By Kristi Kates
After several travel-related snafus, our specially-commissioned Lollapalooza spies hit the ground running on Saturday morning in early August for the 2010 edition of the top-notch music festival.
Lolla was expanded this year - the total acreage assigned to the fest in Chicago‘s Grant Park has been increased from 80 to 115, with a couple of the stages moved across the street, along with the environmental and shopping areas. While this made for much easier traversing from one end of the park to the next via a carless Columbus Avenue, attendance was increased, too - so those sweaty masses of people were still the same once you were actually jostling for position in front of one of the stages to watch a show.
That‘s Lolla‘s only real downfall - the massive overload of people (not all of whom are as, er, polite as they should be) - but perhaps festival organizers will reach a happy medium in numbers next year now that they‘ve changed over to the fest‘s cool new layout.
Early on Saturday, Aug. 7, though, the dusty, sunny baseball fields of the grounds were thankfully devoid of people before the gates opened, and everyone was busily setting up - well, pretty much *everything* - in prep for the massive hoards of music fans that would soon arrive.
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
And arrive they did, to kick off the day taking in tunes from the appropriately-named Morning Benders, Harlem, a revitalized Devo, and Wild Beasts, plus the “huh?“ appearance of Blues Traveler, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, played nothing new.
Saturday afternoon‘s highlights included The Pretenders‘ Chrissie Hynde, and a sharp set from indie-rockers Spoon, who doled out catchy underground hits like “Nobody Gets Me Like You“ and “The Underdog,“ with frontman Britt Daniel decked out in a summer-friendly white tee and white jeans.
Plenty of Saturday‘s overheard conversations were about the two headliner shows the previous (Friday) evening. At one end of the park, Lady Gaga and her fans aka ‘little monsters‘ took over; Gaga‘s stage set consisted of plenty of Vegas-worthy elements, from her way-over-the-top costumes to an oversized “crashed bus.“
But as usual, Gaga‘s performance was far more flash (and cursing) than actual musical substance, and the goggling Gaga hoards in their copycat Gaga costumes were reportedly more than equalled by the massive hipster crowd at the other side of the fest, who were taking in a rare live appearance this year by Friday‘s co-headliners, the NYC indie-smart-rockers The Strokes.
The Strokes, fronted by a leather-jacketed, sunglass-wearing Julian Casablancas (who also dropped a solo album of his own this year), stood coolly onstage in fine hipster form, reeling calmly through sharp, focused hits like “Last Night,“ “Reptilia,“ and opener “Vision of Division.“ It may have been their first show in four years, but everyone agreed that the band played as deftly as ever, unshaken by their newly major stage presence and properly stirring up the crowd to singalongs and cheering.
SATURDAY NIGHT ROCKS
As Saturday continued into evening, the battle was on between Phoenix and Green Day, the night‘s pair of headliners.
A huge audience massed to watch Thomas Mars and Phoenix tackle their headline spot, complete with searchlights criss-crossing the sky and colored gels highlighting the French band‘s propellant beats, ringing guitars, and soaring vocals. Highlights of the Phoenix set included the interestingly-structured “Love Like a Sunset,“ which devolved itself into a guitar duet by the middle of the tune; the band‘s tribute to fellow French band Air with their cover of Air‘s “Playground Love“; and Phoenix‘s own lighters-in-the-air-worthy festival track, “1901.“
At the Green Day set over on the Parkways stage, an equally gigantic crowd collected to watch the punk-turned-theater-rock band, and Green Day definitely put on a Show with a capital “S.“ Some of Green Day‘s early punk freshness seems to have been absorbed into their success - their set seemed overwrought at times, and occasionally more interested in impressing the audience with pyro and rambling dialogue instead of music - but you can‘t deny the band‘s hits, and it was fun to hear their twenty years‘ worth of singalongable rockers live and in-person.
Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong invited a fan onstage to sing one of Green Day‘s songs - and after the fan did so (quite admirably in front of such an enormous crowd), Armstrong gave the guy one of his guitars, which resulted in the newbie singer giving Armstrong a giant, enthusiastic dude hug. Aww.
Lolla - which had managed to avoid both excessive heat or rain both Friday and Saturday - was struck with darkened skies, wind, and rain for much of Sunday, rendering the well-trampled ground into mud and adding a pungent scent to the early day‘s mix. Bands on the wrong side of that wind were none too pleased, either, as rain blew into electronic equipment and sent stagehands scrambling to protect and replug various instruments and gear.
The Antlers, Hockey, and the Dodos were a few of the early-day highlights, as were The Cribs, who welcomed legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr onstage; folk-rock buzz band Mumford and Sons and Minus the Bear also got some well-deserved attention. And singer Erykah Badu brewed up some attention of the wrong kind for herself, arriving late, grumpily snapping at the crowd to “settle down now,“ and acting fairly unconcerned about her own performance.
As evening arrived, The National set things up nicely for the two upcoming Sunday headliners with their strong, strummy set; and the stages on each end of the park embarked into competition again to see if Soundgarden or Arcade Fire would snag the most viewers.
These are two vastly different styles of band, of course, so there were ample crowds at both sets. Fans were pleased to hear that Soundgarden‘s Chris Cornell was in powerful voice (and yes, they did perform “Black Hole Sun“), and Win Butler and his Arcade Fire bandmates offered a more lush sound, filling out their prettier tunes with strings, chimes, and accordian.
And in spite of the massive crowds, that‘s the great thing about Lollapalooza - there‘s also a massive list of bands to choose from, which means something awesome to listen to for... well, pretty much every rock fan out there.
*Check out pics, video, and other info at the fest‘s official website, www.lollapalooza.com. Hotel rooms and transportation sell out quickly, so start making your plans now for next year‘s event, set to be held in Chicago‘s Grant Park August 5-7 2011.*