That's a Lotta Lollapalooza!
By
J. Gordon
8/9/2005 3:12:00 PM

We thought that Lollapalooza was gone forever. And then it was announced: Lollapalooza 2005 at Chicago’s Grant Park! The baseball field seemed ideal, with the picturesque Chicago skyline to the West and beautiful Lake Michigan (with its watery breeze!) to the East. Giant magically-lit orbs of white graced the nights, while helicopters pulled enormous butterflies across the sky in the day. Having moved the festival from a national touring event to a magical, one-city weekend, you would have thought the show would have sold out. Not so, but a respectable crowd of about 60,000 did show; full of young, over-eager concert-goers in their Killers and Cake T-shirts, who were soon schooled in coolness by the older, hipper types donning Led Zeppelin, Syd Barrett and Jimi Hendrix on their chests.

Before The Redwalls took the Parkways stage, the Poet Laureate of Chicago, Thax Douglas, read a few lines of prose before giving up to the noise of the band next door on the SBC East Stage. Was that the Rolling Stones? Sure sounded like it. In fact, it was the International Noise Conspiracy, who one might have thought, had been well-named.

If anything negative could be said about the event’s planning, it was that the Grant Park baseball field was not quite large enough. The stages were too close and one band’s music was continually overtaking another’s—and the sound of two bands playing from the center of the baseball field made for a really weird audio confusion.

The Redwalls, who just got back to their hometown from a tour of the UK with Oasis, played all new stuff—a disappointment to fans of old who yearned for that Oasis-y vibe. Today, they’re more like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band--complete with the retro leather jackets which seem pretty silly on a July summer day. “Turn up the heat cuz I’m freezing my ass off!” joked lead singer Logan Baren. Lucky for them, the overcast day gave everyone a delicious break from the heat at a comfortable eighty or so degrees.

When The Warlocks took over the Budweiser Select stage in a cloud of fog and red lights, one was tempted to laugh--until the coolness of the music overtook them. As cheesy as the stage show was, this band’s dark, indie sound is closer to Jesus and Mary Chain than the goth look they wear. Waaaaay cool.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead took the prize for the most F-words contained in 30 seconds of stage banter: “Fuck! Fuckin’ this ain’t no funeral!” shouted lead singer, Jason Reece. “Fuckin’ get fuckin’ cranked up! Fuck! This is fuckin’ life! I’m alive! You’re alive! Don’t give a fuck!” Obviously drunk and barely able to stand straight, Reece and his band still managed to pull off a hell of a live show, and gave the crowd all their best cuts from their last, amazing album, Worlds Apart. Meanwhile, back at the Parkways Stage, Ambulance LTD kicked ass, but lacking the energy of their TOD competitors, they also lacked the crowd.

And how cool was it for the Kaiser Chiefs to open up with the Beatles’ “Me and My Monkey”? Unfortunately, this gifted pop band was playing against the sultry Liz Phair. She had the Kaiser Chiefs beat on looks, popularity, and therefore, also on the crowd. With her hair pulled back, from a distance everyone thought Liz had bobbed it off—and still the main comment was about how great she looked. “Yeah, I don’t leave a trail of dead behind me, just a trail of dirty clothes,” she said from the stage. It was refreshing to hear Liz really singing at this live show, versus singing along with a load of taped stuff, which is how her last tour went.

One of the best things about Lollapalooza 2005 was that these were complete concerts—no twenty-minute teases like so many festivals. One of the worst things was that we never got to see the bands on the inconveniently-situated (outside the park and across the street) Planet Stage—artists like Hard-Fi, The Dead 60s, VHS or Beta, DJ Muggs Mash Up Circus, B-Boy Breakdown Royale, Z-Trip, or Mark Farina.

The ultimate toastmaster, Mister Perry Farrell, introduced Brian Jonestown Massacre, who as one of the most inventive, original and just-under-the-radar (for about fifteen years) might best portray the concept of Lollapalooza. “Now that I’m mad with power, I wipe my ass with contemporary culture!” said singer, Anton Newcombe. Well, Anton also would’ve wiped his ass with Dashboard Confessional, whose whiny, volume-cranked, mainstream pop continuously collided with BJM’s low-key groove.

