I thankfully was able to get in a few hours of sleep Sunday night, even though I got home around 2:15 from the Double Door show. Mercifully, Bella again slept until 8:30 or so, so that was fantastic, but she again took off her diaper during the night, so this is a fun new trend we'll get to deal with.
I once again hopped on the train, and despite not needing to be there til 1:15, got there around noon once again. The forecast predicted that it was going to be a bit warmer than the day before, so the plan of the day was to see who I needed to see, then duck in the shade for as long as possible the rest of the day.
I figured I might as well start the day off right, so I went and picked up another Robinson's rib sandwich for lunch. No offense to the other vendors on site, but nothing else can compete with those sandwiches! I tried getting to Lolla early enough to catch the set by Chicago's great band Office, but sadly they were done by the time I managed to walk around all of the police barricades to get inside (as you may have read, things got a little crazy at the Rage Against the Machine show the night before as expected).
I then wandered over to one of the smaller stages to check out Wild Sweet Orange, a band I've never heard of before. They were good for a warm up for the day, pretty straightforward lighter rock, nothing too offensive or anything. I then headed to the south side of the grounds once again to brave it out in the early day sun to see one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend.
I got a great spot near the stage for one of the best new bands of the year, the Whigs. Their sound brings back memories of great 80's and 90's indie rock bands like The Replacements and Buffalo Tom, and their live energy definintely proved they are a band to watch in the next few years. Their drummer, Julian Dorio, was worth watching by himself. If Animal from the Muppet Show and Seth Green had a child, he would look like Julian, and would play the drums just as well. Lead singer Parker Gispert was a great performer as well, reminiscent of Ryan Adams when he isn't throwing hissy fits. The band braved playing a sweaty set directly into the blazing sun, closing with a solid version of Right Hand on My Heart, which you can download here for free.
After getting nasty sweaty during the Whigs set, I headed over to the smaller stage nearby to watch Nicole Atkins and the Sea, who were basically a last minute pick because a) their stage is nearly covered in shade, b), the description I read made her sound like a good contrast to everything else I had been seeing all weekend, and c) the photo of her was hot. What can I say, I am a man, I am weak. Thankfully, it turned out to be a really good choice. Atkins, a Jersey native like my loving wife (who I have to score brownie points with now), has a great voice and good stage presence, led her band through a good set of mid-tempo rockers that were a great soundtrack for a rest in the shade. I'd definitely see her play again live, so she was one of the few discoveries of the weekend for me.
After Atkins' set, there was a pretty big lull for a while with no one interesting for me to check out. Brian and I did check out Chromeo, a jokey dance band whose claim to fame is that they are the only successful Arab/Jew collaboration in history, but that joke is about as enjoyable as they got. The crowd was enjoying their goofy dance music, but I had enough after about 2 songs.
I headed back to the north end of the park again and checked out what I could along the way. I watched a few songs by Newton Falkner, who is being heralded for being a guitar master despite being barely in his 20's, but I didn't hear anything that pulled me in, even including his solo acoustic cover of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Thankfully, there were plastic lawn chairs near his set, that was enough of a reason to have me stick around for a bit.
Brian and I met up again and found a spot on the north lawn to rest and listen to Iron & Wine. Thankfully, the sun was blocked a bit more by some merciful clouds by this point, so that was a saving grace. Iron & Wine are a band that are tailor made for an outdoor festival, since their ultra mellow mostly acoustic songs are the perfect soundtrack for a mean game of hackey sack, which there were more of than Obama shirts at the time. The band mainly stuck to songs from last year's great album The Shepherd's Dog, so that definitely helped. It all began to sound a bit repetitive after a while, so that was our cue to go grab yet another rib sandwich, and head back towards the south end to get ready for the big wrap up to the weekend.
We headed to the smaller Citi stage once again, and first watched the second half of the set by rapper/actor Saul Williams. He put on a great energetic and frenetic set, and the production of Trent Reznor was noticeable in the newer songs he played (most in attendance were hoping for an appearance by Trent as well during the set, but that never came to be). The only slip in the set came when he let some friend of his do a "rap" (it pretty much sounded like the guy screaming off key for about 2 minutes), but Williams made up for it with an impassioned speech to get the crowd to change the world and make it a better place themselves.
