Fear, loathing, heat prostration at Lollapalooza Day Two (read Day One here)
I'm From Barcelona
Bud Light Stage
1:28 PM 8/4/07
Tapes 'n Tapes
… see, the thing is …
Motion City Sountrack
… this isn't really my fault. Let's back up.
Hard Rock Hotel
Blender and CKIN2U—a new fragrance from Calvin Klein though I'll forever question why anyone would wish to associate a cologne with music festivals; Lollapalooza smells like an overstuffed frathouse set to boil—had set up their own lounge on the second floor of the Hard Rock Hotel downtown. There was talk of bands…okay, there was talk of an open bar, but my credentials were a little spotty. I was on some list to drop by their daytime press area with the possibility of, perhaps, finagling an invite to afterhours, but never had the chance.
I'd spent the evening drinking warm vodka (if you drew a bath of vodka, it would be that temperature), and wasn't at my best—missing the correct elevator button and pouring myself down the stairs to find a hipster A/V sort shouting toward headset as security waited impatiently for instructions. Maintaining vigilance against interlopers off the teensy list was of the utmost importance, our host kept repeating "There's going to be celebrities!" as the be-suited man-mountain listed potential trouble-zones. Plus, I ventured, the stairways are unlocked; anyone could just wander down. "Exactly!" he pounded his fist. "That's the problem we had last year!" After helping strategize the security barricade, I wandered away to help set up the bar.
A few blessedly-chilled cocktails helped quell the (still unstamped) hand-shaking, and, gingerly, I rejoined the hundred or so celebrants swaggering about the impromptu lounge to seek out the famous. Vainly. Well-tailored tastemakers, pharmaceutically-relaxed whippets trailing outré fashions, cosmically-air-brushed beauties—a salon had been erected in the hallway to retouch coifs and face-paint sullied by the heat. It all seemed perfectly appropriate, and, if everyone looks like a rock star, than nobody does. Even the photographers milling about seemed to take shots at random.
The main room, ringed by half a dozen small bars and lightly crowded by the glad-handing and self-satisfied (there was a conventioneers' atmosphere, still) would seem to be the absolute worst venue imaginable for any act. What to play the men who've heard everything?
Yesterday, I'd mentioned that I didn't quite see the point of watching The Polyphonic Spree—that, at least, I felt I knew the band. That their cultish exploits seemed, if anything, anti-rock. Exploding upon the stage in identical black martial costumes, Addicted To Love styled back-up dancers arrythmically gyrating behind, ticker-tape cannons exploding upon the crowd, these pop ninjas bent on forcible conversion may have been anti-rock, but they took the fight to rock's door. Not that The Spree's tunes, even this smallish cadre, abandoned lock-step harmonies or the distinctly off-kilter effervescence, but the aggressive cheer—less proffering grace through melodies than demanding submission to their over-arching ebullience—implied a darker, far more intriguing belief system.
Bud Light Stage
The nature of festivals to miss things. Apparently, Mickey Avalon later joined the Spree. Apparently, Eddie Vedder climbed on Ben Harper's stage for "Masters Of War." Apparently, tragically, I'd missed the frontman of My Morning Jacket perform a tear-wrenching rendition of "The Rainbow Connection" at the Kidzapalooza stage. Wonderful, they said, though we needn't tempt the weather gods.
Better than unrelenting sunshine, today's drizzle didn't exactly refresh, more like a coagulated humidity, and the Snow Patrol crowds noticed not at all. THIS was the festival experience. Untold hordes mashed into one another, popped collars wilting, aching to feel the music, uniting to an unashamed love as the hits rained down, with no one more chuffed than the band themselves—scraggly Brit boys-of-a-certain-age, unready to believe their peculiarly-universal muse delivered them from the downmarket indie circuit through TV-ready ballads that … affected, thoroughly.
However much the essential meaninglessness of the tunes allowed Grey's Anatomy et al to instill sentiment, however that sentiment informed emotional response—it worked, nonetheless. What more would we want? Audience and artist alike buoyed by a shared love of music made to be loved? They were professional, well-practiced, one can't imagine they'd have changed a note from their Scottish dive sets, but the largeness of feeling rose to fit the setting.
One never knows just much the Yeah Yeah Yeahs acknowledges the size of their stage. Befuddled looky-loos and longtime worshippers trailing purple & pink-haired offspring alike stared entranced as Karen O, outfitted in cape and circus fishnets, did Karen O things – rockette kicks morphing to over-the-top aerobics routine. If Snow Patrol seemed giddily aroused that their water-colour creations had won over Middle America, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Godhead achieved idiosyncratic success through pure will.
That last was reported by intern Anna—the correspondent's correspondent—midst repeated mutterings about just how delighted she was to see Patti Smith instead of Spoon. Good soldier.
8:10 PM 8/4/07
"It's, just, his voice, you know? The way he sounds? The way you picture him being? I mean, the music's peppy—NOOO, that's stupid. It's catchy? Sort of? But, his voice just sounds like…like, he smokes?"
