Thursday, August 15, 2013
Monday, August 5, 2013
The sunscreen I brought is not doing the trick. This morning I'm lobster man, red in the face and hurting, the least of problems given my bruises and blisters for the past two days. But the show must go on, so I reapply and hustle my way to the El .
Once again the grounds of Lollapalooza are far mare sedate then when I left them, but I enter the gate to the unexpected sounds of a killer guitar of a cover of “Girlfriend” by Matthew Sweet, being performed by School of Rock, the early openers at the kids stage. It's there, at a stage full of earnest hard rocking teens that this weary dad remembered how, when I was a teen, Matthew Sweet was a Demi God. And here I am seeing some teens reveling in his music, just like I used to.
Reveling is what I've got in mind today too - finding the next obsession, the next up and comer and bashing out some words to hopefully capture their essence.
First stop, a recommendation from Eleven's Bryan Sutter, O'Brother, an Atlanta-based band whose surging dirge and fuzz, three guitar prog-metal blow out was a bracing opening to the day. Yes, there was heavy metal hair whipping, yes, they added half time breakdowns, but above all that was this post-punk playful attitude and chiming Muse-style guitars and vocals that whipsawed between raw and graceful. Heavy and pretty. Shades of Soundgarden, perhaps?
YAWN had a lot in common with Vampire Weekend, by which I mean youthful, bright songs with off kilter beats, flamenco guitar and other world music influences. The comparisons ended there, however, because YAWN also dropped in dance beats and ethereal keyboards. The resulting mix was somewhere near a Tropicalia band doing late period Modest Mouse.
The bros were back as the EDM crowd gathered early for Stratus, a more recognizable style of tension/release electronica, close to Chemical Brothers / Crystal Method live sets in terms of cresting and riding only to slam into the floor with hip hop vocal samples punctuating as the mix folds in, bass swirling and synths squalling. the missing link between big beat, acid house and EDM.
Chilean band ASTRO brought an aborigine flair to their world music melange, an attempt to bring joyous pop to a set that didn't quite click with me. Something about the music felt flat, like attempting to blend that many disparate elements had somehow backfired.
Well, as I sometimes say, they can't all be winners. A modest crowd would seem to disagree with me, so let's chalk that one up to me being a crank.
Wild Belle, one of the bands with Wild in their name, brought a sweet 60s girl group vibe with ska guitars, vibrant horns, cool vocal harmonies and a dash of ragga/dancehall flavor. Some songs ramped up the tempo, and had a more rock attitude but it remains one of the most chill sets of the weekend.
Nightmare and the Cat kicked out some wavy surf guitar, cresting bass lines and new wave wavering vocals custom made for the end credits of a forgotten John Hughes flick. The set that followed dug into a huge grab bag of influences, grim jagged rock guitars, smooth pop vocalizing, frantic dynamic shifts and a general willingness to try anything. on paper this sounds chaotic, but it all works somehow.
Almost like a warmup for The Cure set later today is the 80s inspired Wild Nothing. Amid airy synths, Robert Smith guitars, and basically British new wave everything, you could still hear the band trying to bring their own flavor to the whole affair. Not that there's anything wrong with mining the past for your sound, since they do it without the gloomy atmosphere that is sometimes a by product of that era.
Angel Haze had other, nastier ideas, spitting venomous in-your-face hip hop over slabs of UK grime drums and jet engine bass. What emerged with a gumbo of EDM, bounce, trap, Top 40 pop and deeply personal backpacker hip-hop. When she asked if we liked it, the answer was obviously yes. Here in the early afternoon, we were met with one killer package of personal, engaging rap, club ready instrumentals and some wild experimental moments.
After a brief rest and an ill-advised snack of White Castle, I joined up with fellow Eleven contributor Bryan Sutter and hoofed it to Baroness. On the way, we compared war stories and silly gripes and cracked each other up with dueling Rip Taylor impressions.
