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Lollapalooza: That festival in Grant Park

Courtney Cox | Wednesday, September 1, 2010

This August, the Chicago area experienced its annual musical invasion known as Lollapalooza. With the addition of 20,000 extra tickets per day and the expansion of the park beyond the usual border of Columbus Drive, I questioned whether the event would have the same feel as in years past. Despite hesitations, the added space and extra concert-goers didn’t hinder the festival at all — they simply amplified the energy in Grant Park and fed the unstoppable force that is Lollapalooza.

The Friday lineup was, unfortunately, the sparsest. I suppose it was a good way to start the weekend, considering I would spend the majority of the next two days standing, but it was still disappointing. It seemed everyone was sitting around looking for a band to casually watch before Lady Gaga or the Strokes.

I started Friday at Budweiser Stage for Wavves which was, in a word, fine. They simply didn’t seem to translate that well at a noon show outside in the middle of the summer. It also got awkward when the band members bickered onstage. Planned or not, the fighting was not conducive to a good show. I would have loved to keep one of the lime green “Post Acid” beach balls, however.

After lazily walking around for a couple hours after Wavves, I ventured over to the Adidas MEGA Stage (the party stage that isn’t Perry’s) to get a good spot for Matt & Kim.

Of course, many may question my choice to see a two-person band as opposed to Dirty Projectors or the New Pornographers, but it ended up being one of my top-five shows of the weekend for sure. It’s not easy to describe the energy that erupted both in the crowd and onstage when Matt & Kim came out to Fat Joe’s “Lean Back.” I knew I was in the right place.

The rest of the show was full of dancing and just about as much happiness as a person can handle. Matt & Kim were so great because it was clear they weren’t taking themselves too seriously; they were just two people who got really lucky and are enjoying every minute of it.

The highlight of that show, aside from my crowd-surfing antics, was what Kim describes as “the booty dance.” She actually got into the crowd, stood on the hands of the people in the front row, and began to shake her “booty” for the crowd. While this was occurring, Matt climbed at least 25 feet on the side of the stage and then hung on with one arm while sticking his legs out in the air. It was crazy in the best way possible.

After seeing countless headlines about “Gagapalooza,” I was certain that Lady Gaga was going to be the highlight of my weekend. It was a difficult to decide whether to go to the Strokes or Lady Gaga, but I figured I couldn’t miss seeing a pop culture icon at her peak.

Boy, was I disappointed. I am definitely a Lady Gaga fan, but I was beyond annoyed with her political rants and self-absorbed monologues. After telling fans, “Take my picture” and asking the crowd in a baby-ish voice, “Do you think I’m sexy?” she would proceed to scream in a terrifying voice about who even knows what.

The show was great, but it was her that I was disappointed in. She was ingenuine and narcissistic, which was the last thing I wanted to see.

Saturday was definitely a different story. I ping-ponged between Playstation Stage and Budweiser Stage for most of the morning and saw Stars, The XX and Grizzly Bear.

As for The XX, I was really impressed by how good they were live, but I was also a little bit afraid of them live. I could not have pictured anybody so pale. It was just a little bit funny that the crowd was out in the sun sweltering and the band was completely shaded by the stage. That’s probably the only way to keep such a light complexion. Despite what they lacked in aesthetic appeal, they were one of the best shows that.

Another highlight of the day was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. They played at the Sony Bloggie Stage, and while I was worried about going to a new stage to see them, it was maybe the best match-up of venue and artist I had ever experienced.

They were essentially tucked away in a little forest while fans piled into the clearing and stood on sides of a ditch to see them. Some fans even went so far as to climb up the trees to get a better view. The combination of the wooded venue and the band’s free spirited nature made it seem like everyone at the concert had been transported back to the hippie culture of the ‘60s.

I wrapped up Saturday seeing French phenomenon Phoenix. I was excited, but I honestly wasn’t expecting them to be as good as they were. They had an incredible light show that was both clean and engaging. It wasn’t to busy and it added just the right amount of spectacle to the show.

It was really cool to see bands like Phoenix be awed at the number of people in their audience and it’s one of those things that just makes me like a band so much more. They were charming and humble and light-years away from the flop of a headliner I chose to see Friday (that would be Lady Gaga).

Friday and Saturday, however, were mere warm-ups to the marathon of amazing bands that played on Sunday. I got down there early to see the Dodos, but it was worth braving the cold and rain to see Neko Case come onstage so nonchalantly to sing back-up for the trio.

After fueling up for a day that I knew would be mostly standing, I waited for Yeasayer at Budweiser Stage. I was sure Yeasayer was going to be one of the best shows of the weekend because I had loved their latest album, but I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t as high energy as I thought it would be, but they were still great live. Despite being totally bummed that they didn’t play “I Remember,” it was still worth seeing just because the lead singer was dressed exactly like Justin Timberlake in the SNL skits “My D*** in a Box.”

After moving up considerably, I waited an hour for MGMT. Without question MGMT was my second favorite show of the weekend. I had heard that they were not really into playing any of their most popular songs like “Kids,” which had me thinking they would be pretentious and annoying, but I was blown away by how great of a show they put on.

Not only did they play “Kids,” but they seemed happy to do it. They had the perfect mix of songs from “Oracular Spectacular” and “Congratulations,” and they had a refreshing sense of humor about the fact that they were playing such a huge venue. Without cracking a smile, the lead singer looked out on the crowd of at least 30,000 and said, “Wow, there must be at least 2,000 people here.”

Hands down my favorite concert was the festival closer, Arcade Fire. Mere days after releasing “The Suburbs,” the entire crowd was there singing along with their newest songs. It was one of the most incredible experiences to be able to see music unite such a huge number of people with ease. “Neighborhood #1” and “Sprawl II” were so much more full in Grant Park than they ever could have been playing out of my car stereo.

The show brought each person in the crowd into the experience. It was unreal to be part of a crowd of around 60,000 people where every single person knew the words to “Wake Up” and sang it with conviction at the end of the show. It united the entire festival at the very end of three long days.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Courtney Cox at [email protected]