Lollapalooza 2009, Friday recap: would you like a little water torture with your rock?

It’s amazing what a slow, steady rainfall will do to, um, dampen one’s spirits. The Friday lineup for this year’s Lollapalooza was pretty damn good, but we felt decidedly less frisky once it meant walking or standing in a cold rain. Of course, the forecast for Saturday and Sunday calls for brutally hot temperatures and lots of sun. Ah, Chicago. My favorite city, but the weather really is awful.

Yuto Miyazawa, Kidzapalooza stage
Medsker: How about this for our first band of the day: a nine-year-old Japanese kid who can absolutely shred on guitar. He can’t sing, of course, but no one really minded. He loves Ozzy, and played three Ozzy/Sabbath tunes in his set, as well as a Deep Purple song. Very cool. It’s funny how many Sabbath covers I’ve heard a Lolla over the years. The best is still the Dresden Dolls’ sick cover of “War Pigs.” They own that song now.

Manchester Orchestra, Budweiser stage
Medsker: Perhaps I’m showing my age when we say this, but…oh, there’s just no nice way to say this: I think these guys suck. Their first song didn’t have any discernible hook, and then the singer did that goddamn screamo thing. And their drummer…you know how drummers overact when shooting a music video, with the arms flying up and down to even the simplest or slowest beat? This band’s drummer actually plays like that. I lasted roughly two minutes, and I had had enough.

Gringo Star, BMI stage
Medsker: This unassuming Georgia band helped get the taste of Manchester Orchestra out of my mouth, but the rain was making my antsy. I left after about four songs to head south.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Vitamin Water stage
Medsker: I was thrilled that Black Joe Lewis was invited to perform at Lolla, but their inclusion also amuses me. They’re more of a Summerfest or Jazzfest band than a Lolla band, but then again, inviting a James Brown-style rock and soul group to Lollapalooza is pretty alternative, now that I think about it. I bet these guys would blow the doors off of a small club. They sounded fine here, but again, the rain was getting to me. Plus, it was lunch time.

Before Black Joe Lewis started, I listened to Hey Champ a keys-drums combo from Rockford, and they were pretty damn good. Definitely looking into them when I get home.

The Knux, Citi stage
Eldred: This New Orleans-based alt-hip-hop group may have been saddled with a side stage appearance, but they could have dominated the biggest stage in Grant Park with their swagger and cocky attitude. They had the tunes to match and ended their high energy set by turning the stage into a dance party, complete with their DJ spinning MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

White Lies, Budweiser stage
Eldred: It’s pouring down rain and I’ve never heard these guys before, but in every photo I’ve seen of them, their pale asses looked ridiculous, so I had to make time to see them, if only for novelty’s sake. After trekking across the park in the rain and getting colder and wetter, I realize that this is a hell of a commitment for a joke. However, once the pale London boys took the stage, I was shocked that they weren’t that bad. Actually, they were pretty damn good. However, I’m cold and wet so I head back to the hotel after just a couple songs for a drying pit stop.

Amazing Baby, Citi stage
Medsker: I’m very fond of this glam band’s debut album, and they sounded really good live, but enough was enough. I was drenched. I headed back to Eldred’s hotel room (he got a room at the Hilton on Michigan, lucky bastard) to dry off. His friend Lisa gave me a poncho. What a difference that made.

Ben Folds, Budweiser stage
Medsker: Ah, it’s good to see Ben with a band again. The last time I saw Folds live was that piano tour with Rufus Wainwright, which was cute but a far cry from Ben Folds Five’s live shows. His new band is damn good (especially the drummer), and Folds gave the soaking wet audience a good mix of songs from his whole career (though he didn’t play anything from BF5’s first album). The cover of “Bitches Ain’t Shit” got the crowd moving, and then he stunned me by pulling out “Narcolepsy.” Well chosen set, even if he skipped the first album. Even better, I almost literally ran into Folds in the media area during Black Joe Lewis’ set. Very cool.

Crystal Castles, Vitamin Water stage
Eldred: Refreshed, dry and now safely covered in a poncho, I return just in time to see a special breed of insanity by the name of Alice Glass. The lead singer of the electronic duo ran out on stage with a bottle of vodka and tore it up, even when her microphone fell apart. She got a working model just in time to run into the audience and nearly pick a fight with someone in the crowd. Things are reconciled when she pours vodka into the first three rows. Amazing show, but that bitch is crazy.

