Karen Stabiner and Sarah Dietz are mother/daughter music fans attending the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago.
I don't know if it was the appearance of a breeze that calmed down the Lollapalooza crowd the second day or just the fact that they still had enough drugs and alcohol in their system from the day before to mellow them out, but it was a whole different experience on day two. It might also have been the crowds around the Wilco stage, where we camped out all day to ensure spots at the rail for the show. This was a much happier crowd, not quite as involved in trampling all those standing between them and the front. Instead, that sense of community that was present as we waited for Radiohead the first day was evident long before, when there was still another act and then a few more hours of waiting to get through. Maybe people were just happy because there was actually cell reception for the majority of the day; the ironic twist was that phones worked in front of the Bud Light stage but not the AT&T one, which meant that if the crowd was paying attention to the advertising there was a whole lot more drunk texting going on.
It seems that a prerequisite before coming to Lollapalooza was to buy as much American Apparel gear as possible, and to wear nothing but that and clothes from Urban Outfitters for the rest of the weekend. Therefore Broken Social Scene, which appeared like a traveling circus of indie musicians, fit right in with their straw fedoras and brightly colored skinny jeans. The group, a self-dubbed "indie rock collective," was met with riotous applause and didn't disappoint. The fact that each of them seemed to be able to play any instrument that was put in front of them was impressive, and Brendan Canning's high kicks only further endeared them to me. How can you resist a man with a scraggly beard, white jeans and a blue camouflage tank top going crazy all over the stage? I certainly couldn't.
The whole day left me with a far more upbeat impression about the state of the world, for while Radiohead is incredible, the music and the content seems to be a reflection of the status of the world at the moment, beautiful but not afraid to expose the ugly undertones for all to see. Wilco's music, on the other hand, seems far more life affirming, as if they're trying to prove to their audience that they refuse to be as constrained by global politics as Radiohead is. One can chart the progression of Radiohead's albums and very clearly pick out the global issues of the moment. This is not to say that Radiohead's work will be stuck in the time in which it was written, but like the protest music of my mother's generation, it will be linked to the issues that it was written about, a connection that both enhances and limits the music.
Wilco seems to be much more involved in ensuring that their music is relevant for decades to come, leaving a sense of ambiguity in their work to grant the listener the right to apply it to whatever aspect of their life they want. Radiohead left me with the hope that my generation could be unified, even if it was just behind a band. Wilco left me with the idea that maybe we could be united behind positive ideals, that unification does not have to stem from dissent. It might just be a pipe dream, a brief fantasy brought on by too many hours in the heat and insanely loud music, but it made the hours of existing only on the water handed out by the event staff more than worthwhile.
For a long time -- okay, for decades -- my unrequited wish was to be a back-up singer, a nicely proportionate dream for somebody who could carry a tune and got lonely, sometimes, writing. Forget it. As of Day Two at Lollapalooza, I have a new career goal. I want to be one of the women (all of the ones we saw were women) who sign for the hearing-impaired at music festivals. They don't merely sign lyrics; they sign tempo, they sign riffs, they seem to have specific gestures for specific instruments. And it's not just the hands. It's a whole-body thing, it's dancing with social purpose, and short of singing, what could be better than that?
Someone should offer a good-will ambassadorship, immediately, to the woman who was signing for country rocker Dierks Bentley. Just send her around the world spreading joy. The woman's infectious, even if you can't understand a syllable she's signing.
Speaking of Dierks Bentley, it must take some courage to show up at a festival like Lollapalooza singing country songs, no matter how edgy you try to make them sound. A nod to a man who understands that melody is not an affront to his masculinity, and that noise and fuzz are tools, not an end in themselves. I'm betraying my generational bias, but I don't much care. These three days are supposed to be about an alternative to mainstream commercial rock, and what could be more of an alternative to most of Lollapalooza than a guy who channels Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash?
And speaking of options, even a Motowner like me could understand what Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were all about. A man standing next to me listened for a minute, studied the image on the jumbo-tron, and observed, with a mix of awe and terror, "Gee, they're, um, old," which meant they were past the magic three-oh, possibly by a substantial margin. I resisted the urge to point out that everyone in the park would get there someday, with any luck.
Day Two was, all in all, a happier day than pre-Radiohead Day One, full of performers who weren't afraid to embrace their inner goofiness. I don't know exactly what the little short-brimmed fedoras contribute to Broken Social Scene's music, but they were hats with a sense of humor, much more pleasing than the calf muscles of the guy in front of me in the crowd, the left one adored with two smoking guns and a devil's head, and the right with the laces of a tall and nasty-looking boot.
I suppose that Mr. Tattoo is still good for a Supreme Court clerkship, since men's Bermuda shorts haven't yet found acceptance in every recess of the work world, but boy, he's going to scare off a lot of potential friends in ways the members of Broken Social Scene never have to worry about.
Which brings us to Wilco, in their Nudie-meets-Hello-Kitty neon suits. Was Jeff Tweedy an elf in another life? His sparse on-stage commentary had mostly to do with how many months the group had spent sewing those suits; he swore the band members had spun the fabric themselves. Was this headline rock or a bedtime fable? Hard to tell, and it didn't much matter. A slide guitar, a horn section, and bad weather that held off for yet another glorious day, perhaps out of deference to the fun wafting off of Grant Park. It was impossible to be anything but happy, which these days is saying a lot.
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