Lollapalooza Round-up

August 5 and 6, 2007


A mix of sweet and sour; Day 1

The third year of Lollapalooza’s reinvention as a weekend-long destination festival in Grant Park started Friday with a mixed bag of sounds great, bad and mediocre.

My first music-filled day began with the Fratellis, a Scottish indie-rock band best known for selling its song “Flathead” to a TV commercial, and a revelatory set by local singer-songwriter Tom Schraeder.

A few years ago, Schraeder was a neighbor of mine who’d sit on his front stoop playing songs by Pink Floyd and Dave Matthews on acoustic guitar.

Now, he’s preparing to release a debut EP, and in the tough-sell slot of 12:30 p.m. Friday, he took one of the smaller stages and brightly shined as he delivered sophisticated and world-weary originals with the exquisite backing of a band that included cello, violin, standup bass and a singing saw.


With the exception of punk-rocker Ted Leo and space-rockers Blonde Redhead, the rest of the day’s highlights all fell under the category of dance music, though concertgoers only really started to shake their groove things after the sun finally set.

Ghostland Observatory is an Austin, Texas, group led by vocalist and guitarist Aaron Behrens that played an exceedingly cool set mixing analog electronica, vintage ’70s disco and sly hints of heavy metal. And even better were the day’s last two performances in Hutchinson Field.

Led by New York producer James Murphy, LCD Soundsystem was a raucous, riotous party band merging free-flowing punk aggression and irresistible, polyrhythmic dance grooves from its first two albums. And yes, the group nicely set the stage for the final act by playing its gleeful anthem, “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House.”

Revered in the electronic-music underground and throughout the international dance scene, Daft Punk is a French combo led by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter that draws equally on elements of acid house music (as perfected in Chicago) and vintage punk rock (stated heroes include the MC5 and the Stooges, as well as the Beach Boys). They’re known for wonderfully over-the-top live performances, but they only rarely perform in the United States. Booking them as Friday’s headliner was the biggest coup of Lolla 2007.

As hoped, the show was powerfully motivating and exquisitely entrancing, making anyone who caught it sure to question whether Lolla could be able to top it on Saturday or Sunday.


As for the list of my day's lowest points, that would have to include the midafternoon progression of woefully boring and self-indulgent jam bands (Jack’s Mannequin, Slightly Stoopid and moe.), while the just-mediocre list would be topped by Satellite Party, the current band led by Lollapalooza founder and current co-owner and emcee Perry Farrell.

The alternative-rock icon favored oldies by his earlier bands, Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros, over his new material, an odd move for a former groundbreaker. But even more curious was a comment he made to the crowd of about 20,000.

“You guys want me [Lollapalooza] to come back next year, don’t you?” Farrell asked to muted applause. “The Sun-Times doesn’t want me back! They don’t think we have good manners!”

Farrell was referring to an interview I’d conducted earlier in the day, asking about Lolla’s policy prohibiting bands on its stage from performing elsewhere in Chicago for 60 days before and 30 days after the fest — which has had a negative impact on the rest of the city's summer concert calendar — and the fest’s creation of an exclusive VIP area where wealthier concertgoers pay more than $1,000 a ticket to enjoy catered food, shaded lounge chairs and massages.

Smells like Lollapalooza; Days 2 and 3

The third year of Lollapalooza's reinvention as a destination festival in Grant Park ended Sunday after three days of musical high points, as well as a lot of mediocre to just plain dreadful schlock, and a mixed experience for the paying concertgoer.

Although it could be difficult for the average fan to remember while navigating the unrelenting corporate hype and the prime areas of the park cordoned off for exclusive VIP areas reserved for those paying $850 a ticket, Lollapalooza is first and foremost about the music, so let's start with the best of Saturday and Sunday.

Wave of inspiration
Four of day two's strongest acts drew inspiration from the New Wave era of the late '70s, taking those jagged, angular sounds in new directions: Minneapolis indie-rockers Tapes 'n' Tapes; Tokyo Police Club, a melodic garage-rock band from Newmarket, Ontario; New Yorkers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, whose latex-clad leader Karen O channeled Patti Smith and PJ Harvey while adding her own unique charisma, and the Austin, Texas-based Spoon, whose haiku-like choruses and pulsating rhythms updated the sounds of vintage Wire and Talking Heads.

Other Saturday standouts included South Side rapper Rhymefest, who spun his gruff-voiced rhymes about the Midwestern working class over the backing of a big band that included a four-piece horn section, and Austin's psychedelic and punk-rock pioneer Roky Erickson, who recently recovered from years of battling schizophrenia to return to live performance, delivering an hour of classic songs with the same incredible vocal power -- a mix of Buddy Holly sweetness and Little Richard fury -- that he exhibited when he scored his first hit, "You're Gonna Miss Me," in 1966.

Geeky, but we like him
The first highlight on Sunday came just as the weather started to brighten and Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco took the main stage in Hutchinson Field for a strong set before a large crowd that was with him every step of the way. "Can you dig it?" the unapologetically geeky rapper continually asked between tuneful mid-tempo jams, and thousands roared back, "Yes, I can!"

After sharing the spotlight with another Chicago hip-hop hero, Twista, Lupe injected a welcome dose of political awareness into the proceedings while introducing his song "American Terrorist." The crowd might know George W. Bush as the President of the United States," Lupe said before a dramatic pause. "Well, I know him as the President of the United States of American terrorism!" And once again the crowd cheered.

Even more galvanizing were reunited punk legends Iggy and the Stooges, who performed in Butler Field Sunday evening. The 60-year-old Iggy Pop hit the stage like a tornado and the intensity only built from there as the group tore through the incendiary 35-year-old anthems "Loose," "1969," "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "TV Eye" before inviting hundreds of fans to jump the barriers and climb onstage to dance in a wild frenzy during "No Fun."

Concert promoters and security guards were thoroughly freaked out, but this was Lolla's one burst of pure, unadulterated rock 'n' roll energy and chaos. Sure, the Stooges were mostly an oldies band, but all nostalgia acts should be this good -- and for that matter, so should many of the current up-and-comers one-fourth the Stooges' age who polluted the park throughout the weekend.

High-profile can mean bad
The festival's mediocre offerings, representing more than a third of the bookings, could mostly be written off as part of three thoroughly bland categories: generic jangly indie-rock (Sherwood, White Rabbits, the Heartless Bastards, Paolo Nutini); generic "One Tree Hill" acoustic rock (Pete Yorn, the Sam Roberts Band, Dax Riggs) and generic jam-band wankery (Apostle of Hustle, Kings of Leon). Then there were the more high-profile bookings that stood out for being truly awful.

Chief among these was Saturday night's headliner, Muse, the inferior English answer to America's similarly theatrical My Chemical Romance. Led by singer Matthew Bellamy, the group attempted to merge a radio-friendly alternative sound, vintage symphonic pomp-rock (heavy on the Queen), funk, electronica and hair metal. But the whole thing just toppled over under the weight of its own bombast and pretensions.

Ways to do it better
Although this was the third Grant Park Lolla, it was the first year as part of a five-year, $5 million contract between Austin, Texas-based promoters C3 Presents and the Chicago Park District. This means the fest will be back every summer for the next four years, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

In addition to strengthening the bookings by cutting down on quantity and concentrating on quality -- a move that would also eliminate the distracting and pervasive sound bleed -- C3 should heed the complaints of many concertgoers and industry commentators and cut down on the obnoxious corporate hype and snooty VIP areas, which claim the best parts of the park at the expense of the average paying customers.