Through its long and storied course, Lollapalooza has always strived to provide up-and-coming artists along with in-demand bands for a reasonable price.
After debuting as a traveling fest in 1991 and dominating the summer concert seasons through 1997, the innovative event went on hiatus before returning in 2003, only to die again in 2004 due to poor ticket sales. On July 23 and 24, 2005, it returned as a two-day, Chicago-based outdoor affair. Held in Hutchinson Field, a part of the city’s famed Grant Park, its inauguration ran smoothly considering the event’s final lineup and last city licenses came through mere weeks prior.
In terms of diversity, there was much room for improvement in the lineup. The hip-hop acts comprised Digable Planets and Saul Williams. They were good choices, but the genre could’ve been better represented—any artist from the Definitive Jux label, or Atmosphere, both of which have a solid following in the Midwest, would’ve been strong additions. In fact, organizers didn’t take many chances. Of the festival’s 60 acts, only a handful of the mainstage performers were indie up-and-comers. Additionally, the DJ area—boasting acts like Muggs and Derrick Carter, was poorly attended since it was off the main grounds. Still, the event held onto some of its original spirit, booking bands like the cacophonous yet melodic . . . And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and nü-school New Wavers the Kaiser Chiefs and The Bravery. The biggest issue, however, was the horrible sound bleed that occurred when two bands had simultaneous sets. Though this gave Brian Jonestown Massacre the hilarious chance to rail on Dashboard Confessional (unbeknownst to frontman Chris Carrabba )on Saturday, Death Cab For Cutie’s Sunday set was overridden by jamband Widespread Panic. But Lollapalooza wasn’t a complete disaster.
On Saturday Billy Idol seemingly stepped unscathed out of a campy ’80s music video. Though a crowd favorite, performing hits like “Rebel Yell” and “Flesh For Fantasy,” his forgettable new material is a painful revamping of his past—minus the ultra-fun nostalgia. The Black Keys fared better, diverting attention away from Primus who shared the same time slot. The duo’s bluesy revved-up stomps made a formidable case for themselves in a city known for its blues. The Walkmen shared their unfortunate set time with the Pixies. The former cut their set short by 25 minutes. As a band who aptly represents Gen-X, Pixies were a perfect pick for this year’s Lolla. The band exercised its trademark loud/soft dynamics with ease, and housed a bit more energy than during its last Chicago appearance. The set list remained faithful to the recent tour, concentrating primarily on Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. From Black Francis’ whispered-to-full-scream peals on “Tame” to the dizzying spoke/sung melody of “I Bleed,” the Francis/Kim Deal vocal interplay punctuated the set. The hour-and-45 minute performance also included their intriguing take on Jesus And Mary Chain’s “Head On.” Show headliner Weezer pulled out the hits along with songs from their lackluster latest, Make Believe. Hearing the band’s classic tunes—“Buddy Holly,” “Say It Ain’t So,” “My Name is Jonas”—alongside its current simpleton single “Beverly Hills” further accentuated the dullness of Weezer’s new album. Still, the quartet continued the tradition of delivering an amped-up show for it fans.
Sunday’s oppressive 100-plus-degree heat (Sara of Tegan And Sara passed out mid-set) didn’t discourage a reported 33,000 die-hard fans from attending Day Two. The U.K.’s Kasabian kept the crowds swaying with its electronic-infused rock. Dinosaur Jr’s return to Lollapalooza (the group’s first appearance—sans Lou Barlow—was in 1993) comprised the original lineup. With J Mascis’s Neil Young-styled vocal and songwriting, the set included underground favorites like the catchy “Raisans” from ’87s You’re Living All Over Me, and “Forget The Swan” from the band’s ’85 debut. Their long ’70s-ish solos and extended instrumentals peppered with the band’s telling feedback were a return to form. And everyone seemed to enjoy the band’s version of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”—Barlow’s screams jarringly added a new dimension to the tune. Perry Farrell’s latest project, Satellite Party, also took the stage. The band and its forthcoming album are reportedly based on a theater concept where a variety of artists throw parties and eventually some are invited to a “satellite party” in space. Huh? Exactly. It’s debut sampling at Lolla included dancing girls; the music was a mish-mash of ’70s funk, tribal sounds and occasional forays into psychedelic territory. Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt and No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal backed Farrell. Alabama slammers the Drive-By Truckers performed a kicking set complete with showstopper “Let There Be Rock.”
The pick of the fest, however, goes to The Arcade Fire. The extraordinary group swaps instruments throughout its set. Guitar, accordion, keyboard and hand-held snares change hands faster than a Vegas dealer shuffles cards. It’s a spectacle filled with dramatic flourishes. The Arcade Fire’s orchestral, choir-laden sound is rounded out by string instrumentation. It’s thoroughly engaging, if not a bit highbrow for a handful of rather confused-looking folks in the audience. The band’s collective talents make a brew of unforgettable music that rocks, sways, soars and even dances across the stage—it’s contagious. “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” playfully found some bandmates beating drum sticks and mic stands onto anything that would make a sound, including each other. “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” evoked the most intense crowd response—the storytelling song swells into beautiful soaring harmonies. If you don’t get a chance to see this band live, then do yourself the favor of getting the record (Funeral). It will not disappoint.
Later in the day, Spoon blew minds while The Killers trudged through their overplayed radio hits, and The Dandy Warhols captured another audience at the other end of the field. As the B.O. of patchouli-drenched Spreadheads wafted into the sweltering night air, the exit was calling. Wandering by the excellent Death Cab For Cutie, Widespread Panic’s noodling from the field’s other end overtook Ben Gibbard’s lullaby vocals. Lollapalooza was coming to a close. It wasn’t a bad debut for the now-stationary, two-day Chicago fest. With some tweaking, the (hopefully) annual event will only get bigger and better.