Friday, August 6
1:00 p.m.I fill my water bottle and turn on the Lolla app for Android. A friend has already requested I connect with her. As the park fills, this will be one of the last moments any phone communication works today. The first rule of Lollapalooza: make meet-up plans ahead of time.
1:15 p.m. Two hours into the festival and The Walkmen are blasting off, yet the crowd already seems hungover. Is it the fiery sun? I forget how different it is, seeing rock acts outdoors in daylight as opposed to dark music halls with stage lighting and intimacy. The Walkmen do fine; their time placement just means part of their job is waking everyone up.
2:15 p.m. Chicago gospel queen Mavis Staples wails with enough soul to overflow heaven, and she is accompanied by… Jeff Tweedy? “From the Wilco band,” she says. Cameo heaven! Tweedy is producing her next album, out 9/14, and sticks around to play acoustic guitar on two songs. I’m not a groupie for God, but Mavis Staples makes me want to shout “Hallelujah!” all day.
4:00 p.m. Devo shakes down the stage with their digital music mindfuckery, blue versions of their famed concentric cylinder hats and long-sleeved, long-pantsed, shiny, silver robots-on-a-space-station outfits. The crowd, wearing bikini tops and shorts, is not envious. The band delivers an insanely rocking set – one of the best of the fest – almost four decades into their career. This is the same band who recently had an album listening party for cats, so no surprise there.
5:00 p.m. The Dirty Projectors’ vocal harmonies are so tight live, it sounds like they’re more machine than they are man – definitely some auto-tuning going on. But a super solid set from the group who appears to be having a blast.
6:00 p.m. In spite of having only two members, The Black Keys wrangle in a huge crowd and make the giant arena stage feel full. I feel the effects of the heat and wander to the other side of the festival…
6:35 p.m. …to a grassy hill, where I find Hot Chip playing their hearts out. People dance, the sun sets, and Hot Chip brings the beats.
6:45 p.m. The giant south field is filling up early in anticipation for Lady Gaga. Instead of battling the crowd, we stake our claim on this spot on the hill.
7:15 p.m. Chromeo amps up the crowd with dance-y samples, fat rhymes and back-up singers dressed in the style of Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistable” dancers. And their keyboard stands are shaped like a pair of women’s legs. The party is strong with these guys.
8:00 p.m. It’s not quite dark yet when Lady Gaga takes over with her art-school video interstitials before coming on stage. Her entire first song is performed behind a scrim, in shadow. I wonder how The Strokes are faring on the other side of the festival grounds, with so many bodies over here.
8:20 p.m. Gaga has performed only two-ish songs and has a lot to say about believing in one’s self, not listening to the criticism of others and how much she loves her “Little Monsters.” Methinks: less talk, more songs.
8:45 p.m. When she’s changing skins or sets, Gaga’s artsy vids play on the jumbo screens adjacent to the stage. In the current one, she’s munching on what appears to be a heart and she’s covered in blood. There’s an exodus from field. Someone near me says “I like her music, but this is kind of out there.”
9:00 p.m. Gaga announces her love for the Chicago gays, says Jesus loves all of us, plays some piano on top of the piano, and continues to astound me by dancing in stiletto boots. She thanks the audience briefly, mentions for the third time that her last performance at Lolla in ’06 was a trainwreck but, “We did it, Little Monsters!” There is laughter from uncomfortable concert-goers.
9:15 p.m. Her set is looking to be not so much about the music as it is an opportunity to have conversations about her success. I’m a little disappointed by the fact that I’m being preached to about her accomplishments all night. Fame monster, indeed. At least the vocals were real.
9:30 p.m. Hair flips, blood on stage, a dancer who looks like Grace Jones in drag, lots of Gaga’s butt visible through lingerie-type getups, a helicopter overhead, fireworks from an event next door. She’s played all her hits, including “Dance, Dance,” “Alejandro,” “Paparazzi” and “Bad Romance.” This music remains bouncing around in my head all weekend. Perhaps my reaction is one who’s looking from afar where all the seams show, but this was not the show I expected. What did I expect? Music.