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September 14, 2006

Lolla’s big acts lack bang, but festival lives up to hype

This year’s Lollapalooza festival certainly lived up to its name, proving that the big bang theory of celebration is alive and kicking in Chicago. Grant Park detonated with an explosion of music that shook the city skyline from August 4 through 6. Fireworks? Who needs them? This full-service music buffet proved that there are a lot of people who love to rock to awesome music while dancing semi-naked in the blistering sun.

The kaleidoscopic impact of this multi-band musical bash was enhanced for many festival goers with intoxicants that ranged from the mild to the mindless. This wild celebration held in the heart of one of the most musical cities in the world might have lacked the outright nudity of some festivals, but the sizzling young people who flocked to Lollapalooza weren’t at all shy about showing off some skin. And really, who could blame them? Aside from the impressive eye candy in the audience, the lineup was a radio-listener’s dream come true. This year’s bands were diverse—including Latin hip-hop stars Manu Chao, the astonishing Kanye West and Common, as well as indie stars the Shins.

The far-and-away breakout of this year’s Lollapalooza were Gnarls Barkley. Their catchy beats, personal lyrics, and incredible sense of timing blew the crowd away. Even those in the audience who had only heard their overplayed song “Crazy” found themselves singing and clapping along with their other songs. It was a performance unrivaled even by the biggest names of the weekend.

Notable mentions go to several other artists though—Common played a strong set and managed to get lots of people to their feet who probably would have never attended a Common concert otherwise. Sleater-Kinney played an amazing show that proved that they should not break up—no matter their differences. Oh, well. Finally, Manu Chao was a solid second behind Gnarls Barkley for best show of Lollapalooza. They had the most energized crowd of any of the shows I saw, and while people were abandoning Kanye’s show early, no one left Manu until the very end. They played a high-energy set with incredible beats and songs that were fun to rock out to. Despite their being the last show of the day and the fact that many of the festivalgoers were tired and cranky, everyone was on their feet for Manu—a feat worth mentioning.

The biggest “headliners” were generally disappointing. On Friday night, Death Cab for Cutie drew a large crowd of high-schoolers and emo 30-year-olds to whom they played exactly what they’ve put out on their albums. No variations or displays of incredible live talent, just what you’d expect from Death Cab. Honestly, they might as well have played their CD over the speakers for all the performing they did. Props to them for the amazing set though—it really complimented their dramatic lyrics. On Saturday night, Kanye West, our South Side hometown hero, was amazing—when you could hear him. His set was plagued by sound problems, so much so that he commented that they were “embarrassing him in his town.” Luckily they got it together for “Gold-digger,” which blows you away in person. I jumped to my feet to shake my ass to the song, which left me with a good feeling when the show ended.

I am going to make a big departure from the critics here—the supposed biggest of the big bands, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, sucked. I have to admit that I left their set early due to extreme boredom and exhaustion, but they just did not do it for me. Their new songs and the way they perform now are an embarrassment to their old style. They just don’t have the “it” factor that made them so incredible in the ’90s. Their die-hard fans certainly didn’t seem disappointed in the least, though.

The best parts of Lollapalooza were the lesser-known bands that played during the day. In addition to Gnarls Barkley, Matisyahu rocked the crowd with his unusual blend of rap, reggae and Orthodox Judaism. He also had the most impressive crowd surfers. Ben Kweller played a solid set to a very enthusiastic crowd that knew every single world to all of his songs. Panic! At the Disco were a little theatrical for my tastes, with a vaudeville circus performing on stage with them, but their music still rocked. English rock group The Go! Team was fun, upbeat and really unrealistically diverse. They drew a large crowd and encouraged lots of audience feedback. The New Pornographers did what they do best—play an awesome live show. They played their hearts out and their fans rewarded them with enthusiastic involvement.

In short, if you missed Lollapalooza this year, you probably really regret it (unless you like Kelly Clarkson, in which case I wash my hands of you), so start saving money now for Lollapalooza 2007. The festival may not be getting any cheaper, but it sure is getting better.