Friday, September 17, 2010

August 8 What Lollapalooza Is All About...Music

Once again, I am rushing to get to Grant Park to see an early performance. This time it is Frank Turner and it is raining.
Last time I saw Frank Turner it was a solo acoustic set and he was great. This time he had his band and they were great. Frank is one of the best songwriters out there today. He had the crowd singing along in the rain. Due to the small stage, the band was also getting soaked but just ignored the rain and rocked out. It was another great start to my Lolla experience. Mother Nature must have felt like partying today because within an hour the sun was out and it was time to enjoy some music and a beautiful summer day. RIYL - well crafted lyrics, having fun, sing-a-longs
I checked out the Dodos and the Company Of  Thieves for a song or two but decided to get out of the rain and have lunch...a very tasty BBQ chicken burger.
I wanted to see the Band Of Heathens from Austin, Texas. I'd never heard this band but I liked the description of them in the Lolla program. They have a rocking country sound leaning more toward rock & roll lyrically. The three guys in this picture took turns with the lead vocals which gave them a varied sound and style. I really liked their set but wanted to check out Ike Reilly. Lolla provides a lot of exercise if you want to see all the bands you like. RIYL - The Band, multiple singer-songwriters within a band

Cynical, honest, vicious, emotional, sarcastic, real, humorous lyrics. Of course I loved Ike Reilly. I might be late to this party but I'm a huge fan now. I already owned his "Salesman & Racists" CD but never gave it much of a listen. My mistake. I now own almost all his records. Absolutely brilliant songwriting about social, political and personal issues. Ike seems to have lots of issues and is willing to sing about them. This is what rock and roll is supposed to be...dangerous. Believe me, this guy does not have that 'politically correct filter' turned on when writing songs and I fucking love him for that. Brutally honest songs sung with the power of a punk attitude. RIYL - a pissed off Bob Dylan, enjoy angering uptight people, rock'n'roll with a punk mentality, great songwriting

I wandered around for awhile. I saw  a few songs by Mumford & Sons, Hockey (how could I not check out a band with that name) and a crazy ass band called X Japan.

On my list of must see performers today was Erykah Badu. I can't say I am a huge fan but I love her style. Her deejay warmed up the crowd with late 80's early 90's call and response hip hop songs. Then she appeared on stage looking like Glenda, the funky witch from 125th Street in Harlem. She took complete control of the stage and the crowd...singing like an angel with the force of the devil. On a hot humid afternoon, Erykah was keeping it real cool...her band and background singers were spot on perfect. Her set ran long and she shouted down Wolfmother as they started their set on time across the park on the main stage. Very impressive. RIYL - Erykah Badu...because no one is like her...strong black women with a social conscience
I walked to the north end to check out MGMT & the Temper Trap. Both bands have a dance rock sound and the kids seemed to love both of them. I didn't stay long because I had to get back to the south end of the park for Cypress Hill.

Cypress Hill had the crowd in a frenzy as soon as they hit the stage. Part of that could have been the rockin' beats, part of it could have been the cloud of pot smoke that hung over the crowd on this humid afternoon. Either way it was impossible not to jump around and have a good time. RIYL - marijuana, old school rap with rockin' beats, having fun
I didn't spend much time at Perry's DJ stage for several reasons. One, I'm an old, fat white guy that can't dance. Two, I'm not the biggest fan of club music. Three, I'd rather see live music and lastly, there are not enough drugs to make me ignorant of how goofy my dancing looks. That said, I really wanted to see Felix Da Housecat's set. So I wandered into Perry's. There were kids who looked like they had been in there all day...glassy-eyed and dancing madly. That's cool with me. Everyone was just having fun.
The music is non stop here. As the stage spun around Felix began as Flosstradamus ended. It was just beginning to get dark so the lights began to take effect as the area filled with smoke from the dry ice machine. As it got darker the energy on the grass dance floor seemed to increase. So did the fun. Sure I felt old but I still enjoyed the music. But no hot young girls jumped into my arms like this one did for green man.
And I could not shake my hips like the hula girls did all over the dance floor.
I did have an interesting moment but I'll save that for later. I wanted to catch the start of Soundgarden's reunion show.
I watched Soundgarden from way in the back. They sounded good. I was a fan back in the day but I really don't like when bands reform long after their prime. They seemed to still be able to bring the hammer down on stage. Chris's voice wasn't the same but that's a minor complaint. I really wanted to see Arcade Fire so I headed to the opposite side of the park. RIYL - 1990's original alternative music, rock'n'roll played by a legendary band
As I passed Buckingham Fountain, I couldn't resist taking a few pictures. The colors and the light were perfect. Arcade Fire had the north end of the park jammed. I didn't see it this crowded all weekend. Unfortunately, the sound was awful. I could barely hear the band and it seemed like there was no bass in the mix. So after a long weekend of music, I decided it was time to leave.

