Long Live Lolla!
David Jackson
8/19/2007 5:54:32 PM

If three days sounds like a long time to trudge around Chicago's Grant Park in the summer sun, well, it is. But for an epic tour of what's hip in modern music, it's worth it: worth the heat, worth the crowds, worth the money ($200 a pop, this time around). Lollapalooza 2007 was a something-for-everyone show, and everything from jagged punk to hip-hop to dance rock made an appearance. The trick, of course, was plotting your own schedule. Here are some post-Lolla highlights:

Day 1:

Jack's Mannequin: The side project of Andrew McMahon (of Something Corporate), Jack's Mannequin is taking on a life of its own as a purveyor of shiny, upbeat piano-based pop-rock with just a bit of emo in the mix. The result? An hour of absolutely perfect summer music. McMahon and company thrive in the brutal heat, cranking out tunes that evoke (both musically and lyrically) the strange glamour of mid-July Los Angeles. Even during a spoken monologue about a cold winter's morning, the sunglasses-clad McMahon looks right at home under a cloudless summer sky.

Against Me: Against Me bleed punk. They have the look down just right, plus fast, crunchy guitars and tight drum work. But here's the coolest thing: they actually nail the sound in a live performance. The songs really sound easy to screw up – they could quickly devolve into a scream-fest with sloppy instrumentals, and the crowd would be forgiving. But that doesn't happen. Each song is spot-on, great vocals, precise instrumentals and, most impressively, three-part harmonies. Very nice.

The Rapture: File under “Things That Shouldn't Work, But Do.” New York's The Rapture are a dance rock act with bass to spare that sound like they belong in a very dark club with very few lights on. Mad props to them for somehow replicating that atmosphere in late-afternoon Grant Park. God only knows how they pulled it off, but the Rapture ended up sounding very impressive.

LCD Soundsystem: Like The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem's tunes are very danceable. Unlike The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem have a nice minimalist vibe. One of the evening's last acts, LCD Soundsystem name-checked the Day 1 headliner with the tribute “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House.” Basically, the atmosphere was always one of a dance party, and the audience was thrilled to get down to great cuts like “North American Scum.”

Daft Punk: Best performance? No. Best show? Probably. It shouldn't really be possible for a band composed of two people to be so ridiculously over the top, but the light show and the space suits make it happen. Because of the stage setup (the band plays atop a massive flat-screen-paneled pyramid), you can't even really see what Daft Punk is doing – but we take it on faith that there are keyboards up there somewhere. The fun is really in watching the meticulously organized pyrotechnic light display that accompanies the music, which can't really be described in words. The best approximation of the visuals is to imagine the last 20 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey stretched out to an hour and a half and set of techno. A few people set up dance pits, but most of the crowd just stood there and nodded reverently. It was that kind of vibe.

Day 2:

Motion City Soundtrack
: For a band that spends most of their time writing about insecurity and rejection, Motion City Soundtrack have a hell of a lot of self-confidence. They take the stage in corny getups and worse hairdos, then proceed to justify it by playing an hour's worth of grin-inducing, synth-backed power-pop. The band is one of the small but growing number of acts who charge through depressing lyrics with jubilation (for example, the improbably upbeat number “Let's Get Fucked Up And Die”). The band played a few tracks from their upcoming record, Even If It Kills Me, but mostly stuck with time-tested crowd pleasers, ending their set in MCS tradition with the sing-along “The Future Freaks Me Out.”

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: They rode a huge blog buzz to self-published stardom, and are now certifiably famous enough to play a main stage at Lollapalooza. Even if they're not your favorite band, there's no reason not to check out the indie-rock spectacle and see how they hold up for a festival crowd. The answer is that they do so passably well, and if you dig the folksy sound of their recorded material you'll be ecstatic with their live show.

Regina Spektor: A solo songwriting sensation who emigrated with her family from the Soviet Union at the age of nine, Regina Spektor has charm and talent in spades, and both were showcased during her brilliant Saturday afternoon set. Spektor played a whole hour entirely solo, mixing her piano standbys with a few guitar tunes. One great moment of the performance was when Regina stopped a song halfway through to call for medical attention for a sick fan, asking the crowd to make a path for security. After seeing that the fan was alright, and endearingly encouraging the audience to stay hydrated, she jumped back into the song right where she'd left off. Regina played all of her signature songs, including “Poor Little Rich Boy,” where she accompanies herself both on piano and by playing rhythm on, of all things, a wooden chair. After closing with the beautifully playful “Samson,” Spektor left the stage to thunderous applause. She made quite an impression.

