Two days. Nine bands. Rain and mud the first day, which made for lighter crowds and Woodstock-era vibe. The next day held thick, steamy heat and crowds that got thicker by the minute. Walking until my feet ached. Crappy red cowboy boots are perfect for the rain, but not the heat. Things always get the most interesting as they’re about to end.
Depeche Mode on Friday, Arctic Monkeys on Saturday. Visions of America dancing before my eyes — myriad subcultures, from bandanas and beards and the guy with blond dreads who OD-ed at Fleet Foxes to mini dresses in the rain and the guy draped in an American flag, with the word “Liar” tattooed across his stomach. Watching the fans is often more illuminating of culture than the bands.
Friday, August 7
It’s only appropriate to hit the Fleet Foxes show first, as it’s rainy and the music just had that CSNY feel to it. Reminds me of Olympia, where I lived for a year, and let me just tell you that it rains there all the freaking time. So I imagine that the five members of Fleet Foxes feel very much at home performing to rain-soaked crowd. Peaceful and harmonious sounds from the Sun Giant EP fill the air.
Sometimes it surprises me how much the flower-power subculture is still very much alive. The Fleet Foxes crowd: devoted and happily swaying along to the music and singing along to songs under umbrellas. A blond dread-head looking way out of it is escorted out of the crowd with event staff and a yellow stretcher on hand. “Look, he OD-ed on acid,” said a tall and broad guy standing next to me. “How do you know?” I asked. “Because he’s a loser,” noted his friend, a guy with dark, shortly cropped hair and stocky, thick build. “I hope he dies,” he added.
Lead singer and guitarist Robin Pecknold comments on the awesome vegan food at the Chicago Diner. This is Seattle, folks, loud and clear. Despite the obvious popularity of the group, groups of fans file out of the session early, on the way to pay homage to other gods.
I dig the lovely music but it doesn’t quite sustain me at the moment. I’d much rather give a listen on headphones or in a small venue like Schubas. Also, I want to dance, not sway.
The Decemberists – The Rake’s Song
An even bigger crowd descends upon the stage area set up for The Decemberists. Folks try to push forward to the front, like the aggressive guy flanked by two blond women, shoving through the crowds, saying, “I’m Chris Rock” in order to part the sea of fans.
Apparently, the most loving and sweet bands still manage to attract those who behave in exactly the opposite way — except for the gorgeous baby girl, happily content in her father’s arms, wearing a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt and a floppy sun hat. She gazes around in wonder as the fans scream for the arrival of the band onstage, with particularly loud shrieks for dreamy cameo performer Becky Stark, dressed as Margaret in white dress with flowing sleeves, and Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond, wearing a chic, sleeveless dress with one strap as the stately queen.
Stark waves her arms around in mystical fashion to the music. “She’s so tripped out, it’s great,” says a blond woman next to me. After taking center stage as Margaret, Stark goes wild on the drums, banging with two mallets, and Worden leads a song.
The two women add an extra dose of drama and glamour to the already drama-rich character of the Portland band. But like with Fleet Foxes, the music of rock opera, The Hazards of Love, while beautiful and soaring, doesn’t feel quite Lollapalooza-esque (rambunctious).
Finally, folks who just want to have fun. The crowd gathered for the eclectic indie-rock band from Athens, Georgia are dancing, jumping, singing along, and having a great time. Perhaps rock is a good formula for Lolla.
Particularly catchy and carefree is the song “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games,” with the audience singing along to the lyrics: “Let’s pretend we don’t exist; let’s pretend we’re in Antarctica; let’s have bizarre celebrations…” Kooky and weird, with a heavy element of fantasy, Of Montreal is exactly the band I’m in the mood for.
Performance is no less strange than addictive, devil-may-care music, with band members dressed in animal form, as pigs and other creatures, and with a Jesus figure on an actual cross. The band makes sense in a non-linear fashion.
Fans toke up, or dance, and throughout the set I don’t see anyone leaving. And no aggressive types either. Band keeps fans entertained right up through the final song, the offbeat and upbeat “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse.” Overall, the band is a breath of fresh air after the seriousness of Fleet Foxes and The Decemberists.
Tragedy and comedy brilliantly fused in incomprehensible yet provocative manner. Need I also say why I like the somewhat smaller stages? Less pushy types congregate in these spots; that’s why.
Ok, okay. I really wasn’t a big fan back in the day, so shoot me. I know they’re awesome, but after the silly fun of Of Montreal, I’m not terribly excited for this band. But wait. The longer I listen, the more I like.
