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Feature Thu Aug 10 2006

What I Did at My Summer Festival

The sheer magnitude of last weekend's Lollapalooza music festival hit hard Monday morning when the first questions started being lobbed over by friends and co-workers. "How was it?" and "What was your favorite part?" were surprisingly hard to answer, or rather, they were hard to answer sufficiently. You found yourself rambling silently inside your head trying to suss out exactly how it was while your friend stared at you blankly, waiting for your response. There simply was too much to sort through for a quick answer so soon after the experience had ended. So, it's been a few days now, and I think we're finally ready to reply. Below are four Gapers Block: Transmission contributors' impressions, in words and pictures, of Lollapalooza 2006:

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Approaching the festival grounds with a crowd of people, I began to realize just how much Lollapalooza grew in just one year. The entrance at Buckingham fountain (above) was pretty well laid out and efficient, and there were really no hang-ups in getting in. I decided that it was probably helpful to have gotten my wristband early. While catching Chicagoans The M's, I was able to meet up with most of my crew of friends after a flurry of text messaging.

Festival services were adequate, with plenty of bathrooms, most in decent shape, and readily available food and beverage of all sorts. Prices for a wide range of food seemed reasonable, though not cheap — $3 for water is pretty steep, and beer was priced at $5, a move which no doubt significantly cut down on tips for those manning the booths.

The first set I really wanted to check out was the Editors. While their music is really not that groundbreaking, owing big debts to Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and the like, it is very convincingly done. The rest of the day included good sets by Mates of State (below), and My Morning Jacket.

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The distance between the stages became a problem when I was forced to leave the Sleater-Kinney show a few songs in to make the trek to see Ween on the opposite side of the festival area. For me, Ween was the Friday show to see. As a headliner, they pulled no punches, digging deep into the Ween catalog and coming up with a quintessentially foul-mouthed, depraved set. We stumbled out to Michigan Ave. and caught a cab to end the first day.

Saturday was sort of a slow day for me. I arrived late and saw Built to Spill. Doug Martsch and crew sounded great, but after a while my attention wandered, so I did too. I tooled around the festival grounds, checking out some of the other attractions such as the Mindfield area and the Who Art Thou? area, which featured art created for the festival (like Laura Park's, below).

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All around, there were booths promoting Gibson guitars, and people handing out free iTunes downloads, game cards that require you to submit information. The festival, while noticeably commercialized, still didn't feel like a hard sell to me. It seemed easy enough to weave around the hawkers and handouts. Lyrics Born and Sonic Youth (below) provided good back-to-back sets, just the sort of juxtaposition that I think these festivals should be all about.

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Casual drop-ins on sets by The Dresden Dolls, Common, The New Pornographers, and Thievery Corporation rounded out the rest of my day. The choice of headliners was easy. Not wanting to make tracks and fight the crowds to see local boy made good Kanye, I stuck and caught Manu Chao. U.S. performances by this Spanish artist are few and far between, and while the crowd could have been bigger, his high energy Latin Alternative was really a high point for the weekend. Public transit was the call of the night, and we Brown Lined it up to continue the reverie at Cody's.

Sunday, I arrived and was able to check out a set by up-and-comers The Benevento/Russo Duo. Chicago's own Andrew Bird provided what for me was one of the festival's best sets to a great crowd. Disappointingly, The Shins suffered some serious sound problems, but it chased me over to the Matisyahu show, which turned out to be a great high energy performance and something of a surprise to me. I casually checked out Queens of the Stone Age, and then effectively finished out the festival with a mind blowing set by the Vancouver, BC collective Broken Social Scene (below).

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Almost as an afterthought, I stayed and watched the softball field fill up and caught the first half-hour or so of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I left tired to the bone, but looking forward to next year.
-Dan Snedigar

 

Some Lollapalooz-yays:
1. The earlybird tickets for $45
2. Saying goodbye to Sleater-Kinney

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3. Nickel Creek's idiosyncratic covers of Radiohead and Britney Spears
4. Hearing some new Andrew Bird and Wilco tunes

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5. Watching the punks and hippies dancing together as Of Montreal played
6. Broken Social Scene bringing out "the ladies" (Amy from Stars, Feist, Emily from Metric) to do "Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl"
7. Realizing that people still engage in crowd surfing

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8. The over-the-top spectacle that accompanied it, as presided over by Wayne Coyne

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And a few Lollapalooz-nays:
1. Having to walk a mile between stages, even if the soundbleed problem was mitigated
2. Sound problems at The Shins
3. Happening just a few days after Pitchfork (are there no other weekends?!)
4. The often obtrusive videographers
5. Really disappointing lemonade
6. Saying goodbye to Sleater-Kinney. So long, modern girls.
-Matt Peck

 

When I think back on Lollapalooza, I keep on coming to the same conclusion — that it really works. At the core of any festival experience is the chance to come away with not only new impressions of bands that you already knew, but the wonderful surprise of discovering someone you never would have paid attention to before that day. Yes, the festival did a great job by using the increased size of the grounds to combat over-crowding and sound bleeds (for the most part), but when you were passing by a smaller stage on your way from one end to the other, often times, the music just drew you in. And isn't that the biggest compliment to the artist? It wasn't the hype or the packaging, it was the energy that every single band at the fest last weekend was putting out there that made you want to (to need to) be on your feet for hours for three days straight. I'd say the fact that thousands upon thousands of Lollapalooza-goers did just that is a testament to the success of the festival.

