Monday, August 06, 2007

Lollapalooza Day 3 (Part One): "I Would Thank God, but He Didn't Come on Stage..."

It's funny how seeing a band live totally affects what you think about songs and artists you've heard many times before. I'm back from Chicago--didn't finish this post last night, due to either total exhaustion or dehydration, not sure which. Walsh and I drove home today (actually, he's still driving...all the way back to Dallas tonight), and as I was listening to my Lolla playlist of bands like Ted Leo & The Pharmacists and The Hold Steady and Yo La Tengo, I found myself upgrading their star ratings on the iPod, almost across the board. 3-star songs are now 4; 4-star songs are now 5. Having faces and mannerisms (and displays of ridiculous talent) in my head while listening to a band, I start liking them quite a bit more. Guess that means I like live music, huh? Anyway.

Looking at the schedule when it was initially released, you could tell that Sunday was the money day for Lollapalooza 2007. As is usually the case with festivals, the best stuff was saved for last, and Lolla was no exception...which is good because otherwise folks exhausted from Days 1-2 wouldn't come back, right? No matter what, Sunday was just an unbelievable day of performances from top to bottom.

Amy Winehouse

We got to the park on Sunday even later than our allotted 15-minute tardiness. The subway near Hear No Evil's apartment was insanely packed, and we couldn't fit on the train the first time around. By the time we rolled up, we had already missed Smoosh--three teenage girls from Seattle (sorry, one is pre-teen...born in NINETEEN NINETY-FREAKING-SIX), one of whom apparently raps occasionally. Walsh had heard some of their music and said it was delightful in a novelty sort of way. They released their first album as a duo, She Like Electric, when they were 10 and 12; they are now wisened veterans at the ripe old ages of 13 and 15 (and 11). When Walsh told me about wanting to see them, we had this awkward exchange:

Walsh: They're pretty cool when you realize just how young they were when they made this album.
Me: (long pause) I really hope they're not hot.
Walsh: Yeah, that'd be really weird. Maybe we shouldn't see them.
I probably shouldn't have shared that. Anyway, when we showed up at Grant Park five minutes after their set ended, we had missed out on our chance to say, when in 15 years they're the biggest names in rock music, that we saw them play at Lollapalooza before they could even drive. Oh well. Put that regret right up there next to missing Spoon and Muse on Night Two.

As we approached the park, we could hear Amy Winehouse, who was apparently 10 minutes late to her set as well, belting out some of Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wap (That Thing)" before heading into her own "Back to Black." We found our place in the crowd, and...well, I don't remember much after that because it was just devastatingly hot. The ground was wet from Day Two's rain, and it almost felt like steam rising from the ground. Just disgusting.

Anyway, after seeing Amy Winehouse perform in person, all I can say is, whoever thought to provide her with two huge, dancing male backup singers would be commended. First of all, without their presence, the stage would be devoid of all kinetic energy--Winehouse wiggled her hips a bit but pretty much stood in the same 2-foot radius the entire show. And second of all, without them the stage would be basically empty. She takes up less room than one of the mic stands.

That's not to say Winehouse isn't a strong performer, though. She slurs a bit in the typical R&B fashion (not the "in need of rehab" fashion...well, maybe a little), and she looks at the ground when she sings, but she delivered the goods in Chicago. The set closed with "You Know I'm No Good," "Me & Mr. Jones" (Walsh loved the "You made me miss the Slick Rick gig" line), "Rehab," and "Valerie", quite the foursome.

I also got the added bonus of hearing Hear No Evil say "Jesus Christ!" when she turned her head and her profile revealed just how much hair she has in that beehive. That hair's the only thing keeping her above 80 pounds, I think. Walsh says she'll probably go crazy and shave her head in less than three years. We'll see.

Paolo Nutini

Paolo Nutini is an entirely unique creature. His name sounds Italian, his complexion looks Spanish, and his bio says he's from Scotland. Maybe that's why his accent and cadence are something none of us had ever heard. His music is a bit too "for the ladies" for my tastes (not Enrique Iglesias Level or anything, though), but it was unique enough to keep my attention. He opened with the one song of his I'd heard, "Alloway Grove", a catchy tune with the hook of "However much you want me, I swear I'll make you want me more." He followed with "New Shoes", a song that, as far as I can tell, is his biggest hit in the states. It was decent, but between the growing stink of the mud pit that had formed near where we were standing from Night Two's rain and the fact that there was another act I wanted to catch (not to mention the pad thai calling my name once again), that was about all of Nutini I caught.

