Live Review: Lollapalooza Day 1

It’s the seventh year since the rebirth of Perry Farrell’s brainchild Lollapalooza as a three-day festival in the heart of downtown Chicago (it was formerly a festival that traveled from city to city), and by now it’s hard to imagine a summer in Chi-Town without Lolla.

Being my third time at the festival, Grant Park brings a warm, familiar feeling: right along the lake, surrounded by the city’s expansive, breathtaking skyline, with the majestic Buckingham Fountain at the park’s center.

Having gone to this festival twice before, I’ve become a bit smarter with how I spend my time. The first year I was delusional enough to believe I could see EVERY BAND on the whole bill. I decided to catch the first half of some shows and then leave and catch the last half of others. What wound up happening much of the time was I would only see a few songs of one show, then get to the other show across the park as they were leaving the stage – meaning I’d spend way too much time just walking across the park.

This year, like my last Lolla in 2009, I decided to pick and choose my bands more carefully. That’s the only way to get the full, intended experience from each show. It’s about quality, not quantity.

Without further ado… Here’s my recap of Day 1.

LOS BUNKERS

This young hotshot Chilean band played with an effortless cool, sporting a raw, garage-y rock sound with the occasional dark overtone and dramatic melodies that echoed classic pop and bossa nova. As far as I could tell nobody in the band spoke a word of English, but their enthusiasm and gratitude was still easily translated on stage. Electric and fiery throughout, they played a barn-burner set of originals and never mellowed the mood. But in viciously bright daylight, that was exactly what we needed. Be on the lookout for them in the future…

GRACE POTTER & THE NOCTURNALS

Vermont’s incredibly sexy singer and multi-instrumentalist Grace Potter has been at something like 10 festivals I’ve gone to in the past 5 years, and somehow I’ve never seen her. This time I figured I couldn’t let the chance slip by yet again. Grace’s music isn’t particularly experimental or modern, treading the familiar terrain of folk-blues-soul-rock, but damn if she doesn’t make it work. It wasn’t just her flowing blonde hair, passionate expressions and revealing silver dress – although I don’t think anybody was complaining about that. The Nocturnals are also a killer backing band. But the real gold is Potter’s vocals. Her impressive, wailing pipes were delivered with so much passion and soul that everyone around me was grinning ear to ear. At one point she and her lead guitarist were trading off vocal-and-guitar licks, and her voice kept rising to the point where she was legitimately matching the highest note on the guitar.

LE BUTCHERETTES

I sort of passed through this one, leaving shortly after arriving, but this trio sounded electric, with a dark yet danceable sound, and the female vocalist sang with plenty of grit. My verdict ends there because I didn’t stay for long, but I’d be willing to give them another go in the future.

WHITE LIES

Again, a band I sort of caught a cursory glimpse of. They sounded immaculate and tight, dressed in much the same manner. Though they sound like a lot of the post-punk-meets-U2-styled groups from the UK today and aren’t incredibly distinctive, they pull off their music with finesse and style. Not my cup of tea, but not a bad show by any means.

THE KILLS

Alison Mosshart is the type of girl who shouldn’t be attractive but somehow is: the grungy, pale, sweaty singer careened around the stage, flailing around and headbanging and falling to the floor and giving it her all. She was dressed in a jean jacket and black pants. She commented it was a hot day. Well, yes, especially if you’re dressed like that I can see why. I think her edgy, tense voice is an obvious reason for her appeal, as well as her piercing gazes over the mic, but somehow all the grime of her image really makes her beautiful. Her only other member, guitarist Jamie Hince, played with an effortless cool that perfectly balanced Mosshart’s tornado of a persona. Mosshart seemed to get more comfortable as the show went on, even dialing the volume down for a slow, sultry number, which she admitted with a laugh was so she could catch her breath. The only real drawback was the artificial drum and bass sounds, piped in via a backing track and inevitably losing a bit of the dynamic of live musicians. But then again, The Kills are a minimalist band, and they stuck to their guns well.

A PERFECT CIRCLE

As badly as I wanted to see the Mountain Goats, I just didn’t get to their stage fast enough and there was no way in hell I was missing a second of A Perfect Circle. Maynard James Keenan, one of my biggest musical idols, was up there in all his glory, on a platform with a long brown wig and shades he never took off. The weird thing was I could actually SEE him this time – two years ago when his main band Tool played Lolla, he stood silhouetted in the back of the stage bent over at a 90 degree angle. Seeing him in broad daylight was a bit strange, but phenomenal. Then there’s the interplay of guitarists Billy Howerdel and James Iha, creating delicate, swirling harmonies between the two of them. Of course, it was Maynard’s sheer vocal power that provided the biggest thrills of the set. With two covers with arrangements wildly altered from the originals – “Imagine” and “When the Levee Breaks” – and a slew of A Perfect Circle favorites, the hour flew by. Maynard stopped between songs to remind everyone that this was his fifth Lollapalooza appearance since 1993, and asked everyone to “please speak up, cause I’m getting old.” Oh Maynard, you beautiful narcissist you. We shouldn’t love you, but we all do. So much.

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