For the second year in a row, the once-traveling music-and-culture festival Lollapalooza—a summer concert staple throughout most of the '90s—made its home in Chicago's Grant Park. This year's festival expanded the two-day event to three days, filling out the space with acts that made last year's star-heavy lineup look modest by comparison. Even had half the acts canceled, it still would have looked like an essential program on paper. But how did the event itself measure up? For the second year running, The A.V. Club offers a minute-by-minute report.
Friday, August 4
1:32 p.m. – A man passing out iTunes cards advertising "20 free songs" quickly gets mobbed. Alas, it isn't a $20 gift card, just a code to download a compilation of Lollapalooza artists. It's still a cool idea, but The A.V. Club really doesn't need any Blues Traveler songs, thanks.
1:36 p.m. – On the Q101 stage, Cursive plays "Sink To The Beat," and it's weird to see the Omaha post-punk band playing in this big setting to a massive audience. A three-member horn section and a cellist complement the core group. In his button-up shirt, black baseball hat, and sunglasses, guitarist Ted Stevens looks like he should be downing Bud Light at a Cubs game up on the north side.
2:17 p.m. – The A.V. Club sees its first person collapse. Temperatures are comfortably in the mid-80s (with a nice breeze off the lake), so this guy is in for a long weekend. Maybe it has something to do with the joint he smoked just before going down.
2:20 p.m. – The sound of The M's beginning their set on the nearby AMD stage wafts over to the Q101 stage. For the most part, Lollapalooza's new stage configuration keeps the bands from overlapping, though some quieter main-stage artists have to contend with their noisier counterparts on side stages. The M's side stage happens to face one of the drink-and-food areas, so they have a captive audience.
3:01 p.m. – Even from a few hundred yards away, Panic! At The Disco still sounds boring.
3:30 p.m. – The choices for the rest of the weekend are pretty clear-cut, but this time slot includes Stars, Editors, and Jeremy Enigk. Time to stage-hop.
3:31 p.m. – Editors sound like Joy Division and Interpol, and they wear all black. And they're pretty great. Someone might let them know that a light show doesn't mean much in the middle of the afternoon, though.
3:59 p.m. – Jeremy Enigk almost saved rock 'n' roll before Sunny Day Real Estate broke up for the first time, and though he plays to a sparse crowd here, he's still got the ability to send shivers up spines—though most of those shivers were inspired by songs from his incredible 1996 solo debut Return Of The Frog Queen. The members of his backing band seem to be older session guys, including a bass player who bears a striking resemblance to a bleached-out Elliott Smith. Let the rumors begin.
3:30 p.m. – Eels close out their set with a cover of "I Put A Spell On You," then a rousing rendition of "That's Life."
3:37 p.m. – Noting his image being projected on a big outdoor screen, Stars singer Torquil Campbell says he wishes he had gotten a haircut.
3:40 p.m. – It's definitely gotten hotter, and the audience in front of Stars' stage is getting the worst of the sun. A twentysomething woman staggers out of the crowd during Stars' first song. With all the color drained from her face, she looks like a walking corpse.
4:14 p.m. – The Raconteurs are having their picture taken in the press area. They have their own bodyguard, though no one seems poised to attack.
4:29 p.m. – If corporate synergy means ducking into an air-conditioned tent to check e-mail, then corporate synergy rules. AT&T, you're one of the best phone companies ever!
4:34 p.m. – Ryan Adams takes the stage, saying, "It's nice to be outside." Easy for him to say—he's probably been sitting in an air-conditioned trailer all afternoon. At least he looks like he's in a good mood—maybe he'll play an entire set without storming offstage!
5:18 p.m. – Lady Sovereign is now 18 minutes late. Her DJ spins some music to compensate, beginning with a Sov track. The continually growing crowd gets antsy.
5:20 p.m. – In a weekend full of dubious moments in ironic fashion, a hipster stands apart from all the Play-Doh and I [Heart] Hot Moms T-shirt-wearers by donning a "Bush/Quayle '92" shirt while watching Iron & Wine's set.
