sure. Did I pay them any mind? Nope. My heart raced in anticipation of Sigur Ros, the band I was really making the trek for in the first place. I secured a great vantage point in the crowd for their set, and meditated on my excitement until the guys slowly took the stage in their coordinated near-military uniforms. They kicked off their set with “Varúð”from their newest album, Valtari, and it was the only new song they played their entire set. It was meditative and lovely, a delicate embrace with the crowd that welcomed us gently into their set. One of my favorites and the song I played more than any other as a college radio DJ, “Sæglópur,” was next, and transported me to that confusing, exciting and youthful time in my life. In that song is that first moment you meet someone, when you think that there might be something there but you’re unsure and you’re waiting for them to call or do something, anything, to indicate they may like you, too. It’s the anticipation, the breath before the answer in a proposal, that rush. They brought it down for the next song, “Ný Batterí,” which is brooding and hurt, and Jonsi’s voice cracked as he cried out his last verse of the song, roaring into the mic. Then quieted down for the beautiful “Hoppípolla” which is my boyfriend’s favorite. We clasped hands tightly, watching the screen behind the band light up with firefly-like sparkles. It was a solidifying moment of magic and transcendence. This melted into “Með Blóðnasir” which, in turn, was suddenly “Hafsól.” Jonsi had been playing his guitar with a cello bow all night, but for this song, bassist Georg got in on the act, playing his bass with a drumstick. The song sped up and erupted at the end with flutes, drums, and strings, becoming a fairytale marching band. “Olsen Olsen” kept this forest-like mysticism floating in the air, and Jonsi led the pack, singing like some otherworldly creature. Finally, the band closed out with their unmatchable anthem “Popplagið”. It starts unassumingly quiet, almost like a heartsick lullaby, but the urgency builds until Jonsi is nearly crying into the mic and Orri continues to speed up on the drums, a spotlight shining down on him. The song builds in a giant, unbroken wave until it hits all at once, pounding the audience and overwhelming them with sound. You are taken in, unable to breathe, until there is finally relief and all that is left are guitars whining up against amplifiers. The band is gone, leaving gorgeous wreckage in their wake. However, because of the applause roaring out from the crowd, they took the stage again as a group for a bow, with Georg’s young daughter on his hip. Of all of the modern musicians we have, I know of very few whose artistic vision is as uncompromising and complete as Sigur Ros’. Thank god we have them.
I started Saturday off with a late afternoon set by Saddle Creek veterans Cursive. I’d seen Tim Kasher solo and was impressed by his wit and humor, not to mention his musicianship. In this afternoon festival set, he kept the banter light and just rocked through punky tunes with the band, still taking time within the songs to exaggeratedly emote. They slowed their biggest hit, “The Recluse,” waaay down, so that it was unrecognizable initially. It lost its bite and became instead a pathetic, wallowing tune that just made you want to shake the narrator. Still, despite a very sunny and hot afternoon, the band pulled fans out of the shade and nearer the stage for some rocking out.
I’d seen Young the Giant perform at least 3 other times this year, and their set remained unchanged at Osheaga. They mostly performed songs off of their breakout self-titled album, and lead singer Sameer Gadhia was as energetic as ever. As much of a sight to behold as he is, I found myself sitting back for this set, lounging on some astro-turf that the festival wisely laid atop a gravely path behind the picnic benches facing the main stages. Typically I dance as hard as Sameer does, but this time, I let the band’s sound wash over me.
What I’d known of Garbage in the 90s was what I heard on the radio and on movie soundtracks. “Stupid Girl” made me fear and admire Shirley Manson, in awe of her punk rock attitude and feisty “eff you” demeanor. I was also endlessly fascinated and creeped out by their song “#1 Crush” on the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack. It and Radiohead’s “Talk Show Host” were about as alt as my pre-pubescent brain could handle, so Manson stood as one of the demigods of rock in my mind. Finally seeing her live brought my image of her full-circle. She seemed frozen in time in some ways, wearing clothes that seemed to belong to 90s punk and grunge, and hair that was a cross between that style and a literal scorpion. She commanded the stage with intensity, and although the band as a whole are aging and therefore coming off slightly less gritty and more veteran, Manson still has the power to brighten the eyes of young girls admiring her.
