Thoughts on Lollapalooza 2008
By Johnny Loftus
Kanye West‘s ego should be Barack Obama‘s running mate. The candidate never showed Sunday night, or on any other night of Lollapalooza 2008. But in a lively, often captivating, and occasionally surreal set that closed out the concert’s final evening, West used the outsized wattage of his own ego to power a performance that pulsed on multiple levels. He appealed to casual fans, which most of the festivalgoers at this designed-for-mass-consumption event were all weekend, with athletic, high-volume versions of hits like “Gold Digger” and “Stronger,” the latter’s Daft Punkian underpinnings also serving as his opening vamp and a nod to Lolla 2008. He appealed to his hometown, with shouts to the South, West, and North sides and numerous allusions to “Chi-town,” “Summer in the city,” “Lolla,” and even “Lake Michigan.” And he appealed to the curious and the critical with a micromanaged, likely multi-million dollar production that used precision timing and the high technology that glares at the core of so many of West’s songs to manufacture our perception of him in 2-D, even as he performed with the kind of singular fury that much of contemporary hip-hop can’t seem to muster anymore. “Me” is the driver of every Kanye song. But on Sunday night he was an alchemist who transformed his own narcissism into a burst of idealism for thousands. It was Kanyezmerizing.
1990s nostalgia was forcibly apparent this year. Nine Inch Nails played opposite Kanye on Sunday, while on Saturday night, Rage Against the Machine bludgeoned their way through different-era anthems like “Bulls on Parade” even as the meatheads and MMA wannabes who are their questionable revolution’s constituency punched each other in the swirling, volatile crowd. Complacent white people are easily enraged by the sound of electric guitars, as the Toadies — the Toadies! — proved during their opening set for Rage. When they came around to “Possum Kingdom,” the band’s biggest hit is now their biggest hit again thanks to Guitar Hero II, dudes and girls alike yelled along at the top of their lungs as they ran through the fields on the way for more beer. On Sunday, Blues Traveler represented the 90s with a lumbering set that ricocheted blandly between soccer mom radio staples (“Runaround”) and aimless guitar freejammery. There was possibly a Charlie Daniels Band cover, too. Some things should never be remembered.
Battles delivered one of the weekend’s best sets on Saturday afternoon with a riotous and sinewy mix of their joyously weird post-rock. The New York City combo fought through significant sound issues by largely improvising the first quarter of their set — improvising, not freejamming, as the sound twisted ably between bursts of punkish energy, breakdance era keyboard duels, manically twisted time signatures and the impish dances of the band members to give it all a sense of nerdy energy that was palpable. And when the bass was finally fixed and Battles launched into “Atlas,” and the crowd of Bonnaroo kids, suburban high schoolers, typical stoners, and regular folks all bobbed along with its 25th-century grooves, it was a real and promising moment.
Just as on-the-scene alt.baller photography has become a must-have component of any afterparty, Lolla 2008 was rife with performances that were more about mood than craft. Chromeo seem like nice dudes who really like to party. But the Montreal duo’s kooky disco-lite jams weren’t going to transform a field of six interconnected softball diamonds into a night of champagne and party drugs at Les Deux. Mark Ronson, who followed them later on the same Sunday afternoon stage, did a little better with a set of covers and tracks he’d written or produced. But it was still a strange booking, especially for such a large stage. The sentence “He’s SamRo‘s brother” flittered through the crowd, as did the persistence of Lindsay Lohan sightings (Samantha spun this weekend, too), real or imagined. Square-faced Hollywood lug Dash Mihok even got booked this year. WTF? Did anyone even know that dude rapped?
Despite the Lohan whispers, this trend at Lolla ’08 toward the Hollywood/”Hills” glitter-dull lifestyle might have been best represented by a Saturday night set from DJ Momjeans, aka Danny Masterson, aka Steven Hyde from “That 70’s Show.” Mixing live beneath the futuristic awning of the “Perry” stage, named for the festival’s clown jester and originator, Masterson brought the cerulean lighting and fleeting, champagne bubble burst energy of an LA nightspot to 300 teenagers and college kids who pointed wildly at his DJ gear every time he mixed simply between, say, late-period UK big beat (Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Heat At?”) and a tempo-addled version of Lil’ Jon & the East Side Boyz’ “Get Low.” They must have dreamed that Momjeans was spinning at their party, at their sweet 16, in their local danceteria; they must have dreamed that Momjeans’ moneyed, Young Hollywood sweat was dropping down their own balls.
If Kanye’s ego is Barack’s running mate, maybe Momjeans can be Secretary of Scoring Suburban Tail. And at Lollapalooza 2009, nostalgia for the 21st century will be the new rage. Headliners: Linkin Park, Eminem, and Britney Spears.