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Lollapalooza 2008

Mark Witte | Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ever wondered what it’s like to attend a three-day summer music festival? Well, it’s hot, sweaty, physically exhausting and depending on what you listen to, quite possibly dangerous. But I only went for a day.

For the last four years Chicago has hosted the three day American music festival Lollapalooza inside the magnificent Grant Park. In 2007 the likes of Pearl Jam, Modest Mouse, Snow Patrol, Muse and Ben Harper graced the festival’s stage. This year the headliners were Radiohead on Friday, Rage Against the Machine and Wilco on Saturday and Kanye West and Nine Inch Nails rounding off Sunday’s lineup.

Thanks to my unpaid internship at the Michiana News Channel, I had neither the time nor the money to attend all three days of shows and resigned to purchasing a day pass to either Saturday or Sunday.

But this became a problem as well. First off, none of the four weekend headliners grabbed my attention. I didn’t fit the political mold for Rage’s revolution, I had never jumped on the Wilco bandwagon, I liked only a few of Kanye’s songs and had avoided Nine Inch Nails’ music because the band’s name alone kind of scared the crap out of me.

My top choice was seeing Explosions in the Sky, a talented post-rock instrumental band from Austin, Texas, scheduled to play Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately a few of my Kanye-worshipping college dorm mates got in on the decision making and decided they wanted to go as well. In the name of everyone’s best interest I ended up conceding to purchasing tickets for Sunday.

And although a hometown friend also attending Lollapalooza later chided me for missing Explosions and Rage, Sunday didn’t start out all that bad.I arrived early at the Park and caught a performance by another Austin-based musical group known as “The Octopus Project.”

The instrumental band put on a remarkable show in the short 45 minutes they were allotted, wooing the fans by switching instruments and demonstrating graceful mastery of the Theremin, an electronic instrument played without being touched.

Next I heard yet another Austin based band called “What Made Milwaukee Famous,” whose Keane-like music wasn’t discordant by any means, but felt a little too soporific for my tastes. Leaving that gig I headed over to rendezvous with all my friends and we walked over to the north end of the park for the John Butler Trio.

I had never heard the Australian band’s music before, but their soul-filled blend of folk, rock, reggae and ridiculous guitar picking quickly won me over. We followed that show up by attending what I had been looking forward to all day, Flogging Molly. The seven-piece Irish punk rock band ignited its usual fury of moshing, screaming and chanting in the audience and by the end of the show I had worked my way up to the front of the sweating crowd, losing my shirt in the process.

Before Flogging Molly had taken the stage, I had been set on attending Kanye in the evening. Even now, I’m not entirely sure what changed my mind.

It may have been that my general dislike for rap music overcame my ambivalent feelings about Nine Inch Nails’ bass heavy industrial rock or I could have been swayed simply by my hometown friend’s constant prodding.

Or it might even have been that my other friends failed to make it through Flogging Molly’s entire concert, citing fear of injury as an excuse.

Either way, when night fell I found myself embedded near the front of a crowd who looked halfway between disturbed gothic childhoods and the apocalypse. About thirty seconds before Nine Inch Nails took the stage my hometown friend turned to me and said, “This is going to be intense.”

And it was.

Before the first thirty minutes were up I was convinced one of three things was going to happen: the bass was going to blow out my ear drums, someone was going to knock me out or a cigarette was going to be extinguished on my back. Fortunately none of the three happened.

On the whole I didn’t pick up much of an appreciation for Nine Inch Nails’ music. I guess I never got over the constantly pounding bass, but I was impressed by the dark, yet dazzling light show and the humility of the band’s lead singer, Trent Reznor.

When the music ended and more than 50,000 people flooded toward the exits, I limped after them, my legs drained of any strength, wondering how anyone could do this for three days when I had barely survived one.Contact Mark Witte at [email protected]

The views expressed in Scene and Heard are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.