Lollapalooza: Going Dutch

By • Aug 13th, 2009 • Category: Concert Reviews

Photo courtesy Randy Cremean / Soundcheck Magazine

A lone Dutchman is wandering through Chicago, his sandals strapped tight, a backpack secured with a day’s supply of water, and his eyes fixed on the famous skyline.

Surrounded by high-rise buildings, Grant Park itself is one of the city’s most recognizable settings, but also a prime spot to take in the neighboring architecture. Buckingham Fountain. The (former) Sears Tower’s rooftop spires. One and Two Prudential Plazas. The Smurfit-Stone Building’s diamond face. It’s a stretch of real estate made famous by a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off parade, cat burglarlike acrobatics in Adventures in Babysitting, and the opening credits of Married With Children.

This is a long way from the Netherlands. And Lollapalooza – the three-day music festival on those scenic grounds from Aug. 7-9 – is a far cry from Tilburg, where Paul Veroude calls home. The university city about 80 miles south of Amsterdam has a population of just more than 200,000 people. It’s no small village but less than Lollapalooza’s weekend draw, with a sold-out daily attendance of 75,000.

The acclaimed sculptor is on an 11-week trek, his first venture to the United States. Landing in Miami, the 39-year-old artist famous for deconstructing automobiles got a car and is circling the country.

“The scenery [of Lollapalooza] is very beautiful. I have never seen a festival tucked in a city before,” said Veroude, a smug smile stretched across his face. “We don’t have festivals in places like this. In [the] U.K., they are on big fields, like Woodstock.”

It’s fitting that the artist invoked the name of the grandfather of U.S. summer concerts. Only one week shy of the historic festival’s 40th anniversary, Veroude charted his course through upstate New York to catch a glimpse of site made famous during the 1969 gathering of “peace and music” before heading west to Chicago.

But he didn’t stop at that 600-acre farm. Nor did he stay in Philadelphia, or plan to stop long when he reached the Pacific Northwest or the Grand Canyon. The only extended stay of Veroude’s U.S. jaunt was his three days at Lollapalooza.

With more than 130 bands performing on eight stages over the 1-mile tract of urban greenery, the festival was just too big to miss.

Or was it?

“It is actually quite small,” Veroude said. “The buildings make it so that everything has to be right on top [of one another]; even the stages seem a bit small. At Pukkelpop, it is much bigger because it is on farm land among the cows.”

Much like that referenced Belgium festival, European open-air concerts tend to pick out vast landscapes for their backdrops. The Leeds Festival in England and both Glastonbury Festival and T in the Park in Scotland seek out secluded, rural swathes to host the tens of thousands of fans that trek through their gates. It’s a blueprint made successful by Woodstock that holds true through U.S. at Coachella in California and Bonnaroo in central Tennessee.

“I think it’s just a difference in cultures,” Ra Ra Riot violinist Rebecca Zeller said of continental festival differences.

Her New York chamber pop ensemble performed a Sunday afternoon set and has made the rounds on both the Stateside and European circuits.

“I’ve attended and played at a lot of fests, and there just seems to be too many rules here, like telling you where you have to stand to drink your beer,” she said. “In Europe it’s like a big party where everyone is hanging out, relaxing, checking out some bands. Here, it seems so rigid, so rushed.”

Despite Veroude’s assessment of the seemingly small urban setting, Zeller was on to something; everything about the annual August gathering actually is massive. From 1991 to 1997, it was a battering-ram tour that brought the biggest guitar riffs to cities across the country. Building on that alpha-male reputation of hard rock, the relaunched circuit did the same in 2003, before retreating for a year and resurfacing in its current Chicago-only format in 2005. Since then, it has been the biggest rock concert in the country – in size and reputation, and the promoter’s hooks sink deep.

With temperatures tickling triple digits Sunday, only 48 hours after torrential downpours could have helped first-day hot chocolate sales surpass beer tallies, the one remaining constant was the music.

Lots of music. Which meant that the biggest struggle of the weekend wasn’t finding shelter from the storms or shade from the sun. It wasn’t jockeying for position in the always-crowded Hammock Haven, or slinking to the front of the line for the misters. No, the toughest part of the August weekend was determining which bands to skip.

The scope of the festival makes it difficult to hear every act on the bill, even if you pause only for a couple songs per set. And the scale of Grant Parks makes walking back and forth to each end all but impossible, even if you were to try. There’s not enough time to watch the bands you might want to see, and forget using Lollapalooza as a way to discover new music.