Before Baroness, I caught the last few minutes of Alex Clare, British electro wizard, whose backing band included a goddamn keytar. Clare and his EDM/pop style was an interesting mix, especially his hit "Too Close,” which sounded appropriately massive and drew a huge reaction from the crowd. And then, he did the big rock star move of dropping the vocal to let the crowd sing. They gladly obliged, of course.
Bearded prog metal band Baroness lead a blistering, anthemic set of sharp tunes, making a hearty mess of shifting time signatures, bludgeoning bass and the occasional moment of beauty amidst it all. The effect was like getting trapped in a Frank Frezetta painting, where you are a buff wizard and there's babes and dragons. See also The Sword.
Walking to Tegan and Sara, it occurred to me that the Nirvana reference in part 1 could have been a subliminal reminder to catch Wavves, the antidote to todays 80s worshiping lineup. People believe (wrongly, I'm told) that Nirvana was the death knell for 80s hair metal and synth pop.
But over on the Red Bull stage, the dream of the 80s was alive with twin sisters Tegan and Sara, as they partied to the beats and keys of their new album Heartthrob. Just like last night's Postal Service set, the sisters Quinn wove dance pop out of sorrow, here with a emphasis on more interplay between the various stages of their career, which includes melodic folk, indie pop, pop rock and the lyrical poignancy that ties it together. In one of the funnier moments Tegan told a story early about their first Lollapalooza set in 2005, where Sara got heat stroke and couldn't finish. Thankfully, this time the weather was more forgiving and the set that followed delivered on their promise to make it up to us.
Covering ground had certainly been the plan, and cover I did in the way to Wavves, the stoner punk band whose sloppy elegance and lot fi records sounded like Green Day in a live setting. This is not a dig, by the way, in my humble opinion, “Dookie”-era Green Day was a band was at the top of their game. Wavves performed a fast and tight set with just enough Buzzcocks (“Freak Me Out”, in particular) to satisfy my jones for power pop/pop punk. Even slower songs were performed with a go-for-broke fearlessness that impressed.
I stuck with the rockers and hit up The Vaccines, whose album "What Do You Expect From The Vaccines?" was a power pop masterpiece, precisely because the Wavves energy was infectious. (Get it? Infectious? Vaccines? Ok, no more Red Bull for this guy).
The Vaccines were preceded by Two Door Cinema Club, a pop-leaning dance-rock crew with some sharp guitar work. The celebratory, frantic grooves reminded me of the earlier work of Minus The Bear.
The Vaccines themselves were a mad deconstruction of 50s pop via punk and grunge, which made the while affair a mess of Jesus And Mary Chain minus the sludge.
It's something of a shock that I enjoyed Grizzly Bear's set, since my opinion off the band was not that high. But after hearing the fusillade of sweet pop sounds and driving insistent instrumentation, I became a believer. By the time their biggest hit “Two Weeks” dropped, they had win me over.
Next up, on the recommendation of my follow ELEVEN revelers, I caught Major Lazer. I liked their albums, but, like Grizzly Bear, something about the raucous live show kept me rapt. The blustery wobble and dirty beats made for a delirious experience, not to mention righteous party anthems which turned a sedate crowd into a screaming mass of devotees. Something here, maybe it was the nature of the weekend, maybe it was the cocktail hour, maybe I was just ready to be moved, I felt geeky and turned out. Swarming bass and freaky friends and a stage show that brought out the dancing maniacs sure enough made me get why the band is universally beloved. It's a controlled chaos, an ass-shaking good time and a show worth catching when you can.
The sky threatened to drop some rain, just as Beach House reached the apex of their set, a delicate house of cards with swooping female vocals and nearly trip-hop backdrop, supplemented by the clean, bright guitars and on, point beats.
Thankfully, the weather held off the deluge long enough for them to wash over the crowd on a blissed out wave. Their set ended with then saying it was their first and last Lollapalooza, which I'm sure is just a joke, right?
