Live music has a very special appeal to me. Always has. As such it is very hard for me to pass up opportunities to see it – even when I know there will be a lot of work involved or I would be better served to focus elsewhere or I should save the money or I am too tired or, or, or… But as of yet I have not been able to kick the habit. I have moved metaphorical mountains to attend shows: driven all night to and from shows, gone to work in states of mind suited only to deep sleep or asylums following shows, attended shows after shows that lasted all day, flown to shows, hiked to shows, biked to shows. I simply love going to shows.
My love of shows is not just about the music but the whole experience. The rock stars, the idea of being right there with them, the energy, the smells (totally show specific of course, and not all lovely as I will get to presently), the hope to hear a song, the hope that the whole show won’t be all about promoting a new album you’ve never heard, meeting people who love what you love – or hate what you hate… the rock stars. Always those rock stars. Singers = Swoon. It is funny though, I thought about all this the other night at The Vaccines/Arctic Monkeys show at The Independent and realized that when I was the appropriate age to snog rock stars I was watching bands that were too old for me, and now I keep finding myself watching bands full of kids who could have been in my Geography class. Weird.
But in spite of it all, I keep going to shows… because you never know… you might miss the next best thing.
The whole reason the Chicago trip was planned in the first place was around Lollapalooza. It was the 20th Anniversary year and since Lolla no longer functions as a travelling circus like it used to, it provided and awesome opportunity to see Chicago – a city I had only enjoyed via the airports. Plus D would be working her magic and we would get super special treatment. While at Coachella, D had said that the perks at Lolla were way impressive. It sounded amazing, and without being to a total spoiler, it was actually even better than it had sounded.
And so we went.
After saying good-bye to our super hosts,
we A hailed a taxi (she definitely has a new skill to add to her dossier) and headed to the W. Fortunate that we took a cab because I would have had us taking a train to the wrong hotel (which would have been a repeat of a previous circumstance that almost caused us to miss the architecture tour, and forced a collective admission that A’s [moderately] obsessive attention to detail generally does pay off) because there are two W Hotels. But to the correct one we went. (We saw a super frustrated lady getting a cab on Friday night yelling, “There are TWO W’s!” into her phone.) We checked in early and our room wasn’t ready as it turned out there were a lot of people checking in that day, so we went up to meet D. We would make a plan for when to go to the venue and getting our credentials…! As D doled out the wristbands I asked her if we needed to wear both the Premium one and the regular one. D looked up.
“What are you talking about?”
“You know, like Coachella – do we wear both?”
“Wait… You guys *bought* tickets?”
A and I looked at each other.
“Oh my god! You guys! You did not need tickets! These *are* your tickets!”
Now, in hindsight of course this is fantastic news, but you have to know that there was a moment of panic when you are like, ‘Oh crap, did we just eat $250?’ Suffice it to say that I was able to sell mine to a friend of D’s in about five minutes and we figured we would sell A’s on the street. This was, after all, a sold out show. A decided to talk to the concierge about it, just in case she knew of anyone who wanted tickets, which turned out to be a great idea mostly because Lois ended up being a great resource all weekend. She made a couple of calls and took our number but assured us that we would have no problem getting rid of tickets, especially since we were selling them at face value (because we like good karma – no Dirty Money here, no sir.) And she was right. Within about 30 seconds of making contact with the masses the tickets were gone and we were free. Literally and figuratively.
The walk to the venue is lovely, but it was smoking hot. Still, we made good time: I can generally gauge my excitement by my pace. Clearly, I was psyched. Day One had a big line up and we were gonna be all over the place.
And then… there we were.
Before I even get to the music I have to discuss the amenities. Here is the thing about VIP at Lolla: the Lolla Lounge is The.Shit. Seriously. We had catered meals for lunch and dinner, fully hosted bars, shade, a snack bar, no lines (except for Saturday), a golf-cart shuttle to take us from one end of the park to the other and quite simply the best port-a-potties ever. This is the kind of thing that makes a ten-hour, gigantic, frenetic music festival doable. I know that makes me sound soft, but I am okay with that.
