Once again, the vaunted alternative institution known as Lollapalooza has rolled into the Windy City to peddle its indie-cum-corporate wares for the tens of thousands of fans that make their yearly pilgrimage to Chicago's Grant Park. But rather than listen to us ramble for another three paragraphs about how our AT&T phones barely worked at a festival sponsored by the corporate giant, or prattle on about the chicken tamales at Adobo Grill, we'll get right to the task at hand and give you the scoop on the fest's inaugural bow.
For sheer reference sake, my comrades this year on the 3-day trek are the venerable Rock 'n'Roll Shaman, and the estimable High Priest. Occasionally, you'll get quips and quotes of theirs mixed in with those of your humble narrator.
This year, our festival experience kicked off in fine fashion with Boston's 20-member strong Bang Camaro pumping out a potent brand of arena-sized cock rock that satisfied the paltry crowd that has assembled, wittingly or not, to see them. Taking cues from city mates Aerosmith and J. Giles Band, as well as Foreigner and Kansas, the Camaro were a scuzz-kicking, biker gang version of Polyphonic Spree, only twice as potent and not nearly as sweetly sickening. All that was missing were (non-ironic) covers of "Ace of Spades" and "Wheel in the Sky."
Holy Fuck sound gargantuan today, and will only speak to the crowd through a vocoder, which, naturally, we think is ace and reminds us of both Air and Daft Punk. Consider us fans, despite one of their songs being used in a crappy car commercial.
It's a really far walk over to see the Black Lips, so we say sod it in favor of shade and libations. But, having seen them before, we'll assume they were loud, sloppy, drunk (even at 12:38pm), jangly and we can only hope, covered in their own puke.
We finally decide to make the walk over to the north field to see Butch Walker, and almost instantly, we're regretful that we did. Rather than getting his Marc Bolan on, as he did on the stellar The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let's Go Out Tonights, but instead, he was hung over, mopey and wielding an acoustic guitar. After three whiny, sub-par, wannabe Lou Reed ditties about, who the fuck knows what they were about; we take off for more upbeat musical pastures. Though, as a codicil, the rock 'n' roll shaman did stick around and said that eventually the Let's Go Out Tonight's came onstage and pulled out all the glam rock stops. Let's just hope he played "Hot Girls in Good Moods" for all the hot girls in good moods in the crowd.
On the long trek over to see Yeasayer, we stop and listen to Parlor Mob's classic rock-inspired monolithic ruckus for a few songs. Not bad, not bad at all we surmise. Sure, it's derivative, but, if you are gonna steal, it may as well be from Zeppelin and Deep Purple.
Yeasayer's midday set on the mammoth AT&T stage is a bit of a head-scratcher, mainly in that we can't quite surmise how the fuck they go so big so fast. The Brooklyn quartet did their usual clanging, rhythmic thing, vacillating between krautrock grooves, industrial clattering and all manner of acid-fried guitar rave-ups in a bid to become the world's first heavy metal hippie band. Plus, they've got a lead singer that looks like Ted Leo's illegitimate love child, and a bass player that's a dead ringer for Kid Rock (posing as an ironic hipster, 'natch). They're interesting for the first half hour, but in the blistering heat, their repetitive nature and sub-Santana guitar noodling starts to wear on us, so we're off.
A note for the kids out there; if it's 95 degrees plus 80% humidity, double-fisting beers at 2:30pm will most likely lead to you both missing Radiohead, and waking up in some sort of makeshift M.A.S.H. unit being treated for dehydration and heat prostration.
The Kills are up next on the MySpace stage, and while they're always fantastic, there's really nothing new to report about the scum-blues voodoo that they do. She still looks/sounds like Chrissie Hynde and does all the singing; he still does everything else simultaneously, which remains rather impressive. We believe they are still called VV and Hotel, but aren't 100% on that one. They bang out a steady stream of junk blues with everything-but-the-kitchen sink thrown in, including an extra-furious rendition of "No Wow." Are we the only ones that would like to see them with a real drummer? Russell Simins, perhaps?
