Lollapalooza 2011

Traditionally, china is the gift of choice for a 20th anniversary. But considering that Lollapalooza debuted in 1991 with a lineup that featured Jane's Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, and Ice-T, the only thing Perry Farrell & Co. should've been doing with china for the music fest's big 2-0 is breaking it over unsuspecting festivalgoers' heads. Some fans felt just this way when they realized that there was no Daft Punk, Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Biggie (you snicker, I heard rumors) on the roster. Though some dubbed this year's lineup the worst in Lollapalooza history, Perry Farrell knew what he was doing and shut the haters up with three days packed with solid sets -- and even a few mind-blowing ones.

Don't believe me? Read on.


>> SLIDESHOW: Lollapalooza 2011 <<

The Vaccines

The first act on my itinerary was probably my second in line as far as "Acts I Would Rather Die Before Missing." On yonder Isle of Britain, word has been getting around about these boys that go by the name of the Vaccines. They are currently being hailed as Britain's next great guitar band. I'd say they're on the right track, but with only one full-length under their belts, they still have a lot to prove.

This didn't stop them from coming out with a "we got this" attitude and a sufficient amount of swagger. Lead singer Justin Young sported his own band's T-shirt on stage, which was complemented by a candy-apple-red ‘50s letterman jacket with his first name blazing across the back. Ego: check. The group launched into their feisty up-tempo garage rock with fan favorites such as "Norgaard," the melodramatic "Post Break Up Sex" and "If You Wanna" which got the audience's hips swiveling and the hands clapping. At one point, Young paused to establish his discontent with his band's set time and staging. "Thanks for waking up, that was a great idea," he said, gesturing to the Sony stage across the field that was providing minimal distraction.

While Young did cop a bit of an attitude and wore a permanent sneer (I think that's just how he sings), the talent was obviously there in the punchy melodies and energetic performance.

Verdict: 7/10

The Naked and Famous

I was unable to attend the WFNX Clambake a couple months ago because I am 20 ½ years old, so I decided to check out one of the bands I missed, The Naked and Famous. Ask any true movie geek about New Zealand and odds are they'll say something about "Lord of the Rings" being filmed there. And before that, the only thing they were known for was ... wool. But these kids are here to set the record straight: New Zealand is awesome, they have electricity and Mordor doesn't really exist.

A modest, yet sizeable, gathering formed around the Sony stage in preparation of their set and I just made it over from The Vaccines in time to catch them open with "All of This." The collective's electro-tinged rock was friendly on the ears and provoked toe-tapping and head-nodding. Some of the more die-hard fans could be seen with their hands raised, saluting the band while they hung on their every word. Front duo Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith were the main attractions for the most part while the other members were hovered over their instruments while they proceeded to rock out.

Xayalith's vocals were a little pitchy at times and unlike their album, the sound didn't seem as expansive. I understand that an album cannot translate perfectly to a live production, but some crucial elements were just completely left out. Seeing them at an indoor venue may help fix this when the sound can resonate off the walls. The power in the sound was diminished greatly by the time it reached me. Overall, it was an average set by a promising young band that's in the process of making a splash.

Verdict: 5/10

Foster the People

Keeping with my Clambake Redemption theme, I stuck around at Sony for Foster the People. I managed to weasel my way up to just in front of the sound booth, which proved to be a smart move because the spectators came in droves. People have obviously gotten the memo about these guys. With their ridiculously catchy single "Pumped Up Kicks," (resisting the urge to whistle along is about as torturous as water-boarding) all the kids were flocking to Sony to get their dance on. I tried to stand on my toes to see where the people ended, and alas, I could not.

The trio and their backing instrumentalists obviously weren't expecting such a turnout as they emerged with wide eyes and grins from ear to ear. Lead singer Mark Foster acknowledged that this was the biggest crowd they'd ever played to and was answered by rousing applause and chants from the laxbros camped out next to me.

Unlike most bands that have one hit single, Foster the People have made enough of an impact for people to actually get their hands on the whole album. Those congregated sang along to each song with unbounded enthusiasm while dancing their asses off in the unrelenting heat. By the third song, Foster's dress shirt was completely saturated with sweat, but he showed no signs of stopping as he gave motivational speeches in between numbers. Every now and then he'd break out the sticks and bang away on a free-standing drum at his side while the sweat poured from his forehead.