I loved how everything was color coordinated (orange and turquoise) and that the same people worked the same posts each day and so we got to know our bartenders, servers, and gatekeepers. It made it like a big fun clubhouse. Although I was kind of ‘Meh’ about the golf carts at first, they were a seriously worthy benefit.
After we had our first meal (can I discuss the red velvet mini-cupcake with the most awesome cream cheese frosting and filled with chocolate creme?) we decided to try to figure out our plan of attack. The reality of FOMO is that sometimes a festival can be stressful. We all had certain bands that we would not miss and they did not always overlap, and you also have to take location and crowd severity into account. For festival prep A makes a spreadsheet and makes notes on all the bands. This is a very helpful activity and you have anyone OCD enough [or who suffers FOMO addiction] in your life to make that happen, I definitely recommend it. I take a slightly less labor intensive route and get suggestions from a small but diverse group of friends. [Big ups to The Night Cabbie for his continuously excellent recommendations.] Between the two of us and D’s impressively up-to-date knowledge of the musicians we had a lot to get through.
Based on all of the input, for Day One I was especially interested in (chronologically): The Vaccines, The Naked and Famous, Foster the People, Smith Westerns, Bloody Beatroots, Tinie Tempeh, Bright Eyes, OkGo (annoyingly at the exact same time as Afrojack and Crystal Castles), Muse and Girl Talk. I did alright – chose to stick with OkGo for their whole set because I thought they would do a bit more being in their hometown (they did not – exact same show I saw in HK over a year ago) and saw none of Afrojack and C.C. Unsure of that decision. But, really, 4:30 to 8:00 p.m. on Friday was insane… a true challenge, and we also had to get dinner!
In the interim periods we got to mingle with a lot of D’s amazing work/professional friends and they are really lovely (big hellos to Kelly, Brandon and Rosemary!) Additionally, the venue itself is gorgeous. We did venture out among the masses to see the Farmer’s Market, “Green Street,” and the other food options (I figured why buy food when I was being fed for free but it was fun to see what was there.) We also checked out the Sony and Playstation Tents (of course!) because they are amazing (of course!) Toyota had good stuff too – nearly everyone in the venue was wearing their bandanas by Friday evening and they had shrinky-dinks, which is pretty stellar. There was one rather significant drawback to going out “there” though and that was this really rank odor that seemed to be seeping up from the deep below the park. It was really bad in the area adjacent to the Sony Stage. I said it smelled like a wet, dirty dog. A said something far more graphic and I am still trying to work out how the hell she would be familiar with the smell she used to describe the Lolla stench. All told, the available options made decision-making hard, but in the same vein NBD because there wasn’t really a way to make it bad (smell aside). #winning.
My favorites of the day were The Vaccines, Bright Eyes, Muse and Girl Talk. I loved ending with Girl Talk too because booty shaking is the best way to go out. The next day when I told one guy Girl Talk had been my favorite, he was like, “You *liked* that?” Poor fellow, hasn’t a clue.
I got up early and went to the gym. For real and in spite of fairly consistent consumption of adult beverages for the better part of Friday. I guess we started and stopped early enough that it was all okay. I was pretty much totally proud of myself. When I got back we were ready to start planning Day Two. Personally, this day presented fewer periods of OMG-FOMO… but still we were knee-deep in music and wanted to check some of the other parts of the festival out too. [Okay, really, we wanted more shrinky-dinks and Toyota swag – not to mention the awesome bracelets from Sony… I wish I would have grabbed more.]
Though we were not all so bright-eyed. As we were getting ready A said she wanted “something fresh to eat, maybe Thai… like Chinese Chicken Salad.”
Then D called and asked what we were doing and I said discussing comida.
“Comida. That’s food right?”
I love my multi-culti posse.
