Saturday, August 6, 2011


Lollapalooza 2011 opened with this ringing, backhanded endorsement from Jenn Wasner of the band Wye Oak: “I love Lollapalooza because it’s the one festival even my grandparents know what it is.”
Such cross-generational branding helped sell out a record capacity this year, the 20th anniversary of the annual live music smorgasbord. This weekend, 90,000 fans will attend each day of Lollapalooza. That makes this three-day concert in Grant Park one of the country’s biggest, with Coachella’s daily attendance around 75,000 and Bonnaroo’s more than 100,000.
At this massive music event, 140 artists and bands will perform on eight stages over three days, leading up to Sunday night headliners Deadmau5, Kid Cudi and the Foo Fighters. Here’s our report from Friday night’s first round:
Who was the main headliner Friday night? If you’re over 30, you probably thought it was Coldplay. But the biggest stage at Lollapalooza with room for the biggest crowd is on Hutchison Field in the south end of the park, and that’s not where Coldplay performed. The bigger stage and crowd went to Muse.
That older demographic has been asking me for weeks, “Who the hell is Muse?” But this wailing trio has been around for 17 years, longer than Coldplay — long enough that at festivals later this month in their native Britain they’ll be performing one of their “classic” albums in its entirety — and they sold out London’s Wembley Stadium before most Yanks had heard of them. Muse has developed a fiercely loyal following around the world of largely younger fans less familiar with the glam- and prog-rock they ape so ably. The band’s appearance last year on the latest “Twilight” movie soundtrack put them over the top in the United States.
As if to ingratiate themselves, singer-guitarist Matthew Bellamy slipped in several nods to Americana during the band’s nearly two-hour show, threading our National Anthem early in the set and transitioning with “House of the Rising Sun” later. This was between the band’s relentless assault of slightly anachronistic, theatrical pomp on the order of everyone from Queen to Def Leppard. This is a band of unrepentant Big Rawk dorks, unafraid to wallow in the hoariest clichés — and they inspire such moments in their fans. Half the people around me were air guitaring throughout the set with wide smiles, reveling in the gift of a summer concert festival moment — a free pass for acting silly and letting loose. Songs such as “Resistance” and “United States of Eurasia,” along with all the “1984”-meets-”Tron” visuals on stage, are as shallow as most primetime TV (and by hour two, most Muse sounds the same) but the crowd at Hutchinson Field cheered religiously for every hollow agit-pop couplet (“Rise up and take the power back / It’s time that the fat cats had a heart attack”) and punishing riff all the way to the encore.
Thomas Conner
So that other Friday night headliner could hardly have been more unlike the snotty bill of Lollapalooza 1991: Coldplay is one of the biggest bands in the world, and apart from being the platinum-selling prince of earnest, wounded soft rock, its singer Chris Martin is married to a movie star (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Ending something of a hiatus with a handful of high-profile gigs this summer, Coldplay is preparing for the release of its still-untitled fifth album, and a few new songs appeared in Friday’s set. Following the band’s risk-averse form, they already sounded refined. There was “Hurts Like Heaven,” with a thrumming rhythm and liquid guitar line, “Major Minus,” its U2-like licks riding a muscular beat, and “Charlie Brown,” its simple synth hook and anthemic chorus the hallmarks of a surefire smash.
But aiming to please is in Coldplay’s genteel DNA, so more than anything, Martin and his mates played the hits, among them “Yellow,” “In My Place,” “Viva La Vida,” and in the encore, “Clocks.” The field full of fans clapped and sang and sighed along.
Anders Smith Lindall
Girl Talk
Meanwhile, the real action Friday night was in the newly expanded Perry’s tent. The festival’s annual DJ stage expanded this year to house 15,000 ravers (that’s one big tent, lemme tell ya), and Girl Talk overflowed the capacity. A Chicago favorite, Girl Talk, a k a 29-year-old Pittsburgh biologist Gregg Gillis, returned to Lollapalooza after three years with a much bigger show featuring his wild, live mix of pop music samples.
Gillis makes music out of splicing others’ together into new creations, and part of the appeal is recognizing each familiar hook and then wondering at the way all of the disparate elements fit together like a sonic jigsaw puzzle. This plethora of genres was accompanied by an equally diverse series of images flashed across the giant LED screen, just a few of which were horses, babies, and Stonehenge.
Watching him trigger his samples in real time is like seeing a truly mad scientist at work. Dozens of fans from the crowd joined him on stage, throwing streamers, toilet paper and confetti around Gillis as he folded rap into ’80s pop and ’90s R&B into indie-rock. He snips the “hey ho” out of the Ramones and the “ay ay ay ay” out of Vampire Weekend for use as rhythmic props for Big Boi and General Public. His catholic tastes make for some of the best cross-generational jamming ever, and it certainly got every one of nearly 20,000 people hopping.
Thomas Conner
Mitchell Herrmann
A Perfect Circle
The heavy gloom Friday evening was provided by A Perfect Circle, a supergroup playing Lollapalooza’s main stage after being reactivated from a seven-year hiatus. With no new music to present, this patient, pummeling band — led by Keenan from Tool, and now featuring former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha — drew from the band’s brief period of activity, and a lot from 2004’s “Emotive.” That album was mostly covers and was not widely acclaimed. Their take on Depeche Mode’s “People Are People,” for instance, is so thundering and morose as to be largely unrecognizable, and they turned John Lennon’s “Imagine” into a dystopian sneer. There’s something to be said for making a song your own.
Thomas Conner
TAB the Band
The four-piece TAB the Band (as distinct, apparently, from TAB the vile cola) played featureless riff-rock fronted by Adrian Perry. He’s the sort of singer who delivered lines like “I need you all night long” and “I’m a wrecking ball” entirely free of irony, and the sort of band leader whose stage patter included arrogant snark like, “Yes, there are bands that still play their instruments.” It’s ironic that the bushy-haired, bearded and beflanneled Perry would look more at home at Lolla ’91; his dad is Joe Perry of Aerosmith, a band whose histrionic puffery embodied what the original version of this festival was created to rebel against.