Lollapalooza 2006. The longest (three days!), most eclectic, indie-iest Lolla yet—this four-plus hour drive from St. Louis, $150+ ticket a pop (plus food and lodging) to an alternative Never Never Land was totally worth it and frankly, really, really hard to leave. Book-ended with two days of travel and sight-seeing, fortified by charge cards and the kindness of in-town friends and family, all responsibilities were lost, problems forgotten and a musical Utopia blossomed over the Sept. 4-6th weekend among a sea of Porta-Potties and fences around Chicago’s Grant Park. The weather was perfect, the food first-rate (and not over-priced), and even the barrage of corporate sponsorships didn’t seem all that offensive.
Eliminating last year’s problem of the stages being too close together, this year they were so far apart that our biggest gripe was missing the starts of most sets because one couldn’t run the distance fast enough. But if that was Lolla 2006’s only problem, it was no problem at all.
Here are our notes:
deadboy & the Elephantmen-- Launching the festival with the first slot in the noonday sun, southern rockabilly stoner Dax Riggs wails out heart and soul with their killer lyrics and aggressive guitar, while Tessie Brunet sweetly croons behind and keeps the percussive beat at the same time. But the girl on drums, boy on guitar and vocals- thing is no White Stripes rip-off – nuh-uh. In fact, there’s no Elephantmen to be seen, and Dax’s energy is too damned high to be mistaken for a deadboy. Killer set that hopefully got them noticed by some new fans.
Midlake-- The bit we caught of them, this is a band to watch. Experimental pop with lots borrowed from the 60s, Midlake is beautiful and different.
The Subways-- It is only appropriate that a hot, noisy Brit punk band perform at the hottest, noisiest part of the day. Great crowd. Good fun. And against the dumb jock rock of Blue October (who the hell put them on the bill?), it was no contest.
Cursive--What was I remembering? Can it be true that one of the coolest bands from the 90s just feels dated today? No, no, that can’t be it. Blame it on the lack of intimacy at the venue. Blame it on the high afternoon sun beating down on a band whose sound clings to darkness. Just quit reminding me that it’s been more than ten years, and maybe their sound hasn’t kept up…
The Eels-- The second most bizarre show at Lollapalooza, the Eels played their odd ball rock with a pseudo-security guard doing a mime comedy act in the background. The bands clothing came straight from an army surplus store, with bomb goggles and green military jackets. The band played a very enjoyable, oftentimes bluesy Americana set, with strange and humorous antics fun for those sober or straight.
Mute Math--What the fuck is this? That was what most people seemed to say in word or facial expression as they attempted to pass by Mute Math’s stage. Note I say, “attempted”. What started out as a modest, curious crowd for an unknown band turned into a full-on madhouse; complete with moshpit and body surfing. This mix of electronic punk pop was immediately seductive and the band’s highly infectious stage presence collected more bodies than the ebola virus. Lead singer Paul Meany knows how to work a crowd and this was clearly the greatest day of his life as he soared atop hands, singing and shouting with such passion that, when all was said and done, the fans demanded an encore—and got one! Has that ever happened for a small band on a tightly-timed festival? We think not. Afterward, the Virgin Megastore tent was stormed for Mute Math’s indie released CD and EP. Were you lucky enough to get one?
Ryan Adams-- Oh, how we looked forward to the perfect blend of alternative and country, with those slice-your-heart-in-two lyrics! How we looked forward to that pouty, warm and mellow darkness! And yet… after Mute Math, who could sit still to listen? It was too hard of a transition. We’ll catch him next time when we’re less ADHD.
The Secret Machines-- An immense amount of noise for just three guys to churn out, and yet every note serves a distinguishable purpose, each layer of sound builds and builds to a new heavenly rush, and every word breaks and then re-breaks your heart. It is just unfair that these three own so much of the real estate in alternative electronic brilliance. It was an odd thing to see this band, known for playing dark stages with only back lights and lots of fog, in the bright afternoon daylight. Heck, we even managed to get a good look at guitarist Benjamin Curtis, though brother/lead singer/keyboard player Brandon Curtis remained mostly hidden behind his long dark hair. We’re hoping that some who hadn’t yet discovered the magic walked by this time and finally got a clue.
The Raconteurs-- Jack White is one of the few musicians today respected by both indie and mainstream rock communities. With this being said, the indies won’t be impressed with the Raconteurs’ garage-rock, and even the mainstream frat boys in the audience may have been a little disappointed when they asked, “Are they going to play any White Stripes songs?” while the band was tuning. It’s evident that the Raconteurs were assembled by Jack White’s desire to gather some of his old friends to live out and share a clichéd teenage dream. Nothing about the Raconteurs is unique and the crowds of people flocking the AT&T stage were mainly there for a glimpse of Mr. White.
Sleater-Kinney-- Sleater Kinney's last festival didn't disappoint as the female rockers played their hearts out the Lolla audience. Opening with "The Fox," the crowd cheered, and continued throughout the set--with the occasional, “please don’t leave us!” as this was one of their final appearances before the group disbands. On the sidestage wings stood members of the Secret Machines, deadboy & the Elephantmen, Calexico and more—all in awe of the indie goddesses and all they’ve accomplished.
