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Festival Review and Photos: Lollapalooza 2011, August 5-7, 2011, Grant Park – Chicago, IL


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All Photos by Cody Bralts

Friday August 5th

This year’s festival began with the threat of rain and the hope of avoiding it. The usual exciting mix of big and “indie” names artists was present: the likes of Eminem, Coldplay, Deadmau5, and Muse headlining, backed by a strong group of smaller acts such as Lykke Li, Best Coast, and The Mountain Goats. The Cars reunion tour passed through, Nas & Damian Marley tried to start a revolution, and Foo Fighters were the brunt of every hipster’s joke. By the last day, the luck ran out, and it poured down on sets by Best Coast and Deadmau5, neither of whom faced a discouraged crowd. In true Lolla form, it only made people go harder. Personally, I can honestly lay claim to starting the shouts of “Marshall” that led to an encore (I cheated; I knew he’d do “Lose Yourself” from Bonnaroo). Nas also grew even closer to deification: the seemingly endless torrential rain ceased nearly as soon as he took the stage, giving way to a double rainbow, no less. It was three days of music, the fun only limited by the lines for the bathroom and the muddy venue fields (although even this ceased to bother concertgoers sliding across them the last day), ending in nights worthy of Romero as a beleaguered police force attempted to contain the brainless masses shuffling home. Much like Deadmau5’s set, it all ended too soon, but upon the festival’s 20th anniversary, its performers can be proud to have crafted a genuinely memorable weekend.

Tennis:

Tennis must be doing something right: against all odds they’ve overcome the usual indie bias against the typical smarminess of husband-and-wife duos. Of the two, Alaina has unequivocally emerged as the more charismatic, and it was her presence that made their show what it was. She affably connected to the audience, joking that her keyboard was on the fritz and sharing her suspicions that airport security was responsible (something we certainly can all relate to). Clearly the damaged equipment had little effect as they kept their audience invested for a set that included all their musts. Nonetheless, the show couldn’t help but be something of an afterthought: Tennis rose on the wave created by the last year’s obsession with beach pop, and despite their fondness of the open water, by festival’s end they were left in the doldrums by the presence of Cults and arguable queen of the movement, Best Coast. Still, they’re a band on the upswing, and their show offered a fine diversion early in the day. We can only hope for more from this duo.

The Naked And Famous:

Delta Spirit:

How rare and kind is the band playing a big stage that acknowledges requests. Delta Spirit did just that, and on their second song, no less. Yet, it was perhaps their intro that was most memorable: it began with crashing drums, seeming to end as the singer thanked the audience, only to return with a blast of a riff. It was quite a salvo. They continued their show with just as much fervor, putting on an impressive set for hitting the stage so early in the day. Personally, I’d never listened to their material prior to this performance, and still found myself bobbing my head as enthusiastically as the audience members who seemed to know all the words. That has to say something.

Smith Westerns:

I didn’t have to look at the schedule – I assumed Smith Westerns would appear. As Chicago natives with a buzz-worthy record released in 2011, they were the most obvious of choices. I’ve never really understood the divisive effect of a band so inoffensive, and if you ask me, the Westerns are neither the most interesting indie rock to spawn in recent years, nor the worst. This is why I was so pleasantly amused by their show. As it turns out, the band works better live than in the studio. After only their first song song they quipped, “We’re so excited to play Lolla, so excited we’re gonna play some more songs.” That they did, and bless their sound system, they had one of the crispest sounding shows of the festival. For a band so young they had quite a live presence as well, making for a performance that transcended their material – whether you found the band to be a revelation or just another indie band, it didn’t much matter once they got on that stage. They delivered.

Cults:

When I think of Cults, I can’t help but regard them as something of a New York-tinged Best Coast. Well, that’s not a bad thing to be, and they don’t reject the comparison (in fact, the two bands are friends). The band consistently made sure to engage their audience, perhaps best of all with a grand rendition of “You Know What I Mean”. Noticing the enthusiastic nature of their audience, a band member declared, “It’s hot out, but if you want to dance, no one will judge you.” Singer Madeline Follin took the stage in a flowing black shirt and shorts short enough so that it seemed she wasn’t wearing any. I hadn’t seen her perform before, and had no idea she was so pretty. This may seem arbitrary in regards to her performance, but three bros in the audience couldn’t seem to stop yelling, “I love you!,” so this factor clearly had some effect. She reacted bashfully, laughing pleasantly at them between songs. She’s also a superb performer: early on in the set, the guitarist’s volume was too high, somewhat drowning her vocals. She didn’t flinch, continuing to sing as she motioned for someone to turn him down, receiving no notice, leading her to occasionally repeat the gesture. It was an interesting moment, revealing all the concerns an artist faces when expected to put on a great show. And that it was.

