August 22, 2011

Defying the Skeptics

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Lollapalooza blazes through Chicago each year with a massive burst of energy and sound — 270,000 strong making their way to the idyllic lakefront expanse of Grant Park, eager to partake in all the music, mud and madness my fair city has to offer. With boasts of epic proportions having been made by Lollapalooza’s founder and Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, all who had had the pleasure to be in attendance at Lollas past greeted this 20th Anniversary celebration with high hopes, good spirits and a moderate dose of skepticism.

I admit to have initially regarded the festival with an unfair amount of distrust. When the lineup was announced in early spring, I was devastated like only a true overtly dramatic music lover could be! Where were the Daft Punks, Radioheads, and Kanye Wests of years past? Fast forward past months of bitter status updates and excessive cries that I would not buy a ticket, and finally August 7th approached. The weekend of Lollapalooza beckoned for me to answer its siren call.

Hesitantly, I looked over the lineup once more. Yes, many of the names at the top of the bill were bands I didn’t want to battle crowds to hear or had already seen before. Yet, hiding under the flashing lights was a lineup stacked with an eclectic range of talent. From the likes of Skrillex and Pretty Lights holding it down at Perry’s Tent, to guitar gods My Morning Jacket and indie darlings Best Coast, Lollapalooza had once again a weekend of Bacchic revelry in store for Chicago.

From the moment I walked into the confines of Grant Park — gigantic balloon Lollapalooza sign greeting me on my left, water shooting from Buckingham Fountain’s powerful jets in front of me and Lake Michigan glistening just beyond — all doubts quickly subsided. Over the next three days, I would hear great music, dance until I could move no more and cherish the temporary sense of community and goodwill that a festival creates, all the while surrounded by Chicago’s proud skyline.

Friday came on full force and without mercy. The relentless sun beat down as Foster The People took to the Sony Stage promptly at 3 p.m., drawing crowds unusually large for such an early set. A boisterous sing-a-long commenced during their breakout hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” giving these handsome boys from Los Angeles reason to smile. Just barely audible in the distance came the buoyant rumblings of another new summer listen, breezy pop band Cults. Fresh-faced singer Madeline Follin wooed the audience shyly from the Google+ Stage, obviously dazed by the newfound fame but able to hit her impossible high notes nonetheless. With my indie sensibilities satisfied for the day, I made my way towards Perry’s Tent and the nonstop debauchery it promised.

Friday night proved to have the strongest lineup for Perry’s, thanks to The Bloody Beetroots, electro/dub-producer Skrillex and Dutch DJ Afrojack. All three acts were a raucous, limb-flailing good time, with Skrillex’s performance standing out as a little crazier than the rest. Skrillex jumped around the stage like a man possessed, providing the bloodthirsty heathens in attendance with a manic dose of energy. Temporarily blinded by the endless lightshows, I sought for a calmer end to the day. The crowd for Ratatat became antsy as the Brooklyn-based duo failed to take the stage right at 8:45 pm, running 15 minutes late. Appearing as two commanding black forms silhouetted against the hazy Technicolor backdrop, Ratatat managed to put on a mesmerizing show after the delay. Guitarist Mike Stroud and bassist/keyboardist Evan Mast seemed to never lose their cool, navigating classics such as “Loud Pipes” and “Wildcat” with expert execution.

Saturday welcomed us back with open arms as Mayer Hawthorne & The County took the Sony Stage. Elegantly clad and clean cut, Hawthorne charmed the crowd with his easy charisma and smooth, Motown-inspired tunes. Mixing it up with covers of Snoop Dogg and Pharrell’s “Beautiful Girl” and The Isley Brothers’ “Work to Do,” Mayor Hawthorne and his pitch perfect falsetto were among the best surprises of the weekend. That said, the remainder of Saturday passed by in a kind of bright, jumbled blur. DJ after DJ at Perry’s blended together, with Joachim Garraud, Chuckie and The Glitch Mob picking up where the other left off. I’ve heard that Local Natives, Cee Lo Green and ethereal beauty Lykke Li put on notable performances, but unfortunately I was not there to see them. Closing the day with strong headliners My Morning Jacket, Beirut and an aging Eminem, I could be found inundated with the familiar lasers and sounds of Pretty Lights.

With only a day left, I was buzzed off of several good shows and a lot of good company. Something was left to be desired, though — that unforgettable moment that many feared a so-so lineup would lack. Sunday promised a slew of bands that would put on shows there were nice, but I wanted more. Luckily, what the lineup may not have been able to provide, the weather did. Torrential rain throughout the day created that special push that Lolla needed, soaking us through and through and rejuvenating our tired bodies. Acts likes Cage the Elephant and Busy P seemed to be invigorated by the rain, raging through the storms and inciting large groups of concertgoers to jump, slide and slip through the mud. House god Deadmau5 closed the festival, transforming the skyline with the vibrant, neon glow of the most expensive light show around. Giddy, festival-worn patrons left Grant Park that day with stories of stage dives and mosh pits, sloshing muddily with each tired footstep they took. Coming out on top once again, and this time with a bullet, you’ve been good to us, Lollapalooza. I only hope that your 21st birthday is as monumental and ridiculous as you deserve.

Original Author: Sarah Angell