Summertime in Chicago is a wonderful time. Like almost no other city in the country, Chicagoans whole-heartedly embrace the short period of time known as summer and make the most out of each and every day that the sun shines brightly. Knowing that the days of freezing rain, sleet and snow are never too far away, Chicago's many neighborhoods each have their own mini celebrations of summer in the form of various street fairs and neighborhood festivals. It's a time for the city's residents to soak in the sun, share some laughs with their neighbors and enjoy the nice weather. This summer however, Chicago added two new festivals to their typical summer line-up. The first, the indiest of all indie rock festivals, was Pitchfork's Intonation festival. Covered in detail on the Tripwire last week, the festival brought the city's land-locked Union Park to life with two stages of pure indie-tastic goodness for thousands of tight jean-wearing, complicated hair cut-having hipsters. But last weekend... oh, last weekend was the summer festival to end all summer festivals. Nestled into the southern part of Chicago's lakefront-located Grant Park, Perry Farrell transformed his historic rock & roll tour, Lollapalooza, into a two-day festival for fans of all shapes and sizes.
Lollapalooza day one began for me with a long ride on the Red Line to Harrison St., where I and Life During Wartime DJ, photographer, and all around swell person Chess Hubbard then set out to find the most elusive of all areas, the press check-in tent. After being led on a wild goose chase by two or three different security peeps, we found our spot, got checked in and headed for the heart of the madness. We arrived just in time to hear the drummer of ...Trail Of Dead unleash a barrage of F-bombs on the semi-family-friendly audience that would have made Eddie Murphy (circa RAW) feel uncomfortable. F-ing rock & F-ing Roll, F F F F!. I mean, the dude said Fuck more times in three sentences then everyone else at Lollapalooza combined (including the concertgoers). Minus 1000 points for completely inappropriate cursing. Needless to say, I didn't go watch them play.
The first band on my list was the Kaiser Chiefs and they weren't scheduled to go on for twenty minutes or so, so we decided to take stroll around and check out the sites. The bulk of the activity was set up in one very large field with a stage placed in each corner. That's FOUR stages in all for you mathematicians out there. There were also a few food vendors set up, a billion beer tents (Bud products only), and a separate, 5th stage across Columbus St. that had B-Boy breakdancing battles, a fashion show, VHS or Beta and bunch of DJs, including Z-Trip.
The crowd was an interesting mix that included about 50-65% mainstream, cargo shorts and t-shirt with backwards baseball cap-wearing dudes and their similarly homogeneous-looking arm candy, 10-20% indie rock kids, 10% misc. teens (goth, punk, etc.) and about 10-15% older folks, some with strollers and babies.
OK, so now that you can picture it, the Kaiser Chiefs set was damn good. No strangers to playing large outdoor festivals, the UK-based outfit rolled though song after song from their debut album. Dressed in jeans, a black blazer and a tie with a wicker hat, frontman Ricky Wilson, must have been sweating like the underside of a mule in summer. Luckily, the hot temperatures didn't dissuade this band from giving it their all. They bounced around with smiles on their faces the whole time and though Wilson admittedly "left his voice in Washington, DC," he made light of it, taking the opportunity to take a shot at American politics. "A lot of the things they do in Washington leave me speechless anyway," he said after apologizing for the lack-luster performance of his vocal chords. In all actuality, at these huge outdoor venues it doesn't really matter anyway, because nothing really sounds all that good. It was during this set that I quickly realized what many folks I've talked to listed as their biggest complaint - sound bleed.
The four stages of Lollapalooza were set up so that two stages were always (or almost always) going at the same time. Even if you were standing in the front row at one of these stages, as soon as the band you were watching ended a song, you could clearly hear the music from the second band coming from across the field. It seemed to bother a few of the performers, including The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Frontman Anton Newcombe, who you all know can be a bit of a spaz, shouted out at the fans who were watching Dashboard Confessional. He said something along the lines of "all of you over there at that other stage can go fuck yourselves! The party is over here!". He went on and on between songs, but overall, their set was pretty solid musically, as well entertaining due to Anton's antics.
