story by Jay Gentile, Don Bartlett & Chris Castaneda
photo of Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne by Jay Gentile
By all accounts and reasonable assessments of the experience, it’s hard to characterize Lollapalooza 2006 as anything short of a smashing success. While I was less than impressed with last year’s inaugural offering of the Chicago reincarnation of this historic alt-rock event, you got to hand it to the folks at Capitol Sports & Charles Attal who run the event: They know what the hell they’re doing. While the ticket prices were pretty steep and the crowds a bit much, you really couldn’t have asked for much more from a festival this size.
The bands were (for the most part) prompt and energetic, beer/bathroom lines were not an issue and the free booze in the backstage “Lolla Lounge” area was second to none. (While security was a bit overzealous for friends trying to sneak backstage to grab some of the free hooch, in the end they’re just doing their job, right?)
In addition to the significantly larger scope of this year’s 3-day event, there were two main differences versus Lollapalooza 2005: One, the crowds were much bigger, with promoters reporting an attendance of 60,000 people per DAY, which comes close to the combined turnout of 66,000 for last year’s 2-day soiree. Two, the weather was a hell of an improvement over last year’s oppressively disgusting heat. Looks like this year Pitchfork Fest got hit with the weekend of intolerable heat (the weekend before Lolla) while Perry Farrell’s party this time escaped unscathed. (Last year it was the other way around.)
With all indications that both festivals will return to Chicago next year, it’s all part of throwing an event in the midst of a Chicago summer. You just gotta roll with it I suppose. And now on to our annual recap of the madness…
The Flaming Lips: Hands down the best act of the festival, and an hour of my life that I will quite honestly never forget. Wayne Coyne opened up his bag of magic and sprinkled it on the crowd while gifting the masses with a dose of positive energy that was intense, infectious and — sadly — all too rare amongst today’s ultra-cool rockers. In addition to his trademark walk atop the crowd in a giant inflatable bubble, the Lips also treated us to dancing Santas, weird inflatable aliens and denunciations of the Bush Administration and Israel’s war in Lebanon. An all-sensory experience indeed…
Hot Chip: I surprised myself by making it to the park in time for their 2:15 Sunday set, and am damn glad I did. These guys are so good they even make dancing on a slab of pavement fun. If only more people joined me instead of standing there staring into space, we might have had a party on our hands.
Editors: “England’s Interpol” proved a lot more fun and energetic than expected, with the often-thought-to-be-suicidal Tom Smith smiling and having a hell of a time. So was I. Time will only tell if these guys stick around or if they prove to be this year’s Bravery.
eels: If eels come off a bit poppy on their records, their live show is, as the kids say, a rockin’ good time. Festooned in full bomber gear right down to the goggles, eels played a loud, upbeat set that had the crowd dutifully head-bobbing throughout.
The Raconteurs: It was enormously rewarding to see Jack White sans the nonsensical red/white marketing plan. Sharing vocal duties with Brendan Benson, White reminded everyone exactly what rock and roll means with a stripped-down, aggressive, blues-y sound that was larger than the sum of its parts. The band also made sure they weren’t one of the last three bands on earth not to cover Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”. Though their bio says otherwise, I’m nearly certain that the Raconteurs guitarist is actually Corey Feldman. No word from the band as to whether Corey Haim snagged a role as a roadie.
Secret Machines: From the darkened smoked-filled clubs, the New York trio proved that while blanketed by the sun they could still shine.
Sleater-Kinney: To Carrie, Corin, and Janet, I hardly knew thee, but I look forward to the inevitable solo albums and eventual reunion tour. We’ll always have New Year’s Eve 2004 at Madison Square Garden.
Broken Social Scene: Rumored to be their last show (as it turns out they will be playing another run of shows this fall), the crowd nearly started a riot while demanding an encore near the end of night three. The band was clearly ready to break the Lollapalooza “no-encore” policy, and things were so out of hand that the stage manager even radioed a higher-up and said “Uh, we have a problem here”. After some back and forth, a profoundly loud voice crackled back across the radio that “Perry Farrell is on in 90 seconds on the Red Hot Chili Peppers stage. There IS no encore.” That, as they say, was the ballgame.
Death Cab for Cutie: Overkill. Although a favorite from last year’s Lollapalooza, Death Cab for Cutie returned with the same show they’ve been playing for years. Enough already.
Ryan Adams: Adams used his set to cement his coronation as a tragic buffoon. In a move that is as sad as it is pathetic, Adams dedicated well over half his set to Grateful Dead cover songs. Uh…sweet. To see a guy with such undeniable talent squander it away on this nonsense is just a tragedy.
Assassins: One of my favorite local bands proved the biggest disappointment of the festival with a 20-minute late start followed by a weak set that had them sounding like every other band on the planet. Apparently the band suffered from their inability to erect their giant wall of amps and trademark video show. With their long-delayed album finally out, I’m hoping this was just a fluke.
Dresden Dolls: I just didn’t get what they were all about. Maybe it was the clown-like face paint or the sea of green-haired 16-year-olds in the crowd. The band was intense, but it sure as shit wasn’t my scene.
Caddyshack: Crossing from one end of the park to the other proved a monumental task this year due to the major expansion of the festival over last year. Oddly enough, the backstage area was staffed with kind souls in golf carts willing to cart me and other lazy asses to the other end of the park. Bonus fun: Heckling the poor saps hoofing it.
Let It Bleed: With seven different stages in one park, there’s bound to be some sound bleed between stages. And while the sound interference from the major stages was fairly nominal, the invasion from the side stages (most notably from Blackalicious during Sonic Youth) was enough to make me pack up the blanket and run for the hills.
CI Special Report #012