Bringing you the sights, sounds and smells from Chicago’s biggest music fest.
It was hot. There was rain. There were pushy crowds and, um, people in altered states. There were drunk fights. There were lots and lots of weird smells. But Lollapalooza 2009 was awesome.
Anytime a music festival manages to put Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Andrew Bird, the Decembrists and Kings of Leon on one afternoon of activities within 200 yards of one another, it’s going to be a good time. And, while this year’s lineup might not have had the massive star wattage as last year’s (I mean, you’re not going to get Radiohead every year), the sub-headliners were probably among the best they’ve ever had. From Gaslight Anthem to Crystal Castles, and Atmosphere to Los Campesinos!, the lineup cut through a giant swatch of indie-pop (and "normal" pop) music.
It’s hard to sum up a three-day extravaganza of music in an article. So I’m not going to try. I mean, I’ll add descriptions here and there. But the best way to see what we experienced in the festival is to check out the bits of interactive media sprinkled throughout the story. Check out the slideshows and video clips and then tell us what you think—were you there? What did you think? Who was your favorite? Have you seen any of these bands and did you love/hate them? Are we crazy for loving TV on the Radio and for not giving much (okay, any) space to Asher Roth? We want to hear from you!
We humbly present RELEVANT’s impressions of Lollapalooza, 2009 edition.
Friday, August 7
The rain kept up for most of the day, making the long, long walk around Chicago’s Grant Park a little more treacherous. And did I mention the walk was long? It’s approximately a mile from one end of the part to the other, so if you were planning on seeing a band on the opposite stage, it was best to allow at least twenty minutes to get there.
The rain stayed with us for much of the afternoon, but didn’t spoil peoples’ enthusiasm for the music. In fact, if you kept your umbrella open during a set, you were roundly ridiculed by the crowd around you for not braving the rain with them. The result was a huge throng of soaking wet people, all happy to be in Chicago in August and listening to music without sweating constantly.
For many people (me included) Bon Iver kicked off Lollapalooza 2009. You might think that lead singer Justin Vernon’s strained falsetto would have been ruined by the weather, but that wasn’t the case. If anything, his music seemed to fit the rainy mood. Plus, he’s been touring behind For Emma, Forever Ago for over a year, so by now, the band is together and lends muscle to Vernon’s sad songs. "Skinny Love" was greeted warmly, but it was some of the rockier pieces that ended up being the most exciting, especially "Creature Fears."
Next was Ben Folds, who managed to bring his profane power pounding to a massive stage. Since I didn’t really like his last album, I listened to one song, and immediately got kind of annoyed that, 12 years after Whatever and Ever Amen, Folds still uses the same bad words to "shock" his audience. So it was on to Fleet Foxes.
If you’ve never seen the Foxes live, you really must check them out next time they come through your city. They’re one of those few bands who sound just as great in concert as they do on album, which is really saying something when half of their music depends on tight harmonies. As if to prove the fact, they open their shows with an acapella number, somehow maintaining their soaring vocals in the face of the steady rain. Overall, the reception to the Foxes was overwhelmingly positive—at least, that’s what it seemed like since they sold out of their t-shirts that evening.
Another Friday highlight was Chicago’s own Andrew Bird. Bird is insanely talented; so much so that it almost makes me angry. It just doesn’t seem just that one person could be that good at so many different things. He manages to replicate the immense sound of his studio recordings by looping several violin, voice and percussion tracks over one another and using them periodically throughout his songs. His band fleshes out the skeleton that he creates on his looping machine, and Bird sings/plays guitar/whistles/plays violin in all the right places. The audience was thrilled to see their hometown hero, and greeted tracks from Bird’s best album, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, with giant cheers.
The Friday headliners, Kings of Leon and Depeche Mode, were playing on opposite sides of the park. It made sense because of the sound drift,
but it also made sense because the audiences for the bands are pretty different. The Kings of Leon are riding their "Sex on Fire" fame to giant arena cheers and rockstar posturing. They had a light and video show to match their ambitions, and the gigantic crowd nodded appreciatively to the growly Southern rock.
Depeche Mode, meanwhile, are still riding "Enjoy the Silence" and partying like it’s 1988. And so are their fans. The giant video screens and ambitions of Depeche Mode were only matched by this completely uninhibited woman I saw who was dance-twirling as fast as she could. And that’s when it was clear it was time to call it a night.
So on to Saturday …
Saturday, August 8
Editor’s note: We don’t yet have video footage of Sunday’s performances. Track our Twitter to see when those videos are up.
The day’s recap begins under the photos:
Finally, my day ended with Vampire Weekend. At this point, it seems like the VW guys produce a reliably tight set … it’s just gotten a little stale to see a band still touring on its album that’s been out for over 18 months. This isn’t to say they were bad—it’s really hard to mess up modern classics like "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" (dedicated to director John Hughes) and "Wolcott"—but it’s pretty clear that they need some new material to mix into their sets.