I could see this guy hitting it pretty big overall. The ladies find him attractive, and he writes catchy songs. In general, that's a pretty good formula for success.

Apostle of Hustle

On the Playstation Stage, we caught quite a bit of the Canadian group, Apostle of Hustle. I was looking forward to them simply because of their fantastic name. They grew on Walsh and me slowly as the show wore on, breaking into a strange skit about a Pony Express rider and George Bush's head...or something like that, and honestly I was intrigued by the weird variety in their music, but it was hard to come up with an opinion of such a weird band in the 20 or so minutes we saw them. They might have to be an emusic download or something.

Iggy and the Stooges

Ten minutes into The Stooges' set, they had already obliterated Walsh's eardrums (it only took one note), set fire to early songs like "Loose" and "1969", and Iggy had already humped an amp and announced "We are...the f---ing...Stooges." They didn't waste time making an impression.

On the drive up to Chicago, I mentioned to Walsh that I was very impressed with how well The Stooges' early albums had aged over the years. Well, when performed live, it sounds like it was written yesterday (other than the fact that it's talking about 1969, 1970, et cetera). With Mike Watt of the Minutemen on bass, Ron Asheton on guitar, and Scott Asheton on drums (with a cameo from saxophonist Steve Mackay), The Stooges sounded amazing. They laid down the groove and let Iggy be Iggy.

And oh, was Iggy Iggy. Jumping on amps, executing his only-slightly-more-varied-than-Beatle-Bob's dance moves, high fiving the crowd, et cetera. He was in rare form ( might not have been rare at all), but I at least hope he warned the band before inviting half the crowd up on stage. During "No Fun", he decided it was no fun to be alone and opened the gates. At least 100 members of the crowd flooded the stage, and chaos reigned. No way was this ending well. After "No Fun," the band escaped to the back of the stage, and somehow everybody left in a more-or-less orderly fashion as Iggy emceed the proceedings, thanking almost everyone ("I would thank God, but he didn't come on stage...").

And then the band rolled on, closing with "1970," an amazing "Fun House," and "Skull King." I couldn't have been more impressed, though the volume almost left me dizzy a couple times. Iggy is as nuts as I could have possibly imagined, but these guys put on a frickin' show.

Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo followed across the field from the Stooges, an odd transition considering this band looks like they belong as much on the Kidzapalooza stage or at a Bar Mistvah than on the Adidas stage. Oh, but they can rock. Every song sounds totally different, pulled together only by the falsetto and the gorgeous ringing organ serving as an undercurrent. All the band's qualities and talents were on display during the epic "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" (the fact that the 10+ minute version of this song was the opener for their last album, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, tells you everything you need to know about this creative, interesting band) and the amusing, double-falsetto "Mr. Tough." The band's put out about 75 albums (okay, 16) since their 1986 formation, and I'm thinking I'll be hopping on emusic to pick up a few more.


A very aptly-titled band, as every lyric I heard from the singer was basically "!!!" They're an exciteable bunch, though I can't say I heard enough to make an impression beyond that.

My Morning Jacket

As a band, you hope to improve with each recording. In your wildest dreams, you can barely hope to make the album-to-album leap of My Morning Jacket and the songwriting of Jim James. Hear No Evil had only heard 2001's At Dawn leading up to Lolla and couldn't really figure out why I'd been giddy all weekend about seeing this group. He actually stuck around to watch most of the apparently lackluster Modest Mouse set before catching the last few songs and figuring everything out.

While At Dawn and its predecessor The Tennessee Fire are decent listens, the quantum leap from those two to It Still Moves to the unparalleled Z is the biggest album-to-album-to-album leap since Radiohead going from Pablo Honey to The Bends to OK Computer. This band has always been good live (or so the live recordings tell me), but not surprisingly, when you have much better songs to perform, you become a much better performer.

