Hot and sweaty fun near the lake, set to music — oh, and with a good soaking.
That’s likely the best way to describe my two days at Lollapalooza this year. Besides the extremes in weather, I also experienced a wide variation in musical genres — everything from Brazilian reggae and Pennsylvanian indie folk to Californian neo-soul and Chicago hood rap. There was also a variety a food concert-goers could sample from: Korean barbecue, Mandarin stir fry, Chicago-style dogs and deep-dish pizza, cheeseburgers, pulled pork sandwiches, cheese fries, burritos, ice cream on a cone — you get the idea. Lolla 2012 was a smorgasbord in more ways than one.
What promised to be a good day for music weather-wise quickly turned hellish as the temperature rose near 100. I arrived around noon and sauntered my way to the north end to catch O Rappa at the Bud Light Stage. I was early, so I took in a few songs by First Aid Kit, headed by a pair of Swedish sisters, at the adjacent Playstation Stage. The music is what you might expect from a femme band — something like a European incarnation of Cat Power (whom I happen to like — who doesn’t?).
O Rappa took the stage at 12:45 in front of an audience that consisted of more than a few yellow-and-green-shirted fans waving Brazilian flags. Lead vocalist Marcelo is a cross between Bob Marley and Lil’ Wayne; his long dreads are well-suited to either comparison. He spoke only broken English, saying, “I’m so happy to be here in Chicago, my friends,” and “Thank you for inviting us, my friends.” But all timidity melted away when he sang and rapped in his native tongue, Portuguese. I haven’t the slightest clue what the lyrics were (I’m sure most of the audience was just as clueless), but the band’s energy surged over the crowd to the point that, after a couple of songs, everyone soon forgot that they didn’t know Portuguese and began jumping and waving their hands as if they understood (and, in a way, they did understand). The highlight of the performance was undoubtedly the reggae rendition of Jimi’s “Hey Joe,” sung in Portuguese of course.
I strolled down to the far south end to catch Dr. Dog at the Red Bull Soundstage, grabbing a frosty carb drink on the way (you might know it as a “Bud Light”). As I passed the much smaller BMI Stage, I heard Haley Reinhart of American Idol fame saying something in her sweet, American-as-apple-pie voice. (I thought I heard her say that her mom is her back-up singer, before the crowd let out a big “Aww.”)
Dr. Dog, it turns out, is neither doctor nor dog, but what they are is a painfully talented band from Eastern Pennsylvania whose music is exactly as I described in my preview: “Dylan-esque.” I only say “Dylan-esque” because their lyrics are both nonsensical and strangely profound. (See: nearly every song Dylan ever wrote) My favorite performances — “Shadow People” and “Do The Trick” — were those sung by Scott McMicken, the one who sounds like Dylan and who shares lead vocal duties with Toby Leaman. The pair give the band something of a split personality, Leaman being more rock soul, while McMicken is more indie folk. Not that I didn’t like the songs that Leaman took the lead on. He gave me a Black Keys, Kings of Leon vibe (whom I like), but it also made his songs more predictable, more heard-it-before.
After scarfing down a slice of sausage deep-dish from Connie’s, I headed back to the Red Bull Sounstage to see The Shins, who used to be a hipster favorite before they became mainstream. They were as Ilene described: “exactly as they sound on the record.” Now, depending on your own preference, you may like it when a band or artist sounds exactly as they do on their albums. I don’t.
Unlike like the previous day, Saturday threatened to be a scorcher from the start. As I rode the Blue Line into the Loop, I chatted with a Boston couple in town to catch the festival who told me it never gets as hot back in Beantown. I promised them that Chicago could and would get a lot hotter.
I got to Grant Park earlier this time and took advantage of my earliness to walk around the park, which is completely different when it’s not flooded with hot, sweaty bodies and the drone of thousands of voices. (I think I actually heard birds chirping that morning.)
A DJ at the Perry’s stage near the south end of the park was bumping some hood sh*t, so, naturally, I was drawn closer. Then Chief Keef took the stage and pandemonium broke out through the crowd, which consisted mostly of suburban white youth from respectable neighborhoods and solid upbringings. Whatever modes of conduct instilled in them by their parents soon dissolved when the 15-man entourage from Chicago took the stage to perform “Everyday,” a song about smoking weed, f—ing b—–s and firing AKs indiscriminately — all this, as the lyrics say, “everyday.” The crowd thundered when Keef began rapping his hit song, “I Don’t Like.” Phones went up to record the performance, and audience members danced as ghetto as they possibly could. The more conservative types watched on from a distance. I saw a mild-mannered, middle-aged black couple in front me nod their heads at each other in disapproval (I guess that type of music is the sh-t they don’t like).
Personally, I was put off by one song due to its lyrics: “100-shot tech/ I don’t need no f—ing aim.” I thought that bragging about shooting without aim was a disgusting message to glorify, especially since many gang-related deaths in Chicago are innocent victims of gun violence and Keef himself is from Chicago.
