As was evident from the delay on my usual 2-hours-after-seeing-the-movie review, I have been busy these past few days. With what you ask? Lollapalooza. To keep the typical comments about this festival to a minimum, Lollapalooza was by far the best 3 days I have had in a long time, and was jam packed with some of the best live shows I have ever seen. I figured I'd just review the bands that were worth talking about in a quick paragraph or two so that you all know who to buy tickets to see if they come to your town!
Since I heard one of Bon Iver's songs featured on one of my favorite TV shows, Chuck, I have been hooked on everything they have released. Bon Iver has a beautiful wintery aesthetic that is undoubtly the product of the fact that the brains of the outfit, Justin Vernon, wrote most of the songs he has released while spending a winter in a cabin in the northern portion of Wisconsin. For my copious amount of foreign readers unfamiliar with Wisconsin, shit's cold.
While his recorded works are serene and quiet, with layered vocals and little more than just an acoustic guitar, Bon Iver live is an entirely different experience. Playing with 3 musicians backing him, Vernon's voice doesn't sing alone, but still manages to be a haunting presence floating over the crowd. However, playing as a part of a quartet, Vernon finds himself with an electric guitar, drum set, and other fun instruments, and the group makes great use of them, turning already fantastic songs like Blood Bank from relaxed ballads into a showcase of thumping bass and potent guitar skill, creating a situation where Bon Iver the recording artist and Bon Iver the performers could quite honestly be classified as two different, albeit utterly intwined, groups.
Also Skinny Love is as mesmerizing live as anyone could ever imagine. Blew my mind.
There's not a whole lot to say about Ben Folds that the world doesn't already know, he's a fantastic musician, and it really shows in his live performances. I'd dare to say that, unless Sufjan Stevens is AWESOME, Ben Folds is the best pianist out there right now.
As for his Lolla performance, I regrettably was pretty far back in the crowd because Bon Iver ran right into the beginning of his show, so the people around me probably didn't even know who they were going to see. That was unfortunate merely because half the fun of a concert is being surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. However, Ben Folds tore up the show live, improvising piano solos left and right, and more or less playing a laundry list of hits and lesser known great songs. The intense rain that day seemed to keep him from taking part in any of the on-stage antics he's known for, but it didn't matter too much seeing as he still managed to turn the crowd into a horn section at the end of Army, and that made me ridiculously happy. The whole show just made me wish that I could go to a full Ben Folds concert because 45 minutes is far too little time for a musician with Ben Folds' body of work. If you have the chance to see Ben Folds, see him. Don't think twice.
Andrew Bird may very well be the best live musician I have ever seen in my life. Bird, being an accomplished violinist, guitarist, singer, and whistler, is in no way short on talent, but live, he mixes it up a bit. Using a recording device, Bird records himself playing various parts of songs, and loops them, to give the unique experience of a one man band. Except for the fact that he also has a band. Andrew Bird doesn't dissapoint live, giving the crowd constant entertainment with his improvised whistle solos, and violin interludes between songs. Bird also sells it with a sense of utter gratitude to the crowd. As a Chicago native, when Bird said, "Home town shows always scare me, it's because I care about you guys!" and it wasn't hard to believe that he meant it, as on stage Bird's presence is extremely focused, almost compulsive, as he seems to be so consumed by the music he plays. Andrew Bird never failed for a minute to keep me utterly captivated by each song he played, and even suceeded in making me enjoy songs of his that previously hadn't been high on my list of favorites. If given the chance to see him, Andrew Bird is not an act to miss. Having seen him twice, I am utterly and entirely hooked, and every time I youtube the videos from his shows, I just start counting the days until I can hear Fake Palindromes live again.
When recorded, I'm a pretty big fan of Animal Collective. As Merriweather Post Pavillion proved, they still know how to make a great album. However, that being said, when performing live, Animal Collective is boring and terrible. Allow me to elaborate.
Animal Collective started their set with a very slow build to an as of yet unreleased song, which was fine. It isn't abnormal to start a set with some built up suspense, Andrew Bird does it all the time. However, between songs, it seemed as though the slow build was getting beaten to death as it was used as an interlude almost every time. However, it could hardly be called an interlude when the "songs" that it introduced were little more than mixes and hybrid of various parts of other Animal Collective songs, none of which were coherent enough to truly be enjoyed. To my recollection, really only one song was played in its entirety (Brother Sport), and it wasn't even the song that would've been perfect for the occassion (Summertime Clothes, the weather was ridiculously hot.) Now, while I can't expect the band to adhere to my personal ideal set list, I think it isn't too much to ask to hear a song or two. If Animal Collective comes to your town, save yourself some money, buy a sandwich or something fun.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Now, when I heard that Beastie Boys frontman Adam Yauch was (POOR TASTE BEASTIE BOYS/SICKNESS JOKE ALERT) too ill to perform, I was extremely dissappointed, especially considering I was never a huge Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan. I knew the same hit song everyone else did. However, Yeah Yeah Yeahs knew how to put on a fun show, and had a really fun stage presence. They had the energy and enthusiasm of an up and coming band playing on one of the festival's tiniest stages, clearly playing their biggest show ever, and loving every minute of it. Karen O's shrill but beautiful voice filled Grant Park with some sweet tunes, and an acoustic version of Maps, despite some botched lyrics, proved a wonderful way to calm down after a very tiring day.
Well, where do I begin here? The Killers wrote the songs that soundtracked my teen years, and despite not being a fan of their more recent work, I was excited to see them. However, I had no idea that the show put on would be so incredible.
The Killers know what it takes to write an amazing set list, starting with some lesser hit songs like "Human" and "Somebody Told Me" to get me hooked into the show, and utterly willing to dance along to songs I don't know the words to, and ending with their greatest hit songs, "Mr. Brightside," "All These Things That I've Done," and "When You Were Young." All in a row. As the crowd crooned along with the ending of "All These Things That I've Done," everyone in the audience knew that they were bearing witness to something amazing, as the singing of the crowd drowned out all other sound, and all that could be seen were the flashing lights and smoke of the brilliantly bright stage in front of us. At the finish of their closing song, "When You Were Young," I couldn't help but think that there was no better show that could've closed out my Lollapalooza experience. As one of the most popular rock bands in the world, The Killers are a must see if you ever get the chance, because their songs will be the ones our kids call classic rock.
So that's Lollapalooza 2009 in a nutshell! I've got other stuff from it to discuss, but I've already given you two posts in one night, so I'll let you folks catch up, but stay tuned!
Other Bands worth checking out that I didn't review for one reason or another:
Blind Pilot (Only Caught their last 2 songs)
Arctic Monkeys (Only Caught 3 of their Songs, then free sunglasses were calling my name.)
I MET ANDREW BIRD. THAT SHITS A 10 ON THE AWESOMETER. NO COMPARISONS BECAUSE THAT SHIT'S IMPOSSIBLE. ITS THAT GOOD.