Lakeside was a steel yard before developers cultivated the idea that the land could be transformed into Chicago’s next premiere outdoor venue. The ultimate future of Lakeside includes a $4 billion development plan for the 600-acre property spread over 30 years. The Caravan press release detailed Lakeside having “[a] panoramic vista of downtown Chicago across the water will provide a stunning backdrop for the festivities.” In reality the venue was located in the middle of a nowhere, a dust bowl of vacant fields, thorny weeds, rocks, mulch and steel scraps. I would like to note that neither Lake Michigan nor the sky line were anywhere in site.
Despite the unfavorable landscape the music was fabulous, minus the fact each artist had a mere 45 minutes to perform. The first artist I caught was singer-songwriter Amos Lee. I walked up to Lee’s stage right in time for the all-powerful Windows are Rolled Down. The grandiose song offered a crisp, clear stack of lush harmonies steered by pedal steel. “Windows…” swept me away, allowing me to momentarily forget my surroundings. The remainder of Lee’s set offered Americana soul surrounded by crystal clear layers of roots-rock grooves, colored by a country twang. Across the field the Dirty Dozen Brass Band blared an invitation of full-bodied Cajun horns. The New Orleans ensemble turned the field into one heck of a dusty funk dance party in the toasty afternoon heat.
Unfortunately I did not stay for the whole party, for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros called my name from the opposite side. Ten musicians filled the stage, each evoking warm personalities and playful souls. The most inviting of all was front man Alexander Ebert (aka Edward Sharpe), who jubilantly jumped into the crowd to greet and embrace fans. Onstage the Magnetic Zeros supported Ebert’s embrace with a hand crafted mix of jangling psychedelic roots pop, kissed by West Coast sun. Their sounds and cheerful vibe beckoned listeners to run away with them, live free and roam California deserts.
Caravan was the last stop on the Magnetic Zeros’ U.S. tour and it was clear the band was tired and slightly silly. They managed to perform a playful set, primarily of old favorites from their 2009 debut Up From Bellow. The set list included Janglin, 40 Day Dream (which Ebert introduced as Free Bird), Up From Bellow and Home.
The Magnetic Zeros threw two new songs into the mix: the first, a gospel featuring vocalist Jade Castrinos whose voice projected like sweet honey fresh from a hive. The second debut took on a roots-rock groove headed by guitarist Christian Letts. The Magnetic Zeros closed their set with a live remix of the crowd pleasing Home to which Ebert remarked: “We should all move in together and find a nice cozy spot.” Hopefully he was not referring to the industrial wasteland of Lakeside.
Following the genius of the Magnetic Zeros I wandered towards jazz-fusion masters Soulive. The trio jammed to the sun with renditions of Beatles classics including Come Together, Something and Eleanor Rigby. Soulive turned the mournful, lonely tones of Eleanor Rigby into an afternoon fever of fierce drum skats, lucid guitar and thick, heavy psych organ freakouts.
Across the field my heart melted from the heat of Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs. Even in a crowd of several thousand LaMontagne’s soulful rasp resonated on a personal level. His intimate folk-rock tunings delivered spine tingling soul felt under the skin. His tried and true lyrics were backed by the humble potency of acoustic guitar and the Pariah Dogs. The personal intimacy of LaMontagne faded after couples to slow dance alongside LaMontagne’s woes of homelessness and heartbreak.
Following suit the Drive-By Truckers picked up the pace with an original blend of alt-country, southern rock and roadhouse boogie. Out of all the stellar performances of the day, DBT definitely had the most backbone. Their sound drove like monstrous big-rigs speeding down back country roads, carrying a fleet of snarling guitars and growling, murderous lyrics. Post Drive-By Truckers festival goers migrated towards the main stage for the first of three DMB headlining performances. Anxious fans pushed and shoved in hopes of getting as close as possible to their deity Matthews. DMB hit the stage just as the sun was setting. They opened their set with Squirm and grooved through Rapunzel, Don’t Drink the Water and You Might Die Trying. The band did not get too crazy for they still had two more headlining days to come.
The first day of Caravan did not carry a typical cheerful festival attitude; the grounds were inconveniently located, the commute was far too long, the sun was scorching, the grounds were uncomfortable and beer was expensive. There were also a lack of party favors such as hula-hoops, bubbles, flags, face paint and other hints of festival color. Nevertheless I managed to drag myself onward to day two.
An undisclosed amount of patrons in the thousands made the south side trek for day two of Caravan. The sites and sounds shifted from dusty Americana rock, funk and soul to more a jam-centric scene. “The Slip” stage transformed into the Summer Camp stage featuring Summer Camp notables Cornmeal, Yonder Mountain String Band, moe. and Umphrey’s McGee. Prior to migrating to the land of jam I opted to pay Chicago respect to femme fatale she-rocker Liz Phair. Phair failed to deliver her hard rock seduction, leaving me unattached and free to wander towards my jam band guilty pleasure moe.
