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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

August 2011 Archives

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School might have started up again, but summer's festival season isn't over yet.

One, in particular, bills itself as "Summer's Last Stand" -- the North Coast Music Festival, another three-day haul of multi-stage concerts this weekend in Chicago's Union Park (the same West Side location as the mid-summer Pitchfork Music Festival).

The North Coast festival premiered last year, boasting a lineup of occasionally marginalized hip-hop, electronica and jam bands. This weekend's lineup continues that blend trend, featuring sets by David Guetta, Bassnectar , STS9, Wiz Khalifa, Common, Thievery Corporation, Fatboy Slim, Major Lazer and more. This is a festival of beats, of marathon performances, of much pogoing.

Guetta's Friday night headlining slot, in particular, is about as zeitgeisty as a clubland hipster could ask for. The French DJ has enjoyed a slow career burn for two decades -- making a name for himself in the clubs, then working with big stars and scoring big hits -- and is now ready to set ablaze, having released his fifth but most highly anticipated album this week, "Nothing But the Beat."

MTV VMAs, like Lady Gaga, are all theater, little music

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Lady Gaga, in drag as "Joe Calderone," performs Sunday night
at the start of the MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles.
(Getty Images)


On Saturday, Maroon 5 singer and mentor on NBC's "The Voice" Adam Levine lashed out at MTV's annual Video Music Awards, railing on Twitter: "The VMAs. One day a year when MTV pretends to still care about music. I'm drawing a line in the sand. F--- you, VMAs."

He's wrong, though -- the VMAs aren't really about music, either. Never have been. Lady Gaga summed it up it better: "I'm not real," she said, seconds into Sunday night's telecast. "I'm theater!"

Gaga opened the 28th annual VMA ceremony, broadcast live from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, with a performance tailored to the show's tradition of buzzworthy -- or, now, tweet-worthy -- theater and spectacle, flash and trash.

Catching up with some summer releases from Chicago musicians ...

fruitbattripper.jpgFruit Bats, "Tripper" (Sub Pop) [3 and a half stars] -- There's been a lot of Shins news lately -- the band's new lineup, its new label, a new album on the way -- but the best might be a new album from the Fruit Bats, the creative folk-pop project from Shins touring bandmate Eric Johnson. Whereas "The Ruminant Band" managed to coalesce a full band, the Kenosha-born Johnson here is mostly back to going it alone. Thus, the straightforward dynamics and dense harmonies of that previous record step aside on "Tripper" in favor of, as the title suggests, some personal psychedelic touches. Noodling around on cocktail organs and spacey loops, Johnson is still twangy and twee even as he crawls inside his own head, sometimes going for Scissor Sisters-weary jauntiness ("You're Too Weird") but often squarely, if perhaps inadvertently, landing some heady Mercury Rev tributes ("So Long," "The Fen"). "Tripper" is trippy, but the title also implies voyage and movement. It keeps churning and chugging, with hooks aplenty, and here's hoping it finally arrives at overdue widespread recognition for this band.

Music reviews: Jeff Bridges, Hugh Laurie, Tim Robbins

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Hollywood has a poor track record when it comes to turning movie stars into musicians. Steven Seagal's country career, Keanu Reeves' alt-rock band, the actual radio hits from Don Johnson and Eddie Murphy, even the baffling current success of Jared Leto's 30 Seconds to Mars -- these flirtations are usually bad and thankfully brief.

The latest thespian to enter a recording studio, however, comes armed with plenty of cred. "Jeff Bridges" (Blue Note) [2 and a half stars] is the self-titled major-label debut from the veteran actor who came to the project fresh from his Oscar-winning performance as a washed-up country music star in "Crazy Heart." Like the music for that movie, Bridges here is collaborating with an old friend, iconic music and soundtrack producer T Bone Burnett ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?"), who he's known for 30 years and, for some reason, is just now getting around to working with. (It's not Bridges' first album, either. In 2000, he recorded an independent album, assisted by Michael McDonald, called "Be Here Soon.")

The wait is mostly worth it, as the easygoing country-folk of "Jeff Bridges" quickly proves it's not a vanity project. Bridges and Burnett met on the set of 1980's "Heaven's Gate"; they were introduced to each other by Kris Kristopherson -- a fitting detail, given how much of this record exudes his same weary sense of coming down on a Sunday morning. Backed by crack session players, including guitarist Marc Ribot, and guest singers such as Roseanne Cash and Ryan Bingham, Bridges lopes between some well-chosen covers -- a couple of John Goodwin tunes, including a perfectly cast reading of "Maybe I Missed the Point" that really ties the disc together -- and his own whimsical compositions ("Tumbling Vine" finds him toying with words in an actorly fashion: "Here is my seat / I do not pay rent / I'm delighted, I'm Buddhistly bent"). Sometimes, as on "Everything but Love," he leans into the aw-shucks bit a little hard, still playing Bad Blake more than being himself. But much of the record, particularly the opening "What a Little Bit of Love Can Do" and Greg Brown's wry "Blue Car," is blissfully if not cosmically laid-back. It's as if the Dude had been recast for J.J. Cale. It's got true grit. It's bona fide.

What's my age again?: The return of blink-182

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On the books, blink-182 never broke up.

