Lollapalooza 2009: From Perry Farrell to Passion Pit


Jane's Addiction, photo credit: Dave Mead

Total bedlam with a good soundtrack, that’s Lollapalooza. The last time I was in Chicago’s Grant Park with this many people — estimates show 200,000 bought tickets — we’d all just voted out a malevolent Washington administration that was past its expiration date. This time the masses and I were there to see as many different bands as humanly possible during a three-day free-for-all. People may not have been crying tears of joy, but spirits were definitely high. It would be nice to think that the world is a gentler place now than it was last November, but it’s not exactly true. Instead, the Midwest’s main music festival just seemed to prove that we’re pretty good at ignoring hard times. As Perry Farrell himself said, Lollapalooza is recession proof.

Bon Iver, photo credit: Cambria Harkey

The only real taste of hardship here, thankfully, was the weather, which served up a sample platter of meteorological insults. Rain on Friday. Rising, stagnant heat over the weekend. Of course, none of that really seems to matter when you’ve got golden harmonies floating through the air. Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon may have christened the inaugural afternoon with his honeyed falsetto, but it was Fleet Foxes shortly after who gave the crowd its first rosy glow. That’s when people seemed to start paying attention, even singing along to morbid-sweet lyrics like “Michael, you would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in summertime.”

Of Montreal, photo credit: Matthew Taplinger

All things considered though, in a super-sized festival setting like this it’s hard for most bands to match the outsized presence of Of Montreal‘s, armed with theatrics and prog-leaning disco fever. Sorry, Robin Pecknold, you and the Foxes wear your flannel and beards well, but Kevin Barnes has glitter, feathered capes, and a cohort that includes what appear to be a group of well-trained ninja mimes (black body suits and face masks, good at lurking.) For better or worse, no nudity from the infamous showman this time around.

Karen O, photo credit: anngie

Once we enter the sartorial arena, we’ll always be waiting for Karen O. And sure enough, when the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs came out Saturday night, she was decked out in a wild headdress and cape that looked from afar like it was half eagle, half classic Indian chief. Somehow, she pulls this stuff off with panache. And given the band’s commanding set — which mixed rollicking early material with more recent synth-driven numbers — Karen O. and Co. proved themselves at home in the headlining spot. It was an inspired move, also, to slip in a guitar riff from “So Watcha Want” at one point, a nod to the Beastie Boys, who canceled, regrettably, due to illness.

Santigold, photo credit: Hellpanda

One of the standout sets on Saturday came from Santigold, as she soared through songs like “Say Aha” and “Lights Out.” Maybe we can chock it up to her good feelings, having recently returned from an overseas tour — as she said herself, she was thrilled to be back in the States. For my part, I was thrilled about her dancers, the two most laconic back-up dancers in the world. In shades and gold jackets and blank faces, they stand stock still, only to erupt into jerky, yet oddly impressive maneuvers at unpredictable intervals. (If you can’t envision this, check out the video for “L.E.S. Artistes,” and then imagine something a lot more rowdy.)

Diplo, photo credit: LaurieFan

Perry’s stage, stocked with DJs all weekend, turned out to be a dance mecca and probably the ongoing sleeper hit of the festival. Diplo’s set was a case in point: with a string of party bangers and a Michael Jackson number inserted for good measure; he had a big crowd dancing like they were half on fire. If we wouldn’t have guessed it, we can assume Diplo expected something big, since he was looking strangely dapper in a suit rather than his usual t-shirt. Other acts seemed to rip it up too, from A-trak to Kanye protegé Kid CuDi.

Passion Pit, photo credit: belouxs

The heat blossomed by Sunday, with temperatures nearing three digits and air as thick as toothpaste. Nevertheless, a few bands had no problem getting heart rates going all over again. (I suppose once you’re sweating, why not go for the gold.) Passion Pit may have landed their Lollapalooza spot on the momentum of web-driven buzz, but all they need to do to reassure most skeptics is let loose their ecstatic electro-pop. And another set of newcomers, Friendly Fires, a bunch of Brits with a knack for pop-savvy dance anthems, may have won a bunch of new fans as well — so my friends say, at least — with an energetic set of their own. (Now we’ll just see if they win the Mercury prize in September.)

TV on the Radio, photo credit: Dave Mead

There’s a lot more to talk about, clearly — TV on the Radio, for one, were rock solid as usual, although the sound was a little fishy — but more to the point, there’s obviously too much going on at a festival like this to see it all. I wish I’d caught Neko Case, No Age, and Delta Spirit, and I didn’t manage to swim across the daunting ocean of people to catch Animal Collective’s set on the other end of the park.

The good news, for those of us in cities like Chicago at least, is that a lot of these bands will return in the coming months to play smaller venues. That might be a slightly preferable scenario anyhow. It’s like the difference between savoring your bourbon, one Kentucky sip at a time, and lining up a dozen shots in a hot, overcrowded bar.

Lou Reed, photo credit: Ashely Gorman

Alright, that gripe kinda makes me sound like a middle-aged man. I may not be there yet, but even if I was, Lollapalooza 2009 wants us know that’s nothing to worry about. With top billing given to bands like Depeche Mode and Jane’s Addiction — and with Lou Reed as an added bonus — this year’s festival seemed intent on providing a reminder that you don’t need to tone it down as time goes by. Maybe that’s Lolla’s note to self. Let’s remember that this party started in 1991, almost twenty years ago. That’s downright ancient in music festival years.