Tag Archives: Lollapalooza

Color Wars: Looking back at the hues of Lollapalooza 2012 [Vids,Pix,Words]

Diversity was a major selling point of the original Lollapalooza.  Anyone who’s never seen video of Perry Farrell and Ice-T staring each other down as they perform the Sly Stone classic “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” should probably google that immediately.  I don’t want to suggest anything other than coincidence here, but the “Black” and “White” nature of the headliners’ names was hard not to notice (not to mention the undercard).  Top that off with Jack White’s color scheme and one band of each gender, and you could get the feeling that this is a festival of extremes and no middle ground.  That’s not at all the case, but the theme of diametric opposition was nowhere more apparent than the epic struggle between rock and roll and EDM each night.  Grant Park felt like a cultural battlefield every night, except the vibe was admittedly peaceful and mostly respectful, and nobody suffered.  In a fierce musical competition between styles and/or scenes, everybody wins.

 


 

 

Arrival on a sweltering Friday afternoon was soundtracked by The White Panda, bass booming from the expanded Perry’s DJ area.  Having this stage so close to the main field on the south end would occasionally result in bullying of the mellower artists at the Sony Stage, but overall it was a great setup; the trees surrounding Perry’s provided much-needed respite from the sun and it was easy to slip away from the bigger-name action and relax with some beats.  Particularly good was Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, whose eclectic percussion samples, waves of noise and soothing Britpop vocals made for a wholly enthralling, not-too-frantic afternoon set, danceable but in an afterparty/chill-out-room sort of way.  (Unfortunately, I had to miss the Black Angels’ set during this slot.)  No doubt Bassnectar’s set here Friday night was a killer way to end night one, based on the last ten minutes as he outlasted The Black Keys; any night that ends with a Motörhead remix ends well.

So the electronic spectrum was particularly strong on Friday, but there was no denying the rock attack.  A strong contender for best set of the day was Tame Impala, who managed to blow minds despite significant equipment/sound problems (which plagued the Sony Stage all weekend).  Frontman Kevin Parker blamed the heat; “One of my pedals has melted,” he apologized halfway through the set, which got the engineer off the hook, perhaps, for the patchy guitar sound.  As a result, this may have been the least psychedelic Tame Impala set ever, and Parker was forced to let his relatively clean wailing sell the songs, which turned out to be no problem at all.  He’s got a David Gilmour-esque narrative quality to his lead guitar playing (and that’s not to mention the iconic descending riff from Pink Floyd’s “Money” that snuck, slightly altered, into TA’s new single, “Elephant”), and through several super-slacker garageadelic jams, the only missed opportunity was not playing a Sabbath cover.  Parker is a commanding presence, an indie rocker with swagger–is that coming back?  Has that even been a thing before?  Like it or not, improv is infiltrating the hipsterverse, and Tame Impala is at the forefront of the operation.

Sadly, there is only one stand in all of Grant Park that sells decent beer; it’s just north of Buckingham Fountain, well within earshot of the nearly extinct dinosaurs of Black Sabbath who shook the Earth from the Bud Light Stage.  The band’s lone U.S. appearance of the year was hampered only by the nu-metal stylings of fill-in drummer Tommy Clufetos, who seemed determined to put his stamp on the material, exactly what nobody wanted.  He didn’t diminish the power of monumental songs like “The Wizard” and “Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” though; he was only a mild annoyance musically but surely a significant absurdity to diehard Bill Ward fans.

Meanwhile, Black Keys were staking the first claim to Supreme Garage Superstar, throwing down the gauntlet for Jack White.  When you multiply critical and commercial success, the Keys are the reigning rock band of the moment; Timbaland ain’t got nuthin’ on Dan Auerbach in the insanely catchy pop hook realm, and devotees of radio are bracing for the herd of soundalikes about to rise up.  But while Brothers and El Camino showcase an increasingly mainstream sound, the songs from those albums received a blistering, bluesy makeover live, sounding like they could’ve come from the band’s ten-years-prior incarnation.  The band is augmented by bassist Gus Seyffert and keyboardist Jon Wood for much of the set nowadays, but it is undeniably still a two-man show; Patrick Carney’s rough-and-tumble drum gallop is inescapable, but he showed unusual finesse at times, particularly throughout this incredible performance of “Everlasting Light.”

