Lollapalooza 2010, The Final Recap: The Headliners, some final thoughts

This year’s batch of headliners is one of the strangest groups yet. Sunday was closed by another recently reunited monster of ’90s rock (witness Lolla organizer Perry Farrell giving his band Jane’s Addiction the final slot last year), Saturday night’s lineup featured arguably the biggest band in the world, while Friday’s opener – who easily drew the biggest crowd in Lolla history – is a million-selling pop star who first dazzled one of our writers on a Lolla side stage three years ago. Is it the most “alternative” group of closers they could have assembled? Probably not, but it’s very telling in a state-of-the-biz kind of way. We’ll leave it up to you as to whether that is a good or bad thing.

Let’s begin with the, um, enders, for lack of a better (or actual) word, in our week-long recap of the events at Lollapalooza 2010.

Chromeo, Friday, adidas Stage
Chromeo is officially ready for their close-up. They made lots of friends with this show, even if most of the audience was facing south in anticipation of Lady Gaga. Their riff on “Money for Nothing” was fun (they know their audience, that’s for sure), and even better was when they used Auto-Tune to sing, Sting-style, “I want my Chromeo.” Their new single “Don’t Turn the Lights Off” is a killer, and their other new songs sounded just as good.

Lady Gaga, Friday, Parkways Foundation Stage
Watching the crowd gather for Lady Gaga was an event unto itself. Her fans – and make no mistake, there isn’t anyone in all of music with a fan base as rabidly devoted as hers, ironic or otherwise – arrived early and parked in front of the Parkways stage all day long. Girls in fishnets, guys in drag, and more kids than we’ve ever seen at Lolla. Before Chromeo had even taken the stage at the northern end of the southern stages, there was already a bigger crowd waiting for Gaga than the one Depeche Mode played to last year. And Depeche played to a big crowd. But Gaga…this was borderline ridiculous. Some may have questioned Perry’s decision to bring Gaga back, since she’s now a full-fledged pop star, but he and the rest of the Lolla organizers were clearly laughing all the way to the bank.

Photo by Dave Mead

As for the set, well, we lasted 20 minutes. She kept taking these lengthy breaks to catch her breath, and the idea was clearly to put on some kind of theatrical production (dialogue between Gaga and her Grace Jones doppelganger backing singer, that kind of thing), and that’s cool. The problem was that she was spending almost as much time pausing as she was playing, and the dialogue was littered with expletives. Not that we’re above such things, of course, but along with being writers, we’re also parents, and remember the bit above about the number of kids at the show. It simply wasn’t necessary, and after a while, it lost all meaning. You like saying ‘fuck,’ we get it. Now play us a fucking song. (See what we did there? God, we’re so not clever.)

We heard reports later that she picked things up, but to be honest, we only planned on watching 20 minutes of her set, anyway. There was another act we had ranked higher, and it wasn’t the Strokes.

2ManyDJs, Friday, Perry’s
Odds are you’re not faimilar with the name Soulwax, but odds are even greater that you’ve heard them. Their only Stateside releases have been their 1999 debut Much Against Everyone’s Advice and a remix album of their 2005 import-only Any Minute Now – but their songs have been used in car commercials and episodes of “The O.C.,” back when appearing in “The O.C.” was a big deal. The band is run by Belgian brothers David and Stephen Dewaele, and the two have carved out a side career as remixers 2ManyDJs (the name stems from a song on their first album) that is so successful that the band has taken a back seat to the remix work. They closed the massively upgraded Perry’s DJ stage Friday, and while the audience may have been overrun with club kid douchebags (the guy next to us had tribal tatts and sunglasses on…at night), the Dewaele’s tighly choreographed set was a thrill.

Choreographed, you say? Yes, but not with dancers. Behind them was a video montage of album covers of the artist they played, come to life like that Album Cover Wars clip, only better. The best one was the slow building of Guns ‘n Roses’ Appetite for Destruction cover, though the bit to the KJL’s “What Time Is Love?” was fun, too. They played the Clash, Daft Punk’s one-off group Stardust, 808 State, the Chemical Brothers and New Order, along with newer acts like the Gossip, so the set had a little something for everyone, while the visuals were entertaining even for the songs that we didn’t recognize. Sadly, we didn’t hear any Soulwax songs. Pity.

