Last weekend was the official end of the music festival season in the United States as Lollapalooza kicked off in Chicago. The three day music festival which takes place right smack in the middle of the downtown area of the windy city, made noise not only in Chicago, but all around the globe.
The festival seems confusing. How can you hold a three day festival in the middle of a city? And a festival with no camping? How can that be any fun? Bonnaroo Music Festival, a three day, all camping jubilee in the middle of nowhere Tennessee is more like your typical festival, but it has its issues that Lollapalooza avoids all together.
Lollapalooza at no point in time felt busy. Sure there were a lot of people, but not to the point of where it was overwhelming. Anyone could get a good viewing spot of the stage without having to show up first thing in the morning and not move the entire day. Lollapalooza also had an alternating stage system, two stages would be placed close together and the acts would alternate between the two stages, so in one general area, there was always music playing.
Friday afternoon, the weather was hot, but not uncomfortably hot and the view of Lake Michigan gave the chaos of the park a serene backdrop. Behind the statue of Abe Lincoln was the Sony BMI stage, one the smaller side stages of the park. The Constellations were the second band up after the very theatrical Foxy Shazaam and they were a sight to see. With eight members lined up and down the stage, The Constellations looked like they walked out of the year 1976. Sporting huge afros, and hippie attire, their look does not quite match their sound. A lot of their music borders on hip hop(they even do a song with Asher Roth), including their single ‘Felicia’ which had the whole crowd dancing. Range is definitely the word to describe the band, as their song ‘On My Way Up’ is a slow jam rocker that is sweet to the ears.
Heading over to the BMI stage, decorated in London memorabilia, Jukebox the Ghost was in the midst of setting up for their Lollapalooza debut. The opening track immediately set the tone of the show and the crowd started bouncing along immediately. Their music is lighthearted, but not artistically undermining, great to dance to, but even better to listen to. Their new album, ‘Everything Under then Sun,’ resembles New Order, and their hits from their first album like ‘Victoria’ and ‘Hold It In’ had the whole crowd singing along in unison.
Finally trekking over to the Parkways Foundation stage, the main stage of the festival, Devo performed a late afternoon set. Although they looked like a collection of dads (even grandpas) or working class employees, Devo danced like it was 1982. With four costume changes, masks, the famous flower pot hats, and choreographed dances, Devo rocked their late afternoon set. “It’s 2010, and were here to Whip It again" they announced before playing their massive 1980 hit. By the end of the show, the entire crowd was shrieking, “Are we not men? We are Devo!.”
Dance punk duo Matt & Kim played on the alternating Adidas Mega stage. It’s just the two of them, Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino with a synth and a drum set, but boy do they have a lot of energy. They had a fun sense of humour and engaged the audience by giving out balloons, and dancing on top of them for Major Lazer’s ‘Pon de Floor’. In fact, Matt & Kim sampled loads of famous tracks while not disappointing with their own hits ‘Good Ole Fashioned Nightmares’ and ‘Lessons Learned.’
Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff headlined the Playstation stage to a slightly older than average crowd. One of the last surviving members of the Reggae movement, Jimmy Cliff gave Lady Gaga a run for her money with his own dance moves, impressive especially for someone in their 60s. The crowd sang a long to politically heavy songs about saving our planet earth and hit such as ‘I Can See Clearly Now.’ Cliff even changed the lyrics to his famous song ‘Viet Nam’ to Afghanistan.
The Strokes played their first gig in the United States since 2006 after playing some festivals in the U.K. The set was short, they cut out about 25 minutes, and they didn’t play any new material or even any of their solo acts. Nonetheless, the Strokes’ ‘This Is It’ wasn’t named best album of the decade for nothing. The Strokes are a reminder that there is nothing like a great guitar rift to have a dancin’ good time. The crowd lit up during classics like ‘Reptilia’ and ‘Last Nite,’ played in succession. The visuals in the background were depictions of old video games, which added to the atmosphere of the first night. Although they had their problems, they played brilliantly and were the perfect close for the first night.