5:24 p.m. – Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" makes one of its many Lolla appearances, this time covered by Mates Of State. It will later be played by Gnarls, covered by The Raconteurs, and (sorta inexplicably) played by Kanye West's DJ, mid-set.
5:26 p.m. – Lady Sovereign finally shows, belting out "Yoooooooooooooooo Chicaaaaaaaaaagooooooo!" She sounds hoarse, and when she stops playing just after 6, The A.V. Club suspects she started late because she couldn't make it through an entire set. During her performance, a member of her crew paints on a canvas, occasionally pausing to drink champagne. Maybe it's a British thing. Also, Sov's accent is so strong that when she angrily demands that fans form a mosh pit, it kind of sounds like she's asking for a washpit or a saucepat. Someone really should tell her that mosh pits never quite made it out of the '90s here in the colonies.
5:32 p.m. – Iron & Wine main-man Sam Beam makes the mistake of opening his set with an acoustic song; from her stage, Lady Sovereign almost completely drowns him out. Awesome Lollapalooza bonehead: "Sing louder, bitch!"
5:50 p.m. – After getting pummeled by bleed from the Sov set across the way, Beam battled back with two percussionists, an accordion, a violin, and electric guitars, adding a little muscle to a pleasing set.
6:16 p.m. – Off to the right of the PlayStation station, people are relaxing in the shade. A drunken woman in shorts and an ill-fitting bathing-suit top keeps shouting obnoxious things at her friends, prompting another woman to say, "Get a bikini that covers your boobs!"
6:25 p.m. – The Chicago sketch-comedy group Schadenfreude performs a funny, profanity-laden set at the Mindfield stage in front of an audience packed with alternately mortified and delighted children. The highlight: "Done With Sergio," a fake one-man show about Perry Farrell.
6:30 p.m. – The Raconteurs play to a massive crowd, charging the songs from their pretty-good Broken Boy Soldiers into something more lively and exciting. It feels like Jack White is sacrificing weirdness for comfort, but he's got a great coppertop guitar, and he seems to love the crowd. And the group does justice to Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."
6:40 p.m. – The Grant Park sprawl victimized several bands more used to filling out modest club spaces, but My Morning Jacket has been touring arenas and open-air events for months now, and is completely in its element here. For those of us who always wondered what rock shows sounded like before prefixes like "post" were added, it's an exhilarating hour.
6:54 p.m. – My Morning Jacket sounds perfectly suited for the festival. Its sound is perfectly expansive for the environment, and nothing is lost on the big, outdoor stage.
7:04 p.m. – Guy standing in line waiting for food talking to his friend: "After a while, I honestly felt, 'Why is this fun?' There's tons of people, it's hot…" We feel you, pal.
7:22 p.m. – A guy waiting for Sleater-Kinney to start wears a shirt that says "BEN GIBBARD MAKES CUTE HIPSTER GIRLS PATHETIC." Maybe he can show it to Gibbard himself when Death Cab For Cutie plays at 8:30 p.m.
7:24 p.m. – Sleater-Kinney guitarist-vocalist Carrie Brownstein emerges to do her instrument-and-vocal-line check. A minute later, drummer Janet Weiss joins her onstage to check her drums. Guitarist-vocalist Corin Tucker soon comes out as well. It's cool that, even when they're playing a big festival as one of their last shows, all three of them are out doing the grunt-work themselves.
7:27 p.m. – A guy in the crowd cheers when he sees Weiss. "Janet, I love you! AAAAAHHHHH! All night! All night!"
7:30 p.m. – Violent Femmes trot out some really old songs. Yawn. Do the kids think that "Gone Daddy Gone" is a cover of a Gnarls Barkley song?
7:36 p.m. – Weiss, Tucker, and Brownstein stand offstage, looking impatient as My Morning Jacket goes over its allotted time. Because Sleater-Kinney's stage faces MMJ's, they can't start until MMJ finish.
7:40 p.m. – Famous St. Louis scenester Beatle Bob introduces Sleater-Kinney. Cheers erupt and are practically constant during the band's set. Surprisingly, Sleater-Kinney throw few bones to old-school fans; their set mostly focuses on material from The Woods. They even play the long, extended jam part of "Let's Call It Love" from The Woods. That's cool and all, but a few songs from Dig Me Out would have been nice.
