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Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004

I Know It's Over

So everyone’s playing the blame game over the demise of Lollapalooza – and don’t think that this is just for this year, it’s dead for good. Tell me what person in their right mind would lay down cash for tickets for this festival ever again? They could trot out a reunited Beatles with zombie John and George and people still wouldn’t go. It’s over. Now while I had hoped for the best – I did buy a ticket after all – I can’t say I’m surprised things ended up this way. I had my doubts about the viability of the whole festival from the get-go, but gave the organizers the benefit of the doubt that they had done their due diligence before embarking on the venture. After all – they were professional concert promoters and I was just a monkey with a blog. What did I know? Well, while I’m sure more specifics will come to light as the fallout from this continues, but it’s pretty obvious someone horribly misjudged their market. Information Leafblower, The Black Table and Zoilus have some solid thoughts as to what specifically might have gone wrong and I’ll reiterate what I would consider to be the key reasons in addition to the obvious ones of high ticket price and lousy venues.

First off, there was no slam dunk headliner. Though his disciples may say otherwise, Morrissey is not the act to anchor a tour of this size. His fans are devoted, but they’re not that numerous and don’t forget this is a guy who couldn’t get arrested a few years ago. I don’t know who would have been a better choice though maybe a reunited Pixies headlining every date might have done it? Probably not, actually. It’d likely take someone on the scale of a Radiohead to ensure success. But not the Moz and the String Cheese Incident. I mean come on. As Carl Wilson put it, even in Lollapalooza’s heyday, the headliner had radio hits and video play. We’re talking Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins at the height of the alternative/grunge explosion, not cult favourite veterans with solid but not huge fanbases. The music scene has gotten a lot more polarized in the last decade and there’s simply not the same amount of crossover between the underground and the overground anymore. The lineup put together this year certainly appealed to the indie cognoscente, but how many records have they sold? Even collectively? There’s only so many hipsters in the world, and when you factor out the ones who are utterly cynical about anything stadium-sized or corporate-scented, and you don’t have a crowd that’s going to fill the stadiums. You need to appeal to the mainstream for that, the people who attend maybe a half-dozen concerts a year and for whom shelling out $30-$40 to sit in a big outdoor venue is the norm. Not the scenesters who are accustomed to $10 shows in dank clubs. Coolfer succinctly put it in Leafblower’s comments, “the promoters were going for cred over fans”. And that thinking ain’t putting asses in the seats.

Secondly, scheduling it as a two-day events was pretty dumb. If they’d trimmed the lineup to include just the cream of the crop for a single day, they probably would have done alright, not to mention they would have been able to hit more cities. But trying for the two-day setup introduced a host more problems. First, if your city got the tour on weekdays you would have had to take days off work, at least if the punter wanted to catch the whole show (scheduled to start at 2 in the afternoon). Of course, this applied mostly to the 9-5 working stiffs – you know, the ones who’d likely have the scratch to shell out for the expensive seats. So in addition to the high ticket prices and convoluted pricing structures, you had to factor in the time off of work and if you wanted to go to both days, that’s times two. I can’t speak for anyone else, but two vacation days are worth a helluva lot to me. If Toronto’s day two had fallen on a day that I didn’t already have off, I probably wouldn’t have bothered getting a ticket.

While the demise of Lollapalooza, the fiasco of Field Day last year and the quiet disappearance of All Tomorrow’s Parties on these shores puts a question mark on the concept of huge festivals in North America (Europe seems much more receptive to the format), it’s important to note that there are still successful festivals going on in North America – witness the longevity of Ozzfest and the Warped Tour, and Curiosa seems to be doing well. Similarly, by all reports Coachella, Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo were pretty damn successful (people dying notwithstanding). I think the fault is lying more on the shoulders of the organizers (using the term generously) rather than the festivals themselves. It’s just that for the amount of money you have to invest to make something like this happen (I imagine the overhead and logistics are staggering), you can’t take a gamble on the goods. Ozzy and Black Sabbath are a sure bet. Morrissey is not.

