It’s probably best to start off with a disclaimer: One man will never beat 130 bands. Last weekend, tens of thousands of people descended upon Chicago’s Grant Park for Lollapalooza
. 3 Days. 11 hours each day. Nine stages. Each day must be planned with the tactical strategies of a Navy Seal and, no matter how many bands you get to see, the days are as much defined by who you missed as who you saw. Still, the sheer number of interesting bands at this year’s festival made it a wonderful problem to have.
Unlike other festivals that focus on up-and-coming bands (South by Southwest), attract diehards for selected groups (Coachella) or lean towards the 24-hour festival experience (Bonnaroo), Lollapalooza has re-emerged as a sort of Rock 101 Festival. Sure, Pearl Jam got some devoted fans to Chicago, but the majority of acts were seen by people more curious than enthusiastic. Maybe it’s an age thing. With an average age in the teens and early 20s, many festival attendees were in prime discovery mode.
So let it not be said that we can’t winnow 130 bands into easily-digestible lists. Baeble presents the Best and Worst of this year’s festival.
The Best of Lollapalooza 2007
10. Elvis Perkins
– The singer-songwriter received the dreaded Friday morning, 11:45 a.m. slot and damn if there weren’t 30 better-positioned acts that should’ve switched with him. With full band including cello and horns, Perkins is a modern-day Woody Guthrie backing a traditional jamboree and proved to be an excellent festival opener.
9. DJ Craze
– 20 girls dancing on stage while the Miami DJ plays a song lovingly titled “Ass and Titties” and other booty bass tracks. A welcome anomaly to the rock-centered festival.
8. My Morning Jacket
– Performing right before Pearl Jam, it was hard to discern who was in the crowd for My Morning Jacket and who was just waiting for Vedder and friends. Regardless, MMJ, in matching purple suits, put on one of the most energetic sets of the festival. In years past, the group tended to focus too much on Southern-tinged jams that would eventually devolve into bad Skynyrd tribute music. Now, those sprawling, extended jams skillfully straddle the line between roots and psychedelia and show MMJ maturing into a premier live act. Backed by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra on many tracks, MMJ’s set got more boisterous with each song, culminating in an unexpected cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.”
7. School of Rock All-Stars
– You may or may not know that School of Rock (the movie) was based on an actual program founded in Philadelphia. The program now has over 20 franchises and the group that came to Lollapalooza rocked harder than 90% of the bands here. For a festival that mostly steered away from classic rock acts, seeing a group of 12-18 year olds perform “T.V. Eye,” “White Rabbit” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” was a clear highlight. Sunday’s performance featured Perry Farrell and Porno for Pyros’ Peter DiStefano joining the group for Jane’s Addiction’s “Summertime Rolls.” Kids jamming to Jane’s Addiction: that’s what cool about festivals.
6. LCD Soundsystem
- The New York rock scene was heavily represented at this year’s festival, but no one compares with LCD lead singer James Murphy in terms of stage presence and hilarity. Watching a LCD show is part jittery dance-rock, part stand-up act, as Murphy banters with the audience between songs with the same flippant snarkiness on record. “Why do bands always ask ‘Are you ready?!’,” he asked at one point. “It should be, ‘Are we ready?’ We’re the ones playing.” Given that chatting for most bands here ranged from minimal to none, Murphy’s pointed observations were that much more refreshing. After “North American Scum,” one of the band’s harder songs, Murphy thanked the crowd for dancing properly. “If you can’t see any girls around you, you’re dancing wrong. What I’m saying is that you didn’t do that and I thank you.” Brilliant. Bonus apropos points for playing “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” right before the French duo’s set.
5. Pearl Jam
– The festival’s main draw, Pearl Jam got their obscurities out of the way at a smaller gig at Chicago’s Vic Theatre the night before the festival. Tonight, the group played a career-spanning set that would satisfy both diehards and nostalgists. Eddie Vedder has long mastered the frontman role and it’s easy to see why their live shows have become so revered to so many. Ballads like “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” and “Daughter” become giant sing-alongs, while classics like “Even Flow” and “Alive” still inspire the same amount of pure emotion as their debut 16 years ago. Vedder retains the title of “Rock’s Everyman,” passing his wine bottle to the audience and railing against BP Amoco for waste-dumping in Lake Michigan. After bringing out Iraq War veteran Thomas Young and performing “No More,” an anti-war song with Ben Harper, the quintet launched into Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” as Vedder triumphantly ends the set on Dennis Rodman’s (wha?!?!) shoulders. The last relic of the grunge era remains one of today’s best live acts.
4. Daft Punk
– When they debuted their set at Coachella, their first in seven years, an excited and anticipatory vibe emanated through the crowd which erupted with the first beat drop. While the set and setlist remains virtually intact, the only major response from the crowd was on certified hits like “Around the World” and “Da Funk.” It’s questionable how much the duo was even doing on stage—everything seemed a little too polished and perfect—but it didn’t diminish the sheer spectacle and fun of the set.
3. Iggy and the Stooges
– Any rock band forming now should be required, by law, to attend one Stooges show before their first gig. At 60, Iggy still rocks hard than anyone else at the festival. As the shirtless, tight-jeaned singer jumped out into the crowd during “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” there was no need to exert any effort to reach the audience. If you’re Iggy, you just stand there and let them come to you. When he later asked the audience to come up on stage, he was welcomed (attacked?) by hundreds of fans so energized, Pop had to relinquish the microphone and wait 20 minutes until order was restored. Rock and Roll in a nutshell.