I walked out thinking about how much music has affected my life. It was a great weekend on a few levels for me but the biggest was all the cool bands and great music that I got to see and hear.
So as I headed toward the subway, I was thinking about the power of music. I use music to relax, to fire me up, to escape for a few minutes or to bring perspective to a situation. Music is almost always playing around me. It is very important to me and I can not imagine my life without music. So I'll end with three stories about the power of music.
The first story took place in NYC this past June. After the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, I was on a crowded F train heading north through Brooklyn. On the train were a group of twenty something year old tatooed punk rockers and sitting across from them were three teenage black kids. A couple of the punkers were singing lyrics to punk songs and they saw one of the kids smile while listening to his Ipod. This began a friendly back & forth on the music each person liked, hip hop and punk. At the punkers request the kid did a freestyle rap about meeting punk fans on the subway. The kid was really good. One of the punk rockers asked him if he ever recorded anything and the kid said that he had not. It turns out that guy owned a recording studio. He gave the kid his card and they exchanged phone numbers both promising to get together to record some music. I was so excited to have witnessed this scene that my two thoughts were...only in New York City and how cool that a love of different types of music brought these diverse people together. 

The second story happened to me at Perry's DJ area tonight. I was taking pictures near a group of young kids, boys & girls about college age. They were dancing to Felix Da Housecat's set when one of them asked me why I wasn't dancing. They rejected my first excuse of being too old by pointing out someone my age dancing. Then I said I couldn't dance and I was told anyone can dance. So I put my backpack down and attempted to dance. Deservedly so, I was ridiculed by a couple of the kids in a polite way and encouraged to keep dancing by others. As I picked my backpack up one of the young girls that forced me to dance gave me a kiss on the cheek and said that was for dancing with her. As I watched the kids dance, I thought about the music causing so many people to move together as one and I walked away smiling.

The last story also happened tonight. While I was standing in the middle of the park watching Soundgarden, I began to tear up. Here's why, years ago Soundgarden was playing on my stereo when I got the phone call about my friend Scott. He had died and I was stunned by the news. So tonight while Soundgarden played I thought to myself, damn I bet Scott would have loved Lollapalooza. He loved music as much as I did and I am sure that he would have loved spending the past three days with me in Grant Park. So with 'Spoonman' blasting from the stage, I looked toward the sky with tears in my eyes and a huge smile on my face and asked Scott if enjoyed Lollapalooza this year.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

August 7 It's Punk Day At Lollapalooza

I slept in today. No early bands were worth me getting up early to see. The south stages have punk bands most of the day. So today it looks like punk day at Lolla for me.
I ate lunch and listened to Blues Traveler from the lawn on the south end of Grant Park. Then I met up with my friend, Eric and a buddy of his. We checked out Against Me! while waiting for Gogol Bordello.
Against Me! fired up the crowd on a hot sunny day. They spit out a ton of three minute punk songs covering the usual punk topics including politics, world views and social ills. Of course I love that stuff especially when done well by a punk band. RIYL - political punk songs

Years ago I saw Gogol Bordello open up for Flogging Molly or the Dropkick Murphys, I can't remember which band. But I do remember being blown away by their music, energy and incredible stage show. Today is the first time since then I got to see them live. Nothing has changed except they are deservedly very popular now. They converted any non-believers in the crowd with the best performance of the day.

Everyone I talked to was impressed by Gogol Bordello, including those that had never seen them before today. The best word is unique, they are like no other band I've seen. Sure some would use 'strange' instead. But it really is impossible to stand still and not have fun while they are playing unless you are dead. RIYL - worldwide influenced music with a punk edge, letting loose & having fun

I watched AFI on my way to the beer garden. I will only drink Budweiser if nothing else is available so I had to get beers at the Lederhosen Biergarten. On the way I met up with my friends, Ian & Amy and we checked out Deer Tick for a song or two. Then we met Eric at the south main stage for Social Distortion.