Remember on night 1 (and parts of night 2) when I talked about my inner goth? That inner goth was the reason I stuck near the side of the park clearly marked The Cure. The Cure have been a constant in my musical tastes since my proper introduction to their material by my friend, and former bandmate, Ken. He showed me the “Staring at the Sand/Staring at the Sea” compilation and certain key tracks off “Wish” and my obsession began.
So obviously, The Cure were on my must-see list. Tonight, as in previous nights, I was not disappointed. They managed a near pitch-perfect recreation of the British post-new-wave-goth that they pretty much created out of nothing twenty plus years ago.
Robert Smith, of course, brought his usual stoic freakishness, all wild hair and lipstick and throaty vocal delivery. As the hazy keyboards enveloped him and the turned up bass played an elegiac version of “Plainsong”, it was almost enough to transport me to the passenger seat of a Ford Taurus that barely ran as Ken would play “Disintegration” over and over until I got it, really got it.
In this place, the past and the future became two opposing forces, whose tidal pull were hard to resist.
The Cure slayed us there, by drawing us in with glorious guitar, the catalogue of hits and deep cuts and compilation-only tunes as numerous as one could ask for. Hell, they played most of their best album “Disintegration” as well as "Wrong Number", “100 Years " and so many more. Amid all that, we sat, or at least I sat, enraptured in the goth wonder of it all.
Think of it, here stands a band older than nearly all the others (save New Order) and it's their set that draws us to a close. Their classic post-punk pre-new-wave is the bridge between the 80s and 90s and a fitting cap on tonights worship of the past. It's almost appropriate that there's chill in the air as the festival ends, the cold hand of death (or its less sinister cousin, change), always there, waiting.
The line that rings out at me, grim as out is, from "More Than This", in it Smith says “...it's the price way pay for happiness." After all, isn't that the whole sum of our weekend? We made sacrifices, took time off from work, drove a long way, left our families, paid money and made all kinds if concessions to be here, sharing this moment. And it was worth it. At least, I think it was.
And then of course the lyrics to “Disintegration” itself, noting how things always end.
But then, at last, the finale, "Love Cats", as silly and bizarre a moment as one could wish for.
As the last notes of "Love Cats" rang out, I said a solemn goodbye to my second favorite city and hobbled to my train on bruised and blistered feet, thankful for the reprieve, but sad that it was over.
Tonight we came together, tomorrow we fall apart. Ain't that just like life.
Sunday, August 4, 2013
As the day starts, I'm far worse off now than I was, a combination of sunburn, foot blisters and general fatigue have forced me to be even more selective with the amount of walking and/or running I do.
This is all the fault of a shampoo company.
Let me explain.
Yesterday, amidst the already chaotic day of seeing as many bands as humanly possible (see also this post – http://elevenmusicmag.blogspot.com/2013/08/lollapalooza-2013-day-1-wild-running.html), I decided, against my better judgement, to trek to an “exclusive” invite-only party happening in a hotel across town. Trouble was, as I'm trying to keep this trip from ruining my personal finances, I decided to walk. Normally, this would not be an issue, but somewhere in my head I confused North and South State Street and walked for nearly 6 blocks in the wrong direction before realizing it. After that mishap – and an hour plus of walking time wasted – I found myself in a room with well-coifed supermodels trying to sell shampoo. I don't really know why I decided to try my luck at fitting in at this party, but the sight of me, in cargo shorts and a “How's My Blogging?” t-shirt, dirty and partially sunburned, was likely not something that the elite at this party were too keen on.
That misstep cost me the opportunity to cover about 3 bands and made me feel entirely too foolish, not to mention the blisters and the sunburn and the whatnot.
Today, I said to myself, is going to be different.
At 11am, I find Lollapalooza in a much milder state than when I left it. At closing last night, a teeming mass of sunburned drunk deliriously happy (and likely stoned) people swarmed the train stations, nearby drug stores and bars, creating a crushing mess.
This morning, the crowd was a touch less brostep and more the vast variety you'd expect.
