I flew in from Atlanta to take in the three day music marathon Lollapalooza. On the fight I learned that the passenger beside me was also going to the festival. We chatted about the bands we wanted to see and swapped iPods.
We had a lot of overlap in our music libraries but there was some gaps — she hadn’t heard of Stars and I hadn’t heard of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I added them to my list of must-sees this festival. I hopped on the train at the airport and talked with a few guys from Baltimore who had driven to Chicago for the festival. People from all over the United States were flocking to this city in an annual musical pilgrimage.
I arrived early for some of the first bands to play this year’s festival. These United States hit the small BMI stage located off to the side in the shade of trees. It was one of the more intimate venues and would prove to be the most enjoyable as it was much more personal than the larger stages. TUS brought rollicking alt-country — it was upbeat and energetic dotted with slide guitar flourishes. Lead singer Jesse Elliott crooned in his reedy voice on songs like “Honor Amongst Thieves” which was an exuberant and galloping jaunt. Elliott mentioned that they had been there since 6:45 am and that they would be heading out at 4 PM to fly to Portland, OR. Ah the life of the rock band.
The Ettes came on next. I was excited to see them since becoming a quick fan after a show in Fort Lauderdale last year. The Nashville band mix it up with 60s psych rock pastiche and beat-punk swagger tinged with a country sensibility. Lead singer Coco Hames was dressed in all black — black leggings with skeleton prints, high rising shorts with side buttons and a black bandana to hold back her dark hair. She sang in her signature twang that was sweet but not without an edge — her lyrics are defiant and mischievous. Girl power was strong with Coco’s fiercely independent lyrical sentiments and female drummer Poni’s raucous percussive onslaught. Poni was wild on drums with her long curly hair whipping back and forth frantically only allowing momentary glimpses of her gritted teeth and pursed lips as she pounded away.
They launched into “Blood Red Blood” with shredding riffs and relentless drum beats which escalated to a pounding rhythm. Coco got straight to the point on the next song ‘I want it now / I want it tonight’. She is a girl who knows what she wants. She put down her guitar and grabbed a tambourine as she shimmied around the stage, her shirt falling of her shoulder as she bent down to work the beat. It was another stellar performance by the Nashville group.
The country theme persisted as the next band, The Drive By Truckers, hit the PlayStation stage. They are a band overflowing with talent and who share the microphone moving from a deep southern drawl to the thinner and higher pitched twang between Michael Cooley and Patterson Hood. The band jumped from up-beat to the slower paced tunes. The vocals of the group frequently coalesced and this filled out the choruses.
They got the crowd going with lyrics like ‘The pretty girls from the smallest towns/ Get remembered like storms and droughts ‘ on “Birthday Boy”. The small town sensibility and American life narratives were wrapped in the pleasing country sounds of The Truckers.
New Pornographers were highly anticipated. I had missed them a few years back when they were at Langerado in Florida. I vowed not to make the same mistake. After their album Challengers I had become an avid fan. I was especially excited to see Neko Case and was happy to see her in attendance which isn’t always the case what with her solo career. In fact the New Pornos don’t always come together as the full group since many have their own gigs. But for this Lolla fest they were all present. They launched into “Moves” from their latest album Together with its sweet vocal harmonies.
Case wore a large sun hat that obscured her face and red hair — she was protecting her fair skin from the intense summer sun. It was hard to tell it was her but when sang it was unmistakable. She is as good live as she is recorded — her voice was powerful and richly textured. While the band performed they had two women doing sign language for the crowd which was a nice gesture and very interesting to look at. The New Pornos jumped between new and old material and pulled off a tightly composed performance with voices and instrumentals playing off each other in perfect symmetry. It was a radiant performance that exuded a positive and sunny vibe.