When the lineup for this year’s Lollapalooza was first released, many slated the festival as too top-heavy. There were rumors that Perry Farrell and company spent most of their budget on headliners such as Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, and Nine Inch Nails, that when it came time to fill up the non-headlining spots, they weren’t left with enough money to draw in as impressive of a lineup as last year. But these were only rumors.
In a press conference held on August 2 at Lollapalooza, Farrell was asked about this year’s seemingly uneven lineup. According to Farrell, it’s not about who’s the biggest, but who puts on the best live performance. With this philosophy, Farrell created a different kind of Lollapalooza, and dare it be said, a better kind of Lollapalooza.
If you were at the festival on Friday, chances are the only thing you remember, or the thing you continue to think about most, is Radiohead. Playing songs from all eras of their career, the band’s two-hour set was simply fantastic. Since their last Chicago appearance at the Auditorium Theatre in 2006, Radiohead have seriously improved their live performance. This tours lighting design is one of the most visually stunning things in modern music, rivaled only by Daft Punk’s light pyramid.
The show focused primarily on the band’s latest release In Rainbows, with the set featuring every song from that album. Other songs such as “Paranoid Android,” “Everything In It’s Right Place,” “2+2=5,” and “ Fake Plastic Trees” sounded good live, but you could tell Thom Yorke was getting a little bored with the older songs, especially as he carelessly stumbled through the lyrics to “The Bends.” But it was the songs from In Rainbows that really stood out, especially the acoustic duet “Faust Arp,” which showed Radiohead doesn’t need all the lights and electronics to be stunningly beautiful.
Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s
On Saturday, Indiana natives Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s played an early afternoon set. The band showcased off a very small amount of upcoming album Animal!, but focused on the songs from their debut release, providing for a much more engaging live show.
Philadelphia quintet Dr. Dog played later that afternoon allowing their classic 60’s pop sound to become a little grungier in a live setting. This was Dr. Dog at their dirtiest. Vocalist and guitarist Scott McMicken stood out on songs both old and new as his guitar solos pushed Dr. Dog away from the clean pop sounds of the 60’s and towards the psychedelic sounds of the 70’s.
MGMT was in an obvious state of transition as the group has recently moved from electronic duo to a five-piece band. Despite their lack of energy on stage, MGMT drew one of the largest crowds of the weekend for a non-headlining show. Though, with such inherently good songs as “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel,” the large audience comes as no surprise.
Explosions in the Sky
Texas’ Explosions in the Sky were a great example of Perry Farrell’s live show over name recognition philosophy. For a band that receives little to almost zero radio play, Explosions in the Sky captivated their large audience.
“For those of you who know us, thank you. It’s because of you we get to play great venues like this. For those of you who don’t know us, hopefully that’ll change by the end of the hour,” said Explosions in the Sky guitarist Munaf Rayani shortly before the band began their set.
While the majority of their crowd was either sitting or lying in the grass, Explosions grabbed and held the attention of everyone present with their thematic brand of post-rock.
Broken Social Scene
Riding off steam from his most recent solo release, Brendan Canning, Kevin Drew, and the rest of Broken Social Scene played a particularly energetic set Saturday evening. The set started off with “Pacific Theme,” over which front man Kevin Drew yelled, “This is all for you.” Broken Social Scene also played some material from both the recent solo efforts of Drew and Canning, but it wasn’t until Stars’ Amy Milan joined the group on stage that the live energy of their recordings came to life, especially on songs like “7/4 Shoreline” and “Fire Eye’d Boy.”
Despite all the surprisingly fantastic sets on Saturday, it was hometown heroes Wilco who really stole the show. Decked out in individually decorated, Spanish-influenced suits, Wilco kept their set upbeat, playing mostly material from their latest release Sky Blue Sky, but not neglecting their previous work. The band even debuted a new song entitled “One Wing.” The song combines the dark attitude of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with the sounds of A Ghost Is Born.
Sunday started with a bang as Atlanta rockers The Whigs pumped out song after song from the debut album Mission Control. For such a relatively new band, The Whigs played a strong, energetic set showing promise for the band’s future.
John Butler and Iron & Wine
The final day of Lollapalooza was easily the most relaxed, party due to it’s weak lineup, but the John Butler Trio and Iron & Wine provided the perfect soundtrack to a relaxing afternoon in Grant Park. Particularly amazing was John Butler’s solo performance of the instrumental song “Ocean.” Iron & Wine performed a very organic sounding set with segues connecting each song, providing moments of nonstop music for nearly twenty minutes at a time. The band provided a much needed, and much appreciated break from the all the other high-energy bands of the weekend.
The National played a hauntingly beautiful set early Sunday evening to what started off as a small crowd. One fan even wondered aloud, “Why is no one here?” By the end of their set, the National had turned quite a few heads with their freak-out performances of “Abel” and “Mr. November,” a song the band did NOT dedicate to John McCain despite his probably being a “nice guy.”
Nine Inch Nails
Sunday night ended with industrial rocker Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails pounding out song after song to an exceedingly energized crowd. Before the band ended their encore, Reznor commented on his thankfulness that seventeen summers after playing the first Lollapalooza, he was still alive, and people were still coming out to hear his music.
It’s easy for the modern concertgoer to get lost in the commotion and excitement of the music festival. Everyone gets caught up in trying to see as many bands as possible that we forget why we are there: to enjoy new and exciting music. Perry Farrell should be commended for his work with this year’s lineup because whether or not you were familiar with an artist’s music didn’t stop you from enjoying their show. We should all take a lesson from this year’s Lollapalooza and remember to spend our time enjoying music, not sprinting across Grant Park to camp for a front-row spot for Kanye West.