Radiohead at Lollapalooza

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As expected, the highlight of this year’s Lollapalooza for me was Radiohead. It was great to see the band again after an absence of several years, and the new songs sounded very strong in concert alongside a career-spanning sample of Radiohead classics. During the song “Identikit,” as Thom Yorke chanted the line, “Broken hearts make it rain,” it actually did start to rain — just a few sprinkles. And as it turned out, that was the only moment during the whole evening when I noticed any rain falling. Although the concert was supposed to end at 10 p.m., Radiohead returned for a surprise second encore, playing two oldies, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” and “Karma Police.” Interestingly, according to setlist.fm, the band’s written set list showed “Reckoner” as an alternative song to start the second encore, followed by “Silent Night.”

SET LIST:

Burn the Witch / Daydreaming / Ful Stop / 2 + 2 = 5 / Myxomatosis / My Iron Lung / Climbing Up the Walls / No Surprises / Pyramid Song / Bloom / Identikit / The Numbers / The Gloaming / Weird Fishes/Arpeggi / Everything in Its Right Place / Idioteque / There There

FIRST ENCORE: Let Down / Present Tense / Paranoid Android / Nude / Bodysnatchers

SECOND ENCORE: Street Spirit (Fade Out) / Karma Police

See The A.V. Club for a gallery of my Lollapalooza photos. Here are some additional photos I took of Radiohead:

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Lollapalooza Photos

I took photos last weekend at Lollapalooza for The A.V. Club. Over on The A.V. Club’s Flickr page, you can see my pictures from Days 1, 2 and 3.

My personal favorites were Charles Bradley, The National, The Cure and Palma Violets.

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Lollapalooza Wrap-Up

Last year, I skipped Lollapalooza. It was the first time I’d missed Lolla since it changed in 2005 from a touring festival to an annual Chicago event. My main reason: I simply wasn’t that excited about the musical lineup. I wasn’t thrilled about everything on this year’s schedule, either — with a reasonably diverse list of 150 musical acts, who could be? But this year, Lollapalooza definitely had enough quality bands to hold just about rock fan’s interest for most of the weekend. And the inclusion of the Arcade Fire as one of the headliners clinched it for me. There was no way I was going to miss this.

Overall, Lollapalooza 2010 turned out to be a pretty good time. I saw several great sets, several good sets and some mediocrity. There were a few moments of feeling trapped inside crowds, getting rained on and stepping in mud, but for the most part, it was a pleasant experience. The addition of Columbus Drive as a pedestrian thoroughfare did make it easier to get around the festival grounds.

I reviewed Lollapalooza for Pioneer Press, including an overview of the festival and the headliners. And I also blogged here with some thoughts inspired by the Arcade Fire’s closing set on Sunday.

As always, it was impossible to see everything I wanted to see. So, yeah, I missed Devo, Spoon, Rogue Wave, Gogol Bordello, Warpaint, Nneka and major chunks of the shows by MGMT, the Drive-By Truckers and Social Distortion, to name just a few. During Friday night’s headline sets, I caught the first several songs by the Strokes (who sounded pretty tight) before heading to the other end of the park for the last part of Lady Gaga’s overblown, screechy spectacle.

I also dashed back and forth Saturday night. I began with Green Day setting off fireworks, and then I went north and watched most of the show by Phoenix, and then I went back to see Green Day set off more fireworks. By that point, the show had devolved into an oldies medley with “Satisfaction,” “Hey Jude” and “Shout.” What was this, a rock concert or a wedding? And Phoenix still hasn’t won me over yet, either. When I was in the photo pit for the first three Phoenix songs, the band’s energy impressed me, but I just don’t find the tunes all that interesting.

On Sunday night, I tried to stay in one place. While I would have liked to see at least part of the Soundgarden show, I didn’t want to miss a moment of the Arcade Fire. And I also wanted to see the National, who were playing just before the Arcade Fire on that end of the park. Alas, after catching the first half of a fairly strong set by the National (with a guest appearance by Richard Reed Parry of the Arcade Fire), I found myself standing across the field, waiting to photograph the Arcade Fire and trying to hear as much of the National as I could. Not an ideal way to experience the show. It sounded like the National finally broke out of their low brooding mood later on during the set.

Other highlights of the festival included Mavis Staples’ set on Friday. She and her backup vocalists began with some a cappella gospel, lifting their beautiful voices into the summer-afternoon air and singing, “I Am His and He Is Mine.” Later in the set, Staples introduced guest guitarist Jeff Tweedy “of the Wilco band,” who produced Staples’ forthcoming album, You Are Not Alone. He also wrote the title song, which sounded lovely in concert, bringing together Tweedy’s folk rock with Staples’ soulful vocals.