This is Liz. From Michigan? Down for the festival? And she knew me from somewhere?
Passingly-indie co-eds gone wild are among the few dependable perks of music criticism, and, ordinarily, breasts pinning me against the sound tent, I'd be flattered. Sprung, even, if not for the drizzle. And her large, wary handler. And my intern, of course, dutifully observing Patti half a mile away. First looking toward the Jumbotron, a sad recognition dawned. It wasn't me that Liz knew.
"The way he sings, y'know? It's just…mmmph. I bet he smokes a LOT of cigarettes. He's hoarse. And horse-faced! Noooo. Kinda? He's just experienced, y'know? Older?"
Britt Daniel and I wore the same top. Precisely. And hair. And pallor. She dry-humped (which, as rain spat, couldn't be the right term) me against the chain-link only because I'd unconsciously dressed like a rock star. And, somehow, not in the good way.
"But he's a little nerdy, too? Like, this guy you'd never have talked to in school, but he's old, now, and sitting at the bar and he has smokes? You just feel that he know things?"
Women's Studies theses could be fashioned from Britt Daniels' appeal. As Liz's brother/husband/sponsor broke apart our coupling, I asked what he thought of Spoon. Good. Liked their albums—what little he'd heard. Seemed the wrong venue, though. More the type of band to hear at a club.
This seemed true, obvious, but why? Our little stretch of concourse wasn't so different from a good, cozy (if football-field-sized) beer garden back of any northwestern indie hall. Maybe Britt hadn't, say, Karen O's theatrical dementia, but he hardly shrunk from the stage. The music, even absent Snow Patrol's emotive touchstones or the arena tremblers of Muse, deserved God's own sound system. Less'n Britt was actually playing your living room, how better to appreciate the measured sincerity, lyrical subtleties, shruggably-widescreen charisma? Despite the crowds and the industrial constraints, there was no separation between music made and enjoyed; no artifice beyond what was necessary to deliver the sounds and images and uncut Spoon to a palpably-effected fanbase. Wrong venue how?
Ever after the myth of Woodstock, we helplessly judge the featured performers upon their unifying anthems and the glistening potential for you-were-there memories; music far less important than generational bonding or the chance to see history unfold. This weekend, tens of thousands attended baseball games to drink with friends—afterwards, a good number would've been unable to remember more than a few moments from the action or which team won or, even, why that would seem important.
As the set progressed, folks stopped walking through. The other stages may as well have been different planets. Nobody spoke. Nobody danced. The furthest thing from a shared experience. A few thousand couples (girls trembling, men furrowing their brows) listened to the music. And, my new friend was right. It didn't seem like Woodstock at all.
Patti Smith, should you care, didn't appreciate the ginormous Adidas sign overhead her performance. Her audience—wizened boomers, shockingly, unwilling to remove sunglasses well-past sundown; cataract surgery?—didn't appreciate the new stuff (meaning, songs recorded in the past twenty years). And, upon her faerie isle, we'll assume Tori Amos felt a sudden sadness upon Patti's utterly humorless Smells Like Teen Spirit recital. From intern Anna's report, nothing—the anti-corporate rants, workmanlike covers, yet-powerful rendition of 'Horses', Patti's desiccated soccer mom appearance, my inherent assholishness—came as much of a surprise, but a touch of reverence predominated, still. Easy to make fun afterwards, nobody quite enjoyed themselves, but those assembled still glimpsed a touch of The Presence. Exist long enough as female incarnation of punk, one gets used to the pilgrimages.
Interpol, avatars of cool, convey something different—a dry, truculent, perfectly-envisioned set of choreographed posturing. It's their act, yes—even back when crowding Brooklyn lofts. And the crowds went wild. They're rock stars. And, much as Yeah Yeah Yeahs cavort a lightly-hysterical rebellion, as Snow Patrol distill melodrama towards generational (and disposably cathartic) singalong, Interpol don't inspire or evoke so much as, for want of a better word, entertain. In the frenzied crowd, one could argue (as Snow Patrol did; much, you'd assume, to Interpol's chagrin) they were the best band in America. The shiniest, anyways. Owning the festival without ever sacrificing the prettified distance that made their bones. Too much attention's paid to the bands that painstakingly continue the fantasy of working-class fervor as their fortunes rise—Interpol maintains the façade of iconic disapproval upon a stage of which even they couldn't have dreamt…isn't that more impressive?
Muse, a few years ago, decided they'd like to headline festivals. Large festivals. For billions. Perhaps simulcast upon the moon. They sound big. Every song sounds precisely-engineered to soar through ecstatic crowds, every action designed for the jumbotron, masterful lightshow somehow organic to the music. Bit dull, yeah?
Jay Horton at Lollapalooza, Part One: "We'll Make Great Pets"
Jay Horton's photo by Cindy Barrymore (MS, MA - PhD Candidate). Cheesy Spoon photo courtesy of Wire Images, hence their logo.