For me, the craziness of Lollapalooza started on August 5th and by the time the festival reached it's end, I was tired, sweaty, muddy and had acquired a fancy new blister. Would I have it any other way though? Not at all. Lollapalooza is a summer music staple and I'd feel like an awful Chicago-based music fan if I missed the festivities. Pre-shows included Kevin Devine and the Decemberists and while Day 1's weather left much to be desired, the music made up for at least a portion of the climatic misery before the rain gave way to the expected heat of Days 2 and 3.
In DeKalb, Illinois, Kevin Devine hit the House Cafe to play an unofficial Lollapalooza pre-show, this time without his Goddamn Band and with a set influenced by fan choice via e-mail. Mostly leaning on older tracks from 2005's Split the Country, Split the Street and 2006's Put Your Ghost To Rest that don't often see the light of day, standouts included the opener, an acoustic version of usual set-closer Brother's Blood, the oft-neglected No One Else's Problem, a quick witted and fast paced break up song and I Could Be With Anyone which, without the Goddamn Band, was turned into a slow, tongue in cheek anti-love song.
The Decemberists hit the Metro on August 6th and they didn't just let the fans influence their set, they let them pick the whole thing. Colin Meloy and company played a fairly predictable yet solid set that was filled with the more listener friendly, poppier songs off their first two albums. Much to my enjoyment, Red Right Ankle did make an appearance but sadly, Shankhill Butcher's was nowhere to be found which is a shame because it's been my longstanding opinion that Meloy is at his best when he's writing murder ballads. The set wasn't completely devoid of killing however as The Rake's Song, a song about murdering your young, was played early on.
The first band I caught on Lollapalooza Day 1 was White Lies although I quickly abandoned their set for The Builders and The Butchers and realized quickly I'd made the right choice. Every festival has one band you've never heard before but that piques your interest and I'm definitely going to look into the Builders and the Butchers as they were vaguely White Stripe-ian but with more worldly influences. Maybe I'm an idiot but until I heard them talk and say they were from Portland, I suspected they were Scottish.
It's no surprise that my Day 1 standout was Kevin Devine. As much as I love him acoustic, I must admit that I sure do love that Goddamn Band. Mike Strandberg is a beast on guitar, electrifying every song with his solos and riffs, and Brian Bonz, fresh off a solo tour opening for Nightmare of You, is a stage presence if only for his beat boxing alone. Playing staples such as No Time Flat and The Burning City Smoking, Kevin kept things fresh for repeat concert goers by opening with Yr Husband and even tossing in his hilarious pop song, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, about, you guessed it, the titular basketball player.
Fleet Foxes were just as good, if not better, than they sounded on the album. I was certainly interested in catching them to see how their delicate, other worldly sound transcended into a live venue and while an outdoor festival may not be the best place to see a band live for the first time, Fleet Foxes sounded amazing, lush and commanding with their layered vocals and gentle melodies, making them my favorite non-Devine day 1 act.
The Decemberists hit the mud puddle that had once been Grant Park as the Fleet Foxes wrapped, performed their latest release, The Hazards of Love, start to finish. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer my bands to sound more organic and if they're going to use backing tracks, I'd prefer they be honest about it a la Bad Veins. Clearly, there was not a choir of children on stage during the Decemberists set. I could see that there wasn't. Yet I could hear them chirping from some undisclosed location regardless. Maybe it's a combination of that fact and the fact that The Hazard's of Love is just too conceptual and overwrought for my liking that lead me to yawn my way through the Decemberists' set, only becoming rapt with attention for the Rake's Song and The Wanting Comes in Waves, my two favorite tracks off their latest album. While it was nice to see My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden flutter about Grant Park like an overgrown pixie, The Decemberists just didn't do it for me.
Thankfully both Of Montreal and Andrew Bird treated me much better. I hadn't even realized Of Montreal was playing Day 1 and after watching Andrew Bird for a few songs, I decided to hurry to the south side of Grant Park to see the craziness that Of Montreal was no doubt producing. I couldn't see much aside from a giant screen with Captain America's technicolor face but I could hear plenty and the quick, well crafted melodies made me want a full Of Montreal set with someplace other than the mud pit Grant Park turned into to dance at.
The violin melodies of Chicago's best whistler, Andrew Bird, lured me back to the Playstation Stage before long however and I was more than glad to catch the last 4 songs of his set as he was a perfect way for me to close out my evening. His gentle melodies were refreshing and his presence was strangely commanding. Chicago loves Andrew Bird because he's ours and while about a third of the audience had drank away the sorrows of their rain soaked concert experience by the time he went on, he was still embraced by the entirity of the north side of Grant Park with cheers, claps and many a "Woo!" Who would have thought Andrew Bird would attract shouting girls?
Day 2 brought infinitely better weather and local boys Ezra Furman and the Harpoons, who's well crafted, energetic alt-country-meets-indie-pop was perfectly at home underneath the sun.
Langhorne Slim was an act I was very excited about catching and I wasn't remotely disappointed. Working the crowd while proving that what he sounds like on record is what he actually sounds like, Sean Scolnick was nothing short of impressive and caused a new musical obsession to form for me - After I left Grant Park in the evening, I immediately retrieved my iPod and walked the streets of Chicago while listening to Langhorne Slim's self titled lp.
Sunday brought heat so unbearable that it was a bit difficult to enjoy any set properly as two songs in, most of the audience was begging for hydration and shade.
The Ravonettes set was peppered with catchy new songs as well as old favorites, dating back to Attack of The Ghost Riders from their first cd. While the sound was great, the band was quite lacksidasical but considering the sweltering conditions, such stage presence was forgivable.
Neko Case has a voice made for the outdoors and hearing her clear vocals echo through the speakers across Grant Park was wonderful.
By the time Deerhunter hit the stage at 6:30, I was about ready to call it a weekend and retire to the air conditioned wonders of my bedroom but Silversun Pickups made me glad I plodded through the day. Despite a solid and strange set by Deerhunter, the Pickups were my day 3 standout act and like Langhorne Slim before them, they were a band that left me, at the end of their set, anxious for their return to Chicago so I could see them in a proper venue, preferably an air conditioned one.