Lollapalooza: I draw the line at 7 concerts

Went to Lolla Sunday. My first real taste of a mega-festival. Felt like every band that I watched (The Antlers, The Dodos, Blitzen Trapper, Yeasayer, Frightened Rabbit, The National, Arcade Fire) put on a really good show. By the end though, there was a strong feeling of “I just want to not be squished by people”.

The Antlers

"If the stage falls over and kills us all. We Want our ashes spread on this field"

Kind of hard to believe that the day started off cold and wet. Wishin’ i’d enjoyed it more at the time. By the time The Antlers started to play, conditions were pretty miserable. The Brooklyn based trio took the stage dressed in muted tones, singing heart wrenching rock songs from an album (Hospice), that’s essentially a narrative of a caretaker falling in love with a slowly dying cancer patient; under other circumstances The Antlers may not have been the best early afternoon act. Not exactly the type of band that makes you want to get buzzed, party and then pay seven dollars for a gyro. However, the weather conditions couldn’t have been more perfect for the set. After a song or two, lead singer/guitarist Peter Alberman looked around and started to apologize for the conditions. Then he had a change of heart: “But then again this weather does fit us. It’s not like we are a FUCKING surf pop band” said Alberman with just the right amount of disgust. Then he immediately tore into the next song (which I believe was ‘Thirteen’). Easily the most rock n’ roll moment of the day. The rest of the set was eerily beautiful and peppered with brief outbursts of emotion. ‘Two’ was by far the stand out. Even more impressive then on the album, the track starts off with a lone strumming guitar and near whispered lyrics and gradually accumulates more and more girth. By the end Alberman was practically screaming just to be heard over the drums, keyboard and ambient noise that filled the song nearly to its breaking point. There were chills, and not just because we were cold as shit. It was an extremely heart felt performance and I think best summarized by Alberman after a gust of wind sent the giant hanging speakers swinging wildly, and a quiet but visible level of concern sweeping through those of us near the stage: “If the stage falls over and kills us all. We Want our ashes spread on this field” declared the lead singer. Questions about sincerity aside, it was the right thing to say and it lightened the mood and almost made me forget that they didn’t play my fave Hospice song: “Bear”.

The Dodos

After the emotionally draining ‘Antlers’ set. Needed some time to recover. Decided to see some lighter bands from a comfortable distance. The Dodos started just as the Antlers let out. Opening with their 2008 stand out “Fools”, the echoing cheerful chorus and pounding drums really drew you to the stage. The quirky San Fran three piece had a very pleasant set and seemed to bring out the sun. Felt like the set appealed to all types of lolla-goers. Probably a good thing because I don’t think there were that many die hard Dodos fans in attendance. Neko Case even joined the band on stage for a few songs and anytime Neko wants to sing, it is a good thing in my opinion anyway. The airy acoustic single “Fables” off of “Time To Die” was probably the high point of the set.

Blitzen Trapper

Went to watch Blitzen Trapper immediately after the Dodos. Blitzen Trapper is a large pseudo 1970’s style, folk rock group out of Portland Oregon, and they look exactly like you would expect a retro folk rock group from Portland Oregon to look. Overall, they sounded really solid. Almost identical to how they did on their albums. Almost too identical. I always kind of want something to be jazzed up or shifted around just a little when I hear it live for the first time. You essentially know what you are getting with these guys They aren’t gonna change things up much.They are also an older group of bros and therefore weren’t one of the more physically active performances of the day. They seemed to do mostly stuff off their last two albums (‘Black River Killer’ and ‘Destroyer of the Void’). And again, much like the Dodo’s it was just really nice filler music even if you weren’t super into Blitzen Trapper. Good music to listen to while grabbing something to eat. The harmonica laden ‘Silver Moon’ off of ‘Black River Killer’ was by far their most lively and joyous song of the set.

Yeasayer

"This song is called Ambling Alp". - Magic.

Decided to pass on Mumford & Son to get a good spot for Yeasayer. Proved to be a wise decision. While waiting for them to start, I gave Mumford a listen from across the field. Seemed like they had too many ‘heavy’ songs that were burdened with painfully long intros for a band called ‘Mumford and Son’. Seems like if you are going to have banjos in your group (which I’m all for), then you can’t take yourself so seriously. When they finally got to some more raucous numbers though they weren’t half bad.

When Yeasayer finally got on the stage, lead singer “Chris Keating” was rocking some dapper brown suit thing. A shocking decision because by this time of day it was hot as dick. The coat lasted for like three songs. Overall it was far and away the most fun set, on a day of some relatively heavy music. The band started out playing mainly stuff from their debut: “All Hour Cymbals”. Kind of an homage to the die hard fans who waited at the stage for them, a classy move by the now suddenly very popular band. “2080” was one of the three best song of the day by any group. The ambient intro fading into that guitar and baseline was magic. Everything on the song just popped in person. After playing 5 songs or so, Keating paused, looked at the audience and said “I bet a lot of you new guys are wondering ‘When are they gonna play songs I know?’…Well here are some songs you know”. Instantly this was followed by the shrill echo of a synth, announcing the beginning of “ONE” and of the 80’s inspired dance party that was the rest of their set. In addition to “ONE”, “Madder Red” was a major crowd pleaser and took on a whole new life live with it’s lyricless yet sing along friendly (mandatory) hook. Keating also probably had the best vocal performance of anyone on Sunday. He truly has one of those rare power-pop voices that can really transform a song. Combined with his spastic antics on stage it was all very Freddy Mercury-esque. Yeasayer fittingly closed with “Ambling Alp” and the crowd erupted. All in all it was a finely crafted performance and really what the festival was needing at that time of the day. My only gripe was that one of my favorite songs, “Sunrise” sounded a little more muddled and frankly, less loud than I would have expected in person.