While there was nothing overtly unpredictable about the set, it was a delight start to finish for anyone with a passion for the dirty-sweet grind of an electric guitar in the hands of a dude who has devoted his life to the thing.  Auerbach has a great singing voice too; even his falsetto is full-flavored and kind of manly, but his guitar sounded more like an animal, and it howled and growled and generally made a spectacle of itself to cap a really good day of festy music.

 

 

Black Keys @ Lolla- “Little Black Submarines”

 

 

Saturday started off innocently enough; the early highlight was a relaxed Umphrey’s-esque set by Moon Taxi, but interrupting Neon Indian around 3:30, Lolla spokespeople came onstage and told everyone to calmly leave the grounds in advance of the approaching thunderstorm.  Many fans apparently felt this was an arbitrary gesture; the childish indignation (i.e., “This is BULLSHIT, man!”) was pretty hilarious.  Surely these kids have weather apps on their phones…but whatever.  When day turned to night in the span of an hour and the fierce lightning and horizontal rain appeared, everyone was probably grateful to be under some sort of shelter.  There was no official word on whether or not the festival would even continue for the evening until 6, when it was announced that the park would reopen…at 6.  So we were lucky to get back inside in time to catch the last couple songs of The Tallest Man On Earth, which were great, but damn.

This year’s event was largely bereft of old geezers (no, that’s not a Sabbath pun) who might’ve shown these kids a thing or two about how to perform (such as Love And Rockets in ’08, Lou Reed in ’09, Mavis Staples, Jimmy Cliff and Devo in ’10, etc.), so it was up to Franz Ferdinand to get the party started back up after the storm.  No, they’re not exactly ancient, but it was tough to imagine these Scots’ straightforward dance-rock fitting into the modern Lolla landscape.  But rock was winning the battle thus far, and FF’s live show leaned decidedly in a punk direction, shedding the studio sheen in favor of a pogo-inducing guitar speedrace, and it was quite invigorating.  If the storm had deflated the spirit of the fest, the boys of Franz breathed some life back into it.

Following this, it was a tense twenty minutes or so in the friendly confines of the Google Play Stage as a small gathering waited impatiently for Twin Shadow to finish soundchecking.  When George Lewis Jr. finally came out to play, there was only a half hour left of his time slot.  And holy shit, did he make the most of that half hour.  If you listen to his albums, you get a moody, low-key synthpop/new wave feel, like you’re either in a seedy after hours chill-out room or crying alone in your bedroom.  This was an all-out guitar assault; the band Lewis has assembled turned out to be an incredibly intuitive and powerful ensemble, crafting monumental crescendos of post-rock din to augment Lewis’s own impressive guitar heroics and tear-your-heart-out emotive belting, and underneath it all were those magnificent Chris Squire-caliber basslines, supremely melodic, intricate and danceable all at once.  When George sang “Please leave us alone/When we’re dancing,” even though the song itself is far too depressing to be a festival anthem, it came off like the birth of a new motto for live music fanatics of all stripes.  This was easily the best 30 minutes of Saturday and one of the best sets of the weekend.

Almost as good, though, was Frank Ocean, who might’ve gotten skipped if it weren’t for Avicii dwelling on a single sample motif for so damn long it got nauseating. Tim Bergling is an entertaining presence behind the tables, and the Swedish DJ phenom knows how to keep the beats rolling but his set really lacked dynamic in the early goings; minus-one for EDM.  Ocean was this year’s token Pitchfork-darling R&B guy, but it turns out he’s way more than that.  He’s at the top of the heap in terms of magnetic stage presence, soulful voice and, um,  rockin’ live band?  Yes indeed, perhaps Uncle Perry started this crazy traveling circus twenty-plus years ago with the destruction of genre in mind, the merging of cultures to the point where it was just one big suspension of humanity through music, and despite the polar opposites of the night”s headliners (sorry Chili Peppers, “Red” wasn’t one of the weekend’s chosen colors) these two side-stage sets felt like we were entering a plane that had no plausible ID3 tag.