[WARNING: EXPLICIT LYRICS]
I left Perry’s after Keef finished “I Don’t Like” (just as a lot of people did) and headed over to the Red Bull Soundstage for the second day in a row to see Doomtree perform. They’d already started, and so I heard them before I saw them. The sound is an equal mixture of hip hop and punk rock. P.O.S. is lead lyricist for the Minneapolis group, though he shares the role with fellow members Dessa, Sims and Mike Mictlan. Dessa, the female of the group, is as good a singer as she is a rapper, which is to say that she’s awesome at both. (She reminded me of Nelly Furtado, in a way.) The raw lyrical talent and delivery by P.O.S. along with Dessa’s voice are what stole the show; in comparison, Sims and Mike Mictlan were forgettable.
The best hip-hop artist I saw at Lollapalooza — in fact, perhaps the best hip-hop artist I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few — was Chancellor Warhol. The Nashville up-and-coming MC had already started when I arrived at the BMI Stage, a small venue (smaller than the Metro) that provided for the most intimate setting at Lolla. I was immediately struck by his clever lyrics, his engaging delivery and the texture of his voice. He looks like The Game (remember him?), dresses like KiD CuDi (maybe), and raps like Wale. He performed alongside Brad from Kentucky rock group Cage The Elephant and singer-guitarist Boss of Nova, and gave one of the best one-liners I’ve heard in a long time: “She’s like, ‘I don’t even do light skin’/ That’s cool. Turn off the lights then.” It’s hard to single one out, but the best song I heard was the one that sampled Michael Jackson’s “Say Say Say,” off the upcoming album Paris Is Burning. (What can I say? I’m an MJ fan.)
His set at Lolla seemed to be one of Chance’s proudest moments in his promising career thus far, constantly letting the small crowd know how thankful he was to be given such an opportunity. After his set, he spontaneously jumped into the crowd and had someone on stage take a picture of him with the fans.
Afterward, I grabbed a beer and sat by Buckingham Fountain to people watch (one of my favorite pastimes.) A couple from Chicago on the bench next to mine talked about catching B.o.B later in the day, and I warned them that I’d heard from a few friends that he sucked live. They told me the opposite, that they’d seen him perform a set acoustically and that he was worth seeing again. They also told me that they caught The Black Keys the night before, but that the guys disappointed (something I heard from several people throughout the day, the main complaint being that their sound isn’t suited for such a large venue). Neither of us caught Black Sabbath on Friday, nor did we hear anything about how the performance went. It’s been three days and I still have seen much word on how Ozzie and the boys did.
I headed back over to Red Bull Soundstage to see Orange County soul singer and rapper Aloe Blacc (“I Need a Dollar”). While waiting, I asked a couple next to me what I should expect. They told me he was kind of ‘60s, kind of ‘70s, kind of Stevie Wonder. I told them to be easy on the last part; no one can possibly be kind of like Stevie. But Mr. Blacc proved me wrong — and at the same time, proved the couple right. He is incredible live. His soulful, Stevie-like voice was accompanied by a jazz ensemble that had the crowd dancing uncontrollably whenever Blacc wasn’t singing. I danced for a good hour or so with the two girls dancing beside me. We couldn’t help ourselves. This was good music, the kind of music that answers the question “why don’t they make music like they did back in the Motown era?” Aloe Blacc makes that kind of music. He even got the crowd to form two Soul Train lines simultaneously on both ends of the crowd, and people were trying out their best moves. The band jammed for extended sessions while Blacc simply danced to the music onstage. It was one of the best concert experiences of my life.
What followed was definitely the strangest concert experience of my life. As I sat on the curb along Columbus Drive (renamed “Chow Town” for the event) eating a hot dog, a Lolla staff members walked along the street telling people that the park was being evacuated due to weather. People were in disbelief, and many one-day ticket holders refused to budge, fearing they’d be denied reentry after the two-hour suspension (the signs posted at each exit said as much).
Although there’d been some criticism before the weekend that Lolla organizers hadn’t properly planned for an evacuation, I thought it proceeded rather orderly, with long lines of concert-goers pouring out of each exit. Michigan Avenue and especially the streets connecting to Wabash is where the chaotic scene developed. People were camped along the buildings, waiting to be allowed back into the park. Most people either temporarily retreated to a restaurant, a hotel room or a friend’s place, or called it a day and went home.
I myself planned to wait it out (I wanted to catch the Chili Peppers), thinking it either wasn’t going to rain or, if it did, it would only drizzle a bit for a few minutes. But once the wind picked up and the clouds began drenching the city, I decided to head home. (You can imagine how peeved I was once the weather cleared up an hour later and the concert was reopened.)
In all, my two days at Lolla were well-spent, though I was left with aching feet, sweaty, dehydrated and soaked. I think the general complaint about this year’s event was the weather, but that’s obviously something organizers couldn’t control. It’s always great to hear live music and watch artists perform, but when the sun’s roasting everything (and everyone) the way it did this past weekend, it’s hard to enjoy anything outside — unless you’re packing plenty of water or, better yet, plenty of beer.
Hopefully next year will bring with it better weather. Till then, it’s a wrap on Lollapalooza 2012.