Low expectations going into this year's Lolla; there just weren't many good artists playing. I'd like to say that my expectations were wrong, but--and I think you know where this going--they weren't. I made through all of Friday without seeing a great performance. Saturday and Sunday were better, but only in spurts. In a festival increasingly smitten with its own corporate ego (and humongous DJ tent), great live music has seem to fall a little by the wayside.
Yes, Lollapalooza as a festival has grown to be somewhat miserable. Between the giant logos above the stages, the bro-tastic (a.k.a. nauseating) football-field-sized Perry's tent, the near-unwalkable length of the park (I'm lazy...), and the crowd, which has far too high a contingency of lax bros and broettes, as well as people who've actually been tricked into thinking that Eminem is the greatest rapper ever. The only things that tend to make all this stuff tolerable are the food (Bonsoiree, Kuma's, Franks n Dawgs, etc.), the presence of my friends, and the presence of (usually) several truly great musical performances.
Well, as I've already mentioned, that last part--the musical aspect--was in shorter supply than ever this year, and, as a result, I'm only listing my six favorite acts of the festival whereas I usually do my top twelve. (Granted, there were some people I missed that I probably would've liked due to scheduling conflict or just oversight--and those regrets will also be listed below.) Anyways, these six shows were indeed quite good and helped mix up the monotony of lugging myself across the park to see forgettable indie bands and, uh, Cee Lo Green (terrible). They helped make 2011's Lollapalooza, as much a clusterfuck as it was (on several levels), actually a very fun weekend. Yes: fun.
But, alas, it wasn't the music, really, that made Lolla so enjoyable. Spending a weekend in Grant Park with all your friends is an undeniable recipe for happiness. While walking past Buckingham Fountain on Friday, my friend and I noticed that we hadn't seen any good music--but look at that freakin' skyline and this freakin' fountain and who we're with--how could you not be having an amazing time? This was a sentiment we spoke aloud, and a man walking next to us chimed in with fervent agreement. Look past the corporate vomit and you realize that there is no other place you'd rather be on a weekend in August.
And, before we count down the music, an anecdote: Sunday at around 5:30, it began to pour. Yes, excessive rain when there's no shelter may be looked upon as a bad thing (and it certainly was for both my phone and my newly-autographed Titus Andronicus LP), but a few of my buddies and I chose to soak (ha! pun) it in. We took off our shirts and shoes, climbed to the top of a small hill near the stage where Explosions In The Sky were set to play in about an hour, and began to slide down the hill--feet first, head first, somersaulting, rolling, etc. Before we knew it, an army of shirtless men (and some shirted women) followed suit. At least fifty people were talking advantage of this wet, grassy hill. A group of (intoxicated) guys rounded up the festival's trash cans and stacked them like vertical bowling pins as the group of hill sliders crashed into them and knocked them down. It was very communal, very in the spirit of what a music festival should offer. (Because we weren't dirty enough, my friend and I then proceeded to dance around in straight-up mud for a bit.) And then came the music--Explosions In The Sky--and it was beautiful, even if I'm not really a fan.
Anyhow, now it's time to actually look at the six best acts of the fest, and everybody knows what number one is...
1. Death From Above 1979
My most anticipated act of the festival, DFA 1979 did their best to exceed my--and everyone else's--expectations. Dressed one all in black and one all in white (Keeler and Grainger, respectively) and surrounded by a banner with a tombstone reading "DFA 1979: 2001-2006" in the back and a muddy ecstatic mosh pit in the front, the band brought more energy and noise and genuinely great music in ten seconds than what any other band gave in a full set. The atmosphere was as perfect as it could've been, and their music sounded refreshing and, in a way, timeless.
Also refreshing and, in a way, timeless, Beirut sounded even more beautiful than the last time I saw them (at Pitchfork a couple years ago). My friends and I were up close and personal with Zach Condon and the gang, and their worldly pop with its much-appreciated horn section sounded jusr right clsoing out Saturday night. The tempos were pushed a little quicker than normal, presumably to combat the expansive space in which the band was playing, but the songs still took on a blissful beauty, aided of course by Condon's moaning mumbling voice, which, at the end of the day, is just about the most listenable voice in music today.
3. Titus Andronicus
I'm no stranger to Titus Andronicus live, so I knew what to expect--but Titus is never not good live, no matter how many times I see them. With one of the first sets of Sunday, they set the bar for fun and cathartis--and no one passed that bar. Arguably the best part about the whole thing, though, was the autograph session afterwards, at which I got a Monitor LP and a copy of, yes, Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus signed by the band. Patrick Stickles, a very nice man in person.
I came a little late for Disappears' set, which kicked off the Bud Light stage on Saturday, but not so late that I couldn't enjoy their music immensely. Backed now by Steve Shelley (this being the first time I've seen him with them), the band was in full on krautrock-mixed-with-noise mode, sounding like VU, Spacemen 3, Neu! and all sorts of other bands I love while still sounding uniquely like Disappears. Some of the only real rock of the fest.
5. The Cars
The Cars certainly looked old, as their wooden stage presence didn't exactly suck me in--but as I sat to the side of their stage, I was certainly struck by their sound. They are a very adept live band, and they played a hit-stacked set with the utmost proficiency, which is often all you can ask from an old band. The songs are so good, and, as a result, the set was so good, too.
6. Lykke Li
No, I don't really listen to Lykke Li--nor am I sure exactly how to pronounce her name. But I saw a decent chunk of her set by accident (we were waiting for Beirut to come on next), and I rather enjoyed it. She looked, sounded, and performed much better and more interestingly than the other indie-electro-pop artists at the fest (of which there were many). Her songs sounded good, and she took time to sing and drum over "Silent Shout" and Kanye's "Power", which was cool.
Other acts that were at least pretty good:
Maps & Atlases
Explosions In The Sky
Bands I wish I'd seen (or seen more of), and why I missed them:
Black Lips (waiting for DFA 1979, though I heard a couple songs)
OK Go (saw Crystal Castles)
Mayer Hawthorne & The County (also during DFA 1979)
Big Audio Dynamite (also during DFA 1979, but we got to see their last two songs)
Foo Fighters (rain, sleep deprivation, sun, etc.--I needed to go home)
Anyways, I had fun--but the music was certainly not in top form. See you there next year.