As much as Lolla’s undercard is varied, and vast, it’s a headliner’s ball this year. Because this deep into the festival season we’ve seen nearly all of these bands plenty, and because Lolla has created some discourse-owning 8PM show-downs. Night one’s was a study in contrasts: Lady Gaga, or the Strokes? We caught both, two acts that couldn’t have been further apart in demeanor, output, spectacle, or in terms of Grant Park, distance.
For Gaga, this set was opportunity to twist her Monster’s Ball themes of self-empowerment and self-acceptance (via many skits and banter insisting you empower and accept yourself, and also via a cast of characters exhibiting a sliding scale of gender and sexual orientation, all welcome under her freak-flag big tent) into a sort of smug reminder that three years ago, on the BMI stage, people laughed at her. Look at her now! No really, look at her now, you have no choice: reportedly $150,000 went into the show, sensational eye candy which featured Broadway musical-styled stage design, 14 costume changes, escalating platforms, a huge fireworks display, and a blood fountain that did absolutely nothing to help the mosquito situation in Grant Park all day. Where she’s short on songs, she’s long on pipes, and on spectacle; maybe the coronation’s come quick in terms of actual musical output, but just props to Gaga and her props, she’s seized the pop star mantle with blonde ambition. (And a “Vogue”-nodding intro.) After awhile her message struck as a little disingenuous, her “look at me, I used to be out there but now I’m up here, you can do it too,” hoisted as the ultimate example of bootstrapping, but a parade with an Achilles heel (private school in Manhattan isn’t quite the projects). Still, she is up there now. And she’s referencing T. Rex and doing hairspray dances to Metallica’s “Metal Militia.” There’s something to be said for that, and she’ll gladly be the one to say it.
The Strokes needed no such extended soliloquies or peripheral flair to convince their crowd they mattered. Over ten years into the sort of divisive-but-beloved career guaranteed by releasing a classic debut LP, the Strokes are still the Strokes: tight, stripped to the essentials, full of songs their crowd knows well. Everyone sang every word. Julian’s banter was endearingly awkward as always (“Hello Chicagopalooza … I’ve wanted to say that for months” — cool, good one Julian.) “NYC Cops” opened; Grizzly Bear watched from sidestage. Julian did in fact mentioned Wavves onstage, not so much to say Wavves is the best band at Lolla so much as to say Wavves are a band that played earlier in the day. In any event good job Wavves, the Strokes know who you are.
Earlier in the day, Jeff Tweedy, who when spotted walking around we had assumed was on hand as a fan, joined fellow Chicagoan Mavis Staples for a pair of tunes. Matt &; Kim covered Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend,” teased Alice DeeJay’s “Better Off Alone,” had some Major Lazer “Pon De Floor” play from stage (Kelis would approve). And Gaga, hours before her spectacular, jumped into the crowd at Semi Precious Weapons. Which is nuts — she’s the biggest pop star in the world, but I guess being a woman of the people is her thing. Or maybe just wearing her underwear on her head is her thing (this according to Neko Case, also playing at Lolla, and along with her New Pornos is not a fan of Lady Gaga). Either way it was her day, as it was the Strokes’: products of NYC, producing headlines in Second City.