Elle: I walked into the festival today thinking that it was going to be the best overall day, and barring some surprise killer performance from an act on Sunday, I think I was right. Getting up a little early was worth it, as I was able to catch many of the smaller acts I love without huge crowds getting in my way, even though the festival was already outrageously crowded by noon.
Tommy: So Friday, I had a final at 3 in the afternoon, finished at 5, got to Chicago at 7:30, and saw Radiohead. Today was better. With a valuable night of sleep out of the way and newfound energy, today was what Lollapalooza was all about – sampling band after band, getting a variety of different sounds stuck in your ears until the next morning.
12:15-12:45 – Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s vs. getting there late
Elle: I’ve seen Margot twice before today, and both times I was thoroughly disappointed in their live show. I can’t get enough of their first full-length, The Dust of Retreat,, but when I first saw them translate those catchy songs to a live show, I swore I wouldn’t pay money to see them again. It’s been a little while now, and Margot impressed me today. They played their old songs with new tones and a newly focused energy, and the crowd definitely picked up on it. The lead singer, Richard Edwards, took a lot more liberties with his voice and it made the whole show more interesting. Their new songs sound very promising and have less of that indie/gimmicky feel, just like honest rock and roll with a catchy twist to it. And Tennis (the auxiliary percussionist) is always very fun to watch.
Tommy: With a half hour walk ahead of me, my friends and I got to enjoy the city sights on our way to Margot. It was a busy day for Chicago with baseball games, a concert in UIUC, shows booked in all the music venues, and of course, Lollapalooza. We finally got to Grant Park a little before 12:30, but then came to the realization that the park itself must be at least a half mile long, so we made it to Margot just as they finished their set. Rats…at least we’re ready for Dr. Dog.
1:30-3:30 – Dr. Dog and lunch vs. Foals
Elle: I have been digging Dr. Dog’s latest record, Fate, lately, so naturally I was really excited to see them live. While the band was incredibly tight in every way, their songs didn’t shine like they do on record. Don’t get me wrong; it was a great show to see live. They had good energy, great instrumental sections, and the vocal layering (which I am a sucker for) was a big bonus. And for those of you wondering if Scott McMicken’s voice actually sounds like that, it does.
I made the decision to see MGMT at 3:30 today (instead of DeVotchKa), so I hung around and grabbed some food from the mediocre/overpriced vendors and found shade (which instantly dropped my body temperature about ten degrees). I’m not the biggest fan of MGMT, I just think they’re fun and have some good songs, so I didn’t make a huge effort to get right up front to see them in all of their glory. This was a mistake.
Tommy: After sitting through the Ting Ting’s pumping, but obnoxious set (I swore, they played “that iPod song” at least 5 times), Dr. Dog casually made it on stage, appearing as quirky as they sound. Their Fate was an excellent album composed of great songs smartly ornamented, convincingly coherent, while still diverse. I was ready to see what the band could do live. It quickly became clear to me, however, that they were a great studio band (a way of saying they were slightly disappointing live). They still put on a good, high-energy set, but I was hungry and started feeling the sunburn on my neck. Dr. Dog, demand my attention.
Elle and I had the same plan afterword, grabbing some grub and sitting in the shade. I’m convinced that the festival had never been graced with as good as weather as today. It was sunny, and just slightly warm. And water was just $2.
We were sitting in the crossfire of the Foal’s and the Gutter Twins sound, so in a way I experienced both. Even from where I was, the Foals sounded crisp, tight, and energetic. After discussing the difference between the word “foal” and “fowl” and then wondering what makes a horse a foal as opposed to a filly, a colt, a filly foal, and a colt foal, and then finally clarifying that a fowl is, in fact, a type of bird, I decided I didn’t enjoy the Gutter Twins. Maybe the conversation turned me off for them.
3:30-4:30 – MGMT vs. DeVotchKa
Elle: Listen, Lollapalooza. I think you’re great. You bring together a ridiculous amount of good bands for not very much money about a 20 minute walk from where I live. Whoever has to plan this thing is probably a genius, and I’d like to bake him cookies sometime. However, you have got to get your act together when it comes to planning stages. I went to see MGMT and I couldn’t hear anything, because the Citi stage (from which I was farther away) was overpowering the band. Between the superhighway of people trying to get up close for Rage Against the Machine and the fact that the MySpace stage just wasn’t loud enough, I had a seriously shitty time seeing MGMT. And please get some better beer next year. Pitchfork is way ahead of you on that.
In all seriousness, MGMT would have been cool in a small club setting — they had a full band and they would have probably sounded good if I could have heard them. Nonetheless, I left that hellhole to go over to DeVotchKa around 4:00, which was a seriously good call. I caught about 20 minutes of their set, but they put on a hell of a show. I will be seeing them again.
