Lollapalooza: 6 Aug 2010 – Chicago

From the beginning, promoters of Lollapalooza 2010 promised to pull out all of the stops. They added 35 more acres of Chicago’s beautiful Grant Park, stretching 115 acres from the previous years’ 80. The additional acreage allowed for an increased capacity by 10-15%. For those of you driven by numbers, this meant the turnout of Lolla was going to jump from 75,000, to 95,000. Yes, Lolla was bigger than ever, but was it better?

In a word, yes.

The six headliners included, Green Day, Soundgarden, Lady Gaga, Phoenix, and my two personal favorites, Arcade Fire and the Strokes. With 40% more space, this meant less overcrowding and more dancing space. The weather also cooperated this year, being a relatively enjoyable 80 degrees for the majority of the weekend. Some hot patches, some rain showers Sunday morning, but all in all, the trifecta of music, venue and weather made for a great outdoors festival.

Friday started with a bang, jumping headfirst into the musical abyss and setting the bar high. Highlights included Matt & Kim, the Black Keys, Chromeo and the Strokes. I find it hard to believe there was a band on stage that had more fun, or were more appreciative about being at Lolla than Matt & Kim. They made sure to tell Chicago how much they loved the city and told how the first time they played Lolla in 2007, they had an 11:30am set time and played to a crowd that dwarfed in size to their 2010 crowd. They played “Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare”, the danceable “Grinders”, which they threw balloons into the crowd to blow up and knock around, and the most popular song “Daylight” much to the delight of the hoards of fans. Kim stood on the hands of the crowd and did her “booty dance” and they even broke down into parts of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” and Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone”.

The Black Keys played to an enormous crowd. Borderline uncomfortably crowded, even towards the back, I don’t even know if they were prepared for a crowd of that magnitude. I would venture to say, next to Gaga, they might have had the most packed show at the festival. Their blues-rock sound made for a chill, enjoyable, hour-long jam session integrating tunes from their newest release, Brothers as well as the well loved Attack & Release circa 2006.

We stopped to watch Lady Gaga for about 45 minutes. I was, to be succinct, underwhelmed with her performance. Just shy of an hour of watching, she played four or five songs. The awkward pregnant pauses were so constant that even her most dedicated fans were developing slight A.D.D. The scripted dialogue between her dancers and her breathy, exasperating screeching into the microphone was an instant turn off. She seemed more consumed with political statements and repeated shriekings of “Lolla-Fucking-Palooza” than keeping a steady stream of songs flowing. It wasn’t all negative, because when she did sing and dance, she sounded great. She has the vocals to please a crowd that colossal. It was what happened in between the singing that fell short. While I’m sure this isn’t an issue at her own concerts, for a festival with few pop artists to begin with, it failed to translate. Not surprisingly, however, her fans are so dedicated that it didn’t seem to make a difference for much of the mass swarms. They cheered ‘til they were blue in the face because she stood at the front of the stage and took off a pair of bedazzled sunglasses. They cheered for a solid two minutes.

Meanwhile, I hustled to the North Stage to catch the Strokes. It was completely night and day from what was taking place at the South Parkways stage. The Strokes were loud, consistent and with the majority of their set list coming off their wildly successful Is This It, the songs were short and rapid fire. Busting through “Soma”, “Reptilia” and “Last Nite” it was one giant dance fest. It was a perfectly cool night, both temperature-wise as well as having the magnificent Chicago skyscrapers play the perfect backdrop for straight-up rock and roll. Lead singer Julian Casablancas had little to no banter with the crowd, letting his singing do most of the talking for him. They did have an awkward five-minute intermission halfway through their set, which was the only one I saw during my three days, but when they came back from their mini-break, the band seemed re-energized. They finished out their set with hits like “Juicebox”, “Someday” and finally ended with the ever-so-catchy “Take It or Leave It” that was stuck in my head for days.

