by Jeff Niesel
Ever since becoming a destination festival in Chicago some seven years ago, Lollapalooza has steadily grown. The three-day festival, which just concluded yesterday, may well have outgrown its Grant Park location. Drawing close to 100,000 fans each day, it was bursting at the seams, making it difficult to navigate from one stage to the next. And that's a shame because there was plenty of good stuff to see, often at conflicting time slots.
Performing in the Friday night headlining slot, Nashville-via-Akron’s Black Keys received a gracious introduction courtesy of Chicago mayor Rahm Immanuel and arrived on a stage so filled with smoke that singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach apologized for their “smoke guy,” saying he was new to the job. Expanded from a duo, the band has a much fuller, more propulsive sound, and played to an enormous throng of fans. Friday’s other headliner, a recently reunited Black Sabbath, didn’t draw nearly as big of a crowd. And singer Ozzy Osbourne has seen better days. He appeared to forget some of the words and pranced around stage like a princess rather than the Prince of Darkness, as the band played classics like “Ironman” and “Fairies Wear Boots.”
Saturday will be remembered as the day of the evacuation. Because of a looming thunderstorm, organizers decided to clear the venue as a safety precaution and thousands of fans had to seek shelter at nearby bars or in parking structures. The storm blew through quickly, however, and after a delay of about two hours, fans returned to the soggy venue. Despite the delay, headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers played to a packed field, opening with “Monarchy of Roses” and then playing a set that included a handful of tunes from this year’s I’m With You. The high-energy set went over well, and bassist Flea encouraged everyone to “be nice” as fans were pressed up against the stage. Simultaneously, acclaimed R&B singer Frank Ocean played on a side stage but his lowkey material didn’t translate well in the festival setting.
Sunday’s headliners provided another study in contrasts. On one end of Grant Park, disheveled singer-guitarist Jack White of White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather fame played a solo show in which he touched upon his entire repertoire, playing material from all three of his previous bands during a ramshackle set that seemed a bit unfocused. On the opposite side of the park, the Parisian dance duo Justice cranked up the amps during an electronic music performance that had all the elements of an arena rock show. The guys effectively used strobe and LED lights to amplify the disco elements of their electronic dance music. Unlike most DJ acts that seem content to replicate a dance club environment, Justice improvised and added a live dimension to their performance, playing live keyboards on the tune “D.A.N.C.E.” and manipulating other songs so they came to clear climaxes.
Low key performances by LP, a female singer-songwriter who looks a bit like a young Bob Dylan, who played on a side stage on Saturday and Franz Ferdinand, the Scottish indie pop/rock act who played one of the main stages that same day, stood out as highlights. And Red Oblivion, a hard rock band featuring former Clevelander Eden Rayz on cello, won over new fans despite having an unenviable early Sunday time slot on a side stage. Their cover of the Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the UK” certainly fit the festival’s often-chaotic nature.