In other words, MMJ blew my mind. Leading off with three tracks from Z--"Anytime," "What a Wonderful Man," and "Off the Record"--they put on a display of enthusiasm, talent, and unrivaled team chemistry. Jim James throws himself around the stage (at one point, he did an almost Chuck Berry-like slide across the stage on his knees), and the others aren't any less boisterous.

After three songs, MMJ introduced a special guest: the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. They knocked out "Gideon," "Wordless Chorus" (my personal favorite), and "Dancefloors", almost overpowering the CYSO at times with their already-full live sound. However, it was on "Just One Thing" and "Golden" when the harmony between the band and youths (my buddy Joe: "All those kids up there are first-chair band nerds, but right now they're way cooler than I'll ever be.") kicked in. The rawkus performance continued with "Lay Low," "One Big Holiday," and "Run Thru," and I thought that was going to be it for them. Only they did something every other band visiting Chicago should be required to do: they finished with a Curtis Mayfield cover. As if they didn't already have my heart. The CYSO was loud and clear playing the main hook to "Move On Up," an absolutely perfect close to the show. Not surprisingly, they ran over a bit (though as my buddy Joe said, "you wouldnt ask a top chef to cook your filet well done and you dont ask MMJ to play for only 60 minutes"), but it was well worth it...for everybody not involved with TV on the Radio anyway.

TV on the Radio

For some reason, all sets on Sunday started at :15 after the hour instead of :00. This became pretty silly when TV on the Radio was given a 45-minute set (7:15 to 8:00) instead of the hour that everybody else on the main stages were given. Plus, unlike other acts throughout the day, they couldn't bleed over their limit by a few minutes because they were preceding the festival's closer, Pearl Jam. They had to cut it off right at 8:00.

In other words, when MMJ bled over by 6 minutes or so, TVOTR's set was cut to about 39 minutes long. Very unfortunate. Also unfortunate was the fact that I couldn't hear them very well because there were so many people in the crowd by this point that we were pretty much stuck where we'd been for MMJ, about two softball fields away. I did hear enough, however, to answer the major question that had been stuck in my head for a while: how in the hell does TVOTR duplicate their studio sound on stage? It's got so many different parts to it, and there are so many industrial sounds, that I couldn't figure it out.

The answer? They don't try to duplicate that sound. They create a new one. They don't bring 1,000 different instruments with them on stage (though they've got quite a few), they just locate the essence of the song and figure out how to duplicate that with the typical indie band setup. The reworked versions of songs like "The Wrong Way" and "Dreams" were perfect, and in a completely different way than I'd imagined.

Pearl Jam

For now, I'm going to skip Pearl Jam's performance. That's a post to itself. If they weren't before, they are certainly now the most important band of my generation.

Anyway, for now...a quick rundown of Day Three.

Biggest surprise: Honestly, it was probably the musical punch of The Stooges. Iggy lived up to all expectations (and then some), but the guitar-bass combination of the incomparable Mike Watt and the Asheton brothers just dominated...they made those 40-year old songs sound like they were written today. Plus they managed to play competently with 200 fans on the stage. Much respect to The Stooges.

Best beard: We'll go with Jim James of My Morning Jacket.

Best cover: We'll go with was predictable (Pearl Jam's "Rockin' in the Free World", which I will discuss at length tomorrow) and one was very much not (MMJ's "Move On Up").

Best T-shirt: A male of obvious Indian complexion wearing a shirt that said "No, I will not fix your computer." I giggled about that all night. Runner-up: "PC Load Letter??" You either don't get that shirt at all, or you think it's genius.

Most Frustrating Part of Lollapalooza: I was going to say the oppressive humidity of Chicago in August, then I was going to say the random people throwing empty bottles and glow sticks in the crowd, but hey...the festival's over now. No need to complain about anything.

Number of Mizzou Shirts in the Crowd: 2. One a generic gray T-shirt, and one mid-'90s #33 basketball jersey (Mizzou hero Kelly Thames). That was fantastic to see.

Top Three Acts of Day Three: When The Stooges ended, I thought "Wow...MMJ and Pearl Jam have their work cut out for them if they want to snag the #1 spot." When MMJ ended, I thought "Wow...Pearl Jam has their work cut out for them if they want to snag the #1 spot." Yeah, Pearl Jam came through, as you'll see tomorrow. 1) Pearl Jam, 2) My Morning Jacket, 3) Iggy & The Stooges.

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