Sunday, August 4, 2013

There and Back Again - Day 2 Of Lollapolooza

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 –, 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.

-Jason Robinson

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