Can't tell if enormous music festival, or Obama just got re-elected.
If you’re disappointed by this year’s Lolla lineup
, I don’t think we can be friends.
That’s a dangerous statement to make, because based on my Facebook newsfeed from last night, following through with it would mean de-friending half the people I know. So I probably won’t do that. Instead I’ll write this article explaining why they’re all wrong and I’m right (as usual).
Music is subjective, and thus it’s hard for people to agree on the quality of festival lineups. Regardless of the concert or the headliners, it seems impossible to please everyone. Take this from someone who posted his very own “Lolla lineup…eh” status this time last year, only to be blown away in August by Flogging Molly’s steamy noontime mosh pit and Deadmau5’s rain-soaked lightshow.
So yeah, the headliners this year are kinda wacky. Red Hot Chili Peppers have been so popular for so long that it’s easy for people to dismiss them. It’s also becoming progressively harder to think of The Black Keys as cool when the popularity of Brothers has them filling stadiums. Is Jack White really any good without Meg or his other collaborators? And what the fuck is up with Black Sabbath?
Before moving on, I’ll just say, in order: you’re forgetting how awesome it would be to hear hits like “Snow (Hey Oh)” and “Under the Bridge” live; bottling the frantic energy that fuels Patrick Carney’s spastic drumming and using it to power cities could finally end our oil dependence, so that comes across no matter the venue; considering I can’t even name the other members of The Raconteurs, the answer is probably “yes;” and I’m not sure, but that beautiful idiosyncrasy is what makes Lolla Lolla.
There are a lot of American music festivals to occupy your summer time, and they’re multiplying faster than the number of student publications at Northwestern. They each occupy their own niche.
Coachella kicks off the festival season, and usually has a pretty sexy lineup. But then again, it takes place a stone’s throw from Hollywood, so money and celebrity is evident in its DNA. This is the only place where you can see Jay-Z and Danny DeVito jamming out to Phoenix, and it’s also the only festival with the budget to bring in big money marquee acts like Kanye West and Mumford & Sons (last year) or Dr. Dre (this year).
Bonnaroo (which I always end up misspelling, btw) is a jammy desert party. Its lineup is usually stocked with jam band standard bearers (Umphrey’s McGee are almost never not there, and Phish’s headlining slot this year has to be the least surprising revelation since Northwestern’s announcement that they would push next year’s schedule back to accommodate Rosh Hashanah), classic rock reunions (Buffalo Springfield! Beach Boys! WTF!), and great rap acts (everybody from Black Star to Kendrick Lamar will be there this year), plus a bunch of other great stuff.
As for the smaller festivals, Sasquatch usually has the indie vibe you would expect from the Pacific Northwest, Pitchfork brings in the eponymous hipster website’s pet favorites, and Newport is all folk all the time. If any of those aesthetics really appeal to you, their lineups will naturally make you dubious of Lolla’s. For example, I’m kind of a hipster, and Pitchfork 2012’s inclusion of Vampire Weekend and Sleigh Bells made my Lolla expectations rise dramatically. The fact that Lolla still blew me away should help you realize how awesome it is, and if it doesn’t, give a couple paragraphs more to explain.
These guys have been headlining Lollapalooza longer than I've lived outside a womb.
What is Lolla’s particular flavor, you ask? Well, Lolla was founded by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell (who lends his name to the dance tent), and the festival has never strayed far from its Nineties roots: it’s formed the epicenter of Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine reunions in recent years. In addition, Lolla has also been all in on the resurgent popularity of dance music; last year, Deadmau5 was a headliner, while Skrillex, Bloody Beetroots, and Girl Talk all passed through Perry’s. Yes, all of them.
Another way to say this is that of all the festivals I mentioned, Lolla carries the most generic “rock and roll” vibe, in the sense that anything pretty much goes. They don’t draw a lot of jam bands, because that’s Bonnaroo’s forte, but they showcase artists from every other fragment of the mosaic that is modern rock. Lady GaGa was there the same year as Green Day and Arcade Fire. Last year, while I was dancing to Deadmau5 in the mud and rain, my cousin was across the park reliving his Nineties youth with the Foo Fighters, and one of my best friends was watching her home boy Kid Cudi kick over an amp and mumble his way through “Day N’ Nite.” Find me three artists more different than those. I dare you.
Unfortunately, in representing everyone, you also end up pissing off everyone too, at least a little bit. This is why no one listens to radio or watches network news anymore, and this is why no one would say they completely love the Lolla lineup. No, people just want to watch Jon Stewart reflect their own snarky liberalism, and as a result the best you can get is “well, SBTRKT will be there, I guess I’ll go.”
So there’s probably not a single person out there who is excited about more than two or three of this year’s headliners. That’s okay, especially because Lolla’s lineup is always one of the deepest, and the true gems are to be found a few lines below Ozzy and Friends. A quick summary:
Of Monsters and Men
If you haven’t heard Bizarro Icelandic Arcade Fire’s magnificent single “Little Talks” yet, then you 1. Have been living under a rock, 2. Should be ashamed of yourself, and 3. Need to drop what you’re doing and immediately click on that hyperlink I so graciously provided. It’s great, and the rest of their debut My Head Is an Animal is similarly folktastic. Given their recent popularity surge, their sweeping, festival-ready sound, and Mumford proving that gigantic bands are insanely energetic and watchable, I’m looking out for them.