They called it an "indefinite hiatus." But fans heard the details, like a tawdry tabloid report, and knew the truth. Singer-guitarist Tom DeLonge quit in 2005 over arguments about control of the trio's music and spending more time with family. He'd even changed his phone number to cut off his former bandmates. Near the crest of their popularity -- after years of cheeky teen anthems like "Dammit (Growing Up)," "What's My Age Again?," "All the Small Things" and "I Miss You" -- one of the most successful bands in new-school pop-punk was gone in a blink.

But nothing in pop music stays away for good, and two tragedies brought the band back together.

CD review: Kanye West & Jay-Z, 'The Throne'

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It was all good just a week ago ...
-- Kanye West, "H.A.M."

thronecd081011.JPGWe've been watching for "Watch the Throne" (Def Jam/Roc-a-Fella) (2<br />
and a half stars) all year long. The album, a highly anticipated collaboration between hip-hop icons Kanye West and Jay-Z, has had five release dates. The first single, the audacious and operatic "H.A.M.," appeared in January. "Otis," the second, dropped last month. Amazingly, none of it leaked, and the full album arrived fresh on Monday exclusively via iTunes, quickly becoming the service's No. 1 purchase (and it'll be No. 1 this week on Billboard's chart) before its release in stores Friday.

By then, some buyer's and critic's remorse may have set in. Because as good a record as this is, it's not at all the masterpiece we so want it to be.

As Beyonce asks during "Lift Off," "How many people you know can take it this far?" The question was written, no doubt, amid dreams of the album's inevitable hyperbolic acclaim, much of which has already arrived. Indeed, when forces are joined as mighty as Jay-Z (who once again topped the Forbes Hip-Hop Cash King list this week, citing an income of $37 million during the last 12 months) and Kanye West (who once again said something really, really stupid last weekend, read on), it's easy to assume the creative output would be exponential to their individual legends. But the musical math is never that simple, and "Watch the Throne" is a fairly balanced equation.

Has everyone dried out and washed up?

The day after a rainy, muddy conclusion to Lollapalooza 2011 -- read our full report -- the Chicago Police Dept. has released a range of arrests during the three-day weekend concert festival in Grant Park.

As we've reported, last year's individual fence jumpers turned into this year's online-organized flash mobs -- large groups of fans who gather and overwhelm a section of fence, using strength in numbers to insure better penetration and unpaid admission. Some groups were as large as 200-300 people.

But Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy on Monday told the Sun-Times' Rummana Hussain that only a total of 20 to 30 people were arrested during the three-day Lollapalooza festivities.

Lollapalooza 2011: The report

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Our round-up of Lollapalooza 2011:

• Photos: Scenes from the park
• Photos: Lollapalooza bands in action
• Photos: Lollapalooza kicks off

SUNDAY
Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys and the torrential rains
Deadmau5, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley & Nas, Flogging Molly
Perry's stage w/ the Cool Kids, Kid Cudi, more
Fence jumpers and flash mobs
The Cars
The Joy Formidable, Noah & the Whale, Gold Motel
Titus Andronicus, Imelda May

SATURDAY
Eminem, Skylar Grey
My Morning Jacket, Beirut, Deftones, Ween
Perry's stage: Perry Farrell, Pretty Lights, Chuckie, Goodie Mob
Cee Lo Green, Local Natives
• Video: Chatting with Mick Jones and Don Letts of Big Audio Dynamite
Chico Trujillo, Chicago's Disappears -- and fence jumpers
Morning mud, Grouplove, Ximena Sarinana, and a video chat w/ Sarinana
Environmentalism on Green Street

FRIDAY
Muse, Girl Talk
Coldplay, plus Smith Westerns, the Kills, Mountain Goats
• Video: Chatting with OK Go
The year of Perry's stage
Chicago's own Kids These Days
Taste testing the food in Grant Park this weekend
Le Butcherettes, TAB the Band, more
A Perfect Circle
Foster the People
The Vaccines, the Naked & Famous
Wye Oak and the start of Lolla 2011, plus Lollapalooza Brazil
• Video: Faces in the crowd

PREVIEWS
What to see on Sunday
What to see on Saturday
What to see on Friday
Looking back at Lollapalooza 1991: The beginning
What happened to the Lolla class of '91?
Lollapalooza 2011 will be a record crowd
FOB's Patrick Stump rides solo
Chicago's Kids These Days
What's in store at Kidzapalooza
How does Lollapalooza get out of paying its taxes?

On the Scene at Lollapalooza: Sunday night

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BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL for the Sun-Times

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A local fan's homemade homage to Deadmau5

This was the year dance music at Lollapalooza achieved something approaching parity with rock. Its permanent home, Perry's stage, became a supersized tent drawing crowds well in excess of its 15,000-person capacity. And on Sunday night an electronic producer, Deadmau5, was given a headlining slot opposite Foo Fighters.

The day's second torrential downpour raked the park just as Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) took the stage, but he wasn't deterred. Neither were his fans, who fast turned the soggy field into a pulsing dance floor. Sporting variations on his signature headgear--a mask with large, Disneyish ears and vacant eyes--he spun a ceaseless mix of staccato rhythm tracks layered with pitch-shifted sounds that suggested robotic burps, watery squelches or springing rubber bands, plus occasional bits of movie dialogue or song samples like Elton John's "Tiny Dancer."

But on this day, the music was nearly overshadowed by the weather.

