Given this year’s summer weather conditions in Chicago — chilly with a taste of sunlight — nobody expected the onslaught of rain and wind that was August 7th, 2009. Incidentally, that happened to make up the opening day of Perry Farrell’s summer music extravaganza, otherwise known as Lollapalooza. As fans rolled in at the crack of noon, rain followed… and lots of it. Some might say it was a dreary English day, which seemed fitting given the talent headlining — Depeche Mode, for those unsavvy with geography.
Regardless, the bustling Windy City festival hosted thousands upon thousands of fans, all with the intention of drinking, meddling in mud, or getting in a fight. Yes, despite the array of laid back indie-talent, hundreds of male 20-somethings managed to throw arms and collapse on one another. It might have been cold, what with the frisky wind and pummeling rain, but fellow Chicagoans kept it nice and toasty with good ol’ fashioned bar brawls.
But that didn’t stop everyone else from having fun. After all, this is the festival that keeps Midwesterners sane throughout the winter: The idea that beer will be had, that outside life will be enjoyed once again, and music will never skip a beat. We’re only day one into the festival, but Mr. Perry… we salute you.
Budweiser: 12:15-1:00 p.m.
“Screw the rain! Let’s rock!” And with that, Q101’s Ryan Manno kicked things off at the oh-so-subtly titled Budweiser Stage.
Well, not really. Seconds later, Manno admitted that the ambivalent, hanging rain that would annoy the rest of the day was pushing things off schedule slightly. A few minutes later, though, one of the first sets of the day began, performed by Atlanta, GA’s Manchester Orchestra. Lead singer/guitarist Andy Hull led the quintet on stage, complete with red wool cap and Doug Martsch-esque beard. And the Built to Spill connection doesn’t really end there. Often times, throughout the set, Manchester Orchestra felt a lot like BTS-Lite. Well, maybe Lite too strongly implies easy listening. Maybe Built to Spill with more shouting and more melodramatic hooks.
They certainly do have the hooks though, and they were plenty big enough to draw a large crowd, especially for a 12:15 spot. The echoed howls of “Shake it Out” got the people pogo’ing pretty early into the set. Big, chunky guitars, plentiful of backing vocals and unbridled enthusiasm were the trademarks of “In My Teeth”, and, really, their entire set.
“This band has never had so many people like us…In the same place,” Hull smirked, before kicking into “I’ve Got Friends”, which proved to be the real crowd favorite. The muscle-y anthem about the success of others (off of the strong if unassuming Mean Everything To Nothing released in April) sounded just as thundering and sharp as the record, an impressive feat for such an early afternoon start time.-A.K.
Chicago 2016: 12:15-1:00 p.m.
Chicago loves Hey Champ, and rightfully so. The group’s catchy electro rock gets the body moving in all the right ways, but oh how it feels so wrong. The sexy bass lines, the space-y guitar parts, and the velvet vocals all give both The Killers and U2 a run for their talent (not money, let’s be real here). Earlier this year, the band headlined the fourth night of Schubas’ Tomorrow Never Knows Festival, and though they nailed the set and pleased the sold-out crowd, they weren’t nearly as tight and realized as they were here in Grant Park. Vocalist and guitarist Saam Hagshenas dominated the Chicago 2016 stage and led his band into an empowering set, treating their early-bird slot as if it were a celebrated evening set. Songs “Face Control” and “In The White City” brought keyboardist Pete Dougherty to the forefront, but it was hot single “Cold Dust Girl” that roped in the trio as one. Hagshenas danced about, prowling around percussionist Jon Marks, who retained a consistent energy throughout. It may have been even too early for a beer, but these three snagged one hell of a crowd. Even some nearby stragglers over at the Citi Stage — all the way across the park — were swaying those hips. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re locals, either. -M.R.
BMI: 12:30-1:15 p.m.
