Perry Farrell's Lollapalooza--the Jane's Addiction leader's alt-rock allstar tour of the 1990s, now resurrected as a one-off, three-day festival in Chicago for the 2000s--kicked off Friday, August 5 in the Chi's Grant Park. And as far as festival battles go, day one of Lolla's 20th-anniversary weekend featured a major headliner showdown between two indie Brit greats: Coldplay vs. Muse, who were playing on opposite ends of the park at the exact same time. And even though actress-turned-singer Gwyneth Paltrow didn't show up onstage to duet with her husband Chris Martin, Coldplay were, unsurprisingly, the more popular choice with the Lolla crowd.
Coldplay were, more surprisingly, Lollapalooza virgins. "We've always wanted to play Lollapalooza," announced the enigmatic Martin. "It's like a dream come true! This is our first proper show back in the States, so we're gonna give you everything we have." And that they did. Before they even hit the stage, hundreds of fans started to hum the melody of "Viva La Vida" in order to entice the band to start the show, and once Coldplay emerged, they played their first Lolla like true festival mega-headliners, starting off their evening set by blasting in with the theme of Back To The Future, followed by a laser lightshow and hundreds of giant, multicolored balloons floating over the entire crowd. Highlights of their set included the classic "Yellow" (with amber stage lights to match) and another old favorite off their first album Parachutes, "Shiver," as well their new single "Charlie Brown," which they'd debuted on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" this week (and had dedicated to Amy Winehouse). It was the perfect way to top off day one of Lollapalooza, and chances are Coldplay's first time playing the festival won't be their last.
Many younger bands saw their own Lollapalooza-debut dreams come true this year. First, Denver's husband-wife duo Tennis (Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley) kicked off Friday by charming the early-bird crowd in the Google+ Tent with the nautical '60s-pop of their concept album Cape Dory (the result of a seven-month voyage into the open sea). Across the field, the Naked & Famous (New Zealand's own answer to MGMT) amped up the energy, bringing their bass- and synth-heavy dance beats their album Passive Me, Aggressive You to the Sony Stage.
Reptar (yes, "Rugrats" fans, that is a Nickelodeon reference) won the unofficial award for most entertaining set of the day. The Athens buzz band, one of the breakthrough stars of this past March's South By Southwest fest as well, veered from Animal Collective-inspired freak folk to Afrobeat while bedecked in such fashion finds as blue Spandex and tie-dyed T-shirts. The Passion Pit-meets-Vampire Weekend vibes of their recent Oblangle Fizz EP went over well with spectators, many of whom were also draped in the most outrageous festival-wear imaginable. (Lolla fashion trends in 2011 could be summed up by the "three B's": bikinis, bodysuits, and bare feet.) And although it was barely after 2pm when Reptar wrapped up, one glance across Grant Park revealed swarms of people, the type of massive crowd usually only seen at headliners' shows.
Over at the Playstation Stage, Chicago's own garage-psych-rockers Smith Westerns took their sweet time showing up, getting a late--yet insanely fashionable--start on their set, as if they really were playing in their own backyard. Meanwhile, over the Budweiser Stage, the Kills, well, killed it. There was practically steam hovering over the stage during their sweltering afternoon set. Though the duo's Alison Mosshart (also of Jack White's Dead Weather) and Jamie Hince (also known as Mr. Kate Moss) shared their usual famously intense onstage dynamic, the blazing Grant Park sun certainly contributed to their heat, as the two alternated between hair-flips and amp-humps while their beats slowly pulsed and built up to their signature thick, warm guitar crackle.
Back over at the Google+ Stage (which from here on out will be called the "Indie Precious Stage"), New York's Cults played an adorable show, with frontgirl Madeline Follin swaying back and forth while cooing along to the band's poppy harmonies. It was an overall solid set of songs from the self-titled album that earned Cults "Best New Music" honors from Pitchfork.com this year.
Of course, Lolla ain't Lolla without a strong dance act to fulfill Perry Farrell's festival-rave aspirations, with such raving always taking place at the aptly self-named Perry's Stage. And this year's dance purveyors were the Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77, from the hipster Dim Mak label. Hailing from Italy, Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo and Tommy Tee wore venom masks and blasted their Steve Aoki-approved electronica to a tent (thankfully a fully air-conditioned dance tent this year!) packed with inebriated revelers.
And finally, back at the Music Unlimited Stage, alt-rock supergroup A Perfect Circle began their set with a haunting cover of John Lennon's "Imagine," with ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha providing the keyboards for the classic ballad. APC then played art-metal samplings from their discography in true festival fashion, drawing a combination grunge/goth crowd similar to the audience that fellow rock veterans Soundgarden had attracted to the Music Unlimited Stage last year. Towards the end of the show, frontman Maynard James Keenan announced that between appearances with his main band, Tool, and with A Perfect Circle, he'd played Lollapalooza an impressive five times, making him a Lolla veteran second only to probably Perry Farrell himself.
And thus, day two came to a close. But the Lolla party is just getting started. Saturday is sure to bring the Chicago heat, with appearances by Lykki Li, My Morning Jacket, Cee Lo Green, Ellie Goulding, and perhaps the festival's biggest attraction, Eminem. Come back tomorrow for the full report.
- Perry Farrell