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CityBeat’s Sammi Skolmoski reports from Lollapalooza and Them Crooked Vultures debut in Chicago

August 10, 2009 - 11:03 pm

Santigold

When CityBeat intern Sammi Skolmoski (some of you may know her as “Sammi the intern” from the 91X Morning Show with Mat Diablo) requested some time off work to head back to her hometown of Chicago, we happily obliged. But when she informed us that, while there, she would be hitting up  the Lollapalooza festival, we put her back to work, having her send piecemeal reports from the three-day fest in Grant Park. From the return of the mud people and women face-down in porta-johns, to Lou Reed’s reluctance to say “colored girls” and Santigold’s (above) “golden girls”, Skolmoski saw it all. Well, atleast she’s pretty sure she did. Oh, and she just happened to be in the audience for one of the most anticipated after-party debuts in recent memory and if we’re to take her word for it, The Dead Weather is soooo yesterday. Them Crooked Vultures is the supergroup to watch!   –Seth Combs

DAY ONE–FRIDAY

The morning was gray and the city was brown.

My group of girls and I awoke only to find out we would have to sacrifice the outfits we already laid out to the merciless rain gods. We decided that was the kind of situation that went well with a shot of whiskey, and dressed quickly.

While past Lollapaloozas have been unbearably hot to the point of spontaneous combustion, the first day of the ’09 edition was dark and miserably cold. Nothing new to a Chicago native. As they say, “If you don’t like the weather in Chicago, wait five minutes.” Hi ho. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Due to the constant onslaught of cold, hard water, all of the aspects of fashion were taken out of this year’s festival and replaced with brightly colored trash bags and umbrellas. I always assumed hipsters melted in the rain the same way they burst into flames in the sun. They didn’t. Instead they looked like someone hosed down a pack of those tiny rat-dogs that old ladies put hideous sweaters on, except the hipster sweaters were way uglier.

There were also those boys and girls who just had to be one with nature and were splashing through the giant puddles and mud that accumulated on the walkways. Oh, you’re so free-spirited… are you going to do my laundry? We did see a chick passed out with her head on (in?) the seat of a Port-O-Potty, which was incredible. Her friend was bawling uncontrollably as her light-livered companion went tits deep where millions have gone before.

Mud

The afternoon was heavy though. The ambient echo effect of the White Lies singer’s voice was just as booming and tragic live as through headphones, and introspective crooners like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes made us even more aware of the abysmal rain. We were excited to hear Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” which was immediately ruined by a group of drunken fellows shouting about the Cubs over the music.

We turned to the waistline of my romper for help. There was an artillery of alcohol and pre-rolled anti-anti-drugs to help us battle every raindrop and it’s corresponding note of sad bastard music.  I advised my light-livered friend to chase the whiskey with the rain, and chase the rain with the warmth of a lighter. Although it might have been solely the work of the flask’s contents, our bodies were warming with every song. It was easy to trick ourselves into attributing the sudden rush of warmth to Fleet Foxes, who’s voices now sounded smooth and comforting enough to part the clouds above and beckon the sun. They didn’t.

Still, no one was rushing to the front of shows. Umbrellas blocked views. The infamous cityscape that hugs the festival was hidden by fog. There was no grass to roll around on. No one was into it. We needed a catalyst. Crystal Castles. Whether you love them or think Alice Glass’ voice sounds exactly the same live as it does on record, she (and six tallboys of Bud Light) had enough contagious energy to keep us from being washed into the gutters. A rendezvous with another group of friends yielded a fifth of vodka, as well as the end of any remaining concerns regarding dryness or sobriety.

The rain ceased as we bitterly headed to Kings of Leon (no memory of Of Montreal except for animals and color explosions???). KOL’s new brand of arena rock is of no interest to me. The filthy, whiskey-soaked, hairy Southern blues boys they used to be are officially gone and singer Caleb Followill now speaks in-between songs rather than swigging from a bottle of Jack. He is still very pretty. Sigh.  Forecasts for the rest of the weekend promise miserable heat, which will never be taken for granted again.

