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Sunday, August 31, 2008

September Pittsburgh concerts


9/21 The Swell Season @ Byham Theatre

Wow, the cupboard is almost bare when it comes to September shows in Pittsburgh - it's embarrassing how little there is going on. If I had to choose a must-see show, it would be the duo of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Their performance at the Academy Awards has taken them from being obscure unknowns to an acclaimed hot ticket, and the Byham is the perfect place to take in their beautiful sounds.

9/6 Cracker @ WYEP building
Cracker was the first band I ever saw live, back in 1994, opening for the Gin Blossoms and Spin Doctors. I wasn't very familiar with their stuff, but left impressed enough to go purchase Kerosene Hat, which became one of my favorites records of the decade. At this point they're mostly living off their past triumphs, although 2006's "I Need Better Friends" was a standout track.

9/21 Rachael Yamagata @ Diesel
Rachael first earned our attention with "Letter Read" from her debut album a few years back, her raspy voice and piano-heavy songs immediately recalling Tidal-era Fiona Apple. Yamagata's new album comes out in October, so this show will be a good opportunity to hear the new songs.

9/23 New Found Glory with A Day to Remember & others @ Mr. Small's
New Found Glory is one of the leaders of today's emo-punk Warped scene, and they're worth mentioning because of 2004's "All Downhill From Here," a great track with a gloriously catchy double-tracked chorus that overcomes Jordan Pundik's horribly whiny voice. Pundik isn't very good live, but you'll leave happy after they play those killer covers of cheesy songs "Glory of Love" (Peter Cetera) and "Kiss Me" (Sixpence None the Richer).

Others to keep in mind:
9/2 Fratellis with Electric Touch @ Mr. Small's
9/5 Leathermouth & Reggie & the Full Effect @ Diesel
9/12 Stereophonics @ Mr. Small's
9/13 The Duhks @ Thunderbird Cafe
9/15 Shawn Mullins & Dar Williams @ Club Cafe
9/20 Lynyrd Skynyrd @ PNC Park
9/23 French Kicks @ Rex Theatre
9/24 Chiodos @ Mr. Small's
9/25 Lez Zeppelin @ Diesel
9/26 One for the Team @ Smiling Moose
9/27 Keller Williams @ Mr. Small's
9/28 Citizen Cope @ Carnegie Music Hall
9/28 State Radio @ Mr. Small's

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nifty, nifty, look who's 50

Michael Jackson turns 50 tomorrow. I was tempted to make an extensive post detailing my favorite Michael Jackson moments, but I don't have the time - there's an Obama speech to watch.

But I will present my five favorite Michael Jackson songs, post-Thriller.

from HIStory, 1995
I'm a little turned off by Michael comparing himself to Martin Luther King and FDR in this song, but I love the beat, and the video is a winner - it's a colorful celebration, filmed in Brazil and directed by Spike Lee.

from Bad, 1987
"Dirty Diana" should be way more popular than it is. It's a hard rock song, and the screeching guitars and laser beams going off at the end take it to an incredible climax. Lyrically, it's essentially Billie Jean II, a cautionary tale about groupies, but the last verse is one of my favorite verses ever - "He's not coming back, because he's sleeping with me!" Michael probably never looked more badass than he does in this video.

from Blood on the Dance Floor, 1997

This one flew completely under the radar. Taken from a 1997 remix album, "Blood on the Dance Floor" is often regarded as the last good song Michael recorded. It's certainly a good video - he looks fashionable and actually comes off as cool.

from Dangerous, 1991
Much of Dangerous is underrated, but "In the Closet" is a personal favorite because of its hot music video starring Naomi Campbell.

from Dangerous, 1991

This is an example of how good Michael can be when he keeps it simple. Well, actually, it's not simple - the album version of this song contains an extended operatic choir intro and unnecessary spoken word verse at the end. But the radio edit, focusing mainly on the piano and his voice, is beautiful.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Country music: Where washed-up pop stars go to revive their careers

Bon Jovi had a big hit not long ago with "Who Says You Can't Go Home," which became a crossover success on the pop and country charts. But let's be honest - that song was a calculated decision by the band (or their people) to reach out to a new audience, since their recent albums haven't been selling.

Going country has reaped big rewards for Kid Rock, Michelle Branch, Sheryl Crow, and many others. The latest washed-up pop stars to go country are Jewel and Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish.

An argument could be made that Rucker's transformation isn't that significant, because Hootie's laid-back acoustic guitar-based rock isn't that far off Nashville's sound. But I choose the more cynical view, that Rucker simply realized he'd never score another pop hit and made a conscious decision to switch genres.

