Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the Pretenders/Bloc Party, December 10 at Club Nokia

I'd listened to a lot of the Pretenders but surprisingly had never seen them in concert, despite the fact that they've been around and playing consistently for almost longer than I've been alive. Indie 103 were having their Christmas show and while it was considerably less formidable than KROQ's (though, pound for pound, I'd still go with Indie's, as well as the fact that it would be a lot less trouble to get tickets), I decided to go. These radio-station Christmas shows used to be really special, and KROQ still seems to sell out theirs, even when the acts are crappy (like most of that year's (except for Franz and the Cure)). But this one didn't sell out until the day of so it just goes to show that people are dumb and have no taste. I was also interested in checking out Club Nokia, a brand-new concert venue that had opened just a month or so before. I had high hopes for a great, new place to see shows, since there can never be too many, and a lot of the sound-systems in the old stand-by venues can't keep up with new acts. The place itself is fine -- clean, shiny, open -- but it's everything else that makes it a drag: decent parking nearby is $20 and it's greatly more difficult when there's a Lakers game that night; the bouncers and staff were completely indifferent (not much for a Christmas spirit); it's the same L.A. club mentality of you can't stand here, you can't stand there; the floor in front of the stage and the balconies were all V.I.P., leaving people who had actually bought tickets shoved into the back of the place, still well enough to see the show since the place isn't gigantic, but still enough to feel dejected by the hierarchy (since, as usual, the V.I.P.s, who probably got comped tickets, barely had any idea or care who was performing), and, shockingly, the supposedly brand-new sound-system kinda sucked. Luckily, the bands didn't disappoint. I missed the Black Kids but Bloc Party were great. I don't know why everyone slagged them after their first album but all of their stuff sounded great mixed together live, with the exception of a few new songs that relied way too much on sound effects, which show how difficult it is to replicate the sounds on their albums in their live show, and showing they should concentrate on the song before the sound. The Pretenders, of course, were the stars of the show. Chryssie Hynde and crew played a set that tended to be a bit uneven, jumping back and forth between classic songs that were so well-worn that they could have played themselves, to getting out new stuff, which is their right, but none of it stuck (even after I bought their new album there from the merch table). It was only as uneven as any other band with a history stretching decades and I certainly wouldn't count them off, especially since they played everything I wanted to hear (especially "Don't Get Me Wrong"). Yeah, I should have seen one of their full shows and I shouldn't have put so much faith in a Christmas show, especially one with a crowd so disjointed, seeing as it would be hard to find fans of all three acts there (CSS played after the Pretenders but I skipped it) and not just the fans with bland taste in music (if any at all) who are just familiar with the radio station, like KROQ depends upon. But I was most disappointed by the venue, which has fortunately not featured anyone else I would care to see (except a Prince show that was apparently reviled for the sound-system) so I had no reason to go back soon. New places can have growing pains and start out shaky so I'd be willing to give them a second try but hopefully it won't be for a while. There are other places to go.

Bloc Party's set:
"Trojan Horse"
"One Month Off"
"Hunting for Witches"
"Positive Tension
something from Intimacy
"Song for Clay (Disappear Here)"
"This Modern Love"
"The Prayer"
"Like Eating Glass"

Pretenders' set:
"Boots of Chinese Plastic"
"Don’t Cut Your Hair"
"Talk of the Town"
"Message of Love"
"Don’t Lose Faith in Me"
"Love’s a Mystery"
"Back on the Chain Gang"
"One Thing Never Changed"
"Stop Your Sobbing"
"Day After Day"
"Don’t Get Me Wrong"
"Brass in Pocket"
"Break Up the Concrete"

"The Wait"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins, December 3 at Gibson Amphitheater

The day after the first of the two shows I looked up a review of the Smashing Pumpkins show in Chicago and compared the set-lists of both first nights. Exactly the same (with the exception of a song or two switched out, completely insignificant). Sometimes I'm disappointed in bands that play the same set every night, as it can come off as stale; spontaneity can be the funnest thing about a live event. Then again, the show is new to me, no matter how many times they've played it, and if it's any good at all, that might very well come from the amount of practice they put into it. I'm also one of those people who doesn't always like surprises and if it's within my power, I will ruin a surprise for myself just to know what's going on. So I looked up the set-list from the review of the second night. Again, another solid set. And I knew to get there on time. They only went on a few minutes late and the crowd that was there on time were in for a treat, as the band played some of their biggest hits early, either to get them out of the way or to confound the audience. (The hits maybe too early, as one fan held up a sign for the rest of the show begging for "1979", which the band played third in the set. Corgan noticed and essentially told them they were S.O.L. for it.) The set was somewhat frustrating, as the band started strong with the hits then went right into an acoustic set of a few new numbers. Maybe this was to burn some of those songs while the crowd filed in, but if that was the case, why open with the hits? Right after that was the blistering, one-two-three blast of "Cherub Rock", "Zero", and "Bodies", some of their heaviest, fastest numbers, then into more obscurities. Then into Fleetwood Mac's "Landside" and "Disarm", two more hits, and an orchestral version of instrumental "Mellon Chollie and the Infinite Sadness", some more obscurities, and for some reason bringing the guitarist from Dokken on stage for a piece or two then a punk-thrash cover of "The Sounds of Silence", which I wouldn't even have recognized as a Simon & Garfunkel cover if it wasn't for the set-list. Then ended with some other stuff no one new, and an encore of an acoustic version of "That's the Way (My Love Is)" which was pretty but much less spectacular than on disc, outstandingly so since it was the only thing they played that night from the new album. And ultimately ending on the most obscure tune in their catalog, the second part of "I Am One", whatever that means. I don't know if it was paced deliberately to have some crowd-pleasing hits for the audience then a few that the band wanted to play, grouping them so the crowd could tune in and drift out in clusters of songs, or if they were just trying to confound the audience, or if they just didn't give a crap, playing what they wanted and only doing the hits as charity. It really doesn't even matter what their plan was since it was actually a great show, despite featuring so many songs that no one knew. The band was so tight, even on the meandering jams (especially evident on the first night), that if you didn't know what was a hit and what was an obscurity, you would think it was all just a great, rock-out show. No one ever seems to know where Corgan is going to go next but if he follows this direction, it might be some great stuff, especially if he acheives the resurrection of this once-iconic band, which, once improbable, now seems like it could happen.

Smashing Pumpkins' set:
"Ava Adore"
"Cupid De Locke"
"99 Floors"
"Cherub Rock"
"I of the Mourning"
"A Song for a Son"
"Mellon Chollie and the Infinite Sadness" (redux)
"As Rome Burns" (with George Lynch)
"The Sounds of Silence"
"The March Hare"
"Age of Innocence"

"That’s the Way"
"I Am One Pt. 2"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins, December 2 at Gibson Amphitheater

