Thursday, August 16, 2007

US and World News College Ratings - disclaimer

After seeing the slew of articles both hailing and lamenting the position of our lovely university, Mr. Spirn posted this insider report on UW-Madison "tumbling" to no. 38, behind Illinois and Georgia Tech. Cries of calamity and "second-tier" ratings are abound.

So let's take a closer look at the situation, as the official ranking is out and confirms that post.

First off, if we compare this rating to last year's ratings, UW hasn't dropped THAT far. Last year, we were tied for 34 with three other universities. Below that, Georgia Tech was tied for 38 with two other universities, and Illinois was ranked at 41.

They don't even have a ranking of top national universities, they just take four and list them. How comprehensive.

So, here's the question: where does the ranking come from? These are these incredibly complicated catagories, but it basically breaks down as such:
-Retention - 20 percent
-Faculty Resources - 20 percent
-Student selectivity - 15 percent
-Financial Resources -10 percent
-Graduation rate performance - 5 percent
-Alumni giving rate - 5 percent

but the biggest category is the most disputed:

Peer assessment (weighting: 25 percent). The U.S. News ranking formula gives greatest weight to the opinions of those in a position to judge a school's undergraduate academic excellence. The peer assessment survey allows the top academics we consult—presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions—to account for intangibles such as faculty dedication to teaching. Each individual is asked to rate peer schools' academic programs on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). Those who don't know enough about a school to evaluate it fairly are asked to mark "don't know." Synovate, an opinion-research firm based near Chicago, collected the data; of the 4,089 people who were sent questionnaires, 58 percent responded.

So an entire quarter of the score is dependant on academics and administrator's scorecard based on whatever can't be quantified? Hmm. If that's so important, I better see MIT take a hit in the rankings (It did, dropped 3 places). In any case, quite a few people find this rating incredibly biased, such as the Education Conservancy, who sent out a letter to college presidents in 2007:

Among other reasons, we believe [...] rankings: imply a false precision and authority that is not warranted by the data they use;obscure important differences in educational mission in aligning institutions on a single scale;say nothing or very little about whether students are actually learning at particular colleges or universities;encourage wasteful spending and gamesmanship in institutions' pursuing improved rankings;overlook the importance of a student in making education happen and overweight the importance of a university's prestige in that process; and degrade for students the educational value of the college search process. We ask you to make the following two commitments: 1. Refuse to fill out the U.S. News and World Report reputational survey. 2. Refuse to use the rankings in any promotional efforts on behalf of your college or university, and more generally, refuse to refer to the rankings as an indication of the quality of your college or university."

These universities eventually signed the letter, but I can't imagine how the impact can be approximated (or if there even IS an impact.). In any case, at least 25 percent of these ratings are pretty subjective.

I would like to give that breakdown, but I don't really feel like paying 15 bucks for the details. As soon as their book comes out, I'll head out to the Barnes and Noble and jot down the figures, but for now, take everything in these ratings with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Just a notice...

This blog is now open to anonymous comments. So, any critics who would like to tear me apart...deface my blog, not Critical Badger.

You might be a lame duck if...

Hmm. Let's see. The last one of my trusted inner circle has jumped ship and I need someone with loyalty. Someone with integrity! Someone who can rebuild our legitimacy after years of failed proposals, a failed war and a looming trade showdown with China.

Of course! Baseball!

Cal Ripken Jr., who usually avoids the political arena, was named a State Department sports envoy yesterday. He plans to remain politically neutral even as he joins forces with the Bush administration to try to bolster America's image overseas.

The former Orioles superstar said yesterday that he didn't accept the unpaid post to make a political statement but rather to work with children from other nations on baseball...

The State Department's Bureau of Educational Affairs will pay his travel expenses. His first trip will be to China in late October.

What a low. Some are heralding Rove's departure as the end of the Bush presidency, but I think the President's last action of any value was his immigration proposal, even though that ultimately failed as well. Other than that, it's been the same deal across the board: Wait for progress in Iraq, twiddle thumbs on national security, send envoys to whimper at Chinese business leaders.

Sorry, but American retailers are going to make diplomacy decisions on Beijing before this administration does anything.

Well, at least Condi's "sticking around." If anyone else is going to leave, they seem to have until labor day, if we can believe the CNN report. Otherwise, they're in for the long haul.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The dream is over...

Mayor Dave has given up his "trolley" idea. Finally. I'm sure those who voted for Mayor Dave in the April elections probably did so with one thought, "As long as he doesn't actually think that trolley idea is going to work." I give the man credit for finally dumping the idea and admitting defeat. He's not going to pursue it, he's not even going to try and get it on the RTA agenda.

