Decisions. That’s what music festivals are all about, really. Will you see this band or that one? Is there enough time to get a beer before your favorite DJ hits the stage? Should you go to the afterparty and risk sleeping through the next day’s afternoon acts, or conserve your energy and get an early start tomorrow? And my personal favorite: Is this Porta-Potty the least disgusting you’ll find at this point, or should you take a gamble on the one next door?
At no festival is answering these questions more difficult than at Lollapalooza. Held annually in Chicago’s Grant Park (for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, it hasn’t been a touring festival since 2003 and has been based in Chicago since 2005), navigating its sprawling grounds has always been a workout. With a footprint expansion of 40 percent for 2010, deciding where you want to be when is essential, as you could be dealing with a 15- to 30-minute walk to your next destination. That said, having the extra room has most certainly made a difference in ease of wading through busy areas and, therefore, getting to your next set faster.
With its tried-and-true formula successful year after year, Lollapalooza has not made any radical changes to its 2010 incarnation. The number of stages was the same as last year: eight, including a kids’ stage and Perry’s dance stage. Friday heavyweights included Hot Chip, Devo, Matt & Kim, the Black Keys, Chromeo, and headliners 2ManyDJs, the Strokes, and Lady Gaga.
I wasn’t able to make it into the park until late afternoon, when I made a beeline for Hot Chip’s set. As at their New York set earlier in the week, Joe Goddard was noticeably absent, but for a good reason — his wife was about to have a baby any minute, and the band covered quite well for the handicap. Hipsters and college kids got down in the late-day sun to crowd-pleasers like “Boy From School,” “One Pure Thought,” “One Life Stand,” and “Ready for the Floor.” Hot Chip have come a long way; far more nattily dressed than in the old days, they also seem to be having a rollicking good time on stage.
I then high-tailed it to Perry’s for the electro trifecta of back-to-back sets featuring Erol Alkan, Tiga, and 2ManyDJs. Both Erol and Tiga killed it with sick, nasty beats: Alkan’s set included his collaborations with Boys Noize like “Lemonade” and the Soulwax remix of Paul Chambers’ “Yeah Techno!,” while Tiga included his own dance-floor monsters like “You Gonna Want Me,” “Mind Dimension,” and “Shoes.”
In a rare (one of a handful U.S. gigs in the last couple of years) appearance, 2ManyDJs (also known as Steph and Dave Dewaele, half of Soulwax) drew a sizeable crowd, even despite being pitted against the Strokes and Lady Gaga. Electro’s sharpest dressed DJs (yes, they wore the white tuxes) experienced a few hiccups with their elaborate video setup at the beginning, but the problem was quickly resolved. As always, they played a near seamless set of the expected (their own remix of MGMT’s “Kids” and Erol/Boys Noize’s “Waves”) and unexpected (John Paul Young’s “Love Is in the Air” and Nirvana’s “Breed”). “Mixed” live in the same style as their music, the video served as the perfect complement, helping with song identification (often displaying album covers or the titles of various songs and artists) as well as offering plain old entertaining eye candy. My favorite set of the night, marred only by annoyances from the crowd, who’d apparently had 2ManyEs and engaged in both annoying, bad, close dancing and fireworks-blasting. (Yes, really. Surprisingly, security didn’t seem too concerned….)
And then we have Lady Gaga. Pretty much every attendee had some kind of opinion, from the hipsters able to satiate their curiosity to witness Gaga’s live show in virtual anonymity to the unabashed hardcore gay/teenaged girl fans to the dude wearing the homemade “Gag-A-Lady” shirt. (I especially loved the religious fanatics picketing outside the park gates and their “Gaga is HELL bound!” signs.) Although I only was able to run over to see about 20 minutes of her set (and was toward the middle to back of an incredible vast sea of onlookers — thank God for the big video screens), Gaga basically put on a two-hour VMA-worthy performance that was everything you’d expect: breathtaking costumes, boundless energy, sing-along hits, dazzling, ever-changing stage effects, impressive choreography, and even actual fireworks. On the downside, her set was plagued by sound problems, though I don’t think that colored too much of anyone’s experience.
I sadly was unable to catch their sets, but I hear that Devo (which, I have to complain, played way too early in the day, at 4 p.m.) played a terrific set to a vaguely incongruous and hugely enthusiastic crowd, and that the Strokes are officially “back” and getting people very excited for the new material they’re introducing.
Other miscellaneous notes:
The weather was pretty much perfect the first day (in sharp contrast to the humid, rainy day the festival kicked off on last year): sunny, warm, vaguely breezy, and no rain in sight.
Though I didn’t get to experience too much of it yet, I’m looking forward to sampling the eats at this year’s Chow Town, a vision conjured by local celeb chef Graham Elliot Bowles. With both returning favorites (truffle parmesan popcorn!) and new, innovative items (seitan potato skins, asian pork belly sliders with kimchi-cilantro scallion salad), this ain’t your typical fried-junk-filled affair, making the whole need for sustenance thing a very pleasant experience. (Lines were surprisingly short as well.)
Lollapalooza official aftershows are, once again, in full effect. However, I was sorely disappointed to find out they are still starting very early and mostly at venues quite a hike from Grant Park – meaning that if you choose to stay until the end of the festival (10 p.m.), you’ll most likely miss some of the aftershow, and most or all of it if you stop for a bite to eat or back at your hotel. (Due to some miscommunication about when doors and showtime were, I ended up missing the first 45 minutes of Cut Copy’s sold-out 75-minute gig at Metro. But on the upside, I’ll catch them again at their Lollapalooza set, and I actually liked new songs I caught a lot better than the “Where I’m Going” single already floating around, which gets me very excited for the new album.)
Click here to read Jen Zipf’s impressions of the festival’s second day.