“Thank you for being such well-behaved and civic-minded people,” Anton said, in part mocking the idea of Lollapalooza itself. “I wish those fuckers on the orange stage would shut up.” Then, turning toward the orange stage and hollering into his microphone, he yelled, “Hey! Don’t give up your day job, punk!” Later, he referred to Dashboard as “Bon Jovi” and in a moment of brilliance, pulled out the similarities between one of their songs and the old Paul McCartney and Wings tune, “Jet.” Before BJM had finished their set, he’d also promised to haunt them and added, “I’d put a picture of your goddamn band over my bed if I didn’t want to have children! But today’s not the day to talk about that…it’s about rainbows…and unicorns…”

We really wanted to hate The Bravery. I mean, 80s retro-rehash just has no place in a celebration of original music, right? But whaddoya know, the guys were tight, energetic, and a great time. The music, live, does not come across as so canned and electronic. And who can resist that “Swollen Summer” song”? Loads of fun. At the same time, Cake was serving itself up on the West side, but we were having such a blast, we never made it over.

One of the most anticipated bands, Blonde Redhead was also one of the most disappointing acts. All the cool little moments in their music just didn’t come across on the live outdoor stage with so much daylight still to be had. A band everyone had just about given up on after lead singer, Kazu Makino, had her face literally re-built from a freak accident with a horse, but she looked no worse for wear. We’ll be sure to catch them again in a proper, closed venue at night.

Meanwhile, the King of Cheese, Billy Idol flaunted his six-pack abs and six-note songs across the park. The fists pumped in the air and the crowd pogoed as he crooned classics like, “White Wedding,” and “Rebel Yell.” You have to give the guy a hand: while Billy Idol, in the same clothes, the same hair, and with the same sound, hasn’t exactly recreated himself for the new millennium, he’s become an expert recycler. And for a fifty-plus rocker, he looks damn fine.

The Black Keys were up on the Budweiser Select next, and as evening began to creep in, so did the straight-up rock and roll. Full of big guitar and old R&B feeling, The Black Keys got the entire place dancing. And that lead singer, Dan Auerbach, isn’t too tough on the eyes, either. He said, “Thanks for coming here and hanging out. And not going over there and hanging out…” as he motioned to the SBC West stage, where Primus had the mosh pit of the day.

Maybe the biggest disappointment in scheduling was putting the extremely cool band, The Walkmen against The Pixies. Everyone, of course, had to choose The Pixies. I mean, how long will we have them this time? The Pixies slaughtered the show, of course. With so many hits, how could they not? “Here Comes Your Man,” “U-MASS,” and “Monkey’s Gone To Heaven” were not forgotten. Whatever the hell these anti-rockers, the hefty Frank Black and the cool Kim Deal have, they oughta bottle it. But then, they’ve already got millions, so why bother?

The kids, of course, were there to see Weezer. Opening with their best song ever, “Say It Ain’t So,” the band played a lot of great tunes, interspersed with the new crap that sounds more like a fast way out of a record contract than anything from the heart. How could a band that produced gems like “Island In the Sun” also pull off complete shit like “Beverly Hills” or “We Are All On Drugs”? C’mon, boys. We’d like to say they performed a great, lively show, but the fact was, we were so deep in the crowd we could only see snatches of them on the TV screen.

Alright, so it was a long day. Maybe this reviewer was getting a little grumpy. That was nothing compared to Sunday…

The hottest day of the year for Chicago, and one of the hottest days on record, the numbers of the Lolla daytime crowd took a noticeable dive. We ourselves missed The Changes, OK Go, Saul Williams and The Ponys to avoid some of the unbearable noontime heat. Sorry, dudes. We’ll catch you next time.

Unfortunately, the amazing British band, Kasabian, got to take the stage at 1:30, when the heat was at its most intense. Lead singer Tom Meighan motioned toward the Chicago skyline and said, “Fuckin’ Sears Tower! How big can you be!” Keeping the peaceful Lollapalooza vibe, Tom said during their song, “L.S.F.”, “The whole world’s still fighting, but we’re okay!” And that band, with their energy, their cool electronics, their vocal talent and other-worldly rhythms…is far more than OK.