On a side note, there was still this weird habit of stuffed animals (or in some cases printed out faces of minor internet memes like Honey Boo Boo or Grumpy Cat) on sticks, which I first took to be a sign of HERE'S WHERE THE DRUGS ARE advertising. It was only later that I realized that it was a way for friends not to lose their group in the crowd. Pretty smart, if you really think about it. If you lose your friends in the growing crowd, just look for the minion from “Despicable Me” or the huge face of John Stamos.
Kicking off the day in a very Woodstock-friendly fashion was the Americana by way of classic riff n roll rock, AM gold in a universe where AM gold also includes Tom Petty sounds of The Wheeler Brothers. it seemed a fitting change from yesterday's sonic assault, a gradual wading in like walking into a cold pool in a hot day. Even though dark lyrics about leaving no witnesses snuck their way in, their sound was so sunny and energetic that I'm pretty sure very few noticed. Their falsetto on their cover of Jackson Fives "One More Chance” really wowed me.
The big news at this point in the day was a report that blog darling experimental noise/hip-hop band Death Grips had been cut from the festival. Investigation via some online sources and other media people in attendance revealed that at an official after party, Death Grips simply did not show up. Fans of the band destroyed their equipment, and the festival lineup was changed, adding in snowboarder Shawn Whites band Bad Things in their slot.
The weather continued to be excellent during a cursory walk around the festival grounds, on the way to see PUJOL, a band whose last release, UNITED STATES OF BEING (saddle creek), was a leave in your stereo on repeat disc. After dedicating their set to "BDSM lizard people" (the silly artwork on their backdrop), they blasted into a ferocious, sometimes silly, version of The Replacements-indebted Indie rock, complete with wicked guitar licks. The Nashville based band kept it silly between songs, announcing that one was "from the soundtrack to the movie Blues Brothers 2012". These dudes were clearly having fun and managed to sound lockstep tight and off the cuff, no easy feat in the hurry up and wait atmosphere of the festival. So far, one of the best sets by a smaller band, based on charm and chops.
I wandered into another resurgence taking place across the park PLANET HEMP ripped live hip hop with a Rage Against The Machine quality live band behind them, dropping science in English and Spanish, a nice reminder that rap rock, while usually not remembered fondly, can still be done well. In that short set, I could pick out traces of Plastillina Mosh, Shootyz Groove, early 311, Rage Against The Machine, Limp Bizkit and many others. But as the band tore into Zepplin song “The Ocean”, which Beastie Boys infamously sampled on their first album, it became clear who the influence really was. PLANET HEMP was a nice unexpected treat, given their proximity to 90s influenced PUJOL and REIGNWOLF, the jet black noise shredding reverb vocaled rocker
REIGNWOLF took the stage as a solo act, ripping blues rock and stomping a bass drum. He then settled behind a fill kit and drummed with one have and played slick guitar riffs with the other, another unexpected treat. Then the rest of the band took the stage and what was already an intense death groove got heavier. Sludge blues metal, think Wolfmother but better, think Queens of the Stone Age, but slightly less controlled. And neither Wolfmother nor Queens of the Stone Age would have ever covered Fleetwood Mac. Their blistering version of “The Chain” straight up ruled, as it captured the original menace of the song with just a guitar and bass drum.
Around this time, I also heard Azalea Banks was dropping out of tonight's show, citing a throat infection. Which would make two years in a row. This last minute cancellation made the already embattled Grove stage go through some serious lineup changes.
Ah, the choices began to get harder as the 4 o'clock hour swung around – do I catch a rare set by funky soul legend and heir to James Brown's cape Charles Bradley or Lou Fest artist and goth-tinged new wave Wild Cub? Today, the funk won out.
To the strident horns of the Menahan Street Band, out comes newly minted Daptones recording artist Charles Bradley. With a husky rasp of a voice and spot on, but minimal, dancing, Bradley had certainly earned his James Brown comparison. Easily the funkiest set of the weekend, probably due to the sick live backing band. When Charles screamed turn thus mother out, they were more then happy to toss horn runs, drums snapping on the one and subtlely soulful guitar with a dash of organ flair in the mix.