Of Montreal, Vitamin Water stage
Eldred: Speaking of crazy: capes, men dressed as tigers, gas masks, gender-confused back-up dancers, Of Montreal took crazy to a whole new level, living up to their reputation as one of the most entraining live bands on Earth. It was glamtastic brilliance, so needles to say the cover of Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” was not at all unexpected. Strange but awesome, however I had to take off early to get a choice spot for Depeche Mode.

Depeche Mode, Chicago 2016 Stage
Eldred: I’ve been waiting to see Depeche Mode for over 10 years. They lived up too all of my unrealistic expectations by blowing the crowd away with choice cuts from the new album, including the single “Wrong” to lesser-known older tunes like “In Your Room” and “Policy of Truth.” (Editor’s note: “Policy of Truth” is lesser known?) Gahan and co. are firing on all cylinders and by the time they get to the epic finale of “Enjoy The Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again,” I’ve lost my damn mind (along with most of the audience). The encore of “Personal Jesus” is expected, but still welcome. The bar has been set high for the rest of the festival’s closers.

Medsker: They played three songs from Black Celebration. Hell, yes.

On deck for Saturday: Band of Skulls, Beatles offspring, Arctic Monkeys, Miike Snow, and Eldred is faced with a choice: Santigold, or Glasvegas?

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Carlos Ramirez’s picks

Musically speaking, 2008 was all about nostalgia for me. Not only did my all-time favorite album get the reissue treatment, largely-forgotten genres like synth-pop and power-pop crept their way back onto my playlists. So in that spirit, I’ve compiled a year-end list with my top choices in 10 separate categories. Now if 2009 could only bring back hair-metal, I’d be A-okay.

Best Metal Album

Scar Symmetry: Holographic Universe
As out-of-control great as Scar Symmetry’s songwriting and musicianship proves to be on Holographic Universe, the jewel in their crown is without question vocalist Christian Alvestam. His death-metal vocal attack is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Its deep tonality and razorblade-kissed harshness drives the heavier sections with brute force. But what really makes Alvestam’s appearance a revelation are his cleaner vocals. It’s the kind of powerhouse voice that is usually reserved for AOR bands like Survivor, Toto, and Journey; not in a Swedish death-metal band. It definitely doesn’t sound like a great idea on paper, but when you hear the mixture of his melodic crooning and piercing guitars coming out of your speakers, your doubts swiftly fall by the wayside. Alvestam’s performance on the album is nothing less than a tour-de-force that should get praise from both the heavy metal and more mainstream hard rock/AOR communities.

Best Synth-Pop Album

The Foxglove Hunt: Stop Heartbeat
If you’re as devout a synth-pop fan as I am, you’ll know about the lack of quality groups releasing records these days. Throughout the late 1980s, it seemed like every major and indie label had at least two or three synth-pop acts on their rosters. Outside of die-hards like Depeche Mode and a handful of other groups (on the A Different Drum label), the genre has been relatively quiet. The Foxglove Hunt is comprised of Ronnie Martin (Joy Electric, The Brothers Martin) and Rob Withem (ex-Fine China) and the duo’s list of influences reads like a KROQ playlist from 1987. The dramatic Giorgio Moroder-styled keyboard melodies and Neil Tennant-worthy vocal performances make Stop Heartbeat feel like it comes from an entirely different era. “The Life Highrise” could have been on Dare while the fluid bass lines on “That’s Getting Personal” have Peter Hook written all over them. From start to finish Martin and Withem get it right. Even when they take on the Psychedelic Furs’ haunting “Love My Way,” the duo hits the mark.

Best Comeback Album

Mudcrutch: Mudcrutch
After releasing an unsuccessful single in the mid-’70s, Florida jangle-rockers Mudcrutch went their separate ways. This, of course, wouldn’t be more than a mere footnote in the annals of rock-n-roll if the band’s singer/bassist wasn’t none other than a young Tom Petty. Now we all know how things turned out for Petty and his fellow Mudcrutch guitarist Mike Campbell, but most of us had only read about their former band’s work through the years. When it was announced that the Gainesville, FL rockers were reuniting for an album and tour, record geeks waited with bated breath. Mudcrutch didn’t disappoint. Reflecting the band’s love of southern and country-rock, the record is filled with ample amounts of lush vocal harmonies and twangy guitars. If the band would have released “Scare Easy” back when they were originally together, there might have never been the Heartbreakers.

