CHICAGO — OK, it wasn't the traveling festival that defined a generation a decade ago. But Lollapalooza — a pair of shows in downtown Chicago on Saturday and Sunday — seemed reinvigorated in its new setting despite withering heat, dust storms and some performers' inappropriately dark stage clothing.
Scorching sets by the Killers, the Pixies, Weezer, Spoon, Louis XIV, a reunited Dinosaur Jr. and the Arcade Fire were among the weekend's highlights. But with 60 performers on six stages, whether you were into hippie jams (Blue Merle, Widespread Panic), Latintronica (Los Amigos Invisibles), psychedelic freakouts (the Dandy Warhols, the Warlocks), or new-wave power pop (OK Go, the Changes), festival co-founder Perry Farrell had something for each of the nearly 66,000 people who showed up over both days — even if the lineup lacked the diversity of past Lollas in favor of lots of indie rock played by (mostly) young white guys.
Rather than the usual outdoor sheds Lolla has played in the past, this year's festival was located among four baseball fields in the middle of the Chicago waterfront's sprawling Grant Park. With the four main stages alternating activity at opposite ends of the field all day, attendees ebbed and flowed like a large dusty amoeba. By early Saturday, the field was filled with couples, clusters — and families.
Yes, families. With free attendance for kids younger than 10, strollers appeared as hip a fashion accessory as lip rings. Parents with shorties in tow steadily rolled over to Kidzapalooza, located in a shady grove off the main drag. Kid-friendly performers, an instrument "petting zoo" where wee ones could try out real rock gear, and a tentful of professional stylists sculpting punk hairdos offered diversions for the strollerpalooza set.
Saturday's early performers hit a thematic get-back groove, ranging from the Beatles-y pop of Chicago's Redwalls and the psychedelic goth noise of Los Angeles' Warlocks to the electronic jams of France's M83 and the Dead 60s' Clash-inspired dub-reggae rock.
Pleasant surprises included former Porno for Pyros guitarist Pete DiStefano's kids-stage set of acoustic songs from his new album. While some tykes looked a bit bewildered during "Hypocrisy," their parents perked up when Farrell emerged to jam on a few Porno songs. In addition to "Pets" (who knew it could be a children's song?), the pair unveiled the new "Agua." Farrell — wearing a striped shirt, brown pants and a short, dazzling clownlike tie — said the tune, written while he vacationed in Samoa, was about "being like a dolphin and swimming away when people try to talk to you." This time the kids nodded while parents looked confused.
Former Chicagoan Liz Phair got off to a rocky start, seeming nervous and somewhat out of step with her band on "Supernova" and the midtempo title track from her upcoming album, Somebody's Miracle, due in October. But Phair hit her groove a few songs in with the decidedly family-unfriendly "F--- and Run."
Across the field, meanwhile, the Kaiser Chiefs were throwing down a sweaty "I Predict a Riot" during which singer Ricky Wilson climbed up a lighting rig to get a better view of the growing crowd. Dashboard Confessional's emo set was nearly drowned out by the shambolic Brian Jonestown Massacre, who punctuated their allotted hour of whispered dreamy folk pop (and repeated slagging of Dashboard) with long bouts of tuning up and knob-twiddling by frontman Anton Newcombe.
Unlike past Lollas, this year's event was light on sideshow diversions, DJs and hip-hop. A far-flung side stage featured Cypress Hill DJ Muggs' mash-up set, a b-boy breakdance demonstration and sparsely attended DJ sets over the weekend from Mark Farina, Z-Trip and Chicago house legend Derrick Carter.
The main stages, though, drew huge late-afternoon crowds for Cake, the Bravery and buff old-school punk Billy Idol. When Billy yelled "Sweat, sweat, sweat!" during "Dancing With Myself," it wasn't hard for the audience to comply as the temperature rose to a steamy 95-plus degrees. Listeners got a brief break when a light rain fell, but by the time Ohio duo the Black Keys took the stage an hour later for a blistering set of Delta blues, the only thing to remind the weary crowd of water were the two huge inflatable ducks onstage with Primus.
