Having started in 1991 under the conception of Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell as well as Ted Gardener, Marc Geiger and Don Muller, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Lollapalooza. While it began as a tour, it has since turned into an annual festival. Since 2005, Grant Park in the heart of Chicago, IL has been invaded for three days of the summer with some of the biggest and up-and-coming acts in alternative music.
I couldn't ask for a better way to start the weekend: as I walked in, The Vaccines were playing a cover of Minor Threat's "Good Guys Don't Wear White." I love the original song, and The Brits put a nice spin on it. I then traveled across the vast layout of land to catch Young the Giant, who set the tone of the day for a strong performance that ended with "My Body."
I spent the next few hours exploring the various stages (there were eight in all) and catching bits and pieces of various bands. The Naked and Famous was a group with whose name I was familiar but I had never actually listened to their music. I remedied that and enjoyed their performance. I caught Electric Touch doing Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop." The song is oft-covered, but it still got the small crowd pogoing.
Based on their Rugrats-inspired moniker and recent signing to Vagrant Records, you wouldn't predict that Reptar makes indie music with Animal Collective-esque psychedelic tendencies. The best word to describe their upbeat set is eccentric. White Lies were next on my radar. I'm not familiar with their music, but "Death" seemed to be a fan favorite - not only did the crowd cheer when they announced that they were playing it, but a girl had a sign asking them to play it - and they closed with "Bigger Than Us."
Two Door Cinema Club brought a surprisingly large crowd to see them play. The Irish indie rockers did not let down the masses, with an hour-long set that included "Undercover Martyn," "Something Good Can Work," "What You Know," "I Can Talk" and more. Frontman Alex Trimble joked that being Irish and ginger meant he did not belong in the sun, yet he wore his jacket while playing in the heat.
I'm not a big fan of their music, but I wanted to check out Black Cards since Pete Wentz is a longtime supporter of our website. I was surprised to find that the Fall Out Boy bassist was without his four-string on stage. Instead, he acted as a hype man - the best of his kind since Public Enemy's Flava Flav. Without the bass to weigh him down, his energy was at an all-time high as he sang back-up vocals, DJed and got the crowd pumped while Bebe Rexha sang. In the 15 minutes or so that I saw, Wentz dove intro the crowd from the stage on three separate occasions, including once before the band even started. To accompany their electro-pop, the band was joined on stage by two scantily clad chicks in werewolf masks that danced, a freakish contortionist who could pop and lock like no other and even members of the audience at one point.
After that experience, I ran over to catch the remainder of The Mountain Goats for a total change of pace. Frontman John Darnielle performed a few songs solo before being rejoined by his bandmates. The trio performed a cover of Chicago natives Styx's "Babe," and Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak came out accompany the band with "This Year" to end their set.
I've been listening to Bright Eyes for years but had never actually seen them, so that was one set I couldn't miss. They opened with "Four Winds," and frontman Conor Oberst rocked out on the acoustic guitar harder than some people do on the electric. Throughout the set, Oberst played acoustically, electric, keys and even went without an instrument at one point. The majority of the set came from The People's Key and I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. Two older fan favorites, "Lover I Don't Have To Love" (which featured a nice a trumpet crescendo) and "The Calendar Hung Itself," also snuck into the set. It ended with "One For You, One For Me," during which Oberst got really into the performance and sang at the barricade.
OK Go may be best known for their unorthodox and intricate music videos, but their live show delivers as well. They busted out the "instrument created by God himself" - hand bells, of course - to play "Return." Vocalist/guitarist Damian Kulash then declared that it was hippie time and performed "Last Leaf" in the middle of the large crowd with his acoustic guitar. I was surprised that they didn't close their show with their breakout hit "Here It Goes Again;" instead they played it mid-set and ended with "This Too Shall Pass."
Audiences seemed fairly divided for the headliner on Friday. Coldplay and Muse were the big draws, with Girl Talk also garnering some attention and Ratatat playing as well. While I'm not particularly into any of them, I went with Muse. After thanking the audience for watching, frontman Matthew Bellamy said, "We know you had options… you chose the right one." The band proved why with a killer hour and 45 minute set. It's hard to deny a performance that busts out a fireworks show behind the stage by the third song.
