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Festival Recap, Recap

Lollapalooza 2011 In Review

Lollapalooza: About the money or the music?

On August 6, Eminem commanded the main stage at Lollapalooza in downtown Chicago. After tearing through a collection of hits both old and new, he finally arrived at his ubiquitous (in 2002, at least) thumper “Without Me”, which opens with a classic phrase:

“I’ve created a monster.”

Some would like to believe that Perry Farrell says this to himself in his sleep. Farrell, the lead singer of Jane’s Addiction, is 20 years removed from his creation of the inaugural Lollapalooza festival. Critics contend that the fest is now an impure cash grab, a sad shell of its original message.

I have to both agree and disagree with this idea. For starters, Lolla rakes in an ungodly amount of money every year. An electronic sign at the Music Unlimited stage proclaimed that 270,000 festival goers bought tickets for the weekend, and it sure seemed like it, with dense crowds every night. Attendees could choose to either pay $210 for a three-day ticket or $90 for a one-day pass (there are other options, but let’s keep it simple for this article’s purposes.)

These buyers get the opportunity to check out some of their favorite bands, as well as countless indie bands populating the side stages throughout. Musically, Lollapalooza serves two purposes: To give headliners the arena to play one of the largest shows of their careers, and to provide up-and-coming artists with half-hour showcases.

For these two groups of artists—the big-time names and the indie kids—Lollapalooza is as pure as it gets. Energy exudes from both groups, and gives the festival its legs. The problem is the large number of bands that populate the mid-section. In the case of this year’s festival, Cee-Lo and Arctic Monkeys stand out as two glaring examples.

Cee-Lo turned in one of the worst performances I've ever seen, despite rocking some very cool swag.

The former played one of the worst shows I have ever seen. He had little energy, and besides a terrific costume, he offered just about nothing to the crowd eagerly anticipating the arrival of Eminem. The Arctic Monkeys played a small selection of their songs during a rain-soaked set, and appeared bored with their situation.

My question is: Why are these two artists playing at the festival? They were both clearly disenchanted with the situation, and didn’t want to be there. They’ve already proven themselves, yet they don’t get the 90-minute headlining slot they should command for a show. For these types of artists, it’s like they’re just there for the paycheck, which damages the musical integrity of the event.

If an Arctic Monkeys fan went to the show, they wouldn’t have been completely disappointed, but they wouldn’t have seen a true Arctic Monkeys show. Their set was shallow and had a slight falsity to it. It’s not the band’s fault; the crowd was there for the Foo Fighters, and had a fun time bouncing around to “Fluorescent Adolescent” while waiting.

It’s just that, sometimes, when you’re watching one of your favorite bands in that situation, you think to yourself, “This doesn’t count.” And it doesn’t. I saw the Monkeys back in May, when they played a raucous set at First Avenue, and I absolutely loved it. Seeing them play the same songs at Lollapalooza just didn’t feel right. It didn’t count.

Lollapalooza’s critics have a point: There is a definite shallowness to the music pool at the festival and others like it, but the good certainly outweighs the avaricious undercurrent. After all, being able to see headlining shows by Coldplay, Eminem and Foo Fighters in consecutive nights is an unquestionably cool predicament, and as long as those types of memories are being made, its easy for music heads like myself to look past the obvious cash grabs taking place.

To put it simply, it’s not hard to see superficiality of these music extravaganzas, but Dave Grohl shredding the guitar in the pouring rain with 70,000 people screaming and the beautiful Chicago skyline overlooking the park makes me not really give a shit. Forgive me.

—–

On January 1, 2010, Soundgarden reunited. The post-metal group is one of my favorite bands, and when I found out they were headlining Lollapalooza last year, I made up my mind to gather a couple buddies and make the seven-hour voyage to Chicago. Since I bought a one-day ticket for Sunday, we hung out in the city for a couple days before getting up bright and early for a full day at Lolla.

Chris Cornell and Soundgarden brought me to Grant Park in 2010.

We saw around 10 bands play partial or full sets, and it was a blast. At the end of the evening, it was time to settle in for Chris Cornell and company, who were playing their first big show in 13 years. Although some parts were a little sloppy and the band seemed a little tight, the group’s exceptional musical skill shone through and everybody went home happy, including me.

This past spring, when Lolla tickets went up for sale, I decided to purchase the three-day pass for the early bird price of $185. It was rumored that two of my favorite artists, Foo Fighters and Eminem, would be playing, and I knew that the rest of the lineup would be enough to justify the price of the ticket for me.

Last Thursday, I fired up the family van to take my brother Nick and my friends Dan and Ryan to Chi-town for a full weekend of festivities. The first night was relatively quiet, with numerous FIFA 11 matches played out and a gut-wrenching viewing of a particularly gruesome Shark Week episode in which a dude gets his calf ripped off. Yeah.

Fast forward to Friday night: We met up with our friend Peter for dinner at Bennigan’s restaurant on Michigan Avenue. After watching Dan and Peter complete a hamburger-eating challenge, I looked down at my phone for the time and realized Coldplay would be going on stage in about 20 minutes. Since Dan and Ryan only had passes for Saturday and Sunday, Peter and I were left to head to the show.