Good job. He may not be admitting he's wrong, but at least he's removed that unsightly growth from his plans.

Now that this nonsense is out of the way, perhaps we can focus on crime a little more?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

No protest yet...

...but they are going into the crowd and handing out a few DVD's of their "9/11 truth" documentary. I had to chase a few off (Union property, can't solicit), but I'm now regretting that I did as one Union employee and 9/11 truth purveyor kept referring to "punk bitches" and said he might be forced to do something he's going to get in trouble for.

Mr. Barrett is lurking...

...around memorial union. There's already an employee walking around with a few other people who have a large banner they're ready to unfurl. Right now there's a blues band on stage, but I wouldn't be surprised if they wait for the break to take advantage of the silence...and fill it with a little action.

More information as it becomes available.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

36.09(5) - Shared Governance or Throwing the dogs a bone?

As you might have read on in the Cap Times or Something Verbose, the Board of Regents voted in favor of Chancellor Wiley on the off-campus rent issue. Basically it means that...
Sex Out Loud!, CFACT and PAVE are relegated to the basement of Memorial Union. The Union is going to pay to renovate their space, as offices are in an old flooded space in the basement. However, according to Alex Gallagher, they have no money for maintenance as that line item was included in Off-Campus Rent. So if they want to keep their basic space running, they'll either need to dip into the reserve board (money left over at the end of each year) or cut other expenditures. Does that mean SOL! will have to hold off on the strap-ons? How will the children know how to properly peg each other?

Wispirg is still shacked up with MCSC and the Jewish Cultural Collective is enjoying a cosy living arrangement with Hillel.

But what about the Roman Catholic Foundation? Yes, they're hanging out with St. Paul's for now, but part of their settlement with the UW stipulates that they have to cut ties with St. Paul's. Does that mean UW has to find space for them as well or do we just wait for another set of lawsuits? Gallagher declined to comment on the UWRCF situation stating, "that's too political, I'm not going to get into that...All I can say is those groups have been able to obtain housing for free." Sounds like I'll have to have another chat with Tim Kruse.

It sets up questions about the future of segregated fees, but the bigger issue on the side of ASM is how this hampers Shared Governance. Alex Gallagher said that having Chancellor Wiley mandate a decision from on high violates shared governance, because he didn't directly consult with ASM.

Board of Regents saw it differently. For them, two years was plenty of time to "consult" with students on the matter and ultimately, Wiley has ultimate authority. Well, I'd definitely agree with the regents about the time element, but "Shared Governance" needs some clarification. Let's take a look at it, shall we?

The students of each institution or campus subject to the responsibilities and powers of the board, the president, the chancellor, and the faculty shall be active participants in the immediate governance of and policy development for such institutions.

Ok, right off the bat, it sets out who's in charge. The president, chancellor, board and faculty come first. Now, this is where the ambiguity starts - "active participants in the immediate governance." I feel the students are reading the last part first and the first part last. Yes, immediate governance is taking place, but you're only kids at the table. You get to speak, but not govern. Active participation is such a weak term for something that's supposed to let ASM have their hand in every student decision and activity. As far as I know, "active participation" could be just as deceiving as when Bill O'Reilly tells his guests "As always, I'll give you the last word."

If this were all there is to it, we'd probably not be having this argument. It's the following part that causes heads to be scratched till bloody and raw:

As such, students shall have the primary responsibilityfor the formulation and review of policies concerning student life, services, and interests. Students in consultation with the chancellor and subject to the final confirmation of the board shall have the responsibility for the disposition of those student fees which constitute substantial support for campus student activities.

Ahh, so this is where SSFC gets the idea from. It goes to them first and they discuss it with Wiley, but the board of regents has the final say. It's not just saying they get to sit at the table, it says they're digging into the food, as well.

However, here's where the caveat comes in. Notice the one word missing from this section: power. The "powers and responsibilities" are in the hands of the administration, whereas the students only have "responsibilities." In this sense, 36.09(5) doesn't guarantee governance, it guarantees a burden. The administration hands over some of their work to the students, but when they muck it up, mom and dad take back control and chastise them.

The only way ASM and SSFC recovers from this decision is if the state statute is revised to specifically lay out the duties and powers of student governance in regards to student fees, policies and activities. Lots of luck on that one.

Until then, we're nothing more than glorified lobbyists. Yet, it's still important to embrace that role. If you think complaining about segregated fees isn't an issue, consider this: tuition will rise by 5.5%, about $330, for the year. Segregated Fees are rising by around 33%, 125 dollars a semester.

