Sunday, August 05, 2007

Lollapalooza Day 2: Weather, T-shirts, and It's Just Not Fair...

Two days into Lollapalooza, I know three things for sure: 1) the first thing to cramp up when you're out of concert shape and you've seen 12 bands in 26 hours is your right calf, 2) it's going to be disgustingly humid today, and 3) it's not fair for anybody to have to follow The Roots. It's just not. It sprinkled on and off for most of the shows we attended on Day Two, negatively affecting the overall number of bands we saw, but not the performances of the bands themselves. Whereas Day One was dominated by a theme of political anger and action, Day Two was simply the day for fantastic music interspersed amongst raindrops.

Tapes 'n Tapes

As will apparently have been our custom all weekend, we showed up about 10-15 minutes into the set of the first band we wanted to see. But I dare say we didn't miss much showing up late for Minneapolis' Tapes 'n Tapes...and not because it wasn't worth seeing. Quite the contrary. It's just that, as we made our way to the Myspace stage, they began their masterpiece from 2006's The Loon, "10 Dollar Ascots," a quiet-loud-quiet-loud song where lead singer Josh Grier ranges from The Shins' James Mercer to Kurt Cobain in one quick step. I don't know how their set started, but this was the perfect way to start the part that I saw. After a tuning break that saw Grier lecture us motherly on reapplying sunscreen "even on an overcast's like when you go skiing and it's cloudy all day, and then you get back to the hotel and you look like a tomato," T'nT plowed through a set featuring both songs from The Loon and new, as-yet-unreleased songs that I really enjoyed. They had witty banter and a great stage presence, and they aren't afraid to experiment in their music.

In the abbreviated set that we saw, Matt Kretzman played everything from tambourine to keys to baritone (the fastest way to my heart: feature a multi-instrumentalist in your band...oh, and cover Curtis Mayfield), and they varied the tones from the rocking "Ascots" to the toned-down, baritone-laden "Omaha". In all, color me impressed. I really enjoyed The Loon, but I wasn't sure it would translate to a solid live show. It did.

Kevin Michael

As we were walking from the Kevin Michael set over to the Playstation Stage to watch Sam Roberts Band, Walsh and I came to an agreement: a) Kevin Michael can sing his ass off, b) he has no idea how to write a song yet, c) he showed that having a 'fro doesn't automatically equal greatness, d) if he's 20-21 years old, he's got a bright future ahead of him, and e) if he's 29-30 years old, he's screwed.

The verdict? He's 22. There's still hope. Dude really can sing.

Sam Roberts Band

As we were walking down Jackson Street toward the park, Walsh, Hear No Evil, HNE's girlfriend, and I were reviewing our plan of action for the day. I mentioned that I was thinking about checking out the Sam Roberts Band because I'd heard good things...even though I couldn't remember where I'd heard good things. A 16-year old female walking by responded with the following: "OHMIGOD, YOU HAVE TO SEE THEM...THEY'RE SOOOOOO GOOD...YOU'LL LOVE THEM...PROMISE ME YOU'LL SEE THEM...OHMIGOD, THEY'RE SOOOOOO GOOD." So we had to go see them. After all, if 16-year old girls like them, how can they be bad? Oh wait...

To our surprise, the girls were right! The pride of Montreal, Quebec, didn't let us down. They had an overtly enthusiastic audience (complete with Canadian flags), a strong, radio-friendly rock sound, and Beatle Bob in their corner. Which reminds great as Beatle Bob is, his repertoire really only consists of four major moves and an occasional fifth: 1) shake the marimbas, 2) right cross, 3) left hook, 4) occasional kick with the right foot, and 5) the twist, saved for special occasions. I guess it's a sign of his sheer genius that he achieves greatness with a limited repertoire. He's like The Ramones of revered old fans who get to dance onstage whenever they want.

Anyway, at the end, after a set highlighted by songs like "The Resistance" and "Dead End", Beatle Bob took the mic and reached an agreement with the crowd that SRB should be invited back to every Lollapalooza between now and the end of time. Consider it done!

Stephen Marley

One hour of "Hey, wasn't my dad frickin' awesome?!" He completed the best Bob Marley cover set I've ever heard, but...yeah, I hoped he'd bring more to the table other than strong covers of "Iron Lion Zion" and "Could You Be Loved" (among about 18 other Bob covers). Oh well.