Another great set came Friday evening, when reggae legend Jimmy Cliff made a rare appearance. Cliff was considerably more exuberant and energetic than I’d expected for a performer who’s 62. He danced across the stage with a light and joyful step, even doing a few karate kicks. His voice had a weathered but strong quality as he played classic songs including “The Harder They Come,” “Sitting in Limbo,” “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “Many Rivers to Cross” and covers of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” and Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.” A good vibe was in the air, as the crowd clapped along. PHOTOS OF JIMMY CLIFF.

I was not prepared for the outlandish experience of seeing Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. Having listened to the band’s record, somehow I expected a much more staid concert of the singer-songwriter variety. I didn’t realize Sharpe and his band have a fervent cult following — or that Sharpe likes to get right out into the crowd. The show had the feeling of a hippie circus, and some fans even climbed up into the trees.

The XX were a little pale and restrained, looking and sounding as if they didn’t really belong outdoors under bright summer sunlight. But they drew a big crowd with their cold, minimalist tunes, and the sound was cool indeed.

I wish I’d heard more garage rock at Lollapalooza, though the genre isn’t really well-suited to concerts on big stages where the crowd is so far away from the band. The Soft Pack were my favorite out of the scrappy young garage and punk bands that I saw, and I also enjoyed Wavves and Harlem.

Stars were as emotional and appealing as ever (even if their most recent songs aren’t as memorable as the early ones). Meanwhile, the New Pornographers did what they always do well: play one upbeat, catchy power-pop song after another. Neko Case of the New Pornographers later showed up on guest vocals with the Dodos, who played an intriguing combination of acoustic blues with more angular rock.

Metric’s Emily Haines seemed unstoppable as she sang and danced. I haven’t listened much to Metric’s records (and haven’t been that thrilled with what I’ve heard), but I can’t deny they put on a good live show.

The Antlers sounded magnificent and epic when they played songs from 2009’s Hospice, but the band’s other songs were less dramatic.

Dirty Projectors were the only band I heard talking about fonts during their stage banter. Their odd guitar lines and stunningly precise vocal harmonies created a sound that’s complex without being too off-putting.

Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison seemed to be pouring everything he had into his emotional performance.

It was raining during the set by British singer Frank Turner, but the damp weather didn’t diminish the strength of his forcefully delivered acoustic rock.

Other bands I liked: Social Distortion, Skybox, Mumford & Sons, the Black Keys, the Big Pink, the Walkmen, the Morning Benders and Grizzly Bear. MGMT sounded great when they played their cool new song “Brian Eno,” but I’m still not thrilled with the more popular music from their first album.

Despite the praise and hype that’s been heaped on them in England — and despite the presence of ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr — the Cribs were pretty dull.

And I don’t understand all the excitement about X Japan, which is just a Japanese version of Western hair-metal music. Other hard-rock bands from Japan, such as Boris, are far superior. But it was interesting to see X Japan’s fans gathered along the barricade, clasping red-haired dolls. As at many other Lollapalooza sets, it was the fans who made the show.

PREVIOUS POSTS ABOUT LOLLAPALOOZA:

DAY ONE: PHOTOS OF LADY GAGA / PHOTOS OF THE STROKES / PHOTOS OF JIMMY CLIFF / MORE PHOTOS FROM DAY ONE.

PHOTOS FROM DAY TWO.

DAY THREE: PHOTOS OF THE ARCADE FIRE / MORE PHOTOS FROM DAY THREE.

MUSIC UNITES US (INCLUDING REVIEW OF THE ARCADE FIRE).

MUSIC DIVIDES US.

LOLLAPALOOZA FENCE CRASHERS.

PREVIEW FOR PIONEER PRESS.

Lollapalooza: Music Divides Us

Music unites us? So I said yesterday in my post about the Arcade Fire’s Lollapalooza show. But music sometimes has the opposite effect, as the Arcade Fire points out in the lyrics of “Suburban War” — “Now the music divides us into tribes/You choose your side, I’ll choose my side.”

The various musical tribes seemed like they were at war during Lollapalooza. A war of words, anyway. On Friday night, as Lady Gaga played at the south end of the park, I saw a couple of young guys running north into the field where an audience had gathered to hear the Strokes. “Fuck Lady Gaga!” they shouted, emphasizing their proclamation with a gesture of simulated jacking-off.

Not long after that, when I was standing in the photo pit in front of the Budweiser stage, waiting for the Strokes to start playing, some of the fans chanted the same phrase for a minute: “Fuck Lady Gaga!” And from what I hear, people also chanted the same thing at a Friday-night set by 2ManyDJs.

