In 1935, trumpeter
James C. Petrillo persuaded city officials to begin hosting free
concerts in Grant Park. A leader of the musicians' union, Petrillo
was a notorious opponent of phonograph records, believing they would
lead to the homogenization of music, destroying its local flavor and
decimating the concert scene.
In some ways, ol'
James might have been thrilled that Lollapalooza took over Grant
Park for three days starting Friday, attracting 130 bands and
thousands of concertgoers. (Organizers wouldn't quote specific
attendance for day one, but sources put the number at 40,000 to
On the other
hand, Petrillo probably would have balked that, in addition to
charging for the concert, Texas-based promoters Capital Sports &
Entertainment sold corporate sponsorships for every stage at the
event. Chicagoans may have been calling the landmark venue in Butler
Field the Petrillo Bandshell for more than half a century, but this
weekend, it bore the name of a designer sneaker.
denying that Lollapalooza made history during its second year as a
destination festival: It was the biggest concert Grant Park ever
hosted. But it was also one of the most commercial, with a bland and
impersonal vibe. It was ambitious, fan-friendly and well-run,
despite problems such as the painfully long hikes between stages.
But it could have been taking place anywhere --Austin, Cleveland, or
the dark side of the moon, corporate sponsors willing -- and it
lacked the sense of community seen at the recent Pitchfork and
Intonation fests, much less the Lollapalooza tours of the early
Yes, there were
plenty of musical highlights on day one. There just weren't as many
as there should have been, with 31 bands on the six main stages.
In the thankless
role of kicking the whole thing off at 11:15 a.m., Chicago power-pop
quartet the Bon Mots were a jangly treat, delivering an energetic
show before a crowd that included several people who held up posters
cheering their friends on.
As a cooling
breeze blew off Lake Michigan, the Denton, Texas-based
psychedelic-folk band Midlake spun gossamer webs of intertwining
melody lines, hypnotizing many fans who sat cross-legged on the
grass. A few hours later, another group of Texas-to-New York
transplants, the Secret Machines, offered a different take on
similarly spacey sounds, propelling their trippy guitar and
keyboards with the unrelentingly brutal rhythms of drummer Josh
Nearly as potent
was the high-energy Britpop of the English trio the Subways, which
recalled the explosive chaos of vintage Nirvana when
guitarist-vocalist Billy Lunn threw himself into the crowd, climbed
the lighting rig, harshly criticized corporate-rock radio and
finally threw himself head-first into the drum set to end a set full
of fiery anthems such as "Rock & Roll Queen" and "Oh Yeah."
Wrapping up the
day in Hutchinson Field were musical terrorists Ween, who have
survived countless musical transformations -- all of them bizarre --
en route from a basement four-track duo to one of the most popular
groups on the jam-band scene. (I've never understood these weirdos'
popularity in that world, but bassist Dave Dreiwitz told me it all
started when Phish covered a Ween tune.)
The last on my
list of Friday's high points was the Raconteurs. Making their first
appearance in Chicago, the group leaned heavily on songs from its
first album, "Broken Boy Soldiers," but its garage-pop gems sounded
even better live as Brendan Benson and the moonlighting Jack White
shared the spotlight. The biggest surprise: a cover of the hit
"Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, one of Saturday's most anticipated acts.
Panic! at the
Disco also played some fitting covers -- the Smashing Pumpkins'
"Tonight, Tonight" (with its homage to "the city by the lake") and
"Karma Police" by Radiohead (which played what still ranks as the
single best show I've seen in Grant Park). But the quickly rising,
Fall Out Boy-endorsed Panic! didn't do justice to those songs or its
own, which are a gimmicky mix of generic pop-punk and '80s
The Editors and
Cursive both drew from different '80s sounds, heavy on the Smiths,
the Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen, but neither was inspiring onstage.
The Violent Femmes provided the dose of nostalgia that Billy Idol
added last year, playing a set that I've seen at least a dozen
times. And then there was the Chicago jam band Umphrey's McGee,
which offered its twist on the Grateful Dead by injecting a hint of
endless, meandering solos wafted over Grant Park like billowing
clouds of pot smoke, somewhere, James C. Petrillo had to be
wondering about the smell.
says goodbye with style
A fond farewell
to Sleater-Kinney, plus other notes from Friday's Lollapalooza's
At one point,
after Sleater-Kinney announced its impending "indefinite hiatus" but
before the band scheduled two goodbye gigs in its hometown of
Portland, Ore., Lollapalooza seemed set to host the trio's last
show. A band that for 12 years embodied punk's DIY ethic, closing
its last chapter at this overstuffed corporate buffet? Better it
didn't turn out that way.
As it happened,
Sleater-Kinney wound up playing at the Petrillo bandshell, a stage
already infamous in rock lore for hosting the last Replacements show
in July 1991.
awkward farewell came after the band had soldiered on several years
too long; in contrast, Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet
Weiss departed with dignity, respect and acclaim intact. They never
overstayed their welcome, never made the same record twice, and
remained a potent live act to the last.
falling Friday, the women used every familiar weapon in their
arsenal for their last road show. Brownstein marched and leaped,
jabbing needle-like lead lines into Tucker's brawny chords. Their
voices meshed and separated, Brownstein the plain-spoken
counterpoint to Tucker's force-of-nature howl and shriek. And all
around them was Weiss, stomping or swinging or smartly checking the
pair's fury just before it becomes chaos.
usually the band's mouthpiece on stage, but she didn't acknowledge
the occasion except to thank the crowd.
Of course, their
fans knew what they were seeing. Front and center, two young women
wore T-shirts with a picture of the band and the words, "Later,
They walked away
stages placed too close together left unhappy fans straining to hear
favorite acts over the din of whatever other performer was playing
nearby. A much larger layout was supposed to solve the problem this
year, but the results so far are a mixed bag. Sound bleed was a
particular problem at Petrillo, where the restrained synth-pop and
vocal interplay of the Toronto band Stars was overwhelmed by the
clamor of Jeremy Enigk from an adjacent stage, and later a drummer
for demure folkies Iron and Wine was seen nodding to the sharp beats
of rapper Lady Sovereign.
A sampling of
cover songs heard on Lollapalooza stages Friday: Radiohead's "Karma
Police" and Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight" (appropriate for
its reference to the "city by the lake"), both by Panic! at the
Disco. Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You" by Eels. The
Grateful Dead's "He's Gone" and Gram Parsons' "Hickory Wind" by Ryan
gates yesterday afternoon, a comedy troupe heckled concertgoers from
a mock picket line, waving signs that opposed music and advocated
slogan? "Silence of the Jams."