Best & Worst of Lollapalooza: Day 1

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Kings of Leon's Caleb Followill / Photo by Ian Witlen
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

THE BEST:

BEST INACCURATE WEATHER REPORT: ZAP MAMA
"THE SUN IS SHINING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" sang Zaire-born, Belgium-raised frontwoman Marie Dauine on "Show Me the Way," a fusion of jazz, funk, and Brazilian tropicalia. But she was wrong: actually, it was raining... hard. But, after a 30-minute delay due to water-induced electrical difficulties at the Playstation Stage, she was coolly strutting onstage like a ray of sunshine in a neon yellow dress with lipstick-red ruffles, gold pumps, a 12-inch vinyl record attached to her head, and a pair of orange Adidas sneakers slung around her neck. She made Erykah Badu look lazy. Behind her, three backup singers swayed side-to-side in multi-colored beach hats and scarves as a four-piece band -- drums, bass, guitar, trumpet -- built a hip-shakin' groove. The songstress tapped her throat as she sang to get a vibrato effect, laced on the sneakers, and ran in circles, crooning: "THE SUN IS SHINING / AND I CAN SEE YOUR SMILE!!!!!" Thanks to you. -- WILLIAM GOODMAN

BEST SUBSTITUTE FOR BAR HOPPING IN DOWNTOWN NYC: THE VIRGINS
Consummate hipster/Virgins frontman Donald Cumming is a former male model, and the lanky dude carries himself as such. Lookin' like a younger version of Verve singer Richard Ashcroft with scruffy, short black hair, an angular jaw line, and a knee-buckling strut, Cummings and his four-piece band cut the velvet ropes and invited you into their Chicago version of a Lower East Side club. Their disco bass and drums, melodic electric guitar riffs, and lyrics about getting high and shakin' your booty -- and the stuck-up Manhattan girls who do it -- proved to be just the trick: "When you're coming down, does the paranoia come around? Hey, rich girls!" he sang on "Rich Girls," the band's catchiest song yet. The crowd busted a move in their ponchos, an accessory that has definitely become en vogue at Lolla '09 thus far. -- W.G.

BEST INTERPRETERS FOR THE DEAF: THE KINGS OF LEON
The hearing impaired can can feel each vibration of music, which registers in the brain much the same way as it does for non-deaf fans. That said, Kings of Leon certainly had some very positive vibrations as a deaf couple danced in rhythm 10-feet from the stage to spot-on renditions of the band's Only By the Night hits like "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody." And no enthusiasm was lost in translation: a woman on stage signed each tune, shimmying on an elevated platform like a Go-Go dancer while relaying frontman Caleb Followill's Southern dramas of love, Chevy Novas, and boozing. She even played air guitar. Rock on. -- W.G.

BEST TORRENT OF EMOTION: MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA
A little rain wasn't about to drown out bandleader Andy Hull's angsty outpouring of emotion. Sporting his trademark knit cap, a bushy beard, and sandaled feet, the stout singer-guitarist suggested nothing so much as a Hobbit up there on the Budweiser Stage. But there was nothing diminutive about Hull's mystical-existential ruminations, all of them as impassioned as they were felt. "I can't thank you enough for standing out here in the rain for us," he said before introducing "I've Got Friends." "Our band has never had this many people like us, not in the same place," he added. It was as sincere an admission as any he'd made all afternoon, and that's saying something. -- Bill Friskics-Warren

BEST MASKER MARVELS: THE BLOODY BEETROOTS
There was nothing anonymous about the thumping, grinding, solar-plexus-pounding electro-punk of the Bloody Beetroots when the Italian duo, they of the trademark Venom masks, took over the decks at Perry's, Lollapalooza's designated "rave-in-the-round." Drawing on material from their forthcoming Romborama, including mixes of body-rocking club anthems like "Butter" and "Cornelius," Bobby Rifo and Tommy Tea kept the crowd moving -- and surfing -- throughout their exhilarating 60-minute set. "Trance is dead," read the T-shirt worn by one masked fan, perhaps stating the obvious, at least for as long as his cowled counterparts were throwing down onstage.B. F-W.