The Mountain Goats:

John Darnielle helped me discover what I would call “good music”. Hell, his early lo-fi recordings were such a revelation for my younger self that they may well have helped form my perspective. So, you might imagine I was excited to finally see him live. I wondered to myself, will he primarily play his recent material? I hoped not, and he must have heard my prayers, as The Mountain Goats – at this particular show, John with his band, rather than alone – played material from across his career. As an Atlanta native in Chicago, I couldn’t help but feel personally considered when he broke out, “Going to Georgia”, not to mention “Lion’s Teeth”, among my favorite selections from The Sunset Tree. At 44, Darnielle isn’t young anymore, and the maturity shown through his performances of his more youthful material. A more contained, graceful artist didn’t turn out to be a bad thing, as he played what’s best described as a heartfelt set. Even with his longtime presence in the indie community, you could still see John was moved to have reached such a point of success to be playing at Lollapalooza, of all places. It’s sure a long way from his tape recorder days, and you couldn’t help but feel happy for him. He returned the gesture, providing a show that satisfied this longtime fan – and I don’t mind telling you, I had some high expectations.

Crystal Castles:

God damn, Alice Glass is a crazy mother fucker. Do you know how many injuries she’s sustained? The girl just puts herself in the way of danger, and that’s just the way she likes it: from performing on crutches to ignoring doctors’ orders to take it easy, she’s one hell of a punk chick. Both she and Ethan (if that’s his real name) are more than a bit elusive, grand presences while on the stage, shadows in the dark when off it. This adds something to their shows: it’s as if a mystery briefly graces you. The enigma is enshrouded when they hit the stage, and Lollapalooza was no exception. As it happened, I wasn’t feeling well at the time of their performance, and was initially disappointed that I wouldn’t be raving among the rest of the fans. However, lying down throughout, I discovered an entirely new way to appreciate their music – in a resting state the music manifests itself in your mind in the most natural of ways, flowing through as it will. The band played a variety of tunes, exciting me most by remembering the material that got them started – the Alice Practice songs – creating what was perhaps the most inspired electronica show of the festival. Alice didn’t disappoint either, crowd surfing her way through “Baptism”. Crystal Castles sure have come a long way since they were dubbed one of the “worst” acts of Lolla ’09 by critics who simply didn’t understand what they were doing. Let’s hope those guys caught on this year.

Ratatat:

Coldplay:

As I walked towards the stage for Coldplay, I was a little more than quizzical. Once dubbed “the next U2”, down talking Chris Martin and company has practically become a national pastime for the music community. While I still enjoy their first two albums, nothing they’ve done since has interested me as much, and the single for their new record only sounded another step down, so I couldn’t help but be incredulous. I shouldn’t have underestimated their sheer showmanship. They opened with a possible track from their upcoming album titled “Hurts Like Heaven”, and while it hardly topped their best material, it’s certainly a step up from the current single. It was the second song that lulled the audience into eating out of their hands – who doesn’t love “Yellow”?

Say what you will about him, but Chris Martin knows how to entertain an audience. He constantly tried to entrance all present, reaching out to those stuck in the back, declaring, “don’t think we don’t care about you.” Despite their longevity, their excitement was still palpable, as Chris explained this was both their first “proper American concert” amongst the promotion for their new record and the fulfillment of their longtime aspiration to play Lolla. It shone through in their performance. As giant balloons released into the crowd and bounced about (amusing most of all when spiked too hard, popping), they played near as many essentials as one could hope: “In My Place,” “Lost,” and “Shiver,” among others. Upon playing the latter, Chris noted it was the first song they ever played in America, and tidbits such as this were of genuine interest. They also played other new material, but reached me perhaps best of all with “Amsterdam”, a personal favorite, and not a song I expected to hear. Perhaps it doesn’t say much for their future, but the band’s willingness to revel in their past glory made Coldplay’s show a surprisingly good one.

[Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday]


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