Concert Review: Lollapalooza Pulls Into Chicago

“After I go to The Joy Formidable’s autograph session on Sunday, let’s get pizza on the north end and camp out for The Cars,” I suggested to my girlfriend in the middle of an eight-hour drive from Minneapolis to Chicago last Thursday.

“Okay ... let me sleep,” she mumbled, waking from a deep slumber and wondering why the anal-retentive side of my personality had come out all of a sudden. I usually don’t even consider what I’m going to eat for dinner until about 6 p.m., so planning out my itinerary three days in advance was more than a bit of a stretch for me.

However, I tend to obsess over the little things come early August, when my personal mecca, Lollapalooza, hits downtown Chicago’s beautiful Grant Park each year. With more than 150 acts rocking eight stages over the course of three days, the festival is a large slice of heaven for a music fanatic like myself.

The brainchild of Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell took over the Windy City last Friday through Sunday, August 5 to 7, every day drawing more than 90,000 fans, who came in droves to see headlining sets from Foo Fighters, Coldplay and My Morning Jacket and performances by more than 100 other artists.

Sure, being able to shout “Learn to Fly” and “Yellow” at the top of my lungs with 50,000 other fans is reason enough for me to book my hotel six months in advance, but Lollapalooza’s undercard of lesser-known artists is consistently one of its strong suits. What I saw of 2011’s daytime sets confirmed this.

For example, on Friday, the summertime pop from Foster the People was sandwiched between sets by U.K. guitar bands The Vaccines and White Lies on the festival’s southern field. About a mile away the next day, dance-punks Friendly Fires turned the northern reaches of Grant Park into a giant dance floor while young Cincinnati art-rockers Walk the Moon and Mick Jones’ Big Audio Dynamite held down the fort at the opposite end.

Sunday also sported a strong lineup of non-headliners, including the aforementioned Joy Formidable, a female-fronted Welsh band that’s equal parts Ride and Smashing Pumpkins; Arctic Monkeys, who soldiered through a rain-shortened show with melodic precision; and recently reunited acts like New York hardcore group Rival Schools and new-wave legends The Cars.

Still, Lollapalooza simply wouldn’t be Lollapalooza without tens of thousands of music-lovers looking forward to one of each night’s four headlining acts. On the north stage Friday, Coldplay made a triumphant return to the U.S. with their two-hour set, which included obligatory crowd-pleasers like “Viva la Vida” and “Fix You” alongside excellent new tunes such as “Hurts Like Heaven” and “Charlie Brown,” both selections from their forthcoming fifth album.

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of Grant Park, fellow British arena rockers Muse closed out the festival’s first night with their spacey anthems.

Saturday’s bill was significantly less rock-heavy, although My Morning Jacket filled the north end with their slow-burn southern rock while New Mexican folk outfit Beirut headlined one of the festival’s side stages. A testament of Lollapalooza’s expansion into genres other than alternative rock, rapper Eminem packed the larger south field Saturday evening, as electronic act Pretty Lights lead a rave inside an enormous DJ tent.

Foo Fighters certainly brought the rock on Sunday, though. The modern rock icons tore through a setlist full of hits and cuts from their latest album, Wasting Light, in a show highlighted by a rain-soaked rendition of “My Hero.” Sending the festival off with a bang, Dave Grohl and company bid farewell to Lollapalooza 2011 with a thunderous performance of “Everlong” — if only the weekend could’ve lasted into eternity.

After driving in a circle through downtown Chicago in an attempt to find the northbound freeway, my annual early-August melancholy set in as we began the trek back to Minneapolis. My girlfriend asked me what was wrong, and I told her it was a special kind of funk.

It’s one that only Lollapalooza 2012 can cure.

Alex Rice is a 22-year-old novice guitarist living in Minneapolis. He counts R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler and Weezer's Rivers Cuomo among his favorite axemen and enjoys going to concerts and watching baseball in his spare time.

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