After the sardine can train ride that was the CTA Red Line, the drizzly adventure of Lollapalooza started with Atlanta, Georgia’s very own Gringo Star. Mixing one part punk rock ethic, one part manic performance and a heavy dose of 1950’s Americana, these guys got the party started early. Lead singer Nicholas Firgiuele wailed like a banshee hopped up on caffeine and the rest of the band followed his fanatic trailblazing. On songs such as “No One” and “The March Of Gringos”, the quirky Southern quartet packed punch after punch just below the three minute mark. Lead guitarist Peter Firguile’s guitar solos brought to mind the late and great Bob Stinson of The Replacements, complete with overzealous sloppiness and raw intensity. Images of old Western shootouts, drunken nights in saloons and frantic pianos were all over the place while they played. Switching instruments between songs, these guys kept the downtime between numbers next to nil. For 45 minutes, Gringo Star blazed their own path of musical glory in the great city of Chicago and in the process took a few souvenirs with them, concluding with a cover of The Exciters’ “He’s Got The Power.” -J.Z.
Citi: 1:00-1:45 p.m.
L.A. via New Orleans’ The Knux were a breath of fresh air after wandering through a bunch of same-sounding, anthemic rock. Plus, instead of talking about how the rain sucked and how they were glad you stayed through the rain (LIKE EVERY OTHER BAND), Kintrell “Krispy Kream” Lindsey offered this feeling: “We know it’s raining, but do we give a fuck?” To which, the enthusiastic crowd shouted, that no, they did not. Krispy and his brother Alvin (aka “Rah Almillio”) were joined onstage by a DJ, a synth player and a guitarist, filling out their genre-crushing hip-hop quite masterfully.
By the end of the excellent “Cappuccino”, most of the huge crowd was bouncing along to the beat. But it did take a little bit of convincing for the ladies to go “Ooh” and the fellas to go “Aah” at the proper times. Once it caught on, though, Krispy was excited. “No homo, but I liked the guys’ one better,” he chuckled. “Don’t twit[tweet?] that. Krispy is gay’.” Their set heavily focused on last year’s excellent Remind Me In Three Days, including “Bang! Bang!”, “Roxxanne” (which included some impressive guitar-work), and the true-love story “Powder Room”(“I don’t know what’s wrong with you, meet me in the powder room”). In the end, there was a lot of superfluous talk about “the smoke,” meeting up after the show and giving shout-outs to the city, which took up a lot of time that could have been used instead for another of their interesting, fun jams. -A.K.
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears
Vitaminwater: 1:00-2:00 p.m.
After the impressive start to the day from Gringo Star, Austin, Texas soul patch descendants Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears stirred the musical Kool-Aid at the Vitaminwater stage. Having previously performed at the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival a month prior, Lewis & The Honeybears nonetheless felt right at home again. Blazing through soul-drenched numbers such as the sexual “Big Black Snake” and the blunt but awesome “Bitch, I Love You”, these modern day soul warriors brought visions of Otis Redding’s legendary 1967 appearance at the Monterey Pop festival. While these guys are hot off the wire no doubt, they’re on their way to serious awesomeness. They sounded much tighter than their Chicago Folk & Roots appearance weeks before, however their energy suffered greatly due to the surrounding hip hop show’s overexuberant bleeding of the music into their downtime. This was a shame however as it felt somewhat stale in an otherwise great performance. Nothing can be said about how great the guitars and saxes sounded, those were on fire. It’s just too bad the ambience couldn’t match the band’s intense soul jams, but good show nonetheless. -J.Z.
The Builders and The Butchers
BMI: 1:45-2:30 p.m.
Portland, OR’s The Builders and the Butchers set up shop at the small-ish BMI stage, where, unfortunately, their sound had to compete with the near-by Perry’s dance party. Once fighting through the techno grooves and the tree groves, the Builders and Butchers’ sort-of-gothic folk (think O’Death on Xanax) had a bit of trouble filling out the small area they’d been assigned. Maybe it was due to the fact that they were largely an acoustic act (a risky proposition in a non-main-stage setting), but the guitars, banjo, and ukulele all sounded rather flat and small.
