By Paul Serilla
Much has been said about Lollapalooza, so we’ll save you a lot of sweaty (though fully enriched with electrolytes) details of set lists and stage banter. But we will say that it’s a pretty well oiled machine; logistically speaking it is something to behold. While it feels like a bare minimum that acts go on when scheduled, trash gets picked up, Porta Johns aren’t overwhelmed, decent food is available for $5 or $10, and the beer flows freely through manageable lines from open to close, it’s still impressive and adds immensely to any attempt to enjoy the festivities.
In a scant few years, it feels like Lollapalooza has taken on the persona of its permanent home in the Windy City of Chicago. Lolla has a pleasant pulse with Gen-X-er’s in Threadless shirts and punks mingling with a few of the NPR tote-bag set; folks who certainly could be their parents. If you were to raise a complaint, you’d probably point towards a shadow of the old Midwest homogeneity cast over the proceedings, but it’s not overwhelming.
Apart from the bro-on-bro violence/foreplay that reportedly caused Rage Against the Machine to halt their set in an attempt to get their fans to do what they told them, the festival was largely well mannered and free of the large scale distractions; ones that make for good war stories, but are pretty irritating in the moment of the heat.
While we weren’t as laid back as the festival-mandated hacky-sack players, we made little attempt to race from one end to the other just to notch yet another band on our belts. We were even accused by some fellow concertgoers via text of being on our couches back home. Of course, as our only contact with these people was by capturing their phantom thoughts from the ether, we might accuse them of similar transgressions. But even at a leisurely pace, there were plenty of great musical moments to be had.
Foals crackled their indie pop over dub beats that recalled Madness mixed with more contemporary math-rock. It’s an ambitious undertaking to be sure, and they stopped more than a few people in their tracks on the way to the main stage.
The Gutter Twins were one act that didn’t have the crowd begging for more volume. Mark Lanegan growled in characteristic form, holding his mic stand like sentry. And let us tell you, you want him on that wall…you need him on that wall. Greg Dulli began the set sounding more like the grunge Lil’ Jon — yelping “hey” and “yeah” between Lanegan’s lyrics — but he warmed up quick, holding his own with the powerful basso profondo of his partner.
Explosions in the Sky were one of those nice surprises everybody looks for at this kind of event. Placed in the middle of the festival on Saturday, right when you’re looking for a second wind, these minimalist post-rockers built swirling beauty in their dynamic compositions and created one of most memorable sets of the weekend. While they might have played six distinct songs, they held the crowd enthralled nonetheless — a true testament to their talent.
Sunday culminated in Kayne, but Gregg Gillis as Girl Talk held an interesting little court on a smaller stage a couple hours before. There is definitely something lost when you already know the tricks up his sleeve, but there’s appeal in the novelty of the initial surprise. At times you are left wondering how long he can keep this precise act up, playing to crowds of thousands with basically the same album on the same laptop they’ve got at home. But its clearly fun, even to those who seem oblivious to his quotations, and focus more on the beat and the party.
Higher up the food chain, Radiohead rose to the challenge of their sole headlining status Friday night, and while they met high expectations, even a few hundred feet from the stage, we could have used more volume.
The following night while bulls paraded on the other side of the park, Wilco turned in a tip-top performance — decked out in their Porter Wagoner-esque finery — with a passion and energy that suited them perhaps better than the suits. If you’re looking for MVPs, both Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood and Wilco’s Nels Cline were fairly transcendent. Each has a tendency to ride the razor of self-indulgence, while simultaneously lurking in the shadow of formidable front men. But on successive nights, they lifted songs to blistering crescendos, clearly impressing those on the stage as much as those on the field.
The 90s incarnation of Lollapalooza met its demise both in difficult economics of the multi-stage tour, but also in the relative indifference of fans and artists, eventually finding themselves unable to secure a headliner. While the economics appear more stable these days, maintaining the energy and excitement to be able keeps the crowds coming back is a challenge we hope they’re prepared to meet.