Yeasayer: j’adore. These guys absolutely enthrall me for their ability to follow their hearts with their art instead of chasing hits, and yet still being engaging and crowd-pleasing. It’s not that they cater to the crowd — they nearly do the opposite, challenging their fans at every turn with minimal beats here, strange altered vocals there. And yet, this only seems to endear their fans to them more. It’s like they are experimenting: what would happen if we treated music fans as though they could handle something weird? The fans have responded so far by rising to the occasion. The crowd for Yeasayer was swollen and mixed, and when they guys took the stage, all of the songs, both old and brand new and not-yet-released, went over with enraptured applause. Standouts include “Longevity,” which is incredibly beat-heavy live and therefore super danceable, “Reagan’s Skeleton,” which was alien and entrancing, and a totally revamped “O.N.E.” which fans (read: I) didn’t even recognize until Anand jumped in to sing his part. Still, despite challenging their fans, Yeasayer know how to please, and ripped through “Ambling Alp” before a swan song of “Tightrope” to close out the night. This show ended up being my second favorite of the entire weekend, behind only Sigur Ros, and it made me more eager than ever to delve into the new album, Fragrant World, when it drops later this month.
Sunday, it was time for some rain & soul. Dan Mangan kicked the day off for me, notably bringing up a very happy fan during the song “Robots” who had adorably donned a “robot head” (cardboard box with drawn-on eyeballs). The fan danced around and ended up leaving his box-head behind for Mangan, who set the soaking-wet object on top of a speaker during the rest of his set. Aloe Blacc was up next, and he was a surprise favorite for the weekend. Blacc conducts himself with the swagger and soul of classic Motown- and funk-era frontmen. Despite the hot and wet downpour surrounding him, Blacc, didn’t break a sweat in his blazer and silk shirt, dancing up and down the stage while he crooned love tunes and songs about our failing economy. “I Need a Dollar” was a huge sing-along, and Blacc led more clap-alongs than any other artist of the weekend. He was engaging and fun, even for a new fun, which is what every festival artist should aim for.
I was worried about Passion Pit. I wasn’t sure that they’d perform at all in their late-night time slot, but I was hopeful to catch them if they did. So as I was headed back to take a load off during Tame Impala’s set Sunday, I was suddenly shocked to hear the opening synthesized strains of “Take a Walk” pumping through speakers on the main stage. What? Why was Passion Pit performing now? Did I read the schedule wrong? Nope. For reasons still unexplained, Passion Pit and Tame Impala swapped set times at the last second, so I raced to the stage and danced in the crowd to a totally solid set from Passion Pit. Michael Angelakos seemed pulled together and happy, even if his backing band seemed a bit grim-faced.
Common was up next, but I sat back for this one, relaxing on a picnic table bench to avoid wet trousers. My favorite parts were the familiar — he had a mash-up of classic Motown and rap songs, including a hat-tip to Michael Jackson, and he also performed his Kid Cudi collaboration, “Make Her Say.” Santigold was even better, with a colorful presentation, talented backup dancers, and a call out to audience members to join her onstage — but only if they put their phones away and enjoyed themselves. The crowd members obliged and looked ecstatic crowded around Santigold. “L.E.S. Artistes” was the most wildly anticipated song, and was received with rampant applause. “Disparate Youth” was my jam, though, and got me to shake my still-dry booty in the afternoon drizzle.
The universe decided to pay tribute to Garden State during the Shins’ performance, as festival-goers donned trash sacks and generic blue ponchos and got drenched just the same. The strongest rains poured out of the sky during this set, blowing in our faces and soaking us to the bone. It stopped being refreshing and exciting and started to feel unpleasant, since the sun had gone down and it was getting chilly and sticky. But I was refreshed when the opening tambourine and “oohs” of “New Slang” floated across the muddy open field, and wandered over to set up for M83 with warm fuzzies in my heart and Zach Braff in my brain.
Bloc Party was on before M83, and though I’ve never been a fan of them, they played a couple tunes that were punky enough to be enjoyable even to my critical ears. Still, Kele Okereke is one of the more overrated vocalists in my mind, and I could only take so much of his nasally, whiny delivery before I zoned out just waiting for it to be over and my beloved M83 to take the stage.
I expected a lot from M83 to close out my night and my festival. I had seen their transcendent show at Stubb’s in Austin, and was so blown away that I listened to them almost exclusively leading up to Osheaga. I wondered aloud if they brought their strange, demon-like costumed ghoul to open up their set, or if they would jump straight in. I thought it was a given that Zola Jesus would reprise her role in the song “Intro,” given that she was scheduled to perform that day at the festival. I was wrong on both counts. As the opening child whispers in “Intro” came through the speakers, the band immediately entered the stage with no Zola Jesus to be found. Still, I didn’t care. I was centered perfectly about 6 rows back from the front of the stage, and ready to dance.