But their music was still about as interesting as it ever was. “Vampire Lake” (off of last month’s Salvation is a Deep Dark Well) elicited a good crowd reaction, bringing a bit of stomp to the soggy conditions. The excellent “Down in this Hole” was no less stompy, complete with thumping tom drumming and a melody perfect for shouting along to.-A.K.
The Gaslight Anthem
Chicago 2016: 2:00-3:00 p.m.
If there’s one band that’s been the talk of the town all summer, it’s The Gaslight Anthem. Some may argue they broke through last year, especially with their critically acclaimed sophomore record The ’59 Sound, but this summer, they’re everywhere. After a rousing performance overseas at Glastonbury, complete with a cameo by the one and only Springsteen, these New Jersey rockers haven’t slowed down since. In addition to their own touring, they’ve hit the festival circuit pretty hard, and a week after the disaster that was All Points West (which ended up cancelling their Sunday spot), the Jersey boys took it all out on Chicago. Drummer Benny Horowitz machine-gunned into “High Lonesome” and amidst some smoke and rain, the rest of the band followed his lead. His leadership immediately fell to vocalist Brian Fallon, however, who spit out story after story, all about a town and state few had visited, but most related to — sort of the band’s shining hallmark. Song after song entertained the wet and frozen crowd, some of whom kept warm through unnecessary moshing.
Blame the crummy weather, but Fallon appeared rather stoic throughout much of the performance. He nailed each song, especially “Old White Lincoln” and “Film Noir”, but he came off a bit weathered. His knack for storytelling bled through, before he introduced “Miles Davis and the Cool”, as he pointed to the Congress Hotel and talked about Al Capone doing “stuff behind closed doors” and likening Capone to the cool cat that was Davis.
Fallon found his stride when he injected some humor. Before jumping into the three-fist punch that was “Where For Art Thou, Elvis?” into “Meet Me By the River’s Edge” and closing with “The Backseat”, Fallon confessed that his first concert ever was actually Depeche Mode, saying, “I don’t like mayo, but I like Depeche Mode.” People laughed, people applauded, and the rain continued. As if to acknowledge his influences even more, the boys threw in a gentle nod to The Clash (and Fallon’s idol Joe Strummer) by playing a refrain of “Lost in the Supermarket” towards the end of “The Backseat”. On the train back, hours and hours later, someone stated they had checked out the band on a whim, but that they were “definitely buying their fucking album.” That says it all. -M.R.
Bon Iver kicked off the Playstation Stage’s “Night of Sort-of Pretentious Indie Folk!” (okay, that’s my label for it, not theirs). Well, actually, the definitively-not-dead Thax Douglas kicked it off with an entrancing poem about angels and dead skin cells. And, unfortunately, things went sort of downhill from then.
Justin Vernon and co. kept things light and mellow, for the most part; however, light and mellow, combined with a light and clinging rain and a heavily intoxicated crowd who often talked over the music wasn’t the greatest situation for Vernon’s lilt and croon. “Blood Bank” didn’t have its usual driving, shuddering drums. “Skinny Love” suffered from a glut of completely off-key backup singers in the crowd. New song “Brackett, Wisconsin” sounded like perfect background music for a tender moment on “Gilmore Girls”.
“Creature Fear” ended with a surreal feedback freakout, which felt completely out of place.
Before closing out the set, Vernon made sure to give a shout out to his friends: “Enjoy the Fleet Foxes boys, and Andrew Bird. It’s just going to be a pleasant afternoon.” If this was pleasant, I’m sure I’d like something a little different. -A.K.
Vitaminwater: 3:00-4:00 p.m.
