Your Heave contributors in charge of this year’s Lolla coverage are:
AD – Amy Dittmeier
DM – Dominick Mayer
Chico Trujillo (Playstation, 1:30-2:15)
Having revived the cumbia style in Chile (cumbia being dance/party music, in summary), Chico Trujillo bought their horn-and-drum attack to the U.S. as one of the acts linked with the newly created Lollapalooza Chile. Their early day set saw them kick things off in the rain and end with the sun shining, appropriate given the relentless fun and goodwill they managed to give off in 45 minutes. The crowd responded in kind, with some brave souls bursting into fevered dancing. For their part, Trujillo featured everything from a slide whistle to a furious drum solo that brought the audience down to their knees and back to their feet in a matter of moments. DM
Phantogram (Sony, 1:30-2:30)
Though it was drizzling on and off the performing trio that is Phantogram didn’t seem to care. The band’s dreamy synths and Sarah Barthels’s yelps and coos permeated through the damp field, making the crowd forget for just a second they were getting rained on. I’ve somehow missed this guys every time they’ve come through Chicago and I’m glad I finally caught them. Phantogram may be a more subdued band musically but their enthusiasm and performance shine through on the big stage. Barthels and Josh Carter sway along to their music, gently shaking their heads when they reach a lick they particularly like. It’s their music that they want to you to listen to, which they execute perfectly, but they don’t want you to forget they’re up there too. At one point the rain stop and the sun peeks through the clouds. Barthels comes to the microphone and says something to the effect of “We asked God to chase away the clouds for you!” before launching into “When I’m Small.” These guys are sweethearts, something not usually seen on the stages at Lolla. They want you to have a good time, and they hope their trippy music helps out. I think I’d still much prefer to catch these guys at a smaller venue but seeing them scare away the rain was an excellent start to a slightly soggy day. AD
Skylar Grey (BMI, 2:30-3:15)
I went in with an open mind for Skylar Grey’s set, reportedly her first solo show ever. I really did. Though she’s best known for delivering the hook on Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said” and writing a handful of pop hits including “Love The Way You Lie,” her attempt to take center stage was woefully bad. Before a surprisingly huge crowd, she entered in a navel-baring tank top, backed by a live band dressed as druids. What followed was 45 minutes of utterly banal, factory-produced pop. It’s unlikely there’ll be some sort of “remember when?” moment in the vein of Lady Gaga or even Ke$ha with this side stage performance. From the woeful, facepalm-inducing exclamation of “What kind of fucked up world do we live in where fighting is entertainment?” to the blatant lip-synching, this was a disaster. Sadly, it wasn’t the biggest one of the day. DM
Fitz & the Tantrums (Music Unlimited, 2:30-3:30)
I wish I could be the tambourine player in Fitz & the Tantrums. But that means I would have to take Noelle Scaggs’s place in the band, and I’m not black enough, attractive enough, nor talented enough to be a suitable replacement. I was honestly surprised about how many people showed up to Fitz’s set. Neo-soul isn’t really a booming genre in the Top 40, even if Fitz & the Tantrums throws in some rock and roll into their songs. But the field in front of Music Unlimited is packed with people bumping and grinding to what Michael Fitzpatrick has to offer. It doesn’t matter if the band doesn’t have a single guitar in the band, or that they bust out a flute solo halfway through the set. The crowd is eating up every minute of it. Covers like the Raconteurs’ “Steady As She Goes” and the Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” mixed in among the band’s own material have the entire audience grooving to the beat. Fitz’s stage banter reminds me a lot of what James Brown use to do on stage during his time with the JB’s. Fitzpatrick and Scaggs complement each other as they address the crowd saying humorous things throughout the set, markedly their introduction to “Rich Girls” where they dedicate the song to everyone that’s been toyed around by a woman. I also appreciated that Fitz & the Tantrums amped up their songs from Pickin’ Up the Pieces for the stage. Their hit “Moneygrabber” is actually a pretty medium tempo song but when they closed the set with it they upped the tempo and catered it to a large live setting. Most bands don’t do this, or even consider doing something like this, for their audience. Screw guitars, it’s all about organs and saxophones.