Tommy: Unlike Elle, I started off at Devotchka, and couldn’t bring myself to part with the band to check out MGMT. The quartet was an excellent group of musicians, drenching their songwriting in Greek, Mariachi, Slavic, and countless other sources of influences. For me, it is this diversity of music that makes a festival, the show being reminiscent of Calexico’s appearance on the same stage two years ago. Every member was a multi-instrumentalist, singer Nick Urata on guitar, and theremin, Tom Hagerman on violin, accordion and piano, Jeanie on sousaphone and upright bass, and Shawn King on drums, percussion, and trumpet.
The highlight of the show was when Urata, rocking out on his mandolin, used the neck of the instrument to control the theremin, playing both instruments at once while singing his heart out. Devotchka’s performance, was definitely one of my favorites of the festival so far, making me feel less guilty for missing out on MGMT.
4:30-5:30 – Explosions in the Sky
Elle: I grabbed a blanket and found a spot on the ground by a big speaker for Explosions in the Sky. There’s not much to say about these guys that hasn’t already been said; their guitar tones are ridiculous and even though they don’t have vocals, they have an undeniably recognizable sound that instantly makes me feel like I’m floating on a cloud made of rock and roll.
Tommy: Everything Elle said was right on. The Texas quartet was excellent at what they were doing, topping their records with the raw emotion that you can only get from the group live. After an excellent set at Devotchka and with my anticipation for Okkervil River, though, I was antsy…and left Explosions halfway through their set.
5:30-6:30 – Okkervil River
Elle: Instead of trying to wiggle my way to the front of the stage where I’d have to stare directly into the sun for an hour, I just turned myself around on my blanket to listen to Okkervil River. This way, I got to do some more good people watching and hear people say to each other “Is it Oh-kkervil or Ah-kkervil?” However you choose to pronounce it, they sounded great. I regret not seeing them in Champaign the last time they came through, and I vow to see them again.
Tommy: Now with two Texas exports in a row, Okkervil River put on an excellent set. They were just as excited as the crowd was, playing favorites like “Unless It’s Kicks,” “Our Life is not a Movie or Maybe,” and “A Girl in Port.” The performance was vibrant and varied with Will Sheff’s eclectic personality moving him around the stage in uncontained enthusiasm. The group was just as loose as I imagined with Sheff’s anglular melodies, linear, rolling lyrics, and the band’s contribution of trumpets, organs, percussions, and other instruments making their performance loyal to The Stage Names.
6:30-7:30 – Broken Social Scene vs. Battles
Elle: I wasn’t sure what to expect from Broken Social Scene, since their sound and live show have been all over the place in the past. For the first three songs I thought “meh”, and then they brought out Amy Millan and everything got better. Between Kevin Drew’s witty banter (he called us Chicago/Gotham City) and the fact that there were three straw fedoras on stage, I ended up having a great time at this show.
Tommy: As much as I love Broken Social Scene in all their communal hippy-ness, I’ve seen them way too much, and can never rely on the full band showing up for the performance. Plus, even after watching video after video of Battles live, I still needed to see them with my own eyes to believe that humans could actually produce such rhythmically impossible and perfect music. This quartet is a machine, drummer John Stanier spitting out perfectly even sixteenth note fills to the millisecond. Using loop pedals, playing guitars and keyboards at the same time, and employing the inhuman sound of the vocoder to filter vocals through, Battles was just as revolutionary as their debut album, Mirrored.
8:30-10:00 – Wilco vs. Rage
Elle: Thinking about whether I was going to see Rage or Wilco almost gave me an ulcer this weekend. There were so many times where I said “OK, Wilco.” Then three minutes later I would say “No, Rage. I’m never going to see them again”. Anyone who talked to me before the festival knows that I had a problem with decisions this weekend. In the end, Wilco ended up winning for two reasons: one, I knew they would sound great; and two, seeing as I almost died from crowdsurfers at Radiohead last night, I didn’t feel like risking my life to see the band I loved in 6th grade.
First thoughts when Wilco walked on stage: “No Barack Obama, and damn, look at those suits”. Then Wilco rocked my face off. I don’t regret my decision a bit. Later, after walking out of the festival, I saw a die-hard Rage fan who I’ve known for a while, and he told me he left Rage halfway through because he was scared he was either going to get elbowed in the face or trampled. Between the amazing spots we got and the Chicago skyline right behind the Chicago natives’ set, Wilco was a highlight so far..
I still want to talk to other people who went to Rage. Did anyone go? I want details. Did you almost die? Was it worth it? Dish!
At least tomorrow I don’t have a difficult decision. I’m going Kanye all the way.
Tommy: Wilco. We’re in the hometown, Wilco is one of the best bands of our generation, and look at their suits. The band walked on stage wearing a different colored suit each (reminiscent of the Power Rangers) decorated with killer whales, Japanese cats, and skulls. The moment they walked on, with the Chicago skyline backdrop and loudly glimmering apparel of the band, I just knew that this performance would be a classic.
I won’t go into the setlist, because whoever cares probably already looked it up, but just as always, the band delivered a well varied performance.
I can’t decide who was better, Radiohead, or Wilco…or Devotchka. What a festival.