If you're just tuning in, you can get up to speed with Part 1 (the Things To Do in Detroit When You Think You Might Soon End Up Dead Edition) here.
Since my Chicago friends, The Mister and The Missus, are just as poor as I am, we couldn't justify buying 3-day passes to Lollapalooza, and The Missus decided to completely skip the festival. So, The Mister and I made the big decision to spend our one day at Lolla with Lady Gaga. Although I thought Sunday's lineup sounded the best overall (Hockey! Yeasayer! The National! MGMT! Arcade Fire! Soundgarden!), The Mister had already seen most of those bands, and we both realized that the odds of ever getting to see Gaga again for a reasonable price were pretty slim. I'm sure plenty of others thought the same thing, as there were a lot of people showing up at the Monster Ball who looked more like they belonged on The Strokes' side of the park.
The Mister had to work in the morning, so we didn't get to Grant Park until around 2:30. We managed to catch the second half of Mavis Staples' set, which just made us wish we had seen the whole thing. Partly because we missed a special appearance by Jeff Tweedy (who produced her new album). But mostly because that lady is the real damn deal.
"You Are Not Alone," Mavis Staples
For the most part, we just went back and forth between the Budweiser and Playstation stages, which were right across the way from each other. So, after Mavis, we walked over to check out Drive By Truckers. I like several of their songs and assumed they would be a good live band. I was wrong. They sounded OK, but were not at all interesting to watch. As the band's complete lack of energy threatened to put us into a coma, we decided to make a run for the beer tent and go claim our spot for the next band's set.
"Carl Perkins' Cadillac," Drive By Truckers
That next band was The New Pornographers, whose set I'd most been looking forward to (aside from Gaga, of course). They didn't disappoint, turning in an upbeat set full of some of their best and most recognizable songs, beginning with "Sing Me Spanish Techno" and ending with possibly one of the best set-enders of all time, "The Bleeding Heart Show." Happily, the whole porno gang made it for Lolla, including Dan Bejar and indie rock goddess Neko Case. Throughout the set, I coveted Neko's floppy black and white hat, which made me wish that I didn't look like a complete, uh, asshat in hats.
"All The Old Showstoppers," The New Pornographers
After that, we took in about as much of Dirty Projectors as I could stomach. The only enjoyment I got out of that set was watching the lone creeper who was just sort of hanging out off to the side in the bushes and sticking out like a sore thumb. But soon, sensing that I might start pelting the stage with rocks, The Mister suggested we get out of our little corner of the Lolla world by taking a walk. But not before getting another beer.
Grant Park was quite lovely, and I imagine it's even nicer when there aren't 80,000 people swarming it. We checked out the grounds for a bit, popped in on Neon Trees (who put out a nice, retro vibe) and stayed as far away from Dirty Projectors as we could until they finally vacated.
We got back to our area shortly after The Black Keys had started their set. And that, my friends, was when I fell in love.
Here's kind of an embarrassing admission. I had always avoided listening to The Black Keys because I was under the impression that they were an electronica band. The Mister said perhaps I had them confused with Black Lips, which made sense to me at the time, but then I looked up Black Lips and discovered that they weren't electronica either. So I have no idea where I came up with this misinformation.
Anyhoo....before Lolla, I'd heard a few tracks from the new Black Keys album, Brothers, and really liked them. But if you've heard that album (it's one of the best of the year, so you should have by now), you know that it neither sounds electronic nor like the band's previous albums. So, I went into their set completely ignorant of who they truly were and with no idea of what to expect. Therefore, I wasn't at all prepared for the face-melting, ovary-exploding sonic blast that hit me. Although they were joined by a keyboardist and bassist on a few of the newer songs, much of the set was just the two core guys: singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. And those two guys were about five times more compelling during their song breaks (which were often almost awkwardly silent) than the six members of Drive-By Truckers were during their best moments.
"Stack Shot Billy," The Black Keys
For a bit of a cool down, we checked out a little bit of Jimmy Cliff's set, which I wish we could have seen in its entirety. (Partially because he was the one artist who we could actually SEE quite well.) Jimmy's still got the pipes and some pretty sweet dance moves. Unfortunately, his set overlapped with Lady Gaga's, so we trekked over to the big stage after about 4-5 songs.
It was my first time at one of the big festivals, and I was astounded by how many people were there. I'd never seen anything like it. Lady Gaga might as well have been playing on the other side of Lake Michigan for how well we could see her. Thankfully, two big screens helped us get a gander at the elaborate set designs, her bizarre wardrobe choices (including a "Monster" outfit that made her look like one of the McDonald's Fry Kids) and arsenal of dramatic, "I'm really serious about this shit" faces. And although we couldn't see much, the sound was surprisingly good.
"Alejandro," Lady Gaga
The Monster Ball was equal parts fabulous and ridiculous. Gaga was in fine voice, and the show was very entertaining—when songs were actually being performed, that is. There was just too much other nonsense going on that sometimes I got impatient or bored (especially during the frequent costume/set changes) or downright irritated. The latter emotion was dredged up on the countless occasions Gaga pulled out the "I got picked on in high school" sob story, followed by a lot of Afterschool Special cliches like "be yourself," "reach for your dreams" and "don't let anyone bring you down." Of course, she peppered all that motivational jibberish with a near-James Hetfield level of F-bombery, just so we wouldn't think she'd gone soft. And then right at the point where I would throw up my hands and think, "Jesus, is this over yet?," she'd win me back with one of her endless supply of dancetastic, hooky songs. She also won me over with a new song, "You and I," something of a '70s glam power ballad. And that piano-centric portion of the show (which also included "Speechless") was probably the best part, not only because Gaga got to show off the true vocal and musical talent that all of her detractors try to ignore, but also because while she was just sitting there, banging on the keys and loosely chit-chatting with the audience, she seemed the most real. Don't get me wrong; I love her over-the-top theatrics, but it's also nice to see that there's an actual person in there every once in a while.
The Black Keys may have won Best Set of the Day (and my heart), but Lady Gaga won Best Line of the Day with this absurd gem, yelled out while writhing around under her giant, animatronic Fame Monster: "Don't rape me, you evil monster! Just eat me, you motherfucker!" I was kind of hoping that Eddie the Head would show up to vanquish the Fame Monster, but no such luck.
If I came away from Lollapalooza with anything, it's this: never wear flip-flops when you're going to be on your feet for 7+ hours. Or at least don't wear cheap-ass ones from New York & Company that give you the oh-so-delightful sensation of having flat feet.
In the next installment...my friends show me around their toddling town.