No Depression at Lolla Day 2
Atmosphere creates more excitement today in the middle of the afternoon than Kings of Leon did as a closing act last night.
Rain has given away to heat. It’s above 90 today in Chicago with the sun loitering behind clouds one minute and tasering the crowd the next. “Crack dripping hot” is how my friend Stu puts it.
I leave the boisterous Atmosphere show mid-set for a side stage featuring the irrepressible Joe Pug. Pug is the happiest, most charming man to ever make a career out of writing songs of desperation and losers. Songs of lost battles fighting hopeless wars. Songs about prayers unanswered. The BMI stage is set on the Lake Michigan side of Grant Park under shade trees. The breeze off the lake creates a picnic scene for fest goers happy for a chance to sprawl out on the green.
Pug has been a soloist for most of his young career. In the last year he’s assembled an ensemble of the highest order, cherry picking of some of Chicago’s brightest alt-country talent. Rocco Labriola uses distortion on his pedal steel getting the unique, frantic sound that the late, great Sneaky Pete of the Flying Burrito Brothers. Julia Klee has a Chicago career of her own but shares a huge voice for harmony. After his set the home town crowd presses him right up against the cyclone fence where he poses for pictures and signs autographs with a huge smile.
Robert Earl Keen is next over at the Playstation stage.
The Texas troubadour is in the land of Prine, Goodman, Tweedy (and Pug). His loyal crowd is active but not an overwhelming audience numbers wise. The space is only a third filled, an audience that could have been easily handled over at the side BMI stage. It could be the heat but the band is slogging along, punching the clock on mostly mid-tempo hits. The Road Goes on Forever is a killer song and Keen’s smile all the way through it is the real thing. But I can’t help thinking about the tricks Keen can create when he’s as hungry as Joe Pug.
Rise Against just took the stage, shredding the outer limits of the PA. Naperville? Can you hear us? It’s 6:45 and in the last hour the grounds have become a complete gnarl of humans. Upon completion of acts on one big stage, the wall of bodies moves quickly toward a new arena. If you’re going in the opposite direction on this Saturday night, good luck to you.
One more thing for now. A mighty stench arises from this place. It’s a potent mixture of sweat, feet, underarms, old beer, stomped on gyros and huge, steaming barrels of garbage rotting in the sun.
Uh, gotta go get dinner now.