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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Melodic summer retreats

    I still don’t know how I survived the cab ride. Bald tires acted like a slick pair of skis as we whipped in and out of downtown traffic doing double the speed limit. The sidewalks overflowed with busy congestion. The brakes finally screeched us to a stop as we arrived a few blocks from Grant Park. Police barriers blocked the road ahead, and a huge mob flowed towards the lakeshore. The cartoonish white letters on top of the park entrance read: “”Lollapalooza.”” It was Aug. 1, 2008, the opening day of the annual Chicago summer music festival.

    Inside the ticket gates, the giant Clarence Buckingham Fountain shot water towering 150 feet in the air, greeting anxious music fanatics with a cool mist. Since 1911, Grant Park has provided an astonishing view of the Chicago skyline and the seemingly endless Lake Michigan. It might not be the desert, but mid-summer heat in the Midwest is drenched with humidity. Volunteers armed themselves with super-soakers and attacked gracious grateful victims all weekend. After three days, every attendee was painted varying shades of red by the harsh sun; some burns were so severe it hurt just looking at them.

    Environmental concerns were at the forefront of the festival. The partnership between Lollapalooza and Parkway Foundation has generated $2.4 million for maintaining Chicago parks, with a goal of $5 million for down the road. The green trend took center stage on Green Street, a market on festival grounds focused on keeping a small carbon footprint and teaching about global warming.

    One of the most appealing aspects of Lollapalooza was the wide variety of talent on display. During the day, young bands on side stages were given the opportunity to make a names for themselves. It was a battle to hold the attention of curious listeners looking for a new sound. Some of these acts ended with an ovation, and others left the stage in awkward silence. Unfortunately for wailing lead-singer Andy Hull, his band, Manchester Orchestra, couldn’t capture the crowd. The dark and heavy mood of the Indie-rock band from Atlanta simply didn’t fit the exciting atmosphere. However, The Enemy UK, a high-energy trio of kids from Coventry, England, packed a punch with their upbeat punk rock, immediately reminding me of Blink-182. Drummer Liam Watts looksed like he’s in middle school, but he carried the music with incredibly quick beats.

    Two relatively unknown bands surely left Chicago with a bigger following then than when they arrived. Parlor Mob, a group of longhaired classic rockers from New Jersey, showed their Led Zeppelin influence with ripping guitar solos and pounding drums. Guitarists Dave Rosen and Paul Ritchie got the crowd behind them while showing off talent well beyond their years. Then there’s Steel Train. Led by the hyperactive lead singer Scott Irby-Ranniar, the talented jam band flashed incredible skill and cohesion.

    Lollapalooza was a paradise for people watching. The wide range of music drew just as varied a crowd: from high school students to retirees, gothic rock to mainstream hip/hop; Grant Park had it all. It’s a rare experience to have people from so many different walks of life taking part in the same festival and getting a taste for each other’s music. I saw people doing strange versions of the Irish jig during the wildly entertaining set by Flogging Molly, a punk-rock band from Ireland that rallied a ruckus crowd. I watched a catchy surprise from Australia, The John Butler Trio, bring thousands of people to their feet dancing. It was easy to tell that the Aussies were having a great time on stage, and the crowd responded. They mixed politically charged lyrics with folk, rock and reggae, and the result was one of the best shows of the weekend.

    Perry Farrell typically makes multiple appearances at his festival each summer. Created in 1991 by Farrell as a farewell tour for his band Jane’s Addiction, Lollapalooza became a summer tradition. Every year until 1997, Farrell put together loaded lineups for a cross-country tour. The festival struggled to stay above water, and disappeared until 2005, when Farrell joined with C3 Presents, a sports and entertainment company that also co-owns and produces the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Together, they chose Grant Park in Chicago as the permanent location for three days of music every summer. This year, the park was home to eight stages, over 100 bands, and 225,000 people.

    But this year Farrell brought special guest Saul Hudson, more commonly known as Slash, the former lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses, on stage with him. Their styles collided and the combination was less than perfect, but the thrilling surprise of hearing one of the greatest guitarists of all time made the show more than worth it. The two played on the Kidz stage, a smaller set up designed to provide entertainment for the younger crowd.