Los Campesinos! or Atmosphere?

Arctic Monkeys or Coheed and Cambria?

Santigold or Glasvegas?

Bon Iver or Heartless Bastards?

Fleet Foxes or Crystal Castles?

Thievery Corporation or The Decemberists?

Andrew Bird or Of Montreal?

Portugal. The Man or Bat for Lashes?

The Raveonettes or Dan Deacon?

Neko Case or Vampire Weekend?

Dan Auerbach or Cold War Kids?

Lou Reed or Snoop Dogg or Deerhunter?

Band of Horses or Silversun Pickups?

These were only a baker’s dozen of the match-ups the sadistic promoters arranged, certainly designed to cause fits for indecisive visitors.

That’s what founder Perry Farrell had in mind when he started the concert tour 18 years ago, and it’s what was evident up through his band’s headlining set when Jane’s Addiction closed this year’s Lollapalooza. And although it’s possible to attend the three days and not watch a single show – the crowds, food tents, shopping nooks, peripheral distractions, and amenities make that likelihood real – it’s also possible to hear more music than a person’s ears can absorb.

Here’s a rundown of Lollapalooza 2009.

– Friday, Aug. 7 –

Manchester Orchestra (12:15-1 p.m. Friday, Budweiser stage)

The Georgia band’s grizzled front man Andy Hull is a long way from his Bible Belt roots. Not only naming his band after a city 4,000 miles away, the rainy afternoon set in front of a crowd of cold, blank faces also doesn’t do much for his southern songwriting chops. It takes the few hundred in attendance less than a song to realize there’s nothing orchestral about this Atlanta-based ensemble.

• Most talked about moment: The gritty “Everything to Nothing”.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears (1-2 p.m. Friday, vitaminwater stage)

Alternating between guitar and harmonica, front man Black Joe Lewis leads his six-piece group through a series of by-the-numbers soul tunes. The rain picks up in heavy spurts, and the blues outfit starts to feel more like a pre-hurricane gig in the delta than an Austin band rocking on the Lake Michigan shores.

• Most talked about moment: The introduction of “Big Black Snake”, seemingly for the innuendo-challenged. It comes with Lewis’ clarifying remark, “Ya’ll know what it’s about.”

The Gaslight Anthem (2-3 p.m. Friday, Chicago 2016 stage)

The two-guitar assault of this New Jersey foursome draws equally from two of its native rock icons: Bruce Springsteen and The Misfits. With traveling tales (Springsteen) laced over power chords (Misfits), the ensemble is like an exaggerated caricature of the Garden State’s rock lineage.

• Most talked about moment: Tattooed front man Brian Fallon admitting that he’s not only a huge fan of headliner Depeche Mode, but that they also were his first concert.

Bon Iver (3-4 p.m. Friday, PlayStation stage)

For the first time, the afternoon’s constant precipitation is fitting. Hearing the whispering dirge of Wisconsin’s Justin Vernon just wouldn’t translate to the blistering heat. The crowd listens in near silence, in part because any conversation would drown out the tear-jerking, acoustic tunes, and in part because temps have dropped to the low 70s amid the rain and winds.

• Most talked about moment: The series of icy glares flashed at a late-arriving group of shirtless guys who high-five and talk over falsetto-laced “Lump Sum”.

Ben Folds (4-5 p.m. Friday, Budweiser stage)

As the post-work, weekday crowd starts to build, piano showman Folds riffles through a selection of tunes from his recent Way to Normal. It was a horrible idea. Ditching his more recognizable solo songs, as well as shying away from Ben Folds Five staples, the 42-year-old performer’s boredom only was matched by that of the crowd. Ignoring the passer-by culture of festivals, Folds opted for niche tracks that only his truest fans could appreciate.

• Most talked about moment: A cover of Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit”, which sounds like just a vulgar piano tune when the joke is lost on a sea of half-listening patrons.

Fleet Foxes (5-6 p.m. Friday, PlayStation stage)

It’s fitting that this Seattle quintet took its stage after Bon Iver, as concert organizers must have grouped the most bearded performers intentionally. Even though the quiet crowd from an hour before must have dispersed, and the intricate harmonies of Robin Pecknold and Co. blasted through a treble-heavy PA system with ear-piercing precision. Then again, this was the same stage that power outages earlier in the afternoon left L.A.’s Hockey with an abbreviated set of three songs.

