08.03.07 Lollapalooza @ Grant Park, Chicago IL - Friday
Formerly a traveling road show, Perry Farrell's alternative institution Lollapalooza is now a three-day festival destination that calls Chicago's expansive Grant Park home. While this means that, unless you call the Windy City home (fortunately we do), you now have to travel to Lolla rather than have it arrive knocking on your doorstep. But with this new format comes new opportunities, and now, alongside Bonnaroo and a handful of others, Lolla is the closest the U.S. comes to replicating well-known British festivals like Glastonbury and Reading.
We'll be reporting from the trenches of the festival all weekend long, braving the heat, hanging out while they sort out 'technical difficulties' and waiting in overlong port-a-john lines so you don't have to, that's how much we love you.
Friday began with the familiar and road-worn sounds of Ted Leo & Pharmacists on the AT&T Stage. Bristling with energy and vitriol, Leo and his troops never disappoint, and though the blazing sun was hanging high, you'd never know it by the way the band raced through a crack set that included gems culled mainly from his last few albums - Shake The Sheets, Hearts Of Oak and Living With The Living. People all around us were dousing themselves with water to beat the heat, but not even the sizzling temps could quell Leo's unabashed cool and vigor, turning protest songs into anthems and, as always, doing so with a dignified grace that only an elder statesman of his caliber could bring.
Ted Leo & Pharmacists "Where Have The Rude Boys Gone?"
Next up at the complete other end of the park were The Polyphonic Spree, which, given their size, really should thrive in this kind of setting. Well, they didn't. Sound issues plagued the 20+ strong Texan symphonic rock group from the off, turning the entire set into a tangled mess of sound -- vocals mixed too high, guitars mixed too low, no discernible strings, horns blaring. Add to this an ill-advised cover of Nirvana's "Lithium" and the fact that they didn't play some of their biggest hits and you've got a recipe for disappointment/disaster.
Polyphonic Spree "Lithium"
Such sound issues weren't a problem for new major-label signees Against Me!, because the Florida firebrand sounded better than they have in years. Invigorated and thriving on the larger stage, the band were cranking on all cylinders, showcasing a clutch of powerhouse new tracks from the recently released (and Butch Vig produced) New Wave, as well as a handful of older racks that we fondly recall from the days of seeing them play in bowling alleys and VFW halls. They've certainly come a long way from their basement punk roots, and their success is well deserved and has come via toil and relentless touring, rather than pandering to the masses, and you can't help but respect them for that. The crowd swells as their set wears on, and we leave them in good company to go catch Electric Six practice their schtick.
Detroit sleaze-rockers Electric Six should thrive in this environment, but rather than pumping out one glam-encrusted, grease-dripping disco-rock nugget after another, they fuck around with mindless between set banter, announcing that their drummer is from Buffalo Grove (a suburb of Chicago) no less than ten times. By the time they pull out the big guns ("Improper Dancing", "Dance Commander") half the crowd has wandered off in search of more consistent thrills, which is a shame, because when E6 are good, they're nearly unstoppable. Maybe their 'secret' show tomorrow night at the Hideout will be better.
Now we find ourselves at the Bud Light stage for one of the day's most-anticipated performances, that of Sri Lanka-by way of-London hip-hop queen M.I.A. Almost more famous for recently being kicked out of the States than her upcoming and frankly, stunning album Kala, the diminutive star nevertheless charges out of the gate with fury, showcasing a clutch of new tracks and dropping a few old hits ("Galang" and "Hombre") before getting into the meat of the new material ("Bird Flu" and "Boyz"). Sadly, the combination of her failing voice - she all but lost it in L.A. - and a middling soundsystem muck up an otherwise stellar set. She soldiers on, her performance and flow both crisp and entertaining, but is mired in a thicket of bass squall that occasionally drowns out her vocals. Nevertheless, our crush on her is now more pronounced than ever, and even under these circumstances, the heat rocks of Kala don't disappoint.