But one of his most impressive feats may have been his soaring falsetto in "I Would Do Anything For You." After listening to the album, one may not expect him to be able to hit such a note, but he certainly shocked me with that range. The guy can sing. I've also got to give a shout out to their tasteful rendition of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold."

It's always nice to see a band that just enjoys performing and there's no doubt that these boys live for just that. When their intensity is matched by those in the crowd, something magical happens, and their set was one of the most memorable of the festival.

Verdict: 8.5/10

The Kills

I am a huge fan of The Kills and I have the biggest crush on Alison Mosshart. That wiley temptress has me wrapped around her finger. I honestly thought I could skip their set and see White Lies, but no, she pulled me in again. Apparently I was not the only one. A massive crowd descended on the Bud Light stage to see the gloom and doom duo strut their stuff under the setting sun.

The Kills are a joy to watch perform because their chemistry is so solid. My friend actually asked me if they were "lovers." Unfortunately, this is not true. Guitar player Jamie Hince just married model Kate Moss a few weeks ago. But I swear Alison is luring him into infidelity on stage. She cunningly taunts him with each step she takes across the stage towards him and it turns out to be one musical game of cat and mouse.

The Kills have reached a point in their career where their setlist is relatively predictable. The pair sampled a few songs from their previous three albums such as crowd-pleasers "No Wow," "Sour Cherry" and "The Tape Song." The remainder featured cuts from their phenomenal LP "Blood Pressures."

Mosshart spent her time on stage prowling around and glaring at her spectators. Her hair is always in motion as she whips it around and mangles it with her hands that seem more like claws when in performance mode. She climbs onto speakers to get a better look at her audience as if she's sizing them up for a nasty kill. Her mic stand functions like some demented stripper pole as she twirls away. Meanwhile, Hince displays the typified image of cool when he hides behind his shades, watching his partner go to work. Eventually the heat becomes too much and Mosshart grabs a sopping towel from a bin to cool herself down while crawling around on all fours.

In a nutshell, that's a typical Kills show. You're not sure whether to be entertained or disturbed. Either way, the audience is always in for a treat. So if you ever want to see what an exorcism looks like, check them out.

Verdict: 7/10


And then we come to the headliner for the evening. We had a choice between Coldplay and Muse. I've never seen Coldplay and I've seen Muse twice, but there's a reason why they were named Best Act in the World Today at the Q Awards. So sorry, Chris Martin, but I had to go with Matt Bellamy and some good new-fashioned space rock.

Everything with Muse is about showmanship and being gratuitously over the top, and that's why their live shows are absolutely insane. Laser beams, fireworks and floating ballooned eyeballs? You betcha.

The trio emerged and kicked of the party with their political unrest anthem, "Uprising." This is the one that Glenn Beck so aptly dubbed "propaganda." But to the thousands of Muse devotees standing at the Music Unlimited Stage, it's just a way to say, "hey, we're sick of this shit."

The first third of the set packed in the hits with "Hysteria," "Map of the Problematique" and "Supermassive Black Hole" which was made annoyingly popular by the "Twilight" series. However, the momentum stumbled towards the middle with songs like "Guiding Light," a seemingly never-ending version of  "Citizen Erased" (usually a badass cut). The inner part of the set also sported "United States of Eurasia" which is an all right song, but Freddie Mercury is rolling in his grave. I don't get why people compare Muse to Radiohead when they have songs like "USoE" that scream Queen.

The set eventually picked back up at the end with the crowd clapping along to "Starlight" before the band returned for an encore with a one-two punch of "Plug in Baby" and "Knights of Cydonia" to bring the night to a dramatic close as jets of steam shot up with the last remaining power chords.

Verdict: 8/10


>> SLIDESHOW: Lollapalooza 2011 <<


The second day of Lollapalooza started off mercifully with a little cloud cover following Friday's staggering heat. First up was Phantogram, a trip-hop duo-turned-trio when they added a live drummer late last year. Previously, lead singer/synth mastress (yes, I made that word up) Sara Barthel and guitarist Josh Carter performed using only a drum machine. But now they have some manpower in the form of the impressively bearded Tim Oakley. Don't worry; the drum machine is still there, and the combination between human and machine works perfectly.

