The Flooded End: Lollapalooza 2011, Sunday

This is the final part of a collaboration with Tea and Celluloid. Read about Friday on that blog; it’s a great write-up. We recorded a conversation about Saturday, which can be heard both here and there.

T and I awoke late Sunday morning creaking and exhausted from Eminem’s thrilling Saturday night set. By this third and final day, I fancied myself a pro, dressing and packing more appropriately than I had the previous two days. It was going to be hot (supposedly)and rain was in the forecast, so some old Umbros and a poncho would serve me well.

Walking around the grounds all weekend, I was shocked at how many people seemed ill-prepared for standing outside on a summer day. Jeans–really, man? It’s a hundred freaking degrees out and you’re supposed to dance. And ladies, I know you think knee-high furry boots look hot with your short-shorts, but trust me, it won’t snow today; by dusk, your feet will be rank. Don’t be a fool; as Sunday would prove, we are not immune to nature. But I digress.

T and I faced a dilemma. One of the acts I anticipated most for Sunday was Titus Andronicus, a band whose music I’ve enjoyed, if not thoroughly dove into. My excitement mounted because so many have raved about their live performances, and because my friends J&C are extras in one of their latest music videos.

Titus was to play at 12:45PM, but we weren’t jazzed about any of the other acts until 3PM. So in order to make the show after our late start, breakfast, dressing, and packing, we’d have had to rush downtown, only to dawdle around for an hour and a half sampling acts that didn’t excite us. Our need to run errands and our overall fatigue sealed our decision; I’ll be keeping a close eye out for the next time Titus frontman Patrick Stickles’s epic beard blows through Chicago.

After errands and a late lunch, we finally arrived at around 4:25PM to catch the end of The Cars’ midday set. A few reviews I’ve seen called them wooden and uninspired. While these assessments are fair, frankly, in 2011, I wasn’t seeing The Cars to see an energetic, enthralling performance. I, like presumably most of the crowd, just wanted to hear their new-wave-pop-rock hits, and that’s what I got. They were tight, and Ric Ocasek’s voice hasn’t aged too much. It was fun, which is enough for me.

Afterward, we crossed the south field and caught a couple songs from Portugal. The Man, a band I’ve gotten to know and like a little bit through They’re often described as “psychadelic indie,” which is almost accurate, although it exudes a strangeness that the band doesn’t quite project. Unlike The Cars, P.TM’s show was pretty energetic and prompted me to consider delving deeper into them. Nevertheless, we decided to cut out of their set a bit early to wander the central grounds before our packed evening schedule.

This is the moment we accepted our impending doom:

The sky looks like this when The Gods derisively guffaw at pitiful mortals.

Remember a couple paragraphs ago, when I said “we are not immune to nature?” The tens of thousands in Grant Park were about to learn as much. Just before the thunder erased any hubristic doubt about the coming deluge, Portugal. The Man closed their set with a rollicking cover of “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” the Oasis hit against whose charms I am powerless. As the first drops fell, T and I frantically threw on those ponchos and, standing with our poncho-less friend D, submitted to nature’s wrath. All we wanted was to see the Arctic Monkeys play a good set, but perhaps as recrimination for all the ridiculous outfits on display, we were pummeled for an hour by a torrential downpour.

I could handle getting wet, but unfortunately, the rain awakened the crowd’s previously dormant savagery. Perhaps one should expect Woodstock-style mudplay when storms strike these festivals, but I wasn’t prepared for the numerous morons who decided to slide through the mud and/or slingshot it at innocent bystanders merely trying to stay relatively dry and sane. I sound like a curmudgeon, but when the crowd is so tightly packed, sliding through the mud and jumping up and down in the puddles isn’t lighthearted; it’s impetuous and inconsiderate. While the mudpeople had their fun, the rest of us bitched about getting caught in the crossfire. We weren’t the only ones miffed; the damage done to the fields has closed Grant Park for the final month of the summer while festival promoter C3 Presents spends hundreds of thousands to repair and re-sod Chicago’s front yard. If only there was a way to obligate the mudpeople to contribute dollars or labor to the restoration effort.

Thankfully, the clouds eventually cleared, and the Arctic Monkeys strode triumphantly to the stage. The storm truncated their set, but the British band still managed to put on the best show of the day. Drummer Matt Helders rocked particularly hard. Singer Alex Turner, sporting a black Union Jack tee, had some of the festival’s best inter-song banter, having fun with the American crowd by cracking that his lads hailed from “Sheffield, Australia.” My one complaint is personal: they didn’t play “A Certain Romance,” one of my favorite songs not just by the Arctic Monkeys, but by anybody. But hey, that’s a good excuse to see them again. I’m glad we powered through the rain; what a show.

