I knew from the beginning that my overall opinion of this year’s Lollapalooza would rely on Sunday, and the last day of the festival did not disappoint.
Set I Loved The Most: (tie) Mumford & Sons, Frightened Rabbit and The National. Total cop-out here, I am aware. I loved all three for different variations of the same reason: they all played “up” for the festival setting.
Mumford & Sons were one of my most anticipated acts as it was the first time I was seeing them live, and their energy was incredible. For a mid-afternoon set in the baking sun after some morning showers, they had most of the large crowd bouncing and clapping along with every song.
Like their fellow UKers, Frightened Rabbit also had the crowd bouncing and seemed genuinely awed by the size of their audience (this is a theme with most of the bands i liked this weekend, but take note that the operative word is “genuine”, not “awe”). They told stories and bantered between songs, but also played those songs with just enough variety to make it feel like a live show and not just a performance of a CD.
The National understands the difference between a show and a performance more than most, and their penultimate set at dusk on the last day was another example of how the moody, contemptuous dirges on their albums become cathartic anthems in front of a crowd. Like the songs themselves, the set built to a crescendo when lead singer Matt Benninger walked out into the crowd to belt out “Mr. November” amidst a swirl of screaming fans. This concludes my one-paragraph impression of a music journalist (just kidding, music journalists hate everything).
Set I Would Skip On Second Thought: None. Can you believe that? I wanted to see more of Yeasayer, but the 10-15 minutes I was able to hear seemed to meander a little too much to make me regret seeking out a shady seat instead of sweating it out. I am not sure they’re meant to be a daytime band.
Set That Benefitted Greatly From The Aforementioned Morning Showers: The Antlers. I didn’t realize what perfect tourmates these guys made for The National until I saw them in drizzling rain at noon on a Sunday. The Antlers’ only album is mood music, sad songs meant to be heard over headphones alone in your room; this is the same reason I skipped both Dirty Projectors and The xx in favor of more exciting live acts (with no regrets). But with overcast skies and light rain, The Antlers played their material with unexpected energy and emphasis and gave the day a great start.
Set That Benefitted Greatly From The Early-Afternoon Arrival Of The Sun: The Band of Heathens. There are some people who think that there are better places to be than standing along Lake Michigan on a weekend afternoon listening to a country-blues band while stormclouds break and give way to blue skies. I call those people fools.
Set I Missed That I Am Kinda Pissed About: Wolfmother. When it gets late in the day, especially after the morning rain and early afternoon heat that Sunday threw at us, you find it hard to convince yourself to make that cross-festival trek. After Frightened Rabbit, I had a choice to hang out on the north end of the park, watch MGMT and get a good spot for The National OR walk all the way south to see 40 minutes of Wolfmother’s one-hour slot before booking it back north. My heart regretted my choice to stay put. My aching lower body, after two-and-a-half days of similar expeditions, did not.
Song Of The Day: Mumford & Sons’ “Little Lion Man”
Moment Of The Day: The National’s Benninger, while walking into the crowd during “Mr. November”, stopping in front of a little girl and censoring the song’s chorus from “I won’t fuck us over” to “I won’t mess us over” on the fly.
I am not quite sure what people were looking for when they said this year’s lineup was weak. There have been better years (my rookie ‘palooza in ’08 always looks stacked in retrospect) but I had a full lineup every day with few conflicts and the occasional free moment to eat or sit down. I do agree, reluctantly, with former Chicago Sun-Times music critic Jim DeRogatis when he calls Lollapalooza “the musical WalMart by the lake,” but the format is great for someone like me who tries to cram in a myriad of bands and sounds. It’s a great opportunity to discover new artists and find out which ones can put on a) a live show and b) a live outdoor festival show. I am never as plugged in to the music scene as I would like to be and Lollapalooza is equal parts refresher course and sampler platter, an annual shot in the arm that poor saps like me use to find new bands or old bands we just hadn’t fully appreciated yet.
Bands I Already Knew About That I Saw Live For The First Time And Would Pay To See Again:
Mumford & Sons
Matt & Kim
The New Pornographers
Acts I Knew Basically Nothing About Pre-Lollapalooza That I Will Now Be Checking Out:
Band of Heathens
Jukebox The Ghost
New Wrinkle Of The Festival That I Liked Most: A lot of people would say the food, and they have a good point. Other people would say the extra space, but that led to even bigger crowds (I hate crowds, is now a good time to mention that?). The change I liked most was the new headliner setup, if it sticks: every day they put the bigger, more recognizable (and pop-y) act on the south end of the park with the bigger stage and field and a two-hour set while the north end featured a more “indie”-friendly big act with a 90-minute set. I spent every night on the north field but the opportunity to hear the first few songs of the other headliner from afar was a guilty pleasure.
Favorite Act All Weekend: The Black Keys. For all my hot air about discovering new things, I’m afraid this one was never a contest. The Keys were my most anticipated act of the weekend even though they played the first evening, and they didn’t disappoint. I wouldn’t call them my favorite band – top five, for sure, enough that when some chick next to me on a bus said “oh, they’re like the White Stripes” I momentarily reconsidered my longstanding policy of not talking to fucking idiots just to admonish her – but they’re definitely a draw for me, partially because they always seem to put on a great show. Since the festival became a Chicago staple in 2005, they’ve only NOT been on the lineup once. Lollapalooza has a lot of hooks for a lot of people – aging rocker reunions, a DJ/rave stage, buzz bands one year after they appear at the Pitchfork Festival, etc., but this might be mine: if they keep booking The Black Keys and bands like them, I’ll keep coming back.