Everyone keeps on asking about favorites that I saw, and indeed, some of the groups that I caught just solidified their top rankings in my mind:

Sleater-Kinney made me skip two other big draws (My Morning Jacket and The Raconteurs) in order to snag a good spot in the crowd, though I wasn't the first to come up with that plan (below). It was a bittersweet show to catch, but such an important one. I'd been putting off seeing these fabulous girls for year, citing other shows as a bigger priority. I learned the hard way that I've only been cheating myself. The ladies put in an amazingly energetic set, playing through their catalogue and leaving everyone begging for "one more song" at the end, even as Death Cab fired up its amps. They shared the fact that they were playing in the best weather of their tour thus far, and their love of Chicago over the years. You'll likely be able to google some seriously teary fan sites over the next few weeks, as the band gives its last two performances in Portland, Oregon before going on "indefinite hiatus." I'm sure anyone at that Lollapalooza set will tell you, though, that the girls are going out on a serious high note.

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Lyrics Born (below), along with his tremendous backing band and vocalist "Joy Overloaded" brought pure command to his lyrics and his audience. At one point, a girl in front of me who was already boogying away at the set, turned back to her friend and mouthed "Daaaamn!" I couldn't have agreed more.

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On Sunday afternoon, the Benevento/Russo Duo were the pair to see, and it's been interesting to hear their drum and keys style transform over the year since they started touring more heavily with former Phish bandmates Trey and Mike. It was obvious from the crowd, who tracked a lot younger than any other set I caught, that the fans are wondering if this pair will be part of a new Phish-incarnation. However, white kids with dreadlocks aside, the Duo (below) put out a joyful hour of music perfectly capturing the mood of the day as the skies cleared and the sun started brightening up.

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Where I was surprised was in other "accidents" along the weekend, where I created my own mix. Sitting between two stages, and, as a result, hearing an unintended mash-up of Blackalicious' "Chemical Calisthentics" while The Dresden Dolls closed out their set with a cover of the Louvin Brothers' "Satan is Real" was positively amazing. Pairing a set of Matisyahu's truly earnest rap messages with the unifying force of Of Montreal's punk and trip-hop crowd was worth the walk back from a sound-troubled Shins set. I passed up Death Cab for Cutie's beautiful-sounding first couple of songs to start back across the grounds only to be less-than-pleased at the Mindfield's DJ set by VHS or Beta (hopefully they'll come back to Chicago in full band form sometime) and ended up at Ween, the only headliner I was convinced by my own stubborn brain I'd hate. But the exuberance by not only the boys on stage, but the perfectly thrilled crowd below them was enough to make my night special. As I sat with friends on a blanket and caught the Chicago skyline out of one eye, and a random sputtering of fireworks over the Field Museum in the other, I had to agree that the festival had worked its magic on me. I've got a lot of love for Lollapalooza, and now that we're old friends, I hope to see it again soon.
-Anne Holub

 


Of Montreal's ringmaster Kevin Barnes opened his band's set Sunday afternoon with an invocation of sorts: "Puerto Ricans! Whites and blacks! Athletes and fags! Let's dance!"

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This could have been a bit, part of Barnes's arch performance-of-rock-star façade of electric-blue eyeshadow and costumes that crossed glam rock with Harper Valley PTA. But there was truth to it as well. Athletes and fags indeed came together for the Of Montreal set, along with punks, hippies, frat boys and metalheads. Gauging the ever-evolving Lollapalooza crowd was like rock taxonomy, with a spectrum of cliques broader than anything John Hughes ever imagined.

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The dominant forces sometimes conformed to the schedule. The white-belts were out in full force for Friday performances by the likes of Panic! At the Disco, Stars, Mates of State and Sleater-Kinney. Saturday afternoon, loaded with crunchy bands like Particle, Calexico and the Disco Biscuits, was the province of the dirty hippies; the hippies gave way to college radio hip-hop heads as the late afternoon brought on Lyrics Born, Blackalicious (crowd, below) and Common.

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The sheer geographical size of the festival made it nearly impossible to split sets among the headliners — the distance between the two largest stages was a three-quarter mile trek through bottlenecking crowds — which made for some difficult choices: Queens of the Stone Age or Wilco? The Raconteurs or My Morning Jacket? Kanye or Manu Chao? But there was still room for the great pleasure of a large music festival, which is discovering bands you might never have seen on their own. I showed up early for Calexico's set on Saturday and got to enjoy the last half of Built to Spill on the opposite end of Butler Field. On my way to Nickel Creek Sunday afternoon I was sidetracked for a few minutes by the indie electro-pop of Hot Chip.

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The costs of putting on an event of this size — the branding of every available surface and the $5 cups of beer — are inescapable these days, but the corporate behemoth aspects were nicely tempered with Chicago touches, from the booking of local up-and-comers like the Katie Todd Band and the M's (below) to appearances by hometown rock-show curiosity Thax Douglas.

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I didn't attend last year's Lollapalooza, so I was still awed that I was experiencing all of this in the heart of our city, alongside the lake and under the Chicago skyline. That magic wasn't lost on the musicians either. San Francisco singer-songwriter Kelley Stoltz, performing Friday afternoon with cars rushing behind him on Lake Shore Drive, paused his set and said, "Let's just listen to the traffic. We've been trapped in North Dakota for a while, and you don't get to hear traffic like this." Nickel Creek mandolinist Chris Thile (below), who was photographed in Cubs gear for the liner notes of his first solo CD at age 13, paused between songs to look out past the audience. "Man," he said. "Look. That's the Sears Tower right there."

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The local pride was summed up best, naturally, by hometown heroes Wilco on Sunday evening. Jeff Tweedy remarked that "to come home, and have it be to this," indicating the thousands-deep crowd (below) with the sun setting over the skyline, "is overwhelming."

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Later in their set, Tweedy told us, "We are so proud of you, Chicago! You really know how to go to a festival."

-Kris Vire

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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