Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Whole Lolla Love

Stuart Berman was in Chicago last weekend for Lollapalooza, and has offered his thoughts on the festival. New posts from Lana and Greg (with music) this week.


Though only in its second year post-resuscitation, some people are already calling the annual Chicago edition of
Lollapalooza the northeast Coachella. But instead of mountains, you’re surrounded by skyscrapers — which, given Chicago’s architectural acumen, ain’t a bad thing. Having never attended Coachella, I can only say that Lollapalooza is among the most well-organized mega-festivals I’ve been to — even with some 50,000 attendees at Grant Park each day, I didn’t have to line up for the Porta-potties once, the beer line never topped 60 seconds, they have attractive on-site staff whose only job is to douse you with super-soakers, and the facing-stage set-up meant pretty much every set started on time (with the exception of Lady Sovereign, who apparently needed an extra 20 minutes to pick out her most regal set of track pants). And even with the likes of Blues Traveler and Matt Costa on the bill, the hippie quotient was remarkably low, which was refreshing following a weekend at Hillside.

If Lollapalooza was short on personal discoveries — most of the newer acts were scheduled pre-2pm and were, therefore, missed by those of us who were busy doing lunch runs to White Castle — it did provide the surreal experience of seeing perennial club-level acts receive stadium-sized receptions that would seem otherwise unattainable given their modest record sales. The prevailing theme at this year’s Lollapalooza seemed to be “respect your elders,” even the ones who once told you to “kill yr idols.” Line of the weekend goes to Kim Gordon, who introduced Sonic Youth’s final song, “Shaking Hell,” with: “this one was written before most of you were born.” The moment was as endearing as the song itself was feral: when Sonic Youth were playing the same track 23 years ago for a crowd of 20 in some East Village scum bucket, did they ever imagine that some day it would go over with a cameraphone-waving festival crowd of 20,000?

If Sonic Youth seem nonchalant in their role as parallel-universe festival gods, The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne is, of course, having the time of his freakin’ life, and the time of yours as well. Save for “Vein of Stars,” the Lips’ set list offered few surprises, and after seeing the balloon/streamers/aliens/Santa/nun puppet routine (if such a procession could be called “routine”) a few times, the old-school fan in me wishes Coyne would delve deeper into the canon rather than use up another five minutes of their limited set time trying to coax an extra sing-along chorus to “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” However, the man did score the second best line of the weekend: “We first played Lollapalooza in 1994, with all these great bands: The Breeders, Nick Cave, Guided by Voices… shit, even the Verve were pretty good then.”

But moreso than a coronation for alt-rock's ruling class, this year's Lollapalooza represented the complete, end-game convergence of subculture and corporate branding. The early '90s Lollapaloozas proved that various rogue alt-rock factions could be merged into one giant ambiguous mass (read: demographic) of "otherness"; now those "others" are in their 30s with day jobs and can afford wireless service and gaming consoles . Where the old Lollapaloozas simply had a "second" and "third stage," now it boasts the "AT&T Stage" and the "PlayStation Stage" and the "Bud Light Stage." (Can you guess the name of the only brand of beer available at Lollapalooza?) Not that this should come as any kind of shock — we've been inundated with Xtreme! marketing for a good decade now — but the interesting thing is, at this point, nobody really cares. Aside from a few cheeky comments from Built to Spill and Sonic Youth (Lee Ranaldo: "This one's for all the Bud Light drinkers!"), the brands were as much a part of the festival venacular as "beer tent" and "sun stroke." Ultimately, it's the cost of putting on an event of this magnitude (130 bands in 3 days over 8 stages). Much like the Toronto Jazz festival, which lives and dies by whatever corporate sponsor can ensure its existence each year, Lollapalooza's mandate of presenting emergent indie-rock/rap artists in a populist environment requires a lot more than Perry Farrell's utopian intentions to keep it going. "Hey, you gotta pay your dues/ before you pay the rent," Steve Malkmus sang 12 years ago on Pavement's "Range Life." Now, just substitute the second half of that statement with "before you get your complimentary pair of Adidas."

And hey, after standing for 8 hours a day, much of it on concrete, we're not about to turn down some quality footwear. To recap Lolla's top stories: Sleater-Kinney’s set — one of their last before their imminent break-up — was bittersweet, but the repertoire skewed too much to last year's Woods tour setlists to qualify as a career-capper. Cover me: Calexico paid tribute to the recently deceased Arthur Lee with their Nicolai Dunger-assisted rendition of “Alone Again Or”; Ryan Adams pulled off a jam on Sonic Youth’s “Expressway to Yr Skull” that actually didn’t suck; and The Raconteurs made David Bowie’s “It Ain’t Easy” sound like it was written for them, though the band still come off more like Jack White and his pals dicking around in their jam space than a real threat. Memo to Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch: go to a barber, now (but thanks for closing with “Carry the Zero”). Queens of the Stone Age’s “Song for the Dead” still kills even without Dave Grohl or Mark Lanegan. There are more people who care about Death Cab for Cutie than you could possibly imagine. Kanye West looks really short from 50 yards away. Stars’ Torquil Campbell had the best T-shirt of the weekend: “I Miss Grant McLennan.” (Worst T-shirt goes to the one Stabbing Westward fan left on Earth.) Secret Machines should just play "First Wave Intact" for their entire set. And the third best line of the weekend goes to the New Pornographers’ Carl Newman: “You may not realize this, but our songs have more time signature changes than Coheed & Cambria’s.”

But for the final word, we turn to the thousands of Broken Social Scene fans who screamed for 10 minutes for an encore that wasn’t to be, due to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ encroaching start time. Cries for “ONE MORE SONG!” turned to “WE’RE NOT LEAVING!” and then finally “FUCK THE PEPPERS!,” as that band’s tour manager allegedly denied the request for a set-time extension, presumably because the world needs longer bass solos. Really, it’s a metaphor for life: you try to do your best and change the world for the better, but The Man still keeps you down with bad white funk.