Ocean’s performance was like the perfect melding of Marvin Gaye and Bruce Springsteen, populist working-class soul with as much grit as beauty.  Eschewing any semblance of “Hotel California,” the new arrangement of “American Wedding” sucked the collective heart of the crowd into its throat, and we all hung on every word of Frank’s aw-shucks between-song banter like he was a long-lost friend in confessional mode.  It was an incredibly communal, familial atmosphere, draped over disbelief; this cat is a huge star just rising, and we were all a part of the comet-tail during the last hour of Saturday night.

 

 

Red Hot Chili Peppers @ Lolla- “Under the Bridge”

 

 

When White Rabbits toured with The Walkmen back in 2008, they were a ramshackle garage/psyche/pop band that relied on gaudy, manic vocal harmonies that flowed like 100-proof vodka and knocked you on your ass.  After a disappointing sophomore effort (2009’s It’s Frightening), the band fell off the radar somewhat, but if Sunday afternoon is any indication, they lost none of their onstage potency.  The impact is more polished, more professional, and if anything more powerful than when it seemed like they were barely keeping it together.  The focus has shifted away from the vocals and more to the piano talents of Stephen Patterson; he controlled the momentum for most of the performance, although those classic percussion hooks are definitely what put the wiggle in “The Plot” and “Kid online casinos On My Shoulders.”  Unlike in ’08, White Rabbits edged out The Walkmen on this day.  They’re probably tired of being described as “reliable,” but that’s what The Walkmen are; reliably awesome, no doubt, and blessed with one of the greatest underground rock singers ever in Hamilton Leithauser.

There are hundreds of bands in the world who still do nothing but imitate Mogwai. Sigur Rós is not one of these, but it sounded like one for the first few songs of its highly-anticipated set at the Red Bull Stage; “Svefn-g-englar” and “Varúð” are both very straightforward examples of the gibberish>play louder and louder formula.  Yes, sometimes there are actual words, but they’re not sung to be understood; the meaning behind Sigur Rós lyrics is almost always listener-assigned.  There were some intense peaks, particularly when the horns would go nuts, and the essential “Hoppípolla” sent the crowd into raptures, but the subtleties that set this band apart from the post-rock pack were lacking until the last couple of songs.  “Hafsól” is Radiohead-caliber and -esque, although the tapping bowed guitar core of the song is like no other band.  The untitled final song (the last track on 2002’s () album) built to a walloping crescendo only hinted at on the studio version, shattering the most intense musical memories of the weekend.  In broad daylight, Sigur Rós transfixed a crowd of thousands with pure musical bliss.

Lolla features at least a couple of legendary reunions per year, and At The Drive-In certainly qualifies.  The band played a handful of dates in April including Coachella, and reports indicated an oddly lethargic Omar Rodríguez-López; those reports were no joke. He took nothing away from vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, whose energy and often hilarious banter made up for Omar’s lack of interest.  The still-unrivaled music–Relationship Of Command is the only post-hardcore album you will ever need–sounded fantastic, even timeless, so fans could either join in Omar’s disdain for this cash-grab nostalgia trip or be grateful that he played the old tunes competently and that the rest of the band seemed to give a shit.  With eyes closed, it was a brilliant set.

Jack White.  He paved the way for The Black Keys to get huge, who in turn made the world safe for Jack’s transmogrification into a pop star.  At this point, in terms of pallor, personal peculiarity, seemingly pretentious public persona and performance prowess, White is approaching Michael Jackson levels.  He inspires obsession in a boldly calculated fashion, but also through unbridled talent and an unrivaled commitment to performance as art.  He’s the rare example of a musician whose substance lives up to his extreme theatricality and mythology.  He just released perhaps his weakest collection of songs ever, his solo debut Blunderbuss, after breaking up his cultishly adored band, The White Stripes, last year, but if he tried to tell me that his entire career was only preamble, preparation for getting out on tour with these musicians he played with at Lollapalooza, I’d believe him.

If he tried to tell me that jamming with Jimmy Page, however awkwardly, during the making of It Might Get Loud, had no influence on him, I’d laugh in his face, though.  If there’s been one guitarist since Page that gets the tight-but-loose aesthetic, it’s White, and particularly on “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” and portions of the “Cannon” medley you could imagine yourself (for a brief moment) under different stars, circa 1970 as Zeppelin was tearing you a new face.  Whereas Dan Auerbach was the essence of Claptonesque fluidity on Friday night, Jack played the grungy, passion-over-precision maestro on Sunday, destroying the validity of the term “shred” for most other guitarists.