I saw the Smashing Pumpkins back in '96 and it was one of the worst concerts I've ever been to. The band wasn't at all interested in being there, the material was sub-par (the Mellon Chollie album), and, worst of all, my seats were pretty bad. I've always been a fan of the band, not a huge one but I had the albums, I like most of the hits, and I appreciated Billy Corgan's work ethic. After that show back then, I just assumed they were a crappy live band or whatever it was that was great about them in concert had been lost by the time they went big. I didn't ever care to see them again after that though I still bought (most of) the albums. Then they broke up and I gave Zwan a try for old time's sake but I got burned on it and figured anything Corgan did from there would hold nothing for me. Then they (kinda) reformed and for some reason I gave them another chance. Zietgeist was good but I still was hesitant about the live show. But I heard they were great in concert again and for this tour they were doing two nights in the major markets, with a completely different set each night, they said. I'm intrigued by shows that are off the track and I figured, if they played enough for two nights of shows, there would be more of a chance to hear some of my favorite obscure stuff, even if the current version of the band was only half of the original. They were playing a venue down the street from me so I got tickets to both nights, just in case they were going to play "Mayonnaise" on the night that I didn't pick to go. I had made up my mind to go, even though I got a crappy seat (almost the same one for each night), despite the fact that I was only looking for one ticket and that I logged-on to get tickets online about 10 seconds after they sent on sale (and it didn't sell out immediately). There wasn't an opening band listed and I had read that each show was lengthy but I still thought I had time to get there the first night, not that the show would really start at 8:15 like it said on the ticket, I thought. I got there at just before 8:30 (after a bottleneck getting into the place) and had already missed a few songs but in time for "Mayonnaise." If I had missed that song, the band would have seen me at their next tour stop. The first night leaned more toward the sludgier stuff, leaning toward the new album, and some jams that were done more to do it than to fill the space with noise. The show flowed well and the music sounded great, though some of the hits, in particular "Tonight, Tonight" and "Today" seemed rush and less involved, which actually helped, if only to differentiate the live version from the studio one. The most notable thing was that the band didn't sound like they were just pacing through the material, even the hits, which certainly made this performance more invigorating than I would have imagined, and they pulled off the epics they've always tried to make out of their songs; anthems are hard to play when your heart isn't in it. The Pumpkins' secret weapon: drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. I would expect that most nights the show hangs on his mood and if he's brought all his power or not. I have no reason to think that he doesn't feel like not being quite possibly one of the best and certainly the most underrated drummer in rock today. Turns out that Corgan is actually a pretty good guitar player too (though he'd better be, to make up for Iha pissing off). If the Pumpkins were a new band and not veterans, they would probably have the same-size crowd just as quickly and people would be pissing themselves about how good they are and not moaning about how nothing is Siamese Dream anymore. But this is what they are now and, for the first time in a long time, Corgan is making the most of it. And it's actually good.

Smashing Pumpkins' set:
"Roctopus" (Jimmy Chamberlin’s opening drum solo)
"Everybody Come Clap"
"Tonight, Tonight"
"Speed Kills"
"Transformer" (may not have been included. I don't remember it, at least)
"United States"
"Once Upon a Time"
"Again, Again, Again (The Crux)"
"The Rose March"
"Bullet with Butterfly Wings"
"The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning"
"Heavy Metal Machine"
"Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" (Pink Floyd cover)

"We Only Come Out at Night"
"Close to You"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Electric Six/Local H, November 8 at the Casbah

I wouldn't even have put together this combination, especially with Local H, who had a hit back in the day, opening for the Electric Six, another, almost equally obscure band, but I’m a fan who would see either of their individual shows so this was a no-brainer for me. But I don't care about their popularity, as long as they're doing a show near me. I had something going on the night of their L.A. date but luckily bands don’t jump too far for their next shows. In this case they were playing the Casbah in San Diego, the same place the Electric Six played almost exactly a year ago and where Local H headlined their own show just a few months ago. Brian got tickets again and brought along some friends, a few who hadn't seen the Six and none of whom had ever seen (or heard) Local H. I tried to convert them into fans but, as so often is the case, they were too drunk by the time the bands went on to be able to appreciate it. But the Electric Six did their show, which was very similar to the last time we saw them, just with some new songs (and Dick had a new cape for the opener (“Flashy Man”), over the cape for the next opening song (“It’s Showtime”)), which isn't a bad thing, since it's always a fun show. If they were a local band who weren't signed and they played a place down the street every week, I'd be there every week.

Local H do their own show and I wonder how many fans they shared with the Six (besides me). I saw a lot of Local H T-shirts in the crowd. Local H generally like to piss off their own fans, who are usually too drunk to not be morons by the time the band take the stage (there’s a group of people that “High-Fiving MF” was written for), but here, having an abbreviated opening slot, they knew they weren’t going to make anyone happy. So they played some stuff off their new album, stretched out a lot of songs a lot longer than they needed to be, threw in a Pixies cover, skipped their one hit (the “Copasetic” song), and made me deaf for a few days (though the Six helped out with that as well).

Local H's set:*
"Heaven on the Way Down"
"BMW Man"
"Back in the Day"
"Michelle" (might be in a different order)
"Simple Pleas"
"Hands on the Bible"
"California Songs"
"Fuck Yeah, That Wide"

Electric Six's set:*
"Flashy Man"
"It's Showtime"
"We Were Witchy Witchy White Women"
"Down at McDonnelzz"
"Gay Bar"
"Slices of You"
"Dirty Ball"
"Rock n' Roll Excavation"
"Improper Dancing"
"Danger! High Voltage"
"The Future is in the Future"
"Heat is Rising"
"I Buy the Drugs"
"Dance Epidemic"
"Germans in Mexico"

"Gay Bar Part Two"
"Lenny Kravitz"
"Formula 409"
"Dance Commander"

Thursday, November 6, 2008

TV on the Radio, November 6 at the Wiltern

A TV on the Radio show can be a lot to take in. Even if you're familiar with their music (and that can be a lot to ask for since there's so much going on in every song, and usually so much weirdness, as beautiful and mesmerizing as it can be), they still change up every track in concert like they're mixing it for the first time. It can be a challenging experience but rewarding if you can get into it (which isn't always a guarantee). Very bass-heavy music, very unpredictable, and very experimental, which is what I love about it but it's better to put it on in the background and let it crawl into your consciousness, rather than giving it your full attention all at once. It also didn't help that the sound in the place couldn't make the vocals less muddy but it might have just been the disadvantage of being in the balcony, where I was (since it took me so long to get around to getting a ticket. I didn't think the floor would sell out but it did, though I didn't mind being able to sit during a show). It wasn't a bad performance, it was just hard to get into. I can't say I recognized too many of the songs, or they were just remixed beyond recognition (though of course I could discern personal-favorite "Hours," crowd-pleaser "Wolf Like Me," and closer "Staring at the Sun," which sounded better in San Diego). I couldn't find a set-list online but in the reviews of it I read, apparently Karen O and Nick Zanner (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) came out on a stage (and I didn’t recognize them), along with a crowd that included openers the Dirtbombs, to play along to one of the songs.

The Dirtbombs were a revelation. Playing dirty scuzz-rock that didn't quite seem to fit the environs of the Wiltern (especially since the sound-system in the place couldn't handle the volume) but they were great. No fat on their bones and they tore through it. I've rarely understood the need for two drummers, especially if they're playing the same thing (not one drummer then a percussionist) but they know better than me. For fun, at the end of their set, each member left the stage individually, first the singer then the guitarists, breaking down and taking their instruments with them as one drummer took his floor tom and jumped into the audience while playing it, the other drummer keeping the beat. Then, when their own instruments were cleared, the rest of the band came back to break down the remaining drummer's kit, while he was still playing and the other drummer was standing on the bass drum and helping keep the beat. They kept taking parts of the drum kit away, one piece at a time, until it was just the drummer with the last of it and then they were done. It was a fairly silly gesture but something I've never seen and a lot of fun. I would like to see them again, hopefully in a bar or small club, which would be a lot better suited for them, if not for the headlining band as well.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Weezer, October 14 at the Forum

