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Best & Worst of Lollapalooza: Day 1

Best Reason to Wake Up Early: B.o.B.
There were more dragonflies than fans on the damp expanse of Grant Park - and more people holding coffee cups than beers cozies - when the man born Bobby Ray Simmons took the stage at 11:30. What was with giving a guy who's moving so many units a slot in the Breakfast Club? Who knows, but before Squirt Boy's water bottles were even out of his holsterer, B.o.B. had the crowd overheated. His sweet genre-mashing went down like a pastry. Heads bobbed and arms waved to "Haterz Everywhere," "Past My Shades," and "Magic." Playboy Tre guested on "Bet I." and the frontman busted out an acoustic guitar for the emo power ballad "Letters from Vietnam." He played his own song "The Kids," and finished with a cover of MGMT's "Kids." But no kids were happier than the two who ended up with Bobby Ray's sneakers - in a moment of exuberance, he flung them into the crowd. - KEVIN BRONSON


B.o.B. / Photo: Andrew Herrold

Second Best Reason to Wake Up Early: Javelin
This Brooklyn duo were worth setting that pesky alarm clock and hitting Grant Park early. Cousins Tom van Buskirk, 28, and George Langford, 30, hit the Playstation Stage just before 11:30 A.M., and got an early-bird crowd dancing with their electronic sound collages that cut and paste rock, soul, pop, and hip-hop samples with original music. Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself," Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Tears of a Clown," and Mariah Carey's "Fantasy" were dropped over loops, drum machines, and synths that sounded like 8-bit video game themes or digital nursery rhymes. And it gets quirkier: The former art school students transmitted their music on a local frequency to an assemblage of 20 boom boxes onstage, which blasted the sound with a charmingly ramshackle quality. - WILLIAM GOODMAN

Best Excuse to Wake and Bake: Wavves
"You guys get high?" Nathan Williams blearily greeted the surprisingly massive opening-set crowd. "We just smoked out of a Bud Light can." Hey, never let it be said that artists won't support a festival's sponsors. But what better soundtrack for the day's first bouncings of beach balls than "King of the Beach?" Stoned out of his gourd or not, Williams seems more assured every time he plays, leaving his previous festival misadventures further in the rear view, thanks to new, better songs like "Green Eyes" and "Take on the World." And obviously, it's impossible to watch this incarnation of the band without thinking of Jay Reatard. -STEVE KANDELL


Wavves / Photo: Erik Voake

Most Glamtastic Extroverts: Semi Precious Weapons
For their Friday afternoon set on the BMI stage, Semi Precious Weapons came to make an impression-and left having made a spectacle of themselves. They wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Fronted by stiletto-heeled giant Justin Tranter, the NYC tranny glam quartet were a furious ball of fabulous energy, attitudinally if not musically akin to Lady Gaga, with whom they are currently touring and who helped them get signed. Thanks to their dervish bassist, whose playing often fell victim to his aggressive antics, the sound mix disappeared into a K hole and never quite recovered. But the crowd didn't seem to mind. Not when it could see the band's benefactor-clad in a nearly sheer body stocking-take to the stage, just to fly off it. "It's rock 'n' roll, but you can still dance," Tranter scolded. Like he even needed to tell us that. - DOUG BROD

Best Hometown Heroes: Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy
Artists traveled by plane, train, and automobile to Chicago for Lollapalooza, but some of the fest's most revered stars live so close they could have walked. The Mavis Staples -- the 71-year-old lead singer for the chart-topping Stax group the Staples Singers, and a native of the city's South Side -- invited another local, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, onstage during her early Friday afternoon set for a sampling of Chicago's gospel-blues sound. Tweedy, who produced Staples' forthcoming album You Are Not Alone, joined on acoustic guitar on its title track (which he wrote for her), as Staples for the world's lonely souls in her soulful voice. The alt-country rocker also played on a cover of John Fogerty's "Wrote a Song for Everyone," while Staples and her crackerjack band -- including three backup singers -- played Staple Singers classic "I'll Take You There," You Are Not Alone gospel gem "Too Close to Heaven/I'm on My Way to Heaven Anyhow," and a hot-blooded cover of the Band's classic "The Weight." - WG.


Mavis Staples / Photo: Erik Voake

Best Gingers: New Pornographers
The New Pornographers are always more entertaining when Neko Case is along for the show, as she was here. Wearing a massive floppy hat that could easily double as an Ikea lampshade, she lamented the fact that it was far plainer haberdashery than the evening's headliner Lady Gaga would likely sport. Still, equally pale but hatless AC Newman offered her $500 bucks for it. And in between the crackling stage banter, they played their songs, particularly awesomely. Say what you want about dodgy festival acoustics, but the intricate three-part harmonies on the Dan Bejar-fronted "Testament to Youth in Verse" were as clear as a bell. Three bells, even. - SK