The Strokes, Friday, Budweiser Stage
Had to skip ’em for Gaga and 2ManyDJs. The weird part, though, is that we still haven’t talked to anyone who went to see them.

Slightly Stoopid, Saturday, adidas Stage
From where we were sitting in anticipation of Green Day’s set, all we could hear from these guys was reggae bass lines. Do do do do dooo dooo dooo. That’s it. Of course, it’s probably a good thing that we couldn’t hear what they had to say with 15 minutes left in their set…

Green Day, Saturday, Parkways Foundation Stage
We spent most of the day on the north side, but after seeing the gigantic crowd that had gathered for Lady Gaga the day before, we decided to pass on Spoon in order to guarantee us a good spot for Green Day’s set. Imagine our surprise, then, when we hit the softball fields about an hour before they were set to go on stage…and the crowd that had gathered was a fraction, as in a fifth of the size, waiting for Gaga at this time the night before. Wow. Did not expect that at all.

We settled on a spot in the grass to the left of the stage, just in front of the mixing board. About 15 minutes before the band took the stage – and while Slightly Stoopid was still playing on the adidas stage – the sound system started playing assorted disco songs, and someone in a rabbit costume came out with a beer bottle, pretending to be drunk and climbing all over the stage. They even led the crowd into doing the biggest collective “YMCA” in history. Is this really Lollapalooza? The Village People and “YMCA” dancing? Odd.

Still, the greater issue for us was that Green Day was stepping on the toes of what was technically their opening act. We thought they’d be more considerate than that.

Chicago music critic Jim DeRogatis probably trashed Green Day’s performance at Lolla. (We’d look it up, but frankly, we can’t be bothered.) He’s fond of saying that punk should only be played in clubs and dive bars, not in arenas, though it should be noted that DeRogatis is a member of a punk band himself, and the press release that came with their last album was the most pretentious bunch of horseshit we’ve read in years. Anyway, we can see what he had a problem with in Green Day’s set, namely the classic rock break where the band played snippets of “Iron Man,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Sweet Child ‘o Mine,” and “Highway to Hell.”

Personally, we thought it was awesome.

Photo by Jack Edinger

Let’s break it down a little: Sabbath influenced every hard rock band that followed them, regardless of which stripe of hard rock they chose to play. AC/DC was totally a punk band when they first started, and Guns ‘n Roses were punks at heart. As for Van Halen, well, find a single California kid who came of age in the ’80s and didn’t listen to them. There are none. Plus, Green Day isn’t really a punk band anymore, anyway. They’re a rock band, and this was an honest to goodness rock show, for better and for worse.

The set list was a well balanced mix of very old and very new, naturally leaning on their biggest selling albums Dookie, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, and they even pulled out “2,000 Light Years Away” for the die hards. Curiously, we wish they had featured more of the new album, namely “Before the Lobotomy,” “Peacemaker,” and “Viva La Gloria? (Little Girl).” But it’s hard to complain with the set list, as it included every major hit of the band’s career, and there are a lot of them. Billie Joe Armstrong brought a 20-something kid on to the stage to sing “Longview,” and after a rough start, he turned in a surprisingly good performance, even jumping off the speakers at the end. (It was a good ten feet down.) Billie also had the photographers catch another stage jumper and propel him into the crowd (he never would have made the jump without them), and then brought another adorable little girl on stage…and swore in her face.

If Lady Gaga had a thing for the f-bomb in her set, then Billie Joe’s fascination with it borders on fetishistic. It just lost all impact after a while, as did the attempts to get the crowd to sing “Heeeeeeeeyyyyyy-oooooooooo!” in nearly every song. Those are fun here and there, but Armstrong did about 20 of them. We’re here to see you sing, dude, not the other way around.

As it grew closer to 10:00, it looked as though they only had time for one more song, so when they launched into “American Idiot,” we thought it was all over…which made it even sweeter when they launched into “Jesus of Suburbia” right after, with Billie closing the set 15 minutes late with a solo version of “Good Riddance.” All in all, a big-ass rock show from a band that probably never would have dreamed of doing a show like this when they first played Lolla in 1994. Getting old isn’t that much of a drag after all, now is it, boys?

