Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lollapalooza 2011 day one: The Vaccines, Smith Westerns, Cults & more

By Frank Krolicki

Justin Young of the Vaccines (photo: Frank Krolicki)
One down, two to go!

The first day of the 20th anniversary of Lollapalooza went off pretty much as any day of the fest usually does--there were highlights, there were not-so-highlights, there was crazy heat, there a constant cattle call of people, there was a cloud of pot smoke hovering over everything (I could go on and on...).

After hearing that the temperature would be in the low 80s throughout the weekend, I was kind of disappointed to be uncomfortably sticky halfway through the Vaccines, which was my first show of the day. Despite that fact I had a great time during the set. Channeling The Jesus and Mary Chain and the Ramones and adding in a dash of classic Spector girl-group, the London-based foursome delivered a performance perfect for getting geared up for three full days of sun and music. The band played everything from their debut LP What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?, getting the crowd most excited with fast-paced rockers such as "If You Wanna," "Wreckin' Bar" and set closer "Norgaard," but also keeping interest during slower tunes like "Blow It Up" and "Wet Suit." They also threw in a cover ("Good Guys Don't Wear White") and a B side ("We're Happening"). I'm not sure I had as good a time during anything else I saw on day one.

Reptar (photo: Frank Krolicki)
Unfortunately I didn't during Reptar, who mainly left me scratching my head a bit later in the afternoon at the Google+ stage (sidenote: does anyone else think it's a bit crazy that Google+ already has a stage?). I have to admit I only saw a few songs from the Athens, GA-based band, but what I heard sounded pretty yelpy and tuneless and set my hipster radar off to an uncomfortably high level. To like, 14 on a scale of 1-10. It didn't help that one of the dudes was wearing a unitard. I do appreciate the Rugrats reference, though. And from the reaction of the crowd this is obviously this is plenty of peoples' cup of tea, just not mine.

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (photo: Frank Krolicki)
Because I wasn't catching the Reptar vibe, I decided to move along to the Bud Light stage to see a portion of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. I don't usually dig bluesy stuff, but I have to give credit to Grace and her band. She has an amazing voice and obviously put everything she had into this performance, as did the rest of the musicians on stage. Plus, there were stuffed tigers on stage, and in case you didn't know that automatically increases enjoyment of a performance by at least 15%.

Smith Westerns (photo: Frank Krolicki)
Next up on my schedule were glam-psych poppers Smith Westerns, who have become one of Chicago's most notable acts following the release of their debut album Dye It Blonde. Even though I am a big fan of the record, I was a bit worried since I had heard negative things here and there about the band (for example, fellow WCR writer Andrew decided to skip them after finding them a bit boring last year at Pitchfork). I got even more worried after they hadn't started about 10 minutes into their set time. I was glad, then, when I found myself enjoying their performance quite a lot. They might not be the most exciting live act, but their set (which mixed material from Blonde with older songs) was solid. There were some funny moments, too, like when lead singer Cullen Omori recounted the band's first visit to Lollapalooza as 16-year-olds, when guitarist Max Kakacek "grabbed his first boob" (by accident, thanks to big girl deciding to crowd surf), or thanked everyone for watching the show, even the "cheap fucks" watching online.

Add caption (photo: Frank Krolicki)
To wrap up the first half of the day, I returned to the Google+ stage to catch some of Cults. Entering the stage to the theme of Twin Peaks, the NYC duo provided a nice break to chill out and relax away from the madness of the fest thanks to their modernized '60s girl-group melodies and easy-on-the-ears boy/girl vocals. It wasn't anything that blew me away, but it definitely got me interested enough to want to investigate further.

At this point it already seemed like a full day, but there was still plenty to go. Check out my next post to read about more acts from day one, including The Mountain Goats, OK Go and headliners Coldplay.

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