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
– Maybe Perry Farrell is going a bit overboard by calling them “one of the best bands in the past ten years,” but when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs start into their set, it’s clear they’re ready to be festival headliners. Lead singer Karen O, replete with glittering cape and black, leather bondage gear, is as much performance artist as musician. She laughs while singing, having fun with the tracks while still giving a “performance,” something lacking in today’s music. When O smears her lipstick and writhes around on stage, it’s hard not to picture a female Iggy Pop.
1. Polyphonic Spree
– I’ll go on record and call this the single-best act of this, or any, festival. The 25-member (give or take a few) Texas chamber-pop group are the perfect festival band. Optimistic without being fey and exultant without being cheesy, lead singer Tim DeLaughter can whisper hushed, fragile falsettos and bellowing, messianic commands with equal skill. Dressed in full black attire with the Red Cross symbol on their shirt bottoms (the group would change into their more traditional flowing, white robes before the encore), the group’s exuberant vibe resonates both within the group and between itself and the audience. When they began a rousing cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium”—changing the drawn-out “Yeahs” on the song’s chorus from Kurt Cobain’s desperate cry to communal jubilation—at least one person was spotted reduced to tears.
The Worst of Lollapalooza 2007
7. Son Volt
– You’re a roots rock band with a solid following and name recognition because your former bandmate started Wilco. You start off with some uptempo material and the audience is moving. Naturally, you don’t want to be pigeonholed, so you go into a crowd-draining ballad that sucks all the life out of your set. Nice job, guys.
6. The Rapture
– It’s been well-documented that The Rapture built a reputation for live sets so funky it made stoic New York crowds dance every time they played. Here, though, something was missing. With little call-and-response and a lackluster vocal performance, even the dancier tunes lacked the punch that the band has exhibited in previous shows.
5. Amy Winehouse
–Next to Daft Punk, Winehouse was probably the artist most arousing curiosity. Like Interpol, her music is better suited to intimate, dark rooms rather than 2:15 p.m. on the main stage. Those who were expecting the drunk, headline-making Winehouse or funny, smarmy Winehouse were both disappointed, as the singer seemed sluggish and went through a low-key, moody set. With virtually no stage banter past “Thank you,” the singer seemed to want to leave the stage as soon as possible. Not even a rousing ska cover of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” could save this one.
– Some bands are just not meant for festivals. Interpol’s gloomy, introspective music is perfect for small, indoors venues, but with Capitol trying to promote them to national superstars, the headlining bill seemed too big and expansive. You got the feeling, especially when compared to Muse’s triumphant set at the same time, that most people here were just curious to see the band rather than genuine fans. No backdrop. No talking to the crowd. And after each drony song, polite applause.
– If you’ve never heard of Soulive, start with The Meters’ pioneering style of funk, throw in some Medeski, Martin and Wood jazz noodling, and finish off with a good wedding band. These guys are always one step away from being cool but the saminess of their songs and corniness of their vocals is a bit embarrassing.
2. G. Love
– While waiting for Black Keys, I heard G. Love freestyle that “Chi-town people always on the hustle.” My next note is blood dripping from my self-inflicted stabbing of my ear.
1. Electric Six
– I will admit that their “Danger! High Voltage” track from 2001 was catchy and fun but now it’s time to hang it up and go back to the day job. The group’s Sub-Creed c*ck rock now sounds like songs inputted in a computer and created using some sort of testosterone-coated algorithm. The chorus to one song was “Naked pictures of your mother” sung repeatedly. Nuff said.
– The multi-percussive New York band have essentially turned into a modern-day Soul II Soul, as Shannon Funchess has added a much-needed female counter to Nic Offer’s growlings. Funchess expertly towed the line between house diva and rock goddess and the band has staunchly improved on previous meandering jams. Offer, in short shorts and beach gear, still looks a little too hipster for his own good, but when the diesel, bandana-wearing guy with the Pearl Jam t-shirt is dancing, they must be doing something right.
– With a new documentary about him just released, Roky Erickson, psychedelic music pioneer and former lead singer of the 13th Floor Elevators, should finally reach the bigger audience he deserves. At a recent show in Texas, the eccentric singer afflicted with mental illness was tricked to go on stage and refused to sing. Here, though, he seemed happy to be playing his solo material, a mix of gritty blues and traditional 50s rock. No 13th Floor Elevators material was heard, but just seeing the unappreciated legend smile and thank the crowd was enough.
Ben Harper @ Kidsapalooza
– Ben Harper, who headlined Friday’s show, made a surprise appearance on the Kids Stage on Sunday to perform three songs with just him and a guitar. Was it mind-blowing? No. But it’s random appearances like this that make festivals like this one completely worth it.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
– A staple of the New York scene—dude seems to play here every other day—Leo’s blend of indie-pop and raucous bar rock could have made him a Kings of Leon opener. If James Murphy wasn’t here, Leo may be the most sincere songwriter today.
– With a dizzying display of lights and images and theatrical, bombastic music, Muse was a perfect headliner choice for this year’s festival. Going up against Interpol, the prog-weirdos from England heartily kicked Paul Banks + Co.’s ass with a career-spanning set that included “Time is Running Out” and “Stockholm Syndrome.”
Charlie Musselwhite – The best part about music festivals is stumbling on acts you’ve either never heard of or never would pay to see solo. Musselwhite, a 63-year old blues harmonica player/singer has been touring for approximately 75 years straight and it shows. Like Johnny Cash on uppers, it seems appropriate that Chicago, the birthplace of electric blues, has some of the genre represented. “I don’t feel like a stranger here,” Musselwhite tells the crowd. Rock on, man. - Jason Newman