On Saturday, while Green Day and Phoenix played on the two main stages, fans watching the Empire of the Sun on a smaller stage reportedly chanted, “Fuck Green Day!” The hostility carried over onto the Internet, where some Soundgarden fans derided Arcade Fire fans as hipsters who like “crap music.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with expressing your opinions about what music you like or don’t like. It’s all part of a great freewheeling debate. But it quickly becomes tiresome when the debate devolves into insults about the fans in rival musical tribes. Those tribes aren’t defined as narrowly as you might think. Believe it or not, there are at least a few people out there who like both Lady Gaga and the Strokes.

Lollapalooza: Music Unites Us

As much as I prefer seeing concerts in small clubs, I have to admit there’s something really cool about the communal feeling you get when you’re with thousands and thousands of other people who all like the same musical artist — especially when the musicians are putting on a hell of a show, singing and playing with unbridled passion, and the crowd is responding with thunderous applause. A sea of arms waving to the music. Groups of people dancing. Audience members singing along with the choruses, shouting things like “OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH!!!” far louder than they ever sang anything in church or school. If you happen to be stuck in such a scene at a show where you don’t like the music, it can feel rather hellish, as if you’re surrounded by the brainwashed members of a religious cult.

But if your musical tastes are in synch with the throng around you, the feeling can be transcendent. For at least this brief time — at most an hour or two, maybe a few minutes in the middle of a concert — it feels like the world is right. And if you’ve ever felt like a musical snob, hoping that the masses don’t discover those favorite obscure bands you’re hoarding like a secret — if you’ve ever felt like a musical weirdo because the bands you really like rarely play at venues bigger than the Hideout and never get played on the radio — then suddenly this big concert experience makes you feel like some sort of crowd-loving populist. It is possible for big masses of people to like the same music that I do! And it isn’t somehow ruining the music, as I’d feared it would. The world is right. But then, of course, the concert ends. And you start slipping back into the same old attitudes you’d had before. For a moment, it seemed like you were in synch with the rest of humanity. Now… Well, you’re not so sure about that anymore, but at least you know it can happen for a few minutes.

At Lollapalooza this past weekend, that experience came for me during the Sunday-night finale by the Arcade Fire. This was the fifth time I’ve seen the Arcade Fire, and I’m not sure if they’ll ever top the first two amazing shows I saw them do, at the Empty Bottle in 2004 and Lollapalooza 2005. Surely, by now the Arcade Fire must have mellowed a bit.

But damn if they didn’t put on an intense show on Sunday, the very sort of barnstorming set that helped to make them popular in the first place. They were more careful with their antics than five years ago — Will Butler did not jump into the photo pit wielding a microphone stand, as he did at Lollapalooza 2005, coming close to dinging me in the head. (Here’s a video of that moment; I believe I must be just outside the frame.) And as far as I was able to observe, no helmets were required since no one was drumming on anyone else’s head this time.

But the seven musicians in the Arcade Fire are still swapping instruments and working up a sweat as they pound away with their violins, guitars, keyboards and even a hurdy-gurdy.

The songs from the new album The Suburbs sounded strong, but older songs provided the cathartic climax of the concert, as the audience sang along with “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Wake Up.” It was as if the crowd was defying the lyrics Win Butler had sung earlier in the new song, “Month of May” — “Now, some things are pure and some things are right/But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight.” These kids were not just standing there with their arms folded tight.

What followed, as Lollapalooza ended, was a crush of concertgoers trying to reach the exit gates. I got stuck in a seemingly immovable mass of people near one of the beer tents. Everyone remained fairly calm and patient, and I finally broke free of the pack. The crowd streamed out into the streets of downtown Chicago. Walking on Monroe along the Art Institute, I was in the midst of some folks who began clapping spontaneously. And then a bunch of us began singing the wordless chorus from “Wake Up.” It felt like we were trying to stretch out that beautiful concert for a few more minutes. Even half an hour later, riding the el home, I think I heard someone whistling “Wake Up.” And then the spell was broken, and the world was back to normal.

PHOTOS OF THE ARCADE FIRE AT LOLLAPALOOZA.

More blog posts coming soon, including: Music Divides Us … And more from Lollapalooza 2010.

Lollapalooza Photos: Arcade Fire

Lollapalooza 2010 is over, ending with a good and proper climax from the Arcade Fire. More photos (and yes, some actual words) coming soon from Lolla. In the meantime, here are my photos of the Arcade Fire show from a couple of hours ago.