After a quick lunch--word has spread about the fantastic food at the Star of Siam booth, by the way...there were a good 12-15 people standing in line between me and the tempura chicken & vegetables that awaited--we weren't sure which act we were going to check out while killing time for the 4:30 Roots performance. I saw horns soundchecking on the stage that was to hold Rhymefest, and I was totally sold. Hip hop + horns? Are you freaking kidding me? That's like crack to me. It didn't stop at the horns--he had a full band, breakdancers, a hype man (I can't wait for the day that rock music begins to incorporate the hype man...the sky's the limit), he crowd-surfed, the audience was fantastic (Rhymefest's a Chicago guy, and there were plenty of familiar faces in the crowd), the band broke out Zeppelin and James Brown riffs...

...and yet it wasn't as good overall as I thought it would be. No matter what else you've got going for you--and this guy had a lot--your songs still have to be top-notch. Dude's head is in the right place, though...and he's somebody worth keeping track of.

Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9)

The Bee Gees for the 21st Century. Okay, that's not fair. It's just not my thing.

The Roots

Some bands just know what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter whether they have a 30-minute slot or three full hours, you know what you’re getting from them, and when the show’s over, you’re going to know all about what they have to offer. The next two Lolla bands we saw—The Roots and The Hold Steady—fall directly into this category. Fans of some bands come to a show thinking, “I hope they play (a specific song).” But that’s not the case for these two bands. Their shows are more like paintings—no specific memories of the process, just one singular, outstanding memory of the show as a whole.

In 2002, as I’ve mentioned before, I attended a Smokin’ Grooves Tour stop at Nissan Pavilion outside DC. The tour had a stellar lineup—Jurassic 5, Lauryn Hill, Outkast—but The Roots outshone everybody, and they do so at every given opportunity. Halfway through the band’s set, my girlfriend-at-the-time turned to me and said, “I had no idea!” I don’t even remember what song they were playing at the time, and I’m sure she couldn’t tell you either. It was just that, after 30-45 minutes of hearing them perform, her amazement overflowed.

The Roots were the single band that sold Walsh on coming (granted, he said okay to going to Chicago before actually knowing why he was going--he's just that cool--but The Roots actually got him excited about it), and they almost managed to exceed his lofty expectations. It's just really not fair what they bring to the table. It's one thing to be the best live hip hop band in the world, it's another to have basically the best drummer, best keyboardist, best horn section (with sousaphone!), best bass player, and even best guitarist at the festival. It's just an impossible act to follow.

Starting with a drum-and-vocals only version of "Web", lyrically one of Black Thought's best efforts, and rolling through a chaotic "Here I Come", the band then introduced one of the more crowd-pleasing aspects of a Roots Show--the random covers. It assures that even if you don't know a single Roots song, you're going to recognize something, and you're guaranteed to enjoy yourself. First up on the random covers list? A nice "Ironman" riff.

A killer version of "Star", one of the funkier cuts from The Tipping Point, followed, before the band went back in time with Do You Want More?!!!??!'s "Mellow My Man", breaking it down into a big jazz mess before bringing it back.

At this point, about halfway through their allotted hour, they broke out the cover medley and won over any lingering hold outs. Everything from "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" to Talib Kweli's "Get By" (which was a bit of tease because I thought Kweli might actually be making a guest appearance...alas, no) to Biz Markie to O.D.B. (that one made Walsh giddy) was fair game, and considering this band can take anything and make it sound like they've rehearsed it 250,000 times (maybe they actually have), they owned every song.

Having an all-encompassing live reputation and not an audience dying to hear the latest single does mean one does thing: you’re probably not on the radio much. This is definitely the case with these two bands. The Roots have been critcial favorites for a decade now, yet their most successful single came almost a decade ago, when Things Fall Apart’s “You Got Me” reached #39 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their relationship with Geffen Records became strained when nothing on 2002’s amazing Phrenology or 2004’s The Tipping Point came anywhere near that level of success. Live reputations don’t matter to record labels if that doesn’t translate into album sales, after all.

However, their tight relationship with Jay-Z paid off with a switch to Def Jam for 2006’s Game Theory. Jay-Z told them not to focus on radio play--just to focus on being the best band in the world. This is probably a good thing because even their biggest hit, “You Got Me,” isn’t given the hit treatment at shows. If you've heard versions from The Roots Come Alive or the soundtrack from Chappelle's Block Party, you know that they'll sometimes bring out a Jill Scott or Erykah Badu and take it into some strange, jazzy places. No guests on this set--Captain Kirk OWNED this song. He sang the female part and ripped off the best solo of the festival to date. Kirk has seemingly become a bigger and bigger part of the Roots' live act with each progressing year, and he absolutely dominated. He's a master of rock, R&B, and gospel, and with The Roots he gets the space to show off his entire repertoire.