The Jewel song really doesn't sound very country at all, except for a spare slide guitar. It's more like the simple ballads that appeared on her early records.

Video: Darius Rucker - Don't Think I Don't Think About It

Video: Jewel - Perfectly Clear

So, which other pop acts will decide they can no longer compete on the pop charts and head over to the world of country music? My vote is for Jakob Dylan, Counting Crows, and the Dixie Chicks.

Oh, wait...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Leroi Moore dies

Wow, stunning news that I have to post quickly before I head to work... Leroi Moore of the Dave Matthews Band died unexpectedly yesterday after an accident.

Leroi was always the cool one... the one who never talked, who hid behind his sunglasses. He might've been the most underrated member of the band. The band will be fine - in fact, they've brought in other saxophonists in recent years to augment their sound. But it won't be the same.

I've seen DMB live 15 times, and though they're no longer my favorite band like they were in college, I'm quite saddened by this news.

The band went ahead with last night's show, and Dave gave a tribute to him:

Monday, August 18, 2008

You know you're a Girl Talk fan when...

This morning I was flipping around the dial (some of us still do that) and landed on Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone". But when the chorus came, I was disappointed. I sat there going, where's the "kick butt, kick butt" part? I was imagining Girl Talk's "Here's the Thing," where "Since U Been Gone" is juxtaposed with Hammer's "2 Legit 2 Quit."

Turns out, I can no longer enjoy Kelly's song by itself. Because of Gregg Gillis, it is now forever linked in my brain with "2 Legit 2 Quit." He has a way of ruining songs like that, and I love him for it.

Girl Talk's latest album Feed the Animals came out a few months ago, and I never got around to writing about it, but after witnessing his manic set at Lollapalooza, now is an appropriate time for me to hype our Pittsburgh boy.

The best way to show my approval would be to present my top 10 favorite moments from Feed the Animals:

10 Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" & T.I.'s "What You Know" & Shawnna's "Gettin' Some"
“Play Your Part (Pt. 1)” 3:41-4:31
I'm not crazy about the instances when Gillis has to speed up songs to make them fit, as he does with Sinead, but it's funny to hear her beautiful ballad played behind the lyric "I was gettin' some head, gettin' gettin' some head."

9 Metallica’s “One” & Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss”
“Like This” 2:28-3:21
I'll be honest, I'm slightly disappointed in this. The "One" riff is such a great choice for a mashup, but I think he could've pulled it off a little better. "Lip Gloss" without its backing beats is a pretty unremarkable track. It still rocks because it's "One," but it had the potential for something greater.

8 Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen” & DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat”
“Shut the Club Down” 2:57-3:31
Even the biggest hip hop haters on the planet have to love "Let Me Clear My Throat"- even more so when it's juxtaposed with the Celtic fiddles from the Dexy's Midnight Runners classic.

7 Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” & Big Country’s “In a Big Country”
“Hands in the Air” 0:00-1:15
"In a Big Country" is secretly one of my most played songs on iTunes, and "Whoomp! (There It Is)" is pure party music. If Tag Team really had any skill, they would've recorded "Whoomp!" exactly this way, with the Big Country song as a sample.

6 Jay-Z “Roc Boys” & Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”
“Set it Off” 0:21-1:21
This surprised me a bit because you don't often see two modern giants like these mashed together. In fact, some of the album's least impressive moments involve music from superstars, like when Gillis samples Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." But Radiohead's guitars and Jay-Z's rhymes are a perfect union.

5 Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” & Missy Elliot’s “Work It”
“No Pause” 0:18-0:54
I love the experience of listening to a new Girl Talk record to hear which obscure '80s songs he's going to pilfer. Here, it's "I Can't Wait" by Nu Shooz, which blends magnificently with Missy Elliot's ode to sexing.

4 Journey’s “Faithfully” & Huey’s “Pop, Lock & Drop It”
“Play Your Part (Pt. 2)” 1:55-3:25
The final singalong chorus of "Faithfully" is such an awesome anthem that it would be a slam dunk no matter what song it was mashed with. Gillis smartly made this the final moment on his album, as well as his final, glorious number at Lollapalooza as he crowd surfed away.

3 Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” & Nine Inch Nails’ “Wish” & Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit”
“Here’s the Thing” 1:05-2:06
Using "Wish" in a mashup song is an obvious idea because of its explosive guitars, but it works with Kelly Clarkson even better than might be expected, and the touch of Hammer is genius.

