story by Jay Gentile
With 240,000 people over three days, 2010 saw the biggest Lollapalooza over. But it was not a sell-out due to Lollapalooza’s expansion this year, as the festival’s footprint jumped from 80 acres in past years to 110 acres this year. Most notable was the closing of Columbus Drive to the west of Buckingham Fountain, which made the long trek in between Lollapalooza’s main north and south stages much less congested. The previous two years saw sell-out crowds of 225,000 people over three days but with the new expanded format, Lolla would need to attract 270,000 people over three days (or 90,000 a day versus 80,000 a day this year) to be at full capacity.
In addition to the extra breathing room, this year was also notable for its excellent weather, with Friday and Saturday’s 80-and-sunny days in particular being among the nicest in Lollapalooza’s 6-year Chicago history. But the big story of this year’s festival has to be Perry’s stage, which has transformed itself from a small, poorly ventilated tent in Lolla’s early years into hands-down the place to be at Lollapalooza. Under the guidance of electronic music fan and festival organizer Perry Farrell, Lolla has beefed up its roster of world-class DJs and electronic music acts to the point where it now could be considered a rival to larger, more established electronic music festivals from Detroit to Miami. This year saw more DJs and dance acts at Perry’s than ever on a full stage atop a small hill in the trees, and there was no place more fun, more sweaty, or with better-looking eye candy at this year’s Lolla. The electronic bent of the festival seems to be the direction that future Lollapaloozas are heading in and, if so, all we can say is we can’t wait until next year…
Here is our annual rundown of notable acts, from the good to the bad to everything in between:
Erol Alkan: Now I understand why his slogan is “E.R.O.L Keeps Kids Dancing” — because that’s all that was going on at Perry’s. What more do you want?
Grizzly Bear: One big yawn. I left for Perry’s after two songs. I needed some stimuli.
Edward Sharpe and The Magentic Zeros: Although Edward Sharpe looks as if he might drop off the stage at any minute from a drug overdose, the band puts on a magnificent show. People were climbing trees, sitting on branches, and jockeying for a view throughout this magical set, during which there was a sense of love and community that could not be denied.
Yeasayer: I highly praise both of their albums, but their live performance at Lollapalooza lacked awe and amazement.
Arcade Fire: Anyone who was there knows how enlightening, powerful, and moving their performance was, at which thousands of us sang to every single song. Arcade Fire has that special quality of making you feel completely human and accepting of the good, the bad, and everything in between. Words can’t conjure the experience. Best performance of the weekend. Hands down.
Devo: While “Whip It” is their most recognizable tune, they played many other singles, like “Girl You Want,” “Jocko Homo,” and their newer hits, “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)” and “Fresh.” Playing everything in the robotic de-evolutionary characters they created over 30 years ago, they even underwent several costume changes (grey suits with masks, black Devo t-shirts, yellow jumpsuits) to show us all they’ve still got it.
Chromeo: It’s nice to see a band not taking itself too seriously. Chromeo is all about the fun, not about standing around looking cool. If you let your guard down long enough to participate in their happy disco mayhem, that’s all that matters.
Lady Gaga: What can be said about Lady Gaga? At least she’s entertaining. But besides the innumerable wardrobe changes and predictably over-the-top background bullshit, a softer, more human Gaga revealed herself this year — remarking about how no one cared about her the last time she played Lollapalooza in 2007 and turning it into a message of hope, telling the crowd that “anything is possible.” While I’d like to see more of Stefani Germanotta and less of her Gaga persona, her “little monsters” come out for the spectacle — and their lady did not disappoint.
Skybox: Speaking of Gaga, Chicago indie-poppers Skybox get the award for creativity when frontman Tim Ellis broke out a handmade replica of the sequence bra that Gaga wore the last time she was at Lolla, when she played on the same small BMI stage during the same time slot as Skybox this year. If that wasn’t cool enough, Ellis got so into the band’s closing jam “In A Dream” that he dropped his pants, literally — but kept on playing without missing a beat.
