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Friday, August 7, 2009
Updated: August 10, 3:28 PM ET
Smart acts conjure Lollapalooza energy

By Paul Shirley
Special to ESPN.com

In a recent encounter with my television, I was bothered by one piece of an otherwise brilliant Dos Equis ad campaign. The commercial in question states that the Most Interesting Man in the World has never had a conversation about the weather, not even in a hurricane. (I'm paraphrasing.) This worried me. I, like everyone, like to think of myself as interesting, and I talk about the weather all the time.

Justin Veron of Bon Iver
On Day 1, who do you think won between the weather and Bon Iver?

In an effort to shore up my level of interestingness, I gave the commercial some thought. After burning through no fewer than 147 neurons and, unfortunately, zero Dos Equis, I decided it's obvious the Most Interesting Man in the World is not from the Midwest. Because in the Midwest, we talk about the weather all the time. We do that because it is interesting: It affects our plans, our moods and our activities.

Nowhere was that more apparent than Friday in the very Midwestern town of Chicago as I gamely sidled into Grant Park for Day One of Lollapalooza. The forecast called for continuous showers in the afternoon, and the clouds above the city did not disappoint. By 6 p.m., the grounds brought to mind images of beautiful hippie girls sliding through the mud at Woodstock. Minus the "beautiful." Little-known fact: Beautiful girls rarely do mudslides at outdoor music festivals.

My day started with Manchester Orchestra, who, despite a rising profile, were found playing at 12:30 in the afternoon. I've grown quite fond of the Orchestra's album "Everything to Nothing," and so, in fashion typical to me, I was scared to see them live; I was afraid they wouldn't live up to my expectations. As usual, I'm an idiot. They were even better than I could have imagined.1

Their lead singer was even endearingly modest. Before his band's last song he said, "Thanks for watching us. Our band has never had this many people like us at the same time."

(For a hand-held camera's view of Manchester Orchestra performing "In My Teeth" on Friday here or listen to Manchester Orchestra here.)

The rain started sometime during Manchester's set. But, unlike bands later in the day, they obeyed a cardinal outdoor-concert guidline. I'll call it the Energy Rule: If it starts raining, figure out a way to keep the energy high.

On my way to lunch, I managed to duck a guy I'd met on the train and worked my way to a small stage where The Knux were playing. I hadn't planned to take in The Roots-like group, but heard them from across the park. My interest was piqued like a hound on the scent of a bleeding escapee. My first song under the band's spell was fantastic: They played their own instruments and, suddenly, I regretted everything negative I've ever written about rap music. But then they devolved into House of Pain samples and 10-minute exhortations for the crowd to -- you know the drill -- put their hands in the air. However, in the band's defense: Energy was kept high.

After they threw away their first three songs, the same could be said for my next stop, White Lies, a British band that sounds a lot like The Editors, who sound a lot like Interpol, who, apparently, sound a lot like Joy Division. (I can't claim to have listened to much Joy Division in my life.) I slowly got into White Lies, partially because of the music (check out a piece of White Lies' Friday performance here, or listen to "To Lose My Life" here) and partially because I figured out the lead singer looks like Tom Brady and I stopped needing to think about it.

Two of my next four stops on Paul-apalooza obeyed the Energy Rule. Sound Tribe Sector 9, of whom I knew nothing prior to watching them, were fantastic. Unfortunately, a recorded version of their music does not do them justice. Therefore, I'm withholding a link to it. (Because it would be so hard to find it on your own.)

Alice Glass
Crystal Castles plays electronic music, but singer Alice Glass' performance was pure rock 'n' roll.

While STS9, as the kids call them2, were nice and energetic, Crystal Castles did the best job of energy maintenance. ALERT: PERSONAL HIGHLIGHT OF DAY 1 IMPENDING. In fact, their set was my personal highlight of Day 1.

I don't know much about Crystal Castles, and I'm going to keep it that way. I'd like to remain ignorant because, as of now, I think the group's lead singer is a cross between Elvira, Henry Rollins and the blue alien from "The Fifth Element." I decided -- and would have decreed, had anyone I know been around -- that Crystal Castles are what I always thought the Yeah Yeah Yeahs would grow up to be, but also what I always feared they would grow up to be. Crystal Castles singer Alice Glass writhed around the stage, surfed the crowd and drank copiously from an unidentified bottle of rotgut. It was easily the most rock 'n' roll hour of the day, and Crystal Castles would probably be classified as an electronic act.

