Am I too old for Lollapalooza?
Making a mad dash for the metro on Sunday, I wiggled through the fifth or sixth American Apparel-clad clusterfuck of the evening. As I bolted past the hordes of skinny, singing 20-somethings drunk on $7 cans of Bud, and out of Chicago’s Grant Park after an agonizing weekend of Lollapalooza, it was obvious that I was the only one in sight saying sayonara to the musical festival sans sorrow. Rather than a forced au revoir, my departure through the park gates was an all-or-nothing jailbreak. The tens of thousands of others solemnly said farewell for another year. I said goodbye for good.
That’s when I finally cracked a smile; I was thinking of cartoons
No one should ever have to dig for an Oscar Wilde quote on aestheticism when referencing “The Simpsons,” but using any animated series to come to terms with a hellish Lollapalooza weekend could be the only thing that’s keeping me sane. More on that in a bit.
I didn’t need my medicine cabinet on wheels or even the orthopedic inserts during this trip to realize I was getting old; I’m no spring chicken. But it wasn’t until after immersing myself in a music festival with the mindset that I’d make the most out of what’s hip today that I realized that the times are a changing and I, on the contrary, am grossly out of date. Nevertheless, I arrived at Lolla on day one with open ears and the intention of taking in sounds from groups I’ve heard only by name, or become accustomed to solely through cacophonic onslaughts of poorly made iTunes playlists at dance parties better left forgotten. In the end, though, what was left me unwilling to welcome new music, into what I thought was an open-mind, was instead something far sadder. Rather than giving a chance at new music, the only thing given away at Lolla — aside from sneers, scowls and some other sinister mannerisms — was what was left of my adolescence. There it went, handed back into the ether for a few thousand doe-eyed, dazed, drugged and damn impressionable teenagers to take in for themselves and leave me with the paltry scraps.
For eight years now, Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell has taken the iconic Gen-X traveling concert festival that he used to introduce America to alternative rock’s finest and installed it in on the shores of Lake Michigan for a weekend-long get-together. Although Farrell has kept some of the names from the ’90s and even added some throwbacks from the era that inspired his own band, this year’s edition of Lolla relied more on groups that didn’t as much push the envelope as they did cram it full undesirable bullshit, like some campaign volunteer just before an election.
Lolla had always been a good time, and that’s why I made the jaunt to Chi-Town this summer without being all that familiar with this summer’s talent. For my eighth year as well, I spent another weekend in the windy city and, even while having but just a mere dash of familiarity in regards to the hundred or so groups Farrell booked to perform across eight difference stages, I walked in feeling hopeful.
I left feeling naïve.
The same festival that once sent Rollins Band, Nine Inch Nails, Butthole Surfers and Fishbone across America is not your dad’s rock show anymore. It isn’t even mine, apparently, and I thought I was still a few years off from a quarter-life crisis, let alone a bag of bones to call my old flesh and blood.
In an attempt to sound as cliché as possible, I just didn’t understand all that damn racket. Or, as Grandpa Simpson said in a late-90s episode that satirized the same festival, things seemed scary.
Not until I was on my way out of Grant Park after an earful of dubstep did I finally relate to the irritable old man that made Homer Simpson who he is today. The quote, nearly branded into my brain after an upbringing all too shaped by syndicated television, played endlessly in my head on the train ride home:
“I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now, what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me.”
As I tried to make sense of Sunday evening’s headlining sets by Justice and Jack White — at opposite ends of the festival grounds, literally a full mile apart from one another — I couldn’t help question my tolerance for this…noise. Could I not get into Justice because, like the other DJ-based performers of the weekend, I wasn’t impressed by the pounding of buttons and flicking of cross-faders no matter how hypnotizing the beat? And was I really shrugging off the former White Stripes frontman because his renditions of his own songs meant for a duo sounded all too Dylan-goes-electric on a stage that spanned an entire end of the park?
And life—was it imitating art, as Oscar Wilde wrote? Was the Simpsons’ cynical take at the festival more than a decade earlier still all too accurate? It certainly looked like it.
