The most perfect response to “Can I see your wristband?” is indeed “Hold on one sec” and then to run as fast as you can. Which is exactly what one young man did, caught illegally in the press tent of Lollapalooza, having snuck past the guards uncredentialed. We did not see the end result of the chase that ensued—nor the many other chases of revelers who’d jumped gates or weaseled unattended openings—but we do hope they receded into the enormous crowds unnoticed, glory attained, Lady Gaga seen.
Gaga’s Monster’s Ball was the enormous specter that hung over day one of Lollapalooza, anticipated and/or feared by the approximately four trillion people milling in Chicago’s Grant Park all Friday. But the festival, despite having such a hugely popular headliner, unfurled its tentacles to extreme nooks of the musical spectrum, with Perry Farrell’s tent essentially an outdoor rave, with Wavves being punk on an enormous platform, Mavis Staples and Raphael Saadiq soul for the willing tie dye set, Matt and Kim cheerleaders who worked the room, heavily in the blue, a precursor to the night’s headliners—Gaga and The Strokes, who seem to be blissfully unaware of words other than “fuck.”
We checked in early to see Wavves' noon set at the Budweiser stage, through he kicked off before we made the trek across the enormous park, past the grand fountain, the outdoor beer hall and the farmer’s market (cheese on a stick, T-shirts with bakers playing flying-V guitars). Grant Park is in Chicago’s downtown, a flat pasture surrounded by huge clusters of buildings, which provided for ample echo of Wavves’ Nathan Williams’ signature “ooo ooo oohs” well before we reached the stage. When we finally did, it was a wonderful sea of floral onesies (second most popular garb only to tie dye) and mud, Wavves banging through future punk hits onstage with heavy headbangs and one surprising, exciting feed back and pedal squealed noise jam. Afterwards, we heard so many kids lined up at the autograph tent that Wavves were told to sign faster.
On the other end of the musical spectrum, and of the park, was Raphael Saadiq who provided the day’s crushing Otis Redding moment, his band in black suits and skinny ties, his voice booming and joyful. It was a happy set, played to happy people, some dancing in dry dirt. Happiest of them all, though, may have been Saadiq’s backup singer, a possible tranny. It was unclear—though whoever operated the jumbotron camera, too, must have been curious, judging by the extreme number of close-ups.
We were lucky enough to climb to the side of the stage for Matt and Kim, the highlight of whose set may have been the extended, slightly uncomfortable, riffing on whether or not seeing Kim’s “tits” (her word—“rack” was Matt’s) on the big screen would make them look large. She later did a “booty dance” in the crowd to Major Lazer’s “Pon de Floor” while Matt climbed the scaffolding. An excited friend, seizing on their boundless energy, tried to mobilize some of his own and stage dive across the huge boundary before the crowd allowed for the photo pit. Alas, he jumped feet first, an inelegant though moving gesture. Which is perhaps a good summary of Matt and Kim’s set—goofy, loud, fast, fun. It includes a cover of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend.” It also includes a reference to the man in an all green suit’s penis. Matt called it out, the green man pointed to it.
Hot Chip had the task of being the last band to play on the Parkways Stage before Lady Gaga, thus giving them about two feet of depth to play while the Monster’s Ball was set up behind a massive curtain. But, lord, “Boy From School” sounds great so loud when you are sitting in the grass drinking a tallboy of Bud. Chipper Joe Goddard was absent for the show, away on paternity leave said Al to applause. He said Goddard sent his best via text message and the crowd patiently understood. Though Gaga would later send the crowd into a true trance, Hot Chip was the band we saw that most made them dance, people contorting to the tin pan drum like it was their Caribbean honeymoon.
Gaga, though, she made it rain. Or at least she promised to while playing some sort of black bejeweled keytar. It did not rain. At least not traditionally. But what about her is traditional? Everything? Nothing? Like seeing a gayer, gaudier Madonna, Gaga ran through her fairly pedestrian songs like necessities to the stage show. She is the true star, the songs no more than a roadblock to distilling her essence inside of each and every fan. When she railed that she didn’t want our money, only our souls, she missed the point that she already had them. The group of 20-year-old pretty British lesbians pretty much were losing their minds. Huge applause were given to the song she dedicated to “Chicago gays” everyone love the enormous crotch close-ups. She decimated a song to “drunk assholes,” her favorite being her father, who she said was present in the soundbooth. “We made it,” she yelled to him, a powerfully emphysemic screed. She was at her best when speaking to the crowd, pleading with them to be free, to live openly. It was third grade stuff—don’t let the bullies get you down—but powerful and exciting nonetheless. When someone tells you you’d better fucking live for your fucking self, motherfucker while wearing a disco ball bra, holding an overgrown cane of rock candy, you listen.
But only for about an hour, when you have listened enough and wanted to hear “Last Night.” To Gaga’s credit, she puts you in the mood for hits. Sure enough, our New York boys were running through the hits, lit red and simply. Julian Casablancas still looks sleepy at the mic, hands around it for dear life, head tilted like sleep. They all looked competently, coolly bored, except for Albert Hammond Jr., who pinged through his solos with some spry excitement. But perhaps for The Strokes that’s not necessary. An enormous show was happen a 15-minute walk the other way—why compete with a woman who drives a car on stage? The car has a piano for an engine. The Strokes had a backdrop of Pong and Tetris. Julian had part of his hair bleached. It was prop enough for us.