BEST PINT-SIZED BLUES: YUTO MIYAZAWA
Legendary '30s bluesman Robert Johnson never traveled to Tokyo – so it's unlikely he could have imagined the version of "Cross Road Blues" fans heard first thing Friday on the Kidzapalooza stage. Japanese guitar prodigy Yuto Miyazawa introduced his faithful but fierce cover of the classic Johnson tune this way: "Hi! I'm only nine years old! I hope you like it!" We liked it. Miyazawa has jammed with Les Paul and been praised by Ozzy Osbourne, but it hasn't gone to his head (which, at 4-foot-something-and-a-half, stands a good 12 inches lower than his grown bandmates). Hard to tell if Yuto's the next Jimmy Page or just a charming and talented novelty. But by letting him play the Kidzapalooza stage all three days, it seems festival organizers are betting the former. – Mark Bautz

READ MORE OF THE BEST FROM LOLLAPALOOZA ON PAGE 2 >>

BEST HOMETOWN SENDOFF: ANDREW BIRD
Some critics find Andrew Bird a bit "literary" for their taste, but since he comes from the place that gave us the writers Saul Bellow and Studs Turkel – and is nicknamed "the Windy City" – Bird fits right in. That was clear when a packed house roared approval to his, "Hi Chicago. It's great to be home!" And 75-minutes of whistling, fiddling, guitar riffing, finger snapping, foot stomping, and female-approved bang-tossing later, Bird had earned his adulation. It was a competent, at times blissful, musical stop on his way to a handful of European festival performances beginning in the U.K. on Sunday. But no worries. Chicago roared its message: You can always come home again. -- M.B.

BEST GOTHIC HOEDOWN: THE BUILDERS AND THE BUTCHERS
They might hail from Portland, OR, but these multi-instrumentalist sure know how to summon the restless, woebegone spirits that haunt Appalachia and the rural South. Frontman Ryan Sollee sang of devils, vampires, and dead bodies from the BMI Stage, but he did it all with such relish and panache as to blow any hint of gloom away. Which is to say nothing of his band's thrashing hoedown stomp, an ecstatic racket that was enough to lift even the most tormented of souls -- and with the unplugged likes of banjo, mandolin, and washboard no less. -- B. F-W.

BEST VOCAL VERISIMILITUDE: BON IVER
You could hardly blame frontman Justin Vernon for the way he used to get his audiences to sing along at shows in hopes of approximating his meticulously overdubbed, multi-layered vocals from Bon Iver's 2007 debut. For the group's set on Lollapalooza's Playstation Stage, though, Vernon didn't need to enlist the crowd's help, not with his bandmates empathetically recreating the album's ethereal harmonies. "Skinny Love" was breathtakingly gorgeous. But so was the material from this year's Blood Bank EP, as the Wisconsin quartet, spurred on by their leader's wounded falsetto, turned in what is sure to be among the weekend's most intimate and moving performances. -- B. F-W.

BEST REMINDER THAT ROCK IS FUN: HENRY CLAY PEOPLE
Musically, there's nothing that remarkable about Glendale, CA's the Henry Clay People. The band is an amalgam of scrappy rock tricks learned from the likes of Tom Petty and the Replacements. But boy is it fun. Singing their ragged heartfelt songs about guitars, cars, booze and "punk rock rhythms," brothers Joey and Andy Ciara couldn't stop smiling. If you'd been listening, you would've been doing the same. -- David Marchese

BEST EARLY AFTERNOON DANCE PARTY: HEY CHAMP
Plugging in at noon, local act Hey Champ was the first band on at the huge, headlining Chicago 2016 stage. But despite the largely sacrificial set time, the trio delivered one of the day's most joyously energetic performances, a funky blend of burbling synth lines, ringing guitar riffs, disco drum beats, and anthemic melodies sung in gleeful falsetto. If dance clubs played more music like this . . . well, I probably still wouldn't go, but I'd at least feel worse about that fact. -- D.M.

