Sunday, August 06, 2006


Here was my plan for yesterday:
12:30 Nada Surf
1:30 The Go! Team
2:30 Built To Spill
3:30 Wolfmother
4:30 Sonic Youth
6:30 Common
7:30 New Pornographers
8:30 Kanye West

But, to paraphrase the news, what happens on the ground has a way of changing resolutions. Lollapalooza is set up with two large areas with two sizable stages each on opposite ends of Grant Park. Which is great if you want to see something on one of the two stages close to each other, and not so great if you want to catch shows that immediately following one another at opposite ends of the park. So the Go! Team was out, as much as I love them, and so was Wolfmother, as awesome as I think they are. But, still, not a bad day's worth of music. Let's do it hour by hour.

12:30 Our day starts with Nada Surf and the band appears happy to play both for the cult-like following tuned into its big-sounding, emotional power pop and early arrivers who know them mostly for the novelty hit "Popular" (it's number two in the set.) As much as I like the band, they sound even better live than I'd expected. Maybe that's because it's singer Matthew Caws' birthday. Halfway through the set, Caws delivers the most literate shout-out of the day: "How many of you have read Devil In The White City?" At least a dozen people cheer.

1:30 This lull in the action would be a great time to check out some of the side areas like Mindfield (comedy troupes, short films and the like) and the art area, Who Art Thou? But we don't, mostly because we're hungry but also because no one I'm with can get past Who Art Thou's original name, "Who Arted?" Somewhere between the time the pamphlets were printed and the area constructed, cooler heads prevailed.

2:30 Built To Spill can be one of the best live acts out there, but they get off to a slow start today, only buildiing up to ramming speed at the halfway mark. That's part of the problem with festivals: By the time some acts get going their hour's almost up. But the home stretch was amazing, highlighted by a stirring cover of The Gladiators' "Re Arrange" (I think that's the song). Here's the chorus: "Ask not what your country can do for you but question what you can do for your country." Nobody missed the point. The set further confirmed my suspicion that BTS is the connective fiber between the indie rock crowd and the jam band set. Nearly everyone around me was smoking something and there were quite a few twirly dances going on.

3:30 Calexico sounds great although we take a break from the crowd and hang out toward the back. They send a cover of "Aloneagainor" out to the late, great, Arthur Lee.

4:30 Time for Sonic Youth. Somehow I've never seen them before and now I regret every chance I missed. The set begins with "Incinerate" from the new Rather Ripped and ends with a song "probably written before you were born," by Kim Gordon's assessment. They're a living testament to what it means to really be in a band. Twenty-five years and 20 albums into Sonic Youth's career, they have an almost telepathic chemistry. Anyone wanting to make music their life should have made it a point to be in the audience.

6:30 After making the long trek acorss Grant Park and eating a "dinner" of Connie's Pizza (the local pizza ubiquitous at all Chicago sporting events and festivals; I love it but it stretches the definition of "meal") we find our places for Common who, as someone else pointed out, breaks with the pattern of starting a set slow and building from there. He starts with a pounding string of tracks from last year's Be. Then it was time for keyboard, drum, and DJ solos, all of which were fine until it descended into smooth-jazz improvisation. Being Common, it was the coolest smooth-jazz improvisations you've ever heard, but it still felt half-brilliant, half-indulgent. One further diappointment: Always a dapper dresser, Common took the stage wearing a t-shirt. True, it probably cost more than my last dental bill, but there are standards to uphold.

7:30 The New Pornographers' Carl Newman seems baffled both by the fact he's playing Lollapalooza and that he's playing between Common and Kanye West. He seems to enjoy himself and the band sounds typically tight, even if Neko Case and Dan Bejar's absence seems more notable than the last time we saw them. Toward the end, Newman starts welcoming the Kanye fans flooding in.

8:30 Kanye West plays to a hometown crowd and appears to have a much better time doing it than the last time we saw him at the UIC Pavillion, apart from some loud, angry complaints about some sound problems. The show brought the day to a truly spectacular end. West trotted out guest stars like Common, Twista, and Lupe Fiasco (whose "Kick Push" almost stole the show) and played hit after hit for a bouncing crowd beneath the Chicago skyline. This was the transcendent show we'd hoped to see earlier this year, and a great way to end the day. Despite the corporate trappings, the heat, and the lines, it made Lollapalooza feel almost utopian. We expected a great day of music, but I'm not sure anyone expected that.

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