2 Yael Naim’s “New Soul” & Eminem’s “Shake That”
"No Pause" 2:27-3:12
This moment got the biggest ovation during Girl Talk's performance at Lollapalooza. I don't know what it is about "New Soul" that is so appealing, but it's undeniable. And this track reminds us that Eminem still exists. I'd almost forgotten.

1 Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks” & Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” & Ray J’s “Sexy Can I” & Ahmad’s “Back in the Day”
“Shut the Club Down” 2:09-2:54
"Young Turks" is one of my favorite '80s songs, so hearing almost a minute of it here is pretty sweet. Mixing it with two rap songs and a subtle dash of "Maniac" makes this my favorite Feed the Animals moment.

Download the album (pay what you want) here. Or sample a couple of tracks:
MP3: Girl Talk - No Pause (Feed the Animals)
MP3: Girl Talk - Here's the Thing (Feed the Animals)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rolling Stone downsizes format, USPS cries

submitted by Deena

On Monday, Rolling Stone announced that the magazine size would be officially changing. Always known for its trademark larger format, the publication will switch to the standard magazine size for its October 30 issue (on sale 10/17).

"All you’re getting from that large size is nostalgia," RS editor-in-chief Jann Wenner told the New York Times. "I myself was kind of torn about it." As am I, but for exactly the same reason--what I know and have come to love is changing, and I'm just being stubborn.

Some articles I've read cite declining off-the-rack sales as the root cause of the switch (often times RS is relegated to obscure places on bookshelves because of its current size)--a valid reason--but most literature fails to point out that the postage RS pays to mail their odd sized magazine is probably outrageous. The USPS's ever-tightening rules about mailing sizes and ever-increasing postage rates are sure to make anyone think twice about mailing an extra-large format magazine, let alone over a million of them. I'll bet they'll save at least as much in postage for the new format as they gain in rack sales. Not to mention maybe I will get all my issues in one piece--I can't tell you how many times I've received ripped and bent issues in the mail, undoubtedly due to the larger size.

And although the pages will be smaller, the magazine plans to add 16 to 20 more of them per issue, so readers are still going to get a fairly equivalent amount of content. RS will also switch to heavier, glossy paper and will be glued rather than stapled, giving it a flat spine rather than a tapered edge, according to the Times. I certainly won't complain about the paper improvements, as better paper also leads to better image quality. These changes may also help with mailing, as it will be sturdier than the previous format.

So while I shudder to think that my beloved Rolling Stone will now lose a bit of its uniqueness, I have to applaud them for making what will likely turn out to be a smart business decision and allow them to better compete with the Blenders of the world.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters

submitted by Deena

WTF, now Billy Bob Thornton has his own band? And they're coming to Pittsburgh on August 24? I'm always the last to know these things.

Their myspace page contains a long list of influences, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Animals as well as Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Roy Acuff, and Hank Williams. "The Boxmasters are fashioned after a 1960’s-era mod band whose upbeat rhythms and infectious arrangements contrast sardonically with the very dark themes they explore lyrically."

Well, I watched a few videos, and the music does sound good, but it appears that accomplished actor Thornton has no idea how to be a frontman. He has a decent voice for the music, but his performance is so lifeless it's sad:

YouTube: "The Poor House" live

Monday, August 11, 2008

NAMU - behind the scenes

NASA, Anthony Kiedis, Black Keys

(See our main New American Music Union review here.)

We participated in two press conferences held during the weekend at the New American Music Union festival. Here are some of the more interesting bits from those. Attendees included Anthony Kiedis, Gnarls Barkley, Black Keys, Spoon, NASA, and Tiny Masters of Today.

Q: Why do you think you were asked to curate the festival?
Anthony Kiedis: I guess because Dave Matthews wasn't available? I'm joking, I'm joking. I guess because we've been around a long time as a band, we've toured, and left a few tender moments behind. Stick around long enough, people ask you to do weird shit.

Q: How did you go about choosing the lineup?
Anthony Kiedis: I just spent some time meditating on music that I love, music that makes me feel alive. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it might be a little bit more dynamic and compelling to get really unheard-of people with really heard-of people. So it just started with some people I was madly in love with musically, and started filling in from there.

It was kind of hard because a lot of the music I love were elsewhere - getting married, having children, playing shows in foreign countries, out of business for the summer - so you really have to stay flexible and open to maybe learning something new.

Anthony Kiedis with Gnarls Barkley

Q: To Gnarls Barkley, any clues as to what costumes you'll be wearing today?
Danger Mouse: We don't know yet, we just show up. But we're gonna match.
Anthony Kiedis: I think they're going to be wearing the Tiny Masters of Today - the actual humans.