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Fans try to cover up in the first of two rain storms that drenched the crowds at Lollapalooza on Sunday. (Tamara Bell/Sun-Times)


BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

Lollapalooza ended Sunday in the mud and muck from two short but powerful rain storms that drenched Chicago's Grant Park -- and the record 90,000 fans assembled there for the final day of the annual music festival -- and gave many fans a night of rock and roll they won't soon forget.

Hannah Frudden was at the Perry's rave tent when the first wave of rain came Sunday evening. "It was the best 30 minutes of my life!" said the 19-year-old Northwestern student, exuberant despite being covered head to toe in mud. As she stood along a sidewalk near the main Lollapalooza stages, every other passer-by noticed her condition and gave her high-fives and hugs.

Jesse Warmling, 39, in from Dallas, surrendered gladly to the downpour, which lasted about half an hour and only slightly delayed Sunday's concert schedule on the final evening of this three-day music festival in Chicago's Grant Park. "We haven't seen rain for months in Texas," Warmling said. "I'll take it any way and anywhere."

When British band Arctic Monkeys took the main stage at 6:30 p.m., a half hour delay, the rain had nearly stopped -- and a rainbow framed the stage. "We're gonna push through this," singer Alex Turner said. The band rushed through an abbreviated set, but at least included the song "She's Thunderstorms," from their newest album, dedicating it "to Mother Nature."

The rain returned a couple of hours later, early in the Foo Fighters headlining set, but Dave Grohl scared it away.

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Dave Grohl leads the Foo Fighters through wind and rain Sunday night at Lollapalooza in Grant Park. (Tamara Bell/Sun-Times)

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Chicago's Cool Kids perform inside Perry's dance tent at Lollapalooza on Sunday. (Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)


BY MITCHELL HERRMANN For the Sun-Times

"Let's get right for the summer," the Cool Kids chanted at their Sunday show at Perry's stage. In fact, they already were right for summer. The Cool Kids, an alternative hip-hop duo with Chicago roots, started uncertainly but soon found their groove as they rapped in unison over booming 808s and minimalistic synth lines. Chuck Inglish, wearing a striped shirt neatly tucked into khaki shorts, rhymed about lemonade and swimwear as his partner Mikey Rocks climbed up the light scaffolding, nearly dropping his microphone in the process. A full live band and guest singer Tennille joined the rappers on stage a few songs into the set to add guitar, bass, keyboards, acoustic drums and vocals to the Cool Kids' stripped-down rap tracks. The group's Chicago origins are reflected in their lyrics, and the crowd cheered each time the city was referenced.

Sunday @ Lollapalooza: The Cars

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Capping a noticeable 1980s vibe running throughout this year's festival, the Cars played a typically solid but staid set Sunday afternoon -- much like their May set at the Riviera, just outdoors. Opening with their classic "Let the Good Times Roll," the most sedate party anthem ever, the reunited quartet (sans original singer-bassist Ben Orr, who died in 2000) see-sawed between MTV-era hits -- "My Best Friend's Girl," "You Might Think," "Magic," "Let's Go," etc. -- and tracks from their new album, "Move Like This." As usual, Ric Ocasek hardly moved, and the set glided along with great songs but zero showmanship. "I like the nightlife, baby," Ocasek sang as he squinted into the late afternoon sun.

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The Cars -- including drummer David Robinson (from left), guitarist Elliott Easton and Ric Ocasek -- perform Sunday afternoon at Lollapalooza. (Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)

On the Scene at Lollapalooza: Sunday afternoon

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BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL for the Sun-Times

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Ritzy Bryan of the Joy Formidable prepares to bang a gong -- with her guitar -- Sunday at Lollapalooza. (Anders Smith Lindall)


You never know when or where a star will be born, but I suppose a massive festival is as likely a place as any. It happened Sunday afternoon when Ritzy Bryan, the slight but magnetic front woman of Welsh threesome the Joy Formidable, capped a terrific set of moody, anthemic rock with a memorably cathartic freakout, time and again bashing and finally throwing her electric guitar against an enormous gong (above).

That triumphant meltdown ensured people will be talking about Bryan, but the Joy Formidable was one the best things I've seen all weekend in its own right. A classic trio with Bryan on guitar, Rhydian Dafydd on bass and Matt Thomas on drums, they built long, slow shoegaze swells as Bryan sang in a gauzy tone that belied her pinball stage presence. The Joy Formidable won't break new ground--the Jesus & Mary Chain is an obvious antecedent--but there's always room for another heart-on-sleeve rock'n'roll band that really means it, and Bryan is clearly one to watch.

Sunday @ Lollapalooza: Titus Andronicus, Imelda May

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BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

Lollapalooza opened to a humid, rain-soaked Sunday with the defiant punk-Celtic squalls of New Jersey's Titus Andronicus.

As Big Audio Dynamite was the day before, Titus Andronicus proved to be the day's most socially relevant voice, crowing its resigned and occasionally paranoid lyrics about a U.S. of A. that's a shell of its former self. Their influences may be British punk and Irish pub rock, but their outlook is very American -- even in the fans, who shouted "U-S-A!" several times, especially when singer-guitarist Patrick Stickles soloed so hard the U.S. flag tied to the end of his guitar actually waved in the light afternoon breeze. Lamenting in his choking yawps how "after 10,000 years it's still us against them" and that we continually squander "the value our forefathers gave you," Stickles' nervously darting eyes eventually always bring it back home to the harder, more personal questions: "Is there a soul on this earth who isn't too frightened to move?"