    The Black Keys, a duo from Akron, Ohio, put on the show that defined originality for the weekend. Singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach, and drummer Patrick Carney have perfected raw blues and rock music, after recording their album Thickfreakness in a basement in 12 hours.

    They were a tough act to follow, but Jack White and The Raconteurs were up to the task. With a very similar bluesy rock style, they performed for one of the larger crowds of the weekend. White played the guitar like he’s been practicing for centuries, often overshadowing the rest of the band. During the hit song “”Steady As She Goes,”” White was drowned out by bellowing amateur voices in the audience.

    Explosions in the Sky provided a sharp change of pace in the late afternoon sun. I don’t know if it was their intention, but the Austin, Texas, band specializing in hypnotizing instrumental rock put half the crowd to sleep. It may have been a combination of alcohol and heat that caused the melodic beats to be the ultimate relaxer after a long day. The pulsing songs changed in intensity from light rock to metal and back again, putting the audience in a trance.

    When night fell and the city lights turned on, the main acts at Lollapalooza took the stage. The Chicago skyline provided an incredible backdrop for the biggest shows of the weekend. The two main stages sat on opposite sides of the park, and for the night shows it felt like the crowd doubled in size. On Saturday night, Chicago native Lupe Fiasco opened for the heavy metal rockers of Rage Against the Machine. Lupe made a stop in Tucson last spring with Kanye West, and his performance in the Old Pueblo outshined his in Chicago. Technical problems haunted the set, with speakers cutting out during a few songs, and the crowd seemed uninterested. Fiasco left and Rage Against the Machine was set to take the stage.

    It’s hard to describe the intensity of the Rage Against the Machine set. Imagine standing in a pile of thousands of people, shoulder to shoulder, with barely enough room to raise a hand. The crowd continued to pack in tighter and pushed towards the stage when the lights went down. Then, when the music started, the ground turned into a giant whirlpool. For the first few songs I don’t think my feet touched earth. Suddenly, I found myself 20 yards from where I started and had no idea how I got there. Zach Frontman Zack de la Rocha stopped the show in the middle of the third song to calm down the chaotic moshing, asking everyone to move back and help each other out. Ironically, the next song played was the particularly violent track “”Bullet in the Head.”” During the politically motivated song “”Wake Up,”” Zach Zack took a few minutes to call out authority, even encouraging revolution if the political environment doesn’t change. Needless to say, riot police were out in full force after the show. The relentless set of angry rock proved powerful and exhausting. My ears still haven’t stopped ringing.

    On Sunday night, the mellow groove of Gnarls Barkley opened for festival closer Kanye West. The sound created by Brian Burton and Cee-Lo Green is nearly impossible to categorize, mixing urban hip/hop beats with indie-rock. Cee-Lo showed off incredible vocal range while driving the music. The performance was the perfect warm up for West.

    West’s set in Chicago was in stark contrast to his Tucson show last spring. At McKale Center, West focused more on the show than the music. He had a drastic stage set with an outer space storyline and light show that overpowered his songs. At Lollapalooza, he stuck to the basics. West still had an extreme light show, but cut out the storyline, allowing the audience to concentrate on the music. The crowd was behind the Chicago idol all the way, often echoing roaring sing-alongs. It was a fitting end to the weekend.

    Rumors were flying all weekend about the possible appearance of another special guest, hometown hero Barack Obama. In the Lollapalooza official program, the Kanye West biography describes his crowds “”as diverse as an Obama rally gathering.”” The Obama campaign also had a merchandise tent on park grounds, selling t-shirts and bumper stickers. The rumors refused to die until West left the stage without the presidential candidate stopping by.

    After the last show, the tired crowd was corralled like cattle through park exits far too small for the mass of humanity trying to leave. While at the festival, it felt like the center of the world, but life continued on as usual on the streets outside Grant Park. The surreal walk into the bright city felt eerily quiet after the excitement of the Chicago music spectacle.

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