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.