Frightened Rabbit

"I love playing festivals because there is so much clapping! There are two types of clap at a festival though."

Went to one of the far stages after Yeasayer to catch the Scottish folk rockers “Frightened Rabbit”. If it wasn’t for the spectacle that was “Arcade Fire”, Frightend Rabbit was probably the best set I saw all day. There was a surprisingly large turn out to see these guys. Lead singer/guitarist Scott Hutchison was a charming host to what was a nice mix of die-hards and curious on lookers. Ending every song with a very polite “Cheers!”, cracking jokes and giving little tidbits about upcoming songs, all while being genuinely gracious for having been given the invite to perform; Hutchinson was easy to like and became  even easier to like after he started playing. “Keep Yourself Warm” was one of the best tunes of the day. When Hutchinson proclaims “it takes moooore than fucking someone to keep warm” for the first time at about the minute and a half mark, the collective feeling of shock and expectation that ran through the audience was indescribable. Then about thirty seconds later when the song dips and Hutchinson repeats the crude but insightful line, the the guitar and keyboard immediately pick up, and everyone rejoiced. “Old Old Fashioned” was another one of the high points for me. It’s just a jangly rambunctious acoustic number and was one of only a couple of “feel good” songs by the Scotsmen. In total the set was the perfect blend of old and new, pleasing the Frightened Rabbit aficionados, while simultaneously creating new fans. It was the type of set where even if you didn’t know Frightened Rabbit before the set, by the end you magically knew exactly what Hutchinson was gonna say next in every song.

The National

"I'm just a really happy guy."

Decided to skip MGMT (best move of the night) to get a good spot for the “The National”. While listening to MGMT from across the field I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the legions of 17 year old girls that came specifically for the duo, as they were forced to listen to hours of pseudo-artsy rock music, while waiting for the three songs they know the words to. I think MGMT has done the one thing that pisses me off more than anything with their last album. They turned their backs on what got them famous. Really not only did they turn their backs but they seem to actually hold their pop songs in contempt now. Writing music that people like isn’t a bad thing, and being misunderstood isn’t always cool. I understand that their insta-fame threw them off but Jesus. Heard that they didn’t even play “Kids” at Coachella. Dick move.

Anyways, it was nice being amongst “The National” peeps. Seemed like we all had reached the same verdict about MGMT. It was a more mature crowd than any other show I saw that day. The type of people that just want to hear music and gently sway back and forth. I can dig that.

When The National walked out, Matt Berringer immediately poured himself something brown to drink. And silently raised it to the audience. The crowd went nuts. Baller status for sure. I’ve always loved The National and Berringer’s soulful baritone voice, and therefore have always wanted to see them live. However I never thought that they would be able to command the stage and a giant festival with the ease that they did. Berringer sounded great and watching that man handle a mic stand is like poetry. I think “England” was my favorite song by them on the night. The horns at the end really bring that chorus to life. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” killed as well. “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe. I never thought about love when I thought about home” is a chorus that really means business, especially when heard in person.

About midway through the set Berringer said something along the lines of “You write the saddest angriest songs when your happy. That’s why all our stuff is so depressing and mean. In real life I’m just a really happy guy”. Can’t help but question the validity of such a statement but it was funny anyway. Other surprises in the National’s set included the very ‘post-rock’ use of the guitar by both of the twins. They really got some crazy noises out them and that was something that never really came through for me on any of the albums. It was fun to watch. The single most surprising thing was actually just how lively these guys were. Berringer was all over the place; pounding the ground, jumping on speakers and going back to visit the drummer on nearly every song. All in all a quality rock show.

Arcade Fire

"I hope you’ve got a little more in the tank"

First off. If you chose to see Soundgarden over Arcade Fire. You may need to do some soul searching and start reevaluating your life, or just stop listening to music altogether*

Right when you thought you had had enough music and were ready to go home and put on some aloe. Right at that moment when one too many bro-parades tried to squeeze their way to the front even after you had waited in your spot for an hour, right at that breaking point, that’s when Arcade Fire started to play  and blew your fucking mind, and you forgot about it all because it didn’t matter. The stage design was gorgeous, the emotion was raw, and the accordion was bangin’ (no seriously).

The set exploded from the starting gates with “Ready to start” and didn’t slow down until the encore. Personally, I always love the tracks sung by Regine, so “Haiti” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” were particularly great. I think a drunk bro behind me stated it best when “Haiti” started: “Time to put that accordion down and dance bitch!”. And she did and so did everyone else, and it was great. Everything they played was bigger than life and even with the 11 or so people on stage, you couldn’t help but wonder where all of the music on a track like “No Cars Go” was coming from.

Arcade Fire did a great job of sprinkling in the brand new stuff. At one point Win Butler stated “You don’t know how fucking intimidating it is to come out here in front of so many people and play all of these brand new songs. But you guys are too good to us”. One of the best new ones was “Month of may”. If a song can sound violent, then that’s what the Month of May was. Every dip  was followed by an explosion of guitar that hit you like a right hook to the jaw. Near the end of the set Butler once again addressed the audience, saying “By the end of a festival people are usually so burned out they’ve got nothing left. … I hope you’ve got a little more in the tank” Then wham, another PCP laced rock tune shot right at you.

The encore was predictable in the best kind of way. “Wake up” closed the performance and the festival the way that both deserved to be closed, with thousands of people swaying and ooohhhh oooooohh oooohing in unison.

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