It would be pointless to suggest that this solo endeavor is better or worse than The White Stripes were, but obviously White’s ambition exceeds what he and Meg could accomplish alone.  The head-scratching concept of Jack not playing guitar on “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” actually turned out amazingly well; he manned the keys and turned the tune into a Band-esque shuffle, and the quaint, Elton John-ish ditty “Take Me With You When You Go” blossomed into a virtual “Bohemian Rhapsody” of proggy dramatics (relatively speaking, of course).  The players he had onstage with him made (The Buzzards and The Peacocks–guess which is which!) up possibly the two best rock and roll bands at the festival, assuming you factor Jack into both. There wasn’t a ton of improv, but both bands succeeded in turning on dimes to the occasional mystery whim of their leader within and between songs, a communal intuition far beyond just being good musicians.

It was Jack’s flesh-rending guitar work more than any other single factor that carried the show, though.  Obviously, “Ball And Biscuit” was ridiculous, the type of energy you experience more as electricity slicing through your soul than as sound.  The set closed with the Stripes’ biggest hit, “Seven Nation Army,” and it featured the deepest, least-musical guitar tone possible; it sounded like a two-ton steel brick being dragged across concrete.  When it was all over, the crowd chanted the guitar riff all the way to Michigan Avenue and beyond, à la Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” in 2010.  Still waiting to hear reports of crowds singing any Justice songs on their way to the train station…

 

 

Jack White @ Lolla- “Take Me With You When You Go”

 

Check out more Lollapalooza videos on the Lollapalooza YouTube Channel.

For more from writer, Cal Roach, check out You-Phoria.com.

 


 

 


 

 

 

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Lollapalooza : 20 years and still leading the party

 

_mg_3216.jpgA few of the folks reading this review may be old enough to remember 1991, the year Nirvana’s Nevermind turned mainstream music upside down and suddenly, for a brief wrinkle in time, there was good music on the radio.  Not just rock and roll, either; the early 90s were a heyday for “conscious” hip hop artists like Arrested Development and A Tribe Called Quest as well as a breeding ground for the merging of black and white cultures, as artists like Rage Against The Machine and Ice-T’s Body Count showcased rap and rock elements actually working together. (Does anybody remember the Judgment Night soundtrack?)  Sure, it all fell apart pretty quickly, but for a while there, it felt like reality was busting through the Hollywood sheen of pop culture.

At the heart of all this was a traveling music festival called Lollapalooza.

 

 

It seemed destined for failure; the guy who dreamed it all up, Perry Farrell, was using it as a farewell tour for his band Jane’s Addiction.  In 1991, not many people had heard of Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour, Fishbone, Butthole Surfers or the Violent Femmes, and with Jane’s about to crash and burn, nobody could’ve predicted that this traveling freakshow would go on to become one of the most influential experiments in music history. In the ensuing six years, every luminary of Alternative Nation _mg_4774.jpgexcept Nirvana would end up playing Farrell’s burgeoning showcase for cutting-edge music of all stripes.  Finally in 1997, with Farrell having abandoned ship the previous year, the Seattle scene in shambles and the airwaves firmly under corporate control again, the last Lollapalooza tour closed with a whimper.

It was Bonnaroo that ushered in the modern festival age, but the legacy of Lolla made it all possible.  So it was a bit of a surprise that none of those legendary 90s performers, sans a Farrell DJ set, appeared in this year’s 20th anniversary lineup. The festival evolved from cutting-edge independence to corporate-driven spectacle quickly as soon as it found its permanent home in Grant Park in 2005, but every year has boasted a significant cache of up-and-comers as well as influential stalwarts from past eras; with so many acts from the 90s still active, it’s a wonder Farrell couldn’t convince any of them to sign up.  One thing is for certain, though: Farrell’s a shrewd businessman, and the festival sold out completely in advance despite being one of the most expensive tickets of the summer.  And even considering the premium price, the talent delivered the goods, for the most part.