8:37 p.m. – Wish granted. Sleater-Kinney play "Turn It On" before walking offstage for the last time outside of their hometown of Portland, Oregon, where they'll play a couple farewell shows.
8:42 p.m. – Death Cab For Cutie opens its set with "Marching Bands Of Manhattan." The group played a sizeable crowd at the end of Lollapalooza's scorching second day last year, but this year, this crowd is massive. Who says signing to a major label is always a death sentence?
9:21 p.m. – Death Cab For Cutie should be commended for pulling old tricks ("President Of What?") out of its hat along with new ones. Also, it may be the only arena-sized band to successfully sell the most depressing song of recent memory ("What Sarah Said") as a cell-phone-waving anthem.
Saturday, August 5
12:30 p.m. – The A.V. Club's day starts with Nada Surf, and the band appears happy to play both for the cult-like following tuned into its big-sounding, emotional power pop, and for early arrivers who know the group mostly for its novelty hit "Popular." (It's number two in the set.) Halfway through the set, singer Matthew Caws (it's his birthday today!) delivers the day's most literate shoutout: "How many of you have read Devil In The White City?" At least a dozen people cheer.
1:50 p.m. – Shortly before taking the stage on Saturday, Dresden Dolls singer-pianist Amanda Palmer talks to The A.V. Club:
The A.V. Club: Your song "Modern Moonlight" mentions watching people text-messaging in a café. Do you notice people doing that when you're on stage?
Amanda Palmer: Only when we're opening for Panic! At The Disco.
AVC: Do you say anything?
AP: No, I find that that's actually pretty useless, but God, it's so depressing.
AVC: Maybe you need to take out some aggression. Of the Lollapalooza lineup, whose ass could you kick?
AP: Oh, Feist's. [Laughs.] I could totally kick her ass. Any member of Panic! At The Disco would probably go down under my boot.
1:59 p.m. – As great as its club shows are, The Go! Team takes to a big outdoor festival stage like it was made for it. The group bounces around the stage constantly, clearly enjoying itself—and so is the crowd.
2:10 p.m. – Well, not everyone. Three stoner-rock dudes walk away, clearly turned off. The A.V. Club can't hear them, but we can clearly lip-read the word "shit."
2:30 p.m. – Weird, hairy, homeless-looking frontman number one: Doug Martsch of Built To Spill. The jam kids love Built To Spill, even though the vibe is kinda harsh for the patchouli crowd. Pleasant surprise: old nugget "Big Dipper."
3:20 p.m. – A festival with surprisingly muted politics finds an unexpected voice of protest in Built To Spill, which starts by jabbing at the sponsors ("Budweiser doesn't care about us? Adidas doesn't care about us?") and goes on to do a moving cover of The Gladiators' "Re-Arrange." ("Too much innocent blood has shed… Our hearts cry out / our souls grieve.")
3:38 p.m. – Hey, it's MTV dude Matt Pinfield! (Okay, the celeb sightings aren't that great.)
4:07 p.m. – Is G. Love & Special Sauce playing the PlayStation stage? Nope, it's just Lyrics Born. Yikes.
4:30 p.m. – Time for Sonic Youth, which plays as if connected by telepathy, alternating songs from the new Rather Ripped with unpredictable selections from the back catalog, including one which Kim Gordon describes to the crowd as "probably written before you were born." Sonic Youth is 25 years old now, and while it isn't here to put half the young pups on the bill to shame, it happens anyway.
4:31 p.m. – A massive crowd awaits Gnarls Barkley, who gets introduced by Lolla godfather Perry Farrell. Calling Gnarls Barkley his favorite band, he says its set at Lollapalooza will forever be known as the "Grant Park Groove." Um, sure. The band—featuring four string players, three backup singers, Danger Mouse on keys, a guitarist, bassist, and a drummer—opens with an instrumental version of "We Are The Champions," to the audience's delight. Decked out in matching white tennis outfits, the performers deliver a stirring set of haunted-house music that feels jarringly out of place in a sunny field full of drunken yuppies. The mass exodus following "Crazy" serves as a stark reminder that today's hottest band is tomorrow's group with a stupid name that did "Crazy."
