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Lollapalooza 2010: Lessons on How to Entertain a Festival Crowd

If you're going to play a festival, there's a delicate balance to walk. Sure, you're an artist enthusiastic to show off your careful crafted work to an appreciative audience, but while there are going to be some of your fans in attendance, there will be a ton of people who will judge you by this moment. Is your band fun? Is your band cool? You maybe have a few songs to keep people there or - at very least - shut them up for awhile. Saturday at Lollapalooza was a study in acts trying to keep people engaged while they played.
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Early in the day, the hip, art damaged crowd that populated Grant Park on Friday for the Lady Gaga experience were nowhere to be seen as Saturday started with a few sets that would have been a good fit for the long departed H.O.R.D.E. festival. Rebelution started off the main stage with their RIYL: Bob Marley dorm posters and vague political activism white dude reggae rock, followed later by Blues Traveler.

Seeing the name Blues Traveler, you might be somewhat stunned that they're still around or noteworthy enough to play a mid-afternoon slot at Lollapalooza.  But, they still have a rather devoted fanbase.  In fact, two people who saw my media bracelet jumped into passionate defenses of Blues Traveler nearly begging me to check them out.  I will say this: it takes some guts to open with your biggest song, "Run Around", especially when you don't have all that many hits, but Blues Traveler had it figured out.  Hey, people like Sublime, right?  Let's play a Sublime song!  People at festivals like Radiohead, don't they?  Bam, throw a cover of "Creep" in the mix.  Blues Traveler sound just like they did back in the mid-90's, but they're smart enough to have become a cover band fronted by a gun loving harmonica virtuoso.

On the other hand, you have the XX.  I was incredibly excited to see the sparse act, but when they were quickly drowned out by audience noise.  Maybe there's a festival where people sit quietly and take everything in, but it's not Lollapalooza.  Note for future festival attendees: pick the bands you see by whether they'll be loud enough to drown out dudes drunk on $7 Budweisers.

Based on that axiom, Against Me! might be the greatest festival act working today.  Working on only a few hours sleep after catching the red eye from a Los Angeles gig the night before, Against Me! stuck to their more aggressive material which worked exceptionally well in the awkward time period before the headliners were scheduled.  Spoon weren't exactly loud, but they seemed to strip their performance down to the bare essentials which didn't make for a stellar performance, but didn't screw things up.

Green Day were fine, playing for three hours plus, but somewhat hard to process at this point.  I still think of the band as they were at Lollapalooza '94, with tons of attitude and Billie Joe exposing himself mid-set, but that youthful attitude is largely gone.  Green Day might be our new Rolling Stones, standard bearers of a moment in rock and roll time. As a guideline, when you include a reference to "Hey Jude" in your setlist, talking about Swinger Utters in your banter rings a little less true. 

On the other end of the grounds, Phoenix were a better fit for a headline spot than I would have imagined.  They also started with their biggest hit ("Lisztomania"), but they kept the energy up the entire time while keeping an intimate nightclub feel.  When these guys were playing to a half full Martini Ranch a few years ago, I don't think I would have expected to see them win over an entire festival crowd (and without the help of Green Day's fireworks crew), but they did.  Then again, maybe it was partially the competition.


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