We needed our taste of red, white and blue, star-spangled freedom. Young, trusting and beaming with naivety, this pair of Perth teens only wanted to see music industry royalty, but copped a “cultural” experience much dearer than that.
Chicago: Lollapalooza 2017
Our pilgrimage began in America’s murder capital—Chi-raq. Home to more fatal shootings per week than US deaths in Iraq. Here, we were truly in the midst of it all, living shoulder to shoulder with the 150,000 “gangbangers” that call Chicago home. With a general interest in psych, indie and alt-rock, Chicago seemed to offer nothing but trap and drill rap, and how else better to really investigate the scene than trawling the streets with the local gangbangers themselves.
Somehow, with the help of a few befriended Chicago locals, we found ourselves drinking cheap Mexican beer, listening to the best of Chief Keef, Lil Reese and Fredo Santana while dancing under the notorious Chicago bean with a few local gangsters who couldn’t help but get down to the hard-hitting Chicago rap playing on our speaker. But we weren’t here to test our luck on the streets, we wanted some Lollapalooza action.
With over 100,000 people attending each day of the four day music festival, and only Splendour in the Grass 2016 to compare it to, we really didn’t know what to expect. We were welcomed by waves of thousands of funny sounding American teens, who all seemed to wear the exact same CamelBak water bottle (which would soon make sense considering each day was 30 degrees and Grant Park stretched 2.5 kilometres wide). Armed with our phones, wallets and pure bewilderment we walked the Lollapalooza grounds familiarising ourselves with the overly-patriotic bullshit that American’s so dearly hold close to their hearts. When taking a photo under the one and only great Abe Lincoln we met a small group of Chicago locals, who would grow to be a few of our best mates throughout the trip.
Over the next four days we saw over 20 acts with notable mentions to Lil Uzi Vert, Wiz Khalifa and Mura Masa, but we weren’t there to see them at all. For our opening act we found ourselves waiting in 30 degree temps huddled by who may as well have been the A$AP mob themselves (or any Chicago rapper in general), the scene was set for a taste of Migos spitting some Bad and Boujee. A forty minute late arrival and a few songs in we were ready to pack up and see who we had paid the exuberant Viagogo ticket pricing for: Cage The Elephant.
They definitely delivered. The cross-dressed Matt Shultz ran up and down through the massive crowd and jumped on top of the sound tent 50 metres from the stage, all the while he kept the crowd focused and rousing for the next Cage classic. However the rains were a-coming.
Kaytranada’s set was met with a torrential downpour, but we were well equipped with yellow ponchos to keep us dry, or were we? It may have taken us 15 minutes of flicking around like an advertisement for banana condoms to figure out if we were in fact bone dry, but boy did Kaytranada drop one of the maddest sets of the entire weekend.
Were we getting bored of each others company already, or was it homesickness that led us to printing our best mates face off and sticking it onto a cardboard poster, so he too could enjoy the scenery. His first gig was a gnarly one getting front and centre for Toronto punk-rockers PUP. Coloured mohawks, broken fingers and face cuts were the only treatment any sad boy could cry himself to sleep to. While everyone was getting beat up in the closest thing to an Australian King Gizz mosh, ol’ mate Mr. Cardboard Head was copping all the love, getting closer to it than either of us did that week.
Soon followed electronic producer Gramatik who managed to flip his “lift music” into the wubbiest drops we had heard all week. Excited to see The Killers, lead man Brandon Flower’s painful arrogance shone through for a fairly average set, even when accompanied by a noticeably hefty stage production budget.
Over the next two days we were fortunate enough to see Glass Animals, Royal Blood, Alt J, Milky Chance, Mac Demarco (plus a truly freaky after show) and Sampha, but the final two acts of the weekend took the cake—Grouplove followed by Arcade Fire—with a detour with a fellow punter named Damo. Now Damo wasn’t any typical accountant-looking character you see. With six friends in their mid 30s, all of whom were wearing Damo’s face printed on their shirts, I’d assume it’s regular practice for Damo to be the most face-gakked of the lot.
With a passion for Grouplove and shitty-half-coordinated-mosh-yelling-crying dancing we got down with Damo the entire set before heading over to headliner Arcade Fire. We couldn’t have asked for a more encapsulating set. The intense stage production, to the powerfully energetic crowd, everyone there felt truly one with the family affair that is Arcade Fire.
New York City
*1300 kilometres, six stopovers and a 23 hour sketchy-ass cross-country bus trip later.*
Okay look, I fucked up. When I bought the Lolla ticket months before I was full of adrenaline and absolutely adamant that Chicago itself was a borough of New York City. I go to gigs and write stories, I don’t study geography okay. Now that’s out of the way, where were we? New York City baby. We may have been staying at a YMCA with groups of French high school kids coming and going for school excursion trips, but we had finally made it.
We spent days getting lost on the sub, exploring dodgy boroughs, being fed mix tapes in Time Square, seeing Broadway classics, kicking it with the fat cats of Wall Street, lounging on greasy sand with the cigar chomping sun-dried gents of Staten Island and generally having a ball in Central Park.