BEST COVER BAND FOR KIDS: PERRY FARREL AND LEANN RIMES
It's doubtful that many of the tykes and toddlers watching the Kidzapalooza stage understood why their parents got so excited when festival founder Perry Farrell took the stage with country-pop siren Leann Rimes. But when the two singers, accompanied by some ace students from the Paul Green School of rock, knocked off a sultry take on Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks' "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" followed by a crisp "Here Comes the Sun," the kids were cheering too. That weird looking skinny guy is pretty cool! -- D.M.

BEST TRAINING CAMP FOR FUTURE RAVERS: A-TRAK AND SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO
While girls in bikinis twirled, hippies spun their hula-hoops, and one dude in a backwards ball-cap swung his beer, drenching those around him, a few youngsters had a lesson in playing along. One 40-something father busted out his best rave dance for his two sons as Simian Mobile built a clicking, clacking crescendo (the man's his wife looked on, shaking her head in pleased embarrassment.) Earlier, during A-Trak's soulful mix of Chromeo tunes, a pair of twins no older than 5 jumped up and down, screaming, "WWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!". Thanks, Mom. -- W.G.

BEST MUSICAL APPROXIMATION OF THE WEATHER: OTHER LIVES
Leonard Cohen's "The Partisan" is a weary, emotionally gripping song about the cost of fighting for one's beliefs. Stillwater, OK's Other Lives turned it into a song about the weather. Graced by a mournful cello part and some spooky organ fills, the dour track was a perfect partner to the gray skies and relentless rain -- as was the rest of the quintet's lovely set, full as it was with dolorous melodies set to sensitive, mournful folk-rock. -- D.M.

READ THE WORST FROM LOLLAPALOOZA ON PAGE 3 >>

THE WORST:

WORST SONIC GHETTO: BLACK JOE LEWIS AND THE HONEY BEARS
Lollapalooza's lineup already seemed light on rap and R&B this year. So, as if to add insult to injury, here comes the bumping barrage of the hip-hop duo the Knux, bleeding over from the Citi Stage into Black Joe's set on the Vitamin Water Stage. "I'm broke, and the man sittin' on the desk tells me I can't eat," Lewis shouted, as if commenting on the scheduling gaffe, just as the Knux were getting underway. It certainly would have been nice to catch the vamping funk of Black Joe and his garage-y Honey Bears without the impoverishing, rival sonic overlay, but their set, which included echoes of everything from "Soul Finger" to "Spoonful," was still an unbridled riot. And the Knux brought the noise too, at least from what you could hear coming through the trees up the hill. -- B. F-W.

WORST WORLD MUSIC MASH UP: THIEVERY CORPORATION
Hearing the Thievery Corporation's world music-influenced, horn-dappled techno is like touring the world via postcards. There is no real experience to be had. The band's first song was a burbling, jittery number that featured snatches of sitar. On the next one, a woman in a white sari sang a melody derived from vaguely Arabic scales. Two songs after that, a stunning, statuesque woman in bright pink leggings sang in Portuguese against a tepid samba beat. Later numbers touched on rap and reggae. But the rhythms never really cooked, and the exotic touches never felt like more than just that. -- D.M.

WORST WANNABE ROCK GOD: AMAZING BABY
Brooklyn's psychedelic rockers Amazing Baby do a lot of things well, but nothing great. The sprawling guitar riffs nod to classic rock forefathers like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd but don't achieve a grandeur of their own. The melodies are catchy in the moment, but evaporate as soon as the song ends. Theirs is the kind of spacey music that needs a great frontman to keep things interesting. Singer Will Roan is not that. He's got a nicely fey nasal voice, but his physical presence is always awkward. His shoulders and hips are stiff, so he can never achieve the Jagger-esque sensuality that he's aiming for with his constant prancing. And his timing is just a hair off, so when he punches the air meaning following a drum fill, it looks like he's running on a tiny tape delay. And he petulantly chews gum on stage, which makes him seem like a douchebag. -- D.M.

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