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Lollapalooza Photos: Day Two

Photos from Day Two of Lollapalooza 2010, Aug. 7, 2010, at Grant Park in Chicago, including: The Kissaway Trail, The Morning Benders, The Soft Pack, Skybox, Harlem, Dragonette, Stars, The XX, Grizzly Bear, Metic, Social Distortion, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Green Day and Phoenix.

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Lollapalooza fence crashers

[nggallery id=11]In the first two days of Lollapalooza, I’ve seen four incidents of people coming in over the fences without paying. The first time was during Mavis Staples’ set on Friday. As Staples was talking onstage about the march to freedom, security guards were marching out a couple of fence-crashers they’d caught. Later on Friday, I saw one guy scrambling over the fence to the west of that same Budweiser stage. Then a group of a dozen or so came over the fence in the same area. No security personnel were in the area at the time, and they all got in.

The biggest breach,, shown in the photographs above, came Saturday during the set by Stars on the Budweiser stage. It was a large group. I estimated about 40 people, then asked some other people who’d witnessed the incident how many people they thought they’d seen. One said 50, and another said 70. Most of these crashers appeared young, probably high-school age. They came all at once, climbing over the fence along Lake Shore Drive near the northeast corner of the Lollapalooza grounds. Then they knocked over a second fence, which completely fell to the ground. As audience members laughed, pointed or cheered, the kids scrambled into the park, most of them apparently getting away. The security guards grabbed a few of the crashers and were holding them near the fence when I left the scene. Later in the day, the fence they’d pushed over was back in place.

Lollapalooza Photos: The Strokes

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Lollapalooza photos: Lady Gaga

Here’s the first batch of my photos from day one of Lollapalooza. I wasn’t able to get into the photo pit for the Lady Gaga show — I chose to see Jimmy Cliff, and getting to the Lady Gaga stage in time for admission to the photo pit proved impossible after that. However, I did walk over later and catch the last half-hour or so of the Gaga show. I took some photos from the audience, which is always tricky. Here’s what I got.


PHOTOS OF LADY GAGA AT LOLLAPALOOZA, Aug. 6, 2010, Grant Park, Chicago.

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Lollapalooza 2006

PRE-LOLLAPALOOZA PARTY
AUGUST 3, 2006

GNARLS BARKLEY at the House of Blues — Thanks to an invite from someone at Spin magazine, I was lucky enough to get into this pre-Lollapalooza private gig by one of the festival’s most anticipated bands. Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere album is certainly one of the year’s best – and if you think it’s hip-hop, think again. These guys may have their roots in that genre, but they’re exploring other roots here. For its tour, the duo of Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green has been expanded into a 13-piece big band, including three backup singers and four string players.

For this gig, they come out dressed as a diner’s chefs, cooks, bus boys and waitresses. For their entrance music, the band plays Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.” A minute into the show, Cee-Lo cracks, “Any Gnarls Barkley fans here? Sorry, they couldn’t make it here tonight, so we’re going to cover some of their songs. We’re the Sam Cookes. Get it?”

The St. Elsewhere songs sound very good live (though the sound mix leaves the strings inaudible on all but a few tunes), and the band throws in an odd mix of covers. Of course, there’s the Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone,” which is on the album, but the group also plays the Greenhorne’s “There’s an End” and the Doors’ “Who Scared You?” – neither of them a song that many people in the audience would recognize without help from Cee-Lo. He introduces both songs as examples of Gnarls Barkley’s broad taste in music.

His banter also includes some raunchy bits – like encouraging the women in attendance to bare their breasts. “If you feel the impulse to pull those titties out, do it.”

Hearing the hit “Crazy” being performed live at this show (with an intro on strings) is a spine-tingling moment. Yeah, I know I should be jaded by now by this kind of thing. How big of a deal is it really, to hear a band playing a hit song? But still… When you know it’s a great song, and you hear it live for the first time, and everyone in the room is really into it, it’s still such a cool experience. And with “Crazy,” the room goes crazy, people waving their arms in the air, one woman climbing on top of some guy’s shoulders. And the song, with Cee-Lo’s soulful falsetto, just soars.

Thank God this year’s Lollapalooza isn’t going to be as hot as last year’s, but it’s still time to slather on some sun block. I show up in time to catch only the last song by MIDLAKE. I liked the band’s first album a lot and have been meaning to check out the new one. The little bit that I hear sounds good.

On the other hand, just a few minutes of BLUE OCTOBER is enough to convince me that I should head to the other end of the park. Yuck.

I see most of the set by HUSKY RESCUE at one of the small stages, which have some nice shade. These Finns play some pleasant pop music. It didn’t wow me (other than the charming looks and sweet voice of singer Reeta Corhola), but I liked it enough that I’ll listen to more. Introducing the song “Summertime Cowboy,” Corhola remarks, “The whole purpose of this American tour is finding me a real cowboy.”