One is inevitable and essential. The other is a frills package we don't need. and we CAN stop it. I sincerely believe that.

Edit - Quick correction -- the Chancellor's Office is funding the renovation of the Union, not the Union itself. Thanks Suchita.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Welcome Home!

Man, have I been out of the loop for a week. First Critical Badger is out for a week, and now me.

However, I have returned and brought you a full (well, except for Pearl Jam) review of Lollapalooza. Later tonight I hope to have analysis of the tuition increase and off-campus rent issue, which was decided in favor of Chancellor Wiley. I interviewed Alex Gallagher and Gestina Sewell earlier today, so their side of the story will certainly be presented, along with some opinion on my side, as usual.

Other than that, we put out the Mail Home issue of the Badger Herald! Take a look, won't you?

While you're at it, why not tune in tonight to WSUM 91.7 FM to listen to another addition of Muckrakers? 8pm tonight, you can stream on or listen via radio. Either way, tune in and call in - 608-264-9786.

Hopefully, I'll be able to get back to daily updates from now on. *crosses fingers.*

Lollapalooza: Day Three

Ugh. So tired. I'm not even sure I have the energy to make it here. After taking a trip with my backpack down Michigan Ave. only to find the Virgin Megastore had obviously been shut down, I lurched into Lollapalooza, shuffling my way to the Cribs. Oh, my British devotion has got a work out today, doesn't it? Cribs and Amy Winehouse? Not particular favorites of mine, but still interesting enough.

Still, the poor bastards have to stand on stage and perform for a 12:15 crowd in this blistering heat? Yesterday had been nice because of the light rain and cloudy skies, but mother nature turned up the thermostat today. They took the stage and blew through their newer material off of Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever before dipping into second album fare with "Mirror Kisses" and "Martel." They were a bit too energetic for this early in the morning, and the sound was just so distorted, I can't imagine anyone past the sound tent heard one song properly. Ross Jarman made some ridiculous comment that he had lived in Chicago on Kedzie Ave, but that was the extent of their interaction with the audience. they played "Hey Scenesters!" but by now, the song seems a bit of self parody. I left to rest up and find my friends.

After finding Mary, we went to see Amy Winehouse. Was she drunk? Was she sloshed? Would she be a total shit show for the audience? Not quite. It was more the disappointing drunk who just gets lethargic and forgets where they are. Her voice didn't suffer at all and she put on decent versions of her songs...that is, when she actually played her own material. In the midst of her set, she decided to play two Specials covers (Hey Little Rich Girl and "You're Wondering Now") and a Sam Cooke cover "Cupid" before going into her own material for three songs and finishing off with a Zutons cover "Valerie." Very bizarre. Apparenlty, this is normal fare for Amy, but come on. You've got two albums, although the American public doesn't know that. Play something off of Frank? Why not? I didn't look like the rest of the crowd knew any of the stuff off this album other than "Back to Black" and "Rehab," what's more unknown material?

By that point, Mary and I were dying with those backpacks on. We crawled over to the Annuals and took a nap during their set. Again, I was surprised how many people were packed into the citi stage for a band I thought few people had heard of. They sounded good, but then again, the fact that I was able to sleep to their brand of odd indie rock (odd meaning they had samples of forest noises in between most of their songs) probably isn't a great endorsement. Listen to "Be He Me" and you'll get a pretty good understanding. It's a good album.

Well, Mary stayed behind to see Peter Bjorn and John, a band I didn't have any interest in seeing. So I camped out in front of the AT&T stage to hear cross-field samples of Kings of Leon (yes, I missed Iggy Pop...don't give me that look.) and wait for !!! (Chik Chik Chik.)

Somehow, !!! made it into my top three for the weekend. With a new album of stellar funk songs that are finally good enough to classify as songs rather than 9 minutes freak outs, I was expecting a good show. I didn't get a good show. I got an amazing spectacle of dance, funk showmanship and spectacle. A funkified freakshow, really. Nic Offer took the stage after a little drum solo and started to shake his ass in tight shorts and polo. Sure, his moves aren't that great, but they are hilarious. They started with Myth Takes, went through "All my heroes are weirdos" and Nic Offer completely floored the audience with a blistering rendition of "Pardon My Freedom," which includes a line I always laugh at. The audience seemed agape when they heard it: "You can tell the president to suck my fucking dick/does that sound intelligent or like I'm throwing a fucking fit?" before going into the equally amusing chorus "Like I give fuck, Like I give a shit about that fuck, Like I give a fuck about that motherfucking shit." Nic Offer than proceeded to jump off the stage, throw every bottle of water he could grab into the audience and then jump onto one of the side platforms near the myspace tent where he swiveled like a caged go-go dancer.

