Andy Seroff | Tuesday, September 1, 2009
This year at Lollapalooza, Saturday was widely criticized as the day with the weakest lineup. Its headliners included the psychedelic-metal niche group Tool as well as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who received the prestigious invitation as a last-minute substitute for the Beastie Boys.
The bill of acts for the day presented a hodgepodge of foreign artists such as Federico Aubele, British groups like the Arctic Monkeys and Los Campesinos!, and the neo-metal progressive-rock of Rise Against and Coheed and Cambria. For casual music listeners seeking to put faces to the bands they hear on the radio, Saturday was probably not the day to get a one-day pass. For audiophiles seeking a cornucopia of unique acts, however, Saturday was the highlight of the weekend. Unfortunately, because of the scheduling logistics and the size of Grant Park, even the most ambitious festival-goers had to prioritize the groups they wanted to catch.
The first group of the day, and possibly the most pleasant surprise of the entire festival, was an Americana bar-rock quintet from San Diego called Delta Spirit. The youthful group is freshly arrived on the music scene, having made a quiet entrance by signing to an indie label and cutting an EP in 2006. They received national attention for their 2008 full album “Ode to Sunshine,” in support of which they performed on late-night television circuits and opened for the Shins.
Delta Spirit’s set was exceptional, showcasing the multi-instrumental versatility of the group’s musicians. They played their own brand of heavy, bluesy soul-rock, but their sound drifted from the extremes of thrash metal to mellow folk. They even ended their set by venturing into jazz for a thunderous, half-time rock cover of Louis Armstrong’s “St. James Infirmary.”
The most disappointing performance of the day came from TV on the Radio. Music critics have hailed the band as possessing a “new sound,” one of the ultimate compliments musicians can receive. While the members of the Brooklyn-based alternative group struggle to break into the mainstream, they have been in the critically acclaimed indie spotlight since their debut album was released in 2003. Showing progress in this regard, their latest album, “Dear Science,” was named Album of the Year for 2008 by several popular music establishments, including “Rolling Stone,” “Spin” and MTV.
Unfortunately, that “new sound” was horrendously lifeless live. A fan or an attendee who had done her homework would have been anticipating a highly articulate, thoroughly composed, orchestral sound. Instead, listeners were treated to deflated renditions of the melodic ambiguity featured so prominently throughout their recorded works. The charm and ingenuity of their songwriting were lost somewhere between the artificial-sounding sampling and the Lou Reed-esque arrogance of their stage presence.
The highlight of the day came in the Arctic Monkeys’ rare trip to the United States. Other than their “Riot Van” tour several years ago, the UK band tends to gratify their extremely loyal British fan base almost exclusively, touring their own stomping grounds and the rest of Europe. They hardly ever venture to this hemisphere, and rarely for more than a few days when they do. The group was in the awkward void of time, between recording and releasing their third album, “Humbug,” but they gave an extraordinary set worthy of their journey across the pond.
The crowd for the Arctic Monkeys was the largest for any non-headliner act over the entire weekend. Every person-sized patch of grass within visual range of the Budweiser stage was filled with two to three people eagerly anticipating the band. Alex Turner and his mates came out promptly, filling their hour-long block with the maximum amount of sonic splendor they could manage. The material ranged from the dance rock of “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” to the pulsating power rock of “Favourite Worst Nightmare.” They touched upon the new material of “Humbug,” performing the single “Crying Lightning” and one or two other songs, but they mostly stuck to their hits, almost completing the impossible task of fitting them all into an hour.