The descriptions of CURSIVE sounded interesting, and the fact that this band uses horns does make it a little more interesting than the typical pop-punk band of today. But I still didn’t find much about it that was engaging during the few songs I heard. So I took another long trek past Buckingham Fountain (at least the long walks across the Lollapalooza grounds were scenic) and listened to the last half of the set by AQUALUNG. Pretty enjoyable Brit-pop ballads.

EELS were up next on the Bud Light stage at the north end of the park. I’ve liked but not loved the two Eels albums I’ve heard (the last two), but they were pretty darn impressive – and odd – in concert. First comes this dude with a headband, Fu Manchu beard and a black T-shirt labeled “Security.” People cheer as he walks out – obviously familiar with the shtick that’s about to happen. He ain’t no security guard – he’s part of the show. Then comes the band, most of them wearing green fatigues, with lead singer e in pilot goggles. The first few songs rock pretty hard, then e switches to keyboards and let things get just a little more mellow. The security dude utters some bizarre non sequitors in a stern voice. “Are you enjoying this? My condolences. I have to go break one of my fingers now. I’ll be back in a minute.” Later, pointing at an audience member: “Is that cocktail sauce?!?” Upon orders from e, the guy goes into the crowd once to give people high-fives, then later to spray whip cream in their mouths. At least, that’s what I think it was. Eels closes with two passionately played covers: a dead-on version of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You,” and the Sinatra standard “That’s Life.”

I tried to get back to the south field in time for some photos of THE EDITORS, but by the time I got there, they’d already finished their third song and the photographers had been kicked out of the photo pit. (Like many concerts and festivals, Lollapalooza set a rule that the photographers can shoot only during the first three songs.) I stick around for about half of the performance. Seems OK, though the Editors obviously have a Joy Division fixation.

Back north for RYAN ADAMS. I’ve heard so much about his performances (the tirades and erratic shows), but never seen him before. Today, he and his band are definitely in a jamming mode. It occurs to me that he’s sounding a lot like the Grateful Dead – not being a Deadhead, I don’t realize that he’s actually doing three Dead covers. He also plays a nice version of “Hickory Wind,” and at least one Ryan Adams song that I recognize, “Cold Roses.” It’s a good show, though you have to wonder why he’d use this golden opportunity to showcase his music for a bunch of Dead cover tunes. Just another example of how mercurial he is, I guess. At one point, he goes on a rant about how Chicago doesn’t allow eggs to be served after 11 a.m. Huh? When he paused, his bassist made a remark about how the audience was there to hear his music, and Adams quipped, “Trust me – they’re not hear to here the music. They’re hear to see the freakout.” Just then, he noticed a helicopter in the sky and said, “Aw shit – the egg police!” Finally, launching into a song, he said, “Phew! That one’s over. That last bit, that wasn’t a song. It was just me making an ass of myself.”

I heard only a few songs by IRON & WINE, which sounded nice. I like Iron & Wine’s records, but the unremitting mellowness of it all gets to me after a while. With a band, the songs seemed a little more lively. And it is undoubtedly cool to see a large group of fans getting into a performance of such delicate music. Unfortunately, the setup at Lollapalooza this year, while not as prone to sound bleed as last year’s, did have some problems. The stage where Iron & Wine was playing (the Adidas-Champs stage, better known the rest of the year as the Petrillo Bandshell) was too close to the Playstation Stage, and several quiet acts were booked next to louder acts. In the case of Iron & Wine, noise from Lady Sovereign intruded on his soft folk.

I decided to head early to THE RACONTEURS, knowing that the photo pit will be jammed with photographers. It is fun getting an up-close look at the performers, but sometimes, there are just too many people in these pits, all angling for the best spot and struggling to get shots around the video camera handlers and the high stages. Sure enough, the Raconteurs pit is a madhouse. The band appears to be having a lot of fun onstage, like their old pals goofing around. At one point, Jack White and Brendan Benson push each other just after singing together into the same mike. Now, I wish I had been able to stick around for more of this concert (I end up missing the Raconteurs playing a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”), but I’ve got to get in place for the Sleater-Kinney show back on the north end of the park. As I walk north, I can hear the sound of MY MORNING JACKET booming all the way across Buckingham Fountain. They sound as great as always, and I wouldn’t have missed seeing them – except for the fact that I’d seen them recently and they were up against the Raconteurs.