Q: How did you decide to add Tiny Masters of Today to the bill?
Anthony Kiedis: They excited me. I have these friends in L.A. that are age 7 to 14 called the Jack Bambis, and they write really great songs, and they broke up. So, I started seeing if there were any other bands of that nature that were actually good, and lo and behold, there's an east coast version of the Jack Bambis, and their stuff is cool.

Tiny Masters of Today

Q: This is a huge event for the city of Pittsburgh. What do you think about the event taking place in this city?
Anthony Kiedis: I like Pittsburgh, I always have. I don't think people really know about Pittsburgh. It's under that invisible cloak, as far as the consciousness of the rest of America. I always liked coming here on tour since I was playing in the '80s. We played a place called Graffiti. You've got rivers, you've got mountains, so it's a nice place. I like the fact that it's in the streets of a city. That kind of separates it from being a field or someplace in the middle of nowhere. It gives it a little character. And you've got the Andy Warhol Museum, which is a total gem of a museum that I could spend days in.
Dan Auerbach (Black Keys): We started in the Midwest, we still live in Akron. It feels nice to have a festival in the Midwest. There's always these big festivals on the shores and overseas, but this comes back sort of home. It's a nice thing.
Britt Daniel (Spoon): I like that's in a city.
Cee-Lo (Gnarls Barkley): Yeah, me too.
Britt Daniel: A lot of music festivals are way out somewhere, and you're just stuck there. But there's stuff to do around here. It's a different vibe.


Q: To Tiny Masters of Today, what kind of venues do you usually play, and how does it feel to share the stage with these bands?
Ivan: We just got back from Lollapalooza last week, which was pretty fun, and then we played a show in New York on Wednesday. It's pretty awesome to play on the stage with all these people.
Anthony Kiedis: I thought it was amazing how beautiful the audience treated Tiny Masters. I've been to other festivals and other shows of my own where, a young band that isn't that well-known gets kind of mistreated by an audience, because often an audience comes for one of the marquee names on a bill. But all of the people there were so into what they were doing and they showed them love and appreciation. I thought that was a very cool thing.

Q: In future years, would you like to see the festival remain small, or would you like to see it reach a grander scale?
Anthony Kiedis: Not necessarily a grander scale. Lollapalooza - no disrespect, because that's a really fun festival, but we're not trying to be that. We're not trying to put any concrete parameters on what it's supposed to be, but just staying open minded, so that it's not just another festival, but somehow has its own personality and its own strange amalgamation of artists that are attracted to it and will play on it. I think it could be a little bit bigger than what it is today, because 10,000 tickets sold out kind of fast. There's room for it to be bigger, but it doesn't have to be huge.

Anthony Kiedis

Q: Anthony, yesterday you said if the opportunity presented itself you'd consider joining one of the bands on stage...
Cee-Lo (muttering under his breath about the reporter): She's hot.
Anthony Kiedis: Whoa, the mic is on! That's a President Bush moment. Um, if the opportunity presents itself, I'm so ill-prepared, but I'm tempted to accept any proposals that come my way.

Other behind the scenes tidbits to mention from the weekend:
Some guy offered me $200 for my press pass on Saturday. I told him it was worthless, in terms of getting backstage, but he did not believe me. I did not sell, as I would not have wanted to be there when he realized he just threw away a lot of money for nothing.

Pittsburgh's idiot mayor Luke Ravenstahl (below, seated) was on hand to help judge the college band competition. I felt like the paparazzi as I tried to sneak a photo of him, around the large men who were surrounding him and blocking the view of onlookers.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Black Keys destroy the New American Music Union

Cee-Lo gets crazy, possibly

CONCERT REVIEW: New American Music Union Festival
August 8-9, 2008
SouthSide Works, Pittsburgh

The Black Keys

In reporting on this festival, there really is no need to mention anyone other than Akron blues-rock duo the Black Keys. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney created an insane amount of noise and mayhem and blew everyone else out of the water, including the Raconteurs and Bob Dylan. They mellowed out briefly for a cover of Captain Beefheart's "I'm Glad," and then it was back to the face-melting solos.

I'd seen the Black Keys once before, opening for Radiohead, and wasn't impressed, but this time they absolutely killed.

Bob Dylan & his band

I love Dylan as much as anyone, but this show was so bad it makes me think Dylan should actually stop touring altogether. He doesn't even sing anymore; he just talks the lyrics, in completely unintelligible fashion. He opened with "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," and I didn't even recognize the song until the second chorus - the tenth time he said "stoned." That's how bad his vocals were.