Phantogram used a significant portion of their hour-long set to test out new songs that will be featured on their upcoming EP due out in September. New-comers "Make a Fist" and "Don't Cry" left a favorable impression on the crowd as they bobbed their heads to tricked out beat patterns. Barthel's airy vocals hovered over the tracks casting a dream-like aura on the spectators gazing up at her. Carter (also with a thick beard) rocked back and forth as he elaborated on Barthel's synthetic elements with driving rhythms on his guitar. The set really broke loose with "When I'm Small" as Barthel wailed into the mic, "I'd rather die, than to be with you."

There was one major turn off to the performance. The bass drowned so much out that it was hard to distinguish the different elements. This really hurt as Phantogram incorporates so much into each second of a track.

Verdict: 6/10

What's that?! Another band I couldn't see at the Clambake? Right you are! This time it's Massachusetts' own Dom. When I first bought the "Sun Bronzed Greek Gods" EP, I knew these guys were on to something. The hooks were brilliant and Dom's voice fits into the instrumentals perfectly. So I booked it over to the Google+ stage after Phantogram to get a good spot for my boys. And they did not disappoint.

I knew it was going to be good when Dom stepped onto the stage wearing green jeans while saying, "thank you, Octabazooka" (at least that's what it sounded like). He continued to garble song titles with introductions such as "Jesus, Hail Satan" (actually just "Jesus") and "Brochicha" (actually "Bochicha," an anthem for Dom's cat. Be sure to like him on Facebook).

Dom and Co. also took the opportunity to showcase new songs from the "Family of Love" EP that dropped on August 9th. I'm willing to bet that "Telephone" is the only song out there that utilizes a touch-tone phone as a musical instrument. And "Family of Love," may sound upbeat, but underneath it's actually heartbreaking. Dom provides a rare glimpse into his life as an orphan.

Another shout-out is necessary for their spot-on cover of The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry." It truly was one of the best ‘80s covers in a weekend full of them. Two things that bothered me: they stopped 15 minutes early and you could barely hear the synth. I wanted to hear that cool hook going into "Living in America" (my summer jam). It's basically a big "fuck you" to Green Day's "American Idiot." America. Fuck yeah.

Verdict: 8/10

Big Audio Dynamite

Coming off that excellent Cure cover, I was in the mood some more ‘80s! Let's be honest, I'll never turn down the ‘80s. And yes, the haters will hate. It was time to hit up Big Audio Dynamite, Mick Jones' recently reunited side-project. For the most part, Clash material is hit or miss with me, usually hit, but B.A.D is just quirky enough to reel me in. Also, the hair on Don Letts and Leo Williams is a draw in and of itself.

B.A.D.'s set came right from the back of a greatest hits jacket. All of the staples came through such as "Medicine Shop," "C'Mon Every Beatbox" and my personal favorite, "Sightsee M.C." The audience grooved along to the funk-tinted rock as they were hearkened back to the band's glory days. Jones cracked jokes in between songs and even forgot where the last place they played was. Turns out it was London, go figure.

Obviously I'm not old enough to know what B.A.D. was like in their hey-day, but from what I gathered, they still got it. The setlist was relatively short, mainly because of the prolonged variations on some of the songs. "Bottom Line" is a terrific song. But do we really need 13 repetitions of the refrain?

Verdict: 6/10

Cee Lo Green

I will admit it. "Crazy" was my song in the summer of 2006. If you were in the car with me, ears were being covered to stifle my off-key shrieking. But that's pretty much where my love affair with Cee Lo Green ends; I'm a Danger Mouse fan. Nothing could prepare me for the karaoke setlist that Mr. Green had lined up.

First of all, he came out wearing some spiked leather ensemble and was flanked by a harem of equally as frighteningly dressed women. Imagine the characters of "Star Wars" getting ready for an S&M extravaganza. I don't need to say who played Jabba the Hutt. "Bring me Solo and the Wookie!"

Here's a list of covers he labored through: Danzig's "Mother," The Violent Femmes' "Gone Daddy Gone," Billy Idol's "Flesh for Fantasy" and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin.'" Leave our Journey alone. This brings the ‘80s covers up to five for the weekend, a critical level for the freakiest of all ‘80s super freaks.

It was just funny to watch Lollapalooza act like this was some amazing acquisition for the lineup with his higher-than-deserved billing. Let's call it what it is, filler space before the act that everyone was waiting for, Eminem.

Cee Lo would frequently start songs only to have them sputter out, leaving the crowd wondering if this was purposeful or something was legitimately wrong. Something was wrong all right. Many people simply stood there waiting for the set to end so they could score a primo spot for His Shadiness.