SLEATER-KINNEY was one of the bands I was anticipating the most at Lollapalooza. I really got into this group after their last album, The Woods, came out, though I had liked them before. I saw them for the first time in 2005, and this was my fourth Sleater-Kinney concert. I was crestfallen when I heard recently that the trio was going on “indefinite hiatus.” I do hope that just means they’re taking some time off and will be back, but this Lollapalooza gig might end up being one of their last. While My Morning Jacket is still playing at the other end of the field, the gals of Sleater-Kinney come out for a few minutes to do a sound check, and the photographers snap a few pictures. I overhear one photog saying, “I’ve got what I need. What difference will it make when they come out? They’ll just have the lights on them, and they’re just going to stand there. I’ve already got photos of that. Let’s go see the Violent Femmes. Maybe they’ll do ‘Blister in the Sun.’” I tell him that Sleater-Kinney isn’t just going to stand there, but he doesn’t sound convinced. Whatever…

The performance is strong, though maybe not quite as raucous as Sleater-Kinney’s SXSW gig earlier this year. Maybe I’m feeling my own bittersweet feelings about seeing the band for what may be the last time, but I sense more emotion on the stage than usual. Especially with Corin Tucker, who looks at times like she is going to start crying as she hits some of the high notes. She always has a little bit of that look in her, but I sense it more tonight. There’s one strange moment when Tucker points (maybe at a sound man, maybe at Carrie Brownstein, and exchanges what looks like some testy words off-mike), but then she seems like she’s her old self after that. After playing blistering versions of most tracks from The Woods, Sleater-Kinney closes with “Turn It On.”

The rest of the night’s anti-climatic. I stick around Butler Field long enough to hear several songs by DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE. I realize I’ve been a little too harsh on this band since seeing them at last year’s Lollapalooza. Their music is actually all right. I just feel like it’s overrated, or that they’re getting more than their share of popularity compared to other indie-rock bands. But I do enjoy hearing their tunes tonight. Then I catch the last half of WEEN. I have to admit I don’t know much about this band, other than by reputation. What I hear is interesting and quirky.

SEE PHOTOS OF HUSKY RESCUE, CURSIVE, EELS, RYAN ADAMS, IRON & WINE, THE RACONTEURS & SLEATER-KINNEY.

I’m not even sure who the winner of the “Last Band Standing” contest is, but it’s sort of amusing to see them playing in front of a big empty field at 11:45 a.m. and exhorting a few hundred people: “Come on, Lollapalooza, make some noise!”

The early bands today include RAINER MARIA, playing solid and tuneful rock, and LIVING THINGS, very stylish guys with rock-star attitude playing decent but not especially original glam-garage-rock. (They’re one of the two bands that I see Perry Farrell introduce as his “favorite new band” – the other being Gnarls Barkley.) I overhear the woman in BE YOUR OWN PET telling the audience, “I just threw up … It tasted like watermelon.”

THE GO! TEAM puts on a fabulous show in the early afternoon, with the singer Ninja putting on an amazing display of cheerleading-style calisthenics in the 90-degree sun. They’re just as fun as I remember them being last year at Metro, and a few non-album songs sound good. My only regret right now is missing the show by FEIST at the other end of the park.

BUILT TO SPILL makes great albums, with guitar licks that seem almost like architectural structures, with one riff piled perfectly on top of another. The one time I saw Built to Spill in concert (a few years back at Metro), I was a little disappointed. It was OK, but the band seemed a little listless. Maybe it was just my visual perception of the group, because I could see again today that Built to Spill isn’t all that exciting to watch. The music was excellent, though, and Doug Martsch was a little more animated than the rest of the guys. With his gray-streaked beard, he’s looking pretty old. Overall, they look like a bunch of grizzled mountain men. The band makes some cracks about all of the corporate sponsorship on display at Lollapalooza, with Martsch saying, “We would still be playing music even if Bud Light hadn’t brought us here.” Someone in the crowd shouts back, “You wouldn’t get a paycheck!”

CALEXICO is another reliable band, and they put on exactly the sort of show I’ve come to expect. A nice surprise is Nicolai Dunger coming out for guest vocals on the Love song “Alone Again Or,” which Calexico dedicates to the late Arthur Lee.

On the way south, I overhear a couple songs by WOLFMOTHER – a group whose appeal escapes me. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath retreads, as far as I can tell. Too much Spinal Tap for my tastes.

Though I’d love to see SONIC YOUTH, I go to GNARLS BARKLEY – yeah, I’d just seen them on Thursday, but I am covering Lollapalooza for some newspapers, and I figure Gnarls has more news value. Staying true to their vow to wear different costumes each time they perform, they’re dressed this time as tennis players. The set list and Cee-Lo’s banter are pretty similar to the House of Blues show. Being farther back for most of the show, I don’t find it quite as enthralling as Gnarls’ club performance, but it’s still pretty great. They should save “Crazy” for their last song, but sticking it 15 minutes before the end of the set, they send a multitude of fans streaming the other direction.

