What makes a great show? The people of Lollapalooza would seem to think that its directly connected to the number of bands at the show. And while this did give me the freedom to see whoever the hell I wanted, numbers alone does not a good show make. And while I stood amongst the other alt rockers who had made the pilgrimage to watch their favorites bands under the breathtaking view of the Chicago skyline in the mammoth Grant Park, I found myself wondering what really makes for a good show.
A great show should transcend boundaries. Not in a universal, change-the-world sense (although that certainly helps), but in a much more physical way. A great show can look and sound and feel good in any place, from an elevator to an open park. Bar room bands and stadium rockers, if their product is good, should be able to switch venues at will and still have the same impact. However, this is not always the case, as Ted Leo and the Pharmacists showed me early in the afternoon yesterday. Ted and his pill pushers started off strong with "Building Skyscrapers in the Basement" and "Sons of Cain", and proceeded to play a passionate but sloppy set consisting of mostly new cuts off of Living With The Living. Sadly, energy alone couldn't carry the day, as Ted played some of the worst songs on the album, including "Colleen", "Bomb, Repeat" and "The Unwanted Things", although he nearly saved the show with an intense rendition of "C.I.A" to close the show. In the five times I've seen Ted, that was his worst set. The bottom line in my mind is that Ted Leo and friends were not built for the stage. Their place is the dark, poorly lit rock clubs of America where his music sounds bigger than life. Out in the open, he's just another act.
Another group that was surprisingly unimpressive live was the Polyphonic Spree. I had high hopes for the Spree, given my love of twee pop and their supposedly great live show. And I have no doubt that if I were in a more intimate setting, or if I was closer to the stage that I would have had the time of my life. But from my spot 100 yards back from the show, the Spree looked like any other band. Doing a sound check for 24 instruments and 24 voices must have been a shit show, because the sound was off the entire time. Once again, I'm sure this band would have floored me in a different setting, but the open air of Lollapalooza was not the place for them.
A great show should suggest, but never force the listener to shape their thoughts with the band's to fully enjoy the music. Opinions can be changed through spirited performance and developed, inspired music, but not through shouting and soap-boxing, at least not at a rock show. Against Me!, former punk heroes and topic of discussion amongst the angsty, DIY'ers all across the nation, put on a surprisingly good show given their setting. Like Ted Leo, I expected the large festival setting to be a burden. Sure, they've played the Warped Tour a hand full of times, but this is no punk festival, and the indie rockers of this audience do not care how many teenagers have your t-shirts. However, Against Me! put on as good a show as they ever had, although they didn't play "We Laugh at Danger and Break All the Rules", which came as a bit of a shock. Still, songs like "New Wave" and "Stop" weaved well with older classics like "Walking is Still Honest" and "Rice and Bread". The only problem with their set was their political songs, which were preachy and underwritten, but that is the band's problem, and not a reflection of their performance, which was great.
Still, Against Me! didn't floor me the way Silversun Pickups did. Earlier in the year I somewhat wrote them off as the hot band of right now, but ultimately substance-less. Their live show made a believer out of me. Which is another mark of a great show; one should gain a new appreciation from it. Silversun's shoe-gazing guitar work, punchy bass lines, and flashy drum work had my head bobbing for an hour straight. The band seemed loose and utterly excited to be there, and it showed on stage. Their two song closer of "Lazy Eye" and "Common Reactor" nearly brought the house down.
Still, none of these bands, from the good shows to the bad shows (speaking of bad shows, Blond Redhead was fucking AWFUL) could hold a candle to the best show of the night, put on by LCD Soundsystem. This came out of nowhere. If you had asked me yesterday if I would have enjoyed a house band playing dance music, I would have told you to fuck off. Still, when James Murphy and Co. took the stage and opened with "Us V Them" off of his top ten record Sound of Silver based aspect of the culture came down, and everyone danced. We danced like out feet were on fire, with a kind of reckless joy that comes from passengers on sinking ships. We danced for an hour and didn't stop, all while a subdued Murphy called out our steps. Credit is due to his band, who were excellent, but it was Murphy's , I realized that a great show can take hold of you and protect you. A great show can make your insecurities and hang-ups seem small and stupid and utterly useless, at least for a little while. And that is what this show did, not just for me but for an entire audience filled with a subculture full of passive females and beta-males. The entire self conscious, appearancessubtle showmanship that propelled the show. Hands down, LCD Soundsystem won the day on Friday, even over french robots Daft Punk.
Here's the tentative schedule for today:
I'm From Barcelona
Tapes n Tapes
Motion City Soundtrack
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
We'll be back tomorrow.