When Lollapalooza was announced last year as a one-city, weekend festival, I was excited to find that Chicago was getting something of this caliber…then they announced the lineup. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed at the small amount of bands I wanted to see there with the high price tag that also comes with a festival of this caliber. This year's Lollapalooza arrived with almost identical feelings. There were a handful of bands there I was interested in seeing over the course of the weekend, but nothing I'd be willing drop $150 on for a three-day pass, or even $60 for one.
Through an awesome opportunity provided to me, I wound up at the festival free of charge. To begin my actual review, I just want to note that there wasn't any one day I stayed for the headliners (due to lack of interest), so if you're looking for reviews on Death Cab, Kanye, or Chili Peppers, you won't find them here. There were nine stages total, if my count was correct, including a comedy/performance stage and the kids stage, so I'm simply reviewing what I happened to catch at different points throughout the weekend.
There wasn't a lot in terms of music I wanted to see on Friday, so I went downtown to check out the grounds and get a good feel for the festival. Friday was by far "the slow day" in terms of crowds, and I was already starting to think that the portion of Grant Park they were using might not be big enough for this festival. Certain bottleneck points meant major slowdowns, and if you were seeing a band on one side, and wanted to see one on the other, you needed to plan for a 10-15 minute trip around the park. The odd thing about the setup for the fest is that generally the two main stages (on opposite ends) played at the same time, and then all the secondary stages played in between. I believe they did this because of the way stages were organized, so that sounds weren't overlapping. However, this meant that many times, two of the big name bands were playing at the same time, which created problems traveling from one side to the other and catching what you wanted to.
The comedy stage offered some Second City performances, as well as a group called Mission: Improvable, which wasn't very exciting when I caught them. Another comedy group called Schadenfreude was hit and miss. Either way, this was the place to go when you wanted to sit, relax, and get some shade. Virgin Megastore offered signings with select bands, PlayStation offered video game relief, and a number of overpriced food and beverage distributors were located on each end. Companies offered giveaways to gain attention for themselves, while the Causapalooza area offered information on different things the festival people are pushing for, such as petitions regarding oil and pollution.
The artwork at the festival was actually really cool. One part was sectioned off, and included walls lined with artwork on these vinyl-y mesh canvas things. On Friday, there was also a car in this area stripped down to the metal. On Saturday artists started painting the car, and by Sunday, it was finished. There were also a number of human-like figures and bugs made from household items, such as door handles and remote controls.
Day 2 was much more about the music. I went with some interest in seeing both Gnarls Barkley and Common, but walked away a little disappointed with both. I actually hadn't heard GB before, and I guess I was expecting a little more of the DangerDoom style, and when I learned it was more gospel, it was a little too laid back from what I was expecting. A friend had told me about Common -- basically being a rapper with a real band backing him up, something that sounded very cool, but again, it just wasn't enough to excite me. Instead, on another recommendation, I headed over to the PlayStation stage to check out Mike Patton's Peeping Tom. His set was very entertaining, and while I can't seem to remember the guy's name, he has another man in the band that does beat-boxing for him, and he was amazing. He did a solo section, where once you realized he was doing the deep bass parts, talking while he was doing beats and so much more, you really realized how talented he is. And as odd as their frontwoman is, the Dresden Dolls were a good band to catch for 4 songs. An "indecent exposure" moment came when she tried to slip into a t-shirt while dropping her dress at the same time. I also caught a few songs by the Smoking Popes, and was impressed with them. Sonic Youth also played on the other end, and while I only caught the last two songs of their set, they weren't playing very well.
Compared to Saturday, Sunday was the "rock day" of the festival. The first band I really made it there for Sunday was probably the best. Reverend Horton Heat was was playing the smaller PlayStation stage to a very good crowd. Their rockabilly set was accented by a Johnny Cash cover that had everyone singing along. I previously caught just a bit of Matisyahu, which was pretty damn good as far as Jewish rap goes. On another recommendation, I checked out She Wants Revenge while waiting for Queens of the Stone Age, but their set was the worst thing I saw all weekend. QOTSA on the other hand, put on a great show, although the extended guitar solo in "No One Knows," while entertaining, wasn't nearly as good as the simpler, studio version. Wilco was obviously a bit more laid back, but also very entertaining in the final 10 minutes of the set I caught. Before taking off, I stayed in the same place to see Blues Traveler on the stage across from Wilco. It was your usual jam band set, where the songs could be good, but just never end.
Overall, Lollapalooza's setup/artwork/experience was all very cool to be a part of, but for the price, the music left much to be desired for all except the trendiest of new music fans. The big draws weren't as big as they could have been, and the support was lacking except for a few of the previously mentioned standout bands such as Peeping Tom and Reverend Horton Heat.