CHICAGO — Nothing feels better than coming home a different person than when you left. For the tens of thousands who attended Lollapalooza over the weekend on the shores of Lake Michigan, maybe it was the sense that in between sets by favorites like Amy Winehouse, Lupe Fiasco, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and M.I.A., they had discovered something new, like Mexico’s answer to Radiohead (Café Tacuba) or a Swedish chamber-pop mob (I’m From Barcelona).
For show closers Pearl Jam, who electrified what looked to be the largest final-night crowd in the three-year history of the reborn fest, it was the opportunity for singer and Chicago-area native Eddie Vedder to make a giant noise under the skyline of his memories. With a raging, political set equal to some of the legends he reminisced about listening to while riding the elevated train downtown as a teen, Vedder and Pearl Jam capped the sweaty eclectic weekend with a rousing selection of new and old favorites.
Showing no signs that they’re easing into elder-statesman status, despite having played the second installment of the original Lollapalooza in 1992, PJ’s set exploded out of the gate with four ragers, including live favorite “Corduroy” and a blazing, neck-vein-popping “Do the Evolution.” Instead of rushing through early-career mega-hits such as “Evenflow,” PJ dug into one of the oldest sing-alongs in their catalog and shredded it for more than eight minutes, with guitarist Mike McCready doing his best Jimi Hendrix behind-the-head solo and drummer Matt Cameron even getting an old-fashioned classic-rock drum solo that was cued to a huge, seemingly serendipitous lakefront fireworks display. Paying homage to one of his heroes who played a few hours earlier, Vedder invited audience members up to the stage to play tambourine along with singer/guitarist Ben Harper on a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
Vedder encouraged boycotts of oil companies (and sang a catchy punk ditty about it called “Don’t Go BP Amoco”), dissed George Bush during a run through “Daughter” that went into the “we don’t need no education chant” from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2,” and brought out an anti-Iraq war-veteran friend before playing a new antiwar song, “No More War,” with Harper. When all was said and done, Pearl Jam had proven that not only are they not a nostalgia act — they might just now be hitting their stride.
Helping PJ put the cap on the weekend were proto-punk legends the Stooges, who delivered a weirdly intense set. Though their song selection was a bit off earlier in the day, the reunited band thrilled the adoring crowd with a noisy, sometimes chaotic set that captured its unique off-kilter chemistry.
Shirtless as usual, 60-year-old punk pinwheel Iggy Pop bounded onstage for a one-two of “1969” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and then pointed his fingers like a pistol at the crowd for the murderous new tune “My Idea of Fun.” Engaging in his usual ways — humping speakers, grabbing his crotch and dumping water on his straw-like hair — Pop also honored tradition by inviting some fans onstage to dance and sing along to “No Fun.” Unfortunately for Pop, wayyyy too many kids took him up on his offer, creating a scene almost got out of control before he took refuge behind a speaker.
Also helping seal the deal Sunday night (August 3) was a cinematic explosion of sounds from moody Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket. Wearing matching purple jackets, vests and black pants, the often-psychedelic band drove hard on the punk-speed “What a Wonderful Man” opener and added a layer of majestic sound to already-wide-open songs like “Gideon” (with accompaniment from the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra on that tune and for much of the remaining set). Singer Jim James’ massive falsetto echoed through the humid late afternoon air and the band tore off some Skynyrd-on-speed-worthy solos along the way.
One of the most anticipated performances of Lollapalooza’s climax on Sunday was given by Amy Winehouse, the petite, rail-thin English soul, jazz and R&B singer whose latest album, Back to Black, has been one of this year’s more surprising sleeper hits in the U.S. The crowd of thousands, including shirtless frat boys, drunken hipsters and lovely lasses baring their midriffs, built slowly in the minutes preceding Winehouse’s set, which, as it was, began 15 minutes late.
For a supposedly “green” festival, it was amusing to think how many cans of Aquanet it must’ve taken to keep Winehouse’s beehive intact. And while her hair kept its form, so did she: Her voice was as smooth as a peach, even hypnotizing at times — eerily reminiscent of Lauryn Hill’s luscious pipes. And her band, the Dap-Kings, which helped bring the set to its peak during a cover of Otis Redding’s “Don’t Mess With Cupid,” was as tight as Iggy Pop’s skin and jeans — the ska-leaning horn section is perhaps one of the best to come along since Hepcat’s.
But despite the robust set, Winehouse failed to get the audience groovin’ — instead, it was yawning. It seemed as if most of the crowdgoers were just waiting to hear “Rehab,” Black’s breakout hit — and Winehouse made them wait 50 minutes for it. When the song’s first notes did boom from the Bud Light Stage’s amps, the crowd responded with a feeble “Woo,” and then didn’t even assist Winehouse on the vocal front.
As Winehouse and her band — all dressed in white button-down shirts, and black ties and pants — tore through songs like “Just Friends” and “Tears Dry on Their Own,” the listless mass rocked back and forth mindlessly, baking under the blistering sun. She returned the sentiment, not saying much more to the crowd beyond “Thank you” for the meager applause that seemed to follow every song she performed.
