reviewed and photographed by Neil Miller, Jr.
Lollapalooza has quickly become one of my favorite festivals. Constantly boasting a wicked lineup, the festival that calls Chicago home has brought it yet another year. Here are my personal best — and worst — shows of Lollapalooza 2012...
Greatest Disappointment: Metric
“These guys should really stick to their old, more indie-rock sound. I’ve seen them twice now (the first time was my first live review for UR, actually) and they let me down both times for different reasons. The first time I saw them was at the Metro with a very young and still kind of inexperienced Crystal Castles opening for them. After the slopfest that was Crystal Castles’ show — I’m a huge fan now, so don’t even bother hating — I thought nothing could be worse. I was VERY wrong. Metric seemed to just be going through the motions with their set, and they sounded a bit disjointed in that angular, post-rock kind of way... except that Metric isn’t a post-rock band. This time, they actually sounded much better and surprisingly tight. But their detriment was their Synthetica-dominated setlist. That’s right, I hate their new album. I love my synth-rock, and even more, I love my female fronted synth-rock. But they dove headfirst into the electronic realm, and the result was a turgid pile of crap of a record... except for “Youth Without Youth,” which sadly was the only song that sounded a bit flat in their set. It sucks that Metric was the only set I was let down by all weekend because I really do love this band. But at least now I know that they’re just not worth seeing live.”
Best Side Stage Show: Die Antwoord
“This show ended up being my favorite of Lollapalooza 2012. No one else who I saw put on a show that could even hold a candle to what this South African crew does. They’re animated, obscene, weird looking, and an absolute blast to watch. MC’s Yolandi and Ninja cover the stage like they bought it, commanding their audience into a frenzy of fist-pumping, outlandish dancing, and chant-alongs. Not to mention that their matching jumpsuits, total disregard for genre confines, and their charismatic flow on the mic made me wonder if this could be our next-gen Beastie Boys. DJ Hi-Tek is surely a more than capable producer/DJ in the same vein as how Mixmaster Mike was for the Beasties, so it’s definitely food for thought. Really though, if you have a chance...see them live. They’re out of this world, and you won’t regret it.”
Best Main Stage Act: The Shins
“I expected nothing but the best from these guys, and they totally delivered in spades. The old stuff sounded phenomenal, but the new Port of Morrow songs was where the magic really was. I’ll never forget how warm “The Rifle’s Spiral” sounded and managed to create an atmosphere that almost felt like we were watching this band in a small, intimate venue. For a band that almost never tours, they sounded better than most road warriors who spend their lives touring. I will say that after seeing them at Lollapalooza, I’m anxious to see them in a venue with a significantly smaller capacity limit. Regardless of the venue, though, I can tell that The Shins are a band that bring their A-game to every show... so be sure cherish them while they’re still on the road.”
Best Headliner: Black Sabbath
“Every festival will inevitably have some scheduling snafus. Friday’s was definitely between the headliners. I love The Black Keys, but I’ve seen them twice and the same goes for Bassnectar, who I’ve seen four times. In the grand scope of things, it really just came down to who I’d be less likely to ever see live again. With Tony Iommi’s health waxing and waning and Ozzy’s devotion to his own music, not to mention how old all those guys are, it was obvious that Sabbath was the place to be. And it definitely was just that — the place to be. The crowd was a mixed one, young and old, but everyone was grooving and headbanging to the songs we’ve all been listening to for years upon years. Who knows if I’ll ever get to hear “Fairies Wear Boots” or “Children of the Grave” again? It was the best choice I ever made, and getting to hear some of those songs will go down as highlights of my way too lengthy show-going history. Some will say that Ozzy doesn’t have it anymore or that he “sounds old”... well guess what? He is old. His voice sounds old. But his voice still sounds like Ozzy, and that’s really all we need. After reading an interview with Perry Farrell, it sounded as if Black Sabbath almost didn’t happen for Lollapalooza at one point — thank heavens it did, because it was the first show of Lolla weekend to actually melt my face off.”
Greatest Disappointment: The weather.
“Yeah, that sucked, didn’t it?”
Favorite Side Stage Show: LP
“After the torrential downpour subsided, it was unclear as to what performances would still take place and who would be cast aside. We were actually on our way to Grant Park to catch LP as our first show of the day when the chaotic weather ensued, so it was a relief to hear that LP would be reopening the BMI stage. I’ve been a huge fan of this woman’s music since my first listen to her Into the Wild: Live at EastWest Studios EP. So, it should go without saying that an artist whose Warner Bros. debut is a live release would be absolutely stellar live. But LP isn’t just stellar, she transcends the boundaries of the stage and her audience by managing to pull everyone into her world through her scintillating voice and a set of songs that can only be described as arena ready. I spoke with her (feature coming soon — stay tuned!), and when I asked her what she wants her album to sound like, she stated “if I could have a goal in my head, it would be like The Joshua Tree.” After seeing her live show finally and how well she pulled it off after they literally rebuilt the setup on the BMI stage for her moments before she went on, it’s clear that LP is well on her way to U2 stature.”
