My name is Griffin Fillipitch. I'm 18, recently graduated high school and will be attending the University of Minnesota in one month. This is my fourth Lollapalooza.
In a way, every festival (and especially this one) is a chore, or if you're feeling more generous, a labor of love. It's a lot of standing, shoving, dirt, sun, weird people, etc. But the opening day of this year's Lollapalooza was incredibly successful in reducing the hassle (as much as is possible) and making the remaining hassle worthwhile. Pitchfork, Chicago's other large-scale music fest, and sometimes the superior one, may not be able to compete this year.
Balkan Beat Box (side project for members of Gogol Bordello, leaders in the questionable but fun gypsy-punk movement) owned the crowd about as much as possible. Energy was high and the strong dance beats were effective, even when the saxophone driven hooks grew repetitive and whiny.
The Walkmen, at 1:00, was the first great show of the day. It was almost immediately clear that they would be much better suited for a later show, but they made the best of it. And the best of it was pretty awesome. The guitar was clean and clangy, ringing out beautifully in the afternoon. The electric aesthetic was supplemented strangely by a four piece horn section, which elevated songs like "In the New Year" to anthem status.
The festival was interestingly organized (or as my friend Hannah pointed out, segregated) into two sections. On the south side of the park, all of the electronic or dance-centric acts ( Devo, Hot Chip, Chromeo) performed leading up to Lady Gaga. And more traditional rock 'n roll performers ( Jimmy Cliff, The Black Keys, The New Pornographers) were located on the north side, leading up to The Strokes' much anticipated comeback show. Every day is set up like this, mostly as a response to the growth of the festival, which incorporated a few more city blocks' worth of space this year.
Mavis Staples, 71 year old gospel legend, owned the north side of the festival from 2:00 to 3:00. She has an unstoppable confidence and comfortableness on the stage that is unrivaled by the mostly younger lineup at Lolla. In some ways, her show was similar to Sharon Jones' set two years ago. But this show did not have Jones' sting. Instead it was fueled by a kindness and joy in Staples that was felt all over the crowd. Re-treads of classics like "The Weight" were an unexpected delight, not to mention Jeff Tweedy's multiple cameos on backing guitar and vocals. Definitely one of the day's highlights.
Modern rock cornerstones Drive-By Truckers and The New Pornographers followed, both delivering solid performances. The Truckers brimmed with an earnestness and truth Pitchfork's overly self-aware crowds and artists could have used. Neko Case, the New Pornographers' most popular individual member, merely played a supporting role, which was actually slightly disappointing. Still, the sound was brilliant, leaving no riff or sound obscured. And their banter was always relaxed and funny, especially when commenting on Gaga's upcoming performance: "She's just an honest, young girl trying to make it in the big city."
Dirty Projectors playing against Matt and Kim made for one of the cruelest overlaps of the day, but both ended up disappointing. DP's already shambled sound only unravels more on stage. They were interesting but difficult to stay engaged in. Their refusal to compromise for a festival crowd was more frustrating than refreshing. Matt and Kim's problem was the opposite. They were so intent on drawing a crowd that they lost some of the charm that made their performance at Lolla 3 years ago one of the best I've ever seen. A sing-a-long version of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" was fun, but lasted too long, and they were at their best when they did their own songs. Too bad - they spent a lot of time not doing that.
The best show of the day belonged to Jamie Lidell, whose fusion of electronica and funk was absolutely entrancing. I also loved the Sony Bloggie side-stage he performed from, which was tucked away from the main area, shaded and extremely relaxed. Excellent use of the added space. Lidell did not let the smaller crowd that came with the stage get him down. His confidence was manic but personable, and he not once left the audience hanging. His band consisted on three synthesizers, two drummers, and one giant soundboard, but the energy was purely traditional soul. It was incredible. Hats off to Jamie Lidell. It was an excellent cap to the excellent portion of my day.
Then there was Gaga. Now, it's important to know that I went into this concert as an excited, moderately pro-Gaga supporter, thinking her Friday two-hour slot would prove the quality of her songs to her skeptics. And they were numerous at Lolla. Anyone who wasn't already convinced on the issue of Gaga, though, remained unconvinced.
Note to future hermaphroditic, conceptual shock artists/dance-pop superstars: spectacle only takes you so far, and the farther you expect it to take you, the sooner it will tucker out. Every moment of her stage time was over the top, and the excitement of the crowd was met by the show, for about the first ten minutes. Then she started talking. And then she continued talking. And then she played a hit. But then she continued on talking and talking and talking. About what, it doesn't matter. Even if what she said was of any interest (it wasn't), it would not have changed the fact that she was TALKING and not singing. She was completely successful in killing any momentum that she generated. Not that she didn't generate any momentum; hits like "Poker Face" highlighted the mid-portion of the show, and the finale finally delivered two exciting, well performed versions of Gaga's two best songs (modern classics, for my money) "Paparazzi" and "Bad Romance". But this did not make up for the previous hour and a half. At one point, she brought out the DJ that accompanied her for her Lolla show three years ago. She reminded the audience that some critics called that show a "train wreck." And then, she and the DJ danced to a Metallica song for about two minutes. I thought, "Is this her revenge against those harsh critics from years ago? Is she trying to prove that she can produce an even bigger train wreck than before - and garner a crowd of 80,000 for it?" It wasn't all bad, but a lot of it was bad, and it was extremely disappointing.
Overall a great Friday. On to Saturday and Sunday!