I hand't planned on going to the Weezer show but not one but two of my friends asked me to get tickets for them so I thought I'd go along. Also, the new album (the self-titled "red" one) pretty much sucks but I figured at worst it would be a night out with my friends, both of which happen to be hot chicks. I got lucky in the pre-sale and got floor tickets so at least I had their gratitude and a decent view of the stage (though I would have traded it for floor tickets for the Nine Inch Nails show a few months back). I've seen Weezer a few times before, mostly at festivals, and they've never impressed me so much as a great live band. They make fantastic pop songs but for me they never sustain a full album (though Pinkerton comes really close). They played a stadium show as well as they could, for a band that shouldn't be playing stadium shows, unless they're opening. Not that I want to discount Weezer's popularity, but they're a band that should be playing really great club shows, not mostly-filled arena shows. Also, hearing their music in such a large venue quickly shows how much the production on their albums fills the spaces in their music. The most striking thing to me at this show was how interchangeable the singers could be. Rivers didn't even sing the first song ("My Name is Jonas"), just paced around the stage wearing a mask, presumably playing guitar, as the rest of the guys in the band took turns singing, which happened throughout most of the show. Rivers stopped being interested in being in the band years ago, probably around the time that Pinkerton came out and subsequently flopped. He's one of the most gifted pop-songwriters of the last 20 years but you can tell it's just a job for him. He writes songs just to keep things going and especially on the newest album he ran out of steam, finally giving in to letting the other members of the band write and sing some tracks, which would be bad enough but even Rivers couldn't pull out more than two or three of his own that are worth keeping. The new stuff played in the live show had that same feel: the other guys in the band got to play their own stuff half-way through and at least the crowd were devoted -- or polite (or not terribly interested in the first place) -- enough to not voice their own displeasure. The band should have broken up years ago but they keep it going, like employees staying in a job that they no longer put their heart into but keep in it because it pays so well and keep hoping something better will come along. And Rivers just seems like a bad boss. The only thing worse than a leader trying to impose his vision for a master plan on you is when he gives up and lets you do what you want and offers no direction. But Rivers is no dummy: the band played every one of the hits, even if it was only muscle-memory carrying them through the set. It was like someone begrudgingly playing his one hit song, the one he's played a hundred thousand times before, hoping tonight that the crowd won't scream out its title but it's the only thing they want to hear. And that's every single song (except for most of the new ones). Rivers, even playing a home-town show, didn't show a bit of enthusiasm, which brought the rest of the band down as well, until the end of the show when they did a cover of Nirvana's "Sliver," which was the most spirited thing in the whole performance but most of the audience (who were mostly babies 15 years ago when that song was on the radio) were left scratching their heads, and also brought 40 or 50 kids on stage, with every conceivable instrument, to play along with “Island in the Sun,” which was fun, if forced (it probably played better in the Mid-West). Though points for playing "Suzanne" (trying to change it up a little shows maybe they're trying to eek some kind of satisfaction out of their songs). And bringing some members of openers Angels & Airwaves, including the guy from Blink-182, on stage to help with one of the songs and I don't remember what song but they didn't get in the way so at least there's that. Weezer should have broken up years ago, to preserve their legend, but they should do now it to cut their losses. If they only want to play the hits to a stadium crowd, they should do it after being broken up for 12 years, like their heroes the Pixies. They might lose some of their audience to adulthood but at least they might reclaim the joy of playing to people who are rabid about them.
I was hoping to get there in time to see Tokyo Police Club, who opened, but getting there that early would also have meant sitting through Angels & Airwaves so I didn't mind missing them.

Friday, October 3, 2008

James, October 2 at the El Rey

I had tickets to see James in 1997, on the tour for Whiplash, also at the El Rey, and the show got canceled the day of. I assumed I would have the chance to see them at some point soon after that but their next tour of the States was on Lollapallooza (the year with Tool, Korn, and Snoop Dogg -- sorry, not enough to get me to go) then they seemed to lose traction over here and effectively broke up in 2001, news that only seemed to matter across the pond. My chance was gone but there was nothing I could do about it at that point. Then, miraculously, they reformed in 2007 and even continued putting out worthwhile music. Their only hits that had any recognition were 15 years ago but luckily that didn't stop them from giving a States-side tour another shot, actually showing up this time. There's no reason that James couldn't make it as big as The Bends-era Radiohead, as Tim Booth is just as good a singer and frontman as Thom Yorke, just that James are more interested in pop songs, even after 10 studio albums, than arty bullshit. Clearly, exceptional Britpop tunes have no place on the radio these days so James keep failing to get a real foothold in the States, and always seem to fall between the cracks when a trend for British music happens (their biggest album, Laid, and the follow-up happening before and after the Britpop invasion of the '90s, then their reunion happening in the wake of the rise of Coldplay). But people still know "Laid," even if that means they assume that James are a one-hit wonder for it. I read that they played "Laid" towards the end of a show just before this one, not as the closer, which is baffling to me, as the show at the El Rey had everyone in anticipatory excitement as the band built up to it, even though the crowd, clearly the rabid fans that James deserve, knew that they had a whole lot of other songs that are at least equal to it. (I was trying to keep track of the set-list by sending it to myself via Twitter but my messages didn't come through so I had to look up the set-list elsewhere but it should be the right one.)
Unkle Bob opened. I was going to get a drink in the lobby with friends anyway but some advice for this or any band: Don't introduce yourself to any audience by calling them by the wrong city's name (especially "Las Vegas"), even if you're joking. Whatever chance you had to win over the crowd is now lost forever. If L.A. crowds weren't so lethargic, you would have been bottled off the stage then beaten savagely.

James' set:
"Drum Thrum"
"Oh My Heart"
"Ring the Bells"
"Come Home"
"Hey Ma"
"Say Something"
"Don't Wait That Long"
"I Don't Want To Go Home"
"Out To Get You"
"Born of Frustration"
"Sit Down"

"Top of the World"

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My Bloody Valentine, October 1 at the Santa Monica Civic

I know earplugs aren't very rock n' roll. I've never worn them to a show, though there have been a few times when I wish I had remembered them during the opening band, so I could save my hearing for the headliner. I have proudly been deaf for days after some of my favorite shows. Like most young(er) people, I don't think of the long-term effects and assume I'll have my hearing for forever, no matter how many concerts I go to. But I knew that seeing My Bloody Valentine, perhaps the loudest band of the last 20 years, I should take some ear-plugs. Just in case. By the time I was getting into shoegaze in the 90s, My Bloody Valentine had pretty much already been and gone. But my life was changed once I got Loveless sometime after that. It's hard to get perspective on music in the time since MBV's advent made the world safe for artful guitar noise. What is beautifully shaped distortion and noise in the studio sounds fine on CD but it also sounds constrained and trapped, which is appealing but in a live setting is where the waves of distortion can really be free. The wide open space of the Indio Polo Fields would have been perfect but after MBV's embarrassing omission from 2008's Coachella line up, the next best place is a large venue that could withstand the volume of the band. I had a cheap pair of earplugs with me, only to find that, at the entrance to the venue, they were giving them out. Then when I got inside, I met up with a co-worker who also had some. The place was nice. I don't know how many concerts that the Santa Monica Civic hosts (though it got a mention in Slash's autobiography, that Guns n' Roses played one of their earliest shows there opening for Ted Nugent) but Bob Dylan had been there recently, it had open seating, like half a hockey-stadium and reminded me of the Long Beach Arena, bottled water for $1.50, and popcorn for $2. I don't know how much unreleased stuff that MBV played but I know they played most of Loveless so I was as content as I could possibly be. And, just like I thought it would be, that show was without-a-doubt, hands-down, unquestionably the loudest show I have ever been to. And you know by now that I've been to a lot of shows. I don't even know if it would have been quieter in an outside venue. My ears were ringing the next day even though I'd had my earplugs in. I took out my earplugs for one song at the beginning and my ears were ringing by the end of it. The drone-freak-out during the last song was a bit much, just hitting the same note for 20 minutes, but it's apparently a tradition at an MBV show. Apparently that just pounded home the point, if you didn't get it already, that at an MBV show, even more than gorgeous washes of sound and noise, the volume is the thing.
Something called Spectrum opened the show and they were not nearly loud enough so they were, therefore, completely insignificant.

