Lollapalooza Day Two

August 8, 2009


With yesterday's mud slowly drying under increasingly hot and humid if still overcast skies, the second day of Lollapalooza gets underway for me at noon at the smaller stage at the foot of Balbo with theNewNo2. The quintet takes its name from the classic TV series "The Prisoner" starring mod-era hero Patrick McGoohan. But the group is destined to be best known as the band fronted by Dhani Harrison, son of the late Beatle George and Olivia Trinidad Arias, and a dead ringer for his father circa "A Hard Day's Night."

Though I'm a proud Chicagoan, nepotism has never counted for much with me, and the truth is I would love theNewNo2 no matter whose DNA the bandleader carries. Even stronger than the band's debut album "You Are Here," released late last year, the group's short but intense live set is a wonderful, swirling, psychedelic noise-pop assault that mixes equal parts vintage '90s shoegazer rock (a la My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive) and more recent Moog-laced Radiohead, though it's distinguished by the strong melodies and vocals that, yeah, sorta do sound like you-know-who.

An impressively noisy guitarist who also plays a weird sampler/analog synthesizer that looks as if it was made at home from parts at Radio Shack, Harrison takes the stage wearing a goofy pirate's hat that he bought at the festival yesterday--it winds up in the crowd in the hands of a guy who wrestles it from several other fans who all dived for it--and a T-shirt that says, "La Muerte Palooza."

"Did you get rained on yesterday?" the singer asks. "Sorry about that. We're here today--that's why it's nice out."

Who am I to argue with that kind of logic?

2 p.m.: And after that high, it's time for two more relatively mediocre acts on the main stages in Hutchinson Field: the St. Louis band Living Things, whose leftie politics are much more inspiring than their vaguely glammy bar-band rock, and Miike Snow, an electronic pop trio featuring producers and DJs American producer Andrew Wyatt, Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg that offered pleasant chill-out sounds that seemed inordinately quiet and low-key for one of the festival's biggest platforms at a key hour of the day. (Now is when you want to be gearing up, not winding down.


3:45 p.m.: Now this is more like it! Ida Maria, a.k.a. Ida Maria Børli Sivertsen of Nesna, Norway, is nothing short of a force of nature, though her mid-afternoon set at the smaller stage on Balbo builds slowly before its rambunctious climax.

Fronting a tight guitar/bass/drums quartet, Ida Maria takes the stage wearing a shiny gold dress with matching high-top sneakers. By the end of her allotted 45 minutes, after repeatedly rolling on the floor, dropping to her knees and dousing herself with water, the dress is wide open to show her magenta bra, and she's given the audience more than a few glimpses of the matching panties, as well.

"Oh, you think I'm in control," the charismatic frontwoman screamed, underscoring the pent-up explosion of sexual frustration and sexual empowerment inherent in the best moments of her 2009 debut, "Fortress Round My Heart." By the time she hit the last three songs, "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," the huge European hit "Oh My God" and the closing cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by Iggy and the Stooges, she literally seemed as if she was about to erupt in the increasingly oppressive heat. And it was impossible not to cheer her raucous but melodic garage-rock.

After that, the Minneapolis hip-hop combo Atmosphere is quite a let-down, though it doesn't help that instead of focusing on their smart, sophisticated, laidback raps, MC Slug and his cohorts derailed the set midway through with a pointless acoustic guitar interlude/jam.

In the crowd: My favorite T-shirts today

"Show Me Your Riffs" (a Sleater-Kinney T worn by a girl in the Venus fanzine tent)

"I'm a Crafty Motherf---er"

"Ask Me if I Care"

Wristbands? We Don't Need No Steenking Wristbands!

Security has been working overtime in the heat in several sectors around the perimeter of the park: During the Ida Maria set, I watched guards eject two persistent gatecrashers not once but twice from the same locale midway down Lake Shore Drive to the east. And along the western edge of the park on Columbus Drive, one guard said crashers had been hopping right over the not unformidable fence--and then clambering over the Porta-Potties on the other side to keep going. The situation, he said, is now in control.

4:30 p.m.: Typical of the sort of lineup-filler band that just doesn't seem worthy of a festival of this caliber, Gomez is a British band that tries to straddle an odd line between indie guitar rock and a more jam-happy sound. Though I've seen thro up three times through the years, I've never been struck by a single song it's played--until today.