On the Scene at Lollapalooza: Saturday night

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Jim James leads My Morning Jacket on Saturday night at Lollapalooza. (AP)


BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL for the Sun-Times

When an 800-pound gorilla is performing on one stage, you really don't need another one anywhere else. When that gorilla is named Marshall Mathers, you don't need a second headliner. In other words, although Eminem and My Morning Jacket played simultaneously at opposite ends of Grant Park on Saturday night, there was only one megastar on the premises.

Even so, My Morning Jacket played to what surely ranks with the largest crowds the band has seen. They proved they belonged.

Always and forever Southern rockers at heart, Jim James and friends have made a career of pushing their sonic and stylistic horizons. The experiments haven't always worked, but they've made the band much harder to pigeonhole, and this set showed its versatility. They opened with a pair of soul-inflected new tunes, "Victory Dance" and the title cut from this year's disc "Circuital." "Gideon" started as a piano-driven ballad that could have passed for classic Elton John before James strapped on his Flying V and touched off a grease fire.

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Hebru Brantley paints on the Perry's stage sign during the Lollapalooza music festival at Grant Park in Chicago. (AP)


BY MITCHELL HERRMANN For the Sun-Times

On Saturday night, electronic act Pretty Lights performed for those looking for something a bit mellower than Eminem, and for those who preferred the electronic to the acoustic. Hunched over his laptop amid flashing LED towers, Derek Vincent Smith mixed warm vinyl samples with stuttering drum loops as the blissful crowd danced enthusiastically. Alternately funky, soulful and heavy, Pretty Lights' set showed a surprising amount of dubstep influence, adding wobbling basslines to the usual trip-hop beats. Although the show was without the acoustic drummer Smith often uses for live shows, the spectacular light show more than made up for it. The light show was the best at Perry's so far.

lolla-perry080611.JPGIt seems only fitting that Perry Farrell should perform on the stage that bears his name. Stepping outside the kind of alternative rock he first became famous for, Farrell, along with dance music producer Chris Cox, performed an hourlong DJ set supplemented by his own live vocals. Farrell received a rousing cheer as he walked onstage. He was joined occasionally by his wife, Etty, who assisted him in singing but mostly just danced seductively for the crowd. Sometimes Farrell would run across the front of the stage while Cox manned the DJ mixer, as when Farrell joined the crowd in a raucous singalong of "Where's Your Head At" over a pounding club beat.

Saturday @ Lollapalooza: Eminem, Skylar Grey

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Eminem performs Saturday night to a packed crowd at Lollapalooza. (Tamara Bell/Sun-Times)


BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

Arcade Fire beat Eminem to Lollapalooza (they headlined here last year) and snatched the top Grammy from him in February. But it's still been Mr. Mathers' year. Taylor Swift, after all, isn't covering Arcade Fire in concert this summer, and if Facebook is any arbiter of cultural presence, it was announced this week that Eminem has overtaken Lady Gaga as the most "liked" living person on the social media site.

For fans new and old, Eminem took to Lollapalooza's main stage Saturday night and encapsulated his entire career into one sizzling 90-minute set. Featuring two noteworthy guests -- and assisted midway by an old partner, Ryan "Royce da 5'9" " Montgomery -- the Detroit rapper launched a consistent barrage of recognizable tunes and furious rhymes into the largest crowd ever assembled at the annual concert festival in Chicago's Grant Park.

Performing nearly the exact set he delivered in June at the Bonnaroo festival, Eminem -- who so rarely tours these days -- dished hits one after another, sometimes in abbreviated form, reaching all the way back to "The Slim Shady LP." Prowling the stage in a hoodie, Em proved deft as ever with his famously furious rhymes (misogynistic and homophobic as they sometimes are), spitting out "No Love" and "The Way I Am" with such tenacity and urgency you wouldn't think there was a decade between them.

Saturday @ Lollapalooza: Patrick Stump

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Patrick Stump -- dig the midriff and fingerless gloves, der kommissar! -- performs on the BMI stage on Saturday during day two of Lollapalooza in Grant Park. (Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)

Saturday @ Lollapalooza: Ximena Sarinana

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After her Saturday afternoon set at Lollapalooza, we got to chat with Mexican actress-singer Ximena Sarinana, whose self-titled sophomore album I adore ...

Saturday @ Lollapalooza: Cee Lo Green, Local Natives

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Cee Lo Green performs Saturday during Lollapalooza in Chicago's Grant Park. (AP)


BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

I had tweeted earlier in the day Saturday that I'd like to hear less "thank you" and more "f--- you" at Lollapalooza. So many bands had been taking to the stages and voicing their unbounded gratitude -- thanking everyone for being there and thanking Lollapalooza for having them, profusely -- that it started to feel like rock was really dead, after all. Where's the sneer, the challenge, the middle finger?

