By Kristi Kates 8/31/09
100 degree temperatures, persistent humidity, and overcrowding were the hallmarks of the 2009 Lollapalooza festival, in a year that saw the weather actually being bigger news than the bands themselves.
The park - all decked out with eclectic art installations and interesting diversions ranging from food to beverages to videogaming stations to hammocks - was well-designed; but just like last year, the Lolla gurus cant seem to comprehend that too many people do not make a fun festival.
Add to that the high heat index and the rain, and it became a battle just to see the bands you wanted to see. We soon found that we werent the only journalists who retreated frequently to the protected (and somewhat drier) media area instead of fighting our way to the other side of the park through the downpours and the phalanxes of people who were far more interested in staying dry than in being polite. That said - at least there was music.
U.K. buzz band Hockey showed great promise when they kicked off their festival-opening set at 11 a.m. on Friday, right after festival organizers blasted the Star Wars theme through all the main speakers as an indicator that the fest had begun. Hockeys European radio hit, Learn to Lose, had the small assemblage of early festival arrivals dancing in place, but only a trio of songs were performed before the P.A. system died entirely and the band walked off the stage. Not a great start to the day.
On the other end of the park, back near the media area, Hey Champ put on a retro-fied show of their 80s-influenced synth tunes, and gathered a solid crowd in spite of the constant rain. Plastic ponchos became the fashion statement of the day as the afternoon unfolded and the rain just refused to let up - it would, in fact, continue on through the entire evening. Other afternoon standouts included White Lies, The Gaslight Anthem, singer-songwriter Andrew Bird, Scandinavian indie-pop trio Peter Bjorn and John, and The Decemberists, who treated the crowd to a skillful play-through of their complete Hazards of Love album.
Although Friday was perhaps the best day lineup-wise, there were a few disappointments, as well, the most surprising being Ben Folds, who instead of playing any of his many indie-rock hits or standout B-sides, relied on more downtrodden tunes from his newest album, Way to Normal, and several surprisingly women-bashing cover songs; by the time Folds finally decided to pull out some of his better-composed tracks, such as Rockin the Suburbs, a good portion of the crowd had lost interest.
At night, the rain continued, festooned by rumbles of thunder and accompanied by trash bags on those who couldnt locate the now in-demand plastic poncho; and Kings of Leon proved the more popular headliner on the north side of the park with their well-polished sound that got the entire crowd singing along on more than one occasion.
Dhani Harrisons band thenewno2, Living Things, and the wacky Swedish dance-rock of Miike Snow got things moving on an otherwise bland Saturday, during which the rain eventually went away only to be replaced by overwhelming temperatures near the 100s and a suffocating humidity that sent many to Lollas cooling facilities, the medical tent, and off the grounds entirely in search of air conditioning.
Most festival attendees were just as unprepared for the heat onslaught as they were for yesterdays downpour - the ponchos were replaced by many women wearing high heels, apparantly uninformed as to the fact that Lollas main stages are in the middle of fields; and the guys didnt seem to get the fact they were in the middle of a city, not on a beach, as they wandered up and down Michigan Avenue shirtless and sweaty.
The thousands thronging through the park also made it a little difficult to actually get to the various stages on time - but we heard several of the better acts of the afternoon, including Blind Pilot, Chicagos own Americana singer Joe Pug, and Gomez. Arctic Monkeys put on one of the most-attended sets of the day, as the entire north end seemed to be filled with those wanting to rock along to the Brit quartets rollicking, danceable Brit-rock songs, one of the most popular being I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.
As Saturday night arrived - not much cooler, but at least thankfully devoid of the heat of the sun - the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O. took the stage on the north end, adorned in a giant spangled headdress to perform the bands dramatic songs. On the south end of the grounds was a giant mass of guys who apparantly bought out the nations entire stock of Tool t-shirts in order to see Tool themselves perform. And those who couldnt decide between the quirk-pop or the aggro-rock simply opted for Perrys stage in the middle of the park, where Bassnectar played danceable beats until the fest closed for the night.
The heat continued relentlessly on Sunday, but at least the grounds were devoid of rain and finally began to lose the mildewy smell that had lingered throughout the park for most of the weekend. Friendly Fires, Alberta Cross, Ra Ra Riot, Cage the Elephant, and The Raveonettes kept things hopping throughout the afternoon as the heat indices rose to around 105 degrees and the Lolla folks finally brought in a Mobile Ventilator Unit to mist water over the fans, much like the street misters in West Coast desert communities.
Vampire Weekend and Cold War Kids brought their indie-rock A-games, while the Black Keys Dan Auerbach showed off his solo music. By 6:30 p.m., it was time for the Velvet Undergrounds Lou Reed to perform - but Reed was nowhere to be seen. Finally, he wandered onstage at 6:45, fidgeted with his guitar, didnt address the crowd at all, and - assisted by a Teleprompter - launched into a set that included many of his classics, from Waiting for the Man to Walk on the Wild Side.
Reeds late start and refusal to stop early unfortunately pushed back every subsequent band - a fact that didnt impress those waiting for Band of Horses to begin their set at 7:30. Reed merely ignored them and played on to 7:45, causing a cross-stage musical cacophony when Band of Horses were forced to play late, crashing their sound into Perry Farrells Janes Addiction on the direct opposite stage (Lolla has strict time schedules for alternating stages, but Reed - true to punk form, at least - apparantly wasnt interested in following rules.) As a helicopter hovered over Farrells set spotlighting the crowd, many started to run for the other end of the park, where Vegas synth-rockers The Killers would wrap up the entire fest with their set.
The Killers proved to be worth the trek, in spite of the way over-capacity crowds crammed into every inch of the stage area. Frontman Brandon Flowers led the crowd through a hitlist of Killers songs, from Somebody Told Me to the more sophisticated, uber-catchy new tracks from the bands latest album. The Killers set proved to be a balm to the sunburned, heat-exhausted masses, who were finally seen smiling in the humid night air as The Killers closed the show - and Lollapalooza itself closed for another year.