participants recently argued during the Chicago City Council debate
over the big box ordinance, bigger isn't always better and quantity
doesn't necessarily mean quality.
2006 was the Wal-Mart of pop-music festivals.
promoters Capital Sports & Entertainment gave 40,000 to 60,000
concertgoers each day a lot of bang for their buck Friday through
Sunday in a well-organized, tightly policed environment. But too
many acts were mediocre; a bland, impersonal, marketing-crazed vibe
prevailed, and the site -- which doubled the area of Grant Park used
in 2005 -- was so spread out that Lollapalooza became two separate
concerts, one in the north at Butler Field and the other south at
It was simply
too difficult to move quickly or with ease between the far-flung
stages. Yet sound bleed was still a major problem, with louder
performers continually overpowering quiet ones. In the end, fewer
stages -- each booked with genuinely top-shelf talent -- would have
made for a better experience, though the promoters would have sold
fewer corporate sponsorships (sources said companies paid about
$100,000 for naming rights) and they would have had to develop a
more focused musical aesthetic rather than this year's scattershot
efforts to let no ticket dollar go uncollected, a huge portion of
Chicago was not represented at the fest. Performing as the
primary-stage headliners Saturday night, Common and Kanye West
delivered spirited sets that marked personal triumphs as their first
shows in Grant Park, with their mothers and dozens of friends and
family members watching from the wings.
million-selling acts are among the most successful artists Chicago
has ever produced, and their sets on the shore of Lake Michigan with
the skyline as their backdrop should have been a celebration of this
city's ascendance as a major force in hip-hop. Yet the crowd that
cheered them on was almost entirely white and hardly a mirror image
of Chicago. For that, you had to go outside the festival grounds and
across Columbus Drive, where about 300 Chicagoans, evenly divided
between white and black youth, listened from afar without having to
pay $73 a day for a ticket and $3 for a bottle of water, all while
being treated as an ideal demographic for nonstop advertising.
"We market to
all areas of the city and nation," promoter Charles Attal said at a
press conference Saturday with partner Charlie Jones and festival
figurehead Perry Farrell. "We can't control who's buying the
tickets." Yet while Chicago's two alternative-rock radio stations
were a major presence at the fest, none of its powerhouse R&B or
hip-hop outlets was represented.
observations as nitpicking, or note that many among the thousands of
teen and twentysomething fans seemed to be having the times of their
lives. But if Capital Sports truly intends to make Lollapalooza the
jewel of the national concert scene and a festival worthy of
Chicago, they need to do a lot better, whether those at the concert
realized it or not.
shortcomings weren't the artists' fault, aside from the fact that
few recognized the festival as something special. They mostly played
the same set they do at every other tour stop, avoiding the
collaborations that made the original Lollapalooza unique. Again,
though, promoters did little to encourage this, with no real area
for the artists to mingle, they pulled up in their tour buses, got
out, played and left.
lineup by far was on Saturday. Common kept things old-school,
fronting a lean group with keyboards, drums and a DJ, and relying on
his charisma and deft verbal skills. Later, Kanye performed a
stripped-down version of his spectacular touring show, keeping the
sexy female string section and his incredible DJ A-Trak, and
overcoming sound problems to deliver hit after hit, as well as
giving cameos to fellow Chicagoans Lupe Fiasco, Common and Twista.
The Go! Team
created a party atmosphere with its mix of indie-rock, hip-hop and
Motown. But nothing could top the group's performance at the
Intonation Festival in 2005, when a group of neighborhood kids fresh
from the Union Park swimming pool joined frontwoman Ninja onstage to
afternoon, Hutchinson Field time-warped back to the early '70s as
Coheed & Cambria channeled Rush circa "2112," and Wolfmother offered
killer heavy-metal sludge a la Hawkwind and Deep Purple.
rapper/vocalist Cee-Lo and DJ Danger Mouse -- together as Gnarls
Barkley -- fronted a 13-piece band dressed as tennis pros, and the
duo proved as compelling onstage as on album. They played their
hugely popular hit "Crazy" -- but so did the Raconteurs, Kanye and
Mates of State. You know you're hearing the single of the year when
so many musicians rush to cover it.
Typical of his
appearances throughout the festival he founded, living logo Farrell
introduced Gnarls Barkley as his "favorite band in the world." Then
he left after two songs, accompanied by his wife and a massive
bodyguard (think Vin Diesel on steroids) to return to his
air-conditioned trailer until his next obligatory cameo.
My final high
point of Day Two came courtesy of Chicago pop-punks the Smoking
Popes, who mixed a couple of new tunes into their always-rousing
greatest-hits set, and sprinkled a bit of the New Wave hit "Turning
Japanese" into their own "Rubella." The only thing that would have
been cooler was if they played "Crazy," too.
there's a Wilco
Taking a break
from recording its sixth album, which is nearing completion,
Chicago's Wilco on Sunday played a riveting set in Butler Field that
included a four-song sampling of new material: lyrical pop songs
that seem to split the difference between the lilting material on "Summerteeth"
and the more experimental sounds of "A Ghost Is Born."
"It's good to be
home," singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy announced. He has rarely
sounded better or happier, though his unruly new Grizzly Adams beard
is a jarring contrast from his old clean-cut image. Wilco's current
lineup of Tweedy, bassist John Stirratt, drummer Glen Kotche,
guitarist Nels Kline and keyboardist Pat Sansone once again made a
case for being the group's best live lineup, ranging from passages
of quiet beauty to crashing noise, and recalling the brilliant show
across the field at the Petrillo Bandshell when Wilco premiered
"Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" live on July 4, 2001.
singer, rapper and hippie jam-band leader Matisyahu was the
definition of a novelty act: After marveling for five minutes at the
odd combination of influences Matthew Paul Miller represents, there
was little to hold your interest during an hourlong set. Though he
was much less direct in his comments than Smith, and he focused on
"what is happening in Israel" rather than the deaths in Lebanon, the
singer did ask the crowd to say a prayer for peace "directly into
inspiring with its mix of art-rock textures and pure pop sounds was
Toronto's indie-rock supergroup Broken Social Scene, which easily
overshadowed Saturday's set by Vancouver's indie-rock supergroup the
New Pornographers, who are simply never as good without Neko Case.
On the downside
of Lolla's last day, 30 Seconds to Mars, a k a actor Jared ("My So
Called Life") Leto's lame vanity-project alt-rock band, was barely
good enough for a Tuesday night gig as a college-town bar band. She
Wants Revenge was yet another '80s revival band aping Depeche Mode.
And Chicago's jammy dance band Poi Dog Pondering played the same
tired party-groove set it's delivered for the last four years.
Peppers, chilly set
Wrapping it all
up were the fest's final band and overall headliners, punk-funk
boneheads the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The start of their performance
was marked by a crowd surge that photographers and security guards
described as one of the most violent they've seen, and dozens of
concertgoers who collapsed from the heat or were crushed in the
crowd were passed over the barricades in a chaotic scene. A senior
staffer with Chicago-based S3 Security said there were no serious
injuries, and only one arrest.
set, the Peppers juggled lame ballads from their recent double album
"Stadium Arcadium" with much more aggressive material, though all of
the noise amounted to little in terms of artistic accomplishment. In
many ways, they were symbolic of Lollapalooza itself: a good idea 16
years ago, grown bland, boring and distressingly mainstream, but
with lingering pretensions to greatness it no longer has much right