Lollapalooza 2009 Wrap-Up

If you weren’t talking about the weather in Grant Park this weekend, you weren’t in Grant Park this weekend. And really that would’ve been a shame. It was oppressive at times, but despite — or as these things go, perhaps because of — the inclement weather conditions (APW-styled rain Friday, sweltering heat and humidity the rest of the time), there was a buzz about Lollapalooza that made it yet again one of the year’s most memorable festivals. Impressive, because the lineup seemed anything but. Like they say, though, a successful fest is 10 percent inspiration, 80 percent perspiration, and 10 percent carrying an offensive, rainy sweat stink with you on the plane that just won’t get out. So this Lolla was super successful.

There were some notable covers, like of Montreal’s “Moonage Daydream” with an assist from Janelle Monae, and Santigold’s take on the Cure’s “Killing An Arab.” There were some notable dedications, like Los Campesinos! offering a tune in honor of the Smashing Pumpkins, and Vampire Weekend sending out “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” to John Hughes here in the late, great, musical filmmaker’s home city. (As you know, Vampire Weekend are admirers.) But as befitting a festival its magnitude, the most notable moments came via each night’s headliners.

No matter which end of the park you settled in to last night, you were being served up some ham: the Killers brought their blue collared new wave synth-glitz to the Chicago 2016 stage, while the reunited Jane’s Addiction settled into the opposite end’s Budweiser structure. While most had evidently chosen spending their night with Brandon Flowers, those that came to Jane’s found themselves under a spotlight from a circling helicopter overhead at the open. Just a little reminder that the kids may want the Killers but this is Perry’s house. The set was heavy on the hits, Farrell single-handedly making up for the weekend’s lack of stage banter with one ridiculous and amusing digression after another. Navarro rips, Perkins held it down despite being advised by two specialists not to perform, and yeah they’re caricatures, but they’re incredibly tight ones with boundless energy and a better catalog than most any band that played this festival.

Well OK, let’s not forget Depeche Mode. The rain miraculously stopped Friday night in time for their headliner, and their memorable set was somewhat akin to Jane’s: for 90 minutes we were on a (post-Music For The Masses) nostalgia trip and in the hands of bona fide rock stars who knew how to address a crowd that size almost too well. But even as Dave Gahan has his stage persona perfectly calibrated like he’s a charismatic scientist, the dude can wrap you in moments of sheer emotion and goosebumps. And while it was, again, unfortunate to be at a festival Beastie Boys were forced to cancel, giving Karen O and Yeah Yeah Yeahs a chance to occupy the anchor slot next to titans like Perry and Gahan seemed perfectly fitting, and right on time: Karen’s one of our generation’s few true rock stars — a relic of the past, in a way — and her compelling mix of vulnerable pathos and new wave banshee were perfectly framed by the Chicago skyline and the mainstage’s sweep. She’s not quite there yet — she did forget the words to “Maps,” after all — but as the adoring crowd that pick up the lyrical slack showed, she’ll pack ‘em tight and close even as she sands down the edges.

A lot of factors need to conspire to create in the perfectly memorable festival set. Sometimes it’s the weather — last weekend Fleet Foxes fed off the rain for a transportive set, but on Friday they and Bon Iver seemed tamed by it. Sometimes it’s the time of day — at Bonnaroo, Animal Collective shriveled in the sun at 2PM, but their evening set this weekend was one of the festival’s most magical. (They opened with “What Would I Want Sky,” inspiring majestic crowd-surfing to their blissy ambient tripouts. Definitely track down that set’s unending “Fireworks.”) It could just be up to the festival planners and what stage they give you — see Passion Pit, whose slot at the tiny Citi stage demonstrated a gross underestimation of that band’s appeal, but also created the circumstances for a crazy packed dance party that might have been the festival’s most bonkers crowd. Or it could just be the right “time” for you as a band — and for this one I’m talking about Arctic Monkeys. Their set at APW was fine, but something shifted for this Lolla set: Yes they stormed NYC on a wave of hype after their MySpace demos, and yes they keep playing bigger rooms when they come through, but their performance at the Budweiser mainstage had the feel of a true American coming out party. Alex is all muscles and hair and effortless charisma, the Sabbath-spiked Humbug songs don’t always hit but when they do, like on “Crying Lightning,” they are massive, and really to get a sense for the magnitude of this set, just take a look at the pictures of the crowd. After that set, it seemed like they’ve finally arrived on these shores.

Last year Lollapalooza set an attendance record with 225,000 over three days, but I’d never actually experienced the crush until this year when I got caught in a poorly planned bottleneck — a human traffic jam comprising folks watching Santigold, folks buying beer, folks leaving Arctic Monkeys, and folks nearly passing out from the heat. Lolla lost some points there. And yet, even on an apparently off-year lineup wise, it was unforgettable. And so I’d do it again.

Oh, and after Jane’s on Sunday I went to see Them Crooked Vultures at the Metro because I don’t believe in sleep or preserving my hearing for old age. It was fun! Thanks for following along on Twitter. See you next year, Chicago. Now if you need me I’ll be showering for the next week.

sounds of buzz