After finishing that, Offer invited Shannon Funchess onto stage to help with vocals on "Yadnus" and "Dear Can" among others. If Nic Offer seemed wild, then Funchess was absolutely out of control. At one point, her soulful vocals crescendo into a scream. How to heighten this scream? Ah yes, deep throat the microphone hands free and flail about like an airplane about to crash into a building. Offer was still dancing up a storm and decided to appropriately flash his ass at the Lolla camera crew during a Funchess supported version of "Must Be the Moon." Eventually, after chugging a Budweiser and dumping the rest over her head and ripping off her shirt, Funchess did some salacious dance moves with a woman dressed in a Raccoon suit and left the stage. Offer had a few words for the audience before he finished the set with his insistent screaming vocals on "Intensify":

So, real nice fucking job to whoever put us up against Yo La Tengo. Always wanted to see them. Oh Well. (throws full water bottle into audience) But you know, I was at the first Lollapalooza and I can only say, I hope we can be to you what Nine Inch Nails was to me, because they fucking rocked.

What could top a performance like that? Nothing, really. I ran over to the now soggy, muddy and musty Bud Light stage where Modest Mouse were performing, but left after three songs. Why? ask the sound guys. It astounds me how a band like Modest Mouse can play a semi-headlining slot on the last day and still sound so distant or muddled from just behind the sound tent. Plus, they didn't seem all that into it to be honest.

My Morning Jacket, on the other hand, did. They were dressed in full waiter attire, while supported by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. I was pretty burnt out by this point, but they did put on a good show, even it did cut into TV On the Radio, a bit.

Unfortunately, for me, I was not able to see them or Pearl Jam, as Van Galder waits for no one.

So, to cap off the review, some tips for next year:

1. Please, color wrist bands by day or don't give them out at all. I could have easily slipped off my wrist band and handed it to anyone else, but I didn't need to, because one-day ticket holders who made it into the arms of a wristband holder who doesn't care who gets the goods just go a 110 dollar upgrade. Merry Christmas, kids.
2. Fix your goddamn sound. I heard more screeches and whines from the amps this year than the previous two combined. Sure, there were no Kanye style mic problems, but if I were Maya of MIA, I would be pissed.
3. No more head to head matches. As one man said to me during the Black Keys, "Can't the just take the real big headliners and put them up against no-namers?" Certainly !!! didn't sound too happy about the current situation and considering the large amount of fans in transit between Muse and Interpol, neither did they.
4. Lose the minefield stage. Ok, the Green Street part of the festival was a nice touch, but that "fun" stage of yours is just an annoyance. Either make it a pure DJ stage or just total the whole thing.
5. Get rid of that FYE signing tent. Your CD's are overpriced and you couldn't even stock Daft Punk properly. Virgin knew how to run the show and they kept things relatively cheap. Also, that Merch tent near the center of the festival needs some lines. Instead it felt like a flea market. That's fine, as long as there aren't 100,000 people at the flea market.
6. Nice job on the indie acts, but could we have a little more Hip-hop? Roots and MIA were nice, but Lupe Fiasco sounded like kind of a bust. Perhaps you should have one stage dedicated to hip-hop as well?
7. New Rule: Perry Ferrel isn't aloud to talk. If you think the Pitchfork MC is dorky, take a look at "PerFer." The man nearly got his mic cutoff when introducing Muse. Need I say more?

and lastly,

8. Next year's headliner: Radiohead. Come on. You know you have to.

Lollapalooza: Day Two

After the thumping bass blitz last night, it was going to be hard to please this time around. Tapes N' Tapes realized that. "I mean we left our giant tripod at home, so we're just going to keep playing some songs." Sure, no light show, but they still managed to impress. They started off with the one-two hit off of "The Loon" of "Just Drums" and "the Iliad." Great, I thought, but is this just going to be a rehash of that album? Say no more, doubting listener. They followed it up with an older song off of their EP's "Beach Girls" and followed it up with the first of a few new songs, "Demon Apple." Some of the new songs worked with TnT's abrasive/calming tempo switches, but this one stood out by far. And what do you know? I ust happened to tape the whole song.

