It’s been five years since my last Lollapalooza, and this is not due to strength of lineup. Lollapalooza pretty consistently churns out jam-packed lineups and is also an amazing setting for a festival, standing in beautiful Grant Park sandwiched between Lake Michigan and the skyline in the heart of downtown. What has kept me away is primarily two things: moolah and the festival schedule. Money is pretty self-explanatory but Lollapalooza’s schedule is not. The festival jams so much music in a 10 hour span that it leads to shortened sets and tons of scheduling conflicts. Even in the headlining time slot, Lollapalooza packs four different acts instead of the usual one or two at other festivals.
Scheduling conflicts aside, there are two things that can overcome any scheduling or festival problems: Sigur Ros and Jack White. Of course both were at Lollapalooza this past Sunday, which meant a trip into the city for me and a group of my friends. Since it was a short enough day, I will start from the beginning, and give you a running diary of sorts.
1:30 PM – My friends and I stroll very quickly and easily into Grant Park with bellies full of Juicy-O and ears perked up and ready to hear 8.5 hours of music. Our day started on the south side of the festival with Minneapolis’s Polica, Bon Iver’s proclaimed favorite band whom I have grown to really like in the past year. Lead singer Channy Leaneagh’s grooved around the stage with her expressive, auto-tuned voice on top of a rhythm section of two drummers and a bassist, rounding out the band. I love the concept of just a singer, two drummers, and a bassist, but piping in pre-recorded horns and synthesizer for every song just kind of rubs me the wrong way.
2:30 PM – We make our way over to the north side of the festival to the Bud Light stage where we catch the White Rabbits, the best band who plays Spoon songs not named Spoon. The Brooklyn band takes the Spoon formula (tight pop songs with production tricks) and with the production help with Spoon lead singer Britt Daniel himself, have turned in three really solid albums. I saw these guys three years ago and they have only gotten tighter and more confident live since then.
3:00 PM – We rush back over to the South Side, burning off the Juicy-O breakfast to catch a band I have wanted to see for quite some time, the Walkmen. The New York band have always been the least respected of the early 2000’s New York indie rock scene (including the likes of the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Interpol), even though they have churned out more music than all the others, which has all been good to great. Seeing them live helps you see why they are a notch below their counterparts, since while they sound the part, the band comes off as a bit stiff and mellow for my taste.
4:00 PM – The Walkmen sang about “Heaven”, and I am pretty sure they were referring to the next act. This would be my third time seeing Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros (the fourth if you include Jonsi solo), and I was interested to see how they would fare at an outdoor festival without the incredible lighting and curtain show that accompanies them in their usual theater shows. The answer was quite well, as they turned in not only the best set of the day, but one of the finest festival hours I have ever had. Playing music from across their catalogue, Sigur Ros again showed they can build to a climax better than anyone and make it sound prettier than anyone. Jonsi even sold out his body and his guitar bow for the show, breaking it by just pounding it repeatedly on his guitar at the end of “Hafsol”. Sound just isn’t supposed to sound that good.
^I can be spotted at the 1:25 mark
5:15 PM – As my friends saved my spot for At-The-Drive-In, I made my way back over to the north side to see blind, married Mali duo, Amadou & Mariam. It was the least packed I had seen a stage all day (in which case, it was good they couldn’t see), but they had as much fun as anyone. It was awesome to see the fun they and their phenomenal world music band was having, and it only took my international music high to a new height.
6:00 PM – A quick song or two grooving to Toro y Moi later, and I was back over to the Redbull Stage – where I saw Sigur Ros – for the reunited At-The-Drive-In. The El Paso punk band who famously split in half to form Sparta and the much better Mars Volta, opened with serious fury with “Arcarsenal”, leading to a mostly dynamic set that was always fun. Cedric Bixler-Zavala works a mic stand better than probably anyone I have seen, whipping it around on stage like some sort of aggressive salsa dance. The band clearly isn’t what it used to be, but it was still fun to hear those old songs I used to drive to in high school.
8:15 PM – Following an hour waiting in the muddy pit with friends, the time has come for the main event: Jack White. We landed spots about 10-15 rows back which made for excellent viewing spot but unfortunately a far from excellent listening spot. Getting too far forward made for tons of sound-bleeding during the set, and if I was to do it again, I would move back to the soundstage for still a good view but a better listening experience.
Getting that out-of-the-way, Jack White put together an amazing set spanning music from five of his different bands/projects. If you haven’t heard or seen, in his current tour, Jack White opens the first half of his show with an all-male band and then transitioning over to an all-female band for the second half. This brings out different aspects of Jack’s sound, but mostly just makes for a really cool concept.
^The White Stripes “Screwdriver” into The Dead Weather’s “Blue Blood Blues”
I thought the set would be heaviest with his songs off of his solo album, Blunderbuss, but the heaviest amount of material was actually early White Stripes, repurposing lesser known but no less great Stripes songs like “Black Math”, “Hardest Button to Button”, “Wasting My Time”, “Cannon”, and “Same Boy You’ve Always Known” for dynamic set highlights. Add in their “Ball & Biscuit”, “Seven Nation Army”, “Hotel Yorba”, and you have an incredible taste of a Stripes show. Songs for the Dead Weather, the Raconteurs, and the Rome also filled the set to make for an excellent close to the night. It’s exciting to think that thirteen years in, Jack White is already a legend, and the man shows no signs of slowing down.
Festival Rating: 8/11
Can’t Miss: Sigur Ros, Jack White, At-The-Drive-In, White Rabbits, 7-Eleven slurshies,
Can’t Hit: The Walkmen beside Hamilton Leithauser, pre-recorded music, Perry Farrell, crowd surfers, mud