I am admittedly not all that familiar with Muse, but I was surprised to find that I knew the majority of the 17 songs they played. It seemed like nearly every one was a hit, including "Uprising," "Supermassive Black Hole," "Hysteria," "Resistance," "Time is Running Out" and "Starlight." Between songs, the band jammed on portions of other popular tracks, including The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun," Nirvana's "Negative Creep" and a Jimi Hendrix-esque rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." The set ended with an encore consisting of "Plug In Baby" and "Knights of Cydonia."
Saturday kicked off for me with Australian indie duo An Horse. Such quality music coming from only two people instantly caught my attention. I loved the dual male/female vocal harmonizing they utilized, particularly on the set closer "Shoes Watch." Maps & Atlases were up next, and their fans were happy to have them back in their hometown. Their music is a nice mix of noodley math rock with a folk influence and some indie pop tendencies. The highlight of their set was "The Charm," which featured added percussion. They closed with their somber debut single, "Solid Ground."
Skylar Grey brought a big crowd to one of the smaller stages, which isn't surprisingly considering she was featured in a Dr. Dre's "I Need a Doctor" with Eminem (who was headlining that day). I only knew her from that guest spot, so I was pleased to find that she's a talented singer who also plays guitar and piano. In addition to performing songs from her upcoming solo debut, she also played portions of Radiohead's "Creep" and The Cranberries' "Zombie." She closed with a medley of her popular hooks, culminating with "Love the Way You Lie" (which she actually co-wrote).
I stuck around to catch a little bit of The Chain Gang of 1974. By the band's second experimental track, mastermind Kamtin Mohager took to the crowd, microphone stand and all, to sing. From there, I caught a bit of Death from Above 1979. The duo reunited this year, but they haven't missed a beat in the time that they've been gone. The sound was appropriately muddy for their punk/noise rock. The energy of vocalist/drummer Sebastien Grainger was impressive, and he kept the pace up for an hour.
Patrick Stump's set was delayed for nearly 15 minutes for unknown reasons, but he made up for it with an enthusiastic performance. He and his backing band all wore suits, but it didn't slow them down. Stump seemed to be channeling Michael Jackson in nearly all aspects: the catchy pop tunes, the impressive pipes, the quirky outfit and the commanding stage presence.
I ran over to catch a bit of the Deftones' set. I could hardly see a thing due to the large audience. It was great to find the good response, considering they were probably the heaviest act on the bill. I'd love to see more of their ilk on the line-up in the future. I also caught a little bit of Local Natives, who covered Talking Heads' "Warning Sign."
Cee Lo Green's set was an odd one. He wore Legion of Doom-style shoulder pads and had a full band of hot female musicians, but people seemed generally disinterested until he was playing his former group Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" and his big hit "Fuck You." A good portion of his time was spent performing unexpected covers, including Danzig's "Mother," Violent Femmes' "Gone Daddy Gone," Billy Idol's "Flesh For Fantasy" and ending with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." Green has a good voice, but his show was perhaps the most disappointing of the weekend.
Atmosphere played second to last, serving as the perfect precursor to the main event of Eminem. I always enjoy hip hop more when it's performed with a live band, and Slug's rhymes sounded better than ever with a full band behind him, along with Ant's DJ skills. Their hour-long set ended with "Trying to find a Balance" and "Yesterday."
Eminem's set was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend. This was one of only a handful of concerts that the top-selling rapper has performed since his hiatus from music in 2005. Fans knew it was rarity, as he brought out the biggest crowd of the weekend. I don't think I've ever seen so many people confined to one space. This was unfortunate for My Morning Jacket, as they went on at the same time - and I heard the crowd was relatively small.
Eminem's set spanned the majority of his storied career. For most songs, he only sang the first verse or two in order to maximize the output. It was nice to hear more that way; the only instance it bothered me was when the last two verses of "Stan" - some of his best work, in my opinion - were excised. He played most of his singles, including blasting through three of his biggest hits, "My Name Is," "The Real Slim Shady" and "Without Me," in a medley of sorts. He also did a few of his guest spots, including B.o.B's "Airplanes Pt. II," and a couple of unexpected tracks, like "Kill You."
Sklyar Grey came out to sing her part on "I Need a Doctor," and Royce da 5'9 joined Eminem for the Bad Meets Evil joint "Fast Lane," but the biggest surprise of the night came when Bruno Mars joined them to perform "Lighters." I wish Mars had a set of his own at the show, but it was a nice treat to see him in this capacity. Em ended his nearly flawless set with "Not Afraid" before coming back for an encore with "Lose Yourself."