Saturday began with overcast skies and even a few rain drops here and there, which gave me pause. But only for like, a minute because there was plenty to distract us [food, drink, golf carts! Port-a-potties!] We showed up as Walk the Moon was playing… notable mostly because they were covering David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, which surprised me for some reason. We settled on lunch because I had the earliest request, that being Phantogram. After that I was considering Friendly Fires but A convinced me to check out Fitz and the Tantrums. Then I wanted to see the Black Lips, Dom (who covered the Cure…)and The Chain Gang of 1974.
Solid performances, all. Phantogram was nice and melodic, matching the weather, which was now rain. Though I wish she would have quit saying how she asked God for rain for us. Apparently she missed the lesson on the water cycle in Earth Science that one time. I will see Fitz again for sure, and the Black Lips. Dom was interesting and The Chain Gang is very late-era Smiths with a little more rock and maybe a little Psychedelic Furs, so that will always work for me. Everyone is all crazy for Death from Above 1979 (I am mostly curious about this strange include-a-year-from-the-70s-in-your-band-name phenomena) and though I want to like DFA because two people (OMYSFYSFYBMM and P of DP) whose opinions (among other things) I really value love DFA. But, I gotta say, for the second festival in a row, those kids are just noisy. And it is not really interesting noise. Perhaps I will like their studio stuff better. Perhaps. Big Audio Dynamite had been so good at Coachella I wanted to see them again and then I really wanted to see Ween. Ween has a special place in my heart because a super cute boy from a festival past loved them and I thought he was pretty much Mr. Right. They was completely awesome. I loved their entire set. And then they did this strange thing: they covered David Bowie’s Let’s Dance.
A and I thought maybe there was some inside joke and that all the bands had decided to cover that song on Saturday or something – but that couldn’t be right. In hindsight, I am guessing Ween was making a little bit of fun of the earlier band. Maybe. Anyhow, as I said before Let’s Dance is a great song… it is just surprising to hear it twice in the same day at the same festival – right?
After dinner and Ween, A wanted to see Lykke Li and so we cruised Beats Antique on the way there (and they were very March 4th-y… she is SMOKIN’ hot.) Lykke Li had mad super fans – but not quite as super-fan-ish as the Chain Gang’s posse of love. Since we would see L.L. that night at the Rolling Stone party I was kind of ready to move on, really I was pretty much content to find a place to watch Atmosphere (who were great) and wait for my main event: EMINEM.
Don’t hate. I mean, it is not like I won’t get a million chances to see My Morning Jacket again and I’ve seen Pretty Lights. Beirut is a band I will definitely check out, but… seriously, when the HELL am I ever going to be in a position to see Eminem again? Highly unlikely. Especially from this nice safe distance.
Apparently about 100,000 other people thought that same thing. Everyone in the venue except A & D and a handful of others crowded the Music Unlimited (Sony!) side of the park for the headliner. And he did not disappoint. I was totally psyched to see him looking good and energetic like the punk-ass kid I always enjoyed. He is doing that thing all the hip-hop guys are doing now combining lyrical work with rap and bringing out all sorts of collaborations. Predictable or not, it works and it was a great show.
Faves of the day? Phantogram, B.A.D., Ween and Eminem. No question.
After we made it back to the hotel we were going to head over to the Rolling Stone party. This party sounded way better than it was, but it was still totally cool to go and Lykke Li was, in fact, there. After parties are weird things… first because by the time they happen I am tired. True story. And second because there is like this whole game to them that reminds me of the rave scene in the early early 90s when we had to find clues to underground parties and such. (You know what I mean. If you didn’t do it, you probably at least saw Go.) There was one at the Hard Rock with Phantogram and Foster the People and the Foos were at the Metro… there was lots of shit going on. I wished I was more… Up. We stayed for a bit and then hit it: tired style.
When I woke up on Sunday it was beautiful. Then at like 8:00 a.m. it got completely dark. And… dumped rain. Then, by 9:00 a.m. it was clear again. A Humid Continental climate for you. All the while it was totally sticky hot; made me think of you all in Hong Kong. Somehow, A and I found a totally direct route to the show that was in shade – accidental tourism at its finest. By this time the heat was that heavy oppressive kind and it being Sunday and all, one must be careful that one does not fade away.