Best Way to Break a MIDI's Heart: Jamie Lidell
Jamie Lidell's blue-eyed soul has always had a digital heart, but the swoonworthy Englishman has been stepping out on electronic band-in-a-box. His side-stage set, delivered as the sun set behind the Chicago skyline, was further evidence that every good guy needs a foil. He fronted a six-piece band that was heavy on the percussion, and the more organic sound was a perfect fit for the 36-year-old, who lived up to his reputation as an engaging storyteller. "Another Day" (off 2008's Jim) and "I Wanna Be Your Telephone" were highlights, as was his wry story about a man with a wandering eye, told to introduce "Enough's Enough." Good soul merchant that Lidell is, he gave the crowd the moral to the story straightaway: "You gotta tell the person you love they are enough." - KB


Jamie Lidell / Photo: Andrew Herrold

Best Reason to Close Your Eyes: The Big Pink
One of the biggest problems with festivals is that they often force music that's made in and for dark rooms into harsh midday sunlight, causing a contextual disconnect that can trip up some otherwise fine acts. British duo (turned quartet) the Big Pink's thick shoegaze is a great example-flawless on last year's A Brief History of Love, but not necessarily ideally suited to a muddy field at three in the afternoon. But they may be moving to later, more atmospherically apt time slots soon enough, if the 4-year-old girl singing along to the set-closing single "Dominoes" is any harbinger. - SK


Big Pink / Photo: Andrew Herrold

Best Way to Have It Made in the Shade: Jukebox the Ghost
The wisecracking Philadelphia indie-pop trio, performing on a side stage tucked mercifully amid shade-giving elm trees, seem to change personalities depending on on whether Ben Thornewill's keyboard sounds like an old grand, a tooting synth, or a tinkling saloon piano. They tossed out small foam balls to promote their forthcoming album, "Everything Under the Sun"-"We've got an album coming Sept. 7, and you've got the balls to prove it," Thornewill said-and described various tracks as "a dance song about mental instability," "a nice little song about the Antichrist," and "a dance song about tidal waves." But the biggest surprise was a song singer-guitarist Tommy Siegel said "you will probably recognize from the dentist's office." Indeed, Jukebox the Ghost covered the 1996 hit by Welsh singer-songwriter Donna Lewis, "I Love You Always Forever." And it wasn't even like pulling teeth. - KB


Jukebox the Ghost / Photo: Erik Voake

Best Jumbotron Close-up: Patrick Carney of the Black Keys
At the end of the Black Keys' triumphant sunset-slot set, the onstage video camera lingered on the drummer's impossibly sweat-drenched shirt. This stuff's hard work, people -- put down the lobster corn dog and applaud. -- SK

Best Way to Connect the Dots: Peanut Butter Wolf
The Los Angeles-based founder of Stones Throw Records told the Day-Glo-oozing crowd at Perry's stage, "I represent the old school and the new school." His hour-long VJ set backed the boast, in method and madness. The man born Chris Manak has his mashed-and-mixed music videos synced with a vinyl controller-when he scratches, the image stutters-and for all intents and purposes, this one could have been the curriculum to Hip-Hop 101. As fast as the beats could go, heroes flew by and melted into one another, Guru to KRS-One to the Beasties to Snoop to Wu-Tang to Souls of Mischief to Ice Cube to Sluggo to Donna Summer to James Brown to Hanson. ... Wait, Hanson? "Make some noise for Justin Bieber," PB Wolf joked to big cheers. It was like watching a great mixtape come alive on the big screen, and for the big finish Chicago's own Cool Kids clambered onstage to rap a couple songs at the end. - KB

Worst Dance Music: Dirty Projectors
This Brooklyn-based experimental indie rock outfit's music might be intelligent to the point of stopping all human movement. A star-studded crowd -- Danny Masterson from That '70s Show, plus members of Metric, Javelin, and Blitzen Trapper -- gathered to watch Yale music-composition grad and band mastermind David Longstreth lead the six-piece in a set drawing heavily on the complicated songs from Bitte Orca, their artfully ambitions 2009 album that's full of prog blasts, hairpin rhythmic turns, and a tizzy of electric guitar lines. And while their set had its beautiful moments, mostly courtesy of a trio of angel-voiced young ladies, their indie geekery is impossible to hold a groove to. Each time the crowd danced or clapped along to any numbers of songs -- "Temecula Sunrise," "Stillness is the Move," et al. - their collective energy was squelched as the band explored another sudden direction. -- WG


Dirty Projectors / Photo: Erik Voake

Least Colorful Neon Band: Neon Trees
The black-dressed synth-rockers from Utah blasted onto a side stage after a mighty introduction from a local radio DJ, but not long into the quintet's 45-minute set you had to wonder: Does radio need fodder this badly? Neon Trees' resume includes a stint as openers on the Killers' tour, this year's album Habits and an undeniable (Mark Hoppus-approved) single titled "Animals," which was certainly the high point on this day. Emo-hawked lead singer Tyler Glenn kept claiming to "feel kinetic energy," and the quintet's naughty bits-added, four-on-floor rockers moved a few bodies, but mostly it amounted to bad bad-boy swagger, badly overplayed. - KB


Neon Trees / Photo: Andrew Herrold

 

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