CoS vs. Grant Park III: Round One at Lollapalooza ’10

One word: Lollapalooza. We’ve heard this story before. Chicago’s beloved Grant Park plays host to over a hundred bands and thousands upon thousands of people, only to end up weathered, smelly, and polluted. But, the city loves it, it’s good for business, and it’s become a Chicago past time that feels less intrusive and more integral to the summer experience. Hey, it beats the overwhelming Taste of Chicago. That’s for sure.

This year, the festival returns in style. (Not that it ever lacked in that department.) For one, there’s Lady Gaga and her $150,000 stage. Then there’s Graham Elliot, the festival’s culinary director and hometown savior to all foodies everywhere. And on top of all that, there’s the expansion of the festival itself, which now includes Columbus Drive and the remainder of the park, stretching all the way out to Michigan Ave. So, in sum, Perry Farrell certainly shined the right shoes and played his cards right. Someone should send him a letter. Or, just continue to clap really, really loud.

Regardless, if today’s any indication, he certainly “got the message.” People showed up willfully invested in soaking up every ounce of the festival; some decked out in their Gaga finest, others in their hipster best. The beloved “green man” (a la It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) even rolled up. It was an odd smorgasbord of folks, but altogether they got along. Some even held each other while singing. (Then again, The Strokes do that to people.) And while it’d be nice if the majority of the crowd realized Columbus Drive was open for passage, it never seemed too congested, maybe with the exception of sets by The Walkmen or The Black Keys. Think about it, when it only takes two minutes to get a lemonade or a grilled cheese – at the peak dinner hours, mind you – that’s pretty awesome.

How about this weather, too? It’s been a long time coming that Lollapalooza received some good fortune from above. No, not from god, calm down, just nature. We needed it; that is, if we planned on keeping things civil. Last year’s rain didn’t bring any smiling faces, it only manufactured wet, smelly concertgoers, who managed to get more drunk than necessary, and stumble on everyone – especially during a life-changing rendition of “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. No, that last comment wasn’t personal at all. Not one bit.

Anyhow, so far so good, but we’ll break it down for you…

Friday, August 6th

These United States
BMI, 11:15 a.m.

It’s never easy having to serve as the opening/warm-up act for a bigger, more successful band. It’s even harder having to open a three-day music festival, but that’s what These United States had to do, despite little sleep. “We’ve been here since 6:45 this morning,” said lead singer Jesse Elliott, resembling a younger Chris Robinson. However, the Kentucky quintet was up to the challenge, with their alt-alt-country (no misprint), good hooks, and excellent beards. They played the smaller, shaded BMI Stage with the same energy the higher-profiled bands would play later. Currently in support of their new album, What Lasts, These United States played new songs (“Life&Death She&I”) and old (the relentlessly upbeat “I Want You to Keep Everything”) in equal measure, complimented by excellent lap steel work. The audience appeared to range from 15 to 50, but those who arrived in the tree-covered area paid good attention, with a few girls in tie-dye shirts actually dancing around. Mission accomplished, These United States. We hope to see you next year. -Justin Gerber

Photo by Cap Blackard

adidas MEGA, 11:30 a.m.

Having a #1 album and a couple #1 singles under his belt, B.o.B is most likely the biggest act to ever open a side stage at Lollapalooza. He clearly should have been playing at least a bit later in the day, but it didn’t phase him and Bobby Ray still kicked off the festivities with a swagger and energy all his own. Running through favorites from his breakout debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, B.o.B and his full band got the crowd jumping with cuts like “Past My Shades” and “Nothin’ on You”, while he slowed it down a bit and played acoustic on “Letters to Vietnam”. The crowd, which grew bigger and bigger as the show went on and more people filtered into Grant Park, was feeding off of his energy – waving their arms in the air, getting their shades out, and cheering and singing along like crazy. To cap off his show, he introduced his last song as his favorite song ever – then sent the crowd into a frenzy as he started to play MGMT’s ubiquitous “Kids”. And as a testament to his talents, he played that song better than MGMT themselves do it. – Carson O’Shoney

Photo by Heather Kaplan

Playstation, 11:30 a.m.

“We’re from Brooklyn, New York, in case you didn’t get that memo,” Javelin‘s George Langford called from in front of the stack of neon boomboxes that backgrounded their lite, electronic jamz. One synth-drummer, one vocalist with a sampler and a kazoo of some kind, and the duo kicked out some strong, dance-friendly beats. Highlights included “Oh! Centra” (a sexy jam about…their “downstair neighbor”‘s cat…kinda) and the 80’s enthusiasm of “Moscow 1980”. -Adam Kivel

Budweiser, 12:15 p.m.

