Lollapalooza 2011 shines on despite rain and technical difficulties

Courtesy of Lollapalooza

BY ELLIOT ALPERN
Daily Arts Writer
Published August 14, 2011

CHICAGO — The rain came down in sheets over the cityscape of Chicago on a hot Sunday night, and at its center, hundreds of thousands of wet, tired people danced Grant Park's spacious fields into a thick mud. The Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl led a massive audience in singing "My Hero" on one end of the parkland and a human ocean swayed to deadmau5's reverberating beats on the other. This was the finale to Lollapalooza's 20th anniversary.

The eldest of the three major American summer music festivals (the others being Coachella and Bonnaroo), Lollapalooza has had a long and storied history, boasting such recording giants as Pearl Jam, Green Day, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the past, to name a select few.

"In 1991, I expected about 10 to 20,000 weirdos," said founder and Jane's Addiction lead singer Perry Farrell at an opening day press conference. "Now I'm proud to say we have 90,000 weirdos!"

And this year, those weirdos came out in staggering numbers to behold a slightly humdrum collection of headliners: Coldplay, Muse, the Foo Fighters and Eminem. But if that tandem of names did nothing to excite, their sets sure did.

On day one, Coldplay and Muse competed to draw fans as the coinciding acts of the night, and did not disappoint those who made either choice. Coldplay's Chris Martin offered a tribute to the late Amy Winehouse, and debuted a handful of new songs from the band's upcoming album. Those that decided to see the rock trio Muse bore witness to a spectacular show of effects, complete with lights, lasers, columns of smoke and even fireworks that echoed through the skyscrapers of Chicago.

Eminem ruled the night on day two, baiting the audience with surprise guests Bruno Mars, Skylar Grey, and Royce da 5'9'' in a frenzied but powerful performance. The packed concert grounds contrasted with the rather undersized turnout for My Morning Jacket, which still proved to be worthwhile for fans of its wandering psychedelic rock and blissful jams.

Those lucky enough to buy three-day passes or Sunday tickets were treated to what will likely be an oft-remembered experience, regardless of whom they went to see that night. The rain front that had delayed the Arctic Monkeys for the better half of an hour did nothing to dissuade the featured events that were Foo Fighters and deadmau5, each of which drew immense crowds despite the temperamental climate. The latter mix-master sat atop a massive cubic throne and subjected his congregation to a unison of deafening beats and blinding lights despite technical issues that afflicted some of the effects. Nothing, though, could bring the festival to a close better than a surprise appearance by — the founder himself — Perry Farrell, who gave his spectators a hearty goodnight as the Foos rounded out their extensive and dynamic set-list with the always popular "Everlong."

However, as any seasoned festival-goer will tell you, the headliners don't make the show. The established big (but not biggest) names along with the budding up-and-comers constitute the meat and potatoes of the festivities, and through these offerings, Lollapalooza shined brilliantly this year.

Due to favorably scheduled matchups (which can conversely destroy crowds at multiple stages), day one saw several bands draw considerably larger turnouts than they were used to.

"When we did our sound check an hour earlier, there were like, a hundred people maybe," said Young the Giant guitarist Eric Cannata in an interview with The Michigan Daily. "And then an hour later, we walked out and there were more than 10 times the amount of people. It woke us up and slapped us in the face ... but the crowd responded really well."

Along with California natives Young the Giant, the unproven Foster the People attracted a massive gathering, and managed to win over onlookers within minutes. Employing quick tempos, electric rhythm and timely bursts of guitar, lead singer Mark Foster easily galvanized both the unfamiliar and long-time admirers alike, creating a sea of dancing merrymakers.

Additionally, outfits Portugal. The Man and Local Natives performed to multitudes of viewers on day two and three, respectively, to extremely warm receptions. Though seemingly dismayed at a weather-shortened set, the Arctic Monkeys channeled their enmity into raw British rock, pleasing their soaked fans with "I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor" early in their show.

Though Lollapalooza features the newest and freshest, '70s band The Cars and '80s group Big Audio Dynamite played on consecutive days to a variety of ages. Unfortunately, neither seemed to have the energy or excitement that many were looking for, and ultimately just went through the motions.

For those not interested in joining the masses, the staff at Lollapalooza made certain to include an alternative. Created for the many that wanted to dance the festival away, Perry's tent was a welcome alternative, with artists like Skrillex, Girl Talk, and Pretty Lights leading massive raves. KiD CuDi was cut off with one song remaining at Perry's finale on day three, and furiously knocked over two amplifiers in his exit.

It's impossible to really grasp the scope and magnitude of a festival like Lollapalooza without going. For three days, the windy city is awash with Lolla fever, and everything in Grant Park has its own flair: the food stands serve "lobster corn dogs" and "fried ravioli," and prospective alcoholics take swigs out of wine-filled squirt bottles. Take the third night, for instance — as the fans exited with thousands of phones, cameras, and shoes ruined by the rain, nobody could stop talking about a show and a festival they would always remember.