So at the moment I’m on very little sleep, it’s the middle of the night and I’ve just returned from an aftershow with The Walkmen. All of these factors mean I’m going to be extra quick with this recap of Lollapalooza Day 1. Try to keep up, and I’ll have more detail for you in my final writeup on the festival, tentatively set for Monday.
My day started with Wavves, and not only did Nathan Williams not freak out, but he was about 3x better than when I saw him last year at Pitchfork. Credit his new band of hilarious characters for keeping the set amazingly light and fun and mosh pit-tastic.
Oh The Walkmen. It’s early afternoon and they chose a handful of sleepier songs to play, in addition to the requisite hits of course. So “The Rat” and “In the New Year” come off exceptionally well, but everything else seems to have a little trouble inspiring the crowd. Blame the festival atmosphere more than anything, because having seen the band at an aftershow, they killed it under the guise of a small, dark club.
Mavis Staples is not only a Chicago legend, but a blues, soul and gospel music legend as well. Her new album, which was produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, is out next month, but they played new songs from it and Tweedy of course was on hand to help out for a couple. But Mavis is the one handling the spotlight, and she delivers an incredible performance that’s easily the best of the day and very much in the running for best of the festival. Among other things, she performed a cover of The Band’s “The Weight” that very much made it her own, to the point where a guy next to me asked if The Band version was a Mavis Staples cover.
As great as their album “A Brief History of Love” might be, The Big Pink chose to infuse their set with nuance and atmosphere rather than being loud and brash the entire time. Unfortunately, with the heat and the slower material, things started to stagnate and at times you wanted to check your watch to see how much time they had left. Still, “Dominos” came off well, and it wouldn’t have hurt at all for the band to say more than 2 words to the crowd.
Devo started their set with a bunch of songs from their new album. They clearly were out to keep the fans of their older stuff waiting. After “Girl U Want” and “Whip It”, I moved on to try and catch some New Pornographers. Devo’s high energy and solid performances of their songs made for one of the better things I saw all day, even if it was only half a set. I heard from some friends that things went severely downhill after “Whip It”, so maybe my leaving early was a good thing.
On approaching the large Budweiser stage as The New Pornographers were playing, I couldn’t hear what was going on until I got within about 300 yards. By comparison, walking away from Devo I could hear them all the way at Buckingham Fountain, which is at least 1000 yards. Still, I heard a few New Pornos songs, classics mostly, and they were great and delightful and I just kind of love Neko Case. A solid set from a solid band.
If you like Dirty Projectors’ obtuse melodies, then their set did not disappoint. I was surprised at how accurate they were able to recreate some of the tracks off their latest album “Bitte Orca”, and those 3-part female harmonies were nothing short of dreamy.
The Black Keys (and Dan Auerbach) have played Lollapalooza every year since 2005 except 1. Their bag of tricks is nothing new, except this time a new album and additional band members are in tow. Their set is high energy and fun, they played most of their hits, which was also nice but expected, and the couple new guys added a little something extra to the arrangements.
Apparently everyone wanted to go see Lady Gaga, because the side of the park with Jimmy Cliff and The Strokes on it has virtually cleared out. Which is upsetting mostly for the amazingly great Jimmy Cliff set. The guy may be an old reggae musician, but in no way does he act like either of those things on stage. He was always moving, dancing around, kicking up his legs, and even doing the occasional jumping splits. Combine that with a catalogue of classic reggae tunes and his superstar reputation is more than earned. This was probably the least-attended show I saw all day, and it also happened to be one of the best.
The Strokes started their headlining slot a few minutes late, and then finished it about 15 minutes early. The main reason why was a lack of material. They didn’t play every song from their catalogue of 3 albums, but they came close. All the hits were there, from “Last Nite” to “Someday” and “New York City Cops”, the only stone left unturned was “12:51”. As they breezed through their set, Julian Casablancas appeared lackadaisical and comfortable up there despite not moving around the stage at all. Albert Hammond Jr. tore up his guitar solos like it was on fire. Fabrizio Moretti held down the rhythm section with energy and aplomb. To put it simply, The Strokes put on a great show musically, even if it’s not the most exciting to watch.