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Letter From Lollapalooza

Macho '80s stars, 102-degree heat and a pissed-off Anton Newcombe couldn't kill this writer's buzz at Lollapalooza.


Dear Kansas City:

If ever a man needed an eight ball, it's me. Not that I'm a coke guy, mind you, but after two solid days of covering Lollapalooza in mind-boggling Chicago heat, dousing my thirst with overpriced beer and smuggled-in liquor, it's a wonder I'm still standing, let alone writing into the wee hours of the night.

At 102 (with a heat index of 109), Sunday was literally the hottest day in Chicago in over a decade. In the city itself, three people died. At the concert, dozens of people were treated for heat-related illness, and everyone bitched about the weather incessantly. Fest promoters were smart, bringing air-conditioned "cooling buses" to the concessions area, giving away bottled water, and setting up misting tents (though those were rarely working).

Unfortunately, none of that helped the lovely Tegan and Sara, who will be hitting KC this week.

Sara had to run offstage midsong, midset, apparently because of heat exhaustion. She made a valiant effort to return to the stage, explaining, "I really had to barf, and I didn't think we were at the point in our relationship where I wanted you to see that. I feel really gross, but I want to keep playing." Two songs later, she had to officially toss in the towel; after a couple of solo efforts by Tegan, the band called it a show only half an hour into the set.

Also affected by the heat was Louis XIV. Despite possessing an indomitable swagger and the ability to make references to man meat while wailing on some power chords, Louis proved completely ineffective at convincing women to throw their panties onto the stage. My guess is that it was so ridiculously sultry that all of the sex evaporated out of the air -- though apparently nobody told Billy Idol.

The fun but ridiculous old relic pranced around the headlining venue in various stages of undress (long-sleeve shirt with buttons undone, slightly naked torso, naked torso), sneering his ass off and revisiting all of the expected songs. The hipsters watching a nearby performance by the vastly underrated Blonde Redhead couldn't help mouthing the words to "Rebel Yell" as they floated over between songs. It was like watching some bizarre form of rock-and-roll hypnotism.

The highlight was Idol's introduction to "White Wedding": "OK, I want you to picture this one -- 1982, the Danceteria, me with my finger up Madonna's ass."

Jesus, Billy.

Anton Newcombe and the Brian Jonestown Massacre had even less to offer in the way of manners. The group was relegated to the Parkways stage, a sonic backwater where several of the fest's best bands were unfortunately placed. As the band began its set, the grating, whiny pleading of Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba kept overpowering the Massacre's sound from another stage across the park. It was bad enough that Newcombe simply held the microphone up to the air for a while and refused to play any of his own material. Finally, he'd had enough.

"Hey, Bon Jovi, why don't you shut the fuck up over there?" he shouted in the direction of Carraba.

This continued for quite some time, until Newcombe ended up babbling some obscene, incoherent rubbish about Carrabba, posters, his kids and birth control. Nobody knew what the hell he was saying, but most everyone agreed: Dashboard Confessional blows.

Turns out they're not alone.

I know that everybody but 13-year-old girls and soccer moms gave up on Liz Phair awhile back, but I actually had a glimmer of hope that she might one day make a comeback. I suggested to multiple people that they needed to come check out her show here because (a) it was the start of a new, supposedly acoustic concert tour and (b) she was playing a bunch of material from an upcoming LP that I mistakenly believed would be a return to form. Boy, was I ever an asshole for that. Phair brought a whole band, played acoustic for a song or two, then proceeded to unveil a slate of new material that was on about the same lyrical level as Jewel's poetry. The guy behind me may have been stretching it when he said, "You know, she could have been the next Bob Dylan," but he had the idea. Liz Phair may be one of the biggest disappointments of my music-obsessed life.

Luckily, there was enough talent on an hourly basis to keep things upbeat.

Say what you will about the Bravery, but Sam Endicott and crew are bona fide rock stars. While other bands were whining about the weather or inadequate acoustics, the eyeliner-sporting electro-rockers were on fire, keeping up a nonstop pace of dance-friendly new wave and full-on guitar histrionics. Ben Kweller was at least as good, hopping from keyboard to guitar and back with songs from Sha Sha and On My Way. Kweller played up his rock-prodigy status, deservedly bragging, "Yeah, I was at Lollapalooza back in 1997 with my high school band."

Two other relatively new acts worth highlighting: Chicagoans the Ponys and French electronic group M83. On the heels of the recently released Celebration Castle, the Ponys put on the type of high-energy, blistering performance the postpunkers have become known for in their hometown. M83 was equally impressive, offering up a slew of dope-friendly beats and swirling, reverb-drenched guitar that sounded better live than on any of frontman Anthony Gonzalez's recordings. With more than 60 bands on five stages, there was literally too much music to watch, but some shows that drew rave reviews from my blanket posse included Kaiser Chiefs and Kasabian.

The Pixies were impeccable, as expected, hitting a sweet note with a version of "In Heaven" from David Lynch's Eraserhead, and Dinosaur Jr. managed to avoid shivving each other with box cutters long enough to play a high-quality set after nearly 15 years apart.

Ultimately, though, it all came down to the Arcade Fire.

It was 102 degrees when -- after an exuberant intro from my favorite freak, Perry Farrell -- this massive crew of Canadian nutjobs came streaming onstage sporting three-piece suits. Playing tracks from both Funeral and its forthcoming remastered EP Us Kids Know, the octet put on a momentous, crashing, cataclysmic performance, melding battling violins, accordions, tambourines, heads, chests, guitars, helmets, cymbals -- hell, whatever could be played or struck -- into one brilliant, melodic orchestra. They sweated, they laughed, and they banged into one another. When it was all over, I needed a cigarette.

I gotta be honest: I left after that, saving the Killers for another day and leaving Death Cab for Cutie to you and all your friends in the Ben Gibbard fan club.

As luck would have it, I was enticed away by a lakebound sailing vessel named the Nevermoor, harbored just outside the park in Monroe Harbor. The captain and her first mate had a touch of madness, and by then the crew was well under the drink. We cheated death any number of times, but sailing Lake Michigan at sunset to the dying sounds of Lollapalooza made it all right with the world.



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