Shining a Light at Lollapalooza

By Andy_Argyrakis
Posted: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 21:33

By Andy Argyrakis, senior editor, gmclife.com

Anyone who’s kept tabs on Lollapalooza has surely noticed a gradual shift from an underground alternative rock event to one of the most sought after destination festivals on earth. Though purists may complain at its commercial tendencies these days, there was plenty to diversity from all dials of the radio at this year’s event, including some overtly spiritual acts and others with glimpses of God throughout its music. Check out our exclusive photo gallery.

Burning up some Arcade Fire
Sure, the top slots at early August’s Chicago excursion were occupied by secular superstars Lady Gaga, Green Day and Soundgarden, but several artists with inspirational undertones were right alongside that bunch letting their lights shine. Take for instance Arcade Fire, who showcased just about everything that’s magnetic about modern music. The inde/art rockers (with plenty of Baroque grandeur thrown in for eccentricity’s sake) just released its third long player The Suburbs, which continues highlighting a series of eclectic instrumentation over frontman Win Butler’s astute songwriting.

Cut from a similar cloth as U2 or Bruce Springsteen, the leader makes average feelings of yearning and longing take on much greater depth, while his assessments on everything from pop culture going sour to politics becoming muddy are intriguing and insightful. Along with the band’s stunning wall of sounds, symphony of harmonies and monstrous choruses, it’s easy to see why the third time appears to be the charm in the already prolific Arcade Fire’s ascent.

Crossover titans carry the torch
Another forerunner when it comes to sonic experimentation and thought-provoking lyrics is undoubtedly Mute Math, whose tireless touring and enthralling live shows continue to swell its grassroots fan base, in spite of limited radio play. Though the group’s electronically enhanced, ethereal rock is downright electrifying, its frontman Paul Meany’s ability to nimbly switch between the guitar and keyboards, alongside drummer Darren King’s lightening fast stick action, that sets this band apart. Tunes from last year’s Armistice and 2006’s self-titled debut were all cast in a seeker-sensitive light, though at the end of an endlessly entertaining hour, it was evident the group’s foundation was laid in something greater than merely aspiring rock stardom.

San Diego surf rockers Switchfoot were also in full blown stadium shaking mode, which despite an earlier than deserved afternoon set, was loaded with guitar-charged growls and frontman Jon Foreman’s frequent dives into the crowd (even getting his hipster slacks stained with mud). Past tunes like “Dare You to Move” and “Stars” were blended with the Led Zeppelin-leaning new album Hello Hurricane, which is once again steeped in the band’s socially conscious songwriting. Perhaps the most poignant moment of the set was when Foreman had the fans join him for the oldie “Meant to Live,” which found the primarily secular audience chanting the redemption-centered bridge loudly and proudly: “We want more than this world’s got to offer/ We want more than the wars of our fathers/And everything inside screams for second life.”

Soul, solo and new stars
Speaking of troubadours who aren’t afraid to touch on pertinent issues, Erykah Badu continued to call for peace and ecological awareness over her unconventional merger of neo-soul, R&B, hip-hop and jazz. In spite of being a bit too scattered at times, the diva was confident in her individualism and encouraged those gathered with a series of horn-soaked affirmations.

Yet it was the suit-clad, neo-soul crooner Raphael Saadiq that truly made the sweaty audience swoon during a blistering afternoon set, mixing old-time gospel and Motown muses like Stevie Wonder, Al Green and Marvin Gaye. Speaking of legendary singers, Chicago’s own Mavis Staples (of The Staples Singers fame) had no trouble translating her timeless messages of civil rights, self-esteem and down home gospel goodness (with a little help from surprise guest Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame) to the all ages audience, ensuring her relevance after nearly 60 years in show business.   

Additional inspiration came courtesy of Ed Kowalczyk, best known as Live’s lead singer, but now a solo artist being distributed in both the general market and Christian stores. Songs off his debut disc Alive left no questions about his previously ambiguous faith as he offered up everything from inspirational poetry to unabashed praise. Of course, a set from a performer of his magnitude wouldn’t be complete without a few previous chart smashes and he obliged with the joy-filled “Heaven,” which helped bridge the gap between the alternative act he led since 1988 and the additional freedom to let down his guard when it comes to sharing personal convictions on his own terms.  

In terms of relative newcomers, it was impossible not to notice Hot Chip’s affinity for all things retro, evidenced by an onslaught of sugary synths and contagious programming. Though London’s Mumford & Sons are anchored in a folk songwriting style, epic crescendos at just about every corner put these relative newcomers right behind Arcade Fire, providing yet another example of Lollapalooza’s ongoing goal to blur styles and sounds.


About the Writer

Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Entertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He’s also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel’s very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).


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