Live Review

Lollapalooza, Friday 5th August

Thousands line up outside the entrance early, eager to see the first acts at noon…

Since Lollapalooza moved to Chicago’s Grant Park in 2005, the tie between city and festival has grown stronger every year. 2011 marked Lolla’s twentieth anniversary, as the festival began as a tour around North America. Now, as the newly expanded fairground sold out with 90,000 music-goers a day, it’s hard to imagine walking through the main entrance and not seeing Buckingham Fountain.

Thousands line up outside the entrance early, eager to see the first acts at noon. First up on the Sony Stage is Baltimore’s Wye Oak. Between the guitar virtuosity of singer Jenn Wasner and the ability of Andy Stack to play drums and keyboard simultaneously, the fullness of the duo’s sound could easily be mistaken for that of a much larger group. They are the perfect energizer to begin the day.

At 2:15, the brand new Google+ stage witnesses the set of (arguably) the most brilliantly named band at Lollapalooza. One has to wonder what percentage of the crowd watching Reptar was moved to attendance only by the title. The group pays homage to the reference by allowing the bassist to begin the show with a solo rendition of the Rugrats theme song. Whatever the audience’s original motivation, the band keeps them there with an incredibly eccentric brand of rock. Plus, Reptar’s incredibly visible excitement was infectious. One highlight was ‘Blastoff,’ which begins with two members tossing a tambourine across the stage to each other in time with the music.

Smith Westerns come on to the Playstation Stage at 3:30. The Chicago outfit owes their sound much more to British rock than anything else, sporting catchy guitar-centered rock songs with clever riffs that fit festival setting effortlessly. The stunningly young band (the members are all nineteen or twenty) play with energy and enthusiasm, captivating the crowd with songs like ‘Weekend’ and ‘All Die Young.’

The surprise discovering of the day is Kids These Days, another young band from Chicago. The octet’s combination of jazz, funk, and hip-hop inspires the crowd gathered at the BMI stage to dance. The highlight is a version of James Brown’s ‘It’s a Man’s World’ with a chorus tagged with the melody to Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ and that slips into a version of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’. After the set, it’s time to slip off to catch the last of Cults. Singer Madeline Follin’s voice is incredibly strong live, and she leads the band through a strong set of melodic indie-pop songs that perfectly fit the tag of ‘summer anthem’. Tunes like ‘Go Outside’ and ‘Abducted’ get the crowd singing and dancing.

At 5:30, Mountain Goats earn the ‘Best Introduction of the Day’ award as the trio walk on the stage after allowing the PA to blast twenty seconds of the heaviest scream-intensive metal anyone could conceivably find. John Darnielle’s songs have resonated with legions of fans for their disarmingly (and refreshingly) honest lyrics, augmented by clever refrains and the inherent earnestness of Darnielle’s voice. All these aspects shine on stage, and despite the large crowd the songs still retain their alluring intimacy, especially when Darnielle takes the stage alone. He plays three songs in order to work into ‘Cubs in Five’ in honor of Chicago’s infamous baseball team. The surprise of the set comes in the form of an acoustic version of Styx’s ‘Babe’ in further homage to Chicago.

Immediately as Mountain Goats finish, Bright Eyes break into a rocking version of ‘Four Winds’ on the other side of the field. Conor Oberst’s band work through a set that stretches through the large span of Bright Eyes’ career, playing songs like ‘Take It Easy (Love Nothing),’ ‘Lover I Don’t Have to Love,’ and ‘The Calendar Hung Itself.’ When the majority of the band leaves the stage in order for Oberst to perform ‘Landlocked Blues,’ the earnestness of the song is transmitted regardless of the immensity of the headliner stage. Oberst’s lyrics (just as honest as Darnielle’s but more poetic) captivate the audience, as his voice – powerful in its candid, throaty quality – cries out memorable lines such as, ‘It all boils down to one quotable phrase/ If you love something, give it away.’ The band break into a brilliant version of ‘Road to Joy’ that shrinks down and then explodes with all the right places. When Oberst screams, ‘Let’s f**k it up, boys, make some noise!,’ the audience goes nuts. This energy is furthered when Oberst ends by putting away his guitar and steps down into the audience for ‘One for Me, One for You,’ hugging and shaking hands with eager fans.

And now the headliners. Lollapalooza’s schedulers created the necessity to make the difficult decision between Coldplay, Muse, Girl Talk, and Ratatat. This reviewer decided to catch a little bit of Muse before heading to watch all of Ratatat’s set. (For the curious, Coldplay reportedly put on an excellent show that paid homage to Amy Winehouse with a slow version of ‘Rehab’ and closed with ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ and fireworks above the stage.)

Muse do not disappoint. They perform with the same amount of energy and skill that precede their reputation. One of the most memorable moments of the day occurs early in the set as Matt Bellamy begins ‘Hysteria’ with a solo guitar version of the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’ Coincidentally, right as the first notes ring out, fireworks begin shooting from Soldier Field directly behind the stage. The band performs songs such as ‘Uprising,’ ‘Supermassive Black Hole,’ and ‘Map of the Problematique’ that have the crowd screaming along. The scene is proof that Muse is an excellent headliner.

However, too soon it is time to run over to catch the evening’s underdog, Ratatat. The duo’s music is best described as electronic music meets glam rock, drum machines meet synthesizers and excellent guitar riffs. Another distinctive feature of Ratatat’s music is their innate ability to structure a song, creating B sections with just enough variation and knowing how to recapitulate the A section in a way that keeps the melody interesting. The live visuals are an experience within themselves, with videos featuring such baffling material as patterns made out of birds and faces with features flipped upside down (intended, more likely than not, for the connection between Lolla and marijuana). Some visuals are quite political, however, showing images of war and startling violence. Ratatat begins with a rendition of ‘Loud Pipes’ that immediately inspires the crowd to jump and dance. As the set continues, with the help of infectious beats and melodies, the dancing never stops, as Ratatat works through tunes such as ‘Wildcat’ and ‘Seventeen Years’.

As all the headliners let out at the same time, Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue are flooded with 90,000 people simultaneously excited and exhausted. But there are still two more days to go.

Tags: Muse, Features

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