The next morning was back at the Budweiser stage where The Strokes had played the night before. The Soft Pack were playing, and they are just as much fun live as their songs are. “Answer to Yourself” is simple, but the perfect rocking out song. Wild Beasts were on the alternate Playstation stage, where lead singer Hayden Thorpe impressed the audience with his unique countertenor voice. The English indie rockers play mellow music, that is never boring to listen to and is even more fun to watch live. ‘We Got the Taste Dancin’ on Our Tounges’ was the highlight of the show.
The XX are also mellow, but are in fact, boring to listen to. Their opening song consisted only of the lyrics ‘Ah’, in which an audience member exclaimed “What great lyrics.” The next two songs were their biggest hits, “Crystalized” and “Islands.” A surprising choice as most of the audience, a very large crowd for an afternoon gig, exited shortly after the first three songs. As their music was making it hard to stay awake, we joined them.
Wandering over to the Sony Bloggie stage, indie buzz band, the Dawes were playing their set. Dawes are definitely a throwback band, sounding like a modern version of the Eagles, but they were definitely the surprise of the festival.
Saturday night we spent at Perry’s, the dance stage of Lollapalooza and it was nothing short of mental. Starting with Wolfgang Gartner, who is best known for his remixes of Mozart, the circular stage was lit up with lights and ravers. Joachim Garraud rocked Perry’s with his French styling electronic music and Chicago native Kaskade filled up the stage. UK dubstep god Rusko was the highlight of the night with his heavy industrial style of UK garage music.
The end of the night brought us back to the main stage to see Green Day’s two and a half hour set. Filled with pyrotechnics and arena style theatrics, Green Day impressed the audience by including them in the act. Inviting a little girl up on stage, and then having an audience member sing an entire song (and giving him a guitar) Green Day’s years of experience definitely show. In the midst of both their old and new hits, Green Day also had jam sessions of golden oldies medleys, such as ‘Shout’, ‘Hey Jude,’ ‘Highway to Hell,’ and many other classics.
With the threat of rain, we started Sunday afternoon late, starting the day with the Cribs. Ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr joined the band last summer and the trio of brothers plus one rocked the hot and sweaty crowd with their modern punk rock styling. The highlight of the set was, ‘Be Safe’ in which Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo does a spoken word piece over the Cribs’ music. Ranaldo appeared on the mega-screens above.
Back to the Budweiser stage to see the hottest band of 2010, Yeasayer. Generating buzz by opening for MGMT in 2008, Yeasayer made it big with their massive hit ‘Ambling Alp’, during which the whole crowd sang a long, but the bands lesser known songs were just as good, if not more fascinating. The band have an amalgamation of sounds that include a pile of different percussion instruments that gives them a unique style of pop music.
New Orleans rockers Mutemath, appeared next on the Playstation Stage. Known best for their song ‘The Fight,’ written about their hometown during Hurricane Katrina, Mutemath have also been making some noise from their live shows. Although based in classic Rock ‘N’ Roll, Mutemath are always having fun, even playing a key tar at one point. Their music is anthemic and had the whole crowd rocking along during ‘Backfire.’
Arcade Fire closed the night on the Budweiser stage and were the perfect ending. Their first live show after releasing their latest album, ‘The Suburbs’ Arcade Fire premiered all of their new hits and rocked all of their old ones. Described as a musical troupe in the program, Arcade Fire boast an impressive eight members, none of which stick to only one instrument. The percussionists were full of life and energy and the new songs such as ‘The Sprawl II’ were just as vibrant as old hits such as ‘Keep the Car Running.’
Lollapalooza and the American music festival season is now over, but not without triumph. The three day music festival, a relatively new concept in America, but something Europe has enjoyed for years, is having its best season ever. Bonnarroo, Coachella, and Lollapalooza all reported their highest turnouts in a time when the LiveNation/Ticketmaster merger has made attending live shows next to impossible.