Chicago – Festivals are a bit like running a marathon for me – a marathon that involves damaged hearing and drinking beer. What I’m getting at here is that I like to catch as much music as possible. So there I was, on the second day of the festival, bright and early at 11:15 am. I caught a band called MyNameIsJohnMichael, who I knew nothing about, but who apparently have a song featured on Gossip Girl. They’re from New Orleans and they have a pretty good sound. The band started when John Michael Rouchell decided he was going to write a song a week for a year, so I guess they’ve got a few songs in the can already for their second album. After playing a slower song near the end of their set, Rouchell thanked the crowd for not taking off as often might happen if a band is too mellow during a festival set. “Actually, they have nowhere else to go” said one of his bandmates in reference to their very early time slot.
Next up were The Morning Benders, who impressed me with their early afternoon slot. As I watched them, I thought, “Ricky was right, these guys do look really young.” They closed out their set with “Excuses,” urging the crowd to sing along even though it was pretty early. Of course, festival crowds are a lot more susceptible to singalongs than regular crowds so they complied.
Next was a band who was on my list of must sees, having missed them twice during NXNE – The Soft Pack. The San Diego band delivered a set of tight, poppy, garage rocky tunes that livened up the early afternoon and was probably the highlight of the day for me. Singer Matt Lamkin has a voice that’s at times reminiscent of both Julian Casablancas and hot Snakes/Obits singer Rick Froberg. As Lamkin introduced their last song, a new one, drummer Brian Hill interrupted – “A new song, you never know what you’re gonna get.” “It’s side A of Rubber Soul – in two minutes” replied Lamkin. “It’s all blastbeats,” said Hill. “I used to play in Carcass … just kidding, it was Deicide.” I’d like to see these guys again in a smaller club setting.
It was during the first half of Grizzly Bear’s set that I learned an important lesson – Lollapalooza is not my living room. While Grizzly Bear sounded good, their performance seemed a little bit too laid back for my tastes, especially after checking out The xx’s similarly laid back (and ridiculously packed) set. While Grizzly Bear may sound just fine at home, they left me a bit cold – I just wasn’t in the mood for it, and besides, I knew there was zero chance that Michael McDonald would join them for “While You Wait For The Others.” So instead, I checked out AFI, a band I have not listened to much over the years and whose post-hardcore screamo-ish alt rock is certainly not something I would listen to these days (though I will admit I kind of liked their 2003 album Sing The Sorrow). This counterintuitive move paid off as they were just the jolt I needed to wake me up from Grizzly Bear hibernation.
After a little bit of Metric and a little bit of Spoon (I only saw one song, but it was “Got Nuffin’,” which is one of my faves from their new album), I figured I had to check out Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a band that’s been getting a lot of positive buz these days. A lot of other people had the same idea too, as it was so packed at the smaller Sony Bloggie stage that people were climbing into trees just to get a better view of the band. Even though I was way in the back, I saw enough to know that the buzz is well deserved.
As the time approached for Green Day’s headlining set, it was a choice between a guy in a bunny costume dancing to YMCA and The Ramones warming up the stage for them or Slightly Stoopid on the adidas MEGA stage. Truth be told, I had to watch the guy in the bunny costume for a bit, but i checked out Slightly Stoopid as well, and well … they weren’t as stupid as I thought they’d be. In fact, their reggae rock sound was kind of fun in a way. They ended their set with a Nirvana cover, which brings me to a recurring theme for the weekend – cover songs. These ranged from quite good (The Big Pink doing Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine”) to acceptable (the aforementioned Nirvana cover) to perplexing (Blues Traveler doing Sublime’s “What I Got” – not that I minded hearing it, but it seemd kind of like “Hey, we had a couple hits in the mid ’90s and here’s another song that was a hit back then.”) to kind of annoying (Green Day peppering their set wih little snippets of classic rock songs … still, it was kind of cool to hear the crowd sing along with “Sweet Child O’ Mine”)
Green Day definitely knows how to work a big crowd – they’ve got the big rock moves down. I never really gave their last couple albums that much of a listen and really only wanted to hear them play their early ’90s stuff (and after I’d heard enough hits I did go over to check out the end of Phoenix’s set in time to hear a few songs including “1901,” which made me happy), but I’ve got to admit that those newer songs work really well in a big venue – there’s a reason American Idiot got turned into a piece of musical theatre. They even followed Lady Gaga’s lead and had a fireworks display as part of their show. In terms of theatricality though, perhaps the most visually interesting band of the weekend was Empire of the Sun, who played opposite Green Day and Phoenix. With crazy images projected onstage, dancers and elaborate costumes, they certainly put on a great show. Speaking of musical theatre, why weren’t the cast of Glee invited to play Lolla this year? I’m sure that shit would have gone over huge.