On top of that, he never even touched a guitar. That's right, the electric guitar legend stayed on keyboards all night with his back to half the audience. I kept waiting for him to put on a guitar and move to the microphone that was sitting front and center, unattended, but it never happened. I'm stunned.

The encore was "Like a Rolling Stone," but again it was so mumbled that it was almost comical. The crowd sang the chorus, while Dylan made noises here and there that were supposed to be lyrics.

Gnarls Barkley

This show was a lot better than I expected. I've been chiding Gnarls for the fact that they haven't been able to score another hit besides "Crazy," but their live show had several standouts - including "Smiley Faces" and "Gone Daddy Gone," which featured Danger Mouse on xylophone. Cee-Lo was dancing up a storm in the beginning, then appeared to get winded and took it easy for the rest of the set.

As for their costumes, they wore the same bland mustard yellow suits they'd worn at Lollapalooza, which one columnist accurately described as "Century 21 salesmen suits."

The Raconteurs

This is an ensemble band, with all four members bringing their own talents to the group, but their live show is dominated by Jack White. His solos were the highlight of songs like the impressive "Blue Veins." Some of the smaller bands climbed atop their tour buses to witness Jack White go nuts.

The Roots

The way the Roots began their show was cool - band members walked onstage and began playing their instruments one at a time, so that the music slowly built up into a climax. Their combination of jazz, funk, and hip hop also featured more prominent electric guitars than I'd expected. The one slight let down was "The Seed 2.0," which was played at warp speed and without any hip hop elements at all. It felt more like a top 40 pop song.

Tiny Masters of Today

OK, they're kids so I should go easy on them. But... this honestly might've been the worst concert I've ever seen. These kids were awful. Ivan (age 14) could play a few chords on guitar, but Ada (age 12) was a statue, singing (off-key) her little ditties about cell phones and radios. I felt bad that drummer Jackson Pollis had to play with them. They closed with a ridiculous cover of House of Pain's "Jump Around," with Ivan rapping the lyrics but standing perfectly still, while expecting the audience to jump around. This reminded me of a band that should be playing a middle school talent show instead of taking part in major music festivals.

I hold out hope that someday the Tiny Masters will have a live show that matches their respectable studio recordings.

Other bands
The Duke Spirit
play sexy garage rock. The English band is fronted by the entertaining Liela Moss, whose harmonica added a nice touch to "This Ship Was Built to Last."

Spoon put on a decent show. It's hard to dislike Spoon, but there's also nothing about them that makes me want to jump up and down and shout. "The Underdog" lost some of its punch with keyboards taking the place of the filling in the brass sections.

NASA is a DJ duo that spliced together pieces of songs, but they didn't do it nearly as well as Girl Talk.

And we missed Black Mountain to attend a NAMU press conference. Sorry, guys.

EDIT: Video footage is now available on the festival's official website.



The Duke Spirit

For more festival pics, check out the Flickr group.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New American Music Union Festival preview

Tomorrow's the big day. The sold-out New American Music Union Festival, sponsored by American Eagle, begins right here on the South Side of Pittsburgh, Pa., in the most picturesque setting possible - on the concrete parking lot next to the Cheesecake Factory and Urban Outfitters.

Festival curator Anthony Kiedis has done a terrific job of assembling A-list talent for the 2-day event. Here's who I'm most looking forward to seeing:


I'm almost never in awe of anybody, but one of the few times I found myself starstruck was the first time I saw Dylan, back in my Penn State days. I thought to myself, I can't believe I'm standing here 20 feet from Bob Dylan, the man whose electric guitar changed rock n roll forever! He wasn't entirely on his game that night, so here's hoping for a better show on Saturday. Even if he sucks, who cares? You want to be able to tell your grandchildren you saw Dylan live.


I only caught about 15 minutes of the Roots' performance at Lollapalooza 2007, but they left me wanting more. Few hip hop acts can rival the musicianship of these guys. I love "The Seed 2.0," but I know there's much more depth to their catalogue than the few radio hits I recognize.


I despise Brendan Benson, as I've mentioned before, and I didn't think all that much of the Raconteurs' first album. I've been passing up opportunities to see them all summer (Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza), but now I'm finally ready to give them a listen. I hear that the new album is better, so my expectations are high. Don't let me down, Jack.


Tiny Masters of Today are comprised of siblings Ivan (14) and Ada (12). They've earned praise from David Bowie, and now Jackson Pollis of MisShapes fame is drumming for them. Best thing about them: In a recent interview, when asked why he formed a band, Ivan replied, "Me and my sister formed a band because we were bored and we had nothing else to do."