DAY TWO–SATURDAY

Grant Park was a clusterfuck of sweaty scenesters and sweet, sweet sounds. The sky was as full and blue as Lake Michigan (if by “full” I mean “full of E. Coli,” and by “blue” I mean “greenish”), offering a roaring gust of wind here and there to blow-dry even the moistest of concert-goers. We arrived very late because we had to pick up a sack… of… toys… and bring them to orphans (yep, stickin’ with that).

Caught the last song by rapper Atmosphere from afar (rad!) and headed to a shady spot beneath some trees to enjoy some gorgeously-aged Scotch my comrade found in her dead grandmother’s liquor cabinet (yes, we are terrible people). From there we heard Robert Earl Keen on accident. That is, his speakers happened to blast across the field to where we had taken brief residence. His mix of grizzled country and rock sounded like something you’d hear at a block party or fair that makes drunken dads dance. Or someone at a karaoke bar on a Tom Petty kick and a bender.

I spaced out for awhile and had a great (at the time) “highdea”: They should have these festivals at places with trees that all bear fruit, so everyone can remain sustained naturally by the festival’s environment! In other words, I was high and hungry, and didn’t want to get up or spend any money.

Arctic Monkeys played next, and were just as fun as they are on record. It wasn’t a show expected to blow any minds, but you can groove and drink to their new material and that’s good enough for me. We left midway through their performance to set up camp for Santigold. The band dressed like African royalty, Santi had a tiger-print jumpsuit on with large white pockets and gold detailing. Her crown was bright gold, and matched the jackets of her dancers, the “Golden Girls,” who stood still and straight-faced throughout the show except for little fits of energetic ’90s-inspired dancing (read: lots of sharply angled arms, hands in front of faces, and gyrating). Santigold played your favorite song. She played your second, third, and fourth favorite songs as well. She played everything, and even covered The Cure. About fifteen people joined her on stage from the crowd to dance to her last song, “Creator.” Although I was insanely jealous I wasn’t among them, the rest of the crowd had become a full-on dance orgy that swallowed me whole and violated me, in a good way. Also on stage, merely as an onlooker, was The Genius aka GZA from the Wu-Tang. Best of the festival thus far, by far.

GZA

TV on the Radio began on Santigold’s last note and were incredible, as usual. They would have benefited more from a night show (rather than early evening) as their light show makes their live show that much more epic (a la Street Scene ’08). Still, I swear allegiance to singer Tunde Adebimpe’s dance moves. Maybe I’ve never noticed before, but have they always had a 15-year-old white boy on trumpet?

TVOR

From TVotR, it was a long trek to Animal Collective, so we missed the first few songs. I was worried it wouldn’t be engaging as their ambient noise-rock certainly doesn’t suit everyone, especially at a festival. Sometimes their records just sound like they play strange gizmos and odd, found objects, so the band’s ability to actually physically make this interesting, ethereal music with familiar instruments made for a fucking great time. Also, should maybe mention what I saw on the projection screen at Animal Collective. I wrote down these words: “freight train,” “girl with an umbrella,” “moon,” “heat vision,” “fireworks,” “kaleidoscope.”

Speaking of intensely trippy video accompaniment, the last stop of the night was Tool. Their live show never disappoints, and last night was no exception. Singer Maynard James Keenan stayed out of the spotlight for the entirety of the show, dancing in his boxers to the left of the drum set instead.

“My only regret tonight is not seeing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,” Maynard laughed at one point. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Beastie Boys’ replacement at Lollapalooza, were playing at the same time. What an arrogant fuck, I thought. He was right though. As much as I love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (and I heard later that they had an amazing performance), there was no competition. Anyone who doesn’t like Tool hasn’t spent anytime alone with one (any) of their albums or been to one of theit live performances. A Tool show is sexy and dark in the same way listening to Nine Inch Nails makes you want to get naked and just wreck someone.

Let’s see Karen O do that to me.

DAY THREE-SUNDAY

Ah, the end, so soon. The final day of Lollapalooza was relaxed as everyone was coming down from the most epic day (Saturday), and knew they wouldn’t miss much if they left before Sunday’s headliners to rest up for work on Monday (Although I did hear Aerosmith‘s Joe Perry came out to sing “Jane Says” with Jane’s Addiction, if that’s your bag).