Photo by Phillip Roffman

“Hey dudes,” Nathan Williams casually remarked, after stumbling out onto the Budweiser Stage. “Do you guys get high? That’s cool. We smoked out of a Bud Light can before this. I have early onset Alzheimers.” That should give you a fair image of the type of relaxed vibes Wavves put off early Friday morning. Under some choice rays, and in front of a healthy crowd (especially so early), the San Diego trio pummeled through their short yet punchy discography, with highlights including titular track “King of the Beach”, the Mountain Dew-sponsored “Post Acid”, and a brilliant closer of “No Hope Kids”. Sorry folks, no meltdown here. Only pure magic. Williams and Jay Reatard’s former band make for such a quaint combination, especially with drummer Billy Hayes, who provided hilarious quips from behind his kit, his aviators, and that glorious, glorious beard of his. Our favorite line? Too many to name, but we enjoyed this goldie: “This song’s from the Encino Man soundtrack.” To which, they broke out into “Post Acid”. Brilliant, just brilliant. -Michael Roffman

The Ettes
, 12:30 p.m.

“Yeah, let’s do it!” And with that The Ettes led off their 45-minute set at the fairly crowded BMI Stage area. They may appear harmless, but once drummer Maria “Poni” Silver assaults the drums with no remorse, all misconceptions manage to fade away. Lindsay “Coco” Hames’ vocal stylings and the punk-pop guitar/bass work beg the question, “What if Peggy Lee fronted The Stooges?” Easy, Iggy fans. This Nashville band has a ways to go before reaching that high a status, but damned if they didn’t sound like they wanted to get there on Friday afternoon. The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach counts himself among their fan base, having produced tracks from the band’s Danger Is EP (“I hope you guys catch them later today,” said Hames). “No Home” was among the songs Auerbach produced, and played on Friday in nasty (pleasing) fashion. “Reputation” represented The Ettes’ surf-rock and fuzzed-bass best, forming a happy marriage with the overall lo-fi sound. The audience responded well, of course, the stage was set in a cool and breezy, shaded area… -Justin Gerber

The Walkmen
adidas MEGA, 1:00 p.m

Photo by Heather Kaplan

Hearing a crowd member mutter “They better play “The Rat”,” reminded me wistfully of the 2005 incarnation of this massive beast, back when The Walkmen was a little less massive, back when “The Rat” was only a year old. The new songs sounded great (upcoming Lisbon tracks “Juveniles” and “Angela Surf City” were upbeat, bright, and breezy), “In the New Year” and “Canadian Girl” from 2008’s You & Me sounded great, but everyone wanted “The Rat”. The band is sublimely consistent, constantly putting out more strong material, but nothing is topping that old fan favorite. -Adam Kivel

Jukebox the Ghost
BMI, 1:45 p.m.

Photo by Alex Young

Washington, DC based indie-pop outfit Jukebox to Ghost celebrated their biggest performance to date with a set mixing songs from their stellar 2008 debut Let Live and Let Ghosts, their forthcoming sophomore LP Everything Under the Sun, and even a cover of Donna Lewis’ “I Love You Always Forever”. No joke. In regards to the new stuff, danceable is certainly a worthy description as elements of synth reined freely throughout the packed BMI stage. But of course it was old songs — “Hold It In”, “Good Day”, and “Static” — which garned the most bodily movement, namely in the form of more than a few diehards singing along in toe. Jukebox fans travel well. -Alex Young

Mavis Staples
Budweiser, 2:00 p.m.

Photo by Heather Kaplan

The crowd around Mavis Staples lolled, some sitting in the grass, others swaying to the rhythm and blues legend’s powerful moans. But, when she called out the producer of her upcoming record, “Jeff Tweedy from the Wilco band,” a flock of Tweedy acolytes literally ran as close to the stage as they could. Tweedy intermittently strummed at an acoustic guitar while Staples hollered out classics, including her Staple Singers hit “I’ll Take You There” and a version of The Band’s “The Weight”. If nothing else, Tweedy’s presence alone should bring a much deserved larger audience to Staples’ amazing voice. -Adam Kivel

American Bang
Sony bloggie, 2:15 p.m.