My Bloody Valentine's set:*
"I Only Said"
"When You Sleep"
"You Never Should"
"(When You Wake) You're Still In A Dream"
"Cigarette In Your Bed"
"Come In Alone"
"Only Shallow"
"Nothing Much To Lose"
"To Here Knows When"
"Feed Me Your Kiss"
"You Made Me Realise"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Street Scene, September 19 & 20 in San Diego

Going to a music festival alone can be a drag. Concerts -- festivals, especially -- should be a shared experience with at least one friend (the more than better) where you can trade favorite bands and discover new ones. My people in San Diego were either busy or broke so I prepared myself to go to Street Scene alone. I've wound up at festivals alone before but I don't begin planning to go that way, it just happens. But the line-up at this year's two-day fest was probably my favorite of any all year and if it had to happen to that I would be doing the show on my own, so be it. I had been to Street Scene before, the year with the Pixies and the Flaming Lips and the Killers and Garbage and Kasbian and Flogging Molly and the Locust and the Von Bondies and Spoon and Autolux and Snoop Dogg, when it was in the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium, which was perfectly fine with me, but apparently that was an outrage for the fine concert-goers of San Diego so they moved it back to the downtown area, where it had been originally before it got to be a big deal. Compared to festivals that are out in the middle of nowhere, Street Scene is a breeze to get to: take the Amtrak (from L.A. or the airport or wherever) to downtown, walk a few blocks or get a cab and you're there. San Diego has their act together when it comes to mass-transit so it was easy to get in and out (though I'm sure the trolly was a fright when the show got out each night). The festival was also a fraction of the size of other festivals I've been to, taking up less than a dozen marked-off city blocks and a few streets, and with fewer people, but enough for a crowd and everyone was really mellow. A lot of Radiohead T-shirts. And, to my notice, more smokers than I've ever seen in one place (and nearly as many smoking weed). A lot of younger people. One of the really cool things was, out of five stages, the two biggest ones were across a parking lot from each other and when one act was done, the one on the opposite stage would start up, meaning you could bounce back and forth between both all day and neither overlapped the other (which would have been a nightmare for sound if overlapping had happened so it was even more important that each band stuck tightly to their set-times). This was the plan at Lollapalooza and it seemed revolutionary to me because nothing like that has ever happened at Coachella (as usual, my measuring stick for all other festivals). The place is the size of a closet compared to any other music festival. With fewer people, there were shorter lines for everything, including the restrooms, and since there were fewer people using them, the port-a-potties stayed nearly as clean throughout the day as they started. Festival tip #1: Take your own hand-sanitizer. That stuff seems to be all the rage at festivals these days, so the venue doesn't have to provide running water, and I don't mind it but the stuff they had in the port-a-potties here was more like soap and that's just not acceptable. I got my own bottle of Purell for $1.89, it fit in my pocket, and my hands were as germ-free as they could be under the circumstances. Even if the music hadn't been enough, the weather made for an enjoyable weekend: perfectly clear skies, cool but not cold, sweater or jacket optional after the sun went down, a slight breeze. If you've ever been to San Diego you know how nice it can be and that weekend it was absolutely as nice as it could be. Makes you wonder why people even schedule music festivals in the summer when, if they could just wait a month or two, the weather could be so much nicer and the concert-goers, therefore, much more comfortable.

But the music was as great as could be expected:
The Films are pop-rock trying to be indie. Too inoffensive to be very interesting but a fine way to start my day;
Muslims are kinda a sober, American Libertines crossed with a surf-rock band. Not horrible;
Foals are apparently huge in Europe right now and they came recommended but they didn't do much for me. Maybe they're just not a good band to be introduced to live. Another British that will be around this year and forgotten the next but that's not to say they're bad. I'd pick up their album if I saw it around;
Hot Chip are a bit too post- ironic for me. I know these guys are a big deal right now but their nerdy dance-music just didn't do anything for me. I like rock stars. Most of these guys were wearing glasses and their music left me cold. If they're really that great maybe they're an acquired taste but I just couldn't get into it;
I've heard complaints that there are no protest songs anymore. Well, there are but they don't get on the radio. If Michael Franti (& Spearhead) could get on the radio, he might actually have a shot at changing the world. Imagine a cross between the Clash and Bob Marley and you're pretty close. I didn't recognize anything he was playing, though I have most of his older stuff, so it must have been all new songs but it didn't matter, it was still a great, positive vibe. I have never had my hands in the air more than when Michael Franti was on stage.
If the New Pornographers were better-looking, they would be popular and rich instead of just respected. Or maybe if Neko was with them more. I didn't mind missing the first half of their set, since I had seen them once but I'd never seen Franti before, and I think I like them more on album than live anyway. But they closed with a cover of "Don't Bring Me Down" by ELO and it showed that they actually could rock out, maybe even without irony, if they wanted to;
Since I was seeing the New Pornographers, I also missed most of TV on the Radio's set, showing up for closer "Staring the Sun," which was stunning just after sunset and in such a big, welcoming crowd. It is odd to me that TV on the Radio and their way-weird (but amazing) music can attract a crowd but it's fine that they do. After seeing only part of their set, I promised myself to get tickets once I got back to see one of their full shows (which wouldn't have a scheduling conflict);
It took me a while but lately I've gotten really into Spoon. They're one of the recent indie-bands-gone-big and they got a good crowd. Their stuff would seem odd on the radio, even still, but whatever hits they have they played them, judging from the crowd. A solid set, including a horns section;
This festival marked the third time that I have been able to see only three minutes of Cat Powers' set. At least I'm consistent. Chan Marshall vs. Britt Daniel was my biggest conflict for the weekend, though I think I made the right choice; I know that she plays in L.A. frequently anyway. I've been really into Cat Power lately but it seems that a more intimate setting would be best for her music, not at a festival. And I don't even know what song it was I heard her perform (though it was her last one). But I know it was Mr. Judah Bauer on guitar for Cat Power, and that was enough to go all the way over to that stage, then all the way back to the main ones;
Devotchka are like a mellow Gogol Bordello and what's the point of that? Not much for me there but I've seen their name well-placed at a number of festivals so I assume they're coming up and maybe I'll hear more about and by them later on;
Justice sounds like an updated but less innovative Chemical Brothers to me but I just haven't been into that kind of stuff since the '90s. They're fine but I don't see why they're such a big deal;
Beck is a smart man. Not only is he a genuis songwriter (though the new album isn't his best), he's wise enough to play the popular stuff -- opening with "Loser" -- to keep the crowd going through the obscure stuff, though they ate that up just as well. Even some stuff from Sea Change went down well. His experimental stuff went too far, though, when mid-way through the set the band took a break from their instruments to come to the front of the stage to push buttons on some kind of boxes, that didn't always play reliably, taking Beck's mic with them, but a slight derail didn't kill an otherwise solid set.