• Most talked about moment: The crowd’s sing-a-long to “White Winter Hymnal”.

Thievery Corporation (6-7 p.m. Friday, Chicago 2016 stage)

Both Carmen Sandiego and Waldo might have been lost somewhere in the packed crowd dancing its way through the dj duo’s evening gig. With concertgoers drenched to their saturation points, the dinnertime slot was the perfect setting for the global fusion of beats and eclectic guest vocalists.

• Most talked about moment: When the good buzz of performance was halted by the grim introduction of the track, “The Numbers Game”, referenced from stage as “the perfect [song] for these tough economical times.”

Of Montreal (7-8 p.m. Friday, vitaminwater stage)

Even the most eccentric performers get cold. The Athens, Ga.-based collective has a history of theatric, expansive stage decorations and costumes. And front man Kevin Barnes is known for stripping his share of the getups off mid-set. But even the charismatic vocalist kept his clothes on as the last hopes for sun stayed behind ominous gray rain clouds and sunk below the horizon.

• Most talked about moment: A cover of David Bowie’s “Moondage Daydream” that seemed – no pun intended – watered down.

Depeche Mode (8-10 p.m. Friday, Chicago 2016 stage)

With all due respect to the night’s other headliner, Kings of Leon, Depeche Mode has been one of the largest bands in the world for three decades – not only a handful of years. And as that Tennessee ensemble played to one of its largest U.S. audiences (despite headlining fests in Europe for a number of years), one of the weekend’s biggest draws rambled through a greatest hits set that showed no sign that front man Dave Gahan recently had surgery to remove a tumor from his bladder.

• Most talked about moment: The crowd’s reaction upon recognizing the first few notes to the back-and-forth synths of “Policy of Truth”. Pure eruption.

– Saturday, Aug. 8 –

Living Things (12:45-1:30 p.m. Saturday, Chicago 2016 stage)

Who says glam rock doesn’t work on your lunch break? Oh that’s right, everyone. But you have to hand it to this St. Louis foursome, the band believes its hard-stomping anthems and churns them out with black-clad conviction. It’s just too bad the members had to do so this early.

• Most talked about moment: Singer Lillian Berlin asking the crowd, “Who wants sun? Who wants rain? Sun it is.” Little did he know how much fans would get their wish during the next two days.

Miike Snow (1:30-2:30 p.m. Saturday, vitaminwater stage)

For three studio wizards that evolved into a six-piece ensemble, this band turns out high-energy pop songs with veteran accuracy.

• Most talked about moment: Member Andrew Wyatt informing the crowd, “We’re a band, not one person. … And Miike is spelled with two I’s.”

Los Campesinos! (2:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday, Budweiser stage)

The Welsh-formed sextet belted out tunes from the short-but-packed catalog, danced around staged, flailed, twisted, clapped, and poured every ounce of sweat and pop-savvy into this afternoon set. Why did it seem so boring?

• Most talked about moment: Leader Gareth Campesinos remembering how the band’s first U.S. show was at the 2007 Lollapalooza. They sure have come a long way, baby.

Gomez (3:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday, vitaminwater stage)

A year after recording A New Tide in Chicago, the former Mercury Prize winners returned to the scene to speckle in the new tracks among the band’s decade-old tunes that sound … well … not all that much different than the new songs.

• Most talked about moment: The rendition of A New Tide track “Airstream Driver”, complete with an onstage acknowledgement that the lyrics are lifted directly from Chicago cult heroes Red Red Meat.

Coheed and Cambria (4:30-5:30 p.m. Saturday, Chicago 2016 stage)

Four hours before the heavy, mathematic rock of Tool would take the stage, the prog rock of this longhaired foursome revved up the metalheads on site. Too bad the concert promoters missed a golden opportunity to use Coheed as the perfect stage setters for the south stage headliners.

• Most talked about moment: Quite possibly the heaviest cover version ever of the classic Church hit “Under the Milky Way”.

Glasvegas (5:30-6:30 p.m. Saturday, vitaminwater stage)

People are starting to migrate to Lollapalooza’s two main stages on the far north and south ends of the park. The retro wave of this Scottish ensemble soundtracks that great divide. Maybe it’s because ticket holders want to get good seats for the night’s biggest names, or maybe it’s because this band’s brooding tunes don’t sound all that compelling.