Best British Album

Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid
Elbow’s first three albums were all top 10 list contenders in the years they were released. But The Seldom Seen Kid is “album of the year” material from top to bottom. For one second just picture Peter Gabriel fronting Radiohead and you’ll have a good idea of what this British quintet is going for. Like the Gabrial in his Genesis days, vocalist Guy Garvey’s lyrical muse is suburban England. The songwriter shines a light on the every day tedium of life in the burbs on songs like “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” and “Grounds for Divorce” proving his work here is worthy to all the hype it’s been showered with lately. In “One Day Like This,” Garvey and Elbow have the song that Chris Martin wishes he wrote for Viva La Vida.

Best Undiscovered Album

Gentleman Jesse & His Men: Gentleman Jesse & His Men
There’s something magical about the sound of a Rickenbacker busting out an open A chord. This 12-track collection of energetic power-pop is bursting with bubblegum sweet vocal hooks and the kind of guitars Chris Stamey and Tommy Keene championed back in their heydays. GJ & HM have every power-pop trick mastered, but everything is funneled through with garage-rock charm. Unlike the Raspberries, who had the majestic flair of Eric Carmen, the Georgia band’s rough and tumble performances instantly makes them attainable to the lo-fi and punk crowds. This stuff is strictly for fans of the Replacements, Big Star, and the Exploding Hearts.

Best Indie-Rock Album

The Mary Onettes: The Mary Onettes
From the look of my list this year, it seems like everything that was old is new again. Maybe it’s because I’m in my mid-30’s now or perhaps it’s a genuine disconnect with the palette a lot of newer bands are working off of, 2008 had me falling for the albums that looked backwards in terms of musical style. Sweden’s Mary Onettes must feel the same way I do lately. The glistening guitars, ringing bass runs, and melancholic choruses wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the soundtrack to a John Hughes film. Philip Ekstrom’s vocals quake and quiver on earwigs like “Pleasure Songs” and the completely addicting “Lost” making him a frontman to keep an eye on. Hopefully the band can find a label with a stronger presence in the States because I have a feeling these lads would be huge if more people had a chance to hear their hooky guitar-pop, they’d be huge.

Best Punk Album

Dillinger Four: Civil War
Dillinger Four are one of the few bands that most punk fans can agree on. The more fickle traditionalists go absolutely gaga for the Minnesota act’s streamlined and high-energy approach. But even listeners who take their punk with two helpings of melody in it adore D4’s hooky choruses. The road that led to the release of Civil War was a bumpy one. The album was mired by studio delays, day-job hassles, and even an internet leak. But boy, was it worth the wait. The filthy power-chords that kick off opening track “A Jingle for the Product” gets your blood boiling and it’s all butt-kicking from there on. Erik Funk’s vocals never sounded as snotty. His singing style embodies the same rebel spirit that made punk icons like Howard Devoto (Buzzcocks) and Milo Aukerman (Descendents) so irresistible to listen to so many years back. In Lane Pederson the combo have one of the more exciting, tough-as-nails drummers going today. His relentless attack anchors fast-movers like “Like Eye Contact In An Elevator” perfectly while he holds back just enough on “Fruity Pebbles” to give the song enough breathing room for Funk’s melodies to creep in.

Best Dance Album

Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles
On Crystal Castles’ debut full-length, old Atari sound effects pierce through the mix, synthesizers are abused, and frontwoman Alice Glass shrieks over the top of everything with menacing punk-rock attitude yet they’ve somehow constructed the dance album of the year. The tracks comfortably jump from techno to house to synth-pop sometimes even doing it within the span of one song. Ethan Kath is the master audio manipulator here dismantling Glass’ vocals, bending and tweaking them so much that they almost become unrecognizable in moments. But the soundscapes are king here. The keyboard melodies on “Crimewave” and “Vanished” are instantly memorable, almost haunting at times. There’s a timeless quality to everything here. For once, the hipsters were right.

Best Single

“Black and Gold,” Sam Sparro
It sounds like a long-lost Gamble & Huff gem produced by Prince and then remixed by Afrika Bambaataa circa 1982, yet “Black and Gold” feels more vital than 98% of the singles released in 2008. Written and sung by Australian newcomer Sam Sparro, “Black and Gold” was a smash throughout Europe but it barely made a dent here in the U.S. when it was released during the spring. A bank of frothy keyboards pad the track but it’s the pulsating bass and percussion that drive the song. Sparro obviously studied the great American soul singers of the ’70s because every line is pushed through with a brilliant balance of sensuality and macho bravado. I guarantee if Justin Timberlake would have released this track it would have been a Number One single.

