The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne promised to stop traffic on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, and Kanye West swore there'd be "repercussions" for sound issues during his set. But when the three-day Lollapaloo
The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne promised to stop traffic on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, and Kanye West swore there'd be "repercussions" for sound issues during his set. But when the three-day Lollapalooza festival came to an end Sunday evening, Chicago had played host to a smoothly run and mostly enjoyable celebration of corporate America and popular music.
Parked in Chicago for the second straight year, the former touring festival was spread amongst 69 acres. At more than double its size of last year, about 130 acts performed over its three days. It sounds impressive, but by mid-afternoon Sunday the fest started to feel a bit bloated. Festival organizers said attendance averaged at approximately 60,000 people per day, a total that essentially doubled last year's daily figure.
As Lollapalooza's size has swelled, its lineup has improved as well. This year brought a dose of hip-hop (West, Common, Gnarls Barkley, Lyrics Born, Lady Sovereign, Blackalicious), and some more adventurous rock acts (Wilco, the Flaming Lips, Midlake, My Morning Jacket, Broken Social Scene, the Dresden Dolls).
Crowds came out in droves for local hero West and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who closed the fest Sunday night with a set that leaned heavily on its slower, more tepid recent material. But for those willing to traverse the monstrous grounds, which at peak times forced at least a 10-minute walk between the two stage areas, there was plenty of excitement to be had, even if it was scattered over 33 hours.
The city of Chicago again emerged as Lollapalooza's biggest star, as the Grant Park setting -- tucked beneath the city's skyline -- is a perfectly picturesque locale for the fest. Lollapalooza's two stage areas were separated by the Chicago landmark Buckingham Fountain, and each field contained two large stages and three or four smaller stages.
Chicago's presence was felt in the music as well. Some of the artists who made the biggest impact at Lollapalooza call the Windy City home. West gave a commanding performance Saturday night, with an 80-minute set that served as a sort of who's who of Chicago hip-hop. Making appearances were Twista, Lupe Fiasco and Common, the latter of whom joined West for a fiery "Get 'Em High."
West overcame early sound problems to win over the hometown crowd. After leading a sing-along through a stomping version of "Gold Digger," West kidded to his mother off stage, "See mom, it works," referring to his rap career. Aided by a seven-piece string section, he delivered a stirring "All Fall Down," and a riveting version of Lupe Fiasco's "Kick Push."
Earlier, Common gave a less boisterous but no less thrilling set. "The Corner" showed off his storytelling skills, and a jazzy version of "The Light," for which the rapper made a trip to keyboard, illustrated his emotional depth. The only qualm was that this was essentially the same set Common performed at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., this spring, as he missed an opportunity to deliver something more unique for his hometown.
Performing late Sunday evening was Chicago-bred rock act Wilco, who offered an impassioned set that re-affirmed the group's status as one of America's finest bands. The group unveiled four new songs, all of them promising, and all of them putting a stronger emphasis on songcraft rather than the sonic experimentation of its last two albums. "Let's fight," Tweedy sang in one of the new songs, "let's get this right." A soulful keyboard line carried the melodic hook, and Tweedy and guitarist Nels Cline used the new cuts to explore a more refined guitar interplay.
But if there was one song that defined Lollapalooza more than any other, it was Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." It may be everywhere this summer, but that didn't stop the Raconteurs from giving it a rousing rock'n'roll treatment on Friday night, and even West got in on the action, letting his backing crew perform a couple of verses from the deserved hit.
Gnarls Barkley's own performance of the song late Saturday afternoon stood as one of the most electrifying moments of the fest. Beginning with a brief string overture, and then decorated with a foreboding bass line and Danger Mouse's elegantly understated keyboard work, the song took on even more color live. Led by rapper/singer/performer Cee-Lo, who Lollapalooza co-founder Perry Farrell introduced as the fest's "grand poobah," Gnarls Barkley adorned every song with something peculiar - from the haunted house noises of "The Boogie Monster" to the hysteria of strings and keyboard swirls in "Feng Shui."
There were plenty of other smaller winning moments as well. The surprisingly poppy Broken Social Scene brought out more than a dozen people for the hypnotic "Anthems for a 17 Year-Old Girl," and the Go! Team turned an early Saturday afternoon field into a high school pep rally with hip-hop infused dance anthems. Southern California's Cold War Kids delivered bluesy, urban rock, and Texans Midlake played give-and-take with grand guitar work and irresistible harmonies.
The theatrical goth of the Dresden Dolls was centered on Amanda Palmer's mouth-dropping vocals, and the group offered a surprising cover of the Louvin Brothers' "Satan is Real." Canadian singer/songwriter Feist looped her own backing vocals and gave an impressive take on Southern-influenced Americana, and the Shins unveiled news songs that explored deeper guitar textures.
Recently deciding to call it quits at the end of its current tour, Sleater-Kinney delivered a smashing farewell show Friday night, with Janet Weiss pounding out a rhythmic foundation for the sharp guitars of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker. "Modern Girl" was the group at its most melodic, while "Turn It On" conjured its reckless best, as the tension between the two guitarists threatened to veer the anthem off course. As the set ended, Death Cab For Cutie took the stage on the opposite end of the field and lead singer Ben Gibbard yelled, "We'll miss you guys"
But not all was as perfect. Sunday afternoon suffered from a lack of must-see acts, and hiking the distance between the stages became a chore late in the day, when big names like My Morning Jacket were performing opposite the Raconteurs. To see a bit of both, one would have to factor in nearly 15 minutes to move from end-to-end and then find a position without any noise bleed from nearby stages. If the same layout is planned for next year, staggered times for headliners would be an improvement.
And while corporate logos at rock shows are the norm these days, Lollapalooza's policy of granting company's branding rights to each stage was a bit absurd, especially if it isn't passed onto the consumer in the form of a lower ticket cost (about $70 for one day, with Ticketmaster surcharges).
Lollapalooza would also do well to take a cue from Coachella and ban blankets. It may sound silly, but too many attendees staked out large of plots of land near the bigger stages, creating a sort of blanket-blockade, and making it difficult to find a prime listening post late in the day. Additionally, $3 for a bottle of water is steep in the midst of nationwide heat wave, not to mention the humidity fest that Chicago is in August.
The crowd was well behaved, and only the Red Hot Chili Peppers brought out a brief but visibly violent element. A local police officer confirmed that "a few" fans were hurt and ejected when the crowd rushed the stage and began falling over the security railing. While police on the grounds would only cop to "one or two" arrests at Lollapalooza, four attendees were seen handcuffed and hauled into police wagons.
But none of that should seriously mar anyone's opinion of what was largely an inspired lineup for a well-run festival, one that will hopefully call Chicago home for years to come. The memory of dozens of standout performances, including those from West, Gnarls Barkley and Wilco, where what lingered at fest's end. It was perhaps the praise from Wilco's Tweedy that best surmised the weekend: "We're so proud of you, Chicago," he said. "You guys really know how to go to a festival."