The rest of the show was a fairly impressive mix of the new and old, finally pleasing the crowd by ending on favorites "Cowbell,"
"Insistor" (which I sang along to fairly loudly until I saw my quickly ballooning afro bobbing out of control on the jumbo-tron) and a stunning finish with "Jakov's Suite." I will say this about the show - Jeremy Hanson really didn't put nearly as much energy into his drumming as he did on the studio recording. Songs like "10 Gallon Ascots" and "In Houston" sounded a little less bombastic because Hanson relied on simple beats rather than his military-style assault one would normally hear on those songs. Yet, if that was the only misstep, consider that show a success.

Here's my only question: Who is this guy in the yellow? He was jumping to every song backstage until he came on and consistently shook his tambourine. If anyone knows who is he, let me know, eh?

There was a little break in the show as neither me nor Mary were particularly interested in Silverchair or Stephen Marley, plus she nearly fainted during Tapes N' Tapes. So we sat for awhile, listening to Silverchair's Australian alternative rehash in the distance before heading over to Cold War Kids at the Citi stage.

Well, we tried to at least. The stage was quite far from our vantage point as we had not anticipated...this.

I was astounded. Enough people here had obvious heard Jeff Buckley and were hoping he'd be reincarnated in the person of Jeff Willet. Well, it took a few songs for them to get into their groove, but that lovely streaming voice hit us all the way back by the food court. Amazing projection considering the smaller stage and speaker size, but songs like "Hang Me Up to Dry" still sounded crystal clear across the street. It was raining, cloudy and incredibly cramped, but I still managed to sway a little.

After Cold War Kids, it was time to make a hard decision. When I ventured over to the Bud Light stage at this time yesterday, I was seriously disappointed by M.I.A. and Maya's struggle to put on a decent show and keep the crowd engaged. This time it was The Roots, whom I had never seen live but was enthralled at the prospect. I know that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! are already coming to Madison and I doubt they could really push their whiny lo-fi sound to the masses. So, I jogged over to the Roots.

What a pleasant surprise. They started off with some standard fare from Phrenology before allowing Hub to launch into an extended bass solo, followed by Black Thought referencing the "hip hop is dead" mantra before taking the band through a sample medely that probably gave every person in the audience a firm understanding of why hip hop is NOT dead. Unfortunately, this would be the last time the Bud Light stage would perform such auditory feats for me, every other group I saw on that stage was a muddled mess.

I left Roots with 15 minutes left to go catch the Hold Steady. I had attempted to see them last year until my concert partner that year, Isaiah said the music sounded boring and we caught the Frames instead (who weren't that bad, but not as exciting as the show we missed that day.) I passed Matt & Kim (fill in's for CSS, a band I hated anyway.) who seemed pretty drunk as they explained their unbridled joy at being asked to fill in while providing some incoherent commentary on their daily lives. I skipped past those low-budget Mates of State and stood amongst the Minnesota faithful as they awaited their hometown boys.

The night before, I looked over a year old Rolling Stone that called them "the Best Bar Band Ever." I found that title to be a bit underwhelming. It's like saying, "The Hold Steady are the best band to play our of their parents garage!" It's more an insult than a badge of honor. Yet, despite their rising fame, they're still humble. As they made their way onstage, front man Craig Finn wearing a Twins jersey and seeming absolutely delighted to be staring at such an enthusiastic and smiling crowd. They ripped into "Boys and Girls" opener "Stuck Between Stations" and never let up. Every song by the Hold Steady is either one of two things - a fairly clever story or an anthemic head-banging sing-along. I found myself repeating the chorus to Chips Ahoy! and "You Can Make Him Like You" while Craig Finn stepped back from the microphone and repeated his lyrics as if he reacting to his own story. Just before launching into closer "Killer Parties" Finn gave a heartfelt little speech saying that he started the band because he wanted to have a practice once a week where he could drink with his friends and four years later, "we're going to Dublin next week to open for the Stones." This was a dedication to those Twin City fanatics jumping around who had turned lyrically rich alternative rock into a truly unifying experience. Hell, I nearly cried.

Hold Steady finished and Karen O took the stage across the way. As much as I would have liked to hear them, I was far more dedicated to Spoon, and waited while Britt tuned his guitar and Karen O played peek-a-boo with the crowd via a little curtain of streamers she kept placing in front of her face. My friend Chris later went on to say, "The only songs I had heard before that were Maps and a demo of Gold Lion but, after that show...I think I'm in love with Karen O." Certainly, they looked like they were having fun.