Photo by Cap Blackard

Kid Rock tries to do southern rock. American Bang becomes southern rock. The attitude, the content, the hair, the clothing. Everything about them screams Skynyrd, and the audience screams for PBR. The music is all about getting laid and getting drunk, with “Whiskey Walk” and “Wild and Young” playing the main offenders. But is it a good time? Sure is. Lead singer/guitarist Jaren Johnston commanded the stage, alternating between standing on the drum kit and the speakers upfront. Unnecessary crowd-surfing and mosh pits managed to form before them, and a special thanks to the obligatory, drunk 40-year-old with the bucket hat, for acting one-third his age. But I digress. The band was in high (literally?) spirits throughout as the classic rock of “All Night Long” kept things a-truckin’. Johnston encouraged everyone to check them out at their after show, and “bring your girlfriends and your condoms.” Rock n’ roll, indeed. -Justin Gerber

The Big Pink
adidas MEGA, 3:00 p.m.

Photo by Lauren Guagno

Stepping onto the stage and shouting, “Lollapalooza!”, The Big Pink‘s Robbie Furze riled up an engulfing yet patient crowd, who had been staring at the stage with watchful, reserved eyes. Opening up with “Too Young to Love” didn’t change much of that, but when they followed up with a noticeably loud performance of “Velvet”, the crowd’s energy escalated with the song’s rhythm. However, the moment people seemed to be waiting for came during the set’s closer, a catchy tune which made the crowd jump and fall like “Dominos” excitedly through the end. -Lauren Guagno

Parkways, 4:00 p.m.

Devo‘s performance was easily one of the highlights of Friday. Devo has been performing live at festivals off and on for the past decade, but now, riding on the release of their first album in 20 years, anticipation is high. They started the show in their new outfits and gray face masks and opened with one of the new album’s finest tracks “Don’t Shoot I’m A Man”. The songs that immediately followed were a strong blend of old and new, favoring the new and this included the one lowest energy part of the show, a slower tempoed version of “Peek-A-Boo”. After a superb rendition of their classic, “Girl U Want”, having donned the new, blue energy domes, Gerry Casale announced “It’s 2010, and we’re here to fucking whip it again!” Their mandatory hit sounded as fresh and energetic as its first recording.

After a brief break, in which a video explained how pitifully small we all are by comparison to the whole of the Milky Way, Devo returned to the stage, but gone were their synth rock gear. Instead, it was the yellow-jumpsuited punk rock Devo that took the stage, guitars in hand. What proceeded was a superb punk show, as Mark Mothersbaugh tore limbs off his teammates suits during “Uncontrollable Urge” and the whole band shredded through a brutal breakdown for “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA”. They closed with an uplifting rendition of “Gates of Steel” performed to an audience who appreciated what they were hearing, but strangely didn’t reciprocate with any dancing or thrashing. -Cap Blackard

Photo by Heather Kaplan

The New Pornographers
Budweiser, 4:00 p.m.

Photo by Alex Young

Without warning, The New Pornographers launched their set with the should-be classic, “Sing Me Spanish Techno”, and it was all good the rest of the way. By this time the sun was out in full-force, occasionally blotted out by a passing cloud, but what a glorious day for some glorious pop. A.C. Newman is the undisputed leader of this “supergroup”, but the enigmatic Dan Bejar makes his presence felt in other ways. Apart from coming and going during the set (as he is known to do), Bejar’s songs truly make the fans happy. “Myriad Harbour” and “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras” sound as though they were being played straight from the spinning vinyl, as the band played in near-perfect sync. Others had their moments to shine, from the always-welcome presence of Neko Case (beautiful duet on “Challengers” and the solo “Crash Years”) and Kathryn Calder (“Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk”), but the band is Newman’s baby. Whether it’s on acoustic or electric, Newman stands confident front-and-center. He doesn’t hesitate to banter with his bandmates, especially discussing the fashion of the band (“Lady Gaga’s gonna have a way better hat than I do,” said Case). He is gracious (“Lollapalooza’s the best festival) and humbled (“You can’t not play in front of 40,000 people.”), and it’s with such confidence that he can lead the thousands of people watching into singing along at the climax of “The Bleeding Heart Show” as the set concluded. “Hey-la, hey-la!” -Justin Gerber

Dirty Projectors
Playstation, 4:00 p.m.

Photo by Cap Blackard

Dave Longstreth and company are all amazing musicians, but they also seem to genuinely be nice people. His polite “How are you all?” and “Your city even has a font named after it!” charmed, but keyboardist Angel Deradoorian’s tossing her bottle of water down to the security guards to give to a fan who couldn’t take the heat exemplified the band’s seeming good nature. The biggest reactions came for David Byrne collaboration “Knotty Pine” and Bitte Orca R&B ballad “Stillness is the Move” (it seems Amber Coffman’s vocals and demeanor get more swagger every time she sings the song), while longtime fans were treated to the likes of New Attitude’s raucous “Fucked For Life” and The Getty Address orchestra funk of “I Will Truck”. After rushing through an astounding set, the Projectors were called back onstage for an “encore” (they did have five minutes left on the clock, Longstreth explaining that “Brian [McOmber, drummer] must have rushed all the tempos”), returning with a transcendent, celebratory cooing of “When the World Comes to an End” as the crowd gave them a huge sendoff. -Adam Kivel

Photo by Cap Blackard

Fuck Buttons
Sony bloggie, 5:00 p.m.