Little did I know, Osheaga punks had been building energy all weekend, and it suddenly exploded at this last crowded set. As I stood there, listening to this big, beautiful near-ambient music, crowd surfers began pouring down on us. It wasn’t just a constant stream, either: at one point, I counted three all traffic-jammed in my area, with my boyfriend holding a leg of 2 in each hand as I got kicked in the head, hard, twice. I tried to help hold up the bodies, but my upper-body strength is laughable and it was a struggle to not have the entire weight of these people fall down hard on top of me. I wasn’t even watching the performance or enjoying the music anymore — I was locked in behind me, watching as more and more people were lifted above the crowd and tossed in my direction. Finally, it became too much, and I grabbed my boyfriend and shoved my way through the crowd, to the side of the stage. I didn’t want to leave, so I just kept going until I found a small space and stopped, exhausted and devastated. A short girl looked at me with mean eyes and said, “How rude!” to a friend, I guess thinking I’d just cut in front of her on purpose. I tried to apologize to another couple behind me, and they said, “It’s OK, it’s totally fine,” seemingly disturbed as I started to break down crying. I stood there sobbing, absolutely humiliated and frustrated that this spot I’d waited a full 2 hours to procure had been taken from me because I couldn’t handle the crowd surfers. I tried to refocus on the band, but it was tough, especially as one drunken dude stumbled around us, leaning his weight on us frequently and talking loudly with some girls he was trying to hit on. This was an issue the rest of the night — the new group we’d landed among were talkers, and not at all interested in the show. I tried to ignore it as much as possible, enjoying “Steve McQueen,” my favorite M83 anthem, and I screamed at the top of my lungs along with the lyrics, “Nothing can hurt me today!” It was forced, though. Even though the band sounded great and played with the same energy they had in Austin, it just wasn’t the same because the crowd was so, so terrible. We’d been so lucky with Sigur Ros and Yeasayer: the crowds were perfectly appropriate for those sets. But for M83, all the stragglers who still had energy to kill were letting it out at the expense of everyone else, and it really ruined the set.
All things told and with a few weeks between the festival and me, I enjoyed myself. The amenities the festival provides, like free water and refreshing water guns, places to sit and relax, and lots of shade, are incredible and unmatched in many cases. The lineup was still brilliant, even if the layout of the festival makes it semi-impossible to see everyone you want unless you’re willing to miss parts of certain sets. Even though the crowd wasn’t all I’d hoped for, I caught unforgettable sets by Sigur Ros, Yeasayer and Aloe Blacc, and I only got a little banged up when Canada sent me back down to Texas.
I know. I know. I’m the luckiest sunnufagun there is. Why, you ask? Because I am heading up to Montreal this weekend to enjoy a 3 day music festival whose lineup was derived directly from my iPod. That’s right — I’m headed to Osheaga 2012. Perhaps you’re as lucky as I am, and you’ll be trekking north, too. Perhaps you aren’t, but you’re wanting some new musical discoveries. Either way, read on, my friends. Ahead you’ll find my favorite acts of Osheaga 2012: old favorites, new favorites, and favorite favorites. Here we go.Read More...
Photo c/o the Horn’s Grant Schaefer
“It’s a novelty festival,” my friend and fellow journalist Caitlin DeWeese said to me as we were standing in the middle of the pavement near Eleanor Tinsley Park. “The novelty being, it’s hot as hell.”
I’m not sure who decided to host Free Press Summer Fest in June, in the unforgiving heat of Houston, Texas. But every single band I saw perform mentioned the sweltering warmth, and every fan could certainly feel it. It makes Free Press Summer Fest a bit of a trial — are you fan enough to space out your water drinking and your sunscreen-applying to stick it out and rock out front row at your favorite show? You have to pace yourself, but if you can figure out how to do it, Free Press will reward you. At two days, it’s the perfect length for the adventure that it is. This year, I was sometimes triumphant, sometimes defeated by the heat, but I still managed to catch some unforgettable performances.Read More...
Houston’s Free Press Summer Fest is this weekend, and as usual, they have gathered an impressive and eclectic lineup to perform in the Texas heat at Eleanor Tinsley Park. There is so much packed into two days, it can be overwhelming. Never fear! We are here to give your our recommendations for who to see this weekend. So read on to get a short blurb about the artists we think are worth your time, as well as a song that will give you an idea of the artist’s sound.Read More...
Maybe it was the smell of BBQ emanating from the soil inside of Stubb’s on Saturday night, but I swear Young the Giant single-handedly ushered in summertime in Austin, Texas. Between their catchy melodies, soaring, sparkly waves of guitars and Sameer Gadhia’s lion’s roar of a voice, Young the Giant sounds as if they can command nature. From a raucous but smaller-scale performance at Buffalo Billiard’s during South by Southwest last year to now, the band has garnered so much onstage confidence that it seems they were destined for sold-out-show status as quickly as they have achieved it, and musically, they have certainly earned it. Their first full-length release is solid from start to finish, with softer, breezy songs and wild, heart-pumping rock jams that weave together seamlessly.Read More...
