I don’t believe in omens. I’m not a crackpot, you guys.
But riding the red line down to Lollapalooza Saturday afternoon, I started to get a very bad feeling as dark thunderclouds rolled in from the west and my train filled up with shirtless drunk bros wearing Native American headdresses for some reason. I blasted my headphones to try to drown out their idiotic banter and tried not to think about the mud pit Grant Park would turn into after the storms blew through.
As it turns out, I’ll never find out just how muddy it got. People on the train started getting texts and calls from friends already at the fest telling them Lollapalooza was in the process of evacuating everybody in advance of the coming line of storms.
OK, after a quick mental recalibration, I figured I’d find a dive bar in the Loop to wait out the rain and the evacuation, then keep a close eye on Twitter to try to beat the bulk of the sure-to-be-gigantic line to get back into the park. No such luck.
The Loop was overrun with festival goers seeking shelter, and even the least inviting, most unknown of bars had lines around the block to get in. The area was enveloped in drunken, shirtless chaos. So I abandoned ship. I jumped on the El back north, figuring that by the time the storms passed and they let people back in, the only bands left I cared about seeing would be Bloc Party and Frank Ocean. And sorry, Bloc Party and Frank Ocean, but you’re not worth hours of waiting, a mountain of irritation, and mud-caked clothes.
Saturday at Lollapalooza was a total washout. I spent a lot of time standing under an El bridge, debating whether or not to run for a bar.
(Spoiler alert: I ran for a bar.)
But the aftershow. Oh, the aftershow. Any lingering disappointment from money wasted or a day poorly spent vanished at the Aragon Ballroom Saturday night.
Franz Ferdinand took the stage at about 11:00, and displayed the same precise, tight fealty to the beat they’ve always possessed. Their set leaned heavily on tracks from their first two albums — wisely so — and if the muddy sound mix at the Aragon hampered them a bit, Franz made up for it with enthusiasm and great songs.
Then, the main event: Jane’s Addiction, who are two decades past their prime and haven’t released any worthwhile new material in exactly that long. But I’d never seen them, they have a great reputation as a live act (even still), and 17-year-old The Dilemma couldn’t have been more excited.
As you might expect, Jane’s brought it.
Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro, both shirtless, had the bodies of 21-year-olds, and they leapt into their songs with energy like they were still indeed 21. The band was accompanied by a variety of backup dancers and performance artists, including scantily clad S&M dancers, a dude with some kind of animal claws, and someone who can really only be described as an abortion doctor. Jane’s is known for their spectacle, and they didn’t disappoint on that front.
The next day, one of the big screens at Lollapalooza showed footage of Jane’s playing the festival in 1991, and they looked absolutely no different than they did at the Aragon. Jane’s Addiction is no longer a relevant recording band (as proven by the crowd’s disinterested reaction whenever they tried to play anything from Strays or The Great Escape Artist), but on songs like “Stop,” “Mountain Song,” and “Ocean Size,” they showed they still have the charisma and chops to ignite an audience. And Perry Farrell showed why he’s one of the great frontmen in rock history.
Plus, when they played “Jane Says,” 17-year-old The Dilemma pretty much lost it.
OK, so back to Lollapalooza proper. The final day of a music festival is always the hardest. The crowds seem bigger, the lines seem longer, the sun feels hotter and your body is telling you to just give up the ghost and go home. But we march on!
Let’s just take this band by band:
Dum Dum Girls: 3:30 in the afternoon under a blazing sun is not an ideal setting for the Dum Dum Girls, but they sounded really good. Dee Dee thrashed around, trying to get the subdued crowd to dance, but that was probably a lost cause. In the afternoon, the Girls’ slow-burning, downtempo songs worked better than their quick, poppy girl-group homages.
Gaslight Anthem: The Anthem walked onto the stage to a Fugazi song, as if trying to establish their punk/hardcore bona fides even as their songs get poppier with each passing album. But once they started playing, Brian Fallon’s Springsteen fetish took centerstage. It gets a little overwhelming at times, as in the vocal breakdown on “Great Expectations,” but it generally serves Fallon well as there aren’t really any better rock role models out there. Gaslight Anthem went straight for the jugular, playing singles and well-loved songs off their three most recent anthems and holding nothing back. And Christ, can Fallon write a chorus. As with Childish Gambino later in the night, these guys should have been playing on a bigger stage both in terms of the crowd size and their ability.
At The Drive-In: I’m not that familiar with At the Drive-In, but after seeing them live, I probably should remedy that. If there’s a better way for a band I don’t know well to ingratiate themselves with me than coming onto the stage while blasting Danzig’s “Mother,” then starting to sing along to it, then proclaiming themselves “Latin Danzig” — well, I can’t imagine what it would be. Cedric Bixler-Zavala should be teaching PhD-level classes on both Stage Banter, and The Art of Microphone Stand Twirling. I wasn’t sold on the proggier side of ATDI, but their rave-ups (generally played toward the beginning and end of their set) were frenzied and fantastic.
The Big Pink: Nah.
Childish Gambino: It was a tough decision, I won’t lie: Jack White on the main stage or Childish Gambino on the small Google Play stage. If this were the White Stripes, it would have been no decision at all. But it wasn’t. It was White solo, which meant that — even though I’m sure he still puts on a killer show — we’d have to hear all the dull material from Blunderbuss. So we went to Gambino, and he rewarded us with possibly the best set of the weekend. Donald Glover is an electric performer, and he had the young crowd in the palm of his hand the entire time. Showing off his rapping and singing while bouncing around the stage like a rubber ball, Gambino and his live band gave a showstopping set perfect for revitalizing flagging energy and sending people home happy. Also, we spotted Alison Brie on the side of the stage.
Port-a-Potty Situaish: Surprisingly acceptable, given the three days of massive crowd usage.
Disturbing Festival Trend: Morons who bring flags and other tall pole-type things to hold up in a crowd so their friends can find them. Fuck off, people. Or at least hold your stupid-looking garbage down when the bands actually start playing, OK?
Best T-Shirt, Sunday: Let’s give this one to Bixler-Zavala, who sported a bright pink Sears Tower shirt that looked like he bought it at a Walgreen’s on Michigan Avenue for $3 before the show.
- A flabby, middle-aged gentleman wearing only a Speedo and flip-flops, with his phone tucked into his Speedo on one hip and a wad of cash tucked on the other.
- The Musky Canadian losing his patience trying to get through a crowd, as he just started shoving skinny teenagers, tossing them aside like rag dolls if they stood between him and his destination.
- This guy, who seems to have wandered into the wrong festival entirely.
The text under the picture says: “Nugent for President. Change it back.”
- “There’s too many fools here with their faggot-ass iPhones.” Why do you think my iPhone is gay, sir? Is it because I use it as an anal pleasuring device on other men? Because if so, fair enough. But if you only saw me texting me with it, that’s quite a leap to make.
- “Dude, just whip it out and piss on that sign with the schedule on it. Why not? What are you, a pussy?”