If you’ve never been to a Coldplay show, it’s weird to only be there with one other guy, especially when he only knows the words to “Viva La Vida” (Editor’s note: Peter contends he also knows the words to “Yellow”). To add to the discomfort, we were in the back half of the crowd, and had a few very tall people in front of us. Due to this, I was stuck watching the two large video screens on the side of the stage in order to follow the action.

Coldplay's Chris Martin decided to toss his guitar away during "God Put A Smile Upon My Face".

Despite my unfortunate circumstances, it wasn’t hard to tell that the band was killing it onstage. I thought they did a great job with the setlist, even if they did play a good five or six songs from their newest, unreleased record (i.e. no one knows any of the damn words to them.) The group touched on almost all of my favorites, despite skipping “Trouble”. It was a good show, I just wish I could’ve been closer and seen them better. I’ll make sure to attend one of their arena shows in the near future.

Coldplay’s Lollapalooza 2011 Setlist:
  1. MX
  2. Hurts Like Heaven
  3. Yellow
  4. In My Place
  5. Major Minus
  6. Lost!
  7. The Scientist
  8. Shiver
  9. Violet Hill
  10. God Put A Smile Upon Your Face
  11. Everything’s Not Lost
  12. Us Against The World
  13. Politik
  14. Viva La Vida
  15. Charlie Brown
  16. Life Is For Living
  17. Clocks
  18. Fix You (with Amy Winehouse tribute)
  19. Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall

—–

Perhaps the biggest name on the 2011 Lollapalooza bill was Eminem. Rappers tend to have frustratingly austere career arcs (anyone remember when Jay-Z was a joke in the late-nineties?), but Shady might take the cake, partially evidenced by the fact that we’re not even supposed to call him that anymore.

As far as I understand it, the dude basically died from drug abuse in the late 2000s, and then resurrected his career and image in 2009 with Relapse and then 2010’s Recovery. It’s been a long road back for Eminem, to say the least.

When Eminem stepped on stage in front of tens of thousands of eager fans, I was struck by his stunning resemblance to, well, Eminem. This rap god, this cartoon of a man was actually standing a couple hundred feet away in all of his sweatshirt hoodie glory. It was like B. Rabbit was stepping onstage to do a quick battle with Papa Doc and the rest of the Free World crew from 8 Mile.

The return of Jimmy Smith?

To me, the most curious thing about the show was the antithetical juxtaposition of old Eminem fans and new Eminem fans. Basically, the crowd was separated between kids who know the words to “Space Bound” and the people who know “Space Bound” sucks compared to anything on The Marshall Mathers LP. I thought that this would really bother me, but in the end, it didn’t.

I realized that Em has moved on with his career, and it was probably time for the Slim Shady persona to go about eight years ago. That being said, it doesn’t mean that his material is up to par with the old stuff. His rhymes are more functional than ever on Recovery, but where are the good stories? Where is the eerie bloodshed? Where is the actual emotion?

Only a fool would think this guy’s work is as impactful as it was 10 years ago, but Eminem doesn’t need to be impactful, he just needs to stimulate the youth with cool wordplay and prove that he can hang with the Lil’ Waynes and Drakes of the hip-hop community. So, long story short, the show spanned his whole career, and it was good to see and hear Em’s retrospective laid out in such a hyperactive way (the semi-annoying rap policy of one-verse-per-song reigned supreme for most of the night). However, it was slightly unnerving to know that some teenaged girl was suffering through “Stan” to get to “Not Afraid” in the same way that I suffered through “Love the Way You Lie” to get to “My Name Is”.

Being able to see Eminem was a real treat, mainly because the guy seems like he’s going to bite the dust at any given moment, and without any real warning. Hopefully, he lives a long life and extends his career for another couple of decades, but my money says the timing could not have been better for those in attendance this past August.

Eminem’s Lollapalooza 2011 Setlist:
  1. Won’t Back Down
  2. 3 a.m.
  3. Square Dance
  4. W.T.P.
  5. Kill You
  6. No Love
  7. So Bad
  8. Cleanin’ Out My Closet
  9. The Way I Am
  10. Fast Lane (with Royce da 5’9″)
  11. Lighters (with Royce da 5’9″ and Bruno Mars)
  12. Airplanes Pt. II
  13. Stan
  14. Sing For The Moment
  15. Like Toy Soldiers
  16. Forever
  17. Cinderella Man
  18. ‘Till I Collapse
  19. Love The Way You Lie
  20. I Need A Doctor (with Skylar Grey)
  21. Space Bound
  22. My Name Is
  23. The Real Slim Shady
  24. Without Me
  25. Not Afraid
  26. Lose Yourself

—–

On Sunday, the final day of Lollapalooza, I awoke late in the morning. After grabbing some quick breakfast from my generous uncle’s kitchen, I said goodbye to the relatives and was off for the final night of music with my friends.