Cee Lo Green has something to say about that, literally. Appearing on stage wearing football shoulder pads bearing long chrome spikes and hanging chains, Green juiced the crowd by demanding that we shout "f--- yeah!" It was an opening salvo in a long tease leading up to the one song the massive crowd in Hutchinson Field wanted to hear. In the meantime, however, we listened to Green shout and growl -- for most songs, his trademark smooth husk was gone, even intentionally distorted (and he's a judge on "The Voice," no less) -- through a speedy set of his rock-soul songs and a few unexpected covers, from the Violent Femmes to Billy Idol. Green seemed to suffer from technical issues, as well, stopping and starting songs, such as his "Crazy" hit with Gnarls Barkley, haphazardly.

One of his early records was "Cee Lo Green Is a Soul Machine," but Saturday night's hard riffs and black leather meant to portray a rock machine. And nothing says rock and roll like "F--- You," which Green finally got around to at the end of his hourlong set. The crowd delighted in singing along with every line, then Green sauntered off victorious, complete with his own exit music: a crowd-assisted abbreviation of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

Saturday @ Lollapalooza: Big Audio Dynamite

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BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

In our interview before the band's Lollapalooza debut, former Clash guitarist Mick Jones said the world had not, indeed, been clamoring for a reunion of his post-Clash band, Big Audio Dynamite -- but they haven't minded it, either.

This unlikely but potent collaboration between Jones and filmmaker Don Letts started in 1984 and took the world grooves the Clash had begun to explore, pushing them further while also working open-mindedly with sound samples and video visuals. If that sounds pioneering, go figure - from yesterday's MTV to today's YouTube -- it might have been. Because B.A.D. sounded very fresh, and very good, during their Saturday afternoon concert here.

Lollapalooza: It's easy being on Green Street

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BY ARIEL CHEUNG Staff Reporter

In an effort to encourage fair-trade shopping and eco-friendly rockers, Lollapalooza 2011 included Green Street and Lolla Cares sections during the three-day fest at Grant Park.
 
"There's a good synergy with the crowd [at Lollapalooza] and the crowd we're trying to bring in," said Holly Haddad, associate director of FamilyFarmed.org, a nonprofit project dedicated to the promotion of buying local Illinois produce. The organization is hosting a booth in the Green Street area with a pop quiz on Illinois agriculture.
 
"People are really surprised by how much farmland is in the state versus how much money we spend on food that leaves the state," Haddad said. The pop quiz explains that while Illinois spends $48 billion on food each year, only 4 percent is used to support the 28 million acres of farmland.
 
The festival also gave attendees the opportunity to lend a hand with the Rock & Recycle project, where participants received a free T-shirt in exchange for a trash bag filled with recyclables gathered from the concert grounds.
 

On the Scene at Lollapalooza: Saturday afternoon

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BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL for the Sun-Times

Early Saturday, Lollapalooza's Chilean connection paid dividends for Chicago concertgoers in the form of Chico Trujillo. The seven-piece band plus singer Aldo Asenjo calls themselves "chilombiana," a Spanish portmanteau referring to the group's roots in cumbia, a Colombian folkloric rhythm, and its context in the omnivorous world of contemporary Chilean rock. But you didn't have to know any of that, or be able to understand the lyrics, to enjoy Chico Trujillo's relentless energy. More a cheerleader than a bandleader, Asenjo channeled the spark of his mates' chattering drums and percussion, the irrepressible bounce of ska in their guitars, their bursts of trombone and trumpet, and keyboards that mimicked the twinkle of a steel drum. Here's hoping next year's Lollapalooza Brazil broadens this musical exchange.

It's doubtful Chicago rockers Disappears has ever commanded a sound system as massive as the one they played through while opening the main stage shortly after noon Saturday, but it made the band's blend of slinky spy funk, motorik drone and outright noise sound huge without losing nuance. Working an array of foot pedals, Jonathan Van Herik's guitar evoked thudding rotors, shrieking bullets and a clangorous machine. Recent addition Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth on drums was both punishing and precise, never letting the songs bog down even as their layers piled up. And by employing so much reverb you couldn't make out his words, singer Brian Case sounded like a commander on a bullhorn, calling out across the rubble to rally his troops.

Off stage, security is focused on the festival's perimeter.

BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

It's cool and lovely at Lollapalooza -- but that's because a fair amount of rain fell overnight. The clouds remain, which is great, but there's a 50-50 chance of more precip. Hutchinson Field is muddy, oddly everywhere except the perpetually dusty baseball diamonds. Some hay has been spread around in the worst areas, but the coverage is pretty poor. If you're packing up now, include a cheap poncho and don't wear the good shoes.

"I can't believe I wore flip-flops," lamented Carrie Berenstein, 22, of Aurora, as she tip-toed her way across the muddy grass. "I'm going to be a disaster. I'm already a disaster."

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Drains in Hutchinson Field in Grant Park appear backed up or clogged after overnight rains, causing extra mud flats. (Thomas Conner/Sun-Times)


Saturday opened with a worldly vibe on many stages. "We're from Los Angeles," said a member of Grouplove by way of introduction -- noteworthy only because of his thick British accent. Grouplove came together at an artists retreat on the island of Crete and reconvened back in America, fusing a worldly sensibility with otherwise rootsy Americana. The quintet delighted through "Don't Say Oh Well," strumming guitars and one ukulele (for pure sound, not gimmick!).