'When the fuck did Louis XIV turn into Styx', asked the Rock 'N' Roll Shaman. About a year ago, it seems. The two songs we stopped and watched (nee, suffered through) were cribbed straight from Dennis DeYoung's playbook, and even here in Chicago, that ain't necessarily a good thing. Add that to the fact that they're playing on a stage (Citi) that forces you to stand on hot asphalt, and you've got a formula that drives people away in droves.
Despite playing to a relatively small crowd, Austinites Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears put on one of the best shows of the weekend, revving up the engines with a socking R&B soul revue that would do Jake & Elwood proud. Blasting through a cadre of jams, including "Sugarfoot" and the roiling JB's funk of "Bitch, I Love You" the band juke, jive and wail their way into the festivalgoer's hearts. Their matching suits and icy cool demeanor are the icing on the cake of this early contender for performance of the festival.
We saunter over to catch the tail end of the Black Keys' set, and while their latest album, Attack & Release has been in heavy summer rotation, and despite the fact they do sound suitably muscular, the intricate psychedelic nuances that Danger Mouse wrenched from their tried-and-true oeuvre are lost here, leaving us feeling just a slight bit rueful that we haven't had a White Stripes show here in Chicago for the better part of 3 years.
We skip much buzzed about acts Cat Power, Mates of State and Grizzly Bear because, frankly, we can't stand any of them and the tasty delicacies of Star of Siam are calling out to our growling stomachs.
Speaking of the aforementioned White Stripes, we are somewhat less rueful because Jack White's other band, The Raconteurs, are the secondary headliners this evening. Looking every bit the vampirous rock star that he is, White, Brendan Benson and their cohorts take the stage and tore straight into a ferocious version of "Consolers of the Lonely" and followed that up with a brutal one-two punch in the form of "Level" and "You Don't Understand Me." To say their playing has improved is a vast understatement, because while there's never been any doubt cast upon their pedigree, the last time we saw the Racs they hadn't yet formed into a cohesive unit, but now, they're cranking like a blast furnace on overdrive. Whereas "Steady, As She Goes" and "Broken Boy Solider" used to only hint at their powers, they now sound like stadium-filling anthems, with "Steady" sounding especially muscular beneath the hail of White & Benson's bombastic riffing. A near flawless performance on all counts, save for the exclusion of Consolers' mind-blowing finale, "Carolina Drama," which, sadly, didn't make the final set list. And as the final power chord off White's guitar wafts away, we, along with tens of thousands of our closest friends, head over to the South field for the real reason why everybody forked over $80 today.
The weekend's headliners, Radiohead, cemented their reputation as the Pink Floyd of this generation, playing to a seemingly endless throng of humanity on the gargantuan AT&T stage, one that numbered over 75,000 when all was said and done. Punters perched themselves atop any possible vantage point - benches, hills, shoulders, baseball backstops, anything - to try and catch a glimpse of the oxford quintet. But when you are roughly half a mile away (like we were) and the band is encaged in a light bar prison, replete with a dozen flashing screens and more strobe action that your garden variety rave, seeing is a relative term. Regardless, the band soldiered on through a two hour set that culled from the vast catalogue, but which, predictably, leaned heavily on material from their newest long-player, In Rainbows. But interspersed throughout were certified anthems like "Fake Plastic Trees," "Lucky (I wish I was)," "The National Anthem," "Idioteque" and "Airbag," occasionally giving the whole affair the feeling of a massive campfire sing-a-long.
Their set constantly vacillated between festival favorites and newer/more obscure material, leaving the massive crowd sometimes gasping for glimpses of familiarity, with old guard fans hoping upon hope for a lost gem from their back catalogue and a lot of people just hoping to hear "Creep." When they received them, in the form of "Paranoid Android," "No Surprises," or "The Bends," the response was rapturous, but at other points, like when the band dove headlong into newer material like "Faust Arp" or "Videotape," the crowd was left in a lurch, with some wondering aloud around us, "what the hell is this?" While we didn't exactly share their sentiment, there was something just the slightest bit bloodless about the whole performance. Granted, having seen them come up through the club circuit, we are a bit biased, but still, for one reason or another, the whole experience lacked the grandiose euphoria you'd figure they could conjure with the greatest of ease.
Day one complete. Will it all be downhill from here? Is the rest of the weekend set to be an anti-climactic downward slide into a miasma of mediocrity? Only time will tell...