Verdict: 2/10


I'm not a fan of rap. There are about three rappers I respect and genuinely enjoy listening to. And with two of them releasing a joint album recently that basically celebrates their lavish lifestyle and not much else, that list is dwindling down to Eminem. Even though his raps tend to be hate-filled rages, he at least draws inspiration from real shit that doesn't involve frozen pizza and rollin' on 24s.

Eminem was certainly the main draw for the evening, if not, the entire weekend. I saw the My Morning Jacket crowd for their opposing headlining slot. There was no one there. A sea of people turned up for Slim's performance and some of them had camped out at the Music Unlimited stage all day.

Em emerged from the stage amidst deafening screams and a projection screen that gave a quick back-story about how he had given up performing live until tonight (and Kanrocksas the night before). Accompanied by his hypeman Mr. Porter, he wasted no time in getting down to business. He shuffled across the stage while unleashing his furious flow on his eager minions below who tried to keep up with each passing line.

Shady had one of the most well-balanced sets of the weekend. His lineup included oldies hits "Stan," "The Real Slim Shady," "My Name Is" and "Without Me," as well as newer cuts such as his Rihanna duet "Love the Way You Lie" and the sequel to B.o.B.'s "Airplanes."

Of course it wouldn't be a rap show without some special guests. I was seriously waiting for Dr. Dre to pop out during "I Need a Doctor" which featured live vocals by fellow Lolla artist Skylar Grey. Alas, that did not happen. We did however get to see Bruno Mars take the stage for "Lighters," much to the delight of the squealing females in the audience.

One of the cornier moments came with Eminem threatening to "relapse" onstage as Mr. Porter begged the crowd to make him stop. Some cheered, some booed. Em grabbed a handle of vodka and took a nice, long swallow. Only to have it...come leaking out of his chest and stomach?! Witchcraft is afoot! Or it was just an orchestrated stage antic that just seemed a little weird and unnecessary.

At the end of it all, the performance can be judged as a smash success and one of the most talked about from the weekend. And I'm pretty sure the bylaws of hip-hop and rap require me to say he "killed it."

Verdict: 8/10


>> SLIDESHOW: Lollapalooza 2011 <<

The Joy Formidable

A few months ago, my friend turned me onto this band called The Joy Formidable and I fell in love with them. Just listening to their album clues you into what a shitshow their live performances must be. The LP relies on heavy guitar powerchords, an abundance of cymbal-action and the haunting vocals of lead singer Ritzy Bryan.

I showed up to their set just a little too late. When I saw the crowd at the Bud Light stage, I was shocked. I couldn't believe how many people were there. I'm certain there was more there than for the previous night's headliner, My Morning Jacket.

The trio was already in full-on shred mode when I showed up. Bass player Rhydian Dafydd was thrashing around while Bryan used the entire stage to cater to the vast audience. The group let up only once so Bryan could urge their fans to enjoy the weekend and "escape the shit of the day-to-day."

They closed out the set in the grandest of fashions with single "Whirring" which lasted for what seemed like ages. Just enough time for Bryan to smash her guitar against a standing gong a few times before ultimately throwing it down and exiting the stage with a shit-eating grin.

Verdict: 8/10

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

I'm quite certain it's impossible to hate the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. They're just a bunch of kids having fun and making some kickass music while doing so. If there was ever a "soft garage rock" genre, they would fit it. Their fuzzed out melodies ease into the ears and provide a carefree ambiance.

The people sure were excited to see them. The band worked through their soundcheck as yelps and cheers rose up from the pit. Lead singer Kip Berman and keeper of the keys Peggy Wang responded to their admirers with sheepish smiles and averted glances.

The group remained stationary during the majority of their set and let the music speak for itself. The tracks transitioned quite well from the albums to the stage. One of their catchiest numbers, "Heart in Your Heartbreak" got the crowd riled up as they clapped along and pumped their fists in the air during the song's down-and-out chorus. Berman's fragile vocals could have been a little stronger, but their frailty is one of the more attractive aspects to TPOBPAH's craft.
Their quirky synthetic lines mixed with Berman's powerful strumming when the sustain kicked in was a sure-fire hit.

Verdict: 7/10

The Cars

I feel as though I could never step onto a street in Boston again if I skipped The Cars. Luckily, no one remotely tempting was going up against them so I found myself back at the Music Unlimited stage along with a slew of veteran Cars fans and some fresher ones.