That standout tune: a cover of "Airstream Driver" by Chicago cult heroes and psychedelic blues-rock weirdos Red Red Meat. Reunited for a handful of gigs this year, Tim Rutili and that band will perform a free show at Millennium Park on Aug. 24. Lollapalooza would have been a lot cooler--and had much more of a special Chicago vibe--if it had booked Red Red Meat instead of Gomez, or Living Things, or Black Joe Lewis or any of a dozen other acts. But, hey, this way we have something to look forward to later in the month (and the Millennium Park show is free, just like Monday's gig by Shellac, another Chicago group overlooked by the mega-fest).

6 p.m.: Though they would have been the perfect stage-setter for Tool, providing a double dose of progressive metal for fans too young to remember the Rush of "2112," Coheed and Cambria take the stage in Hutchinson Field a full four hours before Maynard James Keenan & Co. Oh, well; another missed opportunity in the scheduling here.

Undeniably impressive musicians, the problem with the New York group is that it lacks a single melody as strong as the one that powered "The Priests of Syrinx." That becomes all the more obvious when the standout tune in the band's set is a cover of "Under the Milky Way" by the Church.

Onstage now: the Scottish indie-rock band Glasvegas--which sounds just a little bit like the Church, come to think of it. Unfortunately, they don't have a song of their own as strong as "Under the Milky Way," either, and once again the second stage in Hutchinson Field seems a lot quieter than the main platform at the very south of Grant Park. Add that to the fact that the band just isn't very captivating, and it certainly seems like it would be a good time to go grab a slice of pizza.

7:30 p.m.: "There haven't been enough fast punk songs played in this park today," Tim McIlrath, leader of Chicago's Rise Against, says three-quarters of the way through the an inspired set by his band, which remains hard to categorize.

Melodic hardcore? Political pop-punk? Mainstream underground? Call it all or none of the above--it's energizing under any name, though it does seem doubtful that the majority of the vast crowd filling Hutchinson Field is spending much time analyzing the more complex socio-political critiques in some of the band's songs. They're just buzzing on the adrenaline rushing.

McIlrath doesn't prod the crowd much, though he does invoke local history. "It's great to be here on this stage in this city in this park with so much history," he says. "Whether it was the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Chicago Police beating the f--- out of hippies all day long, or President Barack Obama giving his acceptance speech right here."

And, to more general applause, later on, he indulges in that favorite Chicago pastime of talking about the weather.

"Can you believe that every time Lollapalooza rolls around, it's always the hottest day of the year?" he asks. But recalling the all-ages shows here where he cut his teeth moshing to bands like Los Crudos and the Queers, he quickly adds: "The shows you always remember are the ones where you sweat and sweat and sweat." And Rise Against's hour-long assault certainly qualifies.

8:30 p.m.: Hands down, the biggest disappointment of day two is the Brooklyn art-pop band Animal Collective. Onstage at Metro in January, supporting "Merriweather Post Pavilion," the ninth and by far the best album of their career, the fancifully named Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist eschewed the unfocused over-indulgence of previous live shows, including a headlining slot at the Pitchfork Music Festival last year, and concentrated on highlighting their song craft, especially the tunes from the new disc, which is a sunny "Pet Sounds"-like idyll in ever darkening times.

Unfortunately, taking the stage at the northern end of Hutchinson Field, the band resorts to a meandering electronic jamming, bringing to mind a hipster version of the Grateful Dead's dreaded "Drums and Space" wank-fests. Anyone experiencing an, um, altered reality in the field probably saw God. Anyone expecting a purely musically transcendent experience probably kept checking their watch.

10 p.m. Finally, it's time for day two's headliner in the southern end of the park, the cult-favorite industrial/progressive metal band Tool.

In previewing the band's Lollapalooza appearance, when I noted that it really wasn't a festival headliner, I didn't intend that as an insult, despite all the comments it prompted from the band's defenders. Brilliantly constructed and expertly executed--drummer Danny Carey in particular is a percussive genius--the music is dark, brooding and complex, and the group loves to deliver it from a stage shrouded in mystery, preferring to let the enigmatic videos provide the eye candy while the musicians concentrate on their craft and front man Maynard James Keenan largely dodges the spotlight.

Keenan does make one concession to the celebratory festival setting, cheerfully telling the massive crowd early in the set: "We just got clearance for everybody--because of the heat, the humidity, the tiredness, the rain--to take their clothes off. At least for now."

No one complies--at least not that I see--and the group proceeds to pummel listeners with a sensory overload of lights, video and most of all music. Yes, it's effective. Though in a theater or small arena setting, it would have been nothing short of shear-the-top-of-your-head-off brilliant. There is nothing wrong, after all, with being a cult band and playing for the faithful. In fact, sometimes it's preferable.