All Mexico's Ximena Sarinana had to say during her set was "This song is all in Spanish" or "Viva Mexico!" and the small crowd gathered for her noon Saturday set at the BMI side stage cheered and whooped. Several waved Mexican flags. Sarinana, 25, a popular telenovela actress south of the border, is going for a breakout with her self-titled sophomore album, which is really great. For her early afternoon set at Lollapalooza, silhouetted against the lake with flying geese as an occasional backdrop, Sarinana performed a handful of new songs as well as a few from her 2008 debut, the misleadingly titled "Mediocre."

Lollapalooza: In the crowd

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Lollapalooza: The icemen cometh

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Workers at Lollapalooza on Friday inch their way through the crowd to deliver ice to vendors. (Thomas Conner/Sun-Times)


Friday's Lolla weather stayed wonderfully manageable, but Saturday might be a test of our music mettle.

At midnight last night, today's forecast was clear and sunny. But then it started raining. Now the forecast is a 50-50 chance of more rain this afternoon. Keep an eye on the radar, grab your grubby shoes (no flip-flops, Einstein) and pack a poncho.

On the Scene at Lollapalooza: Friday night

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Chris Martin sings with Coldplay on Friday night at Lollapalooza. (Scott Stewart/Sun-Times)


BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL For the Sun-Times

Lollapalooza's Friday night headliner could hardly have been more unlike the acts that pioneered the original festival 20 years ago this summer. They were outsiders; Coldplay is one of the biggest bands in the world. They were snotty, loud and brash; Coldplay is gratingly polite. They were misfits; Coldplay's Chris Martin, the platinum-selling prince of earnest, wounded soft rock, also happens to be Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow.

Ending something of a hiatus with a handful of high-profile gigs this summer, Coldplay is preparing for the release of its still-untitled fifth album. A few of the new songs appeared here, and true to the band's risk-averse form, they already sounded refined. There was "Hurts Like Heaven" ("you use your heart as a weapon and it hurts like heaven") with a thrumming rhythm and Jonny Buckland's liquid guitar line, "Major Minus," its U2-like licks riding Will Champion's muscular beat, and "Charlie Brown," its simple synth hook and anthemic chorus the hallmarks of a surefire smash.

Friday @ Lollapalooza: Muse, Girl Talk

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Who was the main headliner Friday night? If you're over 30, you probably thought it was Coldplay. But the biggest stage at Lollapalooza with room for the biggest crowd is on Hutchison Field in the south end of the park, and that's not where Coldplay performed. The bigger stage and crowd went to Muse.

Friday @ Lollapalooza: Chatting with OK Go

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You've seen their viral music videos online, and so apparently has the president.

OK Go, the treadmmills-to-Pilobolus YouTube favorites, performed at Barack Obama's 50th birthday bash this week at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom. Two days later they were playing to Lollapalooza.

We caught a few minutes with OK Go singer Damian Kulash backstage at Grant Park on Friday to talk about his Marilyn Monroe impression:

Friday @ Lollapalooza: Perry's stage takes off

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BY MITCHELL HERRMANN For the Sun-Times

For a long time, electronic music at Lollapalooza has filled a particular niche. Perry's Stage, Lollapalooza's dance/hip-hop/miscellaneous venue, simply didn't seem to fit -- a small number diehards spent most of their day there, but most festivalgoers only gave it a sideways glance as they hurried from one end of Grant Park to the other.

That small number of diehards, however, gradually increased to the point of overwhelming the small stage. This year Perry's has been relocated, reimagined, and revamped to accommodate about 15,000 people (while still managing to eschew the corporate endorsements of the other stages at Lolla, from the Bud Light stage to the PlayStation stage).

Friday @ Lollapalooza: Chicago's Kids These Days

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Chicago's Kids These Days wow a side stage crowd at Lollapalooza on Friday afternoon. (Scott Stewart/Sun-Times)


BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

If you looked around Lollapalooza just after 4 p.m. Friday and wondered where all the teenagers had gone, a large crowd of them were crammed in front of the BMI stage watching fellow Chicago teens Kids These Days.

Easily one of the best shows I saw all Friday, Kids These Days is an eight-piece group comprised of 18- and 19-year-olds, half of them from Whitney Young High School. Mixing up blues, hip-hop, funk, rock, jazz and most other genres except electronic (but give them time), KTD has come up through the ranks during the last two years. They started selling out small clubs, then filled Metro, played a buzzworthy showcase at South by Southwest last March, and now here they are at Lollapalooza. The meteoric local rise, based on the sheer energy of their performances and a pretty potent musical cocktail, should have drawn the attention of any music industry moguls present.

Friday, though, was a hometown celebration.

On the Scene at Lollapalooza, Friday Afternoon

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BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL For the Sun-Times

In the north end of the park, the highlights of the early going Friday came from a pair of Mexican women bandleaders, Ceci Bastida and especially Teri Genderbender of Le Butcherettes.

Bastida, who lives in Tijuana, was an accidental discovery of the sort these big festivals can offer if you're willing to take chances on unknown acts. I only caught a few songs, but with Bastida singing and even enthusiastically rapping as her band dropped glossy swatches of trumpet and trombone over urgent dance beats, the show was a percussive party and she the happy host.

Guadalajara-born Genderbender lived up to her name not in appearance -- she's classically beautiful and impossibly thin. Instead, she did so in ways even more challenging to the patriarchal expectations of rock: By commanding a pulverizing three-piece punk band, playing guitar with fierce authority, expressing overt and aggressive sexuality, and projecting a forceful, even dominating, must-see stage presence.