After a brief sojourn to the nearby drug store for a diet soda and some baby powder (don't ask), The band I was most interested to see live was coming up... Matt and Kim. Their two pronged electro pop attack of keyboards and drums had set audiences ablaze at shows in STL, so seeing this set was a must. And they did not disappoint. In between snippets of Salt N Peppa (“Push It”) Chicago's favorite son Kanye West (“N****'s in Paris”) and Ace Hood (“Bughatti”) came a shirt throwing, sweaty dancing, Animal from “The Muppets” drumming, hair whipping frenzy of weekend-ready party anthems. Matt and Kim sit at that intersection of pop and indie that is infectious as it is memorable. Even in their quiet moments, they really knew how to draw maximum fun out of the crowd
Local Natives, whose youthful charm and jangling blare can over their lyrical content, still made a pretty spectacle of three part vocal harmonies and playful dynamic indie pop. A willing and cheerful crowd certainly thought so too.
After a much needed rest (and after downing a few Red Bull), I marched out into the party zone clearly marked Bauuer. Elevated stage area? You bet. Bros with t-shirts that read “BEAST MODE”? Oh yeah. Someone in the crowd asking if I've seen his friend Molly? Count on it.
Bauuer, mostly known for a snippet of his tune "Harlem shake" via viral video, still goes all-out for the live show. You've probably seen dozens of variations on people spazzing out to “Harlem Shake” and think, like I did, that corresponding minimalist party clips tell you everything you need to know. And you'd be right. Which is not really a bad thing. If you enjoy hard partying trap and EDM head bangers with no trace of subtlety, but a healthy addiction to pop hooks, then step right up. The assembled throng went hard in the paint for this barely visible proto super star.
Going from trap/EDM to Ellie Goulding was a natural transition, given her top 40 status and vocal acrobatics, but, alas, my aching feet demanded I sit still for a moment, so instead, I opted for the country fried southern rock Eric Church served up.
And I'm glad I did. I don't care much for modern country – most of the stuff Shania and her ilk churn out sounds way too much like pop music to my taste. Eric Church, for what it's worth, doesn't do modern country. He does a country-tinged version of pretty much every other form of rock under the sun. Hell, he even plugged a Metallica riff into divorce anthem, "I'm Gettin' Stoned." If you can think Aerosmith by way of Garth Brooks, with a sharp wit and stadium ready sing along songs, you're halfway there. Even classic Merle-style boozer "Jack Daniels" got the rock turned up a few notches.
It's really only appropriate that right then, I had a mean hankering for a beer and wound up getting one. It's even more appropriate that right then and there was when I heard of the passing of KDHX DJ and legendary photographer, musican and storyteller Bob Rueter. As the sun started setting over Grant Park and I watched Eric Church take some young'uns to school about what Americana can really mean, I tipped one out to Bob. I barely knew him, but so large was his presence in the scene that I couldn't help but feel a sense of loss.
While a beer was what hit the spot, what I really wanted to do was catch more bands.
Again, the risk vs reward effect came into play. Do I see The National, a deft indie crew with influences vast and a sound that'd be hard to nail down, but which lies somewhere in the gap between post-punk and alt-country, or Heartless Bastards, a garage rock band whose fiery lead singer has a vocal delivery just a hair or two short of Marianne Faithfull?
This time the prize went to The National, whose indie meets whatever aesthetic certainly fit with the lineups thus far, drawing the listener in with hooky guitar work, steam of consciousness lyrics and moody atmospherics. Jason Stoff, fellow Eleven traveler, pointed put the fragile banging balancing act that the band puts into every song, teetering just on the brink of chaos, but never tipping over. A magic trick that they employ to fascinating effect
The bathroom lines have grown untenable at this point and that beer is an unwelcome visitor that must be expelled, so the wait begins. Although the line of dudes straight pissing on the fence would indicate that the festival has just turned the corner. Surely lawless anarchy can only follow.
On a weird, sorta inside side note : The dude in the Shellac shirt just confused the living hell out of me. Why is he here? What possible band does he want to see?