I have been a Social D fan for years but I don't think I've ever seen them live. Yea, goof on me. I can't remember. Anyway these guys showed the younger bands how it should be done. There was a mosh pit just to our right so I jumped in a few times. The crowd around us knew all the songs which made the show better for me. I heard complaints about some in the crowd not knowing these old timers. That would be their loss.

Even at my age I had a blast acting like a kid bouncing around singing the songs. Back in 1983 they were considered punk, nowadays I would call them a great rock and roll band with a punk attitude.
Ian & Amy rocking to Social D

I left the Social D set exhausted and hoarse. I needed a full body massage but had to settle for a drink and some food. RIYL- rocking punk music performed by masters of the craft
We walked back to the beer garden and checked out Slightly Stoopid (a ska/reggae band like Sublime) and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes (a talented band of hippies...what's not to like) along the way. Both sounded good to me. I ended the beautiful summer night sitting on the grass with Ian & Amy watching Green Day with Chicago's skyline in our view. A great ending to my day.
Green Day from way in the back. We moved up on the left side due to sound issues again with the main stages. Green Day played a varied set of old & new with a bunch of covers included. Green Day might be considered old timers by the Lolla crowd so that means Social Distortion must be legends. Either way, it was a nice contrast seeing those punk bands back to back.
It was a crazy scene on the way out as the police tried to stop the flow of people so traffic could move along Michigan Avenue. So when the crowd was allowed to cross Michigan, they were met by those that already crossed with cheers, dancing & high fives. Another fun day in the alternate Lollapalooza world. Only one day left here and then back to the real world.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

August 6 Three Days of Fun in the Sun, Music & Barely Dressed Girls...It's Lollapalooza

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read this blog that I love music. Most of my earliest memories have music playing in them thanks to my parents who actually listened to good music and passed it on to me. I might have been the only eight year old white boy in 1973 who could sing along with Stevie Wonder's "Living For The City". So 37 years later, I find myself on the CTA's Red Line heading to Grant Park for Lollapalooza. Last year I went with my little brother, Georgie, and his wife, Marcy. This year it is just me. Sure I am a loser but that is fine with me because this summer has been a special kind of hell for me. The weather has been in the 90's all summer...that's the temperature and the humidity. It's been relentless and due to completely incompetent owners, we have been working 60-80hrs a week and some days for 24 straight last night. So after three months of having no life away from work, I desperately needed Lollapalooza... three straight days of nothing but music, scantily clad young women and more scantily oops I mean music...the rest of the world does not exist. Lolla is great for discovering new bands and checking out bands that you've heard on the radio but haven't seen live yet. The festival is very well run, good food is available at reasonable prices, there are several non music areas that include a farmer's market, where I ate at my favorite bakery everyday, the Bleeding Heart Bakery and an artists area where I picked up a great Coney Island poster from Michael Michael Motorcycle. But this weekend is all about the music, so to quote Sunday's early performer, Frank Turner..."Let's begin at the beginning: We're lovers and we're losers".
I got here early just to check out Foxy Shazam at noon. I only knew them from an online video for "Oh Lord" but I loved it so much I dragged my tired ass to Grant Park early today. Foxy Shazam was worth it. They were crazy on stage and energetic as any band I have ever seen. The crowd was completely into them. Their half hour set was not enough. What a great start to Lollapalooza.  RIYL-(Recommended If You Like) - crazy ass lead singers, Freddie Mercury like vocals, high energy anthem songs.
I walked down to the south main stage and caught a few songs by Balkan Beat Box. They had the crowd dancing and I enjoyed what I heard especially the politically charged songs.  RIYL - world music, horn sections, dancing to cool music with great socially important lyrics