Just a few years ago, all of Lolla’s electronic groups were given a place to perform under a small, covered tent that barely hosted a DJ booth, let alone provided enough room for fans of house and drum and bass a place to roll to records being spun. Not only has that tent, ‘Perry’s,’ been since transformed to one of the largest stages at Lolla, but many of the electronic-oriented groups have become so mainstream that the major venues on either side of the event — stages sponsored by Bud Light and Red Bull — have started hosting more and more acts that are rarely made up of more than one guy, glitzed out and pushing buttons for a few thousand kids to, as they say, “trip the balls.”
For three days, an endless, mind-rattling bass drop burrowed in and out everyone’s ears from one beverage-bought stage to another. Long gone are the days of alternative rocks up-and-coming at Lolla: the producers have found a way to capitalize on a name that once meant the next best thing in quirky, catch, angst-filled young adult alternative anthems and made it an outlet for whatever’s hip to have a major stage. From a marketing standpoint, it’s brilliant. But for someone who once associated the name Lollapalooza with the last hoorah of Jane’s Addiction before their initial 1991 breakup — or birthing NIN and Green Day to mainstream America — it just angers me. The real impetus behind my attitude, however, isn’t who is playing Lolla anymore — it’s who I’ve become.
Performances by the likes of White Rabbit and M83 were well-mixed — and well received by many, and I’m sure for good reason — but the burnt out music lover inside of me couldn’t get over how seamlessly each band seemed to be just a watered down version of the last. As I dragged my legs across the endless park from one performance to another, redundant and emotionless rock that sounded more adult-friendly than anything Farrell would have had done in the ’90s droned over dubstep. And even by Sunday’s reunion gig from At the Drive-In, one of the few bands who relied on craftsmanship and talent to make a tune rather than a Macbook Pro, I felt so defeated by three days of depressing self-reflection, in the midst of a youthful throng, that I could barely bring myself to wade through an endless ocean of mud and macho bros and their dubstep diva girlfriends just to hear a group that, as great as they were, simply cannot replicate their records live.
Even as energized and enjoyable as ATDI’s set was, it wasn’t the highlight for me. It felt fake and almost like Lolla was doing me a favor — they wanted to keep me there through Sunday after suffering through three days of mundane music from groups like Passion Pit that was all too rarely peppered with performance from groups that gave the crowd something other than an automated beat and a bunch of bright lights. Die Antwoord’s Friday performance was brilliant, but was that really worth watching from the sidelines in the hot Chicago sun?
Until the mixes from Jack White and Justice seemed to seep into one another on Sunday night, I couldn’t help but hope Black Sabbath, who had made the first day of the festival a memorable day for me for all the right reasons, would be coaxed into coming back onto stage. Sure, it was another cash-grab probably on par with ATDI’s appearance, but even an aging Ozzy and Tony Iommi still brought enthusiasm, effort and — dare I say — instruments to a main stage performance. But while DJs seemed to demand the most attention from Lolla’s fans this year, Sabbath’s set — ripe with Ozzy hammering out harmonica solos and essentially every great metal single from “Sweat Leaf” to “Into the Void” — didn’t even draw as big of a response from the rest of the headliners.
For an hour-and-a-half on Friday night, Ozzy, 63, awkwardly waved his arms above his head and instructed the audience to “fucking sing along” and “fucking scream,” demands that he egged on by insisting “I can’t fucking hear you” in-between every sweet, Satanic verse. Was it a plea on the part of the scary sexagenarian to incite the audience borrowed from the frontman’s guide to giving a great rock and roll show? Or was the aged metal icon really wanting to get the crowd jumping? Of course, it didn’t help that Ozzy is as old as the devil himself and unarguably couldn’t hear the crowd, but from the Bud Light stage on Friday night, an audience with a mean age of maybe 30, even 40, didn’t fit in with the army of kids that came to that same stage the next night to watch Avicii, best described by his publicist as a “fresh-faced Swedish luminary,” who has spawned chart-toppers “Seek Bromance” and “My Feelings For You.”
Apparently, I wasn’t quite with “it” anymore, and to say that “it” is weird and scary might be an understatement. At least when Bart and Lisa go to Homerpalooza, an animated Cypress Hill gets stoned and hired the London Symphony Orchestra to accompany them on a rendition of “Insane in the Brain.” That’s a Lolla I’d have loved—a fictional one from over a decade ago. In this present reality, however, I just want to curl up on the davenport with a crossword puzzle and a nice cup of Ovaltine.