It's a good thing Ric Ocasek is a little past the point of having kids, because damn, those black jeans were tight. The lead singer stepped up to the mic and was showered with a hearty welcome from the band's fans before they kicked things off with "Let the Good Times Roll." This song was probably awesome early on in the band's career, but with lackluster vocals and very little movement on stage, it fell flat.

The band eventually got things going with a little help from the crowd during "My Best Friend's Girl." Forty-somethings and teenage laxbros all shouted along as they sang about their one-time fling hanging out with another dude.

One of the highlights was their electrified new single, "Sad Song," which is classic Cars with a tasty modern edge. The crowd responded positively and was even more psyched when it was followed by the lead-in to "Just What I Needed." Naturally, everyone had a little freakout. The group hit their stride here with the audience's full support. It was a solid rendition, but it was evident that the song, and not just the band, had aged quite a bit.

In the grand scheme of things, it felt exactly as I thought it would. It's a once-great band picking up the instruments, setting aside their differences and saying, "let's try this again." Regrettably, the set didn't bring us back to the glory days, but it left a favorable impression.

Verdict: 5/10

Cage the Elephant

I usually don't speak/write in "text," but OMFG. Cage the Elephant stole the mother-loving show at Lolla this year. These Bowling Green punks blew everyone out of the water (almost literally) with a rage-filled set that had the audience writhing in ecstasy. Maybe it was lead singer Matt Shultz crowd-surfing before the first song was halfway over. Maybe it was the thousands of people that the band clearly didn't expect. Or maybe it was the ass-load of rain that chose to make itself known after their second song. I'm going with D, all of the above.

Shultz politely requested that the crowd pass around his body for the rest of the day should he be knocked unconscious. Those present were only too happy to help with that. This seemed like a very real possibility as Shultz spent more time being hoisted above spectators' heads than on stage. When he was on his feet though, he flailed his way around the stage in the form of demonic fits.

Early in the set, the sky began turning black, thunder rolled in and the skies opened up to give us some of the craziest rain I've ever seen in my life. The pit immediately turned into a pool and it just seemed fitting to watch this band in the middle of an effing thunderstorm. I wasn't the only one that thought this. People lost their minds.

After performing the soft cut "Flow," Shultz said that this was a gig he'd remember for the rest of his life. I think we all felt the same, especially when single "Shake Me Down" came around. Every hand in the joint was raised as the people chanted, "even on a cloudy day, I'll keep my eyes fixed on the sun." It was a truly inspirational moment.

When all was said and done, Shultz had made his way to the center of the crowd and, with a glowing lightsaber in hand, stood on fans' shoulders. Cage the Elephant had conquered Lolla.

Verdict: 10/10

Foo Fighters

The epic nature of Lolla's final day did not end with Cage the Elephant. I was super excited to cross "see Dave Grohl live" off my bucket list. By now, the skies had cleared, we were wringing out our shirts and a magnificent double rainbow reached across Grant Park. The field was a mess. My shoes were saturated with mud, but this didn't really matter. I came to see a rock icon, as did the countless others who packed the Music Unlimited stage to close out the festival.

The group stormed onto the stage with a roar of approval from the Foo fans. It was especially loud when Grohl stepped out of the shadows with his blue guitar hanging at his waist. We were off.

The opening tracks were incredible: "Bridge Burning" and "Rope" off their latest LP followed by staples "The Pretender" and "My Hero." Mother Nature decided she wasn't quite finished and chose to douse the crowd with an even stronger thunderstorm. With the rain whipping, Grohl seemed like a lunatic as he led the crowd in a riotous version of "My Hero." There's nothing quite like thousands of people singing in hurricane-like weather as the band smiles down at them with appreciation.

Drummer Taylor Hawkins dedicated "Cold Day in the Sun" (or lack thereof) to Jane's Addiction singer and Lolla curator Perry Farrell for saving rock and roll for him. Hawkins pounded away at the drumheads while he sang and the rest of the band gradually joined in.

The set focused heavily on newer material, but the Foos managed to close out the night with "Best of You" and "Everlong." Grohl dragged Perry Farrell out onto the stage at the end of their set to thank him. "If it weren't for you, I swear to God we wouldn't fuckin' be here right now. And when I say we, I mean fuckin' we," he said, while gesturing to the crowd.

Verdict: 9/10

So. Worst lineup in Lollapalooza's history? I think not.

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