The closing night of Lollapalooza on Sunday (Aug. 8) was a contest between old school and new school: On the south stage of Chicago's massive Grant Park, Soundgarden played one of its first shows in more than a decade, and on the north stage Arcade Fire proved that the acclaim for its just-released third LP, "The Suburbs," was no mere hype.
Arcade Fire's hour-and-a-half-long set was an emotional mix of songs from the new record, as well as favorites from the band's first two releases, "Funeral" and "Neon Bible." The songs are ideal for expansive spaces like this one, and their energy swelled through the park. Though Arcade Fire's members keep their personal lives closely guarded, their music has a magical way of make worldly themes feel strikingly intimate.
Video: Arcade Fire at Lollapalooza
There was as much celebration on stage as there was in the crowd. Every musician switched instruments, which included guitars, organs, synthesizers, a string section, two full drum sets and various other percussion instruments. Will Butler -- brother of frontman Win Butler -- jumped around in circles with his guitar, and Richard Parry's long red hair flipped around as he slammed a bass drum for the start of the set closer, "Wake Up."
Régine Chassagne took on drums, keyboards and accordion, but she also shined on lead vocals for the synth-heavy dance number "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" from "The Suburbs," and on "Haiti" from "Funeral." The latter was particularly chilling when the group sang, "Hear the soldiers angry, yelling, 'In the river we will go,'" while standing in a straight line across the stage, almost marching in place. Other highlights were set opener "Ready to Start" and "We Used to Wait," and the obvious crowd-pleasers like "No Cars Go," "Neighbordhood #2 (Laika)" and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)."
Unlike Green Day's sense of suburban uprising the night before, Arcade Fire anchored imagery of dead shopping malls, monotonous day jobs and taking off with Mom's car keys in a hopeful context. The band left the crowd wanting to make a difference rather than start a rebellion.
Video: Soundgarden at Lollapalooza
On the other side of the park, Soundgarden came ready to rock faces off, armed with tight renditions of its biggest hits from the early and mid-'90s -- including "Badmotorfinger" cuts like "Outshined," "Rusty Cage," and a fairly huge "Jesus Christ Pose." As with the band's warm-up show on Thursday, though, the music of Chris Cornell and co. was strong and well-played but didn't translate into truly moving the crowd. This, despite Cornell's quip that Soundgarden has played Lollapalooza "a million times" (they played in 1992 and 1996). While the audience knew the tunes, the heavy dirges didn't inspire energy. Case in point: one couple off to the side of the stage decided to slow dance to "Black Hole Sun." It's hard to imagine the ultra-heavy Seattle band fostering such a reaction in its heyday.
Earlier in the day, after a morning rain shower that left showgoers with mud caked on their feet, the park was still somewhat split between acts just hitting their stride and others who have been at it for ages and are still going strong. Erykah Badu owned the south-side Adidas Mega stage, taking her spot fashionably late in a fierce blonde Mohawk after her DJ warmed up the crowd with a medley of hip-hop classics like A Tribe Called Quest's "Scenario" and Cypress Hill's "How I Could Just Kill A Man." She opened with "20 Feet Tall," from her recently released "New Amerykah, Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh," then held her hands up to command the crowd, who went wild for her every gesture. Badu is an empowering performer, and one of the best moments was when she had fans scream their own name. Backstage, Badu told Billboard.com that playing live -- much like using Twitter or even making music videos -- is all about having a conversation.
Later, hip-hop vets Cypress Hill arrived to a loving reception from the crowd. The hip-hop veterans played stoner hits like "Insane in the Brain" and mashed their own material up with Snoop Dogg's, and were joined onstage briefly by Badu.
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Leading up to Arcade Fire were artists who have enjoyed recent career breakthroughs, starting with two back-to-back groups driven by multiple-part harmonies: Blitzen Trapper, who play '60s-inspired prog-folk, and British folk-rockers Mumford & Sons.
Later, Yeasayer delivered a high-energy set that unfortunately suffered from sound-mixing issues, but still had fans singing and dancing to songs like "2080," "Ambling Alp," "Rome" and "Sunrise." MGMT, neawhile played to one of the biggest crowds of the day. Fans jammed out to songs from the band's surprisingly psychedelic sophomore effort "Congratulations," but all hands were in the air for hits like "Time to Pretend" and "Kids." The National, on the last stop of its U.S. tour, closed out the secondary stage under an overcast sky with its brooding and relatable no-frills brand of emotive rock. After a couple of songs, the Brooklyn band was joined on stage by Richard Parry of Arcade Fire, who would later dedicated "Crown of Love" to the National.
A real measure of what owned the fest this weekend: On Friday, Gaga commanded the crowd through sheer screaming spectacle. On Saturday night, Green Day held the crowd rapt and hyped for 20 minutes beyond their slated set time. Sunday, five minutes after Arcade Fire left the stage, the still-in-awe crowd started singing the "aaaahhs" that start "Wake Up." Soundgarden, on the other hand, called it a night almost 10 minutes early.