The show of Sunday might have been Dinosaur Jr, another eagerly-anticipated reunion. With so many amazing, heartfelt songs from Lou Barlow and the guys, this band has seeded and inspired so much great music. The guys looked old and hairy, but if you could just close your eyes (easy to do in that heat, when most were sitting down, clinging to whatever small patches of shade they could find), it was like being back in 1995, in the days when traveling concerts could make enough money to support themselves, when new pop music felt exciting and fresh, and before we thought about things like terrorism.

Tegan and Sara had a full crowd in the high-heat, and they did their best to work it. Unfortunately, Sara was hit by heatstroke mid-act. After temporarily taking leave, she came back, saying, “Sorry, I didn’t know if I wanted to barf in front of you. I didn’t know if we were that far along in our relationship…” Barf or not, she and Tegan still remained adorable.

In the crowd, people were fainting from the heat left and right, and carts that were selling bottled water for four bucks a pop on Saturday were giving it away on Sunday to keep everyone alive. Yikes!

At the same time, Lollapalooza founder, Perry Farrell’s new band, Satellite Party was getting underway across the field. “Think we’ll really have a satellite party in ten years or so?” Farrell asked. “I want to bless the land here. Bless Chicago!” In a long-sleeve shirt and slacks, the energetic Perry Farrell seemed unaffected by the heat. And like a rock and roll saint, this inspirational man injected everyone that day with a new spirit. Maybe it was the heat, but there is something truly beautiful about this man. “I hope it [the music] made your heart pump,” Farrell said at the close of his set. “Then, I hope it worked down to your groin and made your groin pump!” he laughed.

Another surprise of the day was The Arcade Fire. Holy freakin’ unreal! This band proves, in this day when it feels like everything’s been done, you can still be original and fantastic. We’re talking strings, harmonies out the ying-yang, and generous doses of rock with brilliant lyrical magic. Decked out in black suits, white shirts and ties, the group looks more like they belong at an Amish fest than at Lollapalooza. And the heat! How did they survive it? “I’m from Houston, Texas, and this is pretty much what it’s like all the time. Traumatic memories,” said lead singer, Win Butler. To conclude the show, he jumped offstage and took a leisurely stroll through the thick crowd of people, followed by cameras and microphones. Great!

Spoon was another band with an amazing new album out, Gimme Fiction, and they weren’t afraid to show it off. As the sun went down, the energy went up and the absolute coolness of this band enveloped the crowd like a big shady tree. Perfect vocals, a tight performance, and a no-nonsense great time dishing out original, exciting music to the hippest stage gathering of the weekend. Spoon is what Lollapalooza is all about.

Another highly-anticipated set, The Dandy Warhols had one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. Too bad their sound sucked. It didn’t help that they were opposite The Killers, who pumped out lively pop to counter the Dandy’s lower-key, groovy vibe. The Brian Jonestown Massacre guys joined the group after a few songs for what turned into a double-band performance. They played some of the fun hits, such as “Bohemian Like You,” and “Boys Better,” as well as a few unknown collaborative jams. Lead singer, Courtney Taylor-Taylor, communed with the front row, borrowed cigarettes, and jumped offstage to flirt and flaunt the true showman that he is. Had the sound been better, it might have been a good show. Pity to have wasted the energy.

Ben Hibbard’s Death Cab for Cutie closed the evening on a characteristically melancholy-cool note. Many went home during the set, hot and tired from the day, ready to hit the road back to their respective cities.

Like most Lollapaloozas (and summer festivals), at the end of it, one has to wonder if the heat, the money, and in this case, the travel, was worth it. But with the taste of music gone by, the thrill of new sounds just rising on the horizon, and the feeling of sixty-thousand of your best friends sharing it right there with you, Lollapalooza is just too precious to lose. May it last forever. And in ten years or so, maybe we’ll be having it on a satellite.

Thanks, Perry.

[Ed.--If you're interested, see my poem about Lollapalooza in our Editorial section.]

 

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