Concert Review: Lollapalooza, Day 2 with Wilco

(Editor's Note: This is the second day of armchair concert reviews of performances at Lollapalooza in Chicago via internet through the AT&T Blue Room. To see reviews of Lollapalooza's first day, please go here. Unlike the first day of the festival, the internet stream featured co-headliners Wilco on tape delay, although those wishing to see Rage Against the Machine online would have been out of luck.)

by Rick Rockwell

There’s nothing like watching a great band on its home turf, feeling relaxed, comfortable and enthusiastic. That was Wilco in Chicago at Lollapalooza on Saturday night (Aug. 2).

Tweaking the alt-country label that has followed the band around despite its departure for points in experimental, alternative rock territory many albums ago, Wilco arrived on stage decked out in colorful, sequined Western suits. “We’ve been doing a lot of sewing the past few months preparing for this show,” joked Jeff Tweedy, the band’s leader. Almost to accentuate the band’s country & western appearance, Wilco delivered a countrypolitan version of “It’s Just That Simple” mid-show. Late in Wilco’s set, Tweedy introduced a three-piece brass section for a pumped up version of “Hate it Here” that took on elements of country blues. With the brass, “Walken” also added new dimensions, sounding like a southern rave-up prepared by Robbie Robertson and The Band. And Wilco’s lush beginning to “Impossible Germany” also had a country flavor until a coda featuring three guitars in ringing harmony that would rival anything from the country-rock heyday of the 1970s from bands like The Outlaws or Lynyrd Skynyrd.

However, after a few compliments to Radiohead (the previous night’s headliner) by Tweedy, and a note about how the bands differed, Wilco took off into the alternative rock stratosphere with new unreleased material that had the noisy experimental edge of songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This too showed the ease of the band with the Chicago audience, trying out unreleased material just like at Lollapalooza in 2006. Either that or Wilco is just trying to live up to some reviews which called Wilco America’s version of Radiohead.

After the experiments, Wilco returned to its country stylings with a pedal steel featured prominently on “Jesus, Etc.” With its augmented line-up, Wilco closed with old favorites. “Monday” and “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” rocked even harder than the studio versions, which also featured brass backing.

Another highlight of Lollapalooza Day 2: the performance of Dr. Dog. When Dr. Dog swung into an energetic rendition of “The Rabbit, the Bat & the Reindeer” late in their set, the song had an obvious Wilco influence in the lyrical construction and vocal delivery. Perhaps this was just musical foreshadowing for the Chicago crowd. But Dr. Dog is a band that loves to drop melodic honorifics to rock greats while still producing their own idiosyncratic mix. So Dr. Dog’s set also included nods to Neil Young, The Beatles, and Beach Boys, while prominently featuring music from the band's critically acclaimed release Fate.

Perhaps the opposite of Wilco and Dr. Dog on the internet playbill, The Ting Tings brought their brand of post-punk dance pop to the Lollapalooza stage. When considering the U.K.’s Ting Tings perhaps there should be some debate about what constitutes a performance. Some would write off any band that used a drum machine. The duo that makes up The Ting Tings loves drum machines and other recorded sounds, having been influenced by rap, as they construct songs that are very similar to Blondie during that band’s height of popularity in the early ‘80s (lest we forget the single “Rapture”). So like some rappers, much of the material The Ting Tings present is prerecorded. But their show at Lollapalooza raises the question of when does a supposedly live set of music become something akin to karaoke? More than half of the instrumentation in The Ting Tings set was pre-recorded: not just drum machine beats and rhythms, but guitars, various keyboards and even additional vocals. Katie White (who also looks and sounds like Deborah Harry’s daughter) provided most of the lead vocals, and mostly played guitar when she wasn’t in full-on rap mode. Jules De Martino mostly played drums and sang back-up. (Although White also provided some percussion and keyboards, and De Martino sang lead a bit and strummed a guitar too when needed.) The Ting Tings had some in the crowd grooving, but it’s a good thing Lollapalooza features plenty of bands, because a show like this is more than enough reason to ask for a refund.

Perhaps some of that reaction is a predisposition to think that much of the thin pop The Ting Tings create is insipid. The duo played most of their debut We Started Nothing during their set, including “Great DJ” and “Shut Up and Let Me Go.” And perhaps that song title and the band’s record title say everything you need to know about The Ting Tings.

(To see reviews of the final day of Lollapalooza, please go here. To read this series of reviews on the entire festival from the beginning, please go here.)

(The photo shows Wilco playing the Latitude Festival in 2007 in Suffolk, England and is by Mike Mantin of Bristol, U.K. via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see Wilco playing "Walken" at Lollapalooza in 2006, please check below.)

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