Following the heartening and rain soaked set from New Jersey powerhouse act The Gaslight Anthem, Cincinnati, Ohio garage rock quartet Heartless Bastards took the stage. By this time, the rain picked up and drenched the field with caked up layers of mud, slush and dirt for what seemed like miles. Gathering together in the center of the stage, rhythm guitarist/vocalist Erika Wennerstrom put on a decent display of vocal talent and good musicianship. The Bastards’ served as a good toss up between the late ’60’s Allman Brothers and the perennial favorites from England, The Pretenders. At times, Wennerstrom’s vocals hearkened back to iconic frontwoman Chrissy Hynde (oddly enough from Akron, Ohio), and in an odd way she resembled her appearance, as well. For the most part, save for Wennerstrom, the rest of the band musically weren’t much to write home about until roughly halfway through the set when they woke up a bit and started rocking out. Some random guy in the crowd pulled the “I’m-fucked-up-time-to-get-naked” card from the Lollapalooza UNO deck. Sure enough, while the band performed “Valley Of Dupree”, the Naked Guy showed no shame whatsoever in unsheathing down to nothing in the cold, damp rain, moshing with the crowd and dancing with whomever he could stand near. As aforementioned, the Heartless Bastards were decent at best, even amidst sound problems, but the fact that this guy (literally) had balls to spice it up a bit, it’s what makes this show memorable. You have to respect that…I think you have to respect that. -J.Z.
Budweiser: 4:00-5:00 p.m.
Up north at the Budweiser stage, thousands relaxed in the depressed mud and gunk before pulling themselves out to the piano-laden soul-rock of Ben Folds. Umbrellas littered the crowd, everything from neon green to polka dots to even the Disney-endorsed affair. They stayed up, too, as Folds and his hired guns dove head first into the tongue-in-cheek “Bitch Went Nutz” off of last year’s lackluster Way to Normal. Whether they knew the song or were just happy to see the four-eyed piano-fiend, that’s up for discussion, but fists were up in the air and poncho-covered heads bobbled up and down.
The problem with Folds nowadays is that he’s kind of, well, dated. Aside from the “bros”, who can really get behind the seemingly-now-forced cover of “Bitches Ain’t Shit”? Even the band seemed lacked the enthusiasm, punch, and wit necessary to make it “work.” Again, blame the dismal climate conditions, but Folds came off rather remiss. Even anthemic tracks like “Landed” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs” lacked the heart ‘n’ soul that always seem to be there on repeated listens — though the latter could be blamed on the lack of synthesizers or effects, which really do sell the song.
Still, it’s Ben Folds, and while this may not have been a keystone performance (even for the day), he did come through on a few tracks. “Kate” brought soggy festivalgoers to drier days, and surprisingly enough, “Hiroshima” tore down the walls, even if there weren’t any there at the time. Though just when the band found its stride — drummer Sam Smith can become a beast — they came to a close. Quite a shame as during the set’s closer, “Army”, the entire crowd filled in on harmonies to near perfection. Forget the rain, blame the weak set list. Where was “Annie Waits”, “Zak & Sara”, or even the bittersweet “Still Fighting It”? Folds, your discography awaits you…use it. -M.R.
Playstation: 5:00-6:00 p.m.
Where Bon Iver had just fallen flat of their recordings, Fleet Foxes took the Playstation Stage next and pushed a sound far larger and superior to their studio recordings. This didn’t seem like a possibility, though, as vocalist/guitarist Robin Pecknold quietly trod into the center of the stage, looking completely overwhelmed and discussing the fever he apparently woke up with that morning. But the soaring harmonies of “Sun Giant” showed no sign of being overwhelmed or sick. It was kind of sad to hear such a bright, breezy song about the sun that just wouldn’t show up at all.
A few songs into the set, I nearly get kicked in the head by a teenage female crowd-surfer. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Fleet Foxes are probably one of the least crowd-surf-able bands this weekend, but it was attempted nevertheless.
