Written by Cory Nakasue for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by Amos White V for THE ARTISTS FORUM, INC
Photos: All photos by Brent Felker
5 out of 5 stars
LOLLAPALOOZA 2009: SONGS OF SURVIVAL
CHICAGO, IL (August 8, 2009) Perry Farrell must have been so very thrilled that the first day of his festival, Lollapalooza 2009, was the rain-soaked mud bath that it was; more closely resembling the Woodstock vision he had in the early ’90’s than the Epcot confection it has grown into. If you were there on day one, August 7, 2009, then you know that there was no escaping dirty hippy-dom.
No matter what your politics or musical tastes, we were all in this together — the sludgy playing field had been leveled and a much-needed dose of rock ‘n roll chaos was achieved. Only the strong were able to survive day one.
With forty bands a day hosted on eight stages, each named by the corporations that sponsored them (i.e. The Vitamin Water Stage, and a family-friendly Kidzapalooza stage), I had to be picky… Some of it is a wet blur, but I definitely remember these two performances:
Manchester Orchestra: These guys from Atlanta can play and wail! Reminiscent of The Pixies, with a little grunge and prog-rock thrown in for good measure, they managed to put a polished (very Yankee) spin on a corrugated ‘90’s guitar sound. This was a good start to my day. About six hours into the unseasonably cold and rainy weather, soaked to the bone with numb extremities, I hit the wall. The weather had made it impossible to sit anywhere and my legs were giving out.
I am so glad I stuck it out for The Decemberists’ set! They revived me, along with thousands of others with their heroism and drama (yes, I am talking about The Decemberists). I did not know that these mild mannered, sensitive, poets had it in them to rock this hard.
They performed their entire rock opera, The Hazards of Love, in the pouring rain with fog machines and enhanced base drums. I swear, every member of the band had an extra base drum to pound on and I am sure they could be heard in Ohio.
I have no idea what this opera is about, but, there seems to be some kind of virgin and some evil queen whose Lord-on-high-like voice made all the wet hairs on my neck dry up and turn white.
The small stages with the lesser-known bands were a treasure trove of rich performances; more interesting and exciting than the headliners of the festival (with the exception of Depeche Mode).
Not that I’ve been on intimate terms with the festival over the years, but I hear things… I know people. In fact, this was my first Lollapalooza since the inaugural 1991 alt-rock fest. Eighteen years have passed; not only have I survived my adolescence and young adulthood, but I was so relived to see that alternative music has not only survived but flourished during a time when popular music acts of questionable musicianship and even less artistry are insidiously infiltrating the eardrums of young and old-er.
The variety and range in artists was impressively wide with a corresponding depth of talent. It was great to see artists like TV on the Radio and Dan Auerbach, whose work is sophisticated, drawing upon a multitude of musical styles, but can still find an instant connection with an audience and sound fresh. It gives me hope for the future, even though there was something distinctively 80s about this festival that mired it in the past—in a good way.
Covers of ‘80’s new wave songs were sported by half the bands performing, including stellar renditions of Joy Division’s Transmission by Peter, Bjorn & John, and The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog, roared by the incomparable Ida Maria.
If they weren’t covering ’80’s songs, they were definitely covering the ’80’s sound and spirit. With bands like The Raveonettes, who channel the souls of The Jesus and Mary Chain with their sexy, fuzz-driven insouciance or Arctic Monkeys and Friendly Fires whose look and sound are the amalgam of every brit-pop act from 1985, I felt like I was in a time warp–again, in good way.
This was a summer that, if you grew up in the ’80’s, large chunks of your adolescence reared their heads with the deaths Michael Jackson and John Hughes; artist’s who defined a decade. The mortality of everyone is called to the carpet when a significant icon from our youth dies or shows the signs of age. Headliners, The Beastie Boys had to cancel because of a cancer diagnosis.
Depeche Mode almost had to cancel for similar reasons. I am happy to report that the Depeche Mode set was sublime, triumphant; exhibiting a level of maturity and ownership that can only be earned by surviving the ravages of time. I saw Depeche Mode twenty years ago, and they’re better now. They were the talk of the festival. Eighteen year-olds, who had never heard them before, clamored to buy their albums upon seeing their set. Same old songs, but now, the pathos is poignant instead of melodramatic and the guitars sinister, seductive and commanding.
And this is just one of the reasons to build a relationship with music and see it live: the longer that a song survives the more of your life you experience each time you hear it. A song from twenty years ago will take you back and ground you to the present, all in four minutes. It will help you feel your history and bring you into the moment. For a certain generation of people, Lollapalooza 2009 was another reminder of the ravages time and how quickly it passes, how much changes, and what survives.
For more information about Lollapalooza 2009, visit: 2009.lollapalooza.com