If you call Lollapalooza ’08 the best music under the sun, you mean it quite literally: this year’s Chicago-area festival rocked and rolled through three days of over 90 degrees in scenic Grant Park. And with a lineup boasting area faves like Wilco and Kanye alongside modern-day legends like Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine, some are calling it Lolla’s best year ever. I was there to test that claim — and I start today with coverage of Friday, the weekend’s hottest day by far.
The Go! Team
2:15-3:15pm, Bud Light Stage
“I wanna teach you some lyrics, but they’re in Japanese,” said Go! Team vocalist Ninja near the end of her band’s rousing, Red-Bull-in-a-china-shop Friday set. “Do it, do it, alright!” she proceded. The crowd, myself included, mimicked the line until the song’s delayed intro — when Ninja conceded: “Alright, it’s not really Japanese.” But no one stopped singing. Try as it might, even a scene like this can’t capture the full energy, comedy and overall absurdity of The Go! Team’s show; needless to say, the band earned its titular exclamation point. Crowd favorites like “Ladyflash” and “The Power Is On” were hard and hook-filled, while newer stuff like “Grip Like A Vice” proved that the band doesn’t play anything you can’t party to. Ultimately, the engaging mix of live instrumentation and recorded layers of horns made hundreds of instant fans while keeping the old ones as well.
3:15-4:15pm, PS3 Stage
Knowing she’s as close as Lollapalooza gets to a sex symbol, Duffy strolled out for her 3:15 show in a red-and-white collared, short blue dress: a safe choice because it’s meant for the UK but translates in America. Her set focused around her ’08 debut Rockferry, a disc purchased primarily by music fans who also wear white collars. And while that’s a great demographic for CD sales, it’s also one that stays far, far away from festivals like Lollapalooza — so Duffy played only twenty minutes of recognizable music, namely her word-of-mouth smash “Mercy” and a one-off Stones cover. Lesser known were album tracks like “Serious” and “Hanging On Too Long,” which proved much more forgettable than the sixties-era classics they’re derived from. Even more forgettable? Duffy’s nonexistent personality, buffered only by nagging complaints about the weather; those just left the songstress hot, but in the wrong way.
The Black Keys
4:15-5:15pm, Bud Light Stage
It’s quite amazing how loud the Black Keys were for a blues band; more amazing was that their sound eminated from two players. First there’s Dan Auerbach, resident riffer and vocalist, who managed to play guitar solos atop chord progressions without difficulty. Then there’s Pat Carney, a skinsman for the ages, who looked so grungy and nomadic that he must be insured with Geico. (He grinned just once during the set after an extended “The Breaks”; the smile was well-earned.) Together, they rocked through well-synched takes on song after song from their extensive back catalogue — carefully avoiding the majority of this year’s Attack & Release, largely due to the complexity of Danger Mouse’s layered production on that album. But “Strange Times” and “I Got Mine,” both from Attack, were phenomenal. So too were “Your Touch,” “10 A.M. Automatic” and “Stack Shot Billy” — though I can’t help but wonder just how much crowd applause was earned by the Keys and how much was for the setting sun.
5:15-6:15pm, PS3 Stage
Much like Cat Power’s Chan Marshall drifts in and out of reality, I drifted in and out of her set on late Friday afternoon. In retrospect, doing so was one of my bigger mistakes: neither food, water nor bathroom should have kept me from her band’s spot-on impersonation of Big Brother & the Holding Company. Truth be told, though, I wouldn’t have recognized Marshall without a Lollapalooza brochure; my one belated remark during her set was that it sounded “much too happy to be Cat Power.” Indeed it was: Chan played a covers set with the Dirty Delta Blues band, meaning her sound was much less singer-songwriter than normal. I guess if you’re in Chicago, you might as well play the blues.
6:15-7:45pm, Bud Light Stage
As soon as the Raconteurs opened their set with a rollicking “Consolers of the Lonely,” Jack White made clear the difference between a good and a great lyricist: the former writes lines, the latter writes stories. In an hour and a half, he rolled through multiple narratives with his three-piece Nashville ensemble — who played so loud that I had to relocate to avoid an echo effect near the first row of speakers. Highlights included the snarling “Top Yourself” and the cautionary “Many Shades of Black,” both from new disc Consolers of the Lonely, and classics like “Steady, As She Goes” held up well over time. White’s classic spirit was on full display during the show: his in-concert call-and-response sections, full-on band breaks and stage antics seemed culled from rock ‘n roll gamesmen of the past, and his blue-ribbon riff during a guitar duel with co-lead-singer Brendan Benson evoked Eddie Van Halen. (Benson, on the other hand, won the night’s vocal battle, as his rich, paternal tones proved pitch-perfect in the wake of Jack’s screeches.) The Raconteur’s defining moment, however, was neither White’s nor Benson’s. Instead, the band’s extended take on Dave Van Ronk’s “Keep It Clean” was the dirtiest, funkiest seven minutes of the day — with White and Benson’s synchronizing shredding a testament to their well-trained collective ear. Behind every great storyteller, evidently, lies an even greater listener.
8:00-10:00pm, AT&T Stage
From afar, Radiohead’s Friday night lights might have seemed a bit perfunctory. The band stopped on a dime at ten o’clock, avoided any brand new or tired material (“Creep,” as per usual) and managed a few rarities (“Dollars and Cents,” “The Gloaming”) before calling it quits. But the airtight set was much, much more than that: it was an exercise in perfect timing from a band whose professionalism is starting to match its creativity. After opener “15 Step” — also the first track from new disc In Rainbows, which was played in full during the show — the band eventually got to “Nude,” and the lyric “Don’t get any big ideas/They’re not gonna happen” took on a new meaning for meandering fans trying to push forward in a crowd of nearly 100,000. Then came an unplanned, half-hour bout of Lake Michigan fireworks in the midst of a bass-heavy “Everything in its Right Place,” and for that moment everything kinda was. Other moments were similarly cosmic: the barrage of beach balls during an oddly exuberant “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”; the shimmering, rhythmic lights changing tempos with a pitch-perfect “Paranoid Android”; even a collision of lights and fire through the singalong chorus of “Fake Plastic Trees.” So minor setlist complaints aside (no “Karma Police,” no “You and Whose Army?”), Radiohead countered Lollapalooza’s hottest day with its coolest night.