Fear And Loathing At Lollapalooza

Videos by American Songwriter

We were somewhere around Michigan Ave on the edge of the Google Stage when the rain began to take hold. I remember saying something like, “I feel raindrops; maybe you should get out the ponchos…” And suddenly there was torrential weather all around us and Grant Park was full of 90,000 waterlogged music fans, some of them ripping off their shirts, others running into the porta potties for shelter. And a voice, probably my wife’s, was screaming “It doesn’t matter if it’s raining! We HAVE to go see Arctic Monkeys!”

That’s how I found myself ankle-deep in smelly, gurgling mud, shoved toward the front of the Music Unlimited Stage while rain cascaded down my back. I wasn’t alone, either; the area was packed by Arctic Monkeys fanatics, and we all toughed it out until the skies cleared. It might’ve only been 30 minutes. It felt like 2 hours. But The Arctic Monkeys, who’re probably used to this sort of boggy festival weather overseas, took the stage the minute the rain downgraded itself from a downpour to a trickle, and their set – which included “She’s Thunderstorms,” perhaps the most appropriately themed song of the entire weekend – made the wait worthwhile.

Tales From Lollapalooza: Read The Review

Let’s backtrack a bit. Before the rain started, Sunday was easily the hottest day of the festival. We sweated our way through several afternoon shows, catching music by The Cars (heavy on the hits and well-rehearsed, but c’mon, Ric – would it kill you to move around a bit?) and Ryan Bingham before heading over to the Lissie show. This was something of a hometown performance for Lissie, who grew up in nearby Rock Island, IL, and pointed out several family members (including a four-month old niece sporting a pair of noise-reducing earphones) in the audience. Backstage a few hours after the show, Lissie talked about her new album, which she’ll write and record after the tour wraps up in September, and apologized several times for the frog in her throat. I didn’t hear any frog, though, and it definitely didn’t show up during her set, which featured backup from unsung guitar hero Eric Sullivan and bassist/drummer Lewis Keller (who played one instrument with his hands and another with his feet).

Now back to the rain, which started up again during the Foo Fighters show. It came down harder this time, pooling itself into lakes beneath our feet and giving Dave Grohl even more opportunity to look like a rock star. He ran around the stage, soaking it up, flinging droplets from his hair with every headbang and probably risking electrocution for the sake of looking cool. But man, did he ever look cool. The band sounded solid, too, playing a mix of hits and newer songs that rooted the crowd to the ground, as filthy as it was.

Grohl’s a talker, and he delivered several zingers from the stage. He railed against rock bands that use computers onstage, gave props to The Arctic Monkeys, and reminisced about the first Lollapalooza he ever attended – the inaugural 1991 event, which came to L.A. while Grohl was in town recording a little album called Nevermind. The best line of the night, though, goes to the random guy who walked up to us during “Monkey Wrench” and tried to pick up my wife with this timeless come-on: “I remember when Kurt Cobain died. I was in college. I was taking a shit, and my roommate came into the bathroom and asked if I was sitting down. And I was like, ‘Um, yeah.’”

Afterward, 180,000 mud-splattered legs shuffled out of Grant Park and into the city streets, eager to find some rest after a long day. I wound up throwing my shoes away 30 minutes later, once we’d gotten back to our friends’ apartment in Lakeview. The sneakers were ruined, having absorbed so much sludge that they smelled like New York City during the hottest day of the summer. But if that’s not the sign of a great weekend, I don’t know what is. Well done, Lollapalooza!



Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Song Premiere: Chuck Ragan, “Meet You In The Middle”