 

The Festival Experience

 

_mg_5106.jpgOne of the best things about Lolla, believe it or not, is the food, and this year had by far the best offerings yet.  Dozens of local vendors formed two long rows of eateries (Chow Town) and some of Chicago’s best restaurants were represented (Kuma’s Corner if you like burgers, for instance). In Lederhosen’s Biergarten you could procure giant sausages on pretzel rolls in addition to a decent selection of imported beers (cheaper than Budweiser at Wrigley Field), and the samosas from Juhu Beach were potentially addictive. The longest lines were for slices of quality Chicago pizza, of course. Even if nothing here suited your fancy, this was a wristband festival, which meant you can walk a couple blocks for a relatively cheap eatery or a classy meal and come back whenever you felt like it.  Plus, free water refill stations were plentiful this year; kudos to CamelBak.

Yes, it can be a hassle getting from one end of the mile-long fest to the other, so you’re best off planning your day with only one or two long walks in order to catch the most music possible. The upside: there was very little cross-bleeding between stages, except when the bass from the fantastic new Perry’s tent occasionally overpowered quieter sets on the north end.

This year’s festival grounds were also the cleanest they’ve ever been–the whole time–thanks to an ingenious ploy: why give volunteers free tickets to come in and clean up when you can offer paying customers a free t-shirt for turning in full garbage bags? All weekend, kids were walking around bussing the field, picking up your empty Sweet Leaf Tea cans almost as fast as you could drain them.  All in all, it’s clear that the organizers are committed to making improvements every year.
 

The Rock and Roll

 

_mg_5078.jpgElectric guitars still rule Lollapalooza, and this was a good year for them, as long as they weren’t struggling to project from the PlayStation Stage, where Chicago natives Smith Westerns as well as noisy punks Black Lips were both badly sabotaged by a bad mix that muffled their guitars. Deftonesfared better, although it may have been due to the magnetic presence of vocalist Chino Moreno more than anything else, but at least the guitars were fairly loud.  Deftones are by and large a love-or-hate band, but there’s no denying Moreno’s rousing performance ability; he gives the impression that he’s up there for the hardcore fans rather than trying to win over new ones, and that’s a philosophy that creates fans for life.

Maynard James Keenan, best known as the singer for Tool, has always been an iconoclast, but his other popular band, A Perfect Circle, is a tough nut to crack; it’s as if Keenan created yet another Tool-esque nu-metal band out of pure irony, just to show Staind and Puddle Of Mudd and the rest of their ilk how easy it is. The kicker is that APC is actually good, bolstered mainly by Maynard’s incomparable vocal cords, even if the style is initially a nauseating reminder of the Creed era. So while your first impression when hearing this band crank into a gothic pop-metal cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” might be to vomit, give it a few minutes and try to fathom the point Keenan is trying to make. In many ways he is the anti-rock star, seeking only to expose the hypocrisy of his own profession right in front of every audience, and while the intention may have been lost on the majority of the festival crowd, the power was there in the performance even for those who took it at face value.

_mg_3245.jpgPortugal. The Man can usually be counted on for a spaced-out excursion or two, but the band played it very safe for the majority of its Saturday afternoon set. Forty minutes in or so, the wind picked up and everyone could smell the storm clouds approaching, and Portugal seized on the kinetic energy and sprang to life with a sizzling performance of (what else?) “Chicago” as the crew lowered the video screens in preparation for rain.  But the highlight of the set was undeniable: as fair-weather fans scrambled for shelter, the band played a rollicking “People Say” and, on a dime, shifted into Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back In Anger.”  Fans squirmed into ponchos and garbage bags and huddled under umbrellas while belting out every word with festival-sized smiles on their faces.

Possibly the most electrifying set of the weekend happened very early on. The Kills make a pretty interesting din on record, but nothing compared to the live set they played on Friday. Alison Mosshart is one of the most captivating singers in rock and roll, and Jamie Hince’s guitar playing is exponentially more ferocious onstage, an agonized cross-breed of Angus Young and Buzz Osborne.  You don’t get nearly the effect of the tense chemistry between the two of them on record; their music and body language create a haunting melodrama unlike any other dynamic in modern rock.  Maybe halfway through the set, you might notice that there’s not actually a drummer up there; this band doesn’t need one.

