Lollapalooza 2008: Chicago

Lollapalooza 2008: Chicago

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

This past weekend at Grant Park in downtown Chicago, a record crowd of over 250,000 people were treated to the likes of Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, NIN, The Raconteurs, Wilco, Gnarls Barkley, Kanye West, and many other bands.

The Lollapalooza festival, which began in the early 1990s, is one of the largest concert events in the US. With so many bands performing it was difficult to fit everything in, but with so much music everyone left fully satiated.

After the 8 hour drive to Chicago and another few hours spent on the public transportation system, we finally arrived on Friday to the festival at around 4 pm. The first thing that struck me was the extreme heat in downtown Chicago during the early part of August. Living in Duluth one gets used to the moderate temperatures,

but on the first day at Lolla the heat index was in the triple digits.

When The Raconteurs took the stage a little while later the temperature had dropped a few degrees, but Jack White’s guitar playing made the mercury rise.

Personally, I think the White Stripes are the best band that has come along in the past 10 years. Jack White is a cross between David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix. With Meg White having a nervous breakdown a year ago causing the cancellation of their tour, Jack White went out this summer with his other band, The Raconteurs.

The White Stripes showcase Jack’s artistic side, while the Raconteurs are based out of Nashville and have a slight Alt-Country flare mixed with blues rock. A lot of people rip on Meg White and her drumming skills (or lack thereof), but watching them live I am always impressed by the control that Jack has over Meg. She is his puppet one moment, and a synchronized lover the next. People complain that she is not this or that, which I think is what led Jack to start The Raconteurs.

The Raconteurs, unlike the two-piece White Stripes, are a full band. What bothers me about this band is that it has two lead guitarists and singers. Where Jack is a master showman calling on the mythic gods of rock, Brandon Benson is a songwriter with contemporary charm. You would think that this marriage would lead to the greatest songs ever, but in reality it is too polished and lacks the unique rawness that The White Stripes possess.

One question I had while watching Jack White was why he couldn’t play one of his hits from The White Stripes. Imagine if Paul McCartney never played a Beatles’ song when he toured with Wings. The crowd was electric but if Jack had played, for example, “Seven Nation Army,” it would have been pure pandemonium. The set left me satisfied, but not full.

After The Raconteurs were finished we headed to the opposite side of the gigantic park to join the other 100,000 people already assembled for Radiohead.

First off, not to piss anyone off, but I am not the biggest fan of Radiohead. To me they are a part of a huge British wave of music in the 1990s led by Blur, Oasis, Pulp, and many others. They had a few hits, but I never could understand what all the hoopla was about.

Standing behind 100,000 people probably gives you the worst view of a show you could have. On top of that, Radiohead divided the side screens/jumbotron into small, multiple digitized screens showing only Thom Yorke. Without being able to make out anything on stage, for all I know someone could have just put on a CD and fog machine. I felt removed and it reminded me of how much I prefer to watch shows at theaters as opposed to in big, open fields. Even huge fans of the band, who traveled with me to the show, also felt the lack of intimacy.

Radiohead, for the most part, played their slower songs Friday night. They did play a few of their better known hits, with the exception of “Creep”. Radiohead didn’t grab me and I know people will be mad that I said that, but it was just kind of blah. While Jack White and Kanye West (Sunday night) were captivating and energized in their performances, Radiohead was pretty to look at with their light show, but not much substance to the music.

On Sunday the temperatures finally dropped a few degrees and I found myself in the front row for Gnarls Barkley and Kanye West. On the other end of the park Nine Inch Nails were playing to a very large crowd at the same exact time as Kanye. While I really wanted to see both bands, I finally decided on Kanye and Gnarls.

Gnarls was fun to watch, but is really a one-hit-wonder so far. They also didn’t have spectacular costumes or much energy to their show. When they played “Crazy” it was as expected, but the rest of their set was hit-and-miss.

Kanye West, on the other hand, was captivating and performed hit after hit.

One funny thing about being in the front row is watching how people try to push to get up front. Many small shoving matches erupted when young girls or guys would try to push through the crowd. Eventually they were pushed back or ended up being passed over the fence to the bouncers. It is hard to stay civil when people being shoved and squished, but the bravest souls held their ground despite repeated efforts from intoxicated youngins’ trying to steal a better view.