Approximately 150,000 music fans flocked to "Lollapalooza" this weekend to see over 130 bands over the course of three glorious days. This year’s show was unique because some of the best and most popular performances (Kanye West, Common and Wilco) were by acts that originated in or live in Chicago.
The fest was not as consistently strong as this year's Intonation Festival or some other Lollapaloozas, but it had more highs and lows. If the fest had trimmed some of the fat off, it could've been a stronger, leaner festival.
Three days and eight stages was sheer overkill. The best day, Saturday, was filled with one triumphant performance after another (too many to see), but Sunday's lineup only had one great performance by Wilco. The Chicago based alternative country band’s stirring, emotionally resonant songs had some audience members on the verge of tears, and they previewed excellent new songs from a forthcoming CD.
Despite some sound problems (I couldn't hear his lyrics for the first few songs); Kanye West’s performance was also a success. His spiritually uplifting set of positive hip-hop included a great duet with label mate, Lupe Fiasco (who entered the stage riding a skateboard) and Common. He also did a magnificent version of his big hit “Jesus Walks,” which served as great musical theater.
His lesser known protégé Common (Kanye produced his last CD), actually outdid West with his more laid back set of soulful and sensitive rap. Much of the best material came from his last CD, "Be." He was less showy and flashy than West, but his set seemed slightly more genuine.
There were also some lesser known rappers who acquitted themselves well. The Hasidic Jewish performer, Matisyahu, laced his raps with reggae, and he sang some of his songs in Hebrew. He also asked the audience to pray for the suffering people in Israel. The grime goddess, Lady Sovereign sang lightning fast raps in a thick London accent over electronic music. She was excellent and inspiring, but her show at Intonation was slightly better, because at Lollapalooza, some of the music from other stages bled into her set and overpowered her.
But the No Wave (not new wave) influenced Sonic Youth delivered the best performance of the whole festival. Guitar player, Thurston Moore filled the stage with gut churning feedback which was perfectly complimented by bassist, Kim Gordon’s strained, sexy vocals. Their show kept building in intensity until it was almost unbearable.
The Goth and punk influenced cabaret duo, The Dresden Dolls, delivered a set of high energy, creepy songs including "Girl Anachronism (which may have been the best single number of the whole festival), as well as great material from their recent "Yes Virginia" CD.
The all female Indy rock trio, Sleater Kinney, delivered the goods on Friday with an irresistible set of furious, consciousness raising songs. The show was especially poignant because it will be their last performance ever outside their hometown.
The festival’s most delightful surprise was a terrific, but brief appearance by punk poet icon, Patti Smith, who did a rousing trio of personal acoustic songs in the Kidz Stage of all places. She debuted a great new political song about the Lebanon, and left the small crowd screaming for more.
There were other highlights. The Nashville based "Be Your Own Pet" delivered some irresistible pop punk, and the spunky lead singer, Jemina Pearl Abegg, has been justifiably touted as the new Karen O. The Go Team’s infectious set of cop show theme/cheerleader/’70s funk inspired music had many in the crowd dancing. The Living Things’ cool and raw glam-metal/60’s garage sound recalled the Music Machine, while the Raconteurs (featuring Jack White of the White Stripes) lively classic rock influenced tunes paid homage to Led Zeppelin.
Not every performance was a complete success. She Wants Revenge echoed the great Goth bands: Joy Division, Bauhaus, and Echo and the Bunnymen (one band), but they did not come close to equaling or transcending their influences. Blues Traveler delivered crisp, clean sounding instrumentation, but their overblown jam rock quickly became monotonous. Ween’s immaculately crafted, eclectic and quirky pop rock sounds better on CD than live, but they weren’t bad.
Sunday's biggest draw, the Red Hot Chili Peppers delivered a slick, overproduced, and self indulgent set of low IQ punk funk. Their hollow, contrived, stadium rock theatrics embody everything alternative music and Lollapalooza should be fighting against.
Despite its shortcomings, the concert was a bargain, and it was filled with powerful, inspiring music. But it would be a mistake to expand the festival even more.
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