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Lollapalooza 2011 Saturday: Eminem’s Recovery & New Music Discovery

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Day two of Lollapalooza's 20th anniversary weekend in Chicago's Grant Park needed an A-list headliner that would blow all predecessors out of the water, and there was no one more up for the task than Eminem. The rapper certainly let the anticipation rise before he arrived onstage Saturday. Fans who had gathered at the Music Unlimited Stage started chanting, "Slim Shady!" as early as 8pm, then progressed to "Marshall Mathers!" and finally to "Eminem!" until 8:30pm. That's when the stage finally darkened, and a history of the hip-hop legend was displayed onscreen like movie credits, chronicling Em's mid-2000s hiatus from the music scene and ending with the simple words: "You are all here to witness Eminem's recovery."

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And what a recovery! In a recent interview with Time Out Chicago, the rapper confessed that he's "fairly new" to large festival shows (although he mentioned he played some in his "hazier days"), and said, "I stopped jumping in the crowd a few years ago, when I jumped in the crowd and came up almost butt-naked. I thought, you know what, I'm probably [not going to] do this much anymore." Though there was no stage-diving this year at Lolla, that didn't stop the crowds from swarming in, sitting atop each other's shoulders, and rapping along to Mr. Mathers' many, many iconic songs.

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Lollapalooza 2011's bill, at first glance, may not have boasted any big newsworthy reunions, as it did with last year's Soundgarden and Jane's Addiction in 2009, but when Eminem joined up with his longtime buddy from his Detroit days, Royce Da 5'9", to form the duo Bad Meets Evil, it was a Lollapalooza reunion that was tough to top. Commencing with the opener "Won't Back Down," which was originally a collaboration with Pink, the twosome went on the perform cuts off the Bad Meets Evil release from earlier this year, Hell: The Sequel.

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Eminem riled up the crowd with a nonstop medley of hits, including "The Way I Am," during which Royce Da 5'9" provided a great counterbalance to Eminem's onstage toughness, backing him with furious call-and-response. Bruno Mars then hopped out for a quick cameo on the song "Lighters," and in a legit festival fashion, thousands of audience members ignited their lighters in unison. Skylar Grey also came out for Dr. Dre's "I Need A Doctor," although Dre himself was unfortunately nowhere to be seen. (And also oddly, Skylar didn't come out to fill in for the Rihanna vocals on the previous song, "Love The Way You Lie," which she actually co-wrote.) In the end, Eminem and Royce consummated their reunion with an amazing live montage of "My Name Is," the track that catapulted Eminem to worldwide fame back in 1999, with "The Real Slim Shady" and "Without Me."

While Lolla Saturday ended on a fierce note thanks to Eminem, it had a shaky start due to fear of rain. Thankfully, bad weather forecasts were never fulfilled, and instead the afternoon began in a most mellow manner at the Google+ Stage with Chicago's fine folksters Maps & Atlases, who sounded like a more granola version of Wild Beasts. Lead singer Dave Davidson, bearded and noble, transmitted festival-folk vibes, complete with soft grooves driven by xylophones and a robust percussion section. It was the perfect kickoff to the sunshine day.

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While day one of Lollapalooza had been slanted more towards cutesy indie-pop, day two ultimately delivered more energetic music, for feistier festival-goers. Case in point: the Black Lips on the Playstation Stage. The Atlanta foursome hit the stage, and the lead guitarist immediately shotgunned a beer; nothing less would be expected from the infamous band known for such controversial onstage antics as making out with each other and flashing their privates (neither of which they did at Lollapalooza). The Lips actually claimed to be surprised to be playing Lolla at all, but it was no surprise to most, considering that the band's new Mark Ronson-produced Arabia Mountain album has modernized/commercialized their sound for a whole new wider audience.

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Meanwhile, over at the BMI Stage, dance fans found refuge from the swarms at the other stages and enjoyed the Chain Gang Of 1974, aka one-man electro solo project Kamtin Mohager. Mohager executed Morrissey-esque dance moves while wearing tattered pants and flannel, momentarily stopping his fabulous onstage display only to make space in the crowd for his mic stand, so he could directly serenade his audience at the ground level. The BMI Stage definitely gets this year's unofficial "best stage" vote.

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Back at the Budweiser Stage, Death From Above 1979 put on their own fierce reunion. The Canadian duo reunited in time for this year's Coachella in April and played a slew of other festivals leading up to their Lollapalooza debut, where they blasted their dance-metal in a destructive fashion that included searing basslines and whiplash-speed hair flips. Bassist Jesse F. Keeler (half of the duo MSTRKRFT) and singer/drummer Sebastien Grainger were perfect indie yin and yang, with the former clad in all black and the latter in all white, and they really got the crowd worked up when they gave a shout-out to their favorite Chicago venues, the Empty Bottle and Metro, before cranking out some of their vintage material.

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One of the afternoon's most visually entertaining sets took place on the other end of the park at the Artists Unlimited Stage with Cee Lo Green, who has quite the reputation for festival lashouts. This time, however, even his "F*** You" song was innocuous, and even though he played a number of covers--including tunes by the Violent Femmes, Danzig, Moby, and Billy Idol--the most interesting thing about his incident-free set was the costuming: He sported a football vest covered in lights and goth spikes, while his gorgeous girl band shredded behind him while bedecked in bondage gear.

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A repeat Lolla performer from '09 whose new acclaimed sophomore album, Wounded Rhymes, showcases more personal, artistically rich material, Swedish songstress Lykke Li would not have been out of place on the festival's main stage (where she may well end up in future years). But unfortunately, at Lollapalooza 2011 she proved she hasn't evolved much as a performer in the two years since she debuted at the festival, as she did her usual shtick at the Google+ Stage, wearing all black and banging on a tom while sultrily singing. Her performance was somewhat predictable, but apparently that didn't bother any of the audience members, who seemed entranced by her set.

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All in all, day two of Lollapalooza was an ideal combination of light and dark, as the sounds of Eminem's closing set faded out, and the gorgeous Balkan beats of avant indie darlings Beirut on the nearby Google+ Stage and the rustic tones of My Morning Jacket on the Budweiser Stage came wafting in during the festival's final minutes.

Tired yet? There's one more day of festival fun to go! Let's just hope Chicago keeps the good weather going for day-three acts like the Cars, Arctic Monkeys, Explosions In The Sky, and Sunday's biggest headliner, the Foo Fighters.

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