On Saturday Brian (who was letting me crash on his floor) had had some rest and decided to go to the show, if he could get a ticket for $40. We got on Craigslist and made a bunch of calls and eventually got ahold of a guy who was willing to let his ticket -- a wristband, no less (less chance of it being a fake) -- for that amount so I had a buddy to share the show with for the day. Festival tip #2: At a multi-day festival, there is always someone who had a ticket for the first day but wants to get rid of the ticket(s) for the other days and, if you can time it right before the show, when they're really desperate to get at least a little bit of money for it, they might let it go really cheap. I didn't drink the first day so we made up for it the second, mostly staying in the beer gardens next to the stages to watch the music:
I wouldn't imagine Spiritualized, with their spacey, psuedo-soul drone-rock, to translate to an audience on American asphalt, and they did have to go on first at the main stage but they were surprisingly good and actually fit (after the all-female strings and back-up singers at Coachella, which would not have gone over well at this place);
I thought I had enough of Cold War Kids at the last festival but at this one, just as we were finishing our beers and moving on to the next act, they opened with "We Used To Vacation," which is the only song I was concerned to hear by them, and it sounded great. The rest of their set might have been pretty good too; they sounded better playing in San Diego sunshine than San Francisco haze;
Del the Funky Homosapien got a good-sized crowd though I couldn't say he's ever had a hit that everyone would know -- and know that he did it. He's a veteran artist so maybe he got people there just because he's been around for so long. I had forgotten his Deltron 3030 project and he did "Virus" from that album early in the set. I've never seen Del in concert before, even years ago when I saw Gorillaz, and I read that he did "Clint Eastwood" at the end of a set at another festival, and that would almost have been worth sticking around to see but I had other bands to get to so I had to leave early;
You may heard that the Hives leveled San Diego during their set. It's true. It might be because I was most excited about seeing them or that I've been playing "Main Offender" on Rock Band a lot but they were my favorite set of the weekend. I've only seen them at festivals so I can't imagine them filling more than 45 minutes but their short, punchy songs are perfect for a shorter set-time;
Tegan and Sara did the set at Street Scene that they should have done at Coachella. Not that either set was much better or much worse, I guess I was just underwhelmed at Coachella and sore that they didn't play "I Wouldn't Like Me" there, which they played this time, though it was first, when I was taking a pee. They also have the distinction of being the band that Brian was most interested in, though never having heard them before, so their set (or the fact they play angtsy, angry-girl rock) was enough to win over at least one first-timer;
X are veterans. They're not fools. They've done more of these festivals than anyone there. They play a tight set of great tunes that even a causal festival-goer will realize they know, then they're done and they make way for the next band. Exene might look like your grandma but she still rocks. X will still be rocking long after we're all old and dead;
If you aren't obsessed with the National then clearly you have never heard them. I really can't say much more beyond that. I'm surprised they got such a good spot at the show (the second-to-last act on the big stages) but it's good that they have as many fans as showed up;
The biggest story from the festival is that the Black Crowes -- Saturday's headliners -- cancelled their appearance four days before the show. As far as I'm concerned, anyone they got to replace them would be an improvement. They were replaced by Devo, and while I like Devo, I'm not sure what kind of crowd they pull anymore. I saw Devo a few years ago at another festival and they played mid-day, before Tears for Fears if I recall. Devo still play all the hits, including "Whip It" early in the set, though they break out the covers and more obscure stuff in the middle of a longer set, and that was a good time for us to leave. Thank God -- no new material. It makes me wonder really how many people were genuinely excited to see Devo or if they stuck around just because they were at the end of the festival and didn't want to go home.

Missed: MGMT (seen them more than enough, even if it was for less than five minutes), Vampire Weekend (it may be the backlash but I find I'm just not in love with them, despite all the hype), the Whigs (who I heard were good but we were too busy having lunch and getting drunk when they went on), Eagles of Death Metal (who I assume were without Josh Homme anyway), Tokyo Police Club (didn't I see them at Coachella and not much care for them?), Does It Offend You, Yeah? (another band that keeps following me at festivals but I just haven't gotten to. I'm sure they're great but they really need to consult with me about their schedule), Ghostland Observatory (a lot of press about them and apparently they have a great stage show but I haven't needed to see them, apparently), Sea Wolf (who apparently canceled before the schedule even came out), Man Man (might be great but I wouldn't know because they don't have their shit together on time so I don't have to stick around).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sterephonics/People in Planes, September 16 at the Fonda

When a band that usually plays arenas plays a club, you ought to consider checking them out, for the spectacle of a big band on a small stage, if nothing else. Not that I would see Stereophonics for the spectacle; I've been a fan of theirs for years. I saw them at Coachella a few years ago, one of the worst performances I've ever seen, as a sound made for a European stadium was packed into a hot, overcrowded tent and since they were touring for their loud album (Language, Sex, Violence, Other?) the sound was horrible and my ears are probably still ringing. The last time through town they played the Hollywood and Anaheim House of Blues and they're continuing to downgrade, now to the Fonda. Not that it stopped them from rocking out or showcasing some great material. At this point they have enough hits (well, in Europe) that they could coast on a greatest-hits show and in this case they're touring for a new album, which makes the fact that they played half of their first album (Words Gets Around) -- the album they made before they went really big with Performance & Cocktails, five albums ago -- completely baffling. The only reason I can come up with is that the new album, Pull the Pin, hasn't been released in the States and they thought people might not know it as well yet. (Though they were selling the new album for $10 in the lobby so maybe that's their idea of promotion.) Hopefully they will play a full tour when the album gets more traction in the U.S., which is doubtful, since they haven't been able to break State-side with any of their previous, far-more-accessible singles, there's no reason to think anything new will do the trick. It's also odd that they don't play more domestic festivals, especially this year (and especially being in L.A. the week between two big festivals in San Francisco and San Diego). Stereophonics have never seemed to make more than a half-assed attempt to break into the States, that they could follow up a good single with a tour but they have never seemed to make any kind of considerable splash here. You could blame the fact that they are consistently panned by critics but that has never stopped them from being big in Europe and it's certainly never stopped scads of other bands. But hey, if they can be the secret of just a few people, what's the harm? The band will keep making records because they make money overseas and if that keeps them going, and tour the States with the hopes of breaking eventually, and we still get to see them in small venues -- well, a few of us will anyway -- then everyone wins. I noticed a number of people around me with accents; it must be an amazing thing to see a band in a (relatively) tiny place who usually play much bigger places in your homeland. Is there any small venue that Radiohead could play nowadays? The Fonda that night was really hot, too, making it baffling that all the members of the band, save for the drummer, all had leather jackets on (and kept them on). Oh, and Kelly, you have to be a bigger name in the States before you can wear sunglasses on-stage.

I have a few friends who go crazy over People in Planes and I got there early enough to see them opening the show. If I had never seen them before I probably would have bought their album, though I probably would have gotten rid of it after a short while. I already have their first album and it's only recently that I've started getting into the second half of it but it might not be long for my collection anyway. They were fine as openers but I probably won't concern myself with their new album. I watched their set from the balcony, and it's nice to sit but that's no way to see a show; I recall that I have sat during some of the most boring shows I've seen (when I could have been on the floor, standing).

