By Brady Lavin
Here they are, in no particular order. When four bands are this good, how do you rank them? You don’t, that’s what. You write a little blurb about how you aren’t ranking them.
Yeah, the Black Keys were good on Friday night, but the bluesy rock crown definitely goes to Jack. The guy just oozes authenticity and energy. Jack White also manages to be the absolute center of attention without seeming like a guy with a huge rockstar ego. I mean, I don’t know if he does and he very well may, but from what I saw, he’s just a guy who loves to play music and rocks out with two different bands.
Speaking of the two different bands, that was the only thing I didn’t like. His first band (the real band), was solid, in the pocket, had great presence, technical prowess, and passion in their playing. But after about 45 minutes, he brought on a band of all females. Which is gimmicky. It’s different when it’s an independent band like Heart or the Donnas. It’s realistic that a group of females would form a band together, but to have a backing band of all females, it had to have been a conscious thought to have a gimmick of an all-female supporting cast. I would have preferred a backing band of musicians that are there purely on ability and merit.
And it was obvious that the all female band that came on second was not as good as the first band. The second band rushed, played things more straightforward, and improvised less. The thing is, Jack White’s powerhouse guitar playing and primal energy overshadows all. Jagged guitar solos, banshee screams, stilted melodies and driving, relentless rhythms are why Jack White has been so popular in his previous musical endeavors with the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, and all those things were prominent and unfiltered at Jack White’s Lollpalooza 2012 headlining set.
Weird name, weird band, weird front-woman, amazing show. Tune-yards (as I will capitalize it from now on because come on) were definitely among the most creative, if not the most creative band to play Lollap this year. Merrill Garbus’s songs, nay, compositions tread a delicate line between dancey and compositionally interesting in a way no one else can, tricking the dancing public into listening to some of the oddest stuff they’ve heard in a while. For the entire set you could see it on her bassist’s face: “I can’t believe this many people are dancing this hard to this weird-ass shit!”
Merrill’s voice is another oddity. When I first heard Tune-yards, I was positive the singer was a black guy singing falsetto, but it turned out that Merrill Garbus is a slightly androgynous white woman belting out her ambulance siren vocals with incredible power. And that power really comes through even more live.
How often does it happen that a beloved band reunites with their full line-up and is actually better than when they called it quits? Um, never? As far as I know the answer to that question has been never until At the Drive-In’s set at Lollapalooza 2012.
Since they split into two bands, the Mars Volta and Sparta, in 2001, the members of the band have been honing their musical abilities on their own material, developing their musicality and technical abilities, and it shows. Lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s vocals are much more commanding and in tune and all the members mesh together in less of a cacophony and more of an ensemble than before the break-up. Of course, I’m sure some fans appreciated the cacophony and chaos and therefore miss the old days, but that’s like saying you liked a band better when they recorded their albums in a crappy basement instead of a real studio.
The funny thing about At the Drive-In’s set was that it was so obvious that guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez was not into playing his old band’s old music at all. The whole time he stood back by his amp, looking down at his hands, barely moving. It makes sense though. He was the one who, when asked about a potential reunion, said in 2009, “I shudder at the thought.”
‘Twas no matter, however, because the rest of the band was rocking hard and precisely, and Cedric was hammin’ it up on stage, messing with the camera guys and not complaining about the behavior of the audience. I guess people kept the “slam dancing” to an acceptable minimum.
Hey Rosetta! don’t perform. They have a blast playing music with each other on whatever stage they can find to play on, whether it’s a living room for a Youtube video or the Google Play stage at Lolla 2012. And their love of music and each other is so apparent as soon as they hit the first chord. Smiles are sent and returned, eyes are tight shut as songs get more intense and fervent, and the audience feels and responds to Hey! Rosetta’s genuine positive energy.
Another thing that sets Rosetta apart from the rest of the Lolla lineup is their unadulterated, raw emotion. So many Lolla bands were putting on a show instead of baring their hearts to the very appreciative audience. Putting on a good rock/dance music show is great, but it’s like a soul-affirming oasis in a desert of artificiality to see a band like Hey Rosetta! at a festival like Lollapalooza.