The highly anticipated summer buzz in Chicago was finally here. Lollapalooza! Although Chicago is a prime spot to catch any traveling act you can think of as they pass through on a tour, the city is time and again overlooked for grand scale events such as this. Chicago, which is a major market for concert productions due to a young, vibrant local community that represents a forward thinking, diverse population, finally got it’s long overdue taste of what New York and much of the California coast have as a yearly staple… a great festival uniquely their own.
From Jane’s Addiction front man and Lollapalooza mastermind, Perry Ferrell, came a re-invented festival dipping into many non-traditional styles that have past been in the Lollapalooza mold. This re-conceived festival differed from the old days of the traveling tour, which ran from 1991-1997 (in it’s hay day), and is remembered for celebrating edgy, post-punk, alternative, hard rock, and the most alternative boundaries of youth culture.
Perhaps inspired by the success of Bonnaroo over the last few summers, Lollapalooza took new form as a 2-day, one locale, extravaganza; celebrating music, culture, diversity, community, and packed with more than twice the amount of talent than any traveling festival could ever have. The idea for this year’s Lollapalooza didn’t come into fruition until March 2005 (which is VERY late for this type of event) and perhaps reflected into the availability of Super Star talent for the roster. The artist line-up, although strong across the board, was left without the bold, stratospheric mega stars that grace the stage at Coachella each year and could’ve been the icing on the cake for a truly historic festival. Largely a medley of Indie Chart Topers (now not so Indie), New-Wave/Glam Rockers, Jam Bands, Pop-Punk, New Wave Rock, Emo, Blues, DJ’s, and a few highly anticipated veterans, this refurbished Lollapalooza had plenty of vibrancy and life for the wandering fan with an open mind. On that note it was highly successful.
Walking onto Hutchinson Field in Grant Park, one realized this was a very special place for such an event. The picturesque panoramic setting captured the soaring skyscrapers of the city; a tree lined Grant Park, Buckingham Fountain streaming water through the air, and the deep blue hues of Lake Michigan stretching out to the horizon.
Chicago had it’s share of local talent with rockers, The Ponys, and young breaking band The Red Walls with their Beatles-Esque harmonies, took early afternoon slots on each of the days. Many personal highlights of the first afternoon were the French electronic duo M83, kicking things off early with soaring surreal musical textures; The Retro-Rock grooves of The Kaiser Chiefs who had the crowd lingering on every lyric; and the brilliant, dirty, in your face blues of the Ohio duo, The Black Keys. As night fell, Z-Trip brought down a powerful set on the 1s and 2s on the Planet Stage with his seamless integration of layering your favorite hits from popular music into a style all his own. Ever heard Jay-Z, spliced with Jane’s Addiction, with maybe a pinch of Aretha on top? Only Z-trip pulls it off right.
For most of the weekend, The Planet Stage (which was across the street from the rest of the festival) featured an eclectic combination of World, Jam, and DJ music followed by the occasional Talent Show. Bringing a new musical element and along with, a new breed of concert goer to the Lollapalooza scene, were hand picked jambands like electrofunk, trance groove masters Sound Tribe Sector 9; the jazzy funky, dance till your pants drop grooves of Soulive; and main stage jam king headliners, Widespread Panic.
The first evening was equally owned by Weezer and Digable Planets, who simultaneously took the stage and offered everyone delectable flavors for any musical palette. Some were skeptical of the return of Digable Planets after 10 years off the radar, but fresh off a Europe, and US tour, they knocked out a powerful performance with tight, funky, jazzy, hip-hop with flawless delivery and vivacious, fresh energy.
A mainstay topic of conversion year round in Chicago, “the weather”, was the usual lead-in as you ran into your buddies all afternoon on day 2. Time and again you’d hear, “How was so and so? Damn it’s HOT!” It almost felt like the Polo Grounds at Coachella with the thick 100+ degree heat, but the water bottles flowed, and the shows rocked on. Perry Ferrell’s
unveiling of “Satellite Party”
was an afternoon delight, which featured No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal
, percussionist Gabriele Corcos
, and Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt
. Their set began with a visual treat of 3 beautiful women performing a seductive waltz in long gowns, which led into the band taking the stage. The fancy-free electro-funk got the crowd moving in the hot sun and you never saw the smile leave Ferrell’s face throughout the whole performance. Although it partially may have been from the courting ladies, circling him throughout the set (one of them his wife). Personal highlights of the afternoon were the spacey psychedelic rock of Kasabian
, the sexually charged rock of Louis XIV
, and the highlight of the day, an orchestral rockin’ explosion from The Arcade Fire
. The Fire’s set was invigorating, triumphant, and revitalized a massive crowd by the end of their first song. I’ve also never seen someone play drums on another man’s helmet while wearing it on his head before.
, and the first of two evening sets of Widespread Panic
, the sun dipped below the Chicago skyline and the city backdrop began to glow. The Killers
took the stage and had the crowd roaring and hanging on every word to the many hits on widely successful debut album Hot Fuss
, such as “Mr. Brightside” ”Smile Like you Mean It”, and “Jenny Was A friend of Mine.” Front-man Brandon Flowers
, seemed a bit in awe at the bigness of this event, and was taken aback between songs. He stated, “ I was not born with the gift of gab” referring to that he gets uncomfortably speechless when he’s not singing and all eyes are upon him for witty banter.
As the final time slot approached for the weekend festival, Southern Rockin’ jamband kings, Widespread Panic
took the main stage for their second set, as Death Cab for Cutie
geared up on a smaller stage. However despite the stage size, (for what promoters assigned to what they must have believed would be the bigger draw), Death Cab
was the clear upset as their crowd packed in shoulder to shoulder with people, as Panic’s main stage crowd felt fairly sparse for the festival closer. Still, the many “Spreadheads” who came out of the woodwork and lined up for Panic’s set, got their earful of John Bell’s
gritty, soulful crooning, amidst a gorgeous back lit sky line of Chicago. The ending of the festival though left something lacking. Something that could’ve kept the 35,000 people jammed up front, begging for more, or even could’ve boosted sales to an easy 60,000 a day, just to see the triumphant finish of a powerhouse band like Radiohead, Beck, or Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Overall it was a wonderful experience for the city of Chicago, the fans, and everyone involved. But, there’s definitely room for growth and hopefully Chicago will continue to be part of the life-blood of Lollapalooza in years to come.
David Blutenthal is the publicist for Chicago promoter Triple Dot MAS, and represents Todd Carey &Pünsapaya.