"You Got Me" turned into my favorite Roots song, Phrenology's "The Seed"--once again owned by Captain Kirk--and the set came to a close with an R&B jam that allowed each band member to show off on the way off the stage. Not only was it unfair to other bands who had to follow The Roots, it was unfair that I only got an hour of them. They should have been headlining the night--that would have solved both problems.

The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady has been on the radio far less than The Roots, but they're starting to build the same type of live reputation. And they're so unbelievably grateful for it. You can just tell that these guys--all seemingly music dorks in their mid-30s--can't believe their luck at finding this life and career. Most of the fans near the Myspace stage knew all the words to all the songs, and Craig Finn (in his jersey of Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, of all people) was having such a great time with them. After a wonderful rock set (we missed the first 15 minutes getting across the park after The Roots), Finn talked to the crowd during the closer, "Killer Parties," thanked them for coming and almost welled up in disbelief over his good fortune when talking about how they're opening for the Stones later this month. "There's so much joy in what we do." Amen to that. You see one Hold Steady show, and you're hooked, both musically and emotionally.

Another emotional connection came when Finn pointed out how they're from Minnesota, and seemingly every other song has a reference to the Mississippi River. He gave a genuine display of sympathy and condolences to those who'd suffered due to last week's bridge collapse.

Oh, and for Michael Atchison, here's the set we saw: Party Pit, Hot Soft Light, Stevie Nix (my personal the "You remind me of Rod Stewart when he was young/You've got passion, you think you're sexy, and all the punks think you're dumb" lyric), You Can Make Him Like You, Your Little Hoodrat Friend, Southtown Girls, How a Resurrection Really Feels, Killer Parties.

Yeah Yeah Yeah's

They're another band on Rolling Stone's "Top Live Acts" list, and after seeing them live, I think I get it. The music's not really for me--and the glowing Perry Farrell introduction didn't do anything to sway me (Thanks for the festival, Perry, but I don't really think we have the same tastes). Then again, The Roots might have just destroyed my ability to appreciate anybody new. Either way, Karen O. owns the stage. The fishnets, the masks, the's pretty easy to see how some folks get pretty captivated.

After the YYY's set we met up with Hear No Evil and HNE's girlfriend to determine how the rest of the evening would shake down. There was more rain (supposedly) on the way, and we had a decision to matter what, we'd make the wrong one. We decided to skip out on Spoon and Muse (despite the fabulous live reputation Muse has been building), and of never did rain hard. And of course...a friend of the group met up later and raved about how amazing and "almost Radiohead-like" Muse was. Sigh.

And now, a quick rundown of Day Two (coming directly after the long rundown of Day Two):

Biggest surprise: Honestly, the joy in Craig Finn's face. Can't overstate how happy they are to be where they are.

Best beard: Nobody (on-stage, at least) had a dominant beard--Tapes 'n Tapes' Josh Grier, Sam Roberts, and The Roots' Black Thought all have beards, but they're too well-groomed to qualify as a killer beard, so I'm changing this category to...

Best T-shirt: Fans bring their T-shirt 'A' games to music festivals. A retro "Bo Don't Know Diddley" shirt, a nice "Suits Suck," a creative "Paul Pozsluzny Poops His Pants" or "F--- Michigan", or maybe just a shirt of the band you're most wanting to see (we saw quite a few Sam Roberts shirts, but Daft Punk has the most loyal shirt-buying fans by far...and the highest percentage of fan mohawks, as well, but that's a separate story) get a nice variety. I have no 'A' game, which is why I showed up with just a random smattering of shirts from which to choose (though I am breaking out my "Kansas City Loves the Royals: Share the Wealth" shirt today...that should make Walsh sufficiently giddy and get him to forgive me for the Kurt Warner reference on Thursday).

Anyway, I have to give Saturday's award to the dude wearing the "Make Awkward Sexual Advances, Not War" shirt. Kudos.

Best cover: Not a lot of covers today, so I'll have to choose one of The Roots' 18 mini-covers. We'll go with ODB's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya."

Most Frustrating Part of Lollapalooza: Who thought it was a good idea to put Regina Spektor on right after The Roots? And who told her it was a good idea to do an almost entirely piano-and-vocals set at a festival? Just wondering. Didn't work.

Number of Mizzou Shirts in the Crowd: 1, but the dude made it count--it was a full-on Brad Smith #16 jersey. Oh yeah.

Top Three Acts of Day Two: As if you couldn't tell...1) The Roots, 2) The Hold Steady, 3T) Sam Roberts Band and Tapes 'n Tapes.

And finally, Walsh's Lolla Beard:

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