The reaction to the Kings of Leon was anything but ambivalent — after the Southern rockers unloaded an hour’s worth of straight-ahead, ballsy rock and roll, one thing was certain: A lot of people are going to be waking up tomorrow with neck pain. The band of brothers — and one cousin — induced all-out headbanging as they ripped through the set’s opener, “Black Thumbnail.” Next came “Milk,” which inspired wild pogo-ing across the crowd, with heads popping up above the clutter like whales surfacing for air. Hippie chicks danced wildly in circles, eyes closed, as if they were the last people on earth, oblivious to the smirking spectators gathered around them.
Nathan Followill’s giddy-up drum punches punctuated the riff-heavy “Knocked Up,” but it wasn’t until the Kings whipped out “On Call” that the crowd really got into it: At one point, the audience’s collective pipes drowned out frontman Caleb Followill’s strained, impassioned vocals, forcing him to sing a little louder to make up for the difference.
Also getting a lot of the love from the crowd were Modest Mouse, who reminded other bands why it’s a good idea to break out hits early: The band drew in the fans right away and held them there until the end of their performance. The Mouse began their electrifying set with “Bury Me With It” and followed it up with the foot-stomping “Dashboard,” a tune everyone in the audience seemed to know by heart. Fans clapped their way through “Fire It Up” and “Bukowski,” at which point the band dropped another hit, “Float On.” No one within earshot was idle — definitely not the band, which bounced in place in tandem with the song’s chunky bass line and popping drumbeat.
David Vandervelde also turned in a hot afternoon performance — just watching the flannel-garbed man was enough to make anyone feel toastier. The Chicago piano-driven indie rocker — whose mellowed band at times sounded like the Black Crowes, only less Southern — specializes in catchy, head-boppin’ numbers like “Murder in Michigan,” which had the crowd swaying from side to side, and “Triple Up,” a song he prefaced with a story about R. Kelly.
“We went into Wal-Mart, and I accidentally bought the edited version [of Kelly’s Double Up],” Vandervelde said. “I threw it away, ’cause every word, you couldn’t hear.”
Meanwhile, Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela dazzled the crowd with a medley that included Latin-flavored renditions of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” At one point, rhythm guitarist Gabriela Quintero urged the crowd to “dance naked.” Alas, no one took seriously her call to bare more than their arms.
The hotly rumored guest appearance by Jack Black during the School of Rock All-Stars’ set over at the Kidz stage didn’t end up coming to fruition, but Lolla mastermind Perry Farrell and former Porno for Pyros guitarist Peter DiStefano did join the band for a moving cover of Jane’s Addiction’s “Summertime Rolls” — a song Farrell admitted his new band, Satellite Party, haven’t even been able to master for live gigs.
Though most of the thousands crowded around the AT&T stage Sunday afternoon were camping out for a good spot for Pearl Jam, hometown MC Lupe Fiasco worked it to his advantage. Hyping the crowd with repeated shouts of “Can you dig it?,” the skateboard kid sprinted onstage, his Levi’s hanging so low that they threatened to end up around his ankles, and laid out his verses from pal Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky.”
Next up was “Happy Industries,” which loops the Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” Lupe was feeling the rock vibe, running from one side of the stage to the other to show off his air-guitar skills.
Though king of Chicago Kanye was a no-show, laying to rest several rumors of possible guest spots with Daft Punk and Rhymefest, Lupe more than held his own on the Thom Yorke-sampling mixtape tune “Us Placers,” a song that was a perfect example of why the rock-loving kids were so into the set.
He kept them hyped through his big hit, “Kick, Push,” and into the President Bush-baiting “American Terrorist,” which he spit with furious conviction as a backing singer crooned the refrain over and over.
None of the early performers seemed to let the muggy weather get them down, whether it was Academy Award-nominated actress-turned-Iggy Stooge cover girl Juliette Lewis — who led her Licks through a glam-gutter-punk set of screamers while wearing weather-inappropriate skintight vinyl pants (See “Lollapalooza ’07: You Know What Actors Are Good At? Acting”) — or brotherly English trio the Cribs, whose singer/guitarist Ryan Jarman braved the direct sunlight in jeans and a black leather jacket, as his group powered through Brit pop-punk ditties like the crowd-baiting “Our Bovine Public.” (See “Lollapalooza ’07: Death Don’t Know No Mercy — Except Stating The Obvious”).
In fact, there were several ways to cool down: find shade under a tree, stand around Buckingham Fountain and hope some of the spray comes your way, or do what Peter Bjorn and John’s Peter Morén did. Halfway through the band’s third song, “The Chills,” a generator blew, leaving the amps dead and the boys to entertain the crowd in other ways. Morén, who spotted several fans in the front waving copies of his band’s CD in one hand and black Sharpees in the other, decided to get up close and personal with the crowd. He walked to the rim of the stage and attempted to jump onto a platform about 4 feet from the ground. He missed, instead falling feet-first into a large garbage can brimming with ice-cold water.
Morén and the garbage can swiftly fell forward into the photo pit, but luckily, the singer caught himself before smacking his head on the black metal barrier separating the fans from the rock stars. As both fell, a wave of ice spilled out onto the ground, and Morén jumped up fast (that water must have been pretty damn cold), his pants and shoes soaking. He then made his way down the line, autographing the discs and posing for pictures with the eager mob. Close to 20 minutes later, a black plume of smoke rose from a backup generator and the show was back on. “Thanks for waiting,” Morén said sheepishly as the band shifted into “Amsterdam” and the infectious “Young Folks.”
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[This story was originally published on 8.5.07 at 7:06 p.m. ET.]