I pondering this and other questions as I listened to Kendrick Lamar do his smooth and funky R&b/rap, making good on the early support of mentor Dr. Dre and the legacy of 90s stars like Next and Bel Biv Devoe. Kendrick might not be a Michael Bevins, but who is?
I ventured out a bit to the Grove stage, a nice vantage point for a rapidly setting sun, to catch HAIM. A rock n roll corollary to Chekov's Gun, a theory that posits that any time a gun appears on stage it must be fired by the end, is what I'll call Robinson's Drum – a stage with that many drums must be ready for action. And action I got as HAIM went H.A.M. in a show of fury and fiery classic rock in the vein of Heart, complete with guitar heroism and delicate harmonies framing an urgent whole. Guitars in hand, the girls of HAIM added percussion and keyboards to their already layered sound, in a perfectly choreographed regiment, not discounting their vocal dexterity – trading lines between three vocalists – which was also dizzying.
A prefect compliment to Kendrick Lamar and his smooth range of rap/r&b was Supreme Cuts whose crowd was significantly less than is expected this time of night. What they lacked there, they made up with slick laptop beats and solid rapping, tight inter-band interplay and oversize personalities. Despite the hammer pants, they sounded closer to their contemporaries like J. Cole, a smooth combo of Prince falsetto, pop rap verbiage and grimy beats, laced with just a touch of classic R&B.
As the sky finally darkened and a small chill passed through the crowd, making me wish for a hoodie, despite the scorching afternoon, The Postal Service took the stage. A one-off side project of DNTEL's Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard had, ten years ago, turned into a geniune phenomenon. Their spirited, genius performance showed that, despite the announcement earlier in the day about this show being one of their last, that they cane to play and play hard. Opening with track 1 side 1 of their only album, “GIVE UP”, they brought a note for note performance of the best of electronic Indie pop, the rare IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) album that also managed to produce some huge, amazing singles, chock full of Gibbard's signature literate melancholy. Along for the ride was special guest and Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis, who appeared on a good number of songs on the album.
There, in the rapidly cooling night, sorrow and dance combined. The band, dancing and playing with abandon, seemed to be enjoying their send off in righteous style, even when switching from bass to drums mid song. Gibbard, Tamborello and company filled the entire sonic space, layering delicate electronic chords, sweet vocal harmonies and live instrumentation. Rarely have songs about isolation, sadness, paranoia, breakups and the rest seemed so with dancing to out singing along with. The self professed band from nowhere made a lot of people in attendance feel united in dance.
Right then, I thought of my wife. She has been very understanding about this whole trip, up to and including hearing my gab on about it nonstop for weeks. And this band is her favorite band. Possibly of all time, short of Ani DiFranco.
So maybe it was that, and maybe it was the fact that I won't get to share this with her – or anyone else. But somehow, in that moment, I understood the Nirvana lyric “I miss the comfort in being sad.” I think that's the whole appeal of The Postal Service in general, if you really think about it. While we all share these dark feelings, what can we do but dance it out and express them?
Fire works exploding at the end of (and during) the set hammered the joy and sadness combo home.
As we the lucky few (though few might be giving it some generosity, given that there's so many of us) made the pilgrimage back home or to the next party spot, I thought to myself, that was insanity, this is madness, this isn't even over yet. Tomorrow we rise early and do this again.
Except for you, Bob Rueter, tomorrow, you finally get to rest.
Saturday, August 3, 2013
It sounded like the perfect plan: leave the KDHX studios at 1am and drive all night to Chicago, arriving at my crash spot with time to spare before picking up my badge and beginning coverage of Lollapalooza. As usual, the best-laid plans did as they are wont to do and before you know it, I've blown through a toll booth, gotten lost in the Art District and, of course, gotten soaked in the unexpected torrential downpour.
