Well, we made it through another year of Lollapalooza. And it was a doozey. A really fun and delightful doozey, that is. And besides taking in gobs of live music during the weekend, I also had a fantastic mega-revelation about what Lollapalooza SHOULD look like in 2011, and what festival organizers should do next year to serve fans better and make the festival experience more interactive, sensified and exploratory.
And for you live music pleasure, here’s a uniquely enhanced version of my Concert Review: Lollapalooza Music Festival 2010 that was published on Blogcritics.
It all seems like a beautiful blur. Lollapalooza 2010 started in fine fashion with Perez Hilton’s pre-bash festivities. And what followed was a three-day tidal wave of rock, pop and hip hop that rushed and surged its way over and through the heart and minds of 255,000 fans along Chicago’s lakefront in Grant Park.
Over 120 bands played, and of that massive amalgamation of live music, I think I saw about 1/3 of it. And of my daily serving of the Lollapalooza musical buffet, I walked away filled up on memories of Lady Gaga, Green Day, Phoenix, Arcade Fire and a few other surprises. And I hope you enjoy my official account of everything that happened.
This year was the largest attendance ever with around 85,000 per day compared to last year’s 75,000. And though Lollapalooza might have increased the festival grounds to account for the increased attendance, that didn’t help create any extra room overall as fans crammed together, even more than last year, at the main stage areas to see the headliners.
That said, we’ll take a look at why Lollapalooza needs to address their “getting too big” problem and why they need to offer better, more controversial sponsors, services and interactive experiences for the sake of the fans.
But right now, let me tell you what I will never forget about Lollapalooza 2010.
The festival’s highlights began when I became an honorary “Little Monster” on Friday night and ended on Sunday night with the unrelenting force and rapturous brilliance of the Arcade Fire.
I haven’t had a chance to do any official genealogical research to see if it’s actually true, but, after seeing her live for the first time, I’m now convinced that Lady Gaga is Madonna’s daughter in some way or another.
And as I see it now, there are two sides of Lady Gaga live. One side makes me have an unquestionable respect for her as a gifted and extremely talented performer. And the other side of her performance creates within me a looming doubt about the genuineness and originality of her art and inspiring “Little Monster” message.
Without any doubt Lady Gaga is a stunning performer. As we all witnessed during her ninety minute set, she has unlimited stamina and knows how to put on a show packed with pulsing provocativeness and inspiring spectacle.
Like her current Monster Ball tour, her Lollapalooza performance was full-on theatrics, storytelling and operatic rock and pop drama at its finest.
And when she wasn’t strutting around the stage in her flamboyant costumes (I counted at least 10 costume changes), and showing off her chops on the piano, she played the role of pop-rock motivational speaker with a nasty chip on her shoulder and a fire in her belly that fueled by her show a few years back on the smaller BMI stage at Lollapalooza when she performed to a crowd who didn’t care about her “train wreck of a set.”
But did I feel sorry for Gaga as I stood surrounded in a sea of screaming fans and adoring Little Monsters (her unofficial fan club of devotees)? Did I have any sympathy for her under-appreciated BMI side-stage show? Sort of. But after awhile the pity party got old and I wanted Gaga to refocus her anger and take her show ever deeper into the freaky and outlandishly rock-stravagant. But she didn’t.
Hands down, Gaga’s show was one of Lollapalooza best. She exceeded my expectations, dropped my jaw and got me cheering and clapping. But did her show convince me that she is an original artist with something fresh, creative and new to say or express?
On one hand, yes, Lady Gaga is putting a fresh spin on her Madonna influences. And, yes, she is developing into a multi-dimensional artist who can thread the needle between several genres and successfully blend rock, pop, dance and the rock opera into one big experience of maximum engagement. And yes, I’m glad that I went to see her instead of the Strokes who were wooing fans on the other side of Grant Park with old songs and rumors of a new album next year.
But on the other hand, Lady Gaga’s message of unbridled self-expression, sexual liberation and artistic freedom is not that unique.
And even after her stellar Lollapalooza set, I’m not convinced that she is doing anything new per se.
She is simply the Madonna for a new generation and a perplexing barbed bundle of unpredictable inspiration for those who connect with her brand of pop-shock and super-spectacle.
We only have to look and listen to artists like Peaches and Saul Williams to see that both of these artist are (and have been doing) a much better job of convincing fans that their message is genuine, fresh and unique. Which is something Gaga didn’t do at Lollapalooza.
Yes, Gaga was great and she left me speechless.
And I did become a Little Monster — if only by association — as I stood surrounded by thousands of decorated and costumed devotes who screamed and cheered unceasingly throughout the show.
But as I headed home after Day One the exhilarating rush subsided and a moment of clarity set in, followed by rising doubts about Gaga’s genuineness in my mind.