In the end, though, I feel bad for the bands. While they will still get a percentage of their fees, they’re still pretty much fucked for the rest of the summer. They’re in tough to book shows of their own for July and August this late in the season, so that’s a couple months they won’t be making the money they had budgeted on. I do hope that some of the acts on the bill will manage to find their own way into town, but it’s a raw deal for everyone involved, any way you slice it. Lollapalooza, RIP.

Postscript to this screed – It occurs to me that I may come across as slagging on the Moz for not being a good enough headliner. I’m not, really – adding him to the bill was inspired. It just wasn’t enough. No hate mail, please, but if you’re going to send it at least come up with some clever epithets.

And now for something completely different. News that isn’t a eulogy for Lollapalooza!

A new Saturday Looks Good To Me album hits September 14 on Polyvinyl, name of Every Night. You can hear sample unmastered mp3s from the record here. Their last album All Your Summer Songs was easily one of my favorite discoveries of the past year, so I’m quite looking forward to this one. Great indie-pop music done up in that sweet Motown/Spector style. Yessir.

The new Luna album Rendezvous (which seems to have graduated from tenative title to actual title) will be out September 28. Touring to follow in October and November.

Live and demo versions of songs you might be hearing on the new Spoon album. From Catbirdseat.

Thought I was all out of Wilco news? Not quite – you can download a live version of “Hell Is Chrome” from their recent hometown show at the Vic in Chicago here or listen to whole show streaming-like via the enhanced portion of the A Ghost Is Born CD. They just give and they give and they give.

The Globe & Mail reflects on the glory of vinyl. It has long been my secret shame as a music geek that I don’t own a record player. I’m sure I could take the old one from home anytime I wanted – I think it’s a Dual – but I have nowhere to put it and I’m sure it’d need a goodly amount of TLC to get it back into game shape. I think the next time I move, provided it’s somewhere with more room, I’ll inherit myself the turntable and see what it can do. From Thrasher’s Blog.

Anyone planning on coming out to see Lake Holiday wtih Wax Mannequin at the Rivoli tonight, doors are at 9 and cover is $7. Hey, it’s not our show, we can’t do anything about that. I’m also not sure what time we’re on, or whether we’re on first or second. In fact, I don’t know anything. At all.

np – Wilco / A Ghost Is Born

By : Frank Yang at 8:43 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Ryan Waddell says:

    The only reason I’m upset about Lollapalooza’s cancellation is because it makes my girlfriend upset. She’s really good friends with the guys from The Thrills, and she doesn’t get to see friends from home all that often so it would’ve been nice for her. Oh well, they were likely going to be on early in the day anyways, so maybe they booked a show for that night as well, and will still make it into town.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the SLGTM links. It makes being at work a bit more bearable.

  3. Liza says:

    I think the demise of the music festivals is directly related to the fact that there are just so damned many of them. I joked when I heard Lollapalooza was trying the two-day format that it would fail. Once again, I’ve my finger on the pulse. Heh.

  4. mike says:

    Personally, I thought the headliners (Wilco, Morrissey, Sonic Youth, The Flaming Lips) at least, combined, would have been enough of a draw for people to buy tickets. I guess I’ve severely underestimated music fans. I wonder if people weren’t just waiting till the last minute to buy tickets. I wonder if organizers would consider going through with Lollapalooza if enough people now, after hearing the news of the cancellation, committed to buying tickets.

  5. information leafblower says:

    As always, well said Frank. You might find it funny that Ticketmaster are STILL selling Lollapalooza tickets.

    http://…/

    I think if they would have gone with a Sonic Youth / PJ Harvey / Morrissey bill as just a regular show, they would have been fine.

  6. Bryan says:

    I wonder if another aspect of the 2 day festival helped sink it: bands playing nearby cities on their off nights. I went to Lollapalooza 1995 largely on the basis of seeing Sonic Youth; this year SY are playing in Ottawa on what would’ve been their day off (and a Friday night, no less) thus saving me a five hour drive.