5:50 p.m. – Dresden Dolls pianist-singer Amanda Palmer accidentally flashes her breasts at the crowd while attempting an ill-advised onstage clothing change. Drummer Brian Viglione proclaims, "We have a wardrobe malfunction!"
6:23 p.m. – The Dresden Dolls cover the Louvin Brothers' "Satan Is Real," pausing in the middle for Palmer to deliver a fiery faux sermon about the devil working through popular music. The worst offenders, she says, are The Flaming Lips, who will take the Bud Light stage at 6:30. Everyone cheers. The Dolls also perform a stirring cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs."
6:29 p.m. – Chicago scene poet-laureate Thax Douglas prefaces The Flaming Lips' set with one of his poems. Five minutes later, frontman Wayne Coyne emerges in his big inflatable bubble and walks on the crowd. It's a typical Flaming Lips show, with a packed stage: a group of women dressed as aliens, a group of guys dressed like Santa, four people in giant inflatable costumes (two astronauts, one alien, one Santa), and all kinds of props and toys.
6:30 p.m. –
Common takes a lot of risks during his set: freestyles laden with Chicago references, a rambling speech on morality, an extended smooth-jazz freak-out. (Never has the phrase "smoke 'em if you got 'em" seemed more apt, especially considering the rampant public pot smoking.) On "It's Your World," Common goes from a hushed whisper to cathartic screams of rage, transforming "children of crack and rap" into a generation-defining statement along the lines of Jean-Luc Godard's "children of Marx and Coca-Cola." (For those keeping track, Coca-Cola is up six billion to zero.) Alas, the hushed parts of "It's Your World" are largely drowned out by a drunken yuppie asshole screaming for someone to sell him pot or ecstasy. Ah, Lollapalooza.
6:40 p.m. – The A.V. Club gets a strong whiff of marijuana in the air. At a Flaming Lips concert? Now we've seen everything.
7:24 p.m. – The Flaming Lips transform the end of their strange breakout hit "She Don't Use Jelly" into a delicate piano ballad that has everyone singing along. Coyne references the new Middle East conflict a few times during the set. Songs won't stop wars, but The Flaming Lips' existence fosters peace between two opposing sides: hippies and hipsters, who sing along together. It sure sucks to be the band following this spectacle—in this case, Thievery Corporation.
7:47 p.m. – On the Q101 stage, The New Pornographers' Carl Newman references a band that played on the same stage hours before: "It's a little-known fact that our time signatures are more fucked-up than Coheed And Cambria's. So if you want to clap along, good fucking luck to you."
8:43 p.m. – Kanye West comes out on stage to "Diamonds From Sierra Leone." His microphone isn't really working, and it's a harbinger of things to come: The first half of his set is marred by technical problems and other mishaps, like DJ A-Trak going into "Crack Music" when he was supposed to go into "Spaceship." The immense crowd is nevertheless forgiving, even with the interminable silences between songs.
9:06 p.m. – Chicago rapper GLC comes out for "Spaceship," but his mic isn't on. Then it's too low. Kanye is irate afterward. "We done gone all around the world playing good shows, and y'all gonna fuck it up in Chicago? Y'all gonna embarrass me in my city?" West then warns of "repercussions." The crowd cheers.
9:13 p.m. – Considering Kanye West's well-known egomania, it's kind of cool that he allows himself to be upstaged by Lupe Fiasco riding in on a skateboard to perform a rapturously received version of "Kick Push." And it's neat to see special surprise guest Twista, but do they really have to perform that horrible song from Mission Impossible III?
10:00 p.m. – In spite of the technical problems, the set's energy builds toward a climactic "Touch The Sky" that has the crowd dancing beneath the Chicago skyline. In spite of the corporate trappings, the heat, and the lines, Lollapalooza's second day ends with a transcendent, almost utopian moment. Lots of people expected a great day of music, but did anyone anticipate that?