 

The Hip Hop

 

Eminem may have attracted the largest single crowd in Lolla history. Presumably, loads of curious locals bought single-day tickets; the only question was whether they flocked in to catch a pop star, or to catch a fading star while they still had the chance. Em put on a show that satisfied either way; the only folks who could’ve been disappointed were the ones with deep emotional ties to his songs. They may have thought, for instance, “What’s the point of just doing the first verse of ‘Stan’ and then jumping into the next track?” But it’s a mainstream hip-hop show, and the point is to keep the crowd chanting along and shaking their booties, and put on A SHOW, which Mr. Mathers certainly did. The guy looks no worse for wear, and his verbal skills are not diminished, and even if Lady Gaga seems more risqué than Eminem these days, his set was a solid, exuberant, possibly even heartfelt performance.

_mg_8695.jpgA major highlight of Sunday evening was Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley‘s set with Nas. It was fascinating to experience the shifting motifs of the set as each artist performed his own songs with tracks from the duo’s joint effort, last year’s Distant Relatives, spliced in between. Marley is a fierce performer whose eyes can pierce right through you from afar, and his reinventions of his father’s tunes (most notably “Exodus” and “Could You Be Loved”) were not gimmicks–they were inspired new pieces of artistry. Whether it was by association, or that there were a lot of old-school hip hop fans in the crowd, Nas’s own tracks (particularly “Hate Me Now” and “Got Ur Self A Gun”) got at least as much love from the crowd as did the Marley tunes. Whatever you may think of Nas and Marley’s album, as a couple of performers and with this versatile band, they fit extremely well together.

The hype seems to have cooled a bit on Cool Kids since they were CMJ and Pitchfork darlings a few years ago; perhaps it was because they claimed their debut album, When Fish Rode Bicycles, was coming out in 2008 and it only just dropped a month ago. Then again, who cares about albums anymore?  Cool Kids’ MySpace page has been blowing up with new tracks for years, and the hometown heroes garnered an enthusiastic response from fans at Perry’s this year. It was refreshing in the wake of the Odd Future media blitz to see a couple of (relatively) modest MCs with catchy, clever rhymes who don’t need to shock anybody to get their point across.
 

The Beats

 
Perry Farrell has been vocal about his insistence on making electronic music a bigger and bigger part of Lollapalooza, and this year featured a pretty stellar assortment, particularly at his own personal club stage, Perry’s (go figure). Modeselektor was an easy favorite, not only for the electronic duo’s mind-bending mélange of sounds and moods but also for the spectacle of muddied revelers scrambling up and down the slick banks surrounding the stage area. You get a heavy sense of progressive/krautrock influence in the way the two men combine traditional electro and hip-hop beats with quirky and head-spinning effects and samples, an unpredictable stew of sounds but highly danceable at all times.

_mg_6287.jpgBeats Antique combined digital sounds that spanned a wide variety of exotic and familiar territory with a quirky assortment of live instrumentation and enthralling performance art beyond anything else all weekend.  The crowd was small but dedicated, a blessing that allowed anyone who so desired to get close and watch Zoe Jakes’ mesmerizing belly-dance hybrid act. At one point, she emerged playing a bass drum and somehow made that sexy. The swirling mixture of Middle-Eastern overtones, jazz and hip-hop beats and sound collages of indiscriminate origin made for a truly unique aural/visual experience.

Pitted against Coldplay, Muse and Girl Talk, Ratatat still drew an impressive crowd to the Google Stage for the final set of opening night. The Ratatat sound is instantly recognizable: high-pitched twin guitar leads like Thin Lizzy on Pixie Stix, belligerently archaic organ textures and various sound effects that may or may not evoke drug experiences, all strung together over relentlessly catch beats. That may sound tiresomely happy; luckily, there were extremely violent videos projected behind the performers during many of the songs, which was just a bit difficult to comprehend. As disturbing as some moments may have been, they didn’t stop any bodies from shakin’ to the infectious grooves.
 