Her lyrics crossed borders, too, between lust and revulsion ("You love me, you love, but now you want to kill me," she howled) and between English and Spanish ("Mueres todo el tiempo antes de morir," she sang: You're dying all the time until you're dead). In outlook and force of personality an obvious touchstone was PJ Harvey, but Genderbender was far more physical as a performer, kicking, hip-swiveling or falling to the ground, smashing her own head with the microphone or somersaulting wildly across the stage. While the fellows who comprised her rhythm section were no slouches, Le Butcherettes were all about their leader, and she delivered an explosion of individuality on a scale that's hard to match.

Friday @ Lollapalooza: A Perfect Circle

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A Perfect Circle singer Maynard James Keenan eyes the crowd at Lollapalooza on Friday. (Curtis Lehmkuhl/Sun-Times)


BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

You've never heard John Lennon's "Imagine" delivered with such quivering earnestness as warped vocalist Maynard James Keenan gives it. In fact, you've likely never heard the song turned on its head in quite this manner, imbued with minor piano chords and a martial rhythm -- twisted from its hopeful, thoughtful origins into a surprisingly dystopian sneer.

Such is the heavy gloom of A Perfect Circle, a supergroup playing Lollapalooza's main stage after being reactivated from a seven-year hiatus.

Friday @ Lollapalooza: Foster the People

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lolla-foster080511.JPGBY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

Friday afternoon turned out to be fine concert weather, with high clouds dulling the sun's edge and a cool lake breeze occasionally refreshing weary fans. But don't tell Mark Foster, hapless leader of L.A.'s Foster the People, whose crisp white dress shirt was transparent with sweat by the band's third song.

Foster the People are brand new, riding a slick slacker single from last year that landed them on one of Lollapalooza's biggest stage this year. They're still exploring who they are as a band, and they played the day's most eclectic set -- evolving from dreamy, keyboard-laden grooves to ill-advised R&B to throwaway love ditties and, near the end, a straight cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." Foster is an odd duck, singing in his pinched nasal voice and occasionally leaping over to mash piano keys or pound the drums (as he did during "Call It What You Want"). Sometimes he was ridiculous, his shoulders jerking up and down as he whined his New Radicals funk-lite; other times he was gloriously unhinged, cackling like a madman near the end of the set when Foster the People suddenly turned into a garage band (or Joe "King" Carrasco). I the end they returned to what they thus far do best, laying down supple, sleepy grooves for that aforementioned single, "Pumped Up Kicks." Most of the crowd was pumped up and sang along.

Friday @ Lollapalooza: Vaccines, Naked & Famous

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BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

Lollapalooza opened Friday morning with an announcement about more Lollapaloozing to be had worldwide next year -- the festival will return to Chile (March 31-April 1) and add a new event in Sao Paulo, Brazil (April 7-8) -- and then quickly moved to Britain as the Vaccines christened this year's main stage in the south end of Hutchinson Field.

Supporting their super-hyped debut, "What Did You Expect From the Vaccines," the Vaccines turned over the same well-tilled ground -- lots of post-punk revival with tons of reverb and Strokesy confidence -- but sounded fresher and cockier than they do on record. Singer Justin Young comes on quickly with a Dylanesque whine over his band's retro Walkmen grind, advocating for emotional destruction in "Blow It Up" and a quickie in "Post-Breakup Sex." The band's heap of influences seeped deeper than expected, too; for "Wetsuit" guitarist Freddie Cowan and the rhythm section chugged along simply like the Crickets, and Young encouraged dancing, saying, "This is one you can dance to. You're at a rock and roll show, remember." Anything to help clear away some of the band's studied self-consciousness.

Friday @ Lollapalooza: Good morning, grandma!

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BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic

Lollapalooza 2011 opened with this ringing, backhanded endorsement from Jenn Wasner of the band Wye Oak: "I love Lollapalooza because it's the one festival even my grandparents know what it is."

Such cross-generational branding succeeded in selling out a record capacity this year. Over the weekend, 90,000 fans will attend each day of Lollapalooza. That makes this three-day concert event in Chicago's Grant Park one of the country's biggest, with Coachella's daily attendance around 75,000 and Bonnaroo's more than 100,000.




Get a good look at those baseball fields. When all 90,000 people arrive, they'll be gone. (Thomas Conner/Sun-Times)>

On the Scene at Lollapalooza, Friday morning

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BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL For the Sun-Times

Hey folks, it's Sun-Times freelancer Anders Smith Lindall here, joining your usual host pop critic Thomas Conner and a crew of other colleagues for our annual Lollapalooza coverage from Grant Park.

Lollapalooza 2011 will open shortly under sunny skies and, thankfully, moderate temperatures compared to the oppressive heat and humidity that seem to follow this event. This is the seventh year of Lolla's iteration as a "destination" festival on the Chicago lakefront, and I've covered them all.

According to organizers, this one is bigger than ever, with an expected 90,000 attendees each day and more than 150 performing artists. It's a long way from the scruffy traveling circus that was the first Lolla in 1991, when in the words of founder and Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, "I expected 10 or 20 thousand weirdoes to show up."

The open question is whether this Lollapalooza--the 20th anniversary edition--can be better than ever as well.