I think a part of the reason I like to make lists of my favorite albums of the year is selfishness. It helps me take stock of the art that was put out over the course of the year. It helps me remember shows I’ve seen, or moments I shared with new music. It helps me feel fonder about the year that has passed, and more hopeful for the year that is coming. It forces me to examine what this music meant to me, and why it meant that. I tend to favor albums whose tracks I loved, start to finish, that had meaningful lyrics or were soundtracks for important moments. Plus, I always favor risks. If I feel like a band played it safe and made a solid record, I’ll dig it, but for those who try to tackle huge topics through their art, I always admire it and end up loving it more.
For these reasons, I really could just jot down a list to myself, smile smugly, and move on. That said, I do think there is value in sharing lists, because it sparks conversations (or arguments, if you’re into that) and can potentially (and hopefully) help people discover new albums they may not have heard of before. This year, I found myself leaving off albums that contained a handful of unforgettable songs because the rest of the album was weak. I also found myself extending my list to a top-15 instead of top-10, including in my final 5 growers that I still need to spend more time with, but that were so striking in their own way that I had to include them. Without further ado: my 2011 best-of list! Enjoy, be angered, argue and discuss. All is welcomed.Read More...
Growing up adoring live music is a strange thing. All of us have to come to terms with aging, and I am by no means old — I’m only 24, well aware of how much more youth is laid out in front of me. But even though it’s six years until my thirties and that’s even so young in modern times, I feel like every year that passes, my live music experience is tweaked enough to make me notice that I’m growing.
Austin City Limits has so often been the backdrop of my slow and steady coming-of-age, that my experience with the festival, the fans, the weather, the bands and the music itself shifts all the time. I remember my first Austin City Limits festival in 2005, when I was just starting to find out exactly how much I was in love with music. I focused more on meeting my heros, spending a lot of time at the Waterloo tent, getting signatures and goofing around with Tristan Prettyman, Rachael Yamagata and the Blues Travelers — I’ll never forget John Popper spouting off to me in French and kissing my bandaged-from-rowing-tryouts hands. 2006 was a huge turning point, where I totally lost myself during Muse’s set, moshing just a little and sweating like it was detox therapy. My tastes were splintering off in a thousand directions, and ACL catered to that beautifully. I was always the one to camp out for artists, to dance with reckless abandon and spend the whole day in a field with strangers. I’d never care that I was attending the festival alone, because I’d inevitably make new friends sitting around on the grass.
Now here we are, at the festival’s 10-year reunion and what was my sixth time attending (would-be seventh, if it hadn’t been for my broken ankle ’09 debacle), and it’s a completely different ballgame for me. First of all, I’m not a student anymore. This means I had to work for a better part of Friday — I managed to take off three hours and make the shows I was dying to see, but was still a bit bummed not to catch morning gigs and make a day of it. I also find that I don’t enjoy the festival as much when I’m by my lonesome. I can (and will) still go it alone when it means making a performance by my favorites, but if I’m with people I love and they want to move back in the crowd a bit, I’ll tend to oblige. I feel the physical taxation of festivals a lot more now, too. I used to just get sick after a weekend of rocking out, but this year was the first where I felt I was coming close to fainting. Finally, I find myself a little more jaded by my surrounding festival-goers — I’m more easily annoyed, and a little more judgmental of the very young kids I see wandering around the festival grounds. When I catch myself being a grump, I try to remind myself of being that girl or boy, and having that experience. And sometimes, I’ll still meet people who remind me of how awesome festival-goers tend to be.
Of course, it’s not all grouchiness and disillusion. With my age, I have fallen in love with far more bands, and even more genres that allow me to enjoy more bands. I have also fallen in love with more people, and get to see festivals through their eyes, too. Just because it’s different doesn’t make it worse, and even though it’s harder to get the same detox high that I regularly felt when I was younger, when it hits now, it is euphoric.Read More...
I have been excited about this year’s Austin City Limits Festival for a while, but the giddiness just hit me on Sunday. It is indeed that time of year where Zilker Park closes to lazy weekends with your dog to make way for tall white tents, towering stages and tons and tons of your favorite bands. My all-time top two will both be performing this weekend, so I’m more than ready for it all. Mostly, I’m excited to stumble upon some new bands I’ve never heard before – there are quite a few that could fill some empty spaces in my schedule. For now, I will recommend the bands I feel secure in signing off on. Below, you’ll get a song and a snippet about who I think you should see. Drink tons of water, reapply that sunscreen, and rock out with abandon.Read More...
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.”
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.