• Most talked about moment: The moment when each concert goer realized they were watching an accidental tribute to the 1980s. Days after Chicago filmmaker John Hughes died of a heart attack, Glasvegas sounded like a fitting tribute to his iconic soundtracks, while singer James Allen looks like a post-Clash Joe Strummer doppelganger.

TV on the Radio (6:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday, Budweiser stage)

Sing! Belt it out! Damnit, sing! In support of last year’s stellar LP, the Brooklyn art ensemble’s singer Tunde Adebimpe never unleashes the powerful vocals that have made his band such a consummate live act. It’s a shame, really.

• Most talked about moment: From the other side of the park, Rise Against front man Tim McIlrath reminds everyone of Grant Park’s history. “So much history here,” he said. “At the 1968 Democratic convention, the police beat the fuck out of a bunch of hippies. And last year, on this very spot, Barack Obama’s acceptance speech.”

Diplo (7-8:30 p.m. Saturday, Perry’s stage)

The dj tent isn’t really a tent at all this year and instead is a massive, swirling structure full of lights and tubes. In the middle, raised above the crowd is this Pennsylvania-based mix master. With an all-star lineup at the stage this year, Diplo remained one of the biggest names on the bill. Flanked by hype men and wearing a royal blue suit, the performer kept the crowd dancing for one of the weekend’s longest performances.

• Most talked about moment: A fight that left more than it’s share of onlookers covered in beer and one participant with noticeably fewer teeth.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs (8:30-10 p.m. Saturday, Budweiser stage)

Stepping in for fellow New York City trio The Beastie Boys (because of Adam Yauch’s throat cancer surgery), Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase were a late fill-in to the festival. Worse, they were a late addition as a headliner. It’s not that the members of YYYs aren’t ready for the big-time; they certainly are. Ms. O is a captivating front woman whose dance moves and vocals are hard to ignore, even if she did forget the words to the hit “Maps” – twice. But rather, the razor-sharp dance tunes aren’t ready to command the sort of crowd that awaited them at the north end of the park. In time, the three probably will be able to write more of the long-reaching, fist-pumping jams that translate to tens of thousands, such as “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll”. But right now, the YYYs are an act that has to be seen to be loved. And even with the aid of the jumbo screens, it’s hard to see anything at a festival this size.

• Most talked about moment: Tool, headlining the other end of the park. With leader Maynard James Keenan assuring the crowd, “We just got clearance for everybody –because of the heat, the humidity, the tiredness, the rain – to take their clothes off. At least for now.”

– Sunday, Aug. 9 –

Ra Ra Riot (12:30-1:30 p.m. Sunday, Chicago 2016 stage)

Big songs and big tales are what catch ears on a day that is forecast to break 100 degrees. Even for the first band of the day on this stage, the crowd already is nearing 10,000. The sawing cello and swooping violin lay the groundwork to getting the already tired, wandering masses to stop and take note.

• Most talked about moment: Singer Wesley Miles climbing down into the crowd to stand on the guard rail and shake hands during the band’s final song.

Bat for Lashes (1:30-2:30 p.m. Sunday, vitaminwater stage)

English songwriter Natasha Khan opens her performance with the obvious, reminding everyone it’s “really, really hot.” Thanks. Staring directly west, the sun hasn’t reached its highest point over her head yet, but it will by the end of the set. Somehow, her blue, swirling eye makeup doesn’t melt off as she hurries through epic, Bond-theme numbers.

• Most talked about moment: Khan indulging herself with a zither solo.

The Airborne Toxic Event (2:30-3:30 p.m. Sunday, Chicago 2016 stage)

It’s strange that singer Mikel Jollett sounds so pleased when acknowledging how awestruck and surprised he was to play Lollapalooza. His “alternative rock” is the stuff this fest was built on. During the course of two decades, the lineup has remained consistently rock-heavy, with a few acceptations cropping up each year. Jollett’s Airborne Toxic Event is no different: Big sweeping melodies, choruses you can sing to, hearts plastered on their black shirt sleeves, and chiming guitar solos make this band equal parts compelling and obnoxious.

• Most talked about moment: The band cutting its set 10 minutes short.

