It was Saturday evening after dark, midway through Lollapalooza, and Spoon had just started its set on the MySpace stage. I was milling about the sound booth—vainly hoping for a set list and considering the merits of the day's neverending drizzle versus Friday's sauna. It was then that I heard a fellow fest-goer attempting to explain frontman Britt Daniel's soulful croon to her boyfriend.
"It's, just, his voice, you know? The way he sounds...I mean, the music's peppy—nooo, that's stupid. It's catchy, sort of?" She fumbled on: "His voice just sounds like...like, he smokes? Like he's experienced. I mean, just listen."
Coincidentally, I'd dressed just like Daniel for the evening (a handful of frat boys later insisted on taking chummy cell photos, and a passingly indie coed-gone-wild mistakenly dry-humped me).
Sure, it's easy to make fun of the proto-frat boys and Trixies who keep music festivals afloat—crowds that seem totally out of touch with the primarily indie acts—but some folks are here for the music. The girl in question couldn't well articulate her love of Spoon, but she still cared—more than, it seemed, I've ever cared about anything.
Her boyfriend, on the other hand, said he wished they were seeing the band at some smaller venue. And the Portland- and Austin-based indie rock act did seem out of place. Though plenty of peformers—including fellow Portlanders Viva Voce and Northwest bigwigs Modest Mouse—seemed to belong at the alterna-circus, the boyfriend's sentiment rang true. But why?
It's simple: Ever after the myth of Woodstock, fest-goers judge the featured performers on their unifying anthems and the glistening potential for you-were-there memories. The music itself becomes far less important than generational bonding or the chance to see history unfold. This weekend, for instance, tens of thousands of good-natured young celebrants attended Giants games to drink with friends, perhaps watch Bonds break the home run record and—afterward—forget which team won.
Spoon had played Chicago twice recently, and it couldn't have seen crowds larger or more attentive. But while psych-pop duo Viva Voce—fresh from a Minneapolis gig where they were instructed to keep playing during the bridge disaster—revved faithful fans and intrigued passersby, and Modest Mouse brought a small army to its knees with the familiar melody of "Float On," Spoon's set was different.
It was different because—amid our little stretch of cozy (if football field-sized) concourse—Spoon made Lollapalooza-goers forget about the festival "experience" and just enjoy a good show. Short of Spoon playing your living room, there wasn't much better way to appreciate Daniel's lyrical subtleties and widescreen charisma than here, among countless strangers.
As the set progressed, the other stages might as well have been separate planets. Nobody spoke. Nobody danced. Amazingly, a few thousand couples (girls trembling, men furrowing their brows) simply listened. And it didn't feel like a festival at all.