I’d never seen THE SMOKING POPES back in the day, so it was cool to see the reunited band playing its tuneful pop-punk here. A couple of new songs, which will be on a forthcoming album, sounded strong, very similar to the classic Popes music.

THE FLAMING LIPS turn out to be the highlight of the festival for me. This is in spite of the fact that I was disappointed by the previous two Lips concerts I’d seen, and I’m not a huge fan of the Lips’ new album. Sometimes, the group’s circus-like spectacle seems like too much of a gimmick, but fun gimmickry fit in perfectly with the festival atmosphere here. With gals in green alien masks and guys in Santa Claus suits cavorting on the stage, singer Wayne Coyne inserted himself into a large plastic bubble and walked out on top of the audience. (Beforehand, he’d asked the audience to pretend that he’d descended from the sky and that they hadn’t just seen him getting into the balloon on stage. “I apologize in advance if I step on your head.”) Returning to the stage and firing off confetti, Coyne urged the gathered Lips fans to sing loud enough to stop traffic on Lake Shore Drive, hoping the noise might somehow bring peace to the Middle East. “I wish singing could stop people from killing each other,” he remarked. The sing-along may not have achieved peace, but it did create a surreal spectacle: tens of thousands of people waving their arms and singing along to “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Maybe it was my vantage point up front – seeing the antics of the first three songs unfolding right above my head was amazing – but it all seemed so joyous that I couldn’t help smiling. Oddly, I see that some of the other critics in attendance (Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune and Jon Pareles of The New York Times were underwhelmed by the Lips’ performance). A short while later, I overheard a guy on a cell phone telling a friend, “The Flaming Lips were out of control!” That guy was right.

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS are an excellent band, but I’ve seen them twice recently, so I didn’t make a special effort to see them, other than hearing them on the way to KANYE WEST. Although I think West is overrated, I did get somewhat excited about seeing him, especially after giving another listen this morning to Late Registration and remembering how many interesting tracks it has. As a mini-orchestra of female string players, wearing masks over their eyes slinky black dresses, took the stage amid puffs of fog, the crowd was eager for West to make a dramatic entrance. Unfortunately, when he arrived and launched into his rapping, it was barely audible to the fans standing any distance from the stage, and some audience members chanted, “Turn it up!” Apparently trying to correct the problem, West left the stage for three momentum-killing silences between songs. I heard people yelling, “Come on!” and “What’s going on?” West eventually went on a tirade about how terrible the sound was at his hometown gig, threatening that “Changes will be made.” (Huh?)

Whenever West finally got around to playing his songs, it sounded strong and the crowd really got into it. But the show itself lacked the quick pacing necessary for a good concert. Too many speeches, not enough music. All that being said, I could see this was a special moment for many of the fans. Lupe Fiasco, Common and Twista all made guest appearances. And I started to get really sick of hearing musicians saying, “Chi-Town! Make some noise!”

SEE PHOTOS OF RAINER MARIA, THE LIVING THINGS, THE GO! TEAM, BUILT TO SPILL, CALEXICO, GNARLS BARKLEY, THE SMOKING POPES, THE FLAMING LIPS & KANYE WEST.

I’d seen an announcement at the media tent that PATTI SMITH would be making a “surprise” appearance today at 12:45 p.m. at the Kidzaplooza area. (!) So I showed up in time for that, catching PERRY FARRELL & PETER DI STEFANO performing several songs for the kids. Then Smith came out, noting that she was born in Chicago. “My dad’s name was Grant, and he used to tell me he owned Grant Park. So, Daddy, here I am in Grant Park.” But Smith seemed ill-prepared. In an awkward moment, she began playing her song “Grateful,” but only after a few false starts and forgotten chords. “That just goes to show you that any asshole can play guitar,” she said, oblivious or uncaring about the fact that she was supposedly playing to an audience of kids. (Actually, the adults seemed to outnumber the tykes.) For her third and last song, Smith played “Qana,” which she said she’d just written the day before about the Israeli attack on the Lebanon village of Qana. The dirge-like song – a moving protest piece, even though it sounds a little too much like any number of other Patti Smith tunes – includes the repeated line, “The dead lay in strange shapes.” Smith told the crowd, “While we are celebrating our children, think how we would feel if 27 of them were blown away by bombs.” I wonder if any of the children at the Kidzapalooza stage asked their parents later, “Who was that scary lady?” (“Qana” can be downloaded here.)

THE HOLD STEADY were as great as usual, stoking my anticipation of their new record, coming out in October. “This is easily the most fun we’ve ever had before 3 in the afternoon,” singer Craig Finn said.