Here's the schedule:
5;00 Doors open
6:30 Tiny Masters of Today
7:30 NASA
8:30 Black Keys
9:45 The Roots

2:00 Doors open
3:20 Duke Spirit
4:25 Black Mountain
5:30 Gnarls Barkley
6:45 Spoon
8:00 The Raconteurs
9:30 Bob Dylan

Here's a map of the festival grounds. It appears as though you can indeed stand outside the festival grounds on Sidney Street and listen to the bands, if you find yourself without a ticket.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lollapalooza 2008 complete review

We've finally put together the recap of our experience at the event. Click the links below to check out our reviews for each day.

Lolla Day 1: Dancing ninjas, diva pigs, and frying our little brains

Lolla Day 2: Dancing jailbait, wannabe outlaws, and vocoder madness

Lolla Day 3: Alice Cooper makeup and drunken lullabies

Deena’s top 10:
1. Kanye West
2. CSS
3. Okkervil River
4. Chromeo
5. The Go! Team
6. Gogol Bordello
7. Rage Against the Machine
8. Flogging Molly
9. innerpartysystem
10. Toadies

Scott’s top 10:
1. Kanye West
2. Gogol Bordello
3. Okkervil River
4. Chromeo
5. The Go! Team
6. Rage Against the Machine
7. Radiohead
8. Flogging Molly
9. CSS
10. Iron & Wine

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Lollapalooza Day 3: Alice Cooper makeup and drunken lullabies

Day 3 of Lollapalooza 2008. Photos and videos taken by Deena and Scott. Reviews by both of us except where noted.

12:30 Kid Sister (Scott)
The most interesting thing about Kanye protégé Kid Sister is that she named her just-released debut album Koko B. Ware, after the parrot-wielding 1980s WWF wrestler. She capably brought the hip hop, though she came off like a lesser M.I.A.

12:30 White Lies (Deena)

I decided to check out White Lies and weasel my way up to a prime spot for The Weakerthans, who were scheduled to play at 1:15. These four attractive British gents delivered a bit of a rushed show (they had been scheduled to play at a different stage), with not much audience banter, but their Depeche Mode-esque songs were well-delivered with excellent vocals from singer/guitarist Harry McVeigh. By the time they finished I was planted firmly against the fence in the front row, only to discover that the next band introduced was Office, due to a poorly-publicized cancellation by The Weakerthans. I left a bit disgruntled, through no fault of White Lies.

1:00 What Made Milwaukee Famous (Scott)

This band gets the “Chin Up Chin Up award” for being the act that I remember least at Lolla. WMMF had a cool keyboard line here, a nifty drum roll there, but nothing that set them apart from countless other indie rock acts.

1:30 The Whigs (Scott)
The Whigs have a heavier sound than you’d expect from a band signed to Dave Matthews’ ATO label. Their powerful guitar riffs and catchy melodies packed a real punch. They were one of our best discoveries of the festival.

2:15 Nicole Atkins & the Sea

We interviewed Nicole last year, and though she hasn’t taken off yet, if she keeps performing like this, it’s only a matter of time. She played all the best from Neptune City, including the ones where she gets to let loose, like “The Way It Is.” Her strong voice was matched by her delightful personality, like when she feared that her makeup was running in the overwhelming heat - “Do I look like Alice Cooper yet? That was kinda my goal.”

Video clip: Nicole Atkins – “Maybe Tonight”

3:15 Chromeo

“We’ve been friends since we were kids... and he doesn’t have a shirt on,” said Chromeo’s Dave 1 of his bandmate P-Thug. These Canadians are the coolest dorks on the planet, as evidenced by the combination of pre-recorded electronic elements and live guitars and keys, with late ‘80s-style dance music and sleazy love songs that had fans at the MySpace stage dancing their asses off.

4:15 Eli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves

There’s been a revival of the ‘60s R&B sound recently, but most of those performers are female. On Nicole Atkins’ recommendation, we checked out Eli “Paperboy” Reed, who preaches this music to a new generation of listeners. He channeled James Brown vocally, and his big band helped serve up one of the more unique styles during the weekend.

4:45 Iron & Wine (Scott)
Iron & Wine was pure beauty. Sam Beam and company added a touch of twang to “Boy With a Coin,” and Beam’s guitar noodling at the end of the slow-burning “Upward Over the Mountain” was exquisite.