The rollicking, beautiful harmonies and rich musicality made “White Winter Hymnal” the absolute standout of the set, which, I guess, was to be expected from the outset. But, “Mykonos”, off of last year’s serene Sun Giant EP, gave it a run for its money. The dreamy, swirling rock paired with Pecknold’s ethereal vocals and lyrics about a pleasant (there’s that word again!) getaway made for a brief escape from the rain. -A.K.
Peter Bjorn and John
Citi: 6:30-7:30 p.m.
The last time we heard from Peter Bjorn & John at a major United States music festival it was back in March at South by Southwest. If you remember, things didn’t go to smoothly and led many to begin asking if the success of 2006’s Writer’s Block had begun to get to this Swedish outfit’s head. If Friday’s performance at the Citi Stage said anything, the weekend in Austin was nothing more than a small blip in what has otherwise been a pretty flawless career.
Within minutes of its Friday set at the Citi Stage, it became quite evident that the trio was on a mission, having returned to Lollapalooza to followup on a 2007 debut performance that was best described as disastrous — the sound cut out 15 minutes into the set. And while the weather may not have cooperated, the sound sure as hell did. The result was a 45 minute set consisting of both selections from their most recent full-length, Living Thing, and old favorites, including “Young Folks”, “Amsterdam”, and “Up Against The Wall”. It was fun, powerful, downright kick ass, and ultimately, left little doubt that these Swedes are still a force to be reckon with. – A.Y.
Playstation: 7:00-8:15 p.m.
A large portion of the Playstation crowd jumped ship after the impressive set by Fleet Foxes, but a hardcore constituency stuck it out for hometown hero Andrew Bird. After enduring a good bit of “I love you”s and the like (including [no joke] a group of females throwing underpants on stage), Bird and his bandmates were ready to get down to business (and play music, you weirdos). The sublime “Fiery Crash” opened the set on a positive note, complete with plenty of his trademark whistling. “Masterswarm” featured the first use of the iconic functional and esthetically pleasing double-leslie speaker, filling the area with a whirlwind of multi-looped violin. Bird’s excellent touring bassist Mike Lewis also filled in on clarinet and saxophone. The typically impressive violin intro for “Anonanimal” only grew more impressive with tenor sax backing Bird note for note. “Not a Robot, But A Ghost” got an extended ambient outro, including the guitarist (who Bird introduced twice as “Lonesome Jim”) holding a portable radio up to his pickups, producing a distant, echoed noise wash.
“There might be some snacks, later,” Bird hinted before jumping into “Oh No!”, the opening track off this year’s excellent Noble Beast. The latin-tinged pop of “Imitosis” was a huge hit with the laid-back crowd, even producing some dancing. The typically distant(or perhaps embarrassed) Bird even gave back some of the love he was receiving: “You’re important to me” he drawled in that bass-y way that only he could.
The typically middling “Scythian Empires” was quicker, sharper than usual. It really shows that the group has been working together for a while, establishing connections and an understanding of the way the songs worked.
And, what do you know, there were snacks. Well, there was “Tables and Chairs”, off of the sublime Mysterious Production of Eggs, with its endearingly understated chorus of “There will be snacks, there will.” The band powered right through the subtle, complex tune, adding a layer of clarinet to match Bird’s looped violin hook. But this impressive work was quickly eclipsed by a rousing, masterful rendition of “Fake Palindromes”. Bird stood on one leg, kicking the other at the knee like a child telling a long story, violin held aloft as he coyly sang the song’s second chorus. As always, Bird was nothing short of amazing in his musicianship, his engaging lyrics and his impressive, multilayered(in so many senses) performance. This set proved, for those that didn’t already know, that he is a can-not-miss type of performer, something that needs to be seen and never gets stale, instead growing and changing organically with each new day. -A.K.
Kings of Leon
Budweiser: 8:15-10:00 p.m.