From tropical and cheesy to Broadway melodies and electric metal shreds, the boys of moe. were on top of their game. Fans danced up a sweaty dust storm under the approving grin of bassist Rob Derhak. Once moe. wrapped up their extended 90-minute set, the party danced on to the full-force, prog-rock shreds of Umphrey’s McGee.
Elsewhere in the land of Caravan Ben Folds hashed out hit after hit on his piano, throwing some white-boy rap in the mix. Rapping aside Folds recreated his signature songs with extreme, staunch energy channeled onto piano. Folds jumped around and intensely pounded the keys creating rapid orchestrated crescendos. Leading up to DMB take two, hip hop-funk-rocker Kid Cudi unleashed a tribal energy, evoking a “stoner choir sing-along” to his noted Man on the Moon.
By nightfall the sold-out crowd was amped up for the second night of DMB. The band lost themselves in originals Proudest Monkey and Satellite. Impassioned faces in the crowd sang and swayed in unison to each subsequent song. Several appeared lost when the band attempted a rendition of the Talking Heads favorite Burning Down the House.
Day three was the day I was waiting for, the day that promised Flaming Lips covering The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. But first there were other gems to endure including Emmylou Harris and Mariachi El Bronx. I regret to say, and may never forgive myself, that I missed Emmylou Harris due to personal poor timing. From what I have heard her performance was under populated and absolutely stunning. According to Jim Reedy of Gaper’s Block, Matthews himself introduced the 64-year-old country queen.
Harris was backed by the Red Dirt Boys, who have been sited to evoke bluegrass gospels. Harris performed a selection of original material plus notable ballads including Six White Cadillacs, the Carter Family’s Hello Stranger and My Name is Emmett Till.
On the other hand I was ecstatic to say that I caught Mariachi El Bronx, the mariachi alter ego of LA hardcore punks, The Bronx. The band ditched their punk style and adopted the music and fashion of traditional mariachis. The ensemble performed bass heavy, mariachi grooves with an urban California twist. Once Mariachi El Bronx left the stage, roadies immediately began to set up for the Flaming Lips.
For a Flaming Lips show freaks were at an all time low. The crowd was a populated unsuspecting bunch, many of who were not aware of what they were in for. For example, several DMB fans spotted Tim Reynolds (guitar) of DMB in the stage wings, and were more excited about his presence than what was to come.
As set time neared overcast clouds formed in the sky and the pulse of a beating heart projected from the speakers. The collective heartbeat of the crowd intensified as the band took stage with an Eclipse groove, and front-maniac Wayne Coyne climbed into his signature space bubble and crawled over the flabbergasted crowd. Coyne returned to stage to an uproar of confetti and a rendition of Over the Rainbow. I could not believe it! Not only was this a Dark Side of the Moon event, but also a Wizard of Oz extravaganza! The band laced the Pink Floyd classic with songs from Oz to create a live Dark Side of the Rainbow.
Multi-instrumental genius Steven Drozd led the all instrumental On the Run with a series of effect pedals and cellphone sirens. Drozd modulated his voice by repeatedly striking his throat with his hand to create background screams. Armed with cellphones, the band returned to stage an synthesized an array of sirens. In unison a rush of alarms and adrenaline rushed throughout the field.
The band broke the Dark Side stride with We’re Off to See the Wizard. Coyne fashioned a camera to his mic, projecting a larger-than-life live feed of his face on a rainbow shaped big screen backdrop. The projection of Coyne reminisced the giant green wizard head from the film because let’s face it, Coyne is pretty much a wizard.
The technicolor spectacular picked up with The Great Gig in the Sky. A metallic gold moth with green hair took lead vocals, supported by dismal instrumentation, smoke, streamers and a light drizzle.
The real surprise was during Money, instead of sending confetti filled balloons into the audience, the band sent out balloons full of cash. Coyne announced that Matthews donated $10,000 cash to the Flaming Lips to send into the crowd. He also pleaded that people remain unselfish and refrain from beating each other to get the cash, and people actually respected Coyne’s request; only the Flaming Lips could pull off such a feat.
The Flaming Lips channeled storm clouds and a refreshing light drizzle, only to part the gloom with rays of sunshine and multi-color confetti. By the end of the epic venture my insides were comparable to glittery lava lamp. It was bizarre that such a psychedelic freak-out could only be experienced at a DMB event. The Flaming Lips left me fluttering high above the rainbow craving more. Unfortunately all that was left was the final DMB showdown and a long commute home.
DMB’s final set started on a jam-centric note featuring crowd pleasers One Sweet World, Bartender and The Best of What’s Around. DMB and the aggravating commute aside I have come to except Caravan’s Chicago stop as one hell of an exhausting ride.