Saturday started off on the small, secluded BMI stage with the electro-pop sounds of the female laden vocals of Dragonette. The day’s tempo took a turn for the mellow when we went to watch the British group The xx. While singer/bassist Oliver Sim and singer/guitarist Romy Madley Croft sounded great, it was hard, as an audience member, to really dive headfirst into their set. The sun was directly blazing down on their fans, and the cement-paved steps the crowd was standing on was also helping to bake the audience from the ground up. It was just excruciatingly hot, and the mild vocals and wistful melodies didn’t help to take one’s mind off of the shriveling of their internal organs. We left to post up in the shade, and ventured off to Perry’s Place, the DJ stages. Bunkered on a hill, we watched the amazing Wolfgang Gartner make the place go bananas. Going from The xx show to Wolfgang Gartner was like comparing church to a spring break trip to Mexico. The fans were a sea of synchronized hands, unison jumping and more sweaty people than any other stage at Lollapalooza. I saw outlier dancers shooting each other with finger guns and even crawling between each other’s legs. This group was there to rage, and they did not give a shit who saw it.

My favorite acts of Saturday went to Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Phoenix. First of all, Edward Sharpe was put on the most appropriately scenic stage, but definitely baring the worst name: The Sony Bloggie Stage. Naming aside, the stage was tucked towards the back of Grant Park. Heavily tree laden, the woodsy feel matched perfectly with Edward Sharpe and company’s hippy, cool sounds. The fans packed in tight, and when the pit in front was too much, the fans took to the trees. Holding on for dear life to songs like the ever-popular “Home” and the singable “Janglia”, the oversized Edward Sharpe ensemble sounded amazing.

We headed over to the same north end stage where we had seen the Strokes the previous night to see Phoenix. The French quartet, headed by Thomas Mars, practically mirrored the same set they had done in Chicago in the fall last year. Their mega-successful Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was played through in its entirety, and peppered in were other hits like “Consolation Prizes” and “Long Distance Call” off of their lesser known It’s Never Been Like That, released in 2006. The band unleashed a non-stop dance party, a solid 90 minutes of thrashing bodies, everyone twirling and bobbing. It was a great ending to an already spectacular 48 hours of music.

The third and final day of Lolla started tired and weary. The sun beating down, we began the day back at the cool, sheltered Sony Bloggie stage, armed with some free popsicles that the Chicago Parks Tents were giving out as bribes. After a sugar boost and some jams by the Ike Reilly Assassination, we were ready to attack the last day. Most people for the Ike Reilly set seemed to be there for the same reasons we were: the shade. It was the single most poorly attended show I saw while on Grant Park’s acreage, the band seeming to entertain no more than maybe 200 people. We went to see Mumford & Sons, the banjo driven quartet was unlike any other sound at the festival. It was breezy, but danceable and they had way more dedicated fans then I would have ever anticipated. The girl next to me started openly weeping after they played “The Cave” with no remorse.

The rest of the afternoon was a mixture of Yeasayer and Erykah Badu, much preferring the former to the latter. Yeasayer’s eardrum bursting, high octave vocals were really impressive. By the time we left Badu’s set, there was hardly any green space for the MGMT show. It was extremely packed, even on the outskirts. Most of the crowd just seemed to be waiting for “Electric Feel” and “Kids”, which hands down got the most audience participation. Unfortunately, by the time we left MGMT, we only caught the final song of The Temper Trap’s set, which fortunately was their hit “Sweet Disposition”. For the solitary song I heard, they sounded amazing and had a really great turn out, especially when you consider their slot coincided almost completely with MGMT, a festival favorite.

Then came time for the festival closer, Arcade Fire. Taking the stage with an ethereal, harmonized sound, it wasn’t very difficult to impress these deep-rooted fans. The crowd bellowed out the many favorites they played off of Funeral. Songs like “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Haiti” seemed to wind down the weekend perfectly. It wasn’t until their encore “Wake Up” that the physical chills ran down my spine. The song was so epic in sound, thunderous with “OOOOHS” and such a spirited round of applaud to end the night, it made you wish the festival closed with that song every year.