Saturday was not quite the day of surprises, though there were a few, that Friday turned out to be. The bands that were supposed to be greatwere great. The bands that were supposed to be good were good, with only a couple exceptions.
It was more eventful, for me at least, off-stage. Saturday, there were more horror stories going around of people caught trying to sneak in. (According to Lolla lore, that gets you a $600 fine this year, though I'd like that confirmed). I watched a group of 50+ people crash a fence and storm the festival from behind the Budweiser stage, stragglers getting taken down hard by surprisingly, hilariously, dedicated security guards. Also, people propping up or just carrying friends suffering from lack of water or too much of other fluids became a much more common sight. I bumped into a friend who said he'd gotten his three day pass taken away for sneaking backstage at an early show, though he couldn't even remember how he had gotten there.
Musically, (there is music at this festival, too) Spoon was the highlight. Front man Britt Daniel is really what I envision a rock star to be. His confidence is all-consuming (otherwise he would not have pulled off the white pants and white shirt.) He works ridiculously hard for every song, with his croon almost always transforming, mid-word, into a screech. He practically pounded his guitar, surprising the crowd with the fact that the sounds that came out of it were actually good ones. Spoon is easier to overlook than many bands playing after 6 pm. Their songs are simple on the surface, and they rarely break the traditional drum, guitar, bass, piano setup. But there is a darkness underneath most of these songs that really came through on Saturday. I know that doesn't sound like tons o' fun, but the most powerful moments came from a haunting, electronic glitch-laden version of "The Ghost of You Lingers". It was more memorable than the immediately pleasing sing-a-longs like "The Underdog". Spoon was supposed to be great and they were.
Same goes to Grizzly Bear, though they had me worried at first. The sound was a little muddled for opener "Southern Point", and for a band with a sound as lush, harmony based, and occasionally meticulous as GB, sound is everything. Soon though, the guitar was ringing loud over the bass, and drummer Christopher Bear's unconventional beats kept everyone happily off-kilter. I thought the band's tendency to build very slowly would be an issue for the crowd, but the payoffs on epics like "All We Ask" and "I Live With You" were highlights of my day. A friend that I bumped into afterward complained about the lack of danceable music they provided, and then did a hilarious impression of bassist Chris Taylor's painfully high falsetto back-up vocals. Not everyone's cup of tea. I thought they were fantastic.
Rogue Wave and Stars both delivered excellent performances. Rogue Wave's breezy but precise, simple brand of pop-rock translated very well live. Stars topped them with a main stage and a bigger, grander sound and presence. Synth and guitar hooks were aplenty in every song, and the band kept things up-tempo throughout. Creating an environment where, surprisingly, they turned melodramatic poetry ("I died so I could haunt you") into crowd-wide, celebratory chants.
Dan Black was one of the best surprises of the day. Tucked away in the small, shady BMI Stage, he pulled a very impressive crowd with his brand of... I don't really know what. His genre changed several times throughout, but his and the crowd's energy remained extremely high. With a laptop, bassist and guitarist, he was at his best when underscoring slow-moving walls of sound with breakbeats. A call-and-response of "I love life" was incredibly well received, probably because all the AFI and Social Distortion fans were congregated on the south side of the festival.
The only disappointment of the day, for me, was Cut Copy. Cut Copy is an Australian band I saw two years ago at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Then, they played an incredible dance-pop show. Here and now, though, the sound just didn't didn't cut it (or copy it LOLOLOLOL). I think it more had to do with where I was in the crowd than anything else. The synth punches that I love this band for were not reaching very far, or at least not to where I was, so I left early. I heard later from friends who were closer up, and they said it was great. I don't doubt it.
Then it was nighttime. Saturday's headliners ( Green Day and Phoenix) sort of represent polar opposites in terms of career trajectory. Green Day has about as many hits as Phoenix has songs, but are struggling to stay relevant in the wake of two yawn-worthy albums. Phoenix has just broken through with two great pop-rock songs. Though they have a decade's worth of material and experience, they feel like one of the youngest band's here at Lollapalooza. That's not a bad thing, but it makes them a strange choice for headliner, on paper at least.
I saw Green Day, reluctantly, since I've been publicly (to my friends) hating on them for the last two or three years. I walked in formulating snarky quips for this post, when I realized that they were putting on a terrific show. Sure, it was corny, but that was the fun of it. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong brought a little girl on stage to sing along with him, ran around with the microphone (leaving most of the actual guitar work to some other dude), and wore more eye makeup than any woman I've seen at Lolla so far. The fireworks were coordinated with surges in the music (which was actually reallyawesome) and images of bombs and crosses and other nonsense flashed on the screen occasionally. All of this silly spectacle and product reminded me, momentarily, of Gaga's Friday performance. But Green Day, probably about twenty years older than her, has learned to not let any of it get in the way of their songs. And that is what everyone came for. I was extremely surprised by how much fun I had. I saw more families here than I have seen at any Lolla show so far, and it was a welcome break from all the cool, young people that become overwhelming at a certain point.
But the cool part of me refused to let me miss Phoenix, so I trucked over there at 8:30. They were also terrific. At once charmingly unassuming as well as utterly confident, their electronic tinged pop-rock was tremendously well-received. Deservedly so. A pre-planned encore re-vamp of "1901" was a perfect end to the night, and really solidified their place as the band of the moment. Hopefully this moment will last a while.
One day to go! We'll keep in touch.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times