Sunday, August 6
1:50 p.m. – Halfway into The Hold Steady's set, frontman Craig Finn calls it "Definitely the most fun I've ever had before 3 p.m." It's a bit early for Finn's sordid tales of youth gone awry, but the band pulls it off.
2:05 p.m. – Cooler bands greet the throngs with a shrug of ironic detachment, but halfway through an electrifying set marked by sing-alongs and waving Irish flags, The Frames' frontman Glen Hansard can no longer contain his excitement. Before charging into another anthem off his group's stellar Burn The Maps, he puts in an imaginary phone call to his mother in Dublin and describes the experience as "fuckin' brilliant." No kidding.
3:15 p.m. – Needing some peace and quiet, The A.V. Club checks out the virtually abandoned activist area Causeapalooza, as well as a small, not-too-impressive art exhibit called Who Art Thou? The schedules and festival signs reveal its unfortunate original name, "Who Arted?" and visitors to the Bazaar area could see a wooden sign reading simply "Arted" propped up against a pile of debris behind a fence. Clearly, cooler heads prevailed at the last minute.
4:30 p.m. – Hasidic reggae sensation Matisyahu delivers a solid, though less-than-transcendent, set. Overheard: "Well, he played the two songs I wanted to hear, at least." That's the subtext of much of the festival: "Play your fucking hit and get out."
4:33 p.m. – A huge crowd awaits The Shins, but a muddy, too-quiet sound mix leaves the crowd chanting "Turn it up!" A sizeable chunk of the audience then files out. It's a minor disaster.
The A.V. Club engages in the following text-message exchange.
Josh Modell: U guys at shins?
Keith Phipps: Yeah wtf w/ the sound? We r going 2 of montreal.
5:25 p.m. – In the Of Montreal audience, Michelle Murphy, 19, of Geneva, Illinois, and Tyler DeLarm, 16, of Dallas, are wearing signs advertising free hugs (tips appreciated). The pair grew bored while waiting for the band to start, so they decided to make the signs. Business has been brisk, they say. The A.V. Club later sees another man advertising "spiritual healing," but he looks like he could use a few customers.
5:42 p.m. – From a distance, Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes looks like The Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe, who played Lollapalooza last year. But the music isn't weird enough, and no fistfights have broken out on stage, so it has to be Barnes.
5:49 p.m. – Yup, She Wants Revenge still sucks. Just checking.
5:50 p.m. – Beastie Boys DJ Mix Master Mike is so dope, he can even make Tears For Fears and Ma$e sound cool. But before his ferociously well-received set, Perry Farrell, the ghost of Lollapalooza past, pours champagne from the stage, introduces his wife and child, sings "Happy Birthday" to a bandmate, debuts a terrible new song, and unironically tells festival-goers to "party on!" Somehow, he can get away with all this, 'cause he's, you know, Perry Farrell.
6:30 p.m. – Weird, hairy, homeless-looking frontman number two: Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who may have found that coat and hat, and definitely needs to comb that crazy beard. The beginning of the set offers an amazing one-two-three punch: "A Shot In The Arm," a new song possibly called "Impossible Germany," and "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart," which ends (of course) in a jam-fueled freak-out. The guy running video seemed to have fun with it. Later, Tweedy says, "I can't tell you how freaky it is to be home and have it be like this," gesturing to the audience.
6:45 p.m. – Man with bloody head walks by. Five minutes later, he walks by again, all bandaged up.
7 p.m. – A woman on stage right signs the lyrics to "Via Chicago."
7:22 p.m. – Tweedy dedicates the band's final two songs to his wife, Susan Miller, who stands backstage. It's the couple's 11th anniversary. "Suzy, I love you. I can't believe you put up with me."
7:32 p.m. – "We've got 45 minutes to kick your ass!" But Broken Social Scene isn't really about ass-kicking, and the sound is pretty far off the mark, particularly on the fiery "Fire Eye'd Boy." They bring out the full posse (Emily Haines of Metric, Leslie Feist, etc.) for "Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl," though.
8:30 p.m. – Red Hot Chili Peppers are rumored to have taken the stage, but The A.V. Club was long gone at that point.