Ahh, but Spoon was my treat for the day. They open with some Gimme Fiction material (My Mathematical Mind) and a spin through a few Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga tunes (Don't you Evah and Rthm and Soul) before turning back toward "Fitted Shirt" off of Girls Can Tell. So where was the new stuff? Yes, they could have brought some horns to accompany them on "The Underdog" and it would have been fantastic, or they could have brought a piano out for "Ghost of You Lingers," but it would have put a damper on the already High-Octane Rock and Roll sound they were crafting this night. The last time they came to Lollapalooza, they sort of plodded their way through a very weak piano driven set where Britt looked fairly uninterested. This time, Britt gripped his guitar firmly and made it clear during a performance of "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" that is vastly superior to the brooding studio recording: "It took its time to work it into my soul/ I've got to believe it come from Rock N' Roll." "Don't Make Me a Target" was similarly blistering with Britt taking full advantage of the song's manic bridge to abuse his guitar. The set ended on "Black Like Me" and the crowd couldn't get enough, shouting "one more song". I've seen this before and it didn't turn out that well for Broken Social Scene. I left before they started shouting "Fuck Muse!"

And herein lies the major dilemma of the weekend. Two Bands - one captures the classic rock part of my heart dedicated to Queen and British theatrics and the other has a hold on my the post-punk part of my sensibilities that still pay homage to a fallen Ian Curtis. Muse or Interpol? Well, let's sample both and see whom we stick with. I started with Muse as they scrolled some long quote on the screen about subversion and secrets given by President Kennedy before launching into their overdone and childish Bush bashing via "Take a Bow." Then came a bit of "Hysteria" and "Supermassive Black Hole." Ok, all this new material didn't impress me much, so it was time to rush over to Interpol.

Man, did I come at the wrong time. When I got there, Interpol decided to dedicate about 20 minutes to their new material, "Rest My Chemistry," "Mammoth" (which I actually like) amongst others. I stayed on, waiting to hear my favorite Antics "Evil" then left during "PDA" yes, I loved the songs, but there was no stage presence, as Paul Banks simply peered through the cracks of his shaggy hair-cut and cradled a flying V guitar labeled with a sticker that said "BREASTS." Meanwhile, Carlos D looked like a 20's movie villian with his frizzy beard and cigarillo.

Muse was finishing up their main set when I got there, but was still delighted to hear something off of Origin of Symmetry as they launched into "New Born," a song most of the crowd didn't seem to know, and looked strangely at me as I belted out the chorus in off-key Bellamy style falsetto.

As it turned out, had I switched spots and started with Interpol, left to see Muse and gone back to Interpol, I probably would have recieved a musical prime rib instead of the fatty edges. While I listened to Muse start their set, Interpol started with some old favorites from Turn on the Bright Lights. When I saw Interpol, Muse took a side step and played "Sunburn" off of their first album, Showbiz, and my personal favorite: a cover of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good." Then, while I watched Muse launch into their encore with an absurdly karoke (the lyrics flashing in bold red letters on the light board behind them) version of "Knight of Cydonia," Interpol finished with an encore including "Stella was a Diver" and my personal favorite, "NYC."

I suppose you can't win them all. Still, Muse took it to 10:05 while Interpol ended 10 minutes earlier. So, not that bad. It was close, but this night was only nearly edged out by Friday as the best of the festival. But only slightly.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Lollapalooza: Day One

"Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house."

That's why everyone came, isn't it? We could rationalize it with the combination of Modest Mouse, Spoon, Clap Your Hands and others. Or, in my case, just !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Yet, in reality, everyone came out on Friday for the danceable robotic spectacle from France. Was there anything more to Friday's festival kick-off than seven hours of anticipation ending in an hour and half cerebral blitz?

Maybe, but after finishing the entree, any taste of the appetizers are a faint memory. Nevertheless, I'll try to sum them up.

We arrived at the gates late into the show, around 1:30. Although Mary and I had three-day passes, Tristan and his friend Jake got the same wrist bands. This is apparently a problem that repeated itself. One security official takes your ticket, scans it and passes you through. If you have a three day pass, then they pass you off to this woman with three-day wristbands. Yet, if you have a one-day still encountered the same woman. It wasn't a bunch of people trying to scam the system: they just thought, "oh, there must be different colored wrist bands for the event." That wasn't the case. Due to that fact, you had a great deal of one-day ticket holders who just got their $80 coach ticket upgraded to first class.

Unfortunately for Tristan and Jake, they could only stay today, so they had to make the best of it.

