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Lollapalooza Sat Aug 07 2010
I realized yesterday that Lollapalooza as it exists now is basically a three-day pop up musical city. And I like it. I still reminisce of the first year that it was reincarnated as a destination festival and only took up the south half of Butler Field. I watched and cringed as it grew year after year. But Friday, something hit me. A musical city is what you make of it, just as Chicago itself is. It offers a little something for everyone. You can't do it all. But that is not what the intention is.
Ask any attendee and they will have their own, different Lollapalooza experience. Some may stay at one stage the entire day. Some may come strictly for the headliner. Some may spend the afternoon in Hammock Heaven. Some may run from end to end to actually see their "custom schedule." Some may attempt to sample all the fare at Chow Town. And then there are some who may not eat at all and instead live solely on Bud Light for three days.
Here is my day in the city...with a little help from fellow Transmission writer, James Ziegenfus.
I wanted to get to the fest in time to catch some of the early bands that I had never seen before, but I only arrived just in time to catch the tail end of Wavvves' set on the north end. They were belligerent, but not in a "cool" way, more a disrespectful way. "Play a fuckin' song!" I heard from one audience member yell as band members talked back and forth saying that they have to know what song they were playing before they could play a song. Oh, and burping into the microphone. They finally played "Rainbow Everywhere", but by that time, most anyone who had any interest had left.
Ettes drummer Poni Silver (photo by Kate Gardiner/PBS NewsHour)
Next, I saw The Ettes on one of the smaller side stages. I just love this band's '60s girl punk band sound. The female drummer is the most entertaining part of the band and should probably be moved to the front of the stage set up, but lead singer Coco's voice is rightfully front and center.
It wasn't very surprising to hear Raphael Saadiq smoke through an hour-long set that drew heavily from his latest solo record The Way I See It. Even though Saadiq does sometimes drop in an old Tony! Toni! Toné! hit or that one Lucy Pearl jawn, he appears most comfortable with his own material. Straight out of the gate with a blazing "100-Yard Dash" he and his band were in top gear. The backup singers had their dancing down pat, the musicians were tight as a drum and Saadiq's only obstacle was the heat. (His black jacket and shirt were gone 2/3rds into the set, to the delight of a couple ladies standing near me.) Where Saadiq wins over audiences is in his devotion to the craft and authenticity. It's easy to toss him in with those who're striving to replicate a Motown feel in modern R&B, but he's not looking to recreate the wheel. He's simply pulling inspiration from history and performing the hell out of his own spin on it. With anchors like an amped "Sure Hope You Mean It", "Staying in Love" and "Get Involved" (No Q-Tip, unfortunately) driving the afternoon crowd wild, it was no surprise that people walked away from that set thinking, "Why is this guy on in the middle of the afternoon???"
Mavis Staples (photo by Kate Gardiner/PBS NewsHour)
Chicago native Mavis Staples was an honor to see perform on the main stage. She began with an a capella song backed by a three-person chorus. My friend and I thought we had spotted Jeff Tweedy (who produced her new album) in the wings, and then he joined Staples on stage for the title song from the album You Are Not Alone.
Strokes' guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr with his new beard (photo by Kate Gardiner/PBS NewsHour)
I have to admit I missed the first few songs of The Strokes while catching 2ManyDJs, so I can't account for anything before "Hard to Explain." But there was so much else to glean from the Strokes' first U.S. show since late 2006. First of all, they're basically the same Strokes you've always known — cocky, brash, disinterested and loaded with talent. Guitarists Nic Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr (sporting a new beard to throw a wrench in the band's aesthetic) were on their game, riffing and soloing like they hadn't missed any time. The rhythm section didn't skip a beat and Julian Casablancas' rough voice was in fine shape as they plowed through a greatest hits set. Secondly, it was complete domination. Feeding off a growing sentiment on Butler Field that rock music festivals should be about rock bands, the Strokes fed into it with gigantic rock'n'roll songs (highlighted by "You Only Live Once" and "Last Nite") that drew boisterous cheers and had fans singing along, air guitaring and pogoing to get a better view of five dudes who basically stood around coolly not giving a fuck. "CHICAGOPALOOZA" and a classic arcade game backdrop were nice touches, but the Strokes really just need a spotlight and their instruments to put on a great show. After Friday, it's tough to see how they ever couldn't.
The Strokes' Julian Casablancas (photo by Kate Gardiner/PBS NewsHour)
I was disappointed to not catch more of Chromeo's spectacle. I more heard than watched their set as I got into position for Lady Gaga who was in a word, ridiculous. A rumored 150 thousand dollar stage set up began with a heavy black velvet curtain that came down several times throughout concealing costume and set changes. She is a talent, in songwriting, vocals as well as a performer. Some people are born for the stage, and she is one. Her show was spectacle and shock, at one point she was covered in fake blood asking "Do you think I'm sexy?" It's exciting to see a performer who has excited masses in a way that no one has done since Madonna.