Stereophonics' set:*
"The Bartender And The Thief"
"Bank Holiday Monday"
"A Thousand Trees"
"My Friends"
"Have a Nice Day"
"Vegas Two Times"
"Same Size Shoes"
"Bright Red Star"
"Daisy Lane"
"Too Many Sandwiches"
"More Life in a Tramp's Vest"
"Mr. Writer"
"Just Looking"
"Local Boy in the Photograph"

"Maybe Tomorrow" (Kelly solo)

Alternate review:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Nine Inch Nails, September 6 at the Forum

Nine Inch Nails has been a cornerstone of most of my adult life. The music of Trent Reznor has been the soundtrack to many of my adventures and the strength and peace I got from their albums, especially Broken, got me through college. Listening to that music today, it still stands up technically but the rage can seem a little silly (but a lot less silly than the alt-rock/nu-metal dreck that it helped spawn). Luckily, Trent Reznor has grown up with the rest of us and the music he makes nowadays has evolved from rage pointed inward to a focused concentration on targets like politicians, particularly bad ex-girlfriends, George W. Bush, and, as usual, God. The shows have also evolved, though they still involve Reznor trashing instruments, but these days he seems to have better aim at where he throws them. This stage destruction seems a little overdone these days – like, what does he have to be angry about (except for having to play "Closer" again)? -- but maybe it even seemed a little childish back in the day and we related to it so much that we thought it's what we would have done if positions were changed. Since I had to sacrifice NIN for Kanye at Lollapalooza (hey, I wouldn’t go to see Kanye at his own show but I would for NIN), I committed myself to getting tickets for the Forum show but I don’t know why I would have done otherwise, even if I had seen them over the summer. Brian took my extra ticket and we took our time getting there (read: we got lost from Santa Monica to Inglewood). Opening the show with new material, Reznor and company powered through a half-hour set with a full stage, surging through strong tracks from The Slip, along with crowd-favorites "March of the Pigs" and "Closer," the latter being as forced and listless as Tom Petty playing "Freefallin'" for the 13,485th time. The band then played in front of a screen that came down to divide the stage to just a tiny strip to play some slower numbers then played behind the screen some tracks from Ghosts I-IV, which the crowd was patient for, though Reznor was smart enough to put "Piggy" in the middle just to keep them going. Not that they would have revolted because of the instrumental songs -- the mass of goths would follow Reznor to Hell even if he was playing the Nickelback catalog. Also notable was the run-through of "God Given", which sounded more powerful than the album version; I wish it always sounded as good when I play Year Zero. And of course he can wait an hour and a half into the show to even acknowledge the crowd by speaking to them – they’re all self-abusive. They eat that shit up. The show was almost stolen by the stage set-up: a huge screen the width of the stage with projections in front of the band, then another, bigger screen behind them, with various lights and effects between. During "Only," the screen in front of the band was filled with static until Reznor leaned forward to sing and a hole opened and followed him around. For “The Hand that Feeds,” the screen behind displayed a huge picture of Bush that slowly morphed into one of John McCain, which wasn’t terribly clever, but the clarity of the images was remarkable. Reznor has traded paying for broken instruments for a stage set-up so he may not be touring with the same thing for the rest of his life but hopefully a DVD release will show how it was, though it will only capture a fraction of the majesty and innovation shown on a TV screen. Reznor has broken the cycle of record-release-tour-repeat and he's free to do whatever in the world he likes now. No doubt he will continue touring but how he could top this show, as well as continue paying for it all, is its own question. We missed openers Deerhunter, who I became a fan of later, but they're not an extraordinary live band, and probably in the wrong place playing such a big venue, so it was just as well.

Nine Inch Nails' set-list:
"Letting You"
"March of the Pigs"
"Head Down"
"The Frail"
"Gave Up"
"The Warning"
"5 Ghosts I"
"17 Ghosts II"
"19 Ghosts III"
"The Greater Good"
"Terrible Lie"
"The Big Come Down"
"31 Ghosts IV"
"The Hand That Feeds"
"Head Like a Hole"

"God Given"
"In This Twilight"

Monday, August 25, 2008

Radiohead, August 25 at the Hollywood Bowl

How can you justify seeing a band more than, say, twice in one tour? If they put on a different show every night. And if that band is Radiohead. Musicians can get by playing the same set every night: play hits, do a few new songs to indulge your musical abilities and so people can go to the restroom, encore with the really big stuff, and the crowd, who probably didn't see last night's show in some other town, will be happy. some bands change it up, maybe almost completely, to challenge themselves, to make it interesting, to give something to the fans they know are seeing multiple shows on the tour, for whatever reason. Radiohead is one of those kinds of bands and that's what makes them great to see more than once. There are some stand-bys – most of the new album, “Fake Plastic Trees” (or maybe that's just because I saw them more than once in California) – but you can't really always count on the same set night after night. After six albums (and all sorts of extra material), they have enough crowd-pleasing songs that, paced correctly, can keep the more casual fans going while they also throw in some more obscure stuff, to please the hardcore (and traveling) fans. At this show they played a bit more than the two hours they gave at the festivals recently, they threw in a track from the In Rainbows bonus disc (“Go Slowly”) and Thom performed a song by himself from his solo album (“Cymbal Crash”). The only consistent thing is that you never know what they're going to do. Which, along with their catalog of amazing songs and solid musicianship, make them one of the best live bands going right now. That's three shows in the less than a month and each performance just keeps getting better. Hmm, maybe I should see them more often.

Radiohead's set-list:
"There There"
"15 Step"
"All I Need"
"Pyramid Song"
"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"
"The Gloaming"
"Talk Show Host"
"Faust Arp"
"Tell Me Why" (Neil Young cover)
"No Surprises"
"Jigsaw Falling Into Place"
"The Bends"
"The National Anthem"

"House Of Cards"
"Planet Telex"
"Go Slowly"
"Fake Plastic Trees"
"True Love Waits"
"Everything In Its Right Place"

"Cymbal Rush"
"Karma Police"

Friday, August 22, 2008

Outside Lands, August 22 - 24 in San Francisco

Continuing my travels to see concert festivals, I went to San Francisco for the first Outside Lands. Between Coachella and Lollapalooza, a festival can't be too incredibly different: there are a few big fields and a bunch of bands playing on a bunch of different stages and a bunch of people there. Though like Lollapalooza, this event was held in a park at the center of the city. But the most notable difference is the weather: the first few days it never got over 70 degrees (and that's being generous), generally overcast, though the air was crisp and clear, if misting rain at random points. And this is how San Francisco usually is every day. In August. Which is supposed to summer, I just got used to it in places that have reasonable seasons. On Saturday at the high point of the day I had on a sweat-shirt and was still shivering like it was winter. Though Sunday I underestimated the city and it was warm enough to get a sunburn on my face so fair play, San Francisco. I was up there for the weekend and stayed with Heath, who also went to the show with me, and Kris, who also came to the show to hang out for a bit. Heath is always a great concert companion. Of course he was there most for Radiohead but I was there for the whole concert experience in general.