Video clip: Iron & Wine – “Boy With a Coin”

5:15 Flogging Molly

“I’d like to dedicate this song to myself!” said singer Dave King. His band’s Irish punk rock was great fun. His band gets a run for its money - they’re great musicians to be able to play these fast songs so well live. We’ve seen Flogging Molly before, but they were never this good. “Drunken Lullabies” was the biggest highlight.

6:15 Gnarls Barkley
We didn’t get to watch much of their set, but got to hear true-to-album versions of favorites like “Gone Daddy Gone,” “Run,” and “Don’t Be Surprised.” Cee-Lo was in fine form.

6:45 Girl Talk

Someone at Lolla who has no clue decided to put Pittsburgh mashup DJ Girl Talk on a small side stage, which resulted in the most packed-together crowd of the weekend. Then again, since that setup facilitated lots of sweating and dancing, maybe it was better that way. Girl Talk brought out giant balloons and toilet paper cannons to make the party insane. Which was good, because his actual performance wasn’t quite as strong. The transitions between songs were too deliberate – he stayed on “Whoomp! There It Is!” for several minutes, for instance. The ending was classic, though, as Girl Talk surfed the crowd in an inflatable raft to Journey’s “Faithfully.”

Video clip: Giant balloon during Girl Talk performance

7:30 The National (Scott)

The National closed with a great one-two punch of “Fake Empire” and the spirited “Mr. November,” which Matt Berninger made sure to point out “is not dedicated to John McCain.”

7:30 Mark Ronson (Deena)

Despite the small crowd (due to the anticipation of Kanye West’s performance at the adjacent stage, I suspect), Mark Ronson provided an entertaining, diverse set of stylized cover songs. Among those joining him and his band, which included brass and string sections, were Daniel Merriweather and rap duo Plastic Little. And though Radiohead didn’t play “Just,” one of my favorites of theirs, Ronson supplied his own unique, soulful version of the tune.

8:15 Nine Inch Nails

We caught the first half of Trent Reznor’s set, and though “Discipline” and “March of the Pigs” were strong, he also wandered into meandering instrumentals that lost the crowd. It looks like the rest of the set was great – too bad we missed “Piggy” and “Head Like a Hole.”

8:45 Kanye West

Kanye West elicits such strong feelings from people - they either love him or hate him. (Or they think he’s ok.)

Yeah, he’s cocky. But only the most biased Kanye haters would deny that his Lolla show was off the hook. It was everything Kanye’s performance at Bonnaroo was not: There was enthusiasm, spontaneity, graciousness, even a live band and backup singers. The band made a noticeable difference, turning “Hey Mama,” Kanye’s ode to his mother, into an even more forlorn, delicate ballad, and the electric guitars made the dark, moody “Can’t Tell Me Nuthin” frighteningly intense.

There was an odd 4-minute soliloquy in which Kanye boasted about trying to be the greatest musician of all-time, claiming, “I ain’t saying I’m there yet, but I’m going to the studio tonight – that might change by the morning.” A great “Kanye being Kanye” moment.

“Put On” was one of the most mind-blowing moments of the festival, Kanye saluting his hometown of Chicago with fury and sincerity. That was followed by “Touch the Sky,” which segued directly into “The Good Life,” both of which featured lots of throwing hands into the sky. “Stronger” capped the show and closed out the festival in memorable fashion.

Video clip: Kanye West boasts

Sunday’s top 5:
1. Kanye West
2. Chromeo
3. Flogging Molly
4. Nicole Atkins & the Sea
5. (tie) Iron & Wine
(tie) Mark Ronson

Lollapalooza Day 2: Dancing jailbait, wannabe outlaws, and vocoder madness

Day 2 of Lollapalooza 2008. Photos and videos taken by Deena and Scott. Reviews by both of us except where noted.

12:30 Does It Offend You, Yeah?

This was an upbeat, up-tempo show that started out strong but lulled in the middle. At one point the singer said, “This is our big pop song,” then proceeded to play one of the blandest songs we heard all weekend. At least the vocoder-heavy “Doomed Now” and “We Are Rockstars” lived up to their potential. Stick to the fat, thick, grimy electro-punk, guys—it’s what you do best.

1:15 Ferras (Deena)

Ferras was another visit I made based on hearing some stuff on Lolla radio. His claim to fame is “Hollywood’s Not America,” American Idol Season 7’s “farewell song”—you know, the one played each week during the video montage of someone who gets voted off. His show seemed bland, though, compared to what I’d heard on his album Aliens and Rainbows. He had a nice voice but spent most of his time behind the piano, not interacting a whole lot with the crowd; and even when he did it seemed awkward. I was just happy to enjoy some music in the shade for this one.

