Recently-breaking power pop outfit Reptar got Friday afternoon started at the Google + stage as the sell-out crowd continued to file into Grant Park. Not letting their assignment to a smaller side-stage stifle their showmanship, Keyboardist William Kennedy set the tone for the set by revealing a blue spandex leotard. Not to be shown up, lead singer Graham Ulicny made the band’s Georgia roots clear by hurling peaches into the crowd. As they rolled through songs from their debut EP, Oblangle FIzz Y’all, the band revealed obvious genealogy to Talking Heads and contemporaries Animal Collective (at their least experimental) on songs like “Blastoff” and former Lollapalooza acts Passion Pit and Yeasayer on their single “Stuck In My Id.”
Their high-energy set was a perfect segue for the band’s fall touring partners, Foster the People, who validated their 2011 rise with an enormous crowd across the park at the Sony stage. The band that many have dubbed this year’s MGMT seemed grateful for the opportunity, as did the sweaty mass of fans gathered to see them. Lead singer Mark Foster expressed his gratitude, telling the crowd that it’s the largest they’ve ever played for. Dozens of crowd surfers seemed to frustrate some of devoted fans that piled in towards the stage as the band played through songs from their debut studio album, Torches. Despite some seeming sound issues (where was the bass?), the band showed real enthusiasm as they made their way through an array of dance-friendly tracks including “Houdini” and their enigmatic upbeat, yet dark top-40 number, “Pumped Up Kicks.” A cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” was a peculiar choice and seemed to fall flat to the audience, but the band’s closer, the über-catchy “Helena Beat” quickly picked things back up. All-in-all, it was an impressive set from one the bigger buzz bands.
Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key met mixed reviews at its release earlier this year and front-man Conor Oberst has said the band’s days together under the same name are numbered, perhaps influencing the band to incorporate a number of old favorites from the gamut of their catalog for their late-afternoon set. Leading off with “Four Winds” from 2007’s Cassadega, the Omaha indie veterans provided Lolla-goers with a polished set ranging from the emo-pop anthem “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” to the more recent charged-up rocker “Jejune Stars.” Oberst and Co. might not be the indie darlings they were in the I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning/Digital Ash in a Digital Urn era, but it was clear that they still know how to appeal to their more-loyal audience. Overall, the band’s set was one of the more heralded of the day and was part of a time slot that demonstrated Lollapalooza’s depth as A Perfect Circle and electro/dubstep act Skrillex performed on the other side of the park.
Muse returned to Lollapalooza after having performed in the 2007 edition of the festival, and didn’t disappoint. Though the crowd seemed to favor fellow Brits Coldplay on the Bud Light stage, Muse’s set was a spectacle in a number of ways. Frontman Matt Bellamy sported an American Flag t-shirt and pulled out a Hendrix-esque rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, perhaps feeling a little more American love since the recent birth of his child with actress Kate Hudson. Fireworks began to (literally) fly behind the stage during the band’s third song, “Hysteria” and continued for several songs throughout the set. Accompanied by impressive video graphics and stage lighting, the rock trio made sure that they backed everything up in the performance department, fulfilling their reputation as a top notch live act. The band rolled through their catalog of rock anthems, sprinkling in riffs of some familiar songs including “Back in Black,” “House of the Rising Sun,” “Microphone Fiend” and Nirvana’s “Negative Creep.”
Bellamy ended the band’s main set by throwing his guitar through drummer Dominic Howard’s kick drum, only to return for an encore including 2001’s “Plug In Baby” and a galloping dose of the grandiose with “Knights of Cydonia.” Based on their Lolla showing, it’s hard to imagine Muse ever putting on a poor performance. Very few bands have the same combination of musical chops, energy, passion and showmanship that the three-piece Englishmen do. Though not the most celebrated act of the weekend, Muse made sure the Friday festival goers got their money’s worth and provided a welcome alternative to Coldplay’s more-subdued sing-along across the park.
