I love music, but I'm not crazy about outdoor music festivals. They tend to be hot, sweaty, dirty places, like refugee camps for hipsters. The sound is never good enough, you never have enough personal space and the beer is both lousy and expensive. That said, this year's line-up for Lollapalooza was so enticing that I set aside my disdain for "herd rock" and ponied up for a three-day pass.
Turns out I only made two out of three days last weekend. By Sunday I was exhausted. My legs felt like Eddie and Charlie Murphy pounded on them after I spread mud on their couch. Plus the Sunday line-up was packed with bands I'd already seen (Wilco, Shins, Redwalls, etc.), so with apologies to Queens of the Stone Age (a band I love but also missed in Green Bay on Monday) and The Hold Steady, I headed home early.
But I was there most of Friday and Saturday and managed to see a dozen or so bands. It was pretty awesome, despite being covered by a thick veneer of sweat, filth and barbecue sauce from the chicken sandwich I drunkenly "borrowed" by festival's end. Here are my mini reviews of each concert.
Ryan Adams: Despite his erratic live reputation, Adams was one of the acts I was most excited about seeing. And, yeah, he was kinda disappointing. The music sounded good. I have a bunch of bootlegs of Adams with his current backing band The Cardinals, and they have a mellow fluidity on stage very reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. It's just that I like that stuff more when it's coming out of my stereo in the middle of an air conditioned room. When I'm taking a shower in my own juices, I want something more rockin' to help me wash down my $5 beer.
Adams also appeared to be extremely stoned during his set. He mumbled something between songs about eggs. Maybe I was stoned from all the weed being smoked around me. But I don't think so.
The Secret Machines: The biggest surprise of the festival. I liked the Secret Machines going into Lollapalooza, but I really like them after catching their ballsy Pink Floyd/Led Zep-inspired rock thing live. I just re-bought their first album after they blew my mind with the CD's opening track, "First Wave Intact." I also was drinking vodka throughout this set, and that mixed with my minor heat stroke might have added to my euphoria. (I will stop blaming chemicals for my reaction to bands for here on out.)
The Raconteurs: The album is pretty average, but this "supergroup" kicks some major arse on stage. I guess the crowd was huge for this gig, but I was pretty close to the stage so I couldn't tell. After not caring about the White Stripes for a few years, this show re-confirmed that Jack White has that "it" that makes grown heterosexual men (like me) wet their pants out of rock star worship. My favorite performance of the weekend.
Sleater-Kinney: I missed them. Damn. But I did get that free barbecue chicken sandwich.
Ween: My friend Lori compared them to Styx. I'm not sure this is a compliment. But I see the comparison. I hate Styx, but I love Ween. And they were pretty great, especially when fireworks started going off around the time they played "Ocean Man."
Wolfmother: Pretty good, but they didn't blow me away. I really like the album, but I expected a little more from the live show. Probably too much advance hype. But I did like it when Andrew Stockdale, aka the singer dude with the afro, promised to take the crowd on "a psychedelic exploration." Two words: Jazz Odyssey!
Gnarls Barkley: I think only Kanye West had a bigger crowd (unless the Raconteurs was REALLY big). I liked this show a lot. Everybody came out in matching white tennis outfits, and they rocked out like Sly and the Family Stone. Still, the most memorable part of this show was the huge walk out after they did "Crazy." I wonder if Danger Mouse noticed. He can't like that. I bet the dude is a recluse in five years.
Dresden Dolls: I only saw a bit of this, and only because a friend wanted to go. It wasn't bad. But cabaret songs don't really work in front of thousands of people. They did cover the Louvin Brothers, which scores points with me, but I couldn't tell if it was ironic. That puts them back at par.
Common: Another really good set. Common's "Be" is a pretty awesome album, and he did most of my favorite songs. However, I was pretty bummed that Kanye didn't come out for "The Food," the awesome duet he does with Common that was taped live from "Chappelle's Show." Considering what came later, Kanye would have redeemed himself here.
The New Pornographers: No Neko Case, just like the first time I saw them, but otherwise they were terrific. Carl Newman was pretty funny on stage. "We're on between Common and Kanye West. Makes me think we're somewhat like them." Carl should play the Seth Green/Jamie Kennedy "dorky yet likeable white guy" part in the next Wayans brothers movie.
Kanye West: I was probably looking forward to this show more than any other and while I won't call it a disaster, it was a pretty big letdown. First off, the sound was terrible, which I don't get because the sound was generally pretty good for all the other shows. How do you screw up Kanye West of all people? Plus, like most hip-hop shows, they were way too many guest stars. Still, the show-closing rendition of "Touch the Sky" WAS uplifting, and Kanye West is big enough to sound bad in front of 40,000 people and not have it affect him too much.
There you have it. A Lollapalooza recap as tiring to write as it was to live through. I'm gonna go towel off.