The crowd is mega huge but quiet and subdued, devotional-like. In its melancholy and somber tones, the perfected blended electronic and pop holds religious overtones. On the large screen, the words from Daniel Landinsky: “I have learned so much from God that I can no longer consider myself Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or Jewish.” The audience fills in the lyrics for “Enjoy the Silence”: “All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, was here, in my arms.”
Standing, the audience reminds me that it’s music, pop and rock in particular, that draws the kind of worship that the Catholic Church did back in the Middle Ages. A guy next to me shakes his fist rhythmically in tune to the music, stopping only to take drags on his cigarette. By the time “Personal Jesus” is played, as the finale, I’m hooked. I sing along with the rest of the audience, realizing that the British band, from a bygone era but as polished as ever, is the personal Jesus of the moment.
Saturday, August 8
The creation of Jessica Gonyea (DJ A Cup), formerly of Office and DJ Mother Hubbard, this newly emerging DJ duo appears to be the female equivalent of Flosstradamus, with the added benefit of Gonyea singing some of the songs written by the two. Tiny and dressed in an all-black, skimpy leotard and black boots, Gonyea pumps up the audience with flirty, sexy songs like “Destroy” that echo rock but are slickly mixed with electronic beats by DJ Hubbard.
The relatively small but enthusiastic crowd dances and cheers for this new band, as if they’ve already known them for years. Female dancers dressed in black with silver makeup come on stage to add to the act, doing choreographed moves in time with the music. Kind of like En Vogue from the nineties, but that’s what makes it kinda interesting.
Moneypenny’s performance last weekend at Sonotheque and today’s show at Lolla marks the duo’s official debut, which looks like something promising for the Chicago electro DJ scene, standing out from the crowd with its edgy rock component. Gonyea resembles a female version of Steve Tyler — all lips with wild, long curly hair and in-your-face-sexuality. Even though it’s sweltering, everybody (me included) remains firmly planted for the duration of the set.
One of my favorite shows of the two days I spent at Lolla was this soulful guitar player with heady swatches of folk, country, and blues who belted out his songs like nobody’s business.
Lord, praise a man with soul, and who can sing, and who is looking for a do-good woman to appreciate him. A laid-back audience, mostly male, with many guys in either checkered, button-down shirt and sunglasses or backward baseball caps, gathers for this performance, hanging out for what clearly is a sleeper hit of the festival. Clearly, men got a lot of emotion they need to purge. “Mary” is particularly rousing, as is the inspiring feminist ballad “Diamonds and Gold.”
You wouldn’t guess that Slim was from Pennsylvania, but more along the lines of the Deep South, with his wickedly good bluesy guitar playing and Aretha-like conviction and feeling in his singing. “Restless,” that’s how I was when the set ended, itching for more.
Animal Collective DJ set
Based on a friend’s recommendation, I caught part of Atmosphere, and thus missed the beginning of the DJ set by the experimental Baltimore band. What I did catch was exactly what I expected: odd and good, in large quantities. Indian music, fused seamlessly with other genres such as electronic and pop.
A less than modest-sized crowd of fans enjoys the tripped-out sounds, dancing and flowing to the music. Fans are just as odd as the band they admire — this is where I took the photo of the guy with the red-and-white-striped hat with blue and shiny pointy spears sticking out in all directions.
Not far from the Of Montreal bunch, this crowd also favors its pot and easy-to-like yet complicated music. David Portner dances and grooves to his own spectacular beats, like an exclusive college party that you don’t want to end.
Sean Daley is not shy about expressing his opinions. “You are too nice, Chicago,” he says. “Too tame for a festival audience.” From one Midwesterner to a gigantic crowd of many, the Minneapolis native is just as frank in his lyrics. “I hate my life because I hate my boss,” he sings. “The only guarantee in life is a life worth dying for.”
A mellow, cool, in-the-know audience gathers for this show, gently swaying in time to the music. Would you expect anything less from an audience familiar with underground hip hop? Daley explains the magic of a Chicago audience: “You take a sorrowful, moody song and make it into something positive, and that’s beautiful,” he says.
By the time I hit up the Gomez stage, after eight bands, rain, mud, and schvitzing in the sun, I have to admit that I’m a bit Lollapaloozaed. Beat. Exhausted. And my feet hurt. I think about what Tom Lynch wrote in Newcity, that the Lollla lineup is so bad that you’ll be happy to go home early. I don’t completely agree, but the idea of escaping from the ever-increasing crowds that take forever to walk through and taking off my boots sounds appealing.
But for the moment, the British rock band of the non-trip-hop or space-rock variety plays fervently. A crazily happy crowd rocks out. Here’s the thing about Lolla: even when the lineup is not stupendously spectacular, the whole shebang is certainly worthy of enduring the rain and humidity and crowds in broken-down cowboy boots.
– Marla Seidell