The beginnings of the trip were likely just a fluke, a narrative red herring to make me appreciate the rest of the trip, since I was in for one of the best music festival lineups in the Midwest. Over the next three days, I will see legendary new-wave pop band New Order, industrial bohemoths Nine Inch Nails, goth godfathers The Cure, indie-pop's wunderkind The Postal Service and dozens more bands whose names I can't even remember right now. 140+ bands on 7 stages over 3 days, 12 hours a day. Like everyone else on the Eleven staff, I have my “must-see” list, I have some outliers whose records really moved me and I have the dark horse, come-from-nowhere bands whose names are the only indication I have of their quality. Yes, I know these bands are eminantly Googleable, but for the moment, I'm going to let the festival spirit guide me. I recall a few bands whose existence was a mystery to me until happening upon them at other such festivals: the two-girl hip-hop attack of Thee Satisfaction at LouFest, bludgeoning L7-style glam metal goddesses Betty Blowtorch at a Warped Tour and also at the same Warped Tour a hyperbolic rapper who goes by the name Glue. The point is, no amount of preparation can prevent sudden downpours or traffic jams, and the same holds true for which bands will make a mark on a festival-goer. There are just some moments you can't prepare for and that's exactly why we're here.
The day is particularly beautiful for a Chicago summer. Despite a few moments of light rain, the weather is near perfect.
There seems to be an EDM theme running through the first day of Lollapalooza, starting with the first group I encountered, Brite Lite Brites, a house-by-way-of-big-beat version featuring a glorious female singer who managed to captivate a small but appreciative audience early in the festivities. The next stop was Robert DeLonge, a future LouFest performer, whose version of EDM was quite different: using vocal loops and some live percussion, he was able to impart a heartfelt, funky human element that EDM is often missing. The crowd, though still nowhere near its eventual mass, reacted quite well, creating pulsing waves of movement with each new bleat and squawk. When he sings “did I make you fucking dance?” the answer is a fist-in-the-sky HELL YEAH!
I was less impressed with The Neighborhood, whose sound and live show left a lot to be desired. They were a full-throated Coldplay/Snow Patrol style mid-tempo AOR band, but the reception from the crowd was quite good, so maybe the fault doesn't lie with the players but with my taste in particular.
My taste also includes a huge love of '90s R&B; from TLC to Next to ABC and back, I love it all. Which is why British chanteuse Emile Sande hit all the right buttons for me: classic-sounding R&B with a live backing band, which sometimes would ramp into a devious breakbeat ala British electropop.
On a similar if not same page was D-Pryde, whose throwback '90s hip-hop was anchored by even more classy production. Imagine if Will Smith wasn't shy about writing songs about real things rather than just playing up his roles in movies. That was precisely the comparison this warranted: DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, like the TV shows and the movie roles never happened. Classic feel-good positive hip-hop.
One of the groups that was an unknown to me before this trip was girl-girl duo Deap Vally. Despite their ridiculously spelled name, they flat out ruled. Two-woman guitar/drums blasts with shades of Zeppelin. Blues-influenced two-piece bands are nothing new—see also Pack A.D., Black Keys, etc.—but rarely does their singer have as much gusto and talent as was on display here. A sleeper hit, in my book.
The rain started and stopped just in time for Swedish metal band GHOST B.C., whose sound doesn't owe to black metal screamers as it does to their contemporaries System of a Down or, hell, even Dio. Theirs is a brand of metal more melodic in its focus and more operatic in its vocal delivery. Thus far, one of the heaviest bands – so loud and heavy that you could hear them clear across Grant Park, which is no easy feat.
Bricks and Mortar, another upcoming LouFest performer, requested a shout-along near the end of their set and they sure got it. The ragga-influenced beats-and-keys duo brought a funky focus to their Matt and Kim hyperactive bash-and-pop. Drums were truly front and center, a crushing storm amidst the fractured beauty, and the last song, “Bangs,” was fuzzed-out bass heaven.
Early in the day at such an event, it's a mad scramble to get from one stage to the next to the next to the next, then back again, trying to catch at least a part of everything—especially since most of it is so brand new. I don't really want to miss anything, for fear I'll miss out on something I really wanted to see but didn't yet know I really wanted to see.