Even Black Sabbath couldn't look that cool with a ukelele.
What’s a boy to do if he’ll never be a gangsta? Listen to this song
, because it’s fucking awesome. It’s hard to tell if Merill Garbus’s sexuality is more of an enigma than her appearances at every major festival this summer (Lolla, Bonnaroo, Coachella, AND Sasquatch!). All I know is I will be going HAM when she plays “Gangsta,” and enjoying the shit out of her live, on-the-spot loops
. Plus, given her propensity for weird clothes and face paint, if anyone can top Cee Lo’s unsettling bondage gear getup
from last year, it’s her. What the fuck will she wear? It’ll be a fun mystery. Seeing Tune-Yards live was definitely on my 2012 summer bucket list, so I’m glad she’s giving me the chance. You should be too.
The Tallest Man on Earth
With the possible exception of Barack Obama showing up at my house on my birthday just to give me a high-five, there is nothing that could happen that would make me happier than hearing Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson perform “Little River” live. His music is my favorite thing maybe ever. I have watched his cover of “Graceland” so many times it’s obscene (please, if you click on only one hyperlink in this article, let it be this). Along with a demonstrated knowledge of The Wire, saying you love Tallest Man is a guaranteed free entry into best friend status with me.
Unfortunately, he is difficult to catch live, because of the whole “lives in Sweden” thing. Aside from a Pitchfork appearance (before I knew about him!) and a Coachella appearance last year (expensive!), his American performances have been few and far between.
My Ave colleague Bristol Bacchus seems to think that this year’s Newport lineup dwarfs Lolla’s. The fact that Tallest Man, Of Monsters and Men, and The Head and the Heart are playing at Lolla as well as Newport kind of defeats that entire argument unless you’re REALLY into folk.
His set will be amazing, I will probably cry, and there’s nothing else to say about it.
The Gaslight Anthem
My illogical love for this unapologetically Springsteen-influenced group is second only to my aforementioned Tallest Man fetish. Along with Joe Pug’s The Great Despiser, their upcoming release Handwritten is the summer album I’m most looking forward to. The best I can do to explicate their awesomeness is to direct you to this song, which has gone on pretty much every mix CD I’ve ever made. And trust me, even though Bruce won’t be there to back them up, as in Evander Jones’ favorite YouTube clip of all time that doesn’t involve puppies, they will still make for an awesome rock show.
I know I’m probably starting to come off as a bit overeager, but these really are some of my favorite bands. If the entire festival consisted solely of sets by Tallest Man and Gaslight Anthem, I would seriously consider paying full price. All this festival needs to make me explode with happiness would be an appearance by Seattle rap duo Blue Scholars. Hey, wait a sec…
Wait, isn't that guy in my British Literature discussion?
…you’re saying that Blue Scholars’ frequent collaborator and fellow Seattle native Macklemore will be there? Well, okay then. Even though I didn’t meet anyone from there until this year, I have developed a weird obsession with the culture Seattle. I love their music, from the soothing otherworldliness of Robin Pecknold’s voice to the smooth but socially aware raps of Geologic and Sabzi, and at last year’s Lolla my decision to wear a Mariners jersey while my friend sported his Gary Payton throwback resulted in multiple “Hey are you guys from Seattle?” “No we’re just weirdos” exchanges, with varying degrees of awkwardness. So I’m pumped about Macklemore, one of the few white dudes that can not only rap but also brings his own style (defined by an eclectically raspy flow, personal anecdotes, and reflections on drugs whiteness in hip-hop) to the game.
But as fun as his set will probably be, it’s true that this year’s Lolla lineup is starkly lacking in the hip-hop department, especially coming off the heels of Eminem’s set last year. I’m forgiving of this because I’m from Chicago and will be going to Pitchfork, whose rap lineup is stellar. But if Lolla’s your only festival, or you’re really into rap, 2012 Lolla might be a bit of a lowdown. I personally think that the awesome diversity of the rest of the lineup makes up for it (and hey, Childish Gambino is there too, even though Camp went over like a fart in church to a certain degree), but I’m acknowledging that downside.
Question: What was Pitchfork’s song of the year?
Answer: “Midnight City” by M83.
Question: Does it include a mind-bogglingly kickass saxophone solo?
Question: What song would be really awesome to hear live, especially if it happened as the sun was setting behind a skyscraper-lined horizon, a la last year’s Explosions in the Sky set?
Answer: Pretty much any song by M83, particularly “Intro” or the aforementioned “Midnight City.”
Totally stole this from Spinal Tap.
Awesome instrumentals, including a guitar played with a cello bow by a half-blind Icelandic pop singer with a killer falsetto! Lyrics that are tantalizingly cryptic, usually because they’re written in an invented language called Hopelandic! A band name that translates to “Victory Rose!”
These random facts about the best Icelandic band ever (you’ve still got something to prove, Of Monsters and Men) should hint at how cool they are, but the only way to understand Sigur Ros is to listen to them yourself, and lose yourself in the insanely addictive magic.
To recap, that’s two Icelandic bands, one Swedish singer-songwriter, a Seattle rapper, a rock band that offers a throwback to Springsteen, and an electronic band. There’s no way that anyone is equally excited about all of them. Some people will probably only go to Lolla to see Santigold and Big Gigantic at the dance tent, and yes, there will definitely be people there super pumped to see Black Sabbath.
The Lolla lineup will never be cool. But this year, it will be awesome.