Monday, August 10, 2009

Lollapalooza 2009 - Day 1

The 2009 Lollapalooza weekend kicked off on Friday, and unfortunately the weather was going to be the key issue of the weekend. Friday rain was predicted all day long, then Saturday and Sunday were looking at very bad heat, the worst we've had in a very mild summer. So with plenty of preparation (a poncho on Friday and plenty of bottled water the other days), the weekend was off and running.

The weather predictions were dead on as I got there on Friday, but I headed straight for the stage that would host one of my first anticipated sets of the weekend, but Atlanta's Manchester Orchestra. The band is touring on their outstanding album from this year, "Mean Everything to Nothing," and gave the rain-soaked crowd a great welcome with a solid set of anthems like "Shake It Out," "I've Got Friends," "Everything to Nothing," and the powerful closer "The River." They were definitely a great highlight of the weekend, and they were just the first band I saw.

Next was the first of three fantastic Robinsons Rib Sandwiches, and a trek all the way across the festival grounds to the largest stage on the south end of the park for another very anticiapted set by New Jersey's Gaslight Anthem. Their 2008 release "The '59 Sound" proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the year, coming out of nowhere to deliver a solid set of Springsteen flavored anthems.

The band did not disappoint, despite the rain coming down even harder than before in the day. They plowed through the majority of the album, even playing their singles "The '59 Sound" and "Great Expectations," which is pretty brave for a young band to not close with them. They threw out salutes to some of their heroes like Elvis Costello and the Clash, and closed the powerful set with the album closer "The Backseat," proving they are definitely the real deal, and we'll be hearing much more from them in the future.

My friend Brian and I then walked quickly through the rain back to the far north end to try and catch as much of the set by cheesehead band Bon Iver as possible. Bon Iver's fanstatic 2008 album "For Emma, Forever Ago" did not make my best of 2008 list only because I couldn't find it cheap anywhere, but once I got it, I have not stopped listening to it. It's a gorgeous acoustic record that's as close to you get to peeking into someone's diary as you can without doing it.

For once Brian and I were lucky that the Chicago "poet" Thax Douglas read one of his "poems" before they started, so that delayed them enough so that we could get there when they started. For those of you outside of Chicago, Douglas goes on before bands, does a "poem" named after the band, and then does a "poem" that has the exact same meter and meaningless jumble of words that all sound identical, and yet he gets applause and gets to keep doing it. I don't quite understand.

Bon Iver proved they could pull off the delicate album live, beefing up some of the songs with electric guitars and two percusionists. Main man Justin Vernon's high croon was clear and powerful live, despite yet another strong round of rain dampening their set. Songs like "Skinny Love," "For Emma," and "Re: Stacks" worked well even in the large outdoor setting, and "The Wolves" even ended with a surprising drum solo.

Thankfully it was a short walk to the next stage to see Ben Folds. His piano rock was hopefully going to be a good antidote to the hours of rain we'd been standing through, and thankfully it was. He and his band cranked through a great set, with standouts like "Effington," "Rockin' the Suburbs" and his hillarious cover of NWA's "Bitches Ain't Shit" working pefectly in a festival setting.

Since he only had an hour, his setlist was pretty limited, skipping great songs like "Not the Same" and his biggest hit "Brick" in favor of other upbeat tracks. He did throw in a couple of nuggets for fans of his Ben Folds Five days, with "Kate" and the closer "Army."

Once again, we thankfully just had to turn around to see the next set by Fleet Foxes. Their gorgeous debut album was another of my favorites from 2008, but the rain was still pouring down and had turned the lawn into a giant mash of mud and grass and garbage. Too appreciate Fleet Foxes the best, you need to be able to sprawl out on the lawn and let the sun beat down on you and soak it all in, but the gloomy weather wasn't making that an option on Friday.

Instead, we decided to head to the south stages to catch some of the set by Crystal Castles. I've only heard one or two of their songs, but what I know of them is that the shows usually end in some sort of disaster or another, so it was worth seeing something risky compared to the calmer, more mellower stuff we were seeing to that point. We caught about 20 minutes of their set, and about half of that time was spent with them either fixing technical issues, or with their lead singer picking a fight or yelling at some audience member or someone. I read that I guess someone tried grabbing her microphone while she was diving in the crowd, no idea. The last song pretty much sounded like her mic was off anyways, so I have no idea.

The day for me had pretty much peaked by that point. After a dinner break, we watched a few minutes of Peter, Bjorn and John, who despite having some really great poppy songs, just don't interest me live. We also heard some of the Decemberists while we were making our way to the north end of things, and I still don't undrestand why critics love them so much, I just don't connect with them.

Next up was Chicagoan Andrew Bird, who somehow got the plum hour plus set leading up the night's closer. His whimsical, dare I say artsy-fartsy, violin based songs were fine, but they got repetetive and indistinguishable from one another by 3 songs in, especially when half of them had whistling mixed in throughout.

I decided at that point to wander over to the new and improved DJ tent that Perry Farrell had set up this year to watch some of Simain Mobile Disco. The area was really well done, it was much more elaborate than in years past, and provided a good spot to relax on the grass. It also provided a spot to hear the same thumping beat repeated for a good 20 minutes or so, so I didn't spend too much time there.

Last up for the night for me was Kings of Leon. I really love the band on album, they really have some fantastic songs, and I think they have moved on well to making big stadium anthem type songs like "Sex On Fire" and "Use Somebody" from their days as a southern stomping rock band. The problem is, despite how great they are on record, they are a bit of a bore live. The band members barely move, if at all, while performing the songs, and there wasn't much else going on visually to help them out.

I did stick around for half of their set, they did sound good and all, but it wasn't enough to hold my interest. I knew I had two very long days ahead, with intense heat to boot, so I called it a night and headed home.

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