How did 48 hours of exciting live music draw to a close so fast? I woke up Sunday morning with the slightly wistful feel that my whirlwind weekend would soon be over, but I quickly shook that and rushed to the “L” to get downtown for the final day of Lollapalooza 2011.
Due to my persistent caffeine addiction, I was late to Grant Park. I missed The Joy Formidable (though luckily we can all see them at the MidPoint Music Festival on Sept. 22), as well as Titus Andronicus and Fences, all bands I wanted to give a good go. I guess that’s what YouTube, Soundcloud, Facebook, MySpace, etc. are for.—-
The first band I caught (around 2 p.m.) was completely by accident. Little Hurricane was just that: an unassuming duo rocking out at the Google-Plus stage, kicking up a storm. Best described as sounding like The Black Keys with a girl or a bluesier (and technically savvy) White Stripes, this girl drummer and guy guitarist/singer from California were great. I loved the reverb-y, crunchy guitar that lead singer Tony Catalano plays—he also utilizes slide guitar, which adds another cool visual and aural element. This pair has a great rapport, evidenced on stage in their vocal chemistry and musical interplay. If they make it out here to the Midwest, don’t even think twice about seeing them. Just do it.
I dipped my toes into a different type of sound altogether next, swinging by the smaller, intimate BMI stage. I appreciated how the Google-Plus and BMI stages were almost like showcase areas, where the musicianship wasn’t lost in the space, but the crowds could still pack in.
Lia Ices, an Indie Folk singer and pianist from Brooklyn, let loose her siren call amongst the trees. Ices’ voice reminds me of Enya (but not on steroids) or a flute, and the girl’s got some serious piano chops. Her vocals and backing band's accompaniment crashed like waves on the people gathered and they soared through ethereal ballads with grounded guitar lines and Ices’ passionate lyrical interpretation of mythos and evocative imagery.
I crossed back to the Google-Plus stage to hear buzz band Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. With a name like that, I expected (and was delivered) a band with a quirky sense of humor. A Detroit-based duo, these guys have a playful, sunny-day ironic-picnic vibe. When the drummer came out wearing a NASCAR jumpsuit, I knew it would be a good time. DEJJ's infectious, Beach Boys-reminiscent tunes kept an edge with instrumental and electronic layering, a guest horn section during their song “It’s a Corporate World” (replete with smart, knowing lyrics and a surprisingly catchy chorus) and a generally laid-back approach.
The right side of Grant Park was my best friend for the first half of the day, so I headed over to peep City and Colour before The Cars played at 4 on the other side of the world. The crowd was way too big to infiltrate, so I hung back on the edges and enjoyed singer-songwriter Dallas Green’s Indie/Blues/Rock concoctions. I heard an organ being played, I caught some cool vocal harmonies, I enjoyed the well-delivered lyrics. Apparently, Green was a member of Alexisonfire (a Post Hardcore band I only knew about because a former roommate bought their album at Hot Topic. Seriously). City and Colour is a departure that finds Green heading in a more mature direction.
At this point, I steeled myself for the long trip to ’80s mecca — the Music Unlimited stage — where The Cars reigned over an enormous crowd. I love The Cars' pure, unabashed ’80s Rock, sprinkled with synth effects and defined by bad-ass guitars and catchy lyrics. When I was a freshman in high school, the boy I had a crush on played “Just What I Needed” at our school’s talent show and, believe me, I wanted to stand “oh so near.”
Hearing Ric Ocascek sing that, along with “My Best Friend’s Girl," “You Might Think” and “Magic," put me in unfiltered groupie-girl mode. I wish I had been an adult in the ’80s so I could have driven around in a Chrysler LeBaron with The Cars in my cassette deck. That being said, The Cars' Lolla set seemed rather subdued. I didn’t sense as much energy as I had expected and Ocascek sounded almost complacent, kind of like he was going through the motions in spots. I wish they had played “Drive," my favorite of their repertoire. They did play “Sad Song,” a single from their comeback album Move Like This released earlier this year.
Up next was a band I had discovered via YouTube, an Australian five-piece called Boy and Bear. These guys had the BMI stage packed, combining Bon Iver’s plaintive lyricism with Mumford and Sons’ accents and jangly guitars, with a Folk Rock vibe and impeccable harmonies that are all their own. They employed a mix of electric and acoustic guitars, impressive live whistling and an impassioned energy that was irresistible. Excitement, melancholia and wisdom were all prevalent in both Boy and Bear’s themes and music. I’m sold.
However, the skies above were not. Clouds had been rolling in and turning Grant Park very dark and at the very end of Boy and Bear's last song (my favorite, “Feeding Line”), the first few raindrops began to fall.
