There are times when one ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there’s times where the opposite is the case. Thanks to that modern invention called “business trip”, the events I’m about to guide you through fit on the latter category.
Detroit is only 4 hours from Chicago, Chicago is 4.5 hours from Detroit (help me with the vector sum) and in the centre of Chicago, Millenium Park [Actually, Grant Park. Thanks for the comment section for correcting this editorial fail] to be precise, there’s the traditionally re-invented and corporate friendly version of the iconic 90s festival: Lollapalooza. That freak-show that Perry Farrell invented to expose the utmost hidden treasures of the “alternative” scene (whatever that means) and that now is a pseudo-cultural window display of ropey marketing, made up to the tiniest of details.
Just take a gander at one of the stages called ‘Kidzapalooza’, where kids can be initiated in the world of rock by the hand of Uncle Perry and the American equivalent of Que Payasos : Jack Black and his school of Rock. [Translator’s note: ‘Que payasos’ are a group of…let’s say, pantomime “musicians”. At least Jack Black is funny].
Still, you gotta admire, even in its ludicrousness, the wealth of information available in the place: information posts everywhere (probably more than porta potties –Quinto), enough junk food to feed an army, hydration posts where you can fill up bottles (actually, Tetra-pak style cartons, just to be Eco-friendly) and a few hundred public toilets. Assistance to modern-day Lollapalooza is really an all-inclusive holiday. For a measly 90 dollars per day (or 215 for the whole weekend), you couldn’t expect less.
Maybe a trip down memory lane could help this story? I first went to Lollapalooza in 2007, with a spectacular line up for the 3 days: LCD Soundsystem, Polyphonic Spree, Rodrigo & Gabriela, Muse, Yo la tengo, Interpol, Café Tacuba, Pearl Jam, Snow Patrol, Silversun Pickups, Daft Punk and so. This year, though, I had no motivation with names like Lady Gaga, Green Day, The Strokes, Phoenix, MGMT or Arcade Fire (yeah, I don’t like them. So what?).
But there was one-act that made me talk to myself : “Myself, there’s a few artists you still have in your ‘need-to-watch-before-death and SOUNDGARDEN is one of them”.
So I made all arrangements to get myself to the third day of Lollapalooza, like buying my very first Soundgarden albums. Yes, even if it’s one of my favourite bands from my long-gone high school and college years, I never bought an album by them.
I armed myself with Badmotorfinger, Superunknown and Down on the upside, the three most successful ones from their golden years, before their break up in 1997. In the record store, some random man commented on my t-shirt, emblazoning the Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man playing a guitar and suggested a few gypsy jazz bands. I promised to look for them, but haven’t got round to it.
All tooled up, I took the journey to Chicago, where I would meet with my Charolastra, a pal of a thousand gigs, and 2 other friends. We would eventually split, as Soundgarden and Arcade Fire overlapped for festival closing acts.
August 8th, noon. After going for an all-american breakfast (pancakes, bacon and fruit) we walked from the hotel to Grant Park, a good 3 km walk to warm up the legs for the gig. We started at the “Parkways Foundation” stage, where The Cribs were already playing. They have Johnny Marr from the Smiths playing with them, giving The Cribs an easy, neo-punk sound, fed by the bulbous VOX AC30 amps. You might know them by the song ‘Men’s needs’, which was vocally destroyed. Ah, enough to start the engines. Next stop, Minus the Bear.
About 80% of the music I know, I got to know Minus the Bear thanks to my band mate Dese (who moonlights as a DJ in Anti-fama*). He describes them as “danceable math-rock”. And stuff. My engineering background would define them as “80% virtuous – 20% mushy”.
They certainly are masters of their domain, specially Dave Knudson (guitar), who makes the most out of his cheeky array of pedals, which includes a combo of DL-4s, where he creates rhythmic bases and then plays over them, a layered approach, like Robert Fripp. The American public seems to be a little cold: they applaud, then shut up. Rinse. Repeat. I’m sure that once they go to Mexico, they’ll get massive shouts, cheers and ovations to their on-stage antics.