One thing everyone should know by now is that Fuck Buttons are not for everyone. Their screeching cacophony can get so extreme that it scares people off. But at a festival like Lollapalooza, all types of music listeners check out all kinds of bands. Fuck Buttons are not a good band to casually check out at a music festival. But for some people, their music is bliss. Case in point – about ten minutes into their set, the couple in front of me in the crowd rose from their quilted blanket and exclaimed, “All it is is fucking noise!” and stormed away in a fit of confusion. By contrast, about five minutes later, a rather large dance circle started towards the back of the somewhat sparse crowd. No moshing, no aggression, just pure dancing. The point of the story is that if you don’t get it, you shouldn’t be at a Fuck Buttons show. But those that did get it were treated to a fantastically abrasive yet surprisingly upbeat show. -Carson O’Shoney

Matt & Kim
adidas MEGA, 5:00 p.m.

Photo by Heather Kaplan

Lady Gaga wasn’t the only Lollapalooza 2007 virgin making a much anticipated return in 2010. Playing to an absolutely ginormous crowd at the adidas stage — commercials really do wonders, the lovable Matt & Kim offered fans a trademark performance. For those not familiar, this consists of tracks off 2009’s breakout Grand mixed in between expressions of gratitude. (Here’s a drinking game for you: count how many times Matt & Kim say “you guys are amazing”). Still, there was time left over for a few deviations, such as a cover of Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend”, crowd surf by Kim, and a discussion about how jumbotrons make breasts look so much larger. Yeah, using the word fun would be an understatement. -Alex Young

Hot Chip
Parkways, 6:00 p.m.

Hot Chip‘s Lolla performance was a testament to their musical prowess. Their opening song saw guitarist Al Doyle playing steel drums before he picked up his guitar. By the time the show was over, everyone in the band had played one, if not more completely contrasting instruments from what they started with. Even the drummer at one point left his post to sing along and play steel drums at center stage. You could tell that they were having a ball. Absent from the band, however, was vocalist and synth player Joe Goddard, who was on “paternity leave” with his expectant wife. However, he joined the band virtually for his verses in “One Pure Thought”. Songs blended together and pauses were short. Despite this relative lack of communication, they still spoke to their fans. The crowd was enthusiastic – dancing and singing along throughout the set, particularly during the chorus of “One Life Stand”, the title track to their recently released fourth album. They closed with “Ready for the Floor”, which they dedicated to Lady Gaga, and set the mood for the costumed insanity that would soon grace that very stage. -Cap Blackard

The Black Keys
Budweiser, 6:00 p.m.

Photo by Heather Kaplan

It’s not too hard to dig The Black Keys. Their sound is straight up rock ‘n’ roll; the sort that broods, or shuffles, or shrugs. Dan Auerbach’s vocals compliment his own layered guitar work, in addition to Patrick Carney’s precise drumming. The combination’s worked for years. The two guys have fun with their own music, as do the fans. But, with their latest release, Brothers, they’ve sort of created a pickle. The simple, casual swagger of yesteryear isn’t half as interesting anymore as most of the tracks that make up their latest effort. Things now feel fuller… more complete, if you will. Songs like The Rubber Factory‘s “Stack Shot Billy” still rip live, but when the band pulls out newer material, as they did on the Budweiser stage today, the difference a couple more musicians make is more than obvious. Live cuts of “Tighten Up”, “New Girl”, and “Everlasting Light” reshape this band, opening some doors for Auerbach, and adding a highly constructive rhythmic bottom to their notoriously stripped down sound. Some can argue that approach takes away from The Black Keys’ trademark charm, but at the end of the day, great music speaks for itself. Chew on this: When’s the last time a band’s new material did that? Pretty impressive. -Michael Roffman

adidas MEGA 7:00 p.m.

