As Lolla 2011 wrapped up its final sold-out day in Grant Park, the festival seemed even more crowded. Perhaps many of the gate crashers who reportedly formed flash mobs to await opportunities to jump fences (as this YouTube video revealed) made it through and remained. While this year's crashers appeared more organized and determined, last year I witnessed a good 100 random kids scale a north side fence, bringing it down with them, before blending into the crowd in the field. Other times, a few at a time would jump over. Some were snagged and sent packing. Still, even if a few hundred made it over the barricades, it seemed like a few thousand more than the reported 90,000 folks that comprised each day’s capacity: It was increasingly harder to get around the park as the day wore on.
Yet, neither the early stifling heat, nor the potent smell of manure wafting through the field, nor two serious downpours drove fans away from the Lolla experience. And it was an experience my dedicated rain-soaked team (Sound Opinions production assistant Annie Minoff and photographer/writer Aaron Pylinski) and I set out to bring you day three.
12:50 p.m. Titus Andronicus ripped into what had to be the most geographically specific set of the festival. From that filched Springsteen line in opener “A More Perfect Union,” to references to the Fung Wah Chinatown bus and “senior year in Mahwah,” the indie punk band wore its New Jersey roots on its sleeve. Lead singer Patrick Stickles led the sweat-soaked audience in a cathartic chorus of “You will always be a loser, and that’s OK.” -AM
1:06 p.m. Welsh band The Joy Formidable met the heat with equally blazing passion; amazing considering they opened for Foo Fighters’ late-night show at Metro on Saturday. But Ritzy Bryan doesn’t strike me as someone who needs much sleep, and her intensity was contagious. This is the fifth time I’ve seen them, but it was obvious by set's end that they’d won over any newbies in a respectably-sized crowd. The sing-along opening “ah ahs” of “Austere,” the lush, fuzzed-out “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” and “Cradle” were highlights. But when “Whirring” culminated in Bryan’s wielding her guitar against an amp and later whacking a giant gong with it and bassist Rhydian Dafyyd dropped to his knees it could only be described as "slaying."
1:41 p.m. Back-to-back strong female artists? Yes, please. Imelda May released music before this, but it was her 2010 Grammy appearance with Jeff Beck that brought her into the limelight. It was much deserved. The Irish-bred May had pipes that betrayed her petite frame, spanning bluesy, jazzy numbers along with rockabilly, which matched her retro look.
2:32 p.m. Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses mined roadhouse country-tinged blues, that by 2:50 p.m. had turned into a sprawling all-out jam. He may be most known for his work with T-Bone Burnett on the Crazy Heart movie (their “The Weary Kind” track won an Oscar and a Golden Globe), but his rough-hewn vocals matched his road-weary, booze-soaked tales stood on their own merit.
2:45 p.m. London’s Noah & The Whale sent the right “indie” cues: suits in eighty-five degree heat? Check. Violinist? Check. Band name based on much-beloved Baumbach film, The Squid and the Whale? Check. But what’s most important – the music - was unremarkable. -AM
3:25 p.m. The Pains of Being Pure of Heart felt as innocent as their name implies in comparison to Bingham’s hard-knocks swagger, with songs such as the romantic “Come Saturday” and their splendidly catchy “Young Adult Fiction."
3:25 p.m. Chicago’s resident Cool Kids, Antoine "Sir Michael Rocks" Reed and Evan "Chuck Inglish" Ingersoll had the Perry’s crowd bumping to summer jams like “Get Right” and “Swimsuits.” When Fish Ride Bicycles collaborators Tennille and Mayer Hawthorne guested. Suddenly at 3:50 p.m. the music cut out, bringing the party to an abrupt conclusion amidst audience boos. -AM
3:59 p.m. The Cars hit the stage one minute early and drew a massive crowd. They also drew Dave Grohl and his kids along with Kevin Costner (wha?) and Graham Elliott to the side stage to watch. And while classic summer jams, like “Let the Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “You Might Think” got the crowd moving, and “Just What I Needed” drew spontaneous clap-alongs, Ric Ocasek remained as cool, collected and unmoved as he was at their recent Riv performance. “Let’s Go” gets a tremendous response, despite a couple trip ups onstage. They sounded great, despite looking disinterested.
4:45 p.m. “Growing up in Rock Island, [Illinois], I had to fight for my identity,” recalled Lissie (Elizabeth Maurus) by way of introduction to a set of songs about family, friends and staying positive. Her country-tinged voice was strong and compelling, but the songs, though sincere, felt a bit clichéd. Probably not a great sign that the standout number was an (admittedly terrific) cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit Of Happiness.” -AM
5:50 p.m. My intention of heading to Best Coast’s stage was derailed (as was Portugal The Man’s set) when a torrential downpour commenced. Stranded partly beneath a tree and a bit of tent, I could hear what sounded like elated screams every time the rain came down harder on the south side of the field. Electronic music drifted from Perry’s stage/tent, but it wasn’t close enough to get to in the rain/lightning.
5:50 p.m. The heavens opened just as L.A.’s Best Coast took the stage. The irony wasn’t lost on frontwoman Bethany Consentino. “You can tell your grandkids you were at Lollapalooza 2011 and heard a band that sings about the sun play in the rain,” she quipped. The band’s harder-edged take on ‘60s Beach Boys pop galvanized a soaking crowd. Still, one could wish for more lyrical variation on songs like “Boyfriend” and “I Want To.” –AM
6:35 p.m. Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley and Nas didn’t catch Lolla’s sopping wet crowds in a particularly high-minded mood (to wit, the mud wrestling pit that opened up at the back of the field). That was a problem given they were performing songs off their record, Distant Relatives, the main themes of which – poverty, the African Diaspora – didn’t exactly lend themselves to partying. –AM
6:35 p.m. Arctic Monkeys give an abbreviated but spirited set, which included “Flourescent Adolescent,” “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and a giant rainbow during “Brianstorm.” Way to turn lemons into lemonade, lads.
7:46 p.m. Explosions in the Sky, indeed. While they didn’t sound quite as ominous as their name implied when I walked by to a more atmospheric and contemplative song, they were a precursor for what was to come.
8:40 p.m. If any artist benefited from Lollapalooza’s second torrential rain shower, it was Toronto’s producer Deadmau5. Subtlety and nuance weren’t going to work here. We needed a thumping dance beat to make us forget how soaked we were. Deadmau5 - who played atop a pedestal tricked out with lights and lasers wearing his trademark mouse head – delivered. -AM
8:00 p.m. If a band could conjure rain in a way that enhances their set, the Foo Fighters managed to do so. As if orchestrating when the second major downpour would hit, “My Hero” received buoyant cheers with every guitar downstroke and every time the threatening sky gave way for heavier rain almost in unison. “I don’t give a f--k that it’s raining,” shrieked Grohl, eliciting louder cheers. Along with other staples, like “The Pretender,” “Monkey Wrench” and “Learn to Fly,” the Foos played songs from their recent Wasting Light release as well, including the searing “Bridge Burning” and “Rope.” Drummer extraordinaire Taylor Hawkins gave a shoutout to Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction, later Grohl jumped into the audience for a long turn. It was a very rock ‘n’ roll way end to the night and Lollapalooza 2011.