August 27, 2008

The Various Sonic Samplings of a Rowdy, Beer-Soaked Music Festival

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Before I delve into the festival itself, it’s necessary to point out that Lollapalooza — if not all music festivals — brings out the worst in people. Case in point: While we were trying to get out of Grant Park after Kanye finished his set Sunday night, fights broke out and class warfare went down when a normal Lolla-goer yelled at the V.I.P.’s for being “upper class yuppies who probably don’t even know who the Ting Tings are.” One woman quite literally stretched out her arms and legs on the staircase every step so as to make sure no one cut in front of her in line. It was like an airport, except that everyone was drunk, sun-burnt and bobbing their heads to music.
Performance-wise, I hate to say it, ranged from sometimes amazing to merely-okay to even-pretty-disappointing. I’m not sure if it was the sun or the realization that most of the audience was too inebriated and comatose to know what was going on, but more than one band seemed like they were just going through the motions. (This was of course untrue for many groups, including Tally Hall, Gnarls Barkley, Kanye West, the Ting Tings and De Novo Dahl, who may be my new favorite.)
Unfortunately, many of the groups — especially coming one after another — sounded very similar. I like Duffy, I really do, but she just seems like the blonde, un-messy Amy Winehouse; MGMT (who may be one of those groups who are just better on records) sounds like the new, poppier and, in my opinion, less-good Mates of State. Pretty much every electronic-pop group sounded the same as the next. Not that they aren’t talented in their own right and I don’t love their music, but Lollapalooza really made it feel like there are only three types of music these days: hip hop, folk-rock, and trippy-poppy-electronic-wackiness. (Although there is also Gogol Bordello, but we won’t go there.) Iron and Wine decided to bring on an eight-piece band as back-up — most likely to make himself loud enough for the insane crowds. I felt a little bit like one of the Newport Folk Festival goers in ’65; afterwards I kept shaking my head and yelling at people (“WTF was that? I feel betrayed. He’s just not the same,”) and bursting into tears.
On the other hand, performances by John Butler Trio and Radiohead stood up to the hype. Passion is everything, and these two acts exemplify that. There are so many artists who don’t even seem like they care about their own music. They jab away at keyboards and look posh. Then there are those like John Butler and Thom York who literally put every single molecule of energy into the music they are making. Thom York is a trip to see live — even with the shoving crowds — partially because, like most Brit musicians, he’s a freakishly sexy ferret, but mainly because he plays guitar like the trippy music nerd I’m sure he is, goofily throwing his head around. John Butler, similarly, loves music — not in that weird way where guitarists look like they’re having sex with their instruments — but just in a way such that you can tell how much he enjoys it.
In fact, that kind of musical passion makes the hipster, head-bopping girls, obnoxious-and-burnt masses and overpriced beer worth it.