The Jams

 
_mg_6970.jpgThere was precious little treasure for jam-chasers at Lollapalooza, as usual, but there were moments. Exhibit A would be Saturday’s co-headliner My Morning Jacket. The band gets plaudits for its live show for a number of reasons: lots of really good songs, an exuberant, physical performance, especially by fearless leader Jim James and his giant mane, and plenty of loud, bombastic guitar work across the board. MMJ is the hippie band that it’s okay for indie snobs to like, and while the crowd was decidedly smaller on the north end than for Eminem to the south, James gave this performance everything he had, captivating fans and bowling over plenty of curious first-timers.  Early on, the band took “Off the Record” for a spooky ride, but inexplicably, still refused to expand on the endless possibilities of “Lay Low.”  “Mahgeetah” got a pretty decent workout, but it was “Dondante” that blew minds on that Lolla night; moody ebbs and flows and crests, anguished guitar work by James and a pretty fantastic sax outro from Carl Broemel. James was in less-than-perfect voice, but his charisma rose above it, and as expected, this was one of the top sets of the weekend.

While it is far from safe to refer to Ween as a jamband, even though the group counts plenty of hippies among its eclectic cross-section of fans. But a Ween show plays out like one long, anything-goes bout of improv; nothing is polished, everything seems spontaneous, and there are a couple of weirdo not-actual-brothers onstage named Dean and Gene who you’d swear are just doing whatever comes into their heads. In fact, you are guaranteed plenty of improv, like – on this day — the always-dynamic “Buckingham Green,” which sometimes delves into pure metal but didn’t get too crazy here. One of the great things about Ween is that, even without actual hits, the band intuitively picks the best songs from every album to play live; even the somewhat disappointing La Cucaracha had “My Own Bare Hands” and “Your Party,” two quintessential Ween tunes that were both highlights of the Lolla set.  Unfortunately, by the time they got around to “Roses Are Free,” there wasn’t enough time left for a jam, but it was at the end of a crazy hour of intensely bizarre yet perfectly paced rock and roll and… whatever kind of music “Mutilated Lips” is.

_mg_4536yyy.jpgSomewhat surprisingly, it was Foo Fighters who brought the most impressive explorations of the weekend.  Frontman Dave Grohl developed a lot of lame, patronizing rock-star tendencies over the past decade or so, and some fans (ahem) may have gotten sick of being asked repeatedly if they were ready to rock. The band had been on hiatus following its weakest album (2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace) and ensuing tour, but this year’s predictable “back to our roots” move actually seems to be valid, as evidenced by this fest-closing show. A fresh arrangement for the “My Hero” outro led to a sinister noise jam, and “Breakout” featured some fantastic group improv. The band took “Stacked Actors” for a long thrill ride just like in the old days (including some “Heartbreaker” action by Grohl). Even the tight power-punk blast “Monkey Wrench” got stretched out. Sure, most of this stuff is very similar night after night, but the point of seeing a show is to see how songs evolve when the band plays ‘em live, and no one could accuse Foo Fighters of getting stuck on album arrangements. After 15 years, this is still one of the best arena rock bands on the planet.

Just before the final tune of the night, Dave told the crowd a story about going to the first Lollapalooza in Los Angeles with Kurt Cobain while they were making Nevermind: “Me and Kurt went down and sat in the audience, and we thought ‘Oh my God, music is fucking changing.'” He then brought out Perry and thanked him “for changing music forever,” and it was all very deserved and heartfelt…but while memories of that feeling may have flooded back into the consciousness of Generation X for a minute, it’s sad that nostalgia is the only way to get there nowadays.  Lollapalooza is a lot of fun, but there’s not a trace of revolution in the air.

 

For more from Cal Roach, head over to You-Phoria.com

 

Click the thumbnail for photos From the Fest by Julie Collins / Rose Mountain Photo

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My Morning Jacket featuring the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra

My Morning Jacket will be performing with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra at this year's Lollapalooza Festival.

Taking place in Chicago's Grant Park the weekend of August 3-5, Lollapalooza is headlined by Pearl Jam, and its line-up also boasts Ben Harper & The Criminals, Modest Mouse, the Kings of Leon, The Roots, The Black Keys, Son Volt, STS9, the Heartless Bastards, and many more.

For the entire line-up and more festival info visit www.lollapalooza.com.