Phoenix, Saturday, Budweiser Stage
Here are the reports we’ve gotten on their show: “they owned” (that was a text message), and (this is our personal favorite) “White, preppy, techno-ish coolio. Totally different vibe than Green Day. If I wanted to pick up, that would be the place. Better looking, well-to-do chicks all trying hard to be hippies and/or act badly.” Wow, who knew that Phoenix would make the good girls want to act bad? That would have beaten the hell out of the trilby hat-wearing douchebag in front with me at Green Day with his long-haired hippie girlfriend who kept flipping her hair in my face. Seriously, guys, if you have a trilby hat, burn it, lest you want to be branded a hipsterbag.

Photo by Dave Mead

Soundgarden, Sunday, Parkways Soundstage
Our man James Eldred, on assignment for another mag since we could only bring one BE writer this year, said that the boys were a little rusty, but still threw down. The couple we talked to later that evening, however, said they were pretty mediocre. We (which is to say, senior editor David Medsker using the editorial ‘we’) can take or leave Soundgarden – in other words, you can take “Spoonman,” as long as you leave “Black Hole Sun” and “Head Down” – so never mind their performance: the news of their playing Lollapalooza was frankly a disappointment. Yes, the A-list has gotten decidedly smaller in the last few years, and Perry is very careful to make sure his lineups have something for every generation of alt rocker. Having said that, the early ’90s were already represented by Green Day, Cypress Hill, Social Distortion and, God help them, Blues Traveler (who covered a Sublime song, no less). Surely there was another band that could have taken this slot…right?

Photo by Dave Mead

Arcade Fire, Sunday, Budweiser stage
Not a peep from our peeps on this one. Aren’t they supposed to have a raucous live show? That seems unlikely, given that their new album The Suburbs nearly put us to sleep at the three-quarter mark.

Some final thoughts
The scheduling conflicts, how do I (sorry, but I’m putting away the editorial ‘we’ from here on) put this…what the hell? They were downright hostile compared to years past. Only a handful of black artists on the bill, but you’re going to put Raphael Saadiq and Mavis Staples on at the same time? Devo and the New Pornographers? From the second I saw the schedule, the number of bands I was interested in seeing but able to cover practically split in half. Were the touring schedules so unforgiving that all of those bands had to play on Friday and Saturday? Granted, I don’t know what goes into the schedule, and I understand that they don’t want to overload one side of the grounds, but they did that anyway with the inclusion of Lady Gaga. I can’t imagine that putting Devo and the New Pornographers back-to-back on the same side of the park, likewise Saadiq and Staples, would have created any issues outside of people passing out from sheer awesomeness.

No electrolyte drinks at the drink stands? Wow. The decision to allow people to refill their water bottles for free was a brilliant, thoughtful, cost-cutting move, but there are times where water just isn’t enough. Case in point: in our walk back to the hotel after Green Day (the trains were overrun, so we walked the two miles back to our beds, after spending God knows how many hours walking and on our feet before that), I ran into the first open drug store to buy a 32-oz. bottle of Gatorade, which I killed in minutes. Please, bring them back next year.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a list of bands to consider inviting next year, here’s my personal wish list:
Scissor Sisters
Hey Champ
The Silver Seas
Franz Ferdinand
Motorhead (don’t laugh – their appearance on “The Young Ones” alone makes them alt-rock gods)
Crowded House
Living Colour
The Like
Midnight Juggernauts
Pet Shop Boys
The Posies
Duran Duran (new Mark Ronson-produced album due any day now, they’d draw a huge crowd)

And if you wanted to convince Blur and the Stone Roses to reunite, well, I wouldn’t stop you.

My point, I guess, is that you are going to run out of bands from the ’90s that people want to see a lot faster than you will run out of bands that people want to see from the ’80s, when modern rock was born. Go get Tears for Fears, and watch how big of a crowd they’d draw. (Witness Devo’s set from this year.) Or better yet, get a guy like Tom Jones. Dude has HUGE hipster cred. He’ll outdraw your biggest mope rock band without breaking a sweat. Pity you’ll never get New Order or the Smiths back together, because their participation would keep you financially solvent for the next 10 years. You might be able to convince the Replacements with enough cash, though. Just a thought.

Thanks, Lolla. See you next year.