VHS or Beta--A little disco, a little retro, a lot of techno… VHS or Beta did the DJ thing over in the Mindfield for a generous crowd of hip kids and those looking to just space out and rest from a full day, gazing at the complementary light show.
Ween--Perhaps it was because the crowd was so huge that the distance kept us apart from the vibe. Weird? Sure, that’s to be expected. But it didn’t really grab us. Though the fireworks over the stage afterward were great.
Death Cab for Cutie--A Lolla headliner last year, Death Cab were back again and the star slot of the first night. The sound was good and every song off their amazing Plans was worshipped like an utterance of the Supreme Being Himself. And these days, Ben Gibbard has become just that. Former labelmates, the amazing Stars, even joined onstage at one point, and left us cursing that we’d somehow missed their set. Ah well, you can’t do everything.
Be Your Own Pet-- Led by a cute bleach-blonde grrrrl with an emo-boy haircut in a Joan Jett t-shirt, BYOP is bad punk that’s really fun. On at the same time was the quality music of Ranier Maria a substantial band with a great repertoire. Interestingly, lead singer Caithlin De Marrais didn’t capture the crowd live and sort of lulled us to sleep.
Also missing the boat was the usually fantastic Nada Surf. The stage times seemed to overlap more this day than the first, and most couldn’t get across the field in time to enjoy their most popular song, “Popular,” which they played too early in their set. A band full of great, heartbreaking pop, it’s nice to see they’re coming back, even if their Lolla set fell a little flat.
Sybris-- We’ve been watching this Chicago-based band evolve into a formidable, dark psychedelic rock presence. Think Veruca Salt on Quaaludes. Sexy, trippy and a lot of fun…
Feist-- The lovely Leslie Feist blew away the crowd of both respectable, grown men and women, and heart-throbbing indie kids from the moment she walked on stage. She sang most of her songs with a back up band (probably Broken Social Scene members) while shying away from her usual acoustic guitar for an electric. Maybe she's hinting at a change on her new album. Leslie Feist's voice may be the most beautiful voices in pop music today, smooth, sultry--and still with a touch of innocence that warms the heart. The backing band was very talented and didn’t disrupt Feist's soothing delivery a bit. Closing her set with the quiet, heart-breaking title track on her first album (which if you don’t own, you need to), "Let It Die", the noisy set-up on the opposite stage almost ruined the moment, but you could still feel the emotion in her voice as she closed a near perfect set.
Peeping Tom-- The inimitable Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, et al)’s side project proved to be a little disappointing as he veered into straight-up, lackluster pop with very few moments of any interest to hook us. We’ll watch for his next project.
Built to Spill--These amazingly talented musicians unfortunately picked the wrong songs for the festival environment. Their mellow, downbeat stuff was just too slow to carry the crowd, although the peppier tunes worked much better. Of all the bands on the bill, Built to Spill may be the most skilled musicians—and are another band with about fifteen albums to their credit.
Calexico--It was clearly the grown-ups vs. the kids as the smart, Latin-infused Calexico was pitted against the dumb-fun of Wolfmother. This primarily over-30 crowd cared not, and the show brought about many bodies dancing, many faces singing, and much love and happiness across the crowd. Need we say more?
Wolfmother-- A cross between Iron Butterfly and Black Sabbath, Wolfmother played hard and ended up on the ground a lot as they collided with each other. A great stage show and tons of energy made for a very receptive crowd. In fact, you know a show is going well when you watch the wings of the stage fill up with roadies and members of other bands, taking it all in. Rabid!
Kill Hannah--Overlapping part of Sonic Youth’s set was unfortunate for Chicago locals, Kill Hannah, but at the same time it must have felt good to them to know that everyone there was present out of hysterical devotion. Still managing to support a generous crowd, the show had a great vibe and good sound for their always-amazing material.
Sonic Youth-- Without a doubt, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore are still the First Couple of Indie Rock. Well into their forties, they still look cool and sound even cooler. A barefoot and leggy Kim spun around the stage as they delighted fans with some fun ones from the past such as, “Schizophrenia” and “What a Waste.” With only an hour to cover the best of 20 albums, one knows they’re just going to get a tease in just ten songs. The set was great, but Sonic Youth definitely needed more time. Their selections were a little surprising as they ignored the few radio hits they did have such as “Bull In The Heather.” There was very little from their mid-period as well, and a lot off the impressive new album, Rather Ripped [Geffen]. After a three minute waste-of time break, they came back for an encore of “Shake Your Hand.” We had to wonder what other song they might have been able to squeeze in if they’d just stayed on stage?
The Dresden Dolls--Directly following Sonic Youth, and well-positioned at the next closest (Adidas) stage, the Dresden Dolls were immediately flooded with fans and interested onlookers. Yet, this was another example of too severe a mood switch. Who could so quickly transition from Sonic Youth spaceout to the DD’s theatrical performance art? Not us—even if they are great. Sorry.
