Tales From Lollapalooza, Day Two: Cee Lo Gets Booed
Attending Day Two of Lollapalooza is like going on a second date. You sorta know the territory. You’ve got some shared history. You have a rough idea of what you’re getting into. But there’s still the potential for utter catastrophe – say, leaving Ellie Goulding’s set twenty minutes early to check out the Pretty Reckless, only to remember after you’ve gotten there that the Pretty Reckless is a pretty terrible band – and happy surprises.
Let’s start with the happy surprises. Ellie Goulding, who was so hit-or-miss during the only other live performance I’d ever seen of her (a duet with Lissie during the 2010 Great Escape Festival), was a folktronica tour de force, playing acoustic guitar one minute and banging away at a cymbal stand the next. The real treat, though, was her voice, a fluttery alto comprised of equal parts pixie dust and dancefloor sex appeal. When Lykke Li took the stage half an hour after Goulding’s set, it was as though the dance party never ended. There was full-blown bacchanalia by the time she wrapped up her performance with a thumping, percussion version of “Get Some”: people sitting atop other people’s shoulders, girls flashing the stage, guys sharing various illegal substances, and a drunk man in front of us, wearing a dazed grin and an oversized Renaissance king’s hat, chugging a beer while throwing his free hand into the air.
Over at the Music Unlimited stage, Big Audio Dynamite’s original lineup played ‘80s post-punk with an electronic twist. The group, which reunited earlier this year, has aged since its heyday, but some things never change, from Don Letts dreadlocks to Mick Jones’ guitar slash-and-burn.
Another surprise was Mayer Hawthorne, a bespectacled, blazer-wearing 30something who looks like he’d be your banker instead of your new favorite neo-soul singer. Don’t be fooled, though. The dude can sing, the way Smoky Robinson and Leroy Hutson could really, really sing, and he does the best version of “You Make My Dreams Come True” this side of Reagan-era Hall & Oates. I’d already seen his episode of “Live at Daryl’s,” but you haven’t really seen Mayer Hawthorne until you watch him strut across the Lollapalooza stage in muggy, 85 degree city heat, delivering a Motown-ish slow jam with a clear falsetto.
Patrick Stump, known to some of you (or at least your younger sisters) as the frontman of Fall Out Boy, also looked a little… funny. There was the bow tie, for starters. And the Michael Jackson glove. And the modified tuxedo, which included some sort of masculine halter top. But Stump, who’s been mounting a solo career ever since Fall Out Boy went on the fritz, is apparently better than he ever was during that band, with a new sound that splits the difference between rock, electro-pop, and R&B. At one point, he sat down at the drumset, banged out a few introductory fills, and segued into Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It.” My wife, bless her awesome heart, turned to me with wide eyes and said, “This is, like, the whitest thing EVER.” But then Stump seamlessly moved into Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step” …. then Boyz II Men’s “Motownphilly,” with spot-on harmonies from his backup band…. and you know what? It sounded pretty good. Perhaps a little New Jack Swing was just what the doctor ordered. Or maybe Stump’s solo career isn’t such a half-baked idea after all.
He could stand to lose the bow tie, though.
Later that evening, we spent two hours headbanging along with the boys in My Morning Jacket, who shared headlining duties with Eminem. No surprises there, as we’d caught MMJ at Bonnaroo only six weeks prior, and both shows were equal in their scope, sheer volume, and general awesomeness. I have a limited tolerance for jam bands – I blame the six hour Galactic show that my college roommate made me endure during a Mardi Gras trip in 2002 — but Jim James and Carl Broemel could trade guitar solos all evening for all I care. And they very nearly did, keeping songs like “I’m Amazed” fairly succinct but stretching others into uncharted territory, with James (who played at least 30% of the set with a wet towel draped over his head) looking like a hippie, Flying V-wielding version of the title character from “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Is there a better heartland psych-rock band around? Not that I know of. Certainly not at Lollapalooza. And definitely not over at the Music Unlimited stage, where we found Cee Lo getting booed and jeered earlier that afternoon. Cee Lo, who started and stopped several songs, attributed the problems to technical difficulties. But the crowd seemed to blame the music itself, which jettisoned the breezy, funky pop sound of Cee Lo’s studio albums and focused on hard rock instead. His slowed-down cover of Billy Idol’s “Flesh for Fantasy” deserved more attention than it got, but Cee Lo and hard rock don’t mix. By the time the audience finally came around, he was already halfway through “Fuck You” – which was introduced as “the only song you guys know, anyway” – and it was hard to tell if the people around me were aimlessly shouting the refrain into the Chicago sky or aiming the words at Cee Lo himself.
All in all, the happy surprises outweighed the bad. It was a good second date.