There would be good music today. But the weather would steal the show.
I had a lot of bands I was interested in on Day 3… but as it goes at a three-day festival, priorities seem to shift on the final day. Rather than being overcome by FOMO and maintaining a sort of urgency that propels the first and second days (perhaps only sustained by the existence of subsequent days when you know you are going to want to be able to break down the sets from the previous days…) Day Three is always more chill, you see who you see and it is what it is. Hopefully.
The first band I saw was Titus Andronicus. Liked them. I was interested in The Joy Formidable… but… nope. Checked out Imelda May next, mostly due to proximity, but she was on A’s list and pretty good – high style and rad voice. There were a lot of musical possibilities over the next couple of hours, but A and I went and got crafty making shrinky-dinks instead. Shrinking plastic and vodka do mix. But don’t let the Toyota girls see you stick your hands in the oven.
Back on the field for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and then The Cars. For real. Ric Ocasek. It was like time travel. Loved both acts but most clearly remember thinking I was getting a sunburn on my back…
Following The Cars I headed back to the Lounge. Dinner would be happening soon and I wanted to see what was up with the girls. The Lounge was crowded, but nothing like it had been on Saturday. I looked up at the sky as I headed back. Hmm.
Portugal the Man took the nearest stage and I went and got some food. As I was walking out of the catering tent I heard a strange noise. Everyone was trying to get in the tent all of a sudden and I was like, ‘Damn, people, there’s enough food here for everyone…’ but then I saw what was happening.
Somehow I made it back with a huge plate of food and A & D had a seat for me. For the first time in the trip we were cold as the wind whipped and the rain spit – even on us VIPs!
The plastic bags, while an unusual fashion statement, turned out to be a thing of genius.
The Arctic Monkeys were well delayed due to the storm, and in spite of a lot of discussion about things being done for the night because of the severity of the rain, the show went on. As the sun came out so did all the techs and we were up and running. After Explosions in the Sky [winners of most appropriate band name for the day] the Foos would be taking the nearest stage but I had already decided I was going to end this night shaking my booty to Deadmau5. And even though everything was soaked, the sun was out and the show was on, and so A and I golf carted it over to the North side.
We were pretty engaged in conversation when we got there and as we got cocktails we were thinking we might try to go side stage for this set. We walked out and across the lawn. The side stage was closed and so we turned around. I looked up again. Red sky at night… who’s delight?
In the time it took to put my camera away the skies opened. The deluge was [I hate to hearken back to the parochial nature of Phantogram, but…] of biblical proportions. This was like rain I have only ever seen in the tropics. You could not even see a foot in front of your face. Thankfully we had bagged all of our stuff in the plastic A had gotten from the port-a-pottys! during the first storm, because nothing else stayed dry. Nothing.
And then, just as it had the first time, it stopped.
But Deadmau5 did not. So, for the third night in a row, I ended an amazing festival day surrounded by a ton of happy people who just wanted to dance.
And then we walked back to the hotel for our last night in Chicago (or, at least I hoped it would be as I was flying on a Buddy Pass and was not entirely sure I’d be getting out…)
Lollapalooza 2011 was awesome: musically, climatically, visually, gastronomically, and seriously we owe it all to D. Over the weekend A and I had been contemplating festivals in general. Were we growing out of them? The demographics (relatively) have shifted, and I had to laugh [OUT LOUD] when some idiot in the Perry’s tent tried to say we were too old – apparently he is unfamiliar with the man who puts on the show, WHO.IS.52. (I was glad there were no weapons at the ready nonetheless, he might have suffered further pain in addition to his stupidity.) Are festivals too much hassle? [A has a specific beef that goes beyond festivals but is definitely exacerbated by them: the demands for audience participation.] Is it too frustrating to try to see all these acts and always feel like you are missing something?
I guess that is the secret though – not just for music festivals but for life – it isn’t what you are missing, it’s what you are experiencing that matters.
This *is* it.
But you can be sure I love *it* a whole lot more as a VIP.