The Saturday daytime lineup lacked big-name star power, but festival organizers allowed for plenty up-and-coming and breaking artists, giving the day a sort of showcase feel. Fitz & the Tantrums and their brand of R&B-soul-indie-pop have been building quite a buzz the past year and they showed why during their set in the early afternoon heat. The highlight of the band’s hour-long set was the performance of their hit “Moneygrabber.” Frontman Michael Fitzpatrick made sure the song went off with energy and participation, instructing the crowd to “drop it like it’s hot” and crouch to the ground only to “lose your freaking minds” when the band busted into the last chorus. The crowd cooperated after much persistence from Fitzpatrick and backup-singer Noelle Scaggs, making for one of the more exciting exits of the day.
A number of bands throughout the weekend made it clear that they were performing for their largest crowds to date. L.A.’s Local Natives was no exception, with mustachioed lead-singer Taylor Rice expressing the band’s disbelief at the contingent gathered at the Sony stage. Rice also revealed plans for an upcoming album to be recorded in the band’s own studio. With a set filled with three-part vocal harmonies, zealous drum beats and plain-old sincerity, Local Natives hit all the high points of their self-funded debut, Gorilla Manor. “Who Knows, Who Cares” went over well with its anthemic build-up as did the band’s closer “Sun Hands.” Displaying a sort of DIY sensibility and honest care for their craft, Local Natives are a band to keep an eye on.
Those hoping to get a good spot for My Morning Jacket’s night set were in luck, as the crowd was overwhelmingly in favor of Eminem. There was actually something for everyone Saturday night at Lollapalooza, with indie act Beirut at the Google+ stage and Pretty Lights’ electronic stylings at Perry’s tent. Those that decided to make their way to the north side of the park to see Jim James and crew play witnessed MMJ doing what they do best: play an energized, heartfelt and impassioned set. The band has been hard at work promoting their recent release, Circuital, and for many in attendance this might have been their first time hearing their new material live.
Opening with two tracks off of the new album, “Victory Dance” and the album’s title track, the Louisville psychadelic-folk rock outfit’s twenty-song set provided plenty to write home about. Several songs turned into extended jam sessions, including one of the band’s staple live tracks, “Dondante” off of 2006’s Z. With extra room to move around, MMJ fans reacted strongly to track after track, begging the question – “ does this band have any songs that aren’t crowd favorites?”
James even showed some moves during “Wordless Chorus,” sliding on his knees across the stage and following with a rock-star karate kick. The momentum carried all the way through the show’s closing with recent hit “Holding on to Black Metal” and the band’s usual closer, “One Big Holiday.” Many fans hung around the stage for several minutes after the set ended, maybe in disbelief that the show was over, or perhaps expecting a surprise reprisal of “Anytime,” which was unexpectedly left off the band’s set-list.
As many festival goers shook off their hangovers from Lollapalooza’s Saturday night after-shows (Arctic Monkeys played a fantastic set at Chicago’s House of Blues, more on them to come), The Joy Formidable kicked things off at the Bud Light stage. The North Wales trio gets the award for most-interesting-member-names with lead singer Ritzy Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd (joined by one of the more quintessential generic names, drummer Matt Thomas). Their early afternoon set was highlighted by the inflation of a few giant black cat faces (yes, really) and Bryan smashing her guitar against a gong during an extended version of the band’s breakout hit “Whirring.”
Not many bands have changed their sound from album to album as much as London’s Noah and the Whale have through the course of their three albums. This can mostly be attributed to changes in the band’s lineup, which included a breakup between former member Laura Marling and lead singer Charlie Fink. Their latest offering, Last Night on Earth is marked by a number of upbeat, pulsing, light-hearted rock songs with un-mistakeable Tom Petty influence. In what might have been the festival’s most intense heat, attendees seemed to find solace in either making the most of the last day and dancing along to the band’s generally assured set, or finding a spot on the ground to conserve energy for the day’s other acts. Those that chose to dance seemed to respond most favorably to the band’s recent optimism anthem, “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.”
Perry’s tent had been reserved mostly for electronic acts over the course of the weekend, until Chicago’s own The Cool Kids took stage on Sunday. Their set was marked by an overwhelming presence of bass, making the live band they brought with them almost pointless at times. Joined by several guests including Bun B, the rap duo brought the party vibe to Sunday’s lineup as they made their way through songs from their recent When Fish Ride Bicycles and their 2008 EP, The Bake Sale. The duo’s retro-rap stylings were appropriate for the time of day and amount of heat…upbeat, loud and energetic but certainly not as move-your-ass-demanding as other acts that graced Perry’s over the weekend.