The Flaming Lips-- How can something be emotionally moving, while simultaneously being completely insane? Thousands crowded the stage to watch the spectacle of lead singer Wayne Coyne and Company—a company that included 20 foot tall aliens and astronauts, and a chorus line of Santa Clauses, aliens and space age vixens (many were members from other bands at the festival). Oh, and did we mention that the band photographer was dressed like Wonder Woman? The Flaming Lips’ performance was the closest thing to the magic of hallucinogens that Grant Park has ever seen. Wearing giant-sized hands, Coyne couldn’t forget their one big radio hit, “She Don’t Use Jelly,” while a gargantuan tangerine was lowered from the rafters to explode in lights and confetti on the crowd. The Lips had the crowd waving their hands overhead as they sang it like an anthem. Even funnier was that they closed with the genuinely touching song, “Do You Realize??” Oh, so beautiful! So much fun!
Thievery Corporation--The man, the myth, the legend, Perry Farrell, introduced Thievery Corporation in a great spot for exposure—the stage next to and directly following the 30,000 or so who’d been standing to watch the Flaming Lips. Cool world music with an ancient feeling, Thievery Corp has that chameleon-like ability to blend into any festival, any mood, any movie soundtrack. Expect to hear more about them.
The New Pornographers--It’s really hard to say much about a perfect set of pop rock. Sitting on a small mound of soil in front of the technology tent and watching them from the big screen, it was a flawless, happy, sleepy way to close the day.
Oh, here’s where we start to feel tired and lazy, and we ventured onto the concert grounds late. And now we are kicking ourselves, of course, cuz we heard great things about Mucca Pazza, The Frames and Hot Chip… and Ben Kweller sounded great from the parking area!
30 Seconds To Mars-- Really cheesy and generic, at first we thought Skid Row was on the bill. Later it sounded like someone who’d been listening to too much Tool. Did you miss their set? No loss.
The Shins--Showing up in uniforms of olive green shirts, the lead singer (who looks eerily like actor Kevin Spacey) made a joke of “wanting to feel military-- with everything going on in the world right now.” Then he said, “No, just kidding. We wore this because we all look good in green.” Uh, sure. We’re glad they’re in music and not comedy, cuz without a doubt, The Shins are the best Brit-Pop to ever come out of Portland, Oregon.
Of Montreal-- What’s Of Montreal? Think weird electronic disco beats gone a bit awry, lots of costume changes (mostly men in dresses), a gleeful atmosphere onstage and much dancing on the ground. Lead singer Kevin Barnes is a gay version of the Dandy Warhol’s Courtney Taylor Taylor, crooning his pop psychedelia to his band’s bouncy beat. And who could possibly keep still?
Broken Social Scene-- One of the headlining acts for this great Lollapalooza, this fifteen-tet band was one of the highpoints of the festival. The set included songs from their self-titled new release, "Cause=Time," "7/4 Shoreline" and "Capture the Flag." Very much a full band experience, the four guitarists, two drummers, one bass player, the trumpets, the trombones, the tambourines and the textured synths took turns around the many vocals, leaving no one out. "There's a lot of fucked up stuff in the world today, so let's cheer for ourselves," said lead singer Kevin Drew.
Then, what a dilemma! Wilco versus Queens of the Stone Age! And for die-hard fans not obsessed with either rocking out or happy melancholy heartbreak, Perry Farrell did an unannounced gig in the Mindfield to those who’d been clued in through Lolla text messages.
Wilco opened up with lead singer Jeff Tweedy marveling at the crowd (in the tens of thousands). “I can’t tell you how freak it is to be home and have it be like this!” Playing mostly new stuff and nothing off of the first two albums, one of several definite high points was “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.” The slower songs didn’t work quite as well in the festival setting, however, but that didn’t stop fans from swaying and singing every word. Jumping on the homeless bearded man fashion trend of Built to Spill, Broken Social Scene, Iron and Wine and others, Jeff Tweedy—and so many others--could really use a makeover. Nighttimes.com is looking forward to the day when clean-shaven chins will be the Next Big Thing.
Queens of the Stone Age--Doing what they do best, which is rocking hard and fun, QOTSA covered the best of their three albums with good sound, lots of energy and a happy crowd. Lolla got smart at this point in the day and broadcast the QOTSA set on the screen of the stage opposite as well, while that crowd gathered for Broken Social Scene.
Red Hot Chili Peppers-- headlining the evening were the legendary Red Hot Chili Peppers, which would have been a fabulous choice for Lollapalooza if we could have gotten them, say, fifteen years ago. Unfortunately, this band just doesn’t have to try anymore, and lead singer Anthony Kiedis sounded bored, flat, and slow. Even the fast-rapping tracks such as “Give It Away” lacked punch. The only interesting moment of the set was an intro that started with the Clash’s “London Calling,”—a strange musical pastiche that worked well. Looking like he’s been sponsored by Hot Topic, it’s hard to believe that Kiedis was once a role model for originality. But lest you think the whole band has been tainted by the mediocrity of fame, guitarist Flea is still awesome, and clearly always will be.
Can’t wait to see you there next year!
Pictured: Broken Social Scene. More pictures HERE
Photos by Julia Gordon-Bramer