Kings of Leon played to a very different Lollapalooza than they’ve played in the past. Instead of the 10 or so fans that Caleb Followill mentioned during the festivals’ traveling days and the mediocre afternoon crowd back in 2007, they played to roughly 40,000 screaming fans as one of this years six headliners opposite the park from Depeche Mode. With a headlining spot, the brothers (plus a cousin) really had a chance dig into their catalog this time around. That’s exactly what they did, as they pulled plenty of songs from all four of their albums, pleasing both avid and casual fans. Caleb mentioned that Chicago is one of his most favorite cities in the world, and he added between some sips, “I’m gonna get drunk tonight.” Something tells me that wasn’t wine up there…
After getting through the sing-a-long “Sex On Fire”, Caleb thanked the crowd again for “making us a bigger band than we really are.” Somewhat of a double edged sword, Caleb isn’t exactly happy with the huge crowds that are showing up to see the Southern rockers as he’s mentioned in multiple interviews with Rolling Stone and Mojo to name a few. After dedicating the show to a girl named Louise (sp?), who the band met during the day, they launched into current single “Use Somebody” only to follow up with a crowd pleasing “Black Thumbnail”, to which Caleb kicked the microphone off the stage. Awesome. – A. Keil
Chicago 2016: 8:00-10:00 p.m.
It’s been a long time since Depeche Mode hit the Second City, and boy does it show. An hour before the English sensation graced the stage — and just as the rain cleared and the skyline lit up — fans arrived by the truck load, camping out and claiming ground with the utmost sincerity. Mountains of sweaty, rain-weathered flesh came together at the front of the Chicago 2016 stage and went back as far as behind the sound tent, and this was at 7:45 p.m. By the time frontman Dave Gahan rattled off the lyrical madness of “In Chains” (off of this year’s Sounds of the Universe), the dedicated fanbase had formed walls and started shoving those attempting to push forward — more often than not, just stragglers who decided too late to catch Depeche.
This brought about some remarkable scenes, that played out even better with Gahan and co.’s accommodating scores. During “Wrong”, another new cut from this year, intimidating and pulsing red lights flashed on and off as zombie-looking drunks stumbled atop the fan club fans. It was chaos, but beautiful, too. As Gahan traipsed around the stage, twirling the microphone stand as if it were as light as a scarf, more and more attemped to push through, only to be butted back out. These weren’t the only spectacles, however. No, as if to top last year’s magnificent light displays (thanks to Radiohead, NIN, and Kanye West), Depeche Mode came prepared.
Throughout each song, surrounding video engulfed the band in one giant digital display. At one point, during Violator‘s classic “Policy of Truth”, gumdrops fell from a bubble, bouncing up and down, left and right, creating this jaw dropping display of candy-coated colors. Oddly enough, they all bounced along perfectly to Andrew Fletcher’s rhythmic basslines. What’s more, during “A Question of Time”, neon pinks and blues accented the stage, while each member had their share of time on-screen. It looked straight out of a music video from 1986, and added to the decadence the band sports with no shame.
What’s remarkable is how tight, crisp, and clean this band sounds. Drummer Christian Eigner is flawless, rivaling the likes of Stewart Copeland, as he throws in fill after fill. And then there’s Martin Gore, the band’s brainchild, who literally adds the glitter to the already overflowing glam this band trademarks. While nowadays Gore shares more looks with Keith Richards than that of the trendy ’80s poster-boy from yesteryear, he still dances and sings like he’s 25. During “Home”, the sparkly guitarist smiled and giggled about when the crowd gave him props. It was nice.
Some other highlights included the hair-raising, head-popping, and hip-breaking performance of “Enjoy the Silence” (no doubt a religious experience for some), the driving tour-de-force behind “Precious”, and naturally, the perfect chart topping closer, “Personal Jesus”, complete with the lifting bassline that could make any geriatric boogie. While there were some tunes amiss (“Waiting for the Night”, anyone?), the set list pleased even the most casual spectator, enough to have them argue and throw water at the more dedicated fans who refused to let them in. That’s the formula for a perfect headliner, and really, that’s exactly what Depeche Mode offered. How nice of them. -M.R.
Photo courtesy Brad Bretz