Well THAT was an interesting way to end a weekend. Sunday at Lollapalooza was thrown into an interesting gear thanks to a couple rounds of severe weather that turned Grant Park into something that more closely resembles a lake than a field. The music continued with only minor delays, and when everything was said and done nobody walked away from the weekend without at least a smattering of mud on them. It was a wild time, and had its moments of triumph in spite of the harsh conditions. Allow me to briefly recap the 3rd and final day of Lollapalooza 2011.
My day started off a slight bit later than the first two days, thanks to Sunday brunch and general fatigue. Everyone was looking a little worse for the wear on Day 3, but that’s perfectly normal for a festival of this sort. A couple hours before the gates opened, a heavy downpour came through and created a number of large puddles around the park, and grounds crews did their best to throw some quick dry down to help harden up the ground. Still, things were a bit sketchy during Gold Motel‘s set. The good news was their set was at the Playstation stage (aka the Petrillo bandshell), which is the only paved/permanent stage in the entire park. I arrived just in time to catch their last few songs, all of which were pretty good. I’ve seen Gold Motel once before and they impressed me – this time was basically an extension of that. I’ve got no complaints, except to say maybe the crowd was too small. 12:30pm on a Sunday isn’t exactly a big crowd kind of time though, if you know what I mean.
While part of me had the itch to go see Titus Andronicus in their early afternoon set, I wanted to broaden my horizons a little more and see a band I had never seen live before. The Joy Formidable filled that gap in nicely, and was most convenient for me stage-wise as well. The band’s debut full length “The Big Roar” is filled with excitable and boisterous tracks that often have squalls of white noise in them. That also makes for a pretty good description of their live show, good energy with a heavy dose of loud. While most of the set was solid if not slightly above average, they moved into an amazing category courtesy of their latest single “Whirring” that wrapped it all up. They took an extended outro to the song and destroyed much of the stage using their guitars, which included beating both a gong and a bass drum into submission. If you’ve never seen a person smash a guitar into a gong before, I’d advise you to find a way to catch it – it’s very thrilling.
Rival Schools came on right after The Joy Formidable, and the post-punk/alt rock guys brought a legacy with them. They played with energy and attempted to be engaging with the relatively meager crowd, but ultimately it seemed to be a futile effort. Their stage presence and technical prowess weren’t lacking, but I think their main fault was with their actual songs. For being around for so long, there’s a reason why they aren’t bigger. There’s clearly some who relate to and enjoy their music, but I think I can say that I’m not one of them. Sometimes an overpowering live show can make bad music bearable, but unfortunately I don’t think that was the case here.
With about 10 minutes to go before their set started, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were carefully soundchecking. And soundchecking. And soundchecking. When it came time for their set to officially start, they left the stage for a minute and then came back…and soundchecked again. It took a few more minutes, but eventually they got to a point where everything sounded the way it was supposed to. Or at least sounded manageable to them. To me the first half of their set came across as weak – not that the material or the stage presence was bad, but rather like we were listening to a set being broadcast in mono instead of stereo. It lacked a certain strength. When they got around to “Come Saturday” though, the guitars suddenly sounded beefed up and powerful, remaining so for the rest of the set. Call it a worthy recovery that hopefully won the band a lot of new fans.
If you’ve ever heard a single song from Flogging Molly before, then you likely know what you’re getting into going to see them live. It is always a party, filled with energy and a certain rowdiness. Grab a pint of Guinness, slam it down, and then bounce around with some strangers. The crowd was big, and so were the mosh pits, and if you were in the vicinity you easily could have wound up covered in beer. That’s just the reality of the Flogging Molly live show. I’ve never had a bad time seeing them live, and hopefully you haven’t either.
At the end of Flogging Molly’s last song, somebody pointed out to me that there were some very dark and threatening storm clouds moving over the park. The sun suddenly vanished and things started to look dangerous. Cage the Elephant took the stage and began to plow through their set with remarkable energy that also included frontman Matthew Shultz jumping into the crowd almost immediately. They ran through a number of their radio hits before the sky finally opened up and a massive torrential downpour struck hard. Most were unprepared for such a storm, having only the clothes on their backs and nothing in the way of ponchos or umbrellas. The trees and a scattering of tents became the only form of shelter for 90,000 people, and it was NOT a good situation. I brought an umbrella but still couldn’t bear to continue standing out in the open as the bottom half of my body was getting soaked because the rain was so heavy and a light wind was pushing it more sideways. So I wound up spending a good 30-45 minutes under tree cover, and in the very far distance I could hear bits of Best Coast performing. I wish I would have made it over to have seen their performance. That was the plan before the weather hit.
As the storms eventually subsided, I made my way across the park to catch what was left of the set by Arctic Monkeys. Turns out, they hadn’t even started, the organizers putting up a “Weather Delay” sign on the video screen while we waited for the rain to fully stop. A few minutes later it did, and the band came out to thunderous applause. Their set was shortened by about 15 minutes, but they made the absolute most out of the time they were given. Having seen Arctic Monkeys a couple times before, I’ve always been rather unimpressed with their live show. It was an energy issue mostly, with problems also stemming from appearing to play every song exactly how it sounds on record. This time there was a vibrancy I’d never seen before, and the songs cracked like bolts of lightning in the post-rainstorm environment. Perhaps it was simply the joy of the rain having stopped that brought everyone’s spirits up, or maybe that was just me. Or maybe Arctic Monkeys have gotten markedly better live since I last saw them 2 years back.
My intention was to see most of the pre-Foo Fighters set from Explosions in the Sky, but thanks to the explosions of rain from the sky a short while earlier, much of the park was underwater. As a result, moving around became exceedingly difficult, as did navigating the area directly surrounding the stages. The goal was to either give up and just allow yourself to get covered in mud, or choose your steps carefully and try to stay as dry as possible. I went with the latter, which meant skipping EITS to seek the drier land of pavement known as Columbus Ave. for some dinner. Sorry boys, what I heard of your set from across the field was a delight.
Last but certainly not least, Foo Fighters had a 2 hour musical extravaganza to close out the festival. They started, quite naturally, with “Bridges Burning”, the first track off their new (and great) record “Wasting Light”. It was around that time I noticed those super threatening storm clouds had shown up again, looking more menacing than ever. A good gauge to determine how bad a weather system will be is to stare at the Willis Tower and see if the top of it is visible. Not only was the top half of the Willis invisible, but a whole bunch of other buildings close to it were completely gone. Low hanging clouds mean rain, and boy did it rain. In spite of the extreme downpour, nobody blinked. The crowd didn’t move. They danced in the rain. The Foo Fighters rocked harder than ever. The entire band was covered in water from head to toe, completely slaying “My Hero” while everyone sang at the top of their lungs. Mud was everywhere. Puddles and flooding was everywhere. Nobody cared anymore. It was nature throwing all it had at us, and we held our heads up high and threw it right back. 20 minutes later, the clouds had moved past and the skies had cleared once again, but there was still a rock show going on. It went on for another 90 minutes, in which Foo Fighters played hit after hit after hit and the crowd just ate it all up. It was, in a word, awesome. In the case of man vs. nature, man won. I can think of no better way to close out the 3-day weekend.