I finally saw Cold War Kids, after missing them at the previous two festivals and maybe seeing them at the next one (they're a band that follows me around, apparently). They did some new stuff but I didn't hear "We Used To Vacation" though we missed about half the set; Manu Chau was fine, I'm sure, but I only saw five minutes of his set before heading over to another stage, leaving a lot of time since there was a ridiculous and unexplainable bottleneck to get between the main area and a meadow that had two other stages; at first I wasn't completely looking forward to seeing Radiohead, since I had just seen their festival-headlining set just two weeks before (and since I had gotten separated from my friends, whose enthusiasm was helping mine along) but they changed up the set enough to make it nearly a whole other show, even switching up the order of the songs they repeated. They still played most of In Rainbows but they played a lot more of OK Computer, particularly "Airbag" and "Exit Music (For a Film)," and "Talk Show Host." At this performance I was a lot farther afield than in Chicago so I wasn't being smooshed by 75,000 people and it wasn't humid and hot. The only bruise on such a great performance was when the sound cut out – twice – for about a minute each, with no explanation, and it happened the next night but I don't know if it was common on that stage; there's not been a moment of Nellie McKay's life that she hasn't been disarmingly charming. She played the teeny-tiniest stage of the festival, which suits her, and I couldn't imagine her playing a much bigger place but it's a shame she doesn't pull a bigger crowd, even though she got a good number to her performance. She did her catchiest songs, alone on her piano or ukulele, including "Mother of Pearl", the funniest song ever about feminists and an awkward song about zombies, appropriately titled "Zombie," but it showed her goofy side – always charming; Regina Spektor was on a big side-stage, performing by herself, and she got a good-sized crowd so I couldn't closer to check out her rack; Cake still attracts a decent crowd, though I'm not really sure why. Nothing against them or their music, which are fine, but I don't recall them having a hit for over 10 years; Tom Petty put on a fine show for the people there, who presumably haven't been following him on tour, but it was a bummer for me since he played a lot of the same set he played at the Hollywood Bowl a few months ago, to the point that I was guessing – correctly – each song he was about to play next. Nothing wrong with that if that's the only show of his you're going to see, which would apply to most of his fans, who are well past the age of going out for more than one night a year for a concert, but it was disappointing for me, when I expected at least a bit more of a show; Stars are an all-time favorite band of mine and it's endlessly frustrating to me that they're not much bigger than they are. As it was, their set was the reason for me going to the show far earlier than any other day (2 o' clock!) but it was worth it. There are no exact words for it but it was a transcendent experience; a week before the show I read a review about Bonnaroo and the reviewer was going nutty about K'Naan, whose set fit into the schedule so we checked him out and he turned out to be one of the best acts of the weekend. Minimalist roots-rap with a message but that message was as important as it was catchy; I saw some of Andrew Bird, mostly on Stars' recommendation and because his slot fit into my schedule, but he didn't do anything for me. I can't even describe his music. Just fairly beyond me at the time; I don't know Broken Social Scene but I'm a big fan of Stars and Feist, who are all part of the same big, Montreal circle. The crowd was really excited for them and I'll check out their stuff when I find it; I also went to see Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings but they were in the background since I was hanging out with friends at the time, which, even more than the music, is what a festival should be about. The same thing about the Walkmen (playing a too-small stage), ALO (know nothing about but they sounded good), and Rogue Wave (which I was mildly avoiding, having not gotten them last time); I'm as big a Wilco fan as they come but I've been left cold the last two times I've seen them. They're a fine live band no matter what they do but when I've seen them they just didn't seem that into it, playing more songs instead of playing with more enthusiasm at the headlining show. This time, though, they were excited to be there, or about something, and you could tell. They ran through a good set and the tightness of it only helped, being that they only had an hour and a half to play (on the bill under Jack Johnson? Who screwed that one up?). Definitely a highlight of the festival, as well as a great way to end the show.

Radiohead's set-list:
"15 Step
"There There"
"All I Need"
"Talk Show Host"
"The National Anthem"
"The Gloaming"
"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"
"Karma Police"
"Jigsaw Falling Into Place"
"Exit Music (For A Film)"

"Pyramid Song"
"You and Whose Army?"
"Paranoid Android"
"Fake Plastic Trees"
"Everything In Its Right Place"

Tom Petty's set-list:
"You Wreck Me"
"Listen to Her Heart"
"I Won't Back Down"
"Even the Losers"
"Free Fallin'"
"Mary Jane's Last Dance"
"End of the Line" (Traveling Wilburys cover)
"Can't Find My Way Home" (Blind Faith cover)
"Gimme Some Lovin'" (The Spencer Davis Group cover)
"Saving Grace"
"Honey Bee"
"Learning to Fly"
"Don't Come Around Here No More"

"Runnin' Down a Dream"
"Gloria" (Them cover)
"American Girl"

Wilco's set-list:
"Remember The Mountain Bed
"Company In My Back"
"You Are My Face"
"Spiders (Kidsmoke)"
"I Am Trying To Break Your Heart"
"Handshake Drugs"
"Jesus, Etc."
"Impossible Germany"
"Via Chicago"
"California Stars"
"Hate It Here"
"I'm The Man Who Loves You"

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lollapalooza, August 1 to 3 in Chicago

Oh, yes, I have no problem going clear across almost to the other side of the country for a concert. It was obvious from the moment the line-up for Lollapalooza was announced that it was the one to beat in 2008. I made plans with Seth who flew up from Kansas to meet me in Chicago for the show and he had a friend who let us crash at his place, which meant I really only had to get the tickets and a flight so no problem there. I wonder why I don't travel to more festivals (well, outside of California, that is). The non-traveling Lollapalooza is a fantastic show on its own but I can't help but compare it to Coachella and that's a good enough hook for this review:
* The city park, Grant Park, in the heart of downtown Chicago, just feet from Lake Michigan, is smaller than Coachella but has a capacity for more people (75,000 vs. 60,000 (reportedly)). This made it feel a lot more claustrophobic but that's probably because I'm so used to the wide-open spaces of the Indio polo fields. You can also take the El train around the city to get to the park, just a few blocks away, so it certainly makes it a lot easier to move in and out of the place.
* Lolla has six stages going at a time, Coachella has five. But while Coachella has a variety of acts playing across all the stages, and something people with eclectic tastes may want to see, Lolla has one stage just for kids and families, which is great that they do but offered nothing for me, and one tiny stage of Perry Farrell-picked DJs, so there were really only three or four stages going, at least two of which had their last act go on hours before the day ended, and the acts on those stages could have been changed around easily, the only difference between them being the size of the crowd they would draw. The biggest and second-biggest stages were across the field from each other but they scheduled the times such that when one act got done on one stage, the one across from it would be beginning only a few minutes after it. This is great if you just want to go back and forth between those two stages but to go to the other big stages across the park, it could take up to 20 minutes of walking and maneuvering the crowd. The stages were also mostly far enough away from each other that there was no overlap in sound, except for two stages that were almost back-to-back to each other and had acts playing on them at the same time, which is perplexing to me but I guess we can just chalk it up to the organizers having no other place to put the smaller stage and putting smaller acts on it anyway.
* The crowd definitely skewed a lot younger. The Coachella crowd seems to lean toward late 20s, on average, maybe closer to my age, but the people at Lolla seemed in their early 20s, if not teenagers, and it was noticeable. I don't know if it's because it's easier for young people to get around the city to make it to the show and Coachella takes people with at least a driver's license and the day to spend to get out there and back as well as the time off of school. It was also of note that the crowd was really young for headliners who were big 10 years ago, when those kids were still in elementary school.
* Indio is a dry heat; Chicago is humid. Friday at the show got pretty warm (especially being in the middle of a crowd of almost 100,000), Saturday was nearly perfect, and Sunday was overcast and really muggy though it wasn't terribly hot.
* Lolla is about as corporate as you can make it. Company names are plastered everywhere you can imagine, even the stages are named after corporations, almost so much to the point where you think that it must be a joke. Now, I know Coachella has its share of corporate sponsorship (especially in beer sales) but it's not nearly as blatant. But if Lolla has to do it to keep ticket-prices down (and the tickets are, indeed, cheaper than those to Coachella) and it gets the big acts there, then I say go for it.
* Coachella ends at midnight, give or take, depending on a headliner wanting to play an encore or in case someone went on late at some point in the day; Lolla was over at 10 on the dot. But really, these festivals live and die on the strength of their line-ups: my friends loved Manchester Orchestra at Coachella and I liked them enough to see them at Lolla but I want to get some stuff by them on disc before really becoming a fan; a friend recommended Rogue Wave but I didn't see the big deal with them. They're playing other festivals so maybe I'll get into them later; I didn't dance during the Go! Team's set, as I should have, since I was conserving my energy, but they deserved it; I don't know why I had to travel to see Louis XIV for the first time, since I like them and they're from San Diego and they play around here a lot; I would have seen the Kills but by the time I got over there they were finishing 15 minutes early; I've seen Gogol Bordello a whole lot but I'm still trying to make sure the rest of the world sees and loves them. In this case I was telling people trying to decide between them and the Black Keys (who I also wanted to see) that Gogol Bordello would change their lives. The fact that they played "American Wedding" made this performance beat out this year's Coachella appearance (but not the first time I saw them at Coachella, which, indeed, changed my life); Mates of State sounded great from across the field and I wish I had had them in the plan to see; I would have seen Bloc Party even if we weren't trying to get in good position for Radiohead. Some advice for manipulating through to the front of a crowd: pick a pushy female and follow her, acting like you're her boyfriend (and she won't know you're behind her anyway); Radiohead played unopposed, with no one going on at the same time as them, with 75,000 people there to see them and only them. At that point we had worked our way pretty close to the stage (well, half a mile but that was a lot closer than most everyone else) and they did the standard, solid show, playing a few hits early on (no "Karma Police" but yes, "Lucky"), and eventually playing most of the new album sprinkled in among their two-hour set. No surprises (pardon the pun. But they didn't play that either) but excellent headliners (if not the biggest headliners of the whole weekend); the Ting Tings were a breakout surprise. I hadn't seen the iPod commercial, I'd heard maybe one of their songs, we just went to see them because we were there early enough in the day. And they were great. At every festival you should walk away with at least one new favorite band and that was mine. (I later got very much into them); a high-point of the festival for me I knew was going to be the Gutter Twins, though it's really strange seeing them on-stage during the day and I sure wouldn't mind if Lanegan would make some sign of having some appreciation of being there (or even of being alive); I've pretty much decided that I'm just never going to be into MGMT but they were nice to watch from the other side of the field (since, apparently, 75,000 people wanted to see them) and it was a beautiful part of the afternoon; Explosions in the Sky could probably be huge if they had words in their music, but other than that they were pretty good, a good place to rest, at least; a friend recommended Okkervil River to me and I might be seeing them next month. They were okay. They reminded me of the Decemberists, in dress if not music; I probably wouldn't have been so excited to see the Toadies but that was the high-point of the festival for Seth and we got to the front of the stage a half an hour before they went on, while they were setting up, so we could be up close (and also heard a bit of Lupe Fiasco on the other stage from there). And it was worth it. There aren't many Toadies hits but of course they played "Possum Kingdom" (the "so help me Jesus" song) and closed with "Tyler," which I'm sure is because we were screaming/chanting it halfway through; the biggest decision of the weekend: Wilco or Rage Against the Machine. Now, I'm a much bigger Wilco fan than a Rage fan, I saw Wilco a few months ago and seeing them again in a few weeks, but Rage doesn't tour often, though I've actually seen them more than I've seen Wilco (including twice at Coachella). I was so torn that I decided to let a consensus of my friends help me decide over text-messages but that was also a split vote so it didn't help. I decided to go along with our post-Toadies high and, since Seth pretty much hates Wilco, I just went along and saw Rage and they were great. Also, we were drinking heavily and meeting girls. I'd still be interested to see what crowd showed up for Wilco (especially since the crowd for Rage was, predictably, pretty rowdy); I was right that Saul Williams is better in a larger venue, even if it was on a smaller stage; of course Gnarls Barkley played "Crazy," no surprise there, but no funky costumes, and that was a surprise; I'll probably be seeing the National at some other point soon but I'd been listening to their album (Boxer) obsessively lately so I thought I was obligated to check them out. And they were great though, as usual, subduded; the other big decision: Kanye vs. Nine Inch Nails. Obviously I picked Kanye. I figured I probably wouldn't see him if he was playing his own show, as I would NIN, but I was certainly interested in what he would do live, especially after a number of people said he sucks live, but they were clearly very wrong. Acts I missed: I tried to see Cat Power but by the time I got over there I heard half a song and had to head back to see the next band in the plan; I knew Mark Ronson wasn't going to have any really notable guests with him so I skipped everything but the last song (which was that limp, overwrought Smith cover); also missed CSS, Duffy, Stephen Malkmus (still no Pavement stuff?), Flogging Molly, the Whigs, Broken Social Scene, and Girl Talk but I replaced them with other stuff and I'm sure I'll catch up to them again.

