It is really difficult to accurately recap a destination summer music festival with 120+ acts over 3 days. Something is always going to be missed. Schedules may be released with enough time for any festivalgoer to make careful decisions about where they want to be at any given time, but plans change. A band sounds terrible, so you walk a quarter-mile to another stage where your second choice is playing. You get a text message that something absolutely cannot be missed. Or maybe you just feel like being in the shade instead of the scorching sun with thousands of other people. It’s just how big music festivals are.
(left: James, somewhere in that mass of people, braves the 3-day marathon of music known as Lollapalooza.)
So today I’ll highlight a few of the unexpected delights from Lollapalooza 2008:
There are no surprises when Radiohead presents an amazing light show (because they sure aren’t very entertaining to watch from two hundred feet away otherwise), but it is unexpected when fireworks at Soldier Field unintentionally synchronize with “Fake Plastic Trees.” The sky lights up as Thom Yorke belts out “She looks like the real thing / She tastes like the real thing.” Everyone who’s far enough back to see the fireworks (and not the band member’s facial expressions) gets a little added bonus when a great moment becomes transcendent.
MGMT, Booka Shade, DeVotchka
During one of Saturday’s ridiculous time slot battles between MGMT, Booka Shade and DeVotchka, I plan to catch parts of each. Five minutes into MGMT, they seem overwhelmed by the large audience and the sound-bleed from Booka Shade lures me over. I never make it to see DeVotchka because the Berlin electronic group has pristine sound, a thumping beat and a great crowd–dancing like it’s their business for an entire hour–that may be the best live house music I’ve ever heard in daylight.
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
Later on Saturday, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings perform one of the tightest sets of the festival highlighted by one audience member getting his groove on with the 52-year old soul singer and Chicago legend Syl Johnson performing one of his own songs with the Dap-Kings.
Chromeo, Perry Farrell & Slash
Walking to Chromeo on Sunday afternoon, I was distracted by an absurdly large audience at the relatively off-path Kidz Stage. After snaking my way through the crowd for a better view, I noticed Paul Green’s School of Rock performing “Jane Says.” Normally, there’d be nothing extraordinary about this. But when Perry Farrell and Slash are also playing, it grabs some attention. (Is it really a great idea for Slash to be smoking on this stage?)
Mid-afternoon Sunday I was informed that Mark Ronson was planning to have numerous guests, basically turning his set into a live Version. Some guests I’d been told about weren’t there, but plenty of others were: Candie Payne, Rhymefest, Kenna, Daniel Merriweather, Plastic Little, Phantom Planet (who even had time to play “California” with Ronson on piano) and Tawiah. Even though Ronson’s name was on the bill, it was the guests, particularly Rhymefest, who made this one of the weekend’s most fun sets.
Kanye West, NIN
Closing out the festival was by far the worst scheduling conflict–Kanye West and Nine Inch Nails on opposite ends of Grant Park. How exactly are people supposed to choose between these two titans?! On one end is a hometown rapper trying to make up for the bad press he received at Bonnaroo. The Glow in the Dark show is scaled back just a bit, but the energy is obviously there and Kanye owns the crowd with “Good Morning” (I’ve never in my life seen so many bodies bouncing) and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”/”Flashing Lights” back-to-back with the stage lit up so bright that anyone in a downtown sky-rise can see it. Meanwhile, on the other end, Trent Reznor presents an equally impressive light spectacular as he and the band tear through 20+ years of history. He closes the set with “Head Like a Hole” and returns for an encore that features a short statement about the first Lollapalooza in 1991 and not thinking he’d even be alive seventeen years later. The night ends with “Hurt” and “In This Twilight” just as curfew hits. Another Lollapalooza’s in the books.