Portugal. the Man’s performance on Sunday might not be the most memorable part of their Lollapalooza experience. The band’s touring van and trailer, along with the majority of their equipment was stolen from the park following their late-afternoon set. Despite the news that will undoubtedly overshadow coverage of the band’s actual performance, the Alaskan psychadelic-indie rock band put on a hell of a show. As dark clouds began to roll in over the park, lead singer John Gourley’s vocal repetition of “it’ll be alright” during “People Say” (off of 2009’s The Satanic Satanist) seemed to walk the line between appropriateness and irony, considering what was about to happen. (Update: The band’s equipment was recovered and PTM showed their gratitude to Chicago detectives by kindly purchasing donuts)
The Arctic Monkeys’ 6:00 set was pushed back nearly twenty minutes due to the torrential downpour that hit Grant Park. Some attendees scattered for shelter (to little avail), others embraced the mayhem, while the less-dedicated and underprepared left the park completely. By the time the Brit rockers took the stage, the park was a gigantic mud pit. As they rolled through all of the highlights from their magnificently titled release Suck It and See, along with the band’s staple songs, Alex Turner and company saved the talk to make up for the lost time. Turner did take the time however to appropriately dedicate “She’s Thunderstorms” to “mother nature and that weather system that we just encountered” to a large roar from the dedicated crowd. Capping their set with “Flourescent Adolescent” (Favourite Worst Nightmare, 2007) and “When the Sun Goes Down,” Arctic Monkeys performed the way they have come to be known for: technically sound and just plain fun. Drummer Matt Helder’s frenetic and enthusiastic energy is contagious, and the rain-soaked crowd responded befittingly.
Texas instrumental rockers Explosions in the Sky got the short end of the stick for their headline-opening slot Sunday night. Politely allowing Arctic Monkeys to finish their last song across the field, the band’s shortened set was the perfect accompaniment for the post-storm gloom hovering over the park. The band’s ability to effectively combine calming musical efforts with epic all-out rockingness is even more impressive in a live setting. Explosions were putting on an incredible show for the lucky fans who chose to see them, as well as those waiting for Foo Fighters to play, but were forced to cut their last song short when Dave Grohl made his presence known at the Music Unlimited stage. With tight schedule demands, this is the unfortunate way festivals go.
Foo Fighters led off their festival-closing set the same as their recent release Wasting Light, with “Bridge Burning” and “Rope” (a song that their headlining counterpart, Deadmau5 has remixed). After a powerful version of “The Pretender,” came one of the festival’s most memorable moments. It was hard not to notice the clouds rolling in over the city, about the same color of Grohl’s typical black shirt, and as Taylor Hawkins played through the familiar drum beat of “My Hero” a light drizzle came over the crowd. Grohl asked the crowd “You guys wanna sing a Foo Fighters song? C’mon” and busted into the song’s classic guitar line. The rain continued to pick up until it was once again at full-on cats and dogs mode, elevating the moment to more epic levels than could ever be planned for. Grohl tossed in words of encouragement between verse lines as the drenched crowd made the best of the situation, culminating in an enormous sing-along to the chorus of “there goes my hero / watch him as he goes.” It was a spectacular moment for a song that everyone knows, and it was hard to find a face in the crowd that wasn’t smiling despite barely being able to keep their eyes open.
The rain continued to pour throughout the next few songs including a more subdued “Learn to Fly.” As the rain began to slow and eventually blow-over, Grohl showcased his signature growl-scream on songs “White Limo” and the ending of “Let it Die.” Grohl initially performed “Times Like These” by himself, only to be joined again by the full band. Closing with fan-favorite “Everlong” seemed appropriate and concluded what was an amazing set by one of rock’s top-notch touring attractions, only further amplified by mother-nature. As fans plodded through the massive mud pit following the show, Lollapalooza’s 20th Anniversary was abruptly closing. All attendees had left to do was check if their cellphone still worked, if it didn’t, it was probably worth the damage.