CHICAGO — There are basically two ways to close out the first night of Lollapalooza. You can blast off in a glowing, thumping spaceship like Daft Punk did last year, or you can get all moody and sedate like Interpol did.
Then there's Radiohead. The most anticipated act of the 2008 festival's maiden night, as usual, dug its own path, teasing the sold-out crowd of 75,000 with a mixture of pastoral ambiance and slashing guitars accompanied by a light show that felt like a digital rain shower conjured to replace the threatened storms that never materialized.
After a steamy day that yo-yoed from the Beatles-rave-up-inspired blitz of the Black Lips to Duffy's throwback Welsh Motown soul, CSS' Brazilian dance explosion, the Raconteurs' roach-clip rock, the tangled guitar excursions of Stephen Malkmus and Gogol Bordello's unhinged Gypsy punk, Radiohead's set was the perfect capper for a weary, glassy-eyed crowd who needed a bit of a soft landing.
Drawing from nearly every album in their catalog, Radiohead played a two-hour set underneath a forest of aluminum lighting tubes hanging down over their heads and flashing different LED patterns that morphed from a giant stereo equalizer during "All I Need" to a blizzard of radioactive green snowflakes for "The Gloaming."
Even if you couldn't actually see the waves of heat coming off the tightly packed crowd, which stretched as far as the eye could see, you could feel the intense warmth as you waded through it. And, at times, the band's sound approximated a kind of hothouse mirage, as wave pulses of sound on songs like the neo-Victorian "No Surprises" acted as a kind of audio brain massage for weary fans, many of whom spent the day searching for a nice shady spot to rest their thumping heads. But for every soothing track, there was a squall of feedback and a psychedelic test pattern of lights like the one that rained down during an encore of "Paranoid Android." As a cool, relieving breeze blew in unexpectedly during the closing tune, "Idioteque," you almost had to wonder if Thom Yorke and crew's timing was a bit too perfect, as he sang "ice age coming" and icy blue dots of light trickled down from the lighting rig.
(See images from Radiohead's Friday performance right here. And be sure to read about the injurious Rage Against the Machine set that ended Lollapalooza's second day.)
The day started off with a man who is all about consciousness, education and nonviolence: Somali singer, MC and musician K'naan. Sporting a '70s-looking print shirt and vest and backed by a band of his countrymen, K'naan, while acknowledging he's not really an early morning person (it was before noon), offered a message of peace from a land that hasn't known a lot of it. He exhorted the ever-growing crowd, many of whom it seemed were discovering him for the first time to sing along with him: "When I get older, I will be stronger/ They'll call me freedom, just like a waving flag."
On the other hand, from the cerebral to the ... visceral. A half-hour and 50 yards away, on the AT&T stage, it was "And, do you really want to hold my dirty hands?" "Good morning!" said Jared Swilley, lead singer of Atlanta gutter flower punks the Black Lips, who ripped through an hour of songs that are as fun on the hundredth listen as the first: "Buried Alive," "O Katrina," "Bad Kids" and "Hippie Hippie Hooray."
CSS put on one of the most entertaining sets of all of Lolla day one. It was a full-on dance party, with silver balloons flying and singer Lovefoxx jumping rope with her mic cord in her Sao Paulo-meets-Björk getup festooned with flowers. The four women and two men in the band were joined by their dancer friend in Day-Glo for "Left Behind" and taught the audience a backward hand wave to go along with the song. Then came "Off The Hook," "Music Is My Hot Hot Sex" and "Rat Is Dead."
Hands in the air were called for further down the park too, as Chicago's own Cool Kids ripped through an hour of party-hearty hip hop. Watching the Windy City fellas on a stage with Lake Michigan in the background was quite a sight, as they played tunes from their new album, The Bake Sale, including "Black Mags" and the good-time rhymes of "Bassment Party." The Kids did their city proud and ended Friday on a good note as the giant amoeba of a crowd began its mass exodus toward the south stage to check out Radiohead.