CD reviews: Ximena Sariñana, Selena Gomez

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Former telenovela star Ximena Sarinana made her full-length music debut in 2008 with an album bravely titled "Mediocre." It wasn't -- it debuted at No. 1 in Sarinana's native Mexico and snared a Grammy nomination. By then, she'd been a popular actress for a decade, appearing in many films directed by her father and written by her mother. "Mediocre" presented a sort of Spanish-language Fiona Apple or Lily Allen, with a lot of midtempo chamber pop led by her slightly sad, round voice. But all the ingredients were there for a breakout.

Cue the collaborations! For her second outing -- the self-titled "Ximena Sarinana" (Warner Bros.) (3 and a half stars) -- Sarinana, 25, switches to English and connects with an intriguing variety of co-workers: Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, who produced and co-wrote two songs; Rancid's Tim Armstrong crafted elements of the breezy, steppin' single "Different"; Matt Hales (a k a Aqualung) co-wrote "Wrong Miracle." (She worked with dance diva Diplo, too, though his tracks didn't make this record.) For the new disc's one Spanish song, she pairs with her boyfriend, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from the Mars Volta. The main producer and collaborator here -- obvious in the album's bright melodies but detached delivery -- is Greg Kurstin, the buzzing half of the Bird & the Bee.

What happened to the Lollapalooza class of '91?

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Lollapalooza proved to be a launching pad for many artists into the stratosphere of the emerging alternative rock era. Here's what's happened to the bands from Lolla '91 ...

In other tour rescheduling news: The Kanye West/Jay-Z tour, for their newly dubbed duo The Throne, was previously announced with dates that included Oct. 6-7 at Chicago's United Center. Scratch that: the tour has been bumped -- and has reduced Chicago to one show, now on Dec. 1.

What to see Sunday @ Lollapalooza

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At the annual Lollapalooza cattle call over the weekend, 140 acts will perform on eight stages in Chicago's beautiful Grant Park. As always, it's a lot to choose from. Here are some notes for SUNDAY -- some surprises, some best bets and the run-down on each night's headliners ...

Kings of Leon cancel entire tour after incident

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UPDATED...

King of Leon leader Caleb Followill cited illness as his reason for walking out of a July 29 concert in Dallas. Now that same nebulous illness has scuttled the remainder of the U.S. tour., including the scheduled Aug. 26 show at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater in Tinley Park.

Sade says: 'We're the punkest of punks'

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Sade debuted in 1984 -- its first CD, "Diamond Life," featured a helpful parenthetical on the spine: "(pronounced Shar-day)" -- and has sounded largely the same ever since. That's a compliment.

A Sade song sounds like ... a Sade song. Slow, sultry, deeply emotional and frosted with the iconic singer's cool, foggy, deliberately aloof voice. No evident trends, no guest rappers, no samples. The singles from the '80s ("Smooth Operator," "The Sweetest Taboo," "Stronger Than Pride") are distinguishable from last year's "Soldier of Love," chiefly in the technical nuances of the production. The music, though, is stubbornly identifiable.

"To me, we're the punkest of punks within our own world, because we do what we do," said Sade -- a k a singer Helen Folasade Adu, whose moniker is also the band name -- during our interview late last year. "We're not belonging to any particular genre, and we're always brave enough to do what we do whether it's understood or not. That fact that it's received well, we're endlessly grateful for. But our music is always approached in a way that's 'this is what we do, take it or leave it.' We don't have aspirations to change."

Received well, indeed. Over the same dates this weekend as Lollalaplooza in Chicago's Grant Park, Sade has nearly sold out three consecutive concerts at the United Center. "Soldier of Love" debuted at No. 1 when it was released in February 2010, possibly because fans were so eager to hear the first new material from Sade in a decade. In the last 18 years, Sade has released three albums. Like the pace of her songs, Sade is in no hurry.

Sade herself is as reticent as she is patient. In a rare interview, she talked to the Sun-Times about musical consistency, Justin Bieber and taking her own sweet time ...

What to see Saturday @ Lollapalooza

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At the annual Lollapalooza cattle call over the weekend, 140 acts will perform on eight stages in Chicago's beautiful Grant Park. As always, it's a lot to choose from. Here are some notes for SATURDAY -- some surprises, some best bets and the run-down on each night's headliners ...

Paul McCartney at Wrigley: So good and so much

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Paul McCartney performs Sunday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)


Paul McCartney began his concert Sunday night at Chicago's Wrigley Field, his first of two at the ballpark this week, with his jaunty Beatles song "Hello, Goodbye." This is just the latest of Sir Paul's long and winding tours -- the Up and Coming Tour blended right into this current On the Run Tour -- and there seems to be no sign that the man would ever dream of actually saying goodbye.

The concert, which includes more than 30 songs and lasts more than two and a half hours, features most of the Beatles, Wings and solo chestnuts you can think of -- except "When I'm 64," of course, which is now moot. McCartney, 69, is clearly still needed, fed and far from that song's cozy retirement of knitting and gardening.

In fact, in the August edition of Britain's Mojo magazine the former Beatle relays an anecdote about a former manager who had the gall to suggest that McCartney, then 50, consider putting his feet up. "If I'm really enjoying this, why retire?" says Macca. "So I decided against it, and got rid of him. I wonder what he thinks today. Perhaps that he was right, but hopefully not."

Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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