Best CD Reissue

Billy Joel: The Stranger 30th Anniversary Edition
The original 1977 version of The Stranger is probably my favorite album of all time. That said, I wasn’t expecting more than a remastering job and new liner notes when Legacy Recordings announced that they would be releasing a 30-year anniversary edition of the classic recording. So you could imagine my surprise when news leaked that a live 1977 concert from Carnegie Hall would also be included as a second disc PLUS a DVD of promo videos, an appearance on the “Old Grey Whistle Test” and a 30-minute documentary about the making of the record would also be included! This is the kind of treatment an album this important deserves. The Carnegie Hall performance had mythical status on the Billy Joel fan boards for years, and rightfully so. It’s the kind of career-making show that most fans only dream about attending, so having it here is really a treat. The documentary is ripe with all kinds of behind-the-scenes information and compelling interviews with Joel and producer Phil Ramone so even the most devout fans have something to salivate over. Hopefully Legacy does the same thing for the rest of his late 70’s work.

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer James Eldred’s picks

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. Fucked Up: The Chemistry of Common Life
Are they hardcore? Post-hardcore? Experimental? Post-experimental? Is that last one even a genre? Maybe it is now. Describing Fucked Up is as impossible as saying their name on the radio. Who else has combined flute solos with Black Flag-style hardcore vocals, ambient keyboards and just about everything else you can possibly imagine? It’s NOFX meets Hüsker Dü meets Fugazi meets everything awesome, dangerous and exciting about rock and roll. Also winner of the best cover of 2008.

2. Marnie Stern: This Is It…
Sleater-Kinney style riot-grrl rock by a guitar-playing chick who seems to base all of her chords off of Van Halen’s “Eruption.” It’s like someone randomly looked up two musical subgenres on Wikipedia (indie-rock and guitar virtuoso) and decided to mix them together. Marnie Stern is a guitar goddess whose unearthly ability at fingertapping and shredding her axe will one day be uncovered by future archaeologists, who will be in awe.

3. Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles
By combining the bleeping bloops from the soundchip of an old Atari with the frightening howls of petite lead singer’s Alice Glass’ powerful voice, Crystal Castles have taken the punk/dance thing to new and exciting places and shown us that the Chiptune scene is more than just a novelty scene capitalizing off of twentysomethings’ nostalgia for 8-bit video games. Also winner of the worst cover of 2008.

4. Portishead: Third
Wow, 11 years was worth the wait, who knew? Third goes to show that when you invent a genre (trip-hop), you can take as damn well long as you please to re-invent it. Third is a minimalist masterpiece that proves sometimes all you need is a drum machine and haunting vocals to make a dance track work.

5. Girl Talk: Feed the Animals
If Third is minimalism, then Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals is maximalism, hyperbolic remixing gone horribly right. Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) took over 170 different songs to craft his journey though the pop music landscape, making unlikely collaborations like Lil’ Mama and Metallica, Outkast and Roy Orbison, and Souja Boy and Thin Lizzy in the process. Gilis also proved himself to be a musical alchemist with Feed the Animals, turning shit like Arvil Lavinge’s “Girlfriend” and Fergie’s “XX” into pop gold by crafty remixing and moshing.

6. Be Your Own Pet: Get Awkward
Needless censoring by brain-dead American record labels couldn’t hamper this great follow-up to BYOP’s self-titled debut. Their subsequent break-up sure did, though. A bummer, but they sure went out with a bang. Black Flag reincarnated as a hot nearly-underage girl and her three best friends. Here’s hoping we hear more from them in future in some form or another.

7. Does It Offend You, Yeah?: You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into
LCD Soundsytem and their DFA label ilk may be responsible for the rebirth of dance-punk, but the British have been taking it to a whole other level, first with Hot Chip and now with this horribly-named foursome from Reading. DIOYY combine the bombastic arena-rock majesty of Britpop groups like Muse with undeniably catchy electronic hooks better than anyone has in recent memory. Doesn’t change the fact that their name still sucks.

8. TV on the Radio: Dear Science
When are they going to release a bad album? Seriously, it’s getting rather annoying because there’s nothing more to say about them. Dear Science is as good as Return to Cookie Mountain which was in turn as good as Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. They’re giving us cynical bastards nothing to work with here, nothing! How selfish is that?

9. Santogold: Santogold
The best indie-pop/new wave.punk/synthpop/electronic/rap record of the year. And yes, thanks to MIA, there was competition.

10. Kaiser Chiefs: Off With Their Heads
Remember when all those post-punk revival bands broke out? The Hives, the Strokes, the Vines, the Killers and these guys – who weren’t team players and willing to get behind the whole The Somethings name structure? Who had them pegged to be going three albums strong while the rest of the lot have either vanished or become washed up? “Never Miss a Beat” also wins for best single of the year.

  

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