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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

I attended Lollapalooza 2008 and all I got was this lousy Hoot article

Published: August 29, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

Lollapalooza is a living legend. Perry Farrell established the festival in 1991 as a kind of traveling Last Waltz show for his band, Jane’s Addiction, but it became a forum for alternative rock and rap artists to reach fans around the country. From Rage Against the Machine’s naked censorship protest to Kurt Cobain’s tragic suicide a day after canceling Nirvana’s headlining show, the festival’s timeline reads like the epic saga of Generation Angst.

Reconceived as a single-city event in Chicago’s Grant Park in 2005, Lollapalooza has moved to the forefront of the burgeoning American music festival movement that includes Bonnaroo, Coachella, Pitchfork, and Virgin Mobile (see: adjacent article) among others. I was lucky enough to attend the extravaganza and—as any committed Hoot journalist would do—took notes to share with the Brandeis community. Here are some artist highlights from the best festival of the summer.

Day One

K’NAAN (11:30-12:15)

Hip hop prophet K’Naan spit intellectual yet heartfelt tales of his personal Diaspora experiences from Somalia to the streets of New York. Rather than preach organized religion or gangsterism (perhaps hip hop’s best represented religion) he proclaimed the power of the oppressed to speak out against injustice.

Reggae acoustic guitar chords and Afro Caribbean hand drums punctuated his rhymes, but his most powerful moments were a capella, simultaneously revealing vulnerability and strength. “Momma taught me to fight injustice with fearlessness,” he proclaimed. Here’s to hoping his message reaches struggling inner city moms worldwide.

BLACK LIPS (12:15-1:15)

K’Naan may have touched a spiritual nerve among his adoring white hipster converts, but Black Lips probably had a better idea of the audience for whom it was performing. “We know a lot of you came out here to try some psychedelic drugs,” one of the four guitar-humping brats admitted early into their set.

While garage rock Nuggets comparisons seem obvious, the four dudes successfully mixed early Beatles harmonized melodies with The Who Sell Out era psychedelia and stage antics. Their hip swiveling performance—complete with a guy-on-guy make out session—was a libido-fueled celebration of twentysomething abandon. It’s easy to play the name game with its shape-shifting aesthetic, but the best way to enjoy Black Lips is to shut up and dance.

GOGOL BORDELLO (4:15-5:15)

Words fail to describe the sensory assault that is Gogol Bordello. I suggest catching a show of these self-described gypsy punks at the earliest date possible. Less a band than an instant Eastern European party, this ten-member ensemble requires a bottle of red wine (no cups) and your best moshing clothes.

BLOC PARTY (6:15-7:15)

These British post-punk heroes took the best and worst slot of the festival: directly before Radiohead. This meant that they were guaranteed an enormous and enormously impatient audience. In the words of Crosby, Stills, and Nash during their Woodstock performance, I would have been “scared shitless” to perform before one of the most popular alternative bands in the known universe.

Nonetheless, the band delivered the goods and was awarded with a surprisingly warm reception. Lead guitarist Russell Lissack stole the show with his aural pyrotechnics, although his fashion sense and stage presence made him look like he belonged in the audience of a Bright Eyes concert. Let’s face it, the guys must have done something right to win the approval of ungrateful Radiohead-heads.

RADIOHEAD (8:00-10:15)

If there is a special section of heaven reserved for alternative rock fans it probably resembles a Radiohead festival performance. I was lucky enough to catch its epic three-hour marathon performance at Bonnaroo in 2006, but several feet away from the stage at this show I saw less otherworldliness and more humanity. Despite tens of thousands of fans salivating in unison, front man Thom Yorke’s solipsistic paranoia peeked through when he pondered out loud whether we were a real audience or simply phantoms in a jetlag-induced dream. I couldn’t decide if the beautifully dystopian stage setup looked more like a jumble of security camera screens or an Andy Warhol film, but the music itself remained incomparable.

Standout songs included the opener, “15 Step,” a gritty yet ethereal electronic rocker; “Lucky,” a sprawling downtempo guitar rock classic; and “2+2=5,” an Orwell-referencing protest anthem whose cathartic chorus felt like an orgasm of the audience’s collective unconscious. Although the ensemble wasn’t quite as awe-inspiring as they were the first time I saw them, the jaded elder statesmen still kicked ass of even the most energized upstarts.

Day Two

OKKERVIL RIVER (5:30-6:30)

I’ve always respected these Austin indie folk rockers, but I thought of them as talented songwriters rather than performers. This show revealed more of the musicians’ inner rock star ambitions than their superficially sensitive white boy side. It also offered a persuasive case for the group’s advancement into the upper echelons of the rock music world.

Front man Will Sheff howled and preened, taking several opportunities to jump off the drum kit and show that he was looking for inspiration more from Mick Jagger than Willy Nelson. I recommend listening to the band’s albums to study the art of lyric writing and catching a show to get a lesson in raw charisma.

WILCO (8:30-10:30)

Rabid suburban fans have lifted Wilco to the level of major label stardom while somehow allowing it to retain its indie cred. This performance shows that the key to Wilco’s success its ability to maintain that balance. A rousing, noisy rendition of “Misunderstood” immediately set the tone for the next two hours, which would alternate between hook-filled alt. country tunes and avant garde ensemble soundscapes.

Nevertheless, no matter how weird or dissonant the songs became, Jeff Tweedy’s crew (in its newest incarnation) structured the jams through supernatural communication. For a bunch of middle-aged former country rockers, Wilco still managed to strike a surprisingly even ratio between mind-blowing psych freakouts and easygoing pop ditties. You wish your dad were as cool as Jeff Tweedy.

Day Three

GIRL TALK (6:30-7:30)

I’m not going to spoil your fall concert experience with too many details, but Greg Gillis might go down in history as the most insane DJ to ever bend minds with a laptop. His mash ups of everyone from Missy Elliot to Elton John transformed an entire crowd of apathetic hipsters into a mass of writhing bodies clambering over each other in a way that somehow brought to mind a scene from Dante’s Inferno.

Gillis invited fans and other artists (I spotted Saul Williams) to dance with him onstage, and before the show was over it was difficult to differentiate between the crowd and performers. He might hide behind a corny 80s club DJ veneer for laughs, but this man is a revolutionary.

KANYE WEST (8:30-10:30)

What can one say about Ye that hasn’t already been said thousands of times before and written across billboards? The man loves his hometown and completely redeemed himself after a nauseating Bonnaroo debacle. Thankfully, he left the interstellar sci-fi plot from his Glow in the Dark tour behind and concentrated on the glitz and glamour that’s come to define his public persona.

“Stronger” provided an adequate outlet for his showboating moves and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” reminded us that the man’s got a lot to say when you get past the Louis Vuitton Don façade. His colossal neon light stage setup made the actual rapper look tiny, but the force of his personality made the comparison irrelevant. Egomaniacal? Definitely. Immature? Probably. Overhyped? Not even close.