Death From Above 1979 (Bud Light, 4:00-5:00)
Louder than hell. This is the first and most essential description of Canadian noise-dance-punks Death From Above 1979’s Lolla performance. Though it wasn’t quite at the My Bloody Valentine level of hazardously earsplitting, it wasn’t that far off. There was far more going on than just “how loud can we go?” earsplitting noise, though. Sticking primarily to material off their lone LP, 2004’s You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, DFA1979 ramped up the brutally chunky riffing (Jesse Keeler pushed his bass to Black Sabbath levels of low-toned sludge at times) and the speed. Oh, the speed. With Sebastien Granger’s drum attack propelling them through cuts like “Pull Out” and “Blood On Our Hands,” DFA played up the punk aspect of their genre-bending sound, and it worked to perfection. Even when “slowing” things down with “Black History Month,” the sheer snotty attitude and raw power emanated from every fill and chord. DFA may never put out another album, and they may or may not continue beyond this tour, but what they’ve left behind is nearly untouchable. DM
DFA’s first song is a sucker punch to the ears. Sixteen year old Amy is in heaven. If I was a little younger, I would be thrashing around with the best of them. These guys may have gone their separate ways in 2006 but on stage it feels like they never left. The last time these guys played Chicago was six years ago and here there are now, melting my face with grinding, crunched out bass and Granger’s banshee-like vocals. Like Dominick stated, I don’t care if I ever get another DFA1979 album or if these guys decided to do a reunion tour. What I saw in front of me was loud, heavy, and sexy enough to satisfy the girl who found Death From Above 1979 in Spin when they were just Death From Above. AD
Deftones (Playstation, 5:00-6:00)
It’s easy to see how Deftones have survived nu-metal, an era of music that has by now sent every band that existed under its umbrella into retirement or irrelevance. Even in the late 1990s, Deftones never quite fit in with rap-rock, instead putting out “Change (In The House Of Flies),” one of the more inexplicable hit rock singles of that time. The loud-quiet dynamic of that song has served as a through-line for much of the band’s output, buoyed by a guitar attack so heavy it almost takes on orchestral traits and Chino Moreno’s vocals, alternating between a frenetic scream and a serene lilt. Their Saturday set won over a surprisingly massive crowd, with a career-spanning set that featured “Change” and some other hits, with a dose of more recent material from last year’s Diamond Eyes. Perhaps strangest of all was their brief, set-ending cover of Katy Perry’s “Firework,” serving notice that even a veteran alt-metal band can laugh sometimes. DM
Patrick Stump (BMI, 5-5:45)
I go to Patrick Stump’s set with certain trepidation. I do not hide my love for Fall Out Boy. They’re still a band I put on my iPod, still a band that I thrash about to in the comfort of my own home. But since they’re break-up it’s offshoots have been less than satisfactory. Pete Wentz’s new band Black Cards is a crappy version of 90s No Doubt and every moment I saw him perform in it was a moment I wish I could take back. I didn’t want to feel the same teenage ennui with Mr. Stump. The BMI stage is one of the worst places for good sound so it took me a while to find a spot where I could actually hear Stump’s vocals clearly but when I finally find that sweet spot I’m pleasantly surprised. Patrick Stump is good maybe even great. He doesn’t resemble anything like the Stump we all saw in Fall Out Boy – he’s thinned out a lot and is wearing a button-down white shirt and a bowtie. And he’s got a saxophone player in his band. This is new Stump and I am digging it. He performed all of his new EP Truant Wave and some teasers from Soul Punk, including a slow jam I particularly like. I know Stump was the frontman of Fall Out Boy, but on stage he’s a totally different man. Whereas in FOB he was part of a band, here’s he’s his own frontman and it feels like he’s gotten a lot more confidence and dare I say swagger on stage. He’s channeling his inner Prince and he’s actually pulling it off. During his medley of “This is How We Do It” and “Poison” Stump gets his soul on and pulls it off. Can you imagine the man who sang “Dance Dance” doing that?! Believe it baby, Patrick Stump’s a new man and he’s ready to stun you. AD
Cee-Lo Green (Music Unlimited, 6:30-7:30)
Remember when I said that Skylar Grey wasn’t the biggest disaster on Saturday? That distinction sadly belongs to Cee-Lo, who managed to top his now-infamous near-miss at Coachella with a set that can only be described as fascinatingly disastrous. Flanked by a bevy of latex-clad dominatrix women as his backing band, Cee-Lo took the stage dressed like an S&M version of Road Warrior Animal. Maybe that was weighing him down, because it became rapidly clear, with his opening cover of Danzig’s “Mother” and his own “Satisfied” that he was either extremely winded or putting about 30% effort into this performance. His voice, normally a powerful oddity, was almost wispy and consistently being drowned out by his backing band.