Before The Bravery came on, Chess and I grabbed some snow cones to help cool us down, though it didn't really work too well. I had watermelon, but it tasted more like cherry. As we tried to cool down, we watched in amazement at this crazy Eastern European-looking guy who was playing frisbee with anyone who would throw it to him. With no shirt on, this dude was covered in a blanket of chest hair with hairy shoulder pads. Never actually catching the frisbee, he ran around like a maniac trying to make sensational plays. However, the only thing sensational was the feeling of vomit building in my asophogas as I realized the massive amount of sweat that had turned the "crotchal" area of his jeans six full shades darker.
Anyway, the Bravery actually sounded pretty damn good. Apparently frontman Sam Endicott felt the need to wear a heavy leather jacket despite the 90 degree temperature and 100% humidity, but I suppose it does add to the synth rock Elvis hybrid look he's going for (check out the picture). The Bravery ran through a bunch of songs from their debut, but the crowd only seemed to get REALLY excited for "Honest Mistake", and really, who can blame them.
It was a duel between Blonde Redhead and Bill Idol next. The spacey, intense, serious, experimental rock of Blonde Redhead obviously brought in a majority of indie rock fans, who idolize this band, whereas Billy cranked out hit after hit and drew the more beer-swilling, party-going older crowd.
A fair portion of time during these two sets was spent chilling under a tree and people watching while listening to the sound from both stages bleed into one another. It was during these sets that the rains came. Dark, thunderous clouds rolled overhead quickly and dumped their heavy load right on the heart of Grant Park. It instantly cooled off the temperature and for a brief moment, the humidity dipped to normal levels. Sadly, the rains lasted just minutes and though some people got completely drenched, it did little to bring the long-lasting cool off to the day we were all hoping for.
The highlight of the day for most people was The Pixies. While a Q101 jock was screaming obnoxiously, in typical corporate radio fashion, at the small crowd gathered around NYC's The Walkmen (who had the unfortunate time slot vs The Pixes), Perry Farrell gave a heartfelt stage announcement for the legendary group. After asking us all to send a text message to our government to stop global warming, he calmly and cooly said that this band has influenced everyone from U2 to Nirvana to Jane's Addiction and that it was a real treat to have them playing Lollapalooza. Actually, he pronounced Bono like "BOno" (like the guy that married Cher), and it was weird.
The whole Pixies gang then came out to a massive applause and an even more massive crowd. They definitely amassed the largest crowd of the night, which took up more than half of the main field. Fans old and young had been waiting all day for this moment, and it was plain to see from the joyous expressions on their faces. As the sun sank below the beautiful skyline of Chicago, the Pixies played "Gigantic", and all was well.
From there, it was time to pack it in. Weezer was the headliner, but some food, and definitely a shower, were in order before heading off to the addVICE party at the Double Door. Once there, it was nice being back in the familiar surroundings of a rock club after spending an entire day with compete sensory overload. The party was chill. NYC's Diamond Nights played an incredible set to a sadly less-than-full crowd, but it didn't matter. Diamond Nights were at the top of their game and MUCH more animated and conversational on stage then their last trip to Chicago. "We waited so long for people to get here, we're all wasted!", said the band, but while that may have been a reason for the exuberance on stage, they were as tight as ever musically and absolutely tore down the house with "Destination Diamonds", "Girl's Attractive" and a number of other tracks from their forthcoming album.
Hard-Fi was also on the bill, but they played before I got there. A number of DJs were on hand to spin between sets as well, including Anton from Brian Jonestown Massacre, some dudes from the Kaiser Chiefs, a couple of the (International) Noise Conspiracy guys, the VHS or Beta guys, local DJ CB (Life During Wartime) and a few others. Blonde Redhead was also there to perform as well. They "headlined" the party as a secret guest and to be honest, I found it a bit strange. They're a great band, but when you're trying to have a rockin' party with bands like Diamond Nights, Hard-Fi and a bunch of party-tastic DJs, the somber, spaced out rock of Blonde Redhead was mildly out of place. Nonetheless, the shin dig went over quite well, had a line out the door by 11:45, and was definitely the hottest post-Lolla party in town.
Next stop, my bed. Well... I may have stopped at Taco Bell first, but I wish I hadn't!
photos by Chess Hubbard