We quickly discerned the corporate stage system - it would have been easier if we had renamed the stages "A","B," etc. - and found a fairly up close view of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, already 15 minutes into their set. I like Ted Leo, but find it hard to derive anything from his live show other than amusement when he injures himself. When he played Pitchfork last year, I was indifferent to his performance until he inexplicably bashed his head in the microphone. There were no antics of that sort this time, although he did make a comment about how frequently he scrapes or cuts himself on stage. The show didn't really jolt me, except for the rousing "C.I.A." set closer after only 45 minutes (come on, you have MORE than an hour of material!) Ok, I might buy his new album, but nothing stunning at the first show.

As I leave to catch Polyphonic Spree, the Ted Leo fan who had been elbowing me the last 20 minutes turns to me and says, "Ted Leo rocks, man!" and puts his hands up for an emphatic high-five. I agree with mock enthusiasm, slap his hands while still holding my cell phone, and leave. "I'm glad he touched you and not me," Mary laughs.

Before I head off to those uniformed crazies on the Bud Light stage, I decided to stick around the east wing of Grant Park and see a little bit of Viva Voce. It was this point two striking revelations became clear.

1. I need a better camera. As all the press photographers formed a queue at the side of the stage, I stood there with my outmoded Sony Cybershot, to capture only a few glimpses of the husband and wife duo from Portland, Ore.
2. Viva Voce didn't really practice before they came here. Their voices were off, their sound was horrible and they seemed hot and tired already. I would like to hear "When Worlds Collide" with a little more vigor and on-key tone than Anita Robinson could provide. Yet, that might have changed after a few songs. Unfortunately, I couldn't stick around that long.

Time for the freak show. Except I can barely see the "Fragile Army." The tender-hearted Black Brigade with a penchant for sunshine and love attracted a crowd that filled half the field, something unheard of for a first day act at 2:30. What's more, the sound was crisp far past the sound tent. The only problem with this is that it began to get overwhelming the closer you got. It's understandable, they're a huge band with a huge baroque pop sound (a harp on stage!), yet, I do think something was wrong with the sound. When I made it to the sound tent, the sound was a little too tinny and bright. Despite that, the Spree may have been a bit too cheesy and bright for my tastes. I couldn't quite decide if I liked Spree as their hyper-ecstatic brand of pop music made heads bob while shaking. The new material works, as the sound isn't as "Love EVERYONE!" as material from "The Beginning Stages of..." and still retains a poppy jolt.

Yet, if there was one highlight of the show, it was when Polyphonic Spree left the stage for a few moments, only to return in their classic gospel robes, all while performing a cover of Nirvana's Lithium. Mary said a few onlookers were quite miffed that a bunch of chronically wide-eyed hippies would cover a song by rock's classic tortured troubadour, but it was excellent. That rousing cover, performed with Tim DeLaughter giggling once he uses the word "horny." If anything, it proved to me the band isn't some sort of cult, but a group of life-loving rock stars. No freaks here, just having a good time in the sun. I left the show early to catch a glimpse of Electric Six.

What a difference. Not only was the band a kick-ass mix of disco-rock and garage rock that seemed to ooze masculine posturing with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but Dick Valentine was absolutely insane. After a few songs (including favorite "Gay Bar") Valentine went on an entertaining and energetic role, dancing with his mic raised above his head, bringing a woman onto the stage and waving emphatically to the audience with the grin of a child who's just learned what a camera is.

There were some memorable quotes from the performance, but this one stands out the most.

We have built a microwave in Sears Tower. What we're gonna do, is we're gonna put you ladies in the microwave and it's going to transport you 30 years into the future. When you get there, you'll be in Crawford, on the presidential ranch. You're going to go in and see President Bush. He's 91 now, laying there in his presidential lung. Then, you're going to jump on top of Bush, and you're gonna ride him! and then, Bush is going to fire off his last presidential shot. With that you'll be impregnated and you're going to give birth to the next Bush, and he's going to become president. That's grass roots politics, Electric Six style.

Despite the fact that several people I have talked to think E6 is unfocused, inconsistent and all-around idiotic, they played their ridiculous hearts out and put on a good show for the audience. Maybe the records sound half-hearted, but when it comes to a live show, it's all about showmanship. They had that and some head-bobbing songs, so they make it in my book.

We all sat down for awhile during the show to catch our breath and hydrate when this woman came over and blurted something out about MIA and handed up stickers. She then told us she needed to take pictures of us with the stickers because she has to document everything she gives out. Let me just say, if that's used as a fan montage later on, let it be known I was a whole hearted fan around the time of Arular, but lost my faith when she performed here.

First off, poor sound mixes strike again. You would think a huge operation like Lollapalooza would hire adequate sound professionals for the day, but if they were there, they must have all huddled under the at&t tent in order to confer with each other on Daft Punk, because M.I.A. sounded awful.

