Celebrating its 20th anniversary (give or take the years in between when the once traveling fest ceased existence), Lollapalooza returned to Grant Park for its seventh year in Chicago. It marked its largest attendance, with 270,000 fans expected over the weekend. Despite the larger crowds, the bottlenecks experienced in years past were less apparent on Friday, the first of three sold-out dates. The maneuverable pedestrian way of Columbus Drive helped clear the constant rush hour around Buckingham Fountain.
Another noticeable difference was the expansion/locale of the Perry’s stage; the tented area was larger than any dance tent I’ve seen at a festival. It’s also grown beyond the festival confines with numerous official and unofficial Lolla aftershows at local venues, the W and Hard Rock Hotel. The latter hosts an air-conditioned lounge where free massages, facials, tattoos, booze, food, swag and artists entice VIPs and performers.
But the main draw is, of course, the fest itself. With more than 130 acts appearing across eight stages through the weekend, I set out with my intrepid team: Sound Opinions production assistant Annie Minoff and photographer/writer Aaron Pylinski.
1 p.m. With a band name like Tennis, you might expect to see a kind of exchange between players. Not so much with husband and wife Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, who shimmied behind her keyboards, letting out smoky “wah ah oh ohs” and “sha la las” (“She’s so hot!” exclaimed the guy next to me). The couple perused tunes from their debut album, Cape Dory, a musical recounting of their seven-month sailing trip down the east coast, but I got more of a beachy retro-surfer vibe. -AM
1:30 p.m. New Zealand’s The Naked and Famous drew a large crowd for an early slot. Singers Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers’ female/male vocal interplay and round robins, coupled with zippy synths and beats and a whole lotta energy, elicited an all-out dance party in the field by the time they closed with their infectious single, “Young Blood.”
2:17 p.m. The first unitard sighting came courtesy of Reptar keyboardist William Kennedy. Their sound at first recalled Vampire Weekend, but later with some dual drumming action, it got more cosmic, when the song “Blastoff” hit an electro swirl, jammier groove.
2:35 p.m. Delta Spirit’s took us on a roadtrip through the American south, and encouraged more handclapping from an audience who they apparently felt wasn’t quite “on the bus.” “C’mon Chicago!” singer Matthew Vasquez yelled. He dedicated a song to “anyone who has had to do construction for a living. Drywall is a beautiful thing.” -AM
3:02 p.m. By the time Foster the People hit the stage on the South side of the park, it was almost headliner crowded. It also marked the first cover song I caught, Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” Of course the band saved their one hit for near the end, but the crowd was pumped from the beginning, crowd surfing through some otherwise relaxed pop before “Pumped Up Kicks” arrived.
3:30 p.m. Mexican punk band Le Butcherettes took to the Google+ stage, slaying the crowd with their indelible garage sound. They played their hit song, “Dress Off’ as front woman Teri Gender Bender crooned and crowd-surfed. The set was so intense that drummer Gabe Serbian vomited into the photo pit. -AP
4:00 p.m. London’s White Lies is a band with one theme. Well, maybe two: love and death. “Let’s go home together and die at the same time,” singer Harry McVeigh sang. “You’ve got blood on your hands, I don’t know its mine.” Tinny background keyboards played up the eerie morbidity. -AM
4:12 p.m. Chicago’s Smith Westerns wrapped up their set with the one-two punch of “Weekend” and “Dye the World.” Their sing-along, harmonized pop seemed overly sweet when contrasted to the naughtier, sexier vibe of The Kills, who launched their set at 4:29 p.m. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince turned up the sizzle with Mosshart’s gritty, sexy growl meeting Hince’s more subdued delivery. They revved, rocked and rolled us into the early evening.
5:10 p.m. Two Door Cinema Club singer Alex Trimble took the stage visibly flushed. “Ginger people aren’t supposed to be in this kind of heat,” he joked. The Northern Irish band’s pop was precise and danceable, if predictable. But Trimble’s vocals weren’t quite making it to the back of this significant crowd. I couldn't help thinking he might have done better if he took off that stylish but undoubtedly stifling sports jacket. -AM
5:35 p.m. Pete Wentz’s new project, Black Cards, wasn’t quite what I expected. Three young gals danced, with one singing some pedestrian, dance-styled pop, while Wentz spent time behind a DJ setup or up front thanking fans and his mom. He told the crowd, “I just wanna have fun,” and explained, “this song’s about getting trashed and hanging out.” He stage dove. He threw toilet paper rolls into the audience. Fun, maybe? Funny (intentional or not), for sure.
7:00 p.m. Strolling by Perry’s stage, Skrillex has a crowd overflowing way outside the tent. I wonder if that’ll be the scene where there might be some issues over the weekend. I hear an ambulance siren, but there doesn’t appear to be any problems at the moment.
7:00 p.m. Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst interrupted a solid rock n’ roll set to play the breathtaking acoustic folk song, “Landlocked Blues.” It made me realize how few political songs I’ve heard at the festival so far. “And the whole world must watch the sad comic display/If you’re still free start running away/’Cause we’re coming for you!” he sang. By turns muted and ferocious, he had the audience inthralled. He closed out the performance by descending from the stage to hug members of the crowd (and stage security). -AM
8:17 p.m. Muse hit the stage flanked by honeycombed LED screens and illuminated by vibrant, colorful lighting. Their dramatic musical turns were met with perfectly timed fireworks that serve to augment the already thunderous rhythms onstage. Amid crowd faves, like mega-hit “Uprising,” they inject a Hendrix-styled rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Meanwhile, over on the other side of the park…
8:30 p.m. Coldplay entered to the strains of cheesy orchestral music. Fireworks crackled overhead. They’re 15 minutes late. They went with a colors theme: Multicolored lazers beam out from the stage as the band launches into old faves like “In My Place” and “Yellow.” With a title like that the stage lighting designs itself. -AM