1:45 innerpartysystem

This act out of Reading, PA was just what we’d hoped for. innerpartysystem (named after a social class in George Orwell’s 1984) dished out their powerful electro-emo with both gusto and musicality. The band passionately performed and thanked the audience, which they claimed was the biggest crowd they’d ever played for. We’re looking forward to checking out their full-length album slated for release in September.

2:15 Foals (Deena)

I still can’t quite figure out what math rock is, but apparently Foals is it. Their dance-punk set sounded pretty true to their album, but I didn’t quite get their performance. The lead vocalist’s mic was set up so that when he sang, he faced the right side of the stage instead of the audience, and their guitarist was constantly facing the left side of the stage. Is this part of their math rock equation? I don’t know, but it didn’t add up to an entertaining performance.

2:30 Dierks Bentley (Scott)

The official Lollapalooza program tried to peg Dierks Bentley as an outlaw cowboy in the tradition of Waylon Jennings. Sorry, I’m not buying it. The guy used to work for CMT, for crying out loud. You can’t get more mainstream than that. But I did dig his rocking country tunes.

3:30 MGMT

Playing before a massive crowd (the largest I’ve ever seen at a non-mainstage at a festival), psychedelic synthpop band MGMT managed to bore everyone silly for the first half of their performance. No dancing, no singing along, just a lot of standing around and sweating. “Electric Feel” finally got things moving, but it was an aberration. “The Handshake” and the genius single “Time to Pretend” felt utterly joyless. Andrew VanWyngarden’s voice was so weak that the hooks weren’t even hooks because his voice was barely discernable. MGMT get this year’s “Fratellis award” for being the up-and-coming band that was presented with a huge opportunity at Lollapalooza and blew it.

4:30 Brand New (Deena)
This set started slow and never quite picked up momentum. Brand New’s songs often have subdued parts with lower-pitched vocals that are offset by borderline screamo, which works well on their albums; unfortunately, these sections didn’t carry over well live, forcing the singer to sing-yell them, which didn’t have the same effect. All in all, what I heard was okay, but after hearing frontman Jesse Lacey tell the audience (twice!) that they should really be seeing Explosions in the Sky, I went and did just that.

4:45 Explosions in the Sky (Scott)
Instrumentals don’t necessarily play well in a festival setting, unless you’re looking for some background music while you toss around the frisbee. These guys are known for thundering rock compositions, but for the portion of their set I observed, they stuck mostly to the quieter stuff, one exception being the magnificent “Welcome Ghosts.”

5:30 Okkervil River

Okkervil’s live show is phenomenal. The spontaneity between Will Sheff and his bandmates and the way they play off each other is great to witness. Sheff’s punk energy took the band’s best storytelling tracks like “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe” and “The President’s Dead” to another level, proving (as if we didn't already know) that Okkervil River are one of the more exciting bands in rock these days.

7:30 Toadies (Deena)

I will freely admit that the Toadies aren’t a remarkable band, but they still provided one of the better shows I saw all day. Although they only had one semi-breakthrough hit with “Possum Kingdom” off their 1994 Rubberneck album, it was obvious that much of the crowd (including me) had been holding on to that album all these years, waiting to sing along to every song. These aging rockers delivered a solid set despite the years-long break since their last tour, playing all the songs people wanted to hear along with a preview of some tracks from their new album.

7:45 Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings (Scott)

52-year-old Sharon Jones is sassy, spunky, and soulful, and her performances are never dull. Against the wishes of security personnel, she invited a young man onstage, then said, “He looks kinda young. Do you think I can go to jail? I’m not trying to go to jail.” After discovering he has a wife, she taught him some dance moves to please his woman. Her throwback R&B tracks like “100 Days, 100 Nights” brought down the house.

8:30 Rage Against the Machine

Rage had to stop their show several times to order fans to step back because of the intensity of fans moshing and crashing the stage barriers. Even with the delays, the band owned Grant Park, rocking like it was 1996 and they were in their prime. Singer Zach de la Rocha was a commanding presence, and Tom Morello’s shredding was a sight to behold. As might have been expected, de la Rocha got political, speaking of the mysterious terrorist force that threatens our way of life, then claiming, “It’s our very government that is the terrorist organization we’ve been hearing about.” But mostly, Rage let their music do the talking, building up to an explosive conclusion of “Freedom” and “Killing in the Name.”

Saturday’s top 5:
1. Okkervil River
2. Rage Against the Machine
3. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
4. Innerpartysystem
5. Explosions in the Sky