On top of that, Maya started to play "galang" until she decided that needed to be near the end. She couldn't sing because of a sore throat, so she pulled out some throat spray that "Jack White" allegedly gave her. What does do all day that he has the time to buy cloroseptic for Sri Lankan hip-hoppers?

Unfortunately, things got progressively worse until they couldn't hit any further bottom with a ridiculously tone-deaf and confusing cover of "Where is my Mind?" by Pixies. I couldn't even accept that it was a cover until Mary pointed it out to me. At that point I could take no more and headed off to Rapture.

Whoops! Mistake no. 2. These boys had no energy and did nothing to engage in the crowd. Ok, they played it straight and sounded just like their records, but this is dance-rock! Shake your ass, clap your hands, something! Don't just stand there! I left shortly after they completed Sister Savior. Apparently, they did a great version of Olio, but I wouldn't know: I left the show.

Now, there was a clear option - either sit in the crowd and wait for a semi-decent spot for LCD Soundsystem, or take my chances with that crowd and rush to see half of the Black Keys. I chose the latter. After pushing my way through a few drunks , came across three men, one with a Che Guevara tattoo on his shoulder, his friend and their Quebec acquaintance. The conversation went sort of like this:
"Oh man, if you had to pick the top three headliners this weekend, I'd have to say it's Pearl Jam, Modest Mouse and Muse."
"I don't know, I still think Ben Harper is up there too."
At this point, they turn to me and ask, "What do you think man?"
I mention the fact that they've neglected Daft Punk.
"Yeah, but I mean, Who'd leave Ben Harper to see some DJ's?"

Funny, I was thinking "who would pass up the opportunity to see French robots perform a light show in a giant pyramid for a jam band hippie?"

In any case, the Black Keys came on, only an amp and drums to push their sound out to the masses. What's spectacular about their sparse instrumentation is how well it works for a festival setting. When I came to see them at the majestic, their setup matched the small stage, but their sound was a little too overbearing, even from the far reaches of the club. Yet, standing 10 rows back at an open air stadium, the opening riff of Thickfreakness ripped through me like a strong breeze - forceful, but refreshing. Although their stage performance is nothing terribly exciting, there is one thing I noticed during the performance that earned a lot of respect: no pick. It's all fingers for Dan Auerbach. Perhaps not a great stylistic difference, but one might expect a muted element to the picking. that man must have stone callouses on those fingers.

After half of a blistering set, I charged across the length of Grant Park to the see LCD Soundsystem. There's not other performer that could have opened for Daft Punk than the people who play "Daft Punk is playing at My House," but despite the large gap in performance allure, LCD Soundsystem still impressed with their dance punk styling, most notably Us v them and North American Scum, which had most of the audience jumping and dancing, or some combination of both. One girl next to me decided the best expression of her delight was to keep tapping me on the head with her "fairy wand." When "Yeah" started and the girl kept trying to "turn me into a frog" I made a leap out of the crowd and ran into the anticipatory masses in front of a black curtain.

To try and describe the non-stop mix and lattice framed pyramid containing illuminated robots is a difficult task, so I'll let some pictures say a few words, then I will.

In any other setting, Daft Punk might be maligned as a bunch of pre-IDM dinosaurs, behind the times and repetative as hell, only held together by a gimmick so 50's you had to at least laugh. Not the case here. In case you couldn't tell, it was a 70,000 rave with the most amazing light show I've ever seen. If you can find other pictures of the event (or other videos, for that matter) just imagine the mind-blowing experience a light show such as that creates when images of the human species are projected on a giant pyramid while "Human After All" mixes with a slew of other Daft Punk material. It doesn't just rock, it shakes and thumps. The only way I can explain it is this: It's the last scene in 2001: A Space Oddessy where Bowman sees all those colors rushing toward him before being reborn. Certainly, there were times when it felt as if we were tearing the very fabric of the universe apart. But of course, the occasional robot intonation brought us back down - it's only dance music silly.

And an intensely mixed dance music at that. Television flows into Around the World, which flows into Crescendolls, which spirals into Steam Machine that explodes into Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. Every bit of beat that Daft Punk had a role in making is on display here, in dazzling form. For the encore, they revisted "One More Time" one more time before turning their now illuminated robot suits around, revealing a neon lettering on their backs: "DAFT PUNK."

I can die happy now.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Just a radio reminder...

Muckrakers is on tonight, at 8pm, on WSUM 91.7 FM. tune in by radio or by webcast at Phone in at 608-265-WSUM to call and make a comment or ask a question.