 Hungry, broke, dehydrated, and ready to rock, we took on the last day like soldiers. The afternoon was so unfairly scheduled (Deerhunter, Lou Reed, and Snoop Dogg at the same time and on opposite ends of the park!?) that we must have run the mile between the main stages, back and forth, and four or five times in a few hours. It’s the only way we caught snippets of Deerhunter, Band of Horses, Cold War Kids, and Silversun Pickups, essentially all the bands we would never pay for on a bill of their own.

Baltimore-based noise-popper Dan Deacon had about 500 people on stage playing drums, xylophone, and pushing buttons. At one point, he asked everyone to turn to the right, and put our hands up and on the person’s head in front of us. We were then to rub it gently while thinking of someone we love. It was odd. Another of his crowd manipulations was quite a sight, though. He asked everyone to form a thick circle around one young man and emulate the his dance moves. At one point, the man threw his water bottle in the air, and 700 other water bottles flew with it. But Deacon’s music was just noise. The way I worried Animal Collective would sound. I heard he yelled at the sound guys after my departure, so maybe it was a technical problem, but if BATTLES could pull off danceable noise rock last year, I expected ten times more from Dan Deacon (if only because they had ten times as many people). So, I will reserve judgment on Dan Deacon if the problems were, indeed, technical. Otherwise, shut up Dan.

Neko Case‘s live show is a bit of a gamble. Sometimes it’s got a thick country twang (boo), sometimes it’s comedic (she’s got jokes) and sometimes it’s that perfect blend of indie-rock and folk that made me all fall in love with the fiery redheaded songstress to begin with (a la The New Pornographers). To my utmost delight it was the last option, and I’m convinced now more than ever that Neko Case has to be Jenny Lewis’ older, more mature sister.

I wish Case had joined forces with Dan Auerbach, who performed immediately following her, so I could get all my folk in one sitting. Auerbach’s band, The Fast Five, rocked much harder and louder than I anticipated based on Auerbach’s solo debut, Keep It Hid. The bass player was whipping himself around like he was riding a horse. The poncho-donning congas player was shaking the shit out of his maracas. The keys player looked like an old vaudeville performer. And they were very loud. It was interesting to hear Auerbach, dressed in a sharp, crisp Western shirt, rock his guitar without all the distortion and sludge. And overall, he sang and played in a well-behaved manner. Although it’s probably not fair to compare him to himself, I much prefer Auerbach of The Black Keys. I wanted him to be falling over with every aggressive chord, thrusting his guitar and self from one direction to the next, catching himself at the very last second before plowing into an amp or the audience. I missed Patrick on drums, the two sounding more full than these six ever will. And while I love listening to Keep It Hid, hearing Auerbach sing “Trouble Weighs a Ton” so serenely will just never live up to my dirty rocker boy standards. That said, they were tight, loud, and sounded great together. So if you prefer his folk to his blues, he will not disappoint.

My companions and I decided it would be in poor form to skip Snoop Dogg altogether, so we made our way over for the beginning of his set. I can only assume his first thought onstage was, Holy shit that’s a lot of white people. Then again, he has been touring with Slightly Stoopid. His bright gold Lakers tee could be seen for miles from the moment he stepped out to the tune of “The Next Episode.” His microphone had a grill, or a brass knuckles-like adornment for his entire hand that read “Snoop Dogg” in diamonds. The glare off of it was probably blinding Lou Reed as he took the stage at the same time across the park. Snoop asked how many of us wanted to get “fuuuuuuuucked up,” to which I responded, “Yes, I would very much like to” (Apparently the correct answer was, “Hell, yeah”). We grooved to “Gin and Juice” while drinking whiskey and Vitamin Water (uh, kinda the same thing). After a few more songs he asked where all the sexy women were at, and I directed him to their general vicinity (although I don’t think he heard me), before we headed off to catch the second half of Lou Reed.

