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 pass...you 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.

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