Interpol: Don't ever, ever say that the whole sinister new-wave thing is dead. NYC's Interpol will kill you in your sleep with their chiming guitars and heavy bass lines. Their headline performance on Saturday was a note-for-note perfect sampler of their three albums of pulsating, ominous rock. Highlights included “Slow Hands” from 2004's Antics and “The Heinrich Manuever” from the recently released Our Love To Admire. The set closed with “PDA,” after which the band came out for an encore consisting of several more tracks from their debut, Turn On The Bright Lights. It was a great show: no surprises, but a cool, well-oiled machine.

Day 3:

Lupe Fiasco
: Maybe hip-hop that actually doesn't cause aneurysms in rock fans isn't a niche, but the flood of crunk rap on modern top-forty stations certainly makes it seem that way. If only for that reason, Lupe Fiasco's inclusion in the Lollapalooza lineup makes perfect sense. He represents an opportunity to bring musical diversity to the festival without pissing off the strong fanbase drawn in by (for instance) Pearl Jam and Iggy Pop. For better or worse, his performance fit that expectation very well. Intelligent, socially aware lyrics and a broad choice of samples (the Gorillaz' “Feel Good Inc.,” for instance, was a good call) drew a good amount of respect from the crowd. Not bad, for a rapper at a rock show.

Blue October: It's difficult to pin down the exact genre of Blue October's music, but ‘organic emo’ might be a start – their songs have the emotional punch many of today's radio-friendly rock bands strive for, but with a more sensitive, earthy feel reminiscent of a good unplugged album. Clashing acoustic guitars and electric violins against singer Justin Furstenfeld's powerful voice and the occasional blast of angry distortion makes a good premise for a live show, and it went off without a hitch. Most of the audience seemed to know the band's catalog well, but even those new to Blue October were able to join in on the inevitable sing-along of their breakout hit “Hate Me” that closed the set. Blue October pulled no punches – not exactly fun for the whole family, but for those who liked music to come straight from the heart, they delivered.

Iggy and the Stooges: How old is Iggy Pop now, anyway? He's certainly too old to be a rock star, or at least one that still seems hip and rebellious. But hey, he doesn't care. For a full hour, Iggy and the reunited Stooges blasted through old hits, out-weirding the competition every step of the way. Best moment: Iggy's decision to open the security barriers so fans could take the stage to dance with him. A good idea? Maybe not. Fun? Hell yeah.

Modest Mouse: Modest Mouse is just on the verge of household name status for a handful of quirky pop hits. Fans of this indie-turned mainstream act are still in on an awesome secret, however – the band’s songwriting talent is far greater than radio or MTV will ever appreciate. Their set was a selection of tunes mostly from their last three albums and began on just the right discordant note with “Bury Me With It” from 2004’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News. The band wasn’t especially animated, but they performed well, and the crowd’s response was absolutely ridiculous – probably more crowd surfing per capita than any other act besides Pearl Jam. The hour’s great surprise was that it ended on a combination of the new fan-favorite “Spitting Venom” with 2001 single “I Came As A Rat.” It’s possible the deprived masses will remember the band as a one-hit wonder, but if Modest Mouse’s willingness to end a festival performance on a nine-minute-long non-single/throwback is anything to judge by, Modest Mouse stubbornly refuses to be defined by “Float On.” Good for them.

Pearl Jam: They’re not exactly new to this. Pearl Jam actually headlined Lollapalooza fifteen years ago, during its days as a traveling festival. Still, it’s a testament to the band’s enduring quality that they still draw a massive turnout to hear their gritty, catchy tunes from the glory days of grunge. Their long, long closing performance hit all the expected high points, “Daughter,” “Do The Evolution,” “World Wide Suicide,” and tons more. Eddie Vedder also took the time to deliver a few choice words about petroleum giant BP-Amoco’s decision to dump their industrial waste in Lake Michigan, encouraging the audience to boycott the company. “It’s like you got a boyfriend, girlfriend, who doesn’t brush their teeth,” said Vedder, “you’re not gonna kiss ‘em, right? So don’t show BP-Amoco no love ‘til they clean up their act.” The set proper ended on “Alive” after which the fans’ calls of the chorus drew Eddie back out to the stage by himself to begin “Better Man.” A second encore featured some commentary on the war, along with veteran Ben Harper as a guest artist. The evening ended on a stellar ensemble cover of “Keep On Rocking In The Free World” featuring members of other bands. It was a great end to a great evening. Long Live Lolla.

Pictured: Former NT columnist and friend, Beatle Bob, acted as emcee (and a source of entertainment) for many bands


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