Then came the moment for a national product to jump into action: Instituto Mexicano del Sonido. It’s one of those bands that is promoted by the radio mafia in Mexico City, and the MC is highly-placed on the EMI hierarchy**, so my expectations were low. But I gotta admit, I was tapping my foot. You would need to have a motoring hindrance if ‘El Micrófono’ and ‘Mirando a las muchachas’ don’t make you move. #iconfess that I joined the public psyche and danced, jumped and sang. Of course, it was all topped by a political tirade against the SB1070 bill.
I accepted the challenge of watching MGMT. After a few cartons of water and under the creed of “you can’t criticise if you haven’t seen/heard/tried it”, we placed ourselves at the right hand of the “Budweiser Stage”, where the age average was probably 20 (if that). MGMT came out, with a look screaming “I want to be the new Syd Barret”. First song, first strike. Second song, second strike. Third song, third strike. YER OUT! With all my respect to any one who is a fan : they bored me. A phrase I recently heard surfaced in my mind: “not long ago what it mattered was the music, not how you look or dress”.
A return to “Parkways Foundation” was the cure to the cavity I’ve got from MGMT. Wolfmother’s ‘Joker and the thief’ was the guitar-crunching dose I needed, paired with an all American meal, a burger and fries.
It was time to scrounge for a place to see Soundgarden. Found a place in a little mound near the light set, helping my head-to-ground distance increase by a couple of feet. Lights went off at 8:05 pm and a flag on stage was illuminated. It bore the infamous Badmotorfinger logo. The crowd went wild as the four grunge gods came out. Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, Ben Shepherd and Chris Cornell. Cornell and Cameron looked just like they spent their fortunes on hyperbaric chambers. Thayil and Sheperd, like so, but with a stop in Krispy Kreme. Thayil was even rocking a Fedora, looking like a Cuban refugee paddling with a guitar towards the Land of the Fries and Home of the brave.
How can I sum up the power of Soundgarden’s live sound? Their distortion is solid, fuelled by the energy that only you can get from dropped-d chords, with Cornell’s quasi-operatic voice making the ground around us tremble.
The set list included hits and a few songs that weren’t hits, but were material for it. ‘Fell on Black Days’, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ and ‘Blow up the outside world’ where my favourites, with enough passion both in the interpretation and in the execution of the performance. Maybe a few sour notes happened during ‘Black hole sun’ (too much feedback, tuning problems), but it still was as anthemic as ever. Really wished they played ‘Birth ritual’, ‘Pretty noose’ and ‘My wave’, though.
But, hey, nearly 2 hours with a nineties legend, a thousand memories passed through my head and one persistent, mindbending question : “what were they thinking when they composed such things? How can a decrepit guitar riff like the one in ‘4th of July’ become the backbone of a quasi-balad?”
And then I remembered some kid a few hours ago telling his friend “let’s skip Soundgarden, that’s for the over the hills, we’d better see Arcade Fire”. I couldn’t agree more. Go see Arcade Fire, to my tastes, a kid’s band! (nee-ner, nee-ner nyah!)
1. Searching With My Good Eye Closed
4. Rusty Cage
5. Blow Up The Outside World
6. Let Me Drown
9. Jesus Christ Pose
10. Fell On Black Days
11. Ugly Truth
12. Get On The Snake
13. Burden in my Hand
15. Black Hole Sun
17. 4th Of July
1. Face Pollution
2. Like Suicide
3. Slaves & Bulldozers
Words & Pix : Homo Rodans
Translated by: Sam.
*Anti-fama is a program from El Descafeinado radio, an Mexican internet radio station. Homo Rodans and Sam have been guest djs in this program.
** There is a very forthcoming rant about this situation in Mexico. Stay tuned for a Sunday Soapbox about the so-called “Mexican Radio mafia” – Quinto.