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Lollapalooza 2011 Sunday: The Perfect Storm

Maximum Performance

The final day of Lollapalooza, which featured long-standing big-timers the Foo Fighters, was a serious endurance test for rock fans, who had to deal with an onslaught of rainstorms that put a literal damper on the entire festival. Taking place in two installments, the storms transformed Chicago's Grant Park into a giant mudpit, a Mudapalooza of sorts. However, since such a silly thing as inclement weather couldn't possibly ruin a festival that's been going strong for 20 years, the Lolla punters reacted by dancing, sliding, and rolling around in the mud like crazy swamp animals.

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The first storm did affect the showtimes, as Arctic Monkeys' set at the Music Unlimited Stage was delayed by 30 minutes, and right afterwards, Texan post-rockers Explosions In The Sky had to cut their set short by 15 minutes to make sure that headliners the Foo Fighters started on time. But other than that, it was fun as usual, rain or shine.

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It's a good thing that Dave Grohl is just about the coolest rock dude there's ever been. The Foos started their set on the dot at 8pm after many fans' chanted declarations of "We want Foo!" The lead singer and former Nirvana drummer wasted no time in getting the party started, raising his fists up in the air and shredding on his guitar from note one, joined by the rest of the members of his classic '90s band, now with original bassist Pat Smear fully back in the lineup.

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The Foos' energetic set was actually the most gratifying headliner experience of Lollapalooza 2011, especially considering that Lollapalooza has its roots firmly planted in grunge (Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell launched Lolla in that all-important grunge-centric year, 1991) and has embraced it in one way or another over the past two decades. Along with being the ultimate festival band, the Foo Fighters--who, incredibly, had never played Lollapalooza before--were the perfect '90s heritage act, the perfect embodiment of the Lollapalooza legacy, and one of the last access points for the genre. But their set was no flannel-flying nostalgia act, as their new material, like this year's Wasted Light, was totally suitable for fresh ears and young listeners. Anybody claiming grunge is dead should have been there to witness Grohl's relentless energy, hair-flips, fist-pumps, and guitar-shredding on the opener "Bridge Burning," which lead right into "Rope" and  "The Pretender."

And then, during "The Pretender," came the second storm. Fans squealed and photographers ran for cover as the rain hammered down on Grant Park, but that didn't stop the Foo Fighters from fighting the good fight. Grohl exclaimed, "I don't give a f*** if it's raining! This is funny s***. This is our Chicago show. We're gonna play new songs, old songs, and songs of 16 years. Are you ready?"

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The band then stormed in with one hit after another, after another, including "Hero," "Learn To Fly," and new singles off Wasted Light. Grohl's stamina was a marvel to behold, and his energy, especially impressive after all these years, seemed like it would never cease. It wasn't just the grunge history, Nirvana connections, or the 16 years of unity as a band that made the Foos such a live act; it was the fact that they had so many hits to cull from, so there wasn't a single moment of downtime during their two-hour set, even though there was a major downpour.

At the beginning of the day, there didn't seem to be any threat of rain at all. The Pains Of Being Pure at Heart started off their set playing to a sunlit audience, and keyboardist/vocalist Peggy Wang said, "You're the best crowd we've ever had! It's a dream come true to play Lollapalooza. I've come to the festival four times." The band had come a long way since their small CMJ showcases in support of their 2009 self-titled debut, and they played to thousands of new fans with a newfound confidence, offering up their old hits and more '90s-alternative material from their 2011 sophomore effort, Belong.

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Up next was a major festival reunion, but unfortunately, it was a total bust. Boston's famous '80s rockers the Cars reunited onstage after releasing their critically heralded comeback album Move Like This earlier this year, and they had a packed crowd waiting to enjoy their classic hits. Original members Ric Ocasek, Elliot Easton, and Greg Hawkes showed up (sadly sans bassist/singer Benjamin Orr, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2000), and they kicked off their set with "Good Times Roll" and went on to play highlights from their classic new wave '80s discography. And although many of their vintage hits were a blast to hear live, especially "Just What I Needed" and "You Might Think" (the latter of which, for many, conjured memories of its MTV music video debut), the band just wasn't very engaging onstage, or very invested in interacting with Lollapalooza attendees. In fact, it turned out that nobody from the entire band once stepped up to the mic to utter a single word directed toward the eager audience. The good times weren't rolling after all.

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Perhaps the Cars' bad behavior was an omen of the storms to come, because right around the time Arctic Monkeys were slated to go on, the rain came pouring down. But the Brit darlings, who surely were no strangers to festival rain thanks to their appearances at soggy U.K festivals like Glastonbury, had far too much swagger to let a little storm get them down. They jammed on material from their recent album, Suck It And See, and of course played their most famous single "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor," institgating a mud-dance riot across the festival grounds. In some sections, people were even slip n' sliding through the soggy earth. 

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Explosions In The Sky began their set immediately afterwards on the Sony Stage, and they provided the perfect pre-show dynamics to what would be the real live sky explosion in the form of the Foo Fighters' rock 'n' roll storm to come. All in all, Lollapalooza's 20th-anniversary lineup, while it didn't completely embody the grunge ideals that the festival was once founded upon, fully made up for that during its three jam-packed days. Storm or no storm, the music never stopped for any reason. Founder Perry Farrell should be damn proud of the empire he's built.

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