NICKEL CREEK has struck me as a little bland in the past, but the bluegrass trio definitely has virtuosity to spare. They performed a nice set on the north end of the park, with the nearby trees creating the perfect pastoral setting. They played covers of Radiohead’s “Nice Dream” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” As the group noted, this may have been a Lollapalooza first – three consecutive acts featuring fiddle (THE FRAMES preceded Nickel Creek, and ANDREW BIRD followed).

Bird was as impressive as always, and it was interesting to hear several songs from his forthcoming album. Unfortunately, the sound sucked, with way too much bass.

THE SHINS were next. When did these guys become such stars? I guess it’s because their music was on “The OC” or something, but jeez, I remember hearing about the first Shins album, Oh, Inverted World, when it was a pretty darn obscure indie album few people knew about. These guys deserve all the adoration. Their songs are smartly constructed and incredibly catchy. The band played a few new tracks from the third album, which they’re still working on, and they sounded very promising, with a little bit of Byrds guitar in one of the songs. Glenn Mercer is looking a lot like Kevin Spacey now that he’s shaved his beard. For some reason, they were all wearing military-style green shirts. As one of them explained, “We’re wearing these shirts because we like them. They’re green and uncomfortable.” (Someone else mentioned to me later that the sound at the Shins was too low and people in the back couldn’t hear, but from what I experienced, it sounded fine near the front and back in the middle of the field.)

WILCO and QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE were playing in the same time slot. And while I’ve really seen Wilco plenty of times and would have personally preferred checking out QOTSA for a change, seeing the hometown band seemed like the thing to do. It wasn’t the best Wilco performance I’ve ever seen – it seemed like Wilco toned down the stranger or more extreme parts of its repertoire for the festival audience – it was still quite good. The set included four new songs. The guitar solo on “Impossible Germany” was really, really good, and I liked the chunky riff in “Let’s Fight.” Jeff Tweedy is looking pretty hirsute these days, and his straw hat made him look like a character from the 19th century. Seeing the big crowd singing along with “Jesus etc.” was one of those nice “we are the world” moments.

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE was a lot more fun on stage than on record, with members of the big collective coming and going. For most bands, the following statement would be no big deal: “We’ve got the whole band for you tonight – the whole band.” But for Broken Social Scene, getting everyone together is something of an accomplishment. The show gave me a chance to see at least a little bit of Feist. This band had an enviable time slot, playing at the north end of Hutchinson Field as tens of thousands of RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS fans filed in. I hope some of the people unfamiliar with Broken Social Scene’s music took notice.

I’m not a big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so I wasn’t especially looking forward to their performance, but I was duly impressed with their musicianship and energy. And the weird covers or snippets of covers: the Clash’s “London Calling,” Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her.”

While I certainly don’t agree with Perry Farrell’s introduction of the Peppers as “the greatest band on the planet today,” I also think Jim DeRogatis of the Sun-Times was a little harsh on them, calling them “boneheads.” They did seem to inspire boneheaded behavior in the audience, though, as people pushed and shoved their way forward. I did not get there in time for a spot in the crowded photo pit, and I ended up watching most of the concert from the media tent up on a nearby hill. From there, I could see an almost constant stream of fans being escorted out, either because they’re jumped over the barricade or been pushed.

It was an unpleasant way to end a pleasant festival. So what was Lollapalooza all about this year? It wasn’t as cutting-edge as the Intonation and Pitchfork fests, and it’s questionable how much of the music qualifies as “alternative.” Alternative to most mainstream pop, yes. But Kanye West and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are too popular to truly count as alternative. Some of the schedule conflicts were maddening, and it was a long walk from one end of the park to the other. But as long as you didn’t get hung up on having to see everything, it was a damn nice time with some fine musical performances.

SEE PHOTOS OF PATTI SMITH, THE HOLD STEADY, NICKEL CREEK, ANDREW BIRD, THE SHINS, WILCO & BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE.

Lollapalooza 2005

DAY ONE (July 23)


The Redwalls


M83

 
The Warlocks

  
And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead


Ambulance LTD


Billy Idol press conference

     
Liz Phair

  
Kaiser Chiefs

  
The Brian Jonestown Massacre

 
The Bravery

 
 
Blonde Redhead

 
 
The Black Keys

 
 
The Pixies

 
The Walkmen

  
Digable Planets

DAY TWO (July 24)


The Ponys

 
Kasabian

 
Dinosaur Jr.

  
Tegan and Sara

       
The Drive-By Truckers

      
The Arcade Fire

  
The Dandy Warhols

 
Death Cab For Cutie