Reed looked great for a man of 103. No, no, he’s only 67, but he’s tan, mobile, and was wearing a v-neck tee. His old man beer gut didn’t affect his voice in the least. We arrived during “Mad,” heard “Paranoia Key of E,” and witnessed the 20 minute acid-flashback jam session during “Waiting for the Man.” It was incredible. He picked up Grant Park and brought it back to the ’70s. I couldn’t help but close my eyes and imagine my dad in the very same spot hearing the very same noises (possibly on the very same drugs) thirty-some years ago. This man was responsible for The Velvet Underground. And The Velvet Underground was responsible for music as we know it. I saw Iggy and the Stooges a few Lollapalooza’s ago in the same field. Iggy Pop saw Velvet Underground at a University of Michigan party and decided music wasn’t that hard to do. Without this man, Lou effin’ Reed, we would have nothing. He ended with “Walk on the Wild Side.” He yanked us back into 2009 by simply saying “and all the girls go,” rather than the less politically correct original lyrics.

 It was around this time that I realized that the greatest part of Lollapalooza has to be the setting. It is in the heart of one of the greatest cities in the world, and music plays deep into the night in this blues hub. You may get lost in the community of music within the Lolla fences, but one glance upward will remind you where you are. The skyline is so unique and entrancing. Millenium Park lights up the night with giant faces of Chicago residents mere blocks away. It’s the fucking best.

Day3

The Metro, one of my favorite venues growing up (and to this day), hosted one of the most anticipated secret after-shows at midnight last night. People began speculating when posters surfaced that read “METRO 8/9–MIDNIGHT.” Beneath the words were the three familiar symbols for Foo Fighters, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, and Queens of the Stone Age.

crooked452-300x166

Somehow, my brother and I were two of the lucky few who purchased tickets before it sold out mere minutes after going on sale. So at midnight last night at the Metro, I witnessed the already legendary super-group: Them Crooked Vultures.

With Dave Grohl on drums, John Paul Jones on bass and keys, and Josh Homme on lead guitar and vocals, Them Crooked Vultures churned out an hour and twenty minutes of invigorating, filthy hard rock. Homme’s riffs were layered, fast and interesting, infused heavily with Zeppelin influences and his signature QOTSA style. The Jones/Grohl powerhouse gave the tunes a loud, industrial fullness like Alice in Chains on speed. Grohl loved being back in the back, and said nothing except for “It’s so FUCKING hot!” He kissed the microphone and sang harmonies along with Jones and Alain Johannes (rhythm guitar and QOTSA alum). The harmonies combined with Homme’s high vocals were fresh and, at times, almost other worldly. Stops and breakdowns at every turn, the boys flirted with a variety of genres within each song. They were rock ‘n’ roll machines (to make another Lou Reed reference), each demanding to be heard above the other, but so intensely cohesive it was impossible to pick and choose who to pay attention to. Blues-infused riffs flooded into an homage to the heaviest of Pink Floyd and Yes into a nasty breakdown at accelerated speeds, and back again.

It was a ride, if nothing else. At one point, Jones hopped off keys and onto a keytar while Homme put down his guitar, picked up the mic, and turned into a crooning lounge singer. Called “Interlude With Ludes,” it sounded like acid doo-wop. Homme said it made him happy to play that song, as he loves to dance. It was a spectacle. Songs like “Caligulove,” “Dead End Friends,” and “Spinning in Daffodils,” made it well worth the wait for such an unveiling. Homme explained that they could have done this show anywhere, but chose Chicago where music never sleeps. He clowned on L.A. in particular, using two hands to jack off invisible dicks onto his face rather than play there. The crowd of 1000 or so at the Metro were grateful, excited, and more into it than the band was. With the guys obviously antsy about their weighty debut, the fans fed off each other, our minds blown as to why we were lucky enough to witness this unadulterated rock phenomenon.

All and all, Them Crooked Vultures were unique and more of a kickass collective than a branded supergroup. They have a fresh new sound that allowed three definitive rock badasses with definitive styles to explore new bounds and offer a firm, but playful, direct punch in the face to people who like to rock the fuck out.

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