Fortunately for us, as juvenile as the YMCA was, it was only a 50 metre walk from Central Park and we ended up touring the place, speaker in hand, every single day. Our great park playlist consisted of a tasty selection from none other than Kirin J Callinan, Pond, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and other Australian greats. Obnoxious Australians? Nah mate, we were just making the most of our time in the big smoke.
We were lucky enough to catch Whitney and Moses Sumney for the 25th anniversary of Brooklyn Bric Festival, accompanied by every cool cat of Brooklyn. After a hard decision to pass up Whitney for PUP at Lollapalooza we were stoked to get the second chance. Lucky enough for us Whitney were as good as expected and set the scene for a chilled night in Brooklyn.
After hunting down Facebook events, Ticketbooth and any gig adviser possible we lucked out big time with “An evening with Diiv (unplugged).” This was Zachary Cole Smith’s first time playing live in over six months after a long battle with heroin addiction. The concert was played to a seated audience with what was definitely the most aesthetic stage setup I’d ever seen. Decked out with vases of flowers matched with 90’s home deco and a mostly acoustic setup—we just felt blessed to be there.
My friend lives in Europe? Flights are cheap from Canada to Europe? It was mid semester study week? Yes, but also, it’s because it’s fucking Amsterdam. Somehow I managed to ditch the cold and study, scrounge up a few dollars and live on a friends floor for six nights in The Dam. I’ll cut to the point here, because you don’t want to hear about all the usual tourist bullshit that goes on—that, of course, I couldn’t miss out on.
Here I experienced the best funk-house techno party that, potentially, I ever will. Three days in I met a few Brit’s who were your classic “lads on tour” and I thought I’d join in the chaos. I managed to convince these Pom’s to join me in hitting up alt-techno venue De School. A primary school re-established into a 24 hour club. Phone cameras covered up, kid-size school desks in red smoke-filled classrooms and trippy visuals projected onto walls were all you could ask for when in the vicinity of Hunee. The little Korean man laid down classic disco and soul at 11pm before mixing in spacey house til 7. Struggle town ensued.
There’s one key difference from the edge of the world to the seventh most populated city in North America: internationally acclaimed concerts. All the goddamn time. And I had the pleasure of living in Toronto for the next three and a half months. Here I was able to see artists I had only dreamt of back in Perth and it seemed to be happening way too often for my own good.
I managed to catch Foster The People, Arial Pink, Hilltop Hoods (where I felt at home with the easily 80 per cent Australian crowd), personal icon Trombone Shorty and French psych-punk geniuses La Femme. Century old venue The Danforth was home to many of these gigs and much like Perth’s Astor Theatre it held a sense of comfort and homeliness. It was at the Danforth that I gained a great respect for the creative and musically talented Thundercat. I have never seen such a nimble, quick and smooth bass guitarist as this pink-dreaded Californian.
There was no chance I was going to miss Thee Oh Sees down at The Danforth either. With a craving for Gizz on the other side of the world, this was the closest I was going to get—luckily enough they absolutely turned up and beat all expectations. Like an arthritis sufferer trying to sit up on his recliner to change the telly channel, the insane five minute double kit fills and the madness of the mosh creaked the old bastard of a theatre to its’ bones.
A few weeks into uni (oh yeah, this is actually a study exchange) everyone started mumbling this half French phrase “Noo bunch,” or something or other, and we couldn’t quite get our heads around it. Whispers of major street closures, random house sets, pop-up art galleries and shop fronts-turned-techno parties from 6pm til 6am were rampant. Was it word of urban myth? We’d soon find ourselves buzzing on the streets for Nuit Blanche with thousands of others on Toronto’s King Street til the early hours of the morning, bouncing from one set of decks to the next. It had all been true, and with only hard liquor to warm your blood from the Canadian cold this was always going to end up being a night for the books.
On a more sentimental note, I think it was the Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett collab’ seated concert that really summed up my gig-attendance in Toronto. The 15 minute walk to Massey Hall in ten-below-zero degrees got me feeling like an Inuit gone walkabout, but that’s okay because I’d soon be snugged up with the rest of the Courtney lovers with all our God damn layers.
Going to gigs alone is sweet when everyone is Canadian by the way, it’s no bullshit they’re the friendliest fuckers alive. The fella seated next to me (soon after offers me the last gulp of his pint; although I did appreciate the gesture, it was a hard pass from me) fell in love with Courtney the same way I did seeing her for the first time. Although I’d seen Australian acts around the Americas, there was an air of personal homesickness about Courtney’s Blundstone boots and incredible Australian speak-singing.
The weather eventually turned cold rarely upping past zero and I’d fall asleep fiending shitty gigs at Bird Wednesday’s and eerily Murlocs-sounding support acts at Mojo’s. Soon enough I’d be home just in time for sweaty festival season to see the same artists tour Australia six times in one Summer.