Photo by Cap Blackard

As the sun started to set, the adidas MEGA stage turned into a killer dance party. Chromeo were geared for a good time – with their woman-legged keyboards and their identically-dressed backup vocalists, the Chromettes and straight from a Robert Palmer video. 2010 marks Chromeo’s second Lolla performance. The last was in 2008. “What do you say we make it hotter than it was two years ago,” Dave 1 asked, before diving into “Needy Girl”. The audience complied and danced wildly with all kinds of accessories and inflatables, beach balls, balloon animals, even launching their own fireworks. The set sampled heavily from the group’s previous album, Fancy Footwork (which the band confessed they call “faffo” for short) as well as a couple tracks from their first album, and three tracks from their forthcoming effort, Business Casual. Chromeo’s performance was also the site of what is so far Lolla 2010’s most epic crowd surf: Green Man from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia heroically riding an inflatable dolphin. Amazing only begins to sum it up. -Cap Blackard

Lady Gaga
, 8:00 p.m.

No act on the 2010 lineup created more controversy than Lady Gaga. Her inclusion created a ruckus amongst rockists who feel Lollapalooza has lost its way by handing one of its headlining slots to a Top-40 pop star. Meanwhile, Gaga fans retaliated by defending her as more than a typical pop star, and her set as a spectacle that needed to be seen by even those who did not care for her music.

When it came down to it, however, Gaga’s set was not quite as visually stunning as would have been expected. Sure, there were stage props, pretty lights, and all the love-it-or-hate-it theatrics her live show is known for, but the intensity of the performance paled in comparison to past headliners Kanye West and Daft Punk. As it turned out, that was just fine. The set contained just enough flair to keep people watching, without overshadowing Lady Gaga’s terribly underrated raw talent. At no point were her talents displayed better than on back-to-back piano ballads, “Speechless” and “You and I”. The tracks were a high point in a set that had gotten off to a rather slow start, perhaps partially due to opener “Dance in the Dark” being played in the early evening dusk.

But in the end Lady Gaga truly is a pop star and there’s nothing wrong with that, particularly when that star writes near-perfect pop gems.  She ended her set with four of her best songs, “Alejandro”, “Poker Face”, “Paparazzi”, and “Bad Romance”, setting off a dance party that sent all her little monsters home happy. -Michael Denslow

Photo by Heather Kaplan

The Strokes
Budweiser, 8:30 p.m.

As Jimmy Cliff finished singing over his band’s summery basslines, Chicago’s skyline came to life, just as the setting sun bled away. Thousands of attendees, some left over from The Black Keys, huddled around the Budweiser stage, which now sported intricate lighting just starving to be lit. Fans everywhere kept chanting at the shiny bass drum that read, The Strokes.

Photo by Cap Blackard

Fifteen awkward minutes later, in addition to a few “What the fuck’s” and some more chanting that just seemed desperate at this point, Queen’s “We Will Rock You” crumbled over the PA as the band schlepped onto the stage, with frontman Julian Casablancas riding back seat all the way up to the microphone. No introduction needed, the New York quintet picked up where our nostalgia left off, opening up with a gritty, raucous rendition of “New York City Cops”. A few songs in, however, Casablancas charmed us by screaming, “Chicagopalooza! …I’ve been waiting months to say that… ehhh whatever.”

Mocking and somewhat self deprecating, Casablancas never seemed to try too hard, which is pretty much how he’s always been. No surprise there. When he sighed and said, “Oh my god, I’m so psyched,” it felt very, very tongue in cheek. It’s sort of the attitude one expects from him. But, maybe he was enthused. After all, who gets to return after four years and headline a festival with no album and no new single? Pretty sweet deal.

Photo by Heather Kaplan

The set comprised mostly of greatest hits and a few golden eggs here and there (“What Ever Happened?”, “I Can’t Win”, and a stripped down “Under Control”), but what lacked in new material, made up for with some impeccable lighting. The aforementioned intricate lighting certainly came to life, especially on cuts like “Vision of Division” and “Someday”. The former turned the backing screen into a Star Wars-like first person shooter, while the latter celebrated games like Pac-Man, Tetris, or Pong. There wasn’t a dull moment in the crowd, either. Whether it was jumping up and down or screaming out guitar licks and lyrics, the crowd definitely left satisfied.

Yet, something felt awry. Where does this band stand? Is this merely a sugar high for fans? Or is this still a current act to go out and champion? When Casablancas, channeling his inner valley girl, shouted, “First show in the states for like ever… That’s all I got,” one couldn’t help but wonder if this is a band that will leave the stage and actually write new material… or just continue dolling out the hits. Something to think about, but for now, we’ll enjoy this dazzling stage show (and their respected solo careers, as well). -Phillip Roffman

Gallery by Heather Kaplan

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Gallery by Cap Blackard

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Gallery by Lauren Guagno/Phillip Roffman

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