Then there were the breaks. Around four times in his hourlong set, Cee-Lo would just have his DJ spin other music while he wandered offstage. He also repeatedly started songs, only to cut them off until the audience got moving. This was a bit of a tall order considering that the audience was a) clearly waiting for “Fuck You” and b) rapidly losing interest in the set. Eventually, after hacking his way through a few more of his great songs (including an inexplicable slowed-down rock remix of “Crazy”), he finally got to that big track, only to lazily amble through it before closing the set by starting a cover of “Don’t Stop Believing.” Before long, he gave up on actually singing it and let the audience sing it, as if during a pitching change at a Sox game. This was just not good. DM
Atmosphere (Sony, 7:30-8:30)
It’s strange to think that at this point Slug is a veteran MC in the semi-underground hip-hop scene. He is, though, and this year’s The Family Sign saw him continue his transformation into a ground-level working class storyteller, like a sort of hip-hop Springsteen. The only trouble is that Sign is a fairly tragic affair for much of its running time, so when songs like first single “The Last To Say” bump up against much of Slug’s older material, it feels incongruous. This is especially true when much of the early part of the set was, as he said, the “old shit,” which tended to fit better with the sort of block party vibe the set had going. Surprisingly, the set was pretty light on material from When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, arguably Atmosphere’s biggest hit. The set closed with the one-two punch of “Trying To Find A Balance” and “Yesterday,” and for the fans who were actually there to see Atmosphere and not just killing time until Eminem, it was an incredibly satisfying one. DM
Beirut (Google+, 8:45-9:45)
I have never, ever heard someone cheer when an accordion started playing. It’s not a sexy instrument, and I don’t think it every will be until my accordion pin-up calendar takes off. But at Beirut, every time Perrin Cloutier fires it up the crowd goes wild. They know the song off the bat. With an angry white rapper on one side of the field, a rock band I’ve never cared for on the other side, and a boring DJ with an intriguing light show in the middle, Beirut might has well have been at another festival entirely. Zachary Condon doesn’t care that he doesn’t fit in though. He doesn’t even acknowledge the bleed over of bass from Perry’s during the set. He and his band are here for the audience and he’s ready to wow with brass and a ukulele.
The Google+ stage was the perfect setting for Beirut’s set. It was awesome standing under the trees in the dark of night, listening to the trumpets in Beirut. “Postcards from Italy” washes over me like a cool breeze and I almost forget that I’m at Lollapalooza. This is pleasant all-around. Beirut’s probably one of the nicest bands I would ever meet if I did happen to meet them, the crowd is smiling and swaying along and everybody just seems like they’re having a good time. Which is weird to me at a festival. Aren’t you suppose to be hot and crammed against five other people, three of which are probably drunk, and trying to avoid getting vomited upon? Yet here I was singing along to “Scenic City” sharing a vegetable samosa with a stranger, finally able to enjoy myself and the music simultaneously. I may be missing two of the biggest bands of my generation but for me Beirut killed it – with a flugelhorn and a glockenspiel to boot. AD
Eminem (Q Music Unlimited, 8:30-10:00)
Last night on Twitter (follow us at @heavemedia all weekend), I posted that Eminem’s headlining set was a great one if you thought Recovery was his best album. I didn’t mean it to be snarky, either. The set was heavy on tracks from his comeback record, and even began with a huge instrumental interlude and an onscreen intro telling the tale of Eminem’s lapse into drug abuse, time in rehab and resurrection. Some of the new songs worked pretty well, too. The -pre-encore ending of “Not Afraid” was appropriately powerful, and “No Love” is still very much a jam. Even some of the weaker tracks (“Cinderella Man,” “I Need A Doctor”) were boosted along by Em showing up in rare voice, ready to go hard. And he did, for nearly the whole 90 minutes.
Unfortunately, the set rarely matched the fire he was spitting. It was problematic, starting with the fact that when introducing a rapid medley of “My Name Is,” “The Real Slim Shady” and “Without Me,” he introduced them as songs from “when I used to get fucked up.” This was after an uncomfortable sight gag in which he faked drinking vodka onstage only to have it spray out of a prop jacket, after asking the audience if they wanted him to relapse. The bigger problem was that in an hour and a half, Eminem played one complete song; that was “Lose Yourself” as an encore. Every other track got one, maybe two verses; it was like watching an Em fan with a short attention span scroll through an iPod discography.
Though Royce Da 5’9’s appearance worked (they did a few tracks off Bad Meets Evil, which were some of the night’s best), Bruno Mars coming in to sing the hook on “Lighters” was underwhelming when you consider the laundry list of people he could’ve enlisted. (Seriously? No Dre?) There was also the fact that while “The Way I Am,” arguably his best song, got one verse and was over. It was an energetic set, but the pacing never quite felt right, and it was hard not to feel held at arm’s length if you’re a fan of anything Eminem made beyond the past 5 years. But hey, at least there was only one song off Relapse. DM
Photo courtesy of Lollapalooza’s Flickr. Photo of Eminem taken by Dave Mead.