Radiohead's set-list:

"15 Step"
"There, There"
"All I Need"
"Weird Fishes"
"The Gloaming"
"The National Anthem"
"Faust Arp"
"No Surprises"
"Jigsaw Falling Into Place"
"The Bends"
"Everything In Its Right Place"
"Fake Plastic Trees"

"Paranoid Android"
"Dollars & Cents"
"House of Cards"

"2 + 2 = 5"

Rage Against the Machine's set-list:
"Bulls On Parade"
"People Of The Sun"
"Know Your Enemy"
"Bullet In The Head"
"Born Of A Broken Man"
"Guerrilla Radio"
"Ashes In The Fall"
"Calm Like A Bomb"
"Sleep Now In The Fire"
"Wake Up"

"Killing In The Name"

Kanye West's set-list:

"Good Morning"
"I Wonder"
"Heard 'Em Say"
"Through The Wire"
"Get 'Em High Play"
"Diamonds from Sierra Leone"
"Can't Tell Me Nothing"
"Put On" (Young Jeezy cover)
"Flashing Lights"
"Touch The Sky"
"Gold Digger"
"Good Life"
"Jesus Walks"
"Hey, Mama"
"Don't Stop Believin'" (Journey cover)

Bloc Party's set-list:
"Hunting for Witches"
"Waiting for the 7.18"
"Song for Clay (Disappear Here)"
"So Here We Are"
"The Prayer"
"This Modern Love"
"Positive Tension"
"Like Eating Glass"

Gogol Bordello's set-list:

"Not A Crime"
"I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again"
"Supertheory of Supereverything"
"Wonderlust King"
"Tribal Connection"
"60 Revolutions"
"American Wedding"
"Start Wearing Purple"
"Think Locally F**ck Globally"

Gnarls Barkley's set-list:
"Charity Case"
"Gone Daddy Gone" (Violent Femmes cover)
"Run (I'm a Natural Disaster)"
"Blind Mary"
"Just A Thought"
"Going On"
"Storm Coming" (The Doors cover)
"A Little Better"
"Who's Gonna Save My Soul"
"Reckoner" (Radiohead cover)
"Smiley Faces"

MGMT's set-list:
"Of Moons"
"Birds & Monsters"
"Weekend Wars"
"The Youth"
"Future Reflections"
"4th Dimensional Transition"
"Pieces Of What"
"Electric Feel"
"Time To Pretend"
"The Handshake"

The Ting Tings' set-list:

"We Walk"
"Great DJ"
"Fruit Machine"
"Keep Your Head"
"Be The One"
"That's Not My Name"
"We Started Nothing"
"Shut Up And Let Me Go"

The Gutter Twins' set-list:
"The Stations"
"God's Children"
"Live With Me" (Massive Attack cover)
"Bonnie Brae" (The Twilight Singers cover)
"Idle Hands"
"Seven Stories Underground"
"Bête Noire"
"Down the Line" (José González cover)
"Each to Each"
"Number Nine" (The Twilight Singers cover)

The Go! Team's set-list:
"Flashlight Fight"
"The Wrath of Marcie"
"The Power Is On"
"Fake ID"
"Grip Like A Vice"
"A Version of Myself"
"Junior Kickstart"
"Bottle Rocket"
"Everyone's a V.I.P. to Someone"
"Flashlight Fight" (reprise)
"Lady Flash"
"Doing It Right"
"Keys to the City"

Okkervil Rivers' set-list:
"The President's Dead"
"A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene"
"The Latest Toughs"
"A Girl in Port"
"Plus Ones"
"John Allyn Smith Sails"
"Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe"
"For Real"
"Unless It's Kicks"

Explosions in the Skys' set-list:
"Catastrophe and the Cure"
"The Birth and Death of the Day"
"Your Hand in Mine"
"Have You Passed Through This Night?"
"The Only Moment We Were Alone"