The sizeable crowd at the small stage got significantly more massive after Williams had finished, since another of the most anticipated sets of the weekend followed him. Next up was Girl Talk, basically just one guy, Greg Gillis, with a laptop, but whose live shows become much much more than that. His shows usually end up having the stage completely filled with audience members dancing along, while Gillis usually ends up stripping half of his clothes.
I was anxious to see how he'd pull off his mashup song compositions live, since I absolutely love his new album Feed the Animals, which I have discussed before. Despite the heavy security, the set turned into one of his usual shows, with the stage immediately being jam packed with dancers, while his assitants used guns shooting toilet paper all over the crowd and weilded giant balloons shaped like G and T. It was a lot of fun, he did throw some surprises in here and there (including mixing a rap over Weezer's Say It Ain't So), but I think it's something I'd really need to see in a smaller club to really get into it.
We had to bail on Girl Talk's set early though, since we wanted to be sure we caught the entire set by The National, taking place as the opened to Nine Inch Nails on the north end of the field. We figured we were making a sacrifice since we really wanted to see the National, but it turned out to be the best decision of the weekend.
I've written before that their album from last year, Boxer, was one of my favorites, and their performance at the Vic last year was my favorite of the year, so I should have had higher hopes for their set. For some reason, I thought their mostly downbeat music would be overwhelmed by everything else going on in the weekend, and that they would just be a filler til NIN hit the stage. The opposite turned out to be true.
The band mixed material from Boxer and the previous great album, Alligator. Frontman Matt Barringer again proved to be one of the great young lead singers in rock right now. His low baritone and tales of his drunken exploits remind me of a young Tom Waits, but instead of playing the piano tramp, he fronts a band in the vein of early U2 or Springsteen.
I expected the crowd to be indifferent toward them, but they immediately ate up their set and were even clapping along to songs like Start a War. The band only had 45 minutes to play, so they crammed the set with their best material, such as Ada and Squallor Victoria. When your band is capable of playing an amazing and powerful song like Abel (with Berringer screaming the chorus "My mind's not right/My mind's not right" as though his life depends on it) in the middle of your set, you know you have a great thing going.
After a fantastic version of The Apartment Song, Berringer took a moment to close out the set by dedicating the last song to "someone, someone who is definintely not John McCain." Considering that the band were selling shirts witih Obama's image on it with the song title Mr. November under it (with the proceeds going to Obama's election fund), you can guess who he meant. The band tore into the song, with Berringer screaming the chorus "I won't f-ck us over/I'm Mr. November/I'm Mr. November/I won't f-ck us over" while bravely stomping across the planters in front of the stage, nearly hurling himself into the ecstatic audience. It was truly a fantastic set, rivaling Broken Social Scene's incredible stage closing performance in 2006, and taking the title of the best performance of the weekend.
I would have been perfectly content to call it a weekend at that point, but directly on the other side of the field, Nine Inch Nails were ready to take over where the National had just finished. To me, this was like eating a meal at one of those Brazillian steakhouses like Fago de Chao, where they keep feeding you spectacular cuts of meat until you literally tell them to stop.
Despite cancelling their show in Minneapoils just the night before, NIN were in fierce form and immediately tore into new songs from their latest album, the Slip. Trent Reznor was the great showman as always, bringing an amazing light and video show with him to back up the band's powerful as ever performance. They sprinkled in some of the hits early in the set (including Closer very early on), and then took a break halfway through the set to perform some of the instrumental tracks from the Ghost cd's they released early in the year.
After that break, the band tore into my favorite track, Wish, and didn't let up from there. They had an LED curtain that came down in front of them during some parts of the show, and was particularly amazing during Only. The band had a grey static field behind them, and the LED screen also was a grey field as well, so you couldn't see them during the set, but when Trent walked and touched the screen, he was surrounded by a black hole in the field that followed where he touched. Hard to describe, but amazing to see.
It turns out that the reason for the Minneapolis cancellation was Trent's voice, which we only found out he was having problems with when he did a brief introduction just before Hurt in the encore. It didn't even matter, since the band put on another of the best sets of the weekend.
It was a really amazing weekend, worth every dollar I spent on the ticket. Brian posted some of his photos from the weekend here (Friday), here (Saturday) and here (Sunday), you should check them out since he's a much better photographer than I am. I bought my ticket for this year's event before any of the lineup was announced, and I will happily be doing that again next year as well.