So it was for most of the day, and the picks above really reflect that. But once the 5pm hour hits, the really difficult decisions loom: a choice must be made between several established bands that I'm already a fan of and determine which one I actually like more. Do I pick the blues-metal of Queens Of The Stone Age, whose new album “...Like Clockwork” is a continuation of their already stellar catalogue? Or do I go for a rare live performance by a sorta-reunited New Order, the band born from the ashes of the ne-plus-ultra bands I loved as a teen? For me, the inner goth won out, as it tends to, and he demanded New Order. I think we made the right choice.
Before New Order could take the stage, Imagine Dragons had to finish and, despite my irritation at their new single “Radioactive,” they brought a huge crowd and kept them satisfied. Even I, in my stone-hearted abstinence, found myself saying, “Well, I like THIS one.” Their rise is quite unique—my travelling companions tell me that not more than a year ago these same guys had a hard time filling the Firebird. That type of meteoric rise is noteworthy at very least, right? I don't have many notes on them as I was still trying to rectify the image I had of them from their single and how the songs sounded in a live setting.
If the theme of the day was dance music, well: New Order has made some of the fiercest, most popular dance tunes to come from Tony Wilson's Factory label. They stormed the stage and slayed with a combination of classic tracks and some deeper cuts. Despite their aging appearances, New Order really made the night for me. Hearing those classic tunes—“Bizarre Love Triangle”!—in a live setting made them all that much more special. After all these years, these tunes, which are so dear to me, are lovingly reproduced and almost curated like a museum display by their original creators. But the real icing on the cake was the final two songs of their set, which were, to my surprise, Joy Division tunes. My personal favorite, “Transmission,” and the biggest JD hit “Love Will Tear Us Apart” brought the massive crowd together in a singalong of epic proportions that I'm sure Ian would have loved. As the last line of “Transmission”—"dance dance dance to the radio"—rang out, the dubstep/trap duo Flux Pavilion next door threatened to drown them out. But then came "Love Will Tear Us Apart." And the screens behind them read “FOREVER JOY DIVISION.” If that doesn't make you wanna cry, you have no heart.
Some part of choosing your battles on festivals like these is also knowing when to leave. After New Order, I made my way to the stage where industrial legends Nine Inch Nails were to play. Before NIN would take the stage, the band opposite them needed to finish their set. And who would that be but blunted EDM-aping remix artists Lance Herbstrong. Despite their stoner-baiting name, the delivered a glorious set of weird electro-rock jams, with live guitar and funky onstage video installations. Although their set consisted mostly of their new album Meth Breakfast, they did sneak a few surprises in, not the least of which was an inspired Bloc Party remix.
Nine Inch Nails. What is there left to say about Trent Reznor and his dark legacy of industrial angst? Plenty more, by the looks of things. The stage show has always been a dash of alchemy: some songs when presented live don't have the sturm and drang that they do on a heavily produced album, so re-workings happen constantly. But the ebb and flow of those changes—playing old material straight, adding in new songs that haven't been released, throwing a glimmer of KISS-esque spectacle—seems to make the show much more worthwhile.
Reznor and company exploded onto the stage with a brand-new song from the upcoming album “Hesitation Marks,” an as-yet-unidentified song about being a mindless drone, a “copy of a copy of a copy.” (This brings up a weird parallel, since Chuck Palahnuik, author of Fight Club, has intimated throughout the years that Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral were the soundtrack to his writing that particular novel, well, now Palahnuik has one of his lines from Fight Club woven into a song by Nine Inch Nails. Funny how that works.)
From there, the set veered wildly into both new and familiar territory—the tension/release of “March of the Pigs” was particularly brutal—while still feeling fresh and new.
Which one could interpret as being another theme for the day. After all, without Trent Reznor's chart-topping ode to sex and self-loathing “Closer,” and New Order's bass-driven melancholia “Blue Monday,” would guys like Flux Pavilion et al still exist?