In the few weeks leading up to the Chicago trip, I had given my friends Dan and Ryan a Foo Fighters mix CD, labeled “LollapaFOOza”.  While Dan didn’t find much time to throw the disc into his iTunes and give it a listen, Ryan quickly developed a minor obsession, which was critical to getting excited about the show on Sunday night. Of course, we’re all big Dave Grohl fans. In my case, it’s mostly about the music, as I’ve taken a liking to just about every project Grohl has entered into, but for the other two guys, their fondness lies in Dave’s beard. It is pretty badass, after all.

John Baldwin Gourley and Portugal. The Man had all of their equipment stolen not long after their show.

So, we found ourselves giddy on Sunday waiting for our Foo experience. Our legs tired from a long Saturday of standing, we decided to sit in a shaded area for about an hour until the Arctic Monkeys went on at 6 p.m. Being a fairly large Portugal. The Man fan, I walked over to check out a few songs from their set, but headed back to our mini oasis after a short spell of milling about.

The next day, I found out that all of Portugal’s equipment had been stolen after their show, along with their van and trailer. They’ve recovered a lot of it, but they are still looking for some gear. If you’re in the Chicago area, check out this list of lost items to see if anything seems familiar.

Anyway, back to game: It started to rain right as we walked into the wall of a crowd in front of the main stage. I decided to go with the shirtless look, which ended up serving me quite well in the long run, as the crazed crowd of kids slowly turned into a smothering mass of bodies and sweat. Due to the rain, the Arctic Monkeys avoided stepping on stage until about 6:25, at which time they launched into frenzied set that almost mirrored the one I saw back in May at Minneapolis’ First Avenue.

When they finished up their opener (“Library Pictures”), I knew what was next, and went absolutely dumb when the band started slamming the opening chords to “Brianstorm”. I was one of the only chaps within yelling distance that was actually dancing (more like convulsing, probably. I don’t do drugs, but you’d call me a liar if you saw me dance at a rock show), and the kid next to me started pointing at me and yelling, “THIS GUY! THIS GUY!”

Fast forward about 30 minutes: The Monkeys cut short their set due to the rain delay and finished with “When The Sun Goes Down”, my favorite tune. This left us with a 40-minute wait for the Foo in the cold, wet rain. Dan had been separated from Ryan and I at some point during the Monkeys’ show, but we could still see him every once in a while five rows or so behind us.

I feared that the headlining set would be cut short or cancelled totally due to the precipitation. However, my fears were quelled by the arrival of Dave Grohl on the stage. Just like Eminem the night before, it was weird to see one of my music heroes standing right in front of me. The Foo kicked off their set with “Bridge Burning” and “Rope” from Wasting Light before Dave ignited the crowd with a single phrase: “I don’t give a FUCK if it’s raining!”

After “The Pretender”, something beautiful happened. The rain started to pour. And when I say pour, I mean God was dumping gallons of hydrogen dioxide on our heads. Just as we were wiping the heavy downpour from our faces, drummer Taylor Hawkins began to beat out the intro to “My Hero”. That song was the coolest concert experience I’ve ever had, and the video doesn’t do it any kind of justice. Nevertheless, give it a look to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

 

The rest of the show was quite the journey, as two-hour rock shows in the rain tend to be. Only playing 20 total songs, Dave and co. powered through countless 5+ minutes jams to end songs, sending waves of energy through the thousands of avid watchers in Grant Park. For a good chunk of the set, Ryan was missing. Tired of the ceaseless body-sacrificing warfare going on in the pit, he had himself pulled out and proceeded to walk over to the other side of the park to check out the Deadmau5 set before coming back for the Foo Fighters’ encore.

The encore in question wasn’t really an encore, I suppose, and Grohl even dissed “bands who walk off stage like they’re not gonna come back.” But, it was clear the night was coming to an end when Perry Farrell, in all of his stoned glory, stumbled onto the stage and rambled for a couple seconds on why the Foo Fighters are cool as hell.

After Farrell returned to the place from which he came, Grohl started strumming the opening chords to “Everlong”, and everyone knew they were witnessing the last leg of the concert. By that time, I had worked my way up to the dead center of the fourth row, with the entire band spread out in front of me within perfect view. The show ended, and people started slowly walking out of the park. I stood for a long time, perfectly aware that I had a train to catch (I missed it), but still unable to move.

Foo Fighters’ Lollapalooza 2011 Setlist:
  1. Bridge Burning
  2. Rope
  3. The Pretender
  4. My Hero
  5. Learn To Fly
  6. White Limo
  7. Arlandria
  8. Breakout
  9. Cold Day In The Sun (Taylor Hawkins on vocals)
  10. Long Road To Ruin
  11. Stacked Actors
  12. Walk
  13. Monkey Wrench
  14. Let It Die
  15. These Days
  16. Times Like These (with cover of “Young Man Blues”)
  17. Best of You
  18. Skin and Bones
  19. Everlong

The combination of the weather, power chords and star power melded together for an awesome concert experience, and one thought popped into my head: I just witnessed the best show I’d ever been to. I’ll attend hundreds more concerts before I leave this world, but I’ll never forget the night of August 7 in Grant Park. Here’s to another year of great music at Lollapalooza.

 

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About Alex Smith

Alex Smith is a writer and musician from Minneapolis, MN. He currently attends the University of Missouri in Columbia and is pursuing a dual degree in journalism and english.

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