(Crystal Castles viewing opportunity here. Warning: this one is particularly jumpy, so you also have a listening opportunity here.)

The two acts that did not obey the Energy Rule were Bon Iver and The Decemberists. Fellas (and lady, in the case of the latter), your slow, painstakingly written, life-questioning ballads are fine for long November evenings spent perseverating over lost loves. But they are unacceptable as rainy Lolladay fare. A crowd made up of people with mud coating their shins and backs is not interested in folk music. If it's raining, throw out the original set list and come up with a new one.

Thus, as far as I can tell, in live form, Bon Iver and The Decemberists are boring.

I just lost half my readership.

Then, it stopped raining. Meaning that Peter, Bjorn and John were free to do whatever they wanted, according to my hastily conceived Rules (Rule) for Rainy Rock Festivals. And what the Swedes felt like doing was to be fairly mediocre, except for when they played their best songs, at which times they were spectacular.

Caleb Followill
Don't hate Kings of Leon and singer Caleb Followill just because they're massively popular now.

After P, B, and J, my cousin wrangled for me a not-so-overpriced beef sandwich from the food district of the park, and we slid our way to the day's finale, the band everyone now loves to hate: Kings of Leon.

In case the reader has been living in a salt mine for the past two years, Kings of Leon are a rock band from Tennessee that is made up of three brothers and a cousin. I've long held that they are, in a word, awesome. Because I don't want to be obnoxious with my "I knew them when" stories, I'll leave the time qualifier in the previous sentence in its vague form. Suffice it to say, I've been on the Kings of Leon bandwagon for a while. Admittedly, I was beginning to consider that I might have to give up my seat to a 13-year-old girl. Like all annoying music nerds, I too am susceptible to popularity backlash. When I started hearing KoL everywhere, I became suspicious.

That was stupid. They're still really good, live or recorded. They were especially good on Friday night. Their set wasn't a long one, and they didn't set the stage on fire, literally or figuratively. But they did display the energy that makes rock 'n roll fun, delving frequently into their less-refined back catalog, to the delight of everyone around me. Lead singer Caleb Followill was appropriately grateful and modest and, during their show, I was reminded of why I once thought they should be the biggest band in the world. They aren't, but when it comes to semi-alternative rock, they're close. And I think that's OK. I'll stand behind the Kings of Leon for a long time, or until they betray me by putting out a Christmas album.

Of course, the Kings weren't faced with any weather-related concerns. Maybe I would have distributed similar compliments to Bon Iver if they'd been working with a cool evening breeze instead of a steady afternoon downpour.

I guess the only way I'll ever know … is to talk about it. I guess I'll have to spend tomorrow wandering the grounds, asking people what they thought about the weather versus Bon Iver. If they're from the coasts, they'll think I'm easily the Least Interesting Man in the World. But if they're from the Midwest, they'll probably want to talk about it for 15 minutes, and they might even buy me one of those delicious beef sandwiches just for letting them freely discuss the weather.


1 In addition, a mystery about Manchester Orchestra was solved. Because of the band's name, I assumed they were from Manchester, England. They're not -- they're from Atlanta, which explains their sound: Southern rock on steroids. I'd always wondered how some dudes from the UK could sound so Georgia.

2 My, my, was there a passel of young 'uns at Lollapalooza. Lots of high school-age kids, and (obviously) more college-age ones. I don't remember having enough money for movies at either stage, let alone enough for the $200 Lollapalooza ticket. I can only assume, then, that there was some parental financing going on: "Hey, honey! I was thinking about giving Courtney a ticket to Lollapalooza for middle school graduation. I figure it'll be a great way for her to be introduced to the wonders of underage drinking and drug use. She might even end up pregnant! What do you think?" Good work, parents of Chicago.

Paul Shirley has played for 13 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams: the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. His book "Can I Keep My Jersey?" -- which is available in paperback -- can be found here. He can be found at Twitter (Twitter.com/paulthenshirley), and you can e-mail him here.