All her amazing talent considered, if she wants to leave a lasting mark on pop music, she’ll need to find a way to take that chip on her shoulder and transfer her brand of hyper-sexualized shock into something that is less about herself and more about celebrating the true liberation of her fans.
And, most of all, if Lady Gaga is to convince me or any other skeptics that her message isn’t just some sort of shallow narcissism masquerading as artistic genius, she needs to make up her mind.
Does she want to really empower her audience and set them free, or continue to confuse and alienate them with the vicious bite and venom of the fame monster?
Now, I spilled all that just to explain Gaga, but in just a few songs into his set, earlier on Friday, troubadour and reggae legend Jimmy Cliff showed why he’s the real deal. He sent shivers racing up my spine and conjured comfort, confidence, hope via the timeless ballad “Sitting in Limbo,” his classic cover of Cat Steven’s “It’s A Wild World,” and tracks from his forth-coming album Existence.
Following in Cliff’s footsteps, another welcomed and sanctifying Lolla pick-me-up came via Social Distortion‘s cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
It was good to see the Social Distortion on stage again doing what they do best. And that song growled and purred so strong and pure in a way that all life-saving punk rock songs do.
Lollapalooza is all about catching lighting in short bursts by jumping from stage to stage as you walk around the grounds. And I’m still trying to figured out how The Black Keys, with just two guys playing drums and guitar, can sound like an entire army of righteous blues-rock charging through my soul?
And yes, if you haven’t yet, go get their new album Brothers. It’s one of the year’s best.
Green Day: Now and Then
On Saturday night, Green Day demonstrated why they are the current champs of the pop-punk rock opera. They ruled the south end of Grant Park with a set that saw them bring young fans on the stage, shoot off multiple rounds of fireworks and pyrotechnics that would put KISS to shame as they charged through American Idiot with a fierce passion, as if they were playing the album for the first time for a fresh flock of fans. To start the show, Billy Joe expressed the band’s love and admiration for Chicago’s legendary history of punk rock bands like The Effigies and Naked Raygun.
And I even realized that tiny bugs loved the Green Day set too. Because during the show a mosquito landed on my arm, sucked my blood and threw up devil horns before I squished him. Now that’s what live rock and roll is all about!
The above Green Day video from 1992 was gracious provided by my friend Pete who shared it with me because Pete is from Elmhurst which is where the concert took place. Unfortunately, the venue no longer exists but as we know Green Day lived on with a vengeance . This video is pretty cool so return the favor, go do your Chicago hardcore/punk rock research and go check out Pete’s bad-ass punk band The Norwood Park Allstars. And be sure to hear what he had to say about his favorite live music moments in our Father’s Day Festival Feature.
Phoenix Is Still Rising
Moving on from Green Day, I wiped the mosquito remains off my arm and headed over to the opposite side of the Grant Park to take flight with French rock quartet Phoenix. Despite sound issues that made the set seem distant at times, the group soldiered on triumphantly, lifting fans higher into the stratosphere via “1901” and other gems form their breakthrough album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. And you know what? While you read this, there are probably fans that never came down and because they are still floating high above us somewhere in outer space after Phoenix’s set.
Arcade Fire Set Lolla Ablaze!
There were moments were Lollapalooza was at full-throttle, but for the most part, many of the performances and the crowd vibe during the weekend seemed oddly foreign and strangely stuck in neutral.
But when Arcade Fire took the stage on Sunday to close out the festival, the band somehow knew exactly what we needed to shake us from our sonic Twilight Zone and truly come alive.
From the first moments as front man Win Butler led his army through tracks off of Funeral, the crowd became electrified and communed as one together at the table of Arcade Fire’s feast of melodic splendor and rhythmic ecstasy.
Organs hummed. Drums were beaten with inspired gusto.
Voices belted out lyrics like a unified chorus coming from the core of a thousand souls.
This was the type of palpable and deeply felt emotional connection between me, the band and the crowd that I was waiting for all weekend.
The new songs from The Suburbs sounded gorgeous, righteous and filled with emotive wonder.
For ninety minutes Lollapalooza was sonically and emotionally set ablaze inside and out.
And on the opposite side of the Grant Park Sunday’s other headliner grunge-rockers Soundgarden stormed through their set playing, as one fan told me after the show, “like it was more than just a money reunion.”
And I was glad to hear that because I was a bit worried.
But it appears that Soundgarden does still have something to say and are feeling inspired to take fans, not back into the faded memory and flanneled past of grunge, but into the promising future of rock.
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end this year’s festival.
And tomorrow, I tell you three ways we can improve Lollapalooza 2011 for the bands, fans and everyone in between.
All photos courtesy of Lollapalooza