Dan Deacon (3:30-4:30 p.m. Sunday, vitaminwater stage)

Having grown from a one-man band to a large ensemble of dancers and hype men, the Baltimore native with a master’s degree in audio manipulation from SUNY-Purchase turned Lollapalooza into his personal classroom. The high-energy set kept people dancing, despite the scorching heat, and Deacon drew a steady selection of songs from this year’s Bromst.

• Most talked about moment: After slight technical difficulties at the start of the set flustered Deacon, the 27-year-old whiz reminded everyone to “feel free to dance; that’s what your legs are for.”

Vampire Weekend (4:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Chicago 2016 stage)

Each of the three days saw crowds grow steadily, and this Sunday evening slot is the first time in which the event feels sold-out. The crowd for this Paul Simon’s Graceland-copping foursome reaches from the south end of Grant Park (aka Hutchinson Field) to the center, with shoulder-to-shoulder capacity. Who’d have known there were so many people who own boat shoes and Izod polo shirts? And who’d have guessed they like to mosh?

• Most talked about moment: When singer Ezra Kroenig dedicates “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” to late director John Hughes.

Cold War Kids (5:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday, vitaminwater stage)

On its third Lollapalooza stop (the band also played in 2006 and 2007), Nathan Willett ditched his piano and stuck to only his electric guitar. After Ben Folds’ bomb Friday, Willett might have found it best suited to stay as far away from the keys as possible.

• Most talked about moment: When Willett speculated that it must be 1993 since Jane’s Addiction was headlining.

Lou Reed (6:30-7:30 p.m. Sunday, Budweiser stage)

Reed never has been known as a nice guy. Never been referred to as easy to work with. In fact, by most accounts, he’s a downright asshole. His Sunday night set didn’t do anything to dispel the notion. Taking the stage almost 20 minutes late, the 67-year-old icon ignored explanation and acted as though the other 129 bands on the tightly knit schedule weren’t depending on his punctuality. So when 7:30 rolled around and Reed still had 20 minutes left of his set list, did anyone expect him to stop on time? Of course not, and the former Velvet Underground leader played almost one-third of his set while Band of Horses waited on their stage to begin.

• Most talked about moment: As Reed arrogantly ignored his assigned slot, adjacent fans grew restless and angry in fear that Band of Horses’ set might get cut short. They began chanting and lobbing insults at the legendary singer.

Band of Horses (7:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday, PlayStation stage)

Lollapalooza’s final night turned into a musical cockfight. First Lou Reed swiped a 20-minute chunk from this psychedelic, Seattle folk group. But then when their time was supposedly up – feeling slighted by Reed’s ego – they played their entire set, which meant digging into headliner Jane’s Addiction’s calculated entrance. But Lollapalooza is Perry Farrell’s gig, and nobody – not even the trickledown effect of Lou Reed – should mess with him at his own festival, especially with the strict 10 p.m. deadline approaching.

• Most talked about moment: The final 20 minutes of the set, as the band finished its hard-hitting, spacey tunes while Jane’s Addiction played its opening three songs on the neighboring stage. For a brief while, music poured in from both directions as the acts bled together and each group’s songs became inaudible in a wave of not backing down rock ‘n’ roll. It was Band of Horses trying to end strong and Jane’s Addiction trying to kick start its set with fury. Amid the confusion, neither happened.

Jane’s Addiction (8:30-10 p.m. Sunday, Budweiser stage)

Helicopters flew above the north end of the park, shining spotlights on the crowd as though they were searching for someone. (They could have been Perry Farrell’s personal Lollapalooza henchmen in search of Lou Reed, out to teach him a lesson for F-ing up the entire night.) On the south end, a crowd almost twice the size of the one gathered for the nostalgic act congregated for The Killers. Who’d have guessed? Farrell knew what he was doing when he booked his own band at the smaller end of the park away from the VIP tents and media area.

• Most talked about moment: The helicopter entrance. Just like last year when rumors spread through Lollapalooza that Kanye West would parade out Barack Obama to greet the hometown fans, media members and festivalgoers alike got a little carried away with the Jane’s Addiction hearsay. Word circulated that a helicopter would land mid-crowd to deliver the foursome. Then it was said that the band would repel from the aircraft to the stage. By the end of the night, people might have expected a UFO full of tiny helicopters to descend over Grant Park and give each person their own miniature Jane’s Addiction action figure that grew to life-size when dropped in water.

Soundcheck Magazine, Aug. 13, 2009

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