“I’m fine,” I thought, as I stood under the canopy of huge trees. Wrong. First of all, you’re not supposed to stand by trees during potential lightning storms. Second of all, leaves are not an umbrella. I broke both Rule No. 1 and 3 of Lollapalooza — I had forgotten my umbrella, not expecting rain to come again.
I was slightly worried, so I kept trying to use The Secret to will the rain away. Not this time. The skies opened up and pounded every single one of the 270,000 Lollapalooza attendees unlucky enough to be caught outside. It rained, and then it rained. It was torrential. I considered making a break for the media tent, but it was on the other side of Grant Park and I was not up for that adventure. The worst thing about the rain, besides getting wet and cold, is the fact that I have glasses, and no one has yet invented the magical glasses-windshield-wiper every four-eyed person has always dreamed of.
I could barely see, my clothing was soaked and it was chilly. I came to the conclusion that there was no way I could be any wetter, so I made a mad dash for the middle of the park. I had no idea where I was going, which I realized halfway there. I found shelter under a little Sony tent and huddled with about 30 other people.
At least I was afforded a great view of the ridiculous kids who reveled in the rain, jumping in the huge, filthy mud puddles, doing rain dances. I couldn’t help but laugh at them and at the situation.
The rain continued for about 45 minutes, then tapered off. A poncho-ed Good Samaritan yelled to us and said there were ponchos for $5 in the Lollapalooza General Store. I had a soggy five-dollar bill, so off I went. I realized putting a plastic shield over myself was kind of stupid, so I decided to just leave the park and try to find a towel or a blow dryer or something. On my way out, I ran into my friend Arielle. We laughed at the coincidence of us leaving at exactly the same time and decided to grab dinner and maybe steal the clothes off a window display mannequin or something. I was Lolla’d-out for the time being.
Having consumed my pasta cavatappi and Caesar salad in a dry restaurant (where I met two of the dudes from Fences!), I continued my pursuit of a dry shirt. I had an in-vain journey ahead of me. What CVS closes before 9 on a Sunday? Every single one in the downtown Chicago area, apparently. Fed up, I was conned by my pathetic circumstances into purchasing an over-priced Chicago shirt from a gift shop. In retrospect, I should have taken the $3 ATM fee and purchased a 20th Anniversary Lollapalooza shirt, but hindsight’s 20/20. And my glasses were still foggy, so, in the end, I didn’t care.
This ate up a good hour and a half of Lolla time, so I missed Cage the Elephant and Manchester Orchestra. Next time.
The magical time slot for me was 8:30 at the Google-Plus stage for one reason: Cold War Kids. I had consecutively missed the indie rockers twice earlier in the week, once at Chicago's club Metro (I even had a guestlist spot! Ah!) and also in Cincinnati (they played Thursday, when I was already in Chi-town). I was going to be damned if I missed them a third time, rain or no rain, wet shirt or no wet shirt. I hydroplaned around the puddles and arrived at the Google-Plus stage to a thicket of mud upon more mud. Sandals failed me. I had no choice but to step in the sludge if I wanted to get closer. I swallowed and went for it. I gave up about 25 feet in.
I was close enough to see the stage, had a relatively dry spot under a tree and only 20 minutes to wait. Or so I thought.
The Lolla gods laughed again at the folly of mortal music-lovers and spewed more rain. It sucked. At least I had my poncho. This second downpour indefinitely delayed Cold War Kids’ set. I was biting my nails, preparing myself for the possibility that they might not play. I mean, what’s a little electrocution every now and then?
The roadies and crew were mopping the stage and then somebody from the band got on a mic and thanked us all for sticking it out in the shitty weather, promising they would play if they could and telling us how much they wanted to play. Twenty minutes passed. The rain slowed to a trickle, then stopped altogether.
The booming bass and ‘unsk unsk unsk’ of DeadMau5 over on the Bud Light stage cued the waiting audience that the rave had begun on the right side of the park. As we held our collective breath, Cold War Kids finally came out on stage.
Every single person in the field cheered. I exhaled, blocked out the dampness and got excited. “We’re the Foo Fighters, and we’re glad you’re here!” lead singer Nathan Willet said as they picked up their instruments. A four-piece band of guys from California, Cold War Kids combine relevant, referential lyricism, at-times dissonant guitars and piano, and portentous bass lines to create furiously energetic, clever, catchy sound. The band played with tempos and chords like toddlers with Legos, building up, reaching far and usually landing right on target. THe group's song “Hang Me Up To Dry” was too-perfect for the drenched, mud-splattered occasion and I simultaneously LOL’d and sang along with everyone else.
For all of my uber-fandom, the moisture and fear of pneumonia/infection/head cold got to me, so I dipped out on the Cold War Kids a little early. Regardless, I came, I saw, I conquered.
I wistfully left Grant Park for the last time that weekend with my feet caked in mud, wet shirt in a bag, poncho in hand and lots of memories.
I cannot wait to do it again next year!