M.I.A. "Paper Planes"
NYC party-starters The Rapture are up next, and while the nighttime is when they normally flourish, this late midday slot is almost perfect for the airy funkiness of the Pieces of the People We Love material. The band is tighter than ever, effortlessly locking in stone cold grooves and adorning them with staccato guitar stabs, sticky keyboards and Luke Jenner's trademark yelp. "Gotta Get Myself Into It" and "Down For So Long" are shimmering and sweltering, and a terse reading of "Sister Saviour" gets the blood pumping with the old guard. We think we can even see James Murphy on the side of the stage, beaming like a proud papa. We have to leave before they finish, but figure that once the cowbell-bedecked "House Of Jealous Lovers" kicks in, the whole place will go mental.
The Rapture "Pieces Of The People We Love"
After this we retire to the media area to beat the heat, begin writing this so we don't forget what we just saw, and essentially, just enjoy the shade for a few moments.
We are enjoying listening to Blonde Redhead from the tent, a stellar-as-usual set that draws from their recent catalogue, including some noisier jams from this year's fantastic 23. But then we start to hear the strains of "In Particular" from Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons, which is an all-time favorite, so we race out to actually watch them. We're glad we did, because this is the best BR have sounded in years, embracing their inner Sonic Youth and upping the noise/distortion and ending with a gorgeous space-rock jam that we can't quite remember the title of, but enjoy the hell out of nonetheless.
We skip the entire 6:30 slot entirely, mainly to give our ears a break and get some food. We hear good things from friends about The Black Keys, and really, have no reason not to believe them. The draw of corn on the cob and chicken satay with rice was just too strong. We can hear Satellite Party, but if wanted to hear Janes Addiction stuff, we'd either dig out our copies of Nothing's Shocking or grab our Entourage DVD's. Also, our "Where's Dave?" signs were confiscated on the way in.
Femi Kuti is playing at the other end of the park, and while we'd like to see him, it would put us at a severe disadvantage for the LCD Soundsystem/Daft Punk twofer at the other end. So we stay local and bask in James Murphy and Co.'s sardonic wit and ace tunes. Murphy is affable and mumbling as always, and bracing versions of "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" (dedicated to, err, Daft Punk) and "North American Scum" get the whole field jumping and grooving. We have strategically placed ourselves between the two stages so that we can secure a good vantage point for Daft Punk, and so we depart LCD about 3/4 of the way through to make out way to the AT&T stage for Daft. We can still hear "Losing My Edge" from where we are. It rules live, it always does, but who knows when the hell we're going to get to see Daft Punk live again, if ever.
Really, little else at this festival, or in life for that matter, is as exciting as the prospect of seeing Daft Punk live. So as a whole field waits impatiently for the giant velvet curtain to drop, the suspense and excitement is palpable. Once it drops, the whole field goes apeshit, especially as the "Human/Robot" extended intro to "Robot Rock" kicks in. From there it's an hour and a half run through some of the best moments dance music has had to offer over the last decade. All the hits are there - "One More Time", "Around The World", "Da Funk", "Aerodynamic", "Prime Time Of Your Life", "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" the list goes on and on. To say they didn't disappoint is like saying the Mona Lisa is just another painting, and added to de Homem-Christo and Bangalter's masterful mixing (long-form rave style) was their stunning visual show. The helmeted duo, perched atop their pyramid of light, were simply unstoppable causing a frenzy with each tweak of their mixers and each new MIDI drop. At one point we swear they drop the theme from Knight Rider into the mix, but we were so delirious at that point we can't be certain. Some of us have been waiting almost ten years for this, and to say it surpassed our wildest dreams and expectations is an understatement of the highest order. For those that never understood the hype, this was 90 minutes of solid proof why Daft Punk are, quite simply, the greatest entertainers in dance music history.
Daft Punk "Human/Robot"; "Robot Rock"
We have lines on a Perez Hilton afterparty and the Ed Banger/Daft Punk afterparty at Green Dolphin Street (thanks Adrian!) but opt for food
and bed instead. Even though we want to hear/see Kavinsky so bad we're practically frothing at the mouth, we have two more days to go and being too hungover is no excuse for us not bringin' the heat. Besides, everybody knows we're better than that anyhow.