We all know that festival shows in 90-degree Chicago weather are not exactly optimal conditions, but rain sucks it even harder. Wussing out, I passed up on seeing Miniature Tigers, Neon Hitch, and The Cribs and had brunch at a biker bar that garnishes their bloody marys with bacon and chorizo. Amazing.
My latest start to Lolla ever, I arrived at 3 and thought I'd check out the hyped Mumford & Sons, but the humidity and heat combo got the best of me after only a few songs. What I heard was good, though. It kind of reminded me of when I saw Okkervil River at the same stage two years ago--Marcus Mumford's voice is captivating and full of raw emotion just like Will Sheff's, and their indie folk music has an undercurrent of energy that moves the listener. Since they're still riding the coattails of their debut album, I'm sure I'll have another opportunity to see Mumford & Sons, preferably in a less muggy setting.
Craving shade, I moved on to the Sony Bloggie stage to check out Hockey (above), touted in the Lolla program as some sort of "'80s inspired" indie synth-pop. However, their opening two songs jangled with guitars and sounded more indie than synth-pop. "Work," their third song, had a nice disco beat and seemed a little more representative of how they'd been described, and it got the crowd moving. I had to move on shortly thereafter, though, because by trading the sun at the Mumford & Sons set for the shade at Hockey's, my body had been compromised by tens of itch-tastic mosquito bites.
Did you think Green Day and Lady Gaga were the only acts that flirted with pyrotechnics during their shows? Think again, as X Japan (right) "fired" up the stage--literally--in the middle of the afternoon. It's hard to describe how tremendous it felt to see this recently re-united prog/metal group give their first full performance in the U.S.--guitars wailed and thrashed, vocals soared, and damn did they look pretty. I only wish they would have taken better advantage of the mere hour slot they'd been given; I felt like time was wasted with pre-recorded musical intros, interludes, and outtros that could have been spent playing for their rabid but small group of fans (many of who camped out at that stage all day to retain a good spot). I think they probably only played about 4 songs, each epic in length, including a newer power ballad called "I.V." that appears on the Saw IV movie soundtrack.
"I can't fucking hear you!" screamed Yoshiki Hayashi (left), drummer, pianist, and "face" of X Japan. He even has his own Hello Kitty doll.
"We are!" demanded Yoshiki.
"X!" replied the audience, raising their arms and forming the letter as they shouted.
After X Japan's set ended, I watched as fans--many in similar costume as the band--cried, sang, and simply laid on the ground as though in physical shock of what had just happened. I felt like I had been part of a strangely cool experience, a vibe unlike anything I've encountered at a show. Foolishly, I lingered around to try to catch part of Erykah Badu's set, but well, 10 minutes after her start time nothing was going on, so I decided to go buy myself an X Japan T-shirt.
I was grooving to Wolfmother's (left) '60s-esque rock sound, but four songs into the set, I wondered, "Is anybody going to talk?" Finally frontman Andrew Stockdale piped up, claiming that "I think Jimi Hendrix came back to bless this night" as he acknowledged the huge dragonflies buzzing about the south stage area. I'm embarrassed to say, but I had to Google this reference to Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic." Anyhow, I like WM, and it sounded alright, but it wasn't all that different that listening to their CD. Although it was fun to watch the mosh pit turn into some sort of love-fest conga circle during "Vagabond." Not enough fun to stick around, though--instead I opted to wait in line for half an hour to eat a Judas Priest burger from Kuma's Corner. Pure heaven.
Speaking of heaven, Chris Cornell anyone? I was pleased to see he'd grown some of his gorgeous curly locks back, perhaps for nostalgia's sake as Soundgarden (right) delivered pretty much every classic single I can think of--"Spoonman," "Rusty Cage," "Blow Up the Outside World," "Outshined" (a personal favorite, which unfortunately had some sound issues due to a wireless mic/Cornell descending the stage into the crowd), "Fell On Black Days," and of course "Black Hole Sun." Musically, the group sounded tight as ever, but Cornell simply doesn't have the range of his younger days, so the glory notes I so loved in the '90s were not quite as glorious in the '010s.
So sue me, but I really am not a huge Arcade Fire person. I stopped by for a bit, but (as usual) the north stage area was just so cramped and claustrophobic that I couldn't truly focus on the performance. This seems kind of representative of my overall feelings about the weekend. I hate to say it, but much more of this year's Lolla was spent trying to stay comfortable, perhaps at the expense of the music. Looking back at our 2008 Lollapalooza review, I only caught a couple more bands that year than this time around, so I guess I didn't do too badly.
Top Acts of Sunday:
1. X Japan
Favorites of the Festival:
1. X Japan
4. Green Day
5. Lady Gaga
6. Balkan Beat Box
8. Mavis Staples
9. Gogol Bordello
10. Against Me!