Favorite Main Stage Act & Headliner: Santigold
“Yeah, these are one and the same because I spent the time between LP and Santigold drinking beers. But I can honestly say that Santigold was good enough to be one of the brightest highlights of my Lollapalooza weekend. Her unique blend of every genre that rests between rock and hip-hop is translated perfectly to the stage through a full live band, a handful of backup dancers, and Santigold’s signature sass. What surprised me the most was how seamlessly the old material seemed to blend with her newer Master of My Make Believe songs. On the records, you can tell those songs are from two different eras. Live, every song took on a new form and blended into one cohesive set that sounded just like what you’d expect from Santigold: sheer brilliance. Chalk it up to her being able to do just about anything. If art’s involved, Santigold is going to rock it.”
Greatest Disappointment: Sigur Ros
“I know I’m going to get a lot of flak for this, but I LOVE Sigur Ros. Their ( ) album was my shit for quite a long time. No one pulls off the sound they accomplish on their records, but I just didn’t feel their sound is well suited for a huge festival like Lollapalooza. Maybe seeing them at the Chicago Theater or even the Aragon Ballroom would be a better marriage of venue and sound. But it just didn’t grab me like I wanted it to, and so it was more beers time for this guy.”
Favorite Side Stage Show: The Big Pink
“I’ve been touting these guys as rock gods for quite some time now. I saw them at the Metro a while back, expecting to hate them and leave halfway through the show, and they made me feel like a huge asshole because now they’re one of my favorite bands. So, getting to hear the new Future This material was a real treat since it’s one of the best albums of all time (I’m not kidding). “Stay Gold” sounded just as epic as it does on the album, and “The Palace” was even more engaging and enrapturing live. It was sad that the turnout for their show wasn’t bigger, but I guess that just makes them one of music’s best kept secrets for those of us who are aware of them. My only complaint about them is that I didn’t get to see their show at Subterranean over Lollapalooza weekend, because a small club is definitely the way to go for seeing a band with such a warm sound.”
Favorite Main Stage Show: At The Drive-In
"Welcome back, guys. Time has really been kind to these fellas as they sound even better than they did before they split up, when most would say they were at their peak. Perhaps it's because of how far both halves of the band have come since they broke up. Hell, look at The Mars Volta — they just put out their sixth album, and they're constantly outdoing themselves with each one. Technically speaking, the band has never sounded better. But guitar mastermind Omar Rodriguez-Lopez looked really mothercluckin' bored. It doesn't take much to see that he prefers the more challenging work of The Mars Volta, but to his credit he played the songs flawlessly... he just didn't seem to be enjoying it much. Being able to hear all those ATDI songs live was certainly a defining moment of the weekend, though. "Arcarsenal," "Non-Zero Possibility," and "Sleepwalk Capsules"... really, the whole set rocked. Even the stand-up antics of frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala kept the air lighthearted and fun, especially during his neverending chancla search. I hope to be able to see them again someday, but I also hope Omar is having a bit more fun by then."
Best Headliner: Jack White
“Absolutely ridiculous, but in a good way of course. This guy’s understanding of music and its inner workings is unparalleled. Oh yeah, and damn can he shred. I had the pleasure of seeing Jack with The Dead Weather a few years ago, and as much as I loved that show, I felt as if I was getting sold short because he wasn’t playing guitar. And the best thing I can say about Jack White’s current show — everything from the band(s) to the setlist to Jack’s enthusiasm — is that if there was ever a time to see him, that time is now. I never got to see The White Stripes live, but I have seen many a bootleg and the Under Blackpool Lights DVD enough times to know that Meg was a less-than-remarkable drummer. Come on, you know it’s true. So, getting to hear a full, insanely talented band perform these larger than life White Stripes songs with Jack himself... it seems almost as if this was how those songs were meant to be played. I’m not arguing that the White Stripes dynamic wasn’t special, because it was. But it’s always been about Jack White’s ability to wail on his guitar and sing in that voice we’ve all come to love. So, hearing “Seven Nation Army,” “Hotel Yorba,” and “Ball and Biscuit” in this element just seemed right. The Dead Weather material was amply entertaining, but there was definitely something missing from those songs... and that would be Allison Mosshart’s vocals.
As “Seven Nation Army” came to a near close, I couldn’t think of a better or more fitting way to end Lollapalooza. It was one of the most memorable festival experiences of my life just as it was last year. There’s no doubt that next year will top this year and so on and so forth. While Coachella gives you an authentic taste of the west coast experience, Chicago couldn’t be a more fitting venue for the mammoth festival that is Lollapalooza. It’s just another reason to love this city, and I hope it sticks around for years to come. See you in 2013, Lollapalooza!!