Whenever I cover a music festival, I ask myself: what’s the point? In 2012 (or 2011 or 2010…) people who want to find out what they missed at a festival can go on Twitter, search the #lolla hashtag, and consume millions of snippets to create a full impression. Or they can go to Facebook to see grainy pics of the backs of celebrities’ heads or stages their friends were too far away to see. But it’s also nice to take a step back and look at things from the wide view. Pretty much all the coverage I’ve read complains about something (prices, aches, rain, day-glo tween dubsteppers, etc.). Yet Lollapalooza has a contract with Chicago for another nine years, so clearly we love it.
Of course, some people really don’t care that much about Lollapalooza, but want a sense of how Chicago’s megafest compares to, say, Fuji Rock or Primavera. Naturally, it’s hard not to compare it Chicago’s other major (non-exclusively electronic) festival, Pitchfork. For starters, Lollapalooza is huge and smack in the middle of downtown Chicago, surrounded by our gorgeous skyline. For instance, watching Franz Ferdinand looks something like the photo above.
Hanging on the lawn waiting for your favorite band to start looks like this:
While Grant Park is certainly beautiful, it isn’t tiny, and the distance from the main south stage to the main north stage is about a mile. Add drunken and/or stoned foot-traffic, and you’re looking at 20-25 minute walk from end to end. At Pitchfork, you can catch a little of every band without a sweat. While it may be possible to do at Lolla, you’d best bring your running shoes. But considering that there are other side stages, there’s very little bleed over. Although the Sony stage seemed to be marred by sound problems all weekend and acts like M83 and Neon Indian just sounded awful or were drowned out by nearby Perry’s stage, I mostly managed to avoid the high-school-dance-on-mushrooms hell.
Best non-music perk of Lollapalooza: amazing food. Michelin starred Chef Graham Elliot curates the food portion of the fest and doesn’t miss a beat. Yeah, you can get some deep dish, Chicago style hotdogs and rib sandwiches, but he’s also snagged more off the beaten path stuff like Kuma’s Corner (amazing burgers), Chizakaya (fantastic Japanese), and his own Frankenstein’s monster, the Lobster Corndog. And don’t get me started on the black forest ham and truffle brie grilled cheese sandwich.
While the food scene is hyperlocal, it’s sad the music isn’t as Chicago focused. Perry Farrell likes to throw his party in our city, but what does he really know about it? The few Chicago bands on the bill were given early slots in the day, as if to get their obligatory localness out of the way. A friend of mine told me Flea, in between RHCP songs, directed everyone to check out their local and DIY music scenes. Maybe Farrell should take a note from a longtime friend.
Worst non-music constant nagging reminder: Lollapalooza is a giant advertisement. Every stage is named for a brand and companies like ADIDAS and Sony get their own tents to show off stuff and distract everyone from actually checking out new bands. The last part of my anti-corporate punk rock teenage-self died when I went to the Hard Rock Hotel after party sponsored by Belvedere, although of course, my ironic 20-something-self got a big kick out of it.
The festival itself deserves some guff, as former Sun Times music critic Jim DeRogatis has consistently railed against the music behemoth on his blog for not paying their fair share of taxes or taking responsibility for the clean-up of the park after the weekend is over. But it’d be stupid to blame poor weather on Lolla, and honestly, reports from the evacuation have been greatly exaggerated. Seeing people too lazy to throw away their trash and just leave it in the street? That’s the real shame of the weekend. Our city’s mayor is quite proud of the fest, as he introduced the Black Keys Friday headlining performance. The office of the mayor took to Twitter a couple times over the weekend. Naturally, members of Occupy Chicago replied with some thoughts of their own.
Overall, I’m not as jaded as the Chicago Reader or as spiteful as DeRo was with the event. I got to see bands from Iceland, Brazil, Sweden, Mali, Chile, the 60s and more. I had no idea Ozzy Osbourne could still kick so much ass. Frank Ocean confirmed that he is a star. Twin Shadow was worth seeing twice. I didn’t know you could crowd surf to electronic music (Miike Snow). I definitely didn’t expect anyone to propose to their girlfriend on stage (during Yellow Ostrich). I hoped the Shins would have been better and M83 didn’t get the shaft with sound issues but Franz Ferdinand nailed it and Chief Keef might be on to something if he cuts all of the gun sound effects from his songs. Foot pains and mud pits be damned: I’m looking forward to going and writing about it again next year.