The Arctic Monkeys were followed by Explosions in the Sky, whose name and atmospherics provided a particularly apropos soundtrack to the thunderstorm’s aftermath. I like EITS, but truthfully, I expected them to be somewhat of a snooze live. However, as we slogged our way through the mud toward their stage, the band’s booming drums and reverberating guitars proved me the fool. One problem I sometimes have with EITS is that they’re too consciously soaring, as though they’re desperate to move me. Far from cloying, though, they seemed thrilled to be rocking out before a crowd that was–for once, perhaps–as massive as their sound.

After a couple turkey burgers, T and I prepared for the festival’s final acts. It may be apparent by now that a theme of Sunday for me was lower expectations than previous days, and the headliners were no different. The acts to bring it home were Kid Cudi, the Foo Fighters, and Deadmau5. My fandom of both Kid Cudi and the Foo Fighters is tepid, and as for Deadmau5, I was basically clueless. T, by contrast, was pretty excited about Dave Grohl and company, so that’s where we’d spend most of our time.

Mama Nature wasn’t done. As the show began, she let loose once more with deafening thunder and pouring rain. By this time the temperature had dropped considerably, and my old Umbros no longer seemed like the wisest choice. In fact, I was shivering. This storm didn’t back down as easily as its predecessor; it petered on for the rest of the night.

Despite the rain, we made it through about half of the Foo Fighters’ set, albeit from the back of the crowd. I have to admit, I was happy to hear some of those ’90s hits off of the band’s self-titled debut and follow-up, The Colour and the Shape. Like Coldplay’s Friday night set, the FF’s show reminded me that the band isn’t some malevolent, hit-chasing money-grubber; on the contrary, it seemed more like simply a few guys with a band. Sure, that band has been wildly successful and has made its members very rich, but at the end of the day, the Foo Fighters (and Coldplay) are four dudes with guitars and a drum set. In the heat of arguments and posturing over tastes, too often, it’s easy to forget that.

About half an hour later, T and I trudged over to Perry’s Stage to catch a bit of Kid Cudi. Maybe it was the persistent drizzle, the exhaustion of the last three days, the claustrophobia of the tent, or the less-than-stellar sound, but frankly, I was underwhelmed. He worked his ass off to pump up the dripping crowd, but it just wasn’t enough for me. Perhaps I didn’t stay long enough to properly assess the performance, but that was part of the problem–I wasn’t particularly compelled to stay. Kid Cudi is talented, unique, and charismatic; within a couple years, he may mature into the massive hip-hop/r&b/pop crossover star he seems destined to become. But to me, he still seems on the cusp of that potential. That said, I’m looking forward to watching him reach it.

I must be losing my edge, because by the time we left Kid Cudi, after three days of standing and dancing in the August sun, capped off by two thunderstorms, I was drained. We ambled back toward the Foo Fighters, who were finishing up their ’97 hit, “Monkey Wrench.” When the band  broke into a newer number (“Let It Die,” according to Google), T and I decided that getting warm and dry appealed to us more than remaining another half hour just to hear “Everlong.” And so we called it a festival.

Walking north out of Grant Park, we got a taste of Deadmau5, who was pumping some heavy house under his glowing mouse-head mask. As I mentioned above, I was completely unfamiliar with the DJ, and I’ve never been the biggest house fan, so I don’t feel like I missed out on much. But my friend P insists it was one of the best shows he’s ever seen. Oh well.

As T and I walked toward the train, Michigan Avenue seemed as packed with pedestrians as it was on Election Night 2008. My legs were freezing, and when we finally collapsed on the Brown Line, we endured some hysterics from teenage fans, who mysteriously delighted in repeatedly honking an older man’s shrill bike horn. Sigh. More than anything I wanted to get home and pass out.

After the teenagers disembarked at Fullerton, T rested her head on my shoulder and we rode back in an exhausted quiet. Back home, we put on dry clothes and examined the tan lines left by our entry bracelets. Lollapalooza–with its silly name and silly fans; its stellar and satisfying acts; its unforgiving heat and rain; its $20 wine thermoses and $6 pulled pork; its crushing crowds and open spaces; its power chords and powerful beats; its singers and its dancers, both awkward and impressive; its pavement, grass, and mud–it was over.

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