Maija Gustin | Monday, August 31, 2009
Lollapalooza, the annual alternative music festival, kicked off with an incredible lineup August 7. The festival, which has been held yearly in Grant Park, Chicago, since 2005, featured a slew of today’s hottest up and coming artists. For the indie rock-loving folks at Lollapalooza, Friday was the highlight to an impressive weekend. Acts like Manchester Orchestra, White Lies, Bon Iver, Ben Folds, Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, Andrew Bird and Kings of Leon thrilled cold crowds on a rainy Chicago day. Rounded out with hip-hop duo The Knux, dance-rockers The Virgins, Nintendo-on-speed electro band Crystal Castles, Asher Roth, Peter Bjorn and John, experimental rockers Of Montreal, and straight-from-the-80s Depeche Mode, Friday proved to be a solid day of good music for anyone and everyone. Even a little rain (actually, a lot of rain) couldn’t keep the crowds away.Manchester Orchestra, an indie-rock band from Atlanta, played early in the day, but they had a huge crowd singing along with every song. Without knowing any of their songs, they were a little hard to get into, but they played a pretty good set anyway. They displayed high energy and were definitely crowd pleasers. All in all, they put on a good show, but not a totally memorable one.The Knux, a small hip hop/rock outfit from New Orleans, provided a nice change of pace for a festival that didn’t feature many hip hop acts. They started off slow with some of their lesser-known stuff, but picked it up quickly with their biggest single, “Cappuccino.” They were good entertainers and had the crowd dancing, but they really ruined their set with long ruminations on their post-Lollapalooza plans for the evening and other stories that cannot be repeated here. Bon Iver, best known for their song “Skinny Love,” usually sound great live, but they really weren’t at their best at a festival of this size. Their songs are so wonderfully intimate that a large crowd kind of ruins the effect of the music. That being said, they sounded good, and if you were close enough to the stage you could have had a great experience. Definitely check them out if ever given the chance to see them in a smaller venue.Fleet Foxes were easily one of the best acts of the weekend. What makes their music great is their really tight harmonies, both vocal and instrumental. Typically, such precise harmonies are really difficult to pull-off at a live show, but these guys definitely did it. In fact, they blew their recordings out of the water. Fleet Foxes are best live because their subtle nuances really take center stage. And unlike Bon Iver, the large crowd didn’t dwarf the sound or the effect of the music. The Decemberists put on a great show. Their most recent album, “The Hazards of Love,” is something like a rock opera, featuring defined characters and a plot. Rather than play a set featuring hits from both “Hazards” and their previous albums, the Decemberists played “The Hazards of Love” straight through, acting as the characters in costumes. This album was a departure of form for the Decemberists, but playing the album straight through is clearly how it was meant to be heard. When taken as a continuous whole rather than a series of songs, “The Hazards of Love” is really a great piece of music. Andrew Bird is known for putting on bizarre live shows, particularly because of the way he plays his music live. Rather than have one performer play each different instrumental part, he has only a small band on stage with him. They begin each song by playing various melodies and then electronically loop them so that they will continue playing while Andrew Bird and company play something entirely different. But for whatever reason, this seems to add to the overall effect of Andrew Bird’s music. He clearly envisions his music as multi-layered instrumental pieces, and he has mastered the technology to make possible the layering of music in a live show. It’s an incredibly unique experience, enhanced by Bird’s amazing overall talent as a musician and showman. He definitely knows how to put on a show. His set was without a doubt another highlight of the weekend. While most of the younger attendees were watching Kings of Leon Friday night, the crowd for Depeche Mode was having a blast, even though the median age was significantly higher. Everyone was up and dancing to the ’80s electronic band. They played all of their biggest hits from back in the day, like “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence,” along with songs from their newest album, “Sounds of the Universe.” Their old hits were definitely the highlights of their set, with most of their new songs falling pretty flat. But they put on a great show and proved that they still have it.