It was a rough night to be New York's Walkmen, with most of the crowd checking out the sunset gig by alt-rock gods the Pixies. The crowd chanted along to alterna-hits such as "Bone Machine" and "U Mass" and shouted out the choruses to lesser-knowns like "Caribou" and "I Bleed." A surprisingly large contingent also threw up six fingers during "Monkey Gone to Heaven" in conjunction with the line, "And the devil is six." As the sun set behind Sears Tower, profusely sweaty singer Frank Black sang about "big, big love" in "Gigantic," making for a postcard-perfect end to a long peaceful day in the grass.
But not before the day's only main-stage hip-hop act, the reunited Digable Planets trio, lost out attendance-wise to show closers Weezer. Rivers Cuomo and company hit a home run with a mix of classics ("Undone — The Sweater Song") and recent hits ("We Are All on Drugs," "Beverly Hills"). If the Pixies are the unofficial rulers of the aging alternative nation, Lollapalooza's national anthem is "Buddy Holly," which even the weariest 'Paloozers were crooning as the night wound to a close.
With news that Sunday's temperature would creep dangerously past 100 degrees, it seemed probable that day two's crowd would be thinner — and it was, at first. While many families stayed away, diehards slathered on sunscreen, guzzled water and bopped along to OK Go's unironic noontime rendering of their hit, "You're So Damn Hot." Sunday's only mainstage hip-hop performer, conscious poet Saul Williams, mesmerized the lunchtime crowd with a flaming set of rhymes about black identity and antimaterialism complemented by a thick stew of piano samples and DJ Ad Lib's beats.
Following a set by reunited indie-rock legends Dinosaur Jr., Farrell used a midday slot to debut his latest project, Satellite Party. The unlikely mash-up of No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal and former Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt played a meandering set of jam-funk originals with such titles as "Revolution Solution" and "Flash Mob," with Farrell musing aloud about space travel and parties among the planets.
Just when it seemed the 33,000 brave souls who endured another scorching day had nothing left in them — although, surprisingly, only 60 people were treated for heat over the course of the weekend — Montreal's Arcade Fire turned up the temperature another notch. Dressed in black like an Amish party band, the nine-piece group played a manic set of songs from their 2004 debut, Funeral. Singer Win Butler was treated like a conquering hero when he jumped into the audience after a lovely extended take on "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," wading all the way to the rear as the crowd parted before him and offered hundreds of sweaty high fives and hugs.
Unlike Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara (who succumbed to the heat during their set), Las Vegas' Killers seemed unfazed by the setting sun's glare as natty singer Brandon Flowers worked the stage in a plaid jacket over a black T-shirt and tight black pants. He barely broke a sweat during "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" and worked what looked like the weekend's biggest crowd into a frenzy during their hit "Smile."
Though Flowers and company were wisely booked for the day after their nemeses in the Bravery, you could be forgiven for thinking things were going to get ugly when Jonestown Massacre's Newcombe was spotted sitting onstage during the Dandy Warhols' set of droning freak rock. Although portrayed as his arch enemies in last year's acclaimed rock documentary, "Dig," the Portland band invited Newcombe to join them for a long rambling take on the Massacre's "Oh Lord" and "Jesus," thus confounding at least some Dandy fans.
Farrell was surely smiling somewhere as the sticky night ended with Death Cab for Cutie's emo anthems and Widespread Panic's second set of extended improv rock bouncing off one another from opposite ends of the park. He'd earlier envisaged a satellite party in space, and now, rather than emptying out into a generic parking lot, his people were instead wandering through Grant Park's urban oasis, stopping to gaze at majestic Buckingham Fountain's changing colors and temporarily transforming at least one corner of Chicago into an earthbound version of his cosmic dream.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.