After a 12 hour car ride, the dance rhythms of LCD Soundsystem proved to be the medicine to put a song in my heart, a spring in my step, and give me my spirit back. As I walked into the park at 12:30 in the afternoon, a sprawling mass of people before me and three of my four most anticipated acts awaiting me inside the confines of the ever-beautiful Grant Park, I decided that today would be the day that I would get drunk.
But first, there was work to do; people to meet, and bands to see. With Joe, James, John, and my old man close behind, we made our way over to the Bud Light stage to watch a band that none of them had any interest in besides me; the 19 piece feel good act I’m From Barcelona. We approached as the indie-pop act were getting their set started with one of the better songs from their 2006 release, a song called “Treehouse”, which prompted unfocused ridicule from Joe. Apparently, he was not on board with this.
I can understand why. From watching I’m From Barcelona, it’s easy to think of them as a tad gimmicky. Still, in a festival setting like this one, it goes over fantastically. Most of the band was just on stage to clap their hands, dance with each other, and run into the crowd with tambourines and high fives waiting for the audience (and a dude in a bear costume. No joke). So upbeat and happy are the songs, and so joyful are the people who play them, that it is easy to overlook songs about tree forts and chicken pox and just get caught up in the special of the whole thing. Songs like “Rec & Play” and “We’re From Barcelona” blasted over the crowd as everyone within earshot clapped and sang along with the mad scientist singer, whose fiery red hair and moustache made him look like some kind of crazed indie rock Einstein. As we walked away, Joe summed it up best; “I could never listen to it on an album and take it seriously, but it’s a hell of a thing to see live.” Well said, Joe.
As if my mood wasn’t good enough from the hippie love fest that was I’m From Barcelona and my decision to drink some points of my IQ, Tapes n’ Tapes decided to play an amazing set of songs from their first album, The Loon, as well as a number of new songs. Usually, I hate when a band plays new songs at shows (I am a huge fan of singing along), but I had no problem with Tapes n’ Tapes playing that card. Their new stuff sounded right at home next to older classics like “10 Gallon Ascots” and “Just Drums”.
What is most striking about Tapes n’ Tapes live is how big and hard their sound is. On their album, their songs are tight and produced with little room to walk. On stage, the same songs that sounded so planned and rehearsed on the album, now sound chaotic and dangerous in that way that striking rock music can sound. The lead Tapes, who usually saves his voice for the sweet melodies on the album, channels his inner Frank Black when he’s on the stage making his everyman voice sound twice as big and 10 times as sinister. Guitar solos, drum fills, and bass accompaniment are all kicked up a notch, turning the band from an indie rock such-and-such into a rock powerhouse. To really understand Tapes n’ Tapes, you’ve got to see them live. They will not disappoint.
Also, the lead singer had the best t-shirt I saw all weekend, with the exception of the guy who had an all black shirt that said “Fuckin’ Slayer” in huge bold font on the front.
After Tapes n’ Tapes rocked my face off, I took the next hour off to do some drinking. While my friends did their best to encourage and oblige me in my nonsense, I was able to catch snippets of other acts. I watched Silverchair play a song, sounding like they were just happy to be back near the limelight, and I overheard Stephen Marley mining his father’s legacy for a crowd of pot smoking hippies and bros. Both sounded fine.
By the time The Roots took the stage, I was pretty well sloshed and letting everyone around me know just how much I thought the Roots “fucking ruled, man!” Still, I’d like to think that I would have been just as excited without the 6 beers fighting my liver for control of my body. Since my teenage years I’ve had a love affair with the Roots, and despite their reputation for being a great live act, I had somehow been able to avoid them my entire concert going career until this point. Truth be told, I had my doubts that they could live up to my expectations.
They exceeded them. Despite the short set, the Roots played as well, if not better, than anyone else I had seen besides LCD Soundsystem. It’s hard for me to describe exactly what makes them so good on stage. There’s energy, sure, and fantastic musician-ship from everyone, especially drummer ?uestlove and bassist L Hubbard (not the scientology founder, although that’d be pretty neat). But neither of those things alone can explain what is so satisfying about seeing them live. It might be nothing more than the combination of jazz discipline with hip-hop intensity. But whatever it is, it works, as the Roots have become a must see band in my mind. If they are anywhere within my city limits, I’ll be there.
Still, there is no finer joy in this world than being drunk and listening to bar-room poet laurite for the 21st century Craig Finn and his band of late-70s stadium rockers that combine to form the Hold Steady, who were build for the giant festivals and arenas of America and Europe. Fuck the Decemberists, the Hold Steady were made for the stage.
Screaming from the front of the crowd, I felt like one of Finn’s characters in his one acts about drugs, drinking, and the terrible beauty of being young and fucking around. Finn stumbles and shakes all over the stage, using his hands to clap, count, shake, point, and occasionally play guitar, all while the lead guitar stays in one spot looking bored until it’s his time to solo; the cool yang to Finn’s manic ying. As the band blew through the hits off their three albums, you could actually see the crowd getting stronger as the set went on, like a pitcher gaining strength towards the end of a perfect game. At the end of their set, Finn told the crowd that “there is so much joy in what we do on stage.” Everyone there saw it, and fed off of it because at the end of the day, the Hold Steady makes songs about hopeful beginnings masked as dark endings.
As the band strummed the notes to their closer “Killer Parties” and looked out on the sea of rockers with mile-wide smiles, you could tell they knew what everyone in the crowd knew; there’s a lot of joy in watching what they do, too.