In the first weekend of August, virtually all of American modern music turns towards Chicago and its massive Lollapalooza, the original and premiere of today’s American music festivals (QRO Festival Guide). Many fans and people ‘in the biz’ physically head to the Second City to take in the festival – and all that surrounds it. Over and beyond the festival itself, Chicago is replete with after-parties, pre-parties, kick-offs & closings & more. The best time to take in the bonus material is the day before Lollapalooza begins, when you’ve got the time and still got the energy. This year, that fell on Thursday, July 31st, and your correspondent caught the press mixer at Public Chicago hotel, ‘The Provocateurs’ opening by Art Alliance at Block 37 mall, and SPIN Magazine kick-off show with Interpol at Thalia Hall.
After touching down at O’Hare, enduring the long lines for the subway and long subway ride itself, dropped off my stuff and headed downtown to Public Chicago hotel for the early evening press mixer/chance to pick up credentials early. Usually press folks pick up their badge/wristband/whatever at the start of the first day of the festival, at a tent under the midday sun, when things are harried and still sorting themselves out (such as wristband microchips not working at the start of Osheaga Music Festival last year in Montreal – QRO recap); it’s much nicer to get one’s credentials at a super-classy hotel while enjoying complimentary drinks & fancy pizza. Extra nice was that Lollapalooza founder/Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell was there, considering that the star didn’t really need to be hanging out with the hoi-polloi press (of course, your correspondent was more interested in the free food – literally pushed through a cluster of people that included Farrell to get more grub…)
Next up was the opening of ‘The Provocateurs’, an art exhibit to go with Lollapalooza by Art Alliance. It ran concurrent with the festival at assorted locations just nearby Grant Park, but the opening was held in a warehouse-like space on the third floor of the downtown Block 37 mall. The exhibit was curated by & included art from Shepard Fairey, he of Andre the Giant’s ‘Obey’ and Barack Obama’s ‘Hope’ pictures (indeed, ‘Obey’ was stenciled on the cardboard trash cans). The art often leaned towards sixties neo-pop (think Warhol, think Lichtenstein), especially Fairey’s own (which included a couple of bronze statuettes), but also the more in-your-face seventies & eighties (including from Tim Armstrong of Rancid); which is more ‘provocative’ is left up to the beholder. Fairey himself was in attendance – up on stage as DJ, first solo, then handing off to established DJ Z-Trip (your correspondent, of course, was more interested in the hors d’oeuvres & couches…).
After those classy but not-actually-concerts events, it was time for the night’s main attraction, the SPIN Magazine Lollapalooza Kick-off. However, unlike the previous two events, it was held not downtown off of the L train’s Loop, but to the southwest off of Halstead. And there are many stops on Halstead Street – your correspondent went to the wrong one, finally ending up at the new Thalia Hall after the opening performance by Wildcat! Wildcat! and only catching the tail end of main opener Gemini Club. Plus no open bar and rolling over his ankle in a dark VIP balcony made him think about heading home early to get an early start on Lollapalooza proper.
Thankfully, did not leave, and headliner Interpol put on a great show. The band has been dogged by the comment of ‘better back when’ ever since the misfire that was major label debut Our Love To Admire (QRO review) in 2007, even though 2010’s self-titled return to indie imprint Matador (QRO review) was a return to form – and they were coming to Chicago behind a new album that was to be released next Tuesday. It all had the makings of a show where what the crowd wants to hear and what the band wants to play is very different, but Interpol were more than able to pull off both old & new. It was so good that you didn’t even mind the departure of well-known bassist Carlos D (on stage was Brad Truax, to answer many people’s question), the surprisingly heavy contingent of near-bros in the crowd (or at least in VIP), or the clearly overworked bars at the new venue (not enough computer registers – and if the person in front of you wanted to pay with a credit card, forget it…).
Of course, your correspondent still had a hell of a time getting back after the show (not only are there multiple subway stops labeled ‘Halstead’, but Apple Maps doesn’t distinguish between a subway stops & bus stops of the same name…), and ended up getting a relatively late start to the proper festival the next day. But it was an interesting and varied kick-off to Lollapalooza ’14.