I'll admit it--I have been really lousy about keeping up with music over the past year or so. And I didn't do nearly as much research on the bands playing Lolla this year as I did when Scott and I took on the festival in 2008. Also, this year my fiance reluctantly agreed to accompany me and I had to keep someone else's interests in mind and not focus on my journalistic/blogging tendency to want to be up in every band's face, standing in the blazing sun for 8-10 hours every day. So yeah, my Lollapalooza experience was a lot different than others'.
Friday--All roads lead to Gaga
Catching the tail end of Atlanta hip-hopper B.o.B.'s set was a welcome pick-me-up after waiting about a half hour to enter the fest on opening day. He had everyone dancing to "Nothin' on You" and "Airplanes" before closing the set with an impressive cover of MGMT's "Kids" (which I believe also ended MGMT's own set). 6-piece world/dance music ensemble Balkan Beat Box tore up the south stage with an electric set as well. The Walkmen seemed to pale in comparison to the previous high-energy sets, though Hamilton Leithauser's Dylan/Petty sounding tone was beautifully clear over the music. "Juveniles" (a new song) and "On the Water" were upbeat standouts alongside their mostly slow to mid-tempo songs.
Balkan Beat Box
After that I headed north to get my gospel on with Chicago native Mavis Staples, but I arrived early enough to catch the end of Los Amigos Invisibles' interesting Latin synth rock set. In the ten minutes I spent listening, they spiked in tidbits of the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited" and 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready for This"--and anybody who can mix in cheezy '80s and '90s pop into their act is pretty awesome in my book.
Anyway, the 70-year-old Ms. Staples offered an inspirational set of blues-folk gospel music, complete with a surprise appearance from Jeff Tweedy "from the Wilco band," who apparently had a hand in producing her upcoming record. She even lent her soulful, gravelly voice to memorable classics like The Band's "The Weight" (a.k.a. "Take a Load off") and "I'll Take You There" by The Staple Singers, the family act where Mavis got her start.
"Greetings Chi-ca-go! It's two thousand ten! And we're here to fucking 'Whip It' again!" An energetic Devo was the high point of Friday's acts. Their set full of costume changes, dorky theatrics, and goofy background videos paired seamlessly with a quality musical performance from the guys, who are all pushing 60 years old. They opened with two infectious new tracks, "What We Do" and "Fresh" and then "de-volved" into more of their deep cuts off their first album like "Uncontrollable Urge," "Mongoloid," and "Jocko Homo," which asks the immortal question: "Are we not men? / We are Devo!"
After Devo I wandered around and caught some of the Fuck Buttons and their dirty, nerdy, electronica. Their music had an interesting evolutionary quality about it, with layers of noise building and changing, but it was a slow process and didn't exactly make for good festival show material. Moving along I checked out Neon Trees, who played an ear-catching set of emo-disco. Flamboyant frontman Tyler Glenn playfully chatted up the crowd as he powered through tracks from their 2010 debut album like "Love and Affection" and the single "Animal."
Next up I parked it on the south lawn for Hot Chip, whose set started off slow but picked up momentum during "Over and Over" and continued with bigger beats and dancier tempos. I was surprised and a bit impressed with this electropop group's use of steel drums in their music; however, their overall set seemed kind of lackluster to me.
And then there was Lady Gaga. I'm sure tons of people have said the same thing, but I'll say it too--it was a little disappointing. Yes, I understand she needs time to change costumes, but each change--hell, even her opening number, sung from behind a curtain where only her shadow was visible--seemed to take just long enough that I had time to get pumped up...and then get bored. Once the performances were underway, it was great, but the minute she was not singing, it was torturous. "Do you think I'm sexy?" she demanded as she writhed on the stage; clearly this is a woman with a lot of deep-seeded insecurities, as evidenced by her reminding us many times how she used to get made fun of and told she wasn't good enough. Instead of being motivational, it just became a bit trite, though, especially when trying to discern anything intelligent between swear words. Bottom line--I still love Lady Gaga. I just love her more when she's singing and dancing.
Friday's top acts:
2. Balkan Beat Box
3. Mavis Staples
4. Lady Gaga