1. No one was shouting “Eli, my man!” or “It’s Eli, he LOVES us!” (don’t get it? rent Animal House), but it sure sounded like Otis Day and the Knights coming from the BMI stage, where Eli “Paperboy” Reed and the True Loves indulged in a little retro-R&B shama lama ding dong. Full disclosure: Even though a friend produced Reed’s debut album, I still say there’s no denying Reed’s extraordinarily powerful voice. That he resembles the kid who just fixed your computer makes the package even more remarkable.
2. For artists, one of the upsides to playing a festival is that unless the stage abuts the porta-potties anyone can draw a crowd. Which must explain how Saul Williams managed to have a captive audience. Now, I really wanted to like Williams; I’ve long admired his spoken-word work. But his cacophonous live “band” experience (replete with what looked like a foil-covered guitarist and dancer in a tutu) made my ears retract. I escaped after three “songs.”
3. Backstage during Mark Ronson, Pete Wentz, and Ashlee Simpson mingled with Kanye West. I’m told Mark’s sis Samantha and Lindsay Lohan were spotted back there too. For his part Ronson led a very entertaining revue featuring guest vocalists like Rhymefest, Candie Payne, and Kenna. With a crack, smartly dressed orchestra, the deejay-turned-guitarist-producer brought a slick, well-oiled and -paced production at a festival that hosted its share of scrappiness.
4. By 6 P.M., the buzz that Barack Obama would be introducing fellow Chi-towner Kanye West was more deafening than Saul Williams’ set. Turned out Obama was a no-show. (C’mon, did people really think he would have brought out a performer whose biggest hit has the n-word in its chorus?) Finally living down the “Kanye West doesn’t care about dirty hippies” debacle of Bonnaroo, the hometown hero appeared onstage at the appointed hour (8:30) and proceed to show how a huge ego can make for a hugely entertaining show. You can’t say he doesn’t try-constantly running, dancing, and high-stepping across the stage, imbuing every triumphal song with a sense a palpable longing for immortality. The clincher came during a monologue in an extended “Touch the Sky,” when he admitted how he wants to be seen in the pantheon of the greats but also admitted he might not be there yet. Then he said he was going into the studio after this gig, so you never know. Funny guy.