Lollapalooza is always full of surprises, but the last thing I imagined would happen on Saturday was that I would be walking backstage with Dhani Harrison – yes, son of late Beatle George Harrison – and listening to him lovingly, and I must say, quite capably, busting some Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Method Man rhymes on the way to an exclusive acoustic set. Harrison is here with his band, Thenewno2, who played earlier in the day to an enthusiastic noon crowd that lapped up their raga-fueled trippy rock tunes.
Harrison, clearly a hip-hop fanatic – and a collaborator of Wu-Tang’s The RZA – worried that his special acoustic set for MTV News wouldn’t be heard over the rib-rattling kick drum sound from rapper Atmosphere’s set behind him, but he gave it a shot anyway. Picking up an acoustic guitar alongside his bandmates, Jon Sadoff and Jeremy Faccone, he played the song “Shelter,” from the band’s debut album.
It’s hard not to look at Harrison and think of his late dad. Between the shoulder-length hair tucked behind the ears, that unmistakable voice, an easy, quick smile and peaceful, pleading lyrics (“when the clouds go we’ll see better … I feel alone like a moon at night/all smilin’ bright lookin’ out my window … falling trees and the rising sea, billion people on their knees,” it’s hard not to stare. But Harrison has a way of putting you immediately at ease, whether with self-deprecating jokes – he claimed to have taken the stage earlier in the day dressed as a pirate – or just an eagerness to perform at the drop of a hat despite an onerous heat that had the Henley-on-Thames-native “schvitzing.”
“I wasn’t allowed to go when I was a kid, my dad banned me,” said Harrison when asked about whether he’d ever attended Lollapalooza. “He said I could go when I played, so I broke my ban today.” He said the set went “surprisingly well,” perhaps likely better than their first-ever festival performance, at this year’s Coachella Festival in the spring. “We’re getting better and being outdoors is a real laugh. You can turn your amps up, you don’t have all this slap of … let’s just say it’s a far cry from the Mercury Lounge in New York.”
Faccone was very psyched to see Tool’s set later in the day, while Harrison was set on checking out Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Santigold, while Sadoff was leaning towards TV On The Radio (or “TV on the Internet … TV on the Dishwasher” in Harrison’s world). “Beastie Boys got replaced by Yeah Yeah Yeahs,” he lamented, referring to the veteran hip-hop band’s departure from the line-up due to MC Adam Yauch’s battle with salivary gland cancer. “I was mad into seeing the Beastie Boys … TV on the Radio are going to be wicked.”
Next up for the band is a major fall tour with an artist Harrison said he could not yet reveal, but which he promised would be “major.”