Blues Traveler: Oh how the mighty have fallen, but their cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was definitely a highlight.
Gogol Bordello: Aside from having to explain pit fundamentals to a few obnoxious people who didn’t belong there, their set was as inexplicably awesome as it always is. The band is so energetic that their gypsy/punk/reggae/dub assault really gets people going in weird new ways. Bonus points: charismatic frontman Eugene Hutz easily wins “best mustache” award at the fest.
The Strokes: All of the old favorites, delivered with that same raw energy and attitude. It was like a time warp to 2003. It’s good to know that we’ve got something other than another Julian Casablancas or Albert Hammond Jr. solo record to look forward to.
Cypress Hill: You’ve got to commend these guys for keeping it real. They took the stage and rapped about smoking blunts…while smoking them.
Soundgarden: Once again, total time warp. Amazingly, Chris Cornell’s superhuman voice hasn’t changed a lick. I felt like I was 16 again cruising to school at 80 miles an hour in my mom’s beat-up old station wagon while blasting Superunknown through the tape deck.
The New Pornographers: Bo-ring.
Joachim Garraud: I walked up to Perry’s stage anticipating Wolfgang Gartner. I waited 15, 20, 30 minutes. No Wolfgang. I was vexed. I began walking away. Then some invisible force pulled me back — and whatever it was, I thank it. A French DJ named Joachim Garraud took the stage and started spinning. A rowdy, sweaty dance party immediately erupted. Once his remix of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness’ dropped, the crowd was unrestrained and everyone was just so damn happy.
Hot Chip: When did Hot Chip go from being one of the best bands I’ve ever seen — multiple times — to something so…unbreathtaking? I wish I could blame their latest weak album, with snooze-inducing sentimental charades like “Brothers.” Maybe a little of the magic is gone.
PerryEtty vs. Chris Cox: It’s fun to see Perry Farrell on stage, it being his festival and all, even if all he does is shout a few token Janes lines over some semi-whack remixing. His fist pumping is quite entertaining, though I was a bit disappointed when I misread Chris Cox and though it was Carl Cox. My bad.
Cut Copy: Too mellow, and hardly loud enough. I coaxed some friends who had never seen them away from Perry’s with promises of a great show, but was left embarrassed. Come on Cut Copy, you’re better than that.
Green Day: Yes, we know we’re in Chicago. You don’t have to tell us 50 times. Points for fan participation though, and you can never go wrong with a fireworks show. Other highlights included a cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and bringing a young fan on stage to sing “Longview.” That was classy.
Empire of the Sun: Was pretty disappointed at this. I’m all for weird outfits on stage, but at least play some music deserving of such extravagant attire. Still a good time though, and a great late-night ambience.
Mavis Staples: Bringing Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on stage was a nice touch, but the 71-year-old R&B/soul songstress more than held her own on stage — while reminding us all that the civil rights struggles she dedicated her life to are not over, not by a long shot.
The Black Keys: How many times can one use the word “awesome” when describing a Black Keys show? Apparently there is no limit, because Akron’s finest continue to flat-out nail it each and every time.
Jimmy Cliff: Good to see this legend get his due by playing positive songs and not trying to look cool. Cliff’s summery reggae jams also provided a nice change of pace from all of the rock and electronic acts erupting all over the park.
Wild Beasts: Pleasant surprise of the fest. Expect big things from these Domino Records art rockers, although a name change wouldn’t be out of the question.
Erykah Badu: She spent the first 20 minutes of her 1-hour set with a DJ spinning a variety of rap from the past 10 or 15 years. Who doesn’t love “Blow the Whistle” by Too $hort? But where the hell was Badu? Erykah didn’t come on stage until almost halfway through her set. I didn’t care what came next, or how cool her blonde mohawk was. I was over it.
MGMT: Warning: If you hear MGMT preface a song with, “We’re going to really jam out on this one,” it’s about time to get the hell out of there.
CI Special Report #020