Pre Show at the Logan Square Auditorium:
-First Aid Kit
-Sharon Van Etten
An unfortunately small crowd for the Brooklyn based songstress, but it was certainly one of the best sounding sets of the weekend. While ideally Van Etten is best listened to in a dark room while you ignore inclement weather, it was a serene set to catch early on in the weekend. This year’s Tramp is one of the best and only gets better live.
-The Afghan Whigs
First surprise of the weekend. The Cincinnati band doesn’t get the credit that many in their early 90s Sub Pop scene garnered, but nothing beats their cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes.”
I can honestly say I’ve never listened to this band on purpose. Metal isn’t my thing, but how many times are you going to be given the chance to see these legends? I was skeptical going in, figuring I would catch a few songs then jet to the Black Keys, but Ozzy and crew kept my interest the whole way. They were surprisingly energetic for old dudes and Iommi didn’t miss a note on guitar. Throw in a phenomenal drum solo and it was one of the best sets of the weekend.
Aftershow at the Logan Square Auditorium:
-The Big Pink
-Gemini Club (DJ Set)
She wasn’t even playing the festival but managed to show up to an after party anyway. Third time I’ve seen her this year and every time it’s been entirely different. Grimes (nee Claire Boucher) is a weird one and it shows through her unpredictable electronic music.
Saturday Round 1
A band I took a chance on this weekend and definitely paid off. Traditional Chilean folk instruments blended together with modern rock song structures. Throw in some backround projections of llamas and the Andes and you’ve got yourself an unexpectedly great set to start the day.
-Bear in Heaven
As I said, Sony Stage just didn’t have it. Combine that with the garbage acoustics from Logan Square Auditorium from Thursday night, and I was glad that storm came when it did. Last year’s Era Extrana proved that Alan Palomo can actually write some great songs when they’re not drowning in awful production, but it just never came through during the live show all weekend.
-(Park evacuation, awkwardly stand around Hard Rock Hotel lobby for half an hour)
Saturday Round 2
I’ve never seen the Scottish four-piece before, but there couldn’t have been anything lost by them over the years. They covered tracks from across their discography (yes, that included “Take Me Out,” “Michael” and “Do You Want To”) and closed with a dangerous version of “This Fire” that felt like the city was going to burn behind them.
What can be said about this guy that hasn’t been said already? You already know how great Channel Orange is and Ocean’s live performance is just as soulful and passionate.
Here’s an LA hip-hop collective you need to know. A little funky, a little fresh with probably the highest energy played to the lowest amount of people I saw all weekend. It’s a shame because they were really one of the standouts.
-Trampled by Turtles
4:00 P.M. is not the ideal time for the Icelandic orchestral post-rock group, not only for the nighttime vibe of the music, but damn those Icelanders are pasty. 11 total people on stage, the five members of the band backed by a six person mini symphony with violins, a French horn, a trombone, a trumpet and flute. A piano, xylophone and vibraphone as opposed to a keyboard made for a beautifully sounding set. And Jonsi’s bowing his guitar and falsetto vocals are just the icing on the cake.
-Amadou and Miriam
-At The Drive In
I should have left after this one. The festival was coming to a close and this was the one of my most anticipated acts of the weekend. Zero disappointment. The sound started a little off (that damned Sony stage again), but things got figured out as the Swedish/New York group moved throughout a set of catchy dancey tunes. They opened with an extended version of “The Wave,” moved into “Burial” then the snare-drum led “Bavarian No.1.” Never has a set made me want to air-piano so much. They are the perfect combination of electronic music with rock sensibility.
Aftershow at the Hard Rock Hotel:
-Childish Gambino (DJ Set)
Andrew Hertzberg primarily reviews books for Frontier Psychiatrist, most recently In My Home There Is No Sorrow by Rick Bass and Hot Pink by Adam Levin. Keep an eye on upchicago.com for more of his full band Lollapalooza coverage.