The Lolla program was very useful for deciding which bands to check out by reading the description of each band. The Constellations seemed interesting so I stopped to check them out. I stayed for their whole set. They were impressive. The lead singer had a hippie Jim Morrison/Tom Waits way about him with some funky soul added into the mix. I even recognized their song, 'Felicia'. Their set included a bunch of songs that seemed to be influenced from a wide musical spectrum which I admire in a young band. RIYL - different musical tastes combined into a fresh sound, Tom Waits
I had some time to kill before the Drive By Truckers played, so I checked out Jukebox The Ghost a less clever and less talented Ben Folds Five knockoff but I didn't dislike them as much as it sounds with that description. American Bang were real good, part of that new southern rock sound like Kings of Leon. I caught the last few songs of the incredible Mavis Staples' set. She brought out Jeff Tweedy of Wilco for a couple of songs. That was cool. He is producing her latest CD and they sounded great together. Nice to see an older legend draw so many young fans. The kids attending Lollapalooza seem to really know their music and show respect to those that deserve it.

I've been a fan of the Drive By Truckers ever since my friend, Cary turned me on to their "Pizza Deliverance" CD. But today was the first time I'd seen them in concert. They were impressive but I think I'd like them better in a dark rock'n'roll shit hole like the Riv or the Metro. RIYL - smart southern rock songs, bands with several singers and songwriters
I really wanted to like Cymbals Eat Guitars because the program said they are often compared to Pavement & Modest Mouse. That is high praise in my musical book. Unfortunately, the guitarist spent most of my time there tuning his guitar. I had to get to the south stage to catch Devo.
Yes, this is as close to the stage as I could get for Devo. I stuck around for a few songs and heard them play "Whip It". Then like most of the fans I left. I grabbed some spicy punk rock popcorn shrimp for dinner. Very tasty. I didn't include a link to a Devo video because if you don't know them, you must stop reading about Lollapalooza right now. I stopped by the Semi Precious Weapons stage just in time to be called a "fucking cunt" by the flamboyant lead singer and as I learned later...after a topless Lady GaGa stage dove into the crowd. Ahhh, the story of my life...wait, that will be played tomorrow. I did catch the last of the New Pornographers set at the north stage because I wanted to grab a good spot for the Black Keys. The Dirty Projectors were playing across the lawn but honestly I didn't hear anything that great. I sat on the grass getting a contact high from the group of kids next to me who were smoking the fattest joint I saw all weekend. All of a sudden one of the young girls fall down passed out. The guys start laughing and the rest of the girls get mad, pick her up and walk away. Never did see the girls again, the guys stayed and rocked out to the Black Keys. The most important part of this story is when she fell, one of the guys joked "don't smoke the brown pot". I had to respect kids that know their rock and roll history. After that excitement I got bored and took these pictures.

The Black Keys had some sound issues early in their set but they rocked the place with their grungy blues style. Definitely a highlight of the day for me. RIYL - music that means something, hard rocking blues, songs written by a guy that apparently has never been in a good relationship
After the Black Keys I was exhausted, I was thinking about leaving. As I walked by the Petrillo Bandshell, Jimmy Cliff was just starting his set. So I stopped to check him out. Good idea or dumb luck, who cares. Jimmy Cliff was the best performer I saw all day. I was blown away by him and his amazing band. Here's the details. I was way in the back at first. A college age kid lit up a bowl, took a hit and held it out for his friend. Just then a pretty hot woman closer to my age than his, walks by, grabs the bowl, takes a hit and the kid doesn't say a word. She takes another hit, grabs the younger man and blows the smoke into his mouth while kissing him, then she walks away. The kid stood there stunned as I and his friends just laughed. Trust me the party was just starting. The crowd was dancing and singing louder with each song. I kept moving closer as some people left to catch the main acts of the night. The hardcore reggae fans stayed and were treated to one of the greatest shows I have ever witnessed. Jimmy's energy and positive vibe was contagious and impossible to resist. Maybe I was just in the right frame of mind at the right time but Jimmy Cliff blew me away. RIYL - reggae legends, great performers, social commentary mixed with a positive message

I watched Lady Gaga for a couple of songs. It was more theater than concert. She was attacked by what I assume were 'Fame' monsters and she was covered in blood when I left to check out the Strokes. I only stuck around for a few songs. The Strokes came out late, that stage, same one as the Black Keys, still had sound issues and I was waaay in the back. The Strokes definitely had twice the crowd Lady GaGa had. I wasn't impressed enough to stick around, so even though I am a fan of the strokes. I am also old and tired. So I left.