Ah, Lollapalooza: the music festival that has, two decades since its inception, joined the ranks of other extravaganzas like Coachella and Bonnaroo in both quantity and, arguably, quality -- bringing a metric-ton of musical acts (140 this year) to an audience of thousands (90,000 fans are expected each day) while still trying to keep everyone happy, hydrated and non-heat stroked.
As this year's incarnation marks this writer's first foray into Lollaland, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect -- besides the fact that one should plan at least a 15-20 minute walk to get from one end of the festival grounds to the other, a fact (as a notoriously speedy walker) I recall scoffing at when I heard it. But it's true: Lollapalooza is the supercenter of Chicago (Midwest? U.S.?) music festivals and with that size comes many plusses (the sheer number of acts) and some minuses (the sheer number of highly intoxicated people packed into a relatively tiny space).
Minor annoyances aside (I feel lucky to have only had one beer spilled on me over the course of the day), Lollapalooza largely delivered some solid entertainment and a surprising level of comfort over the course of the acts I was able to catch Friday. It also helps that the weather, thus far, has been pleasant if not ideal for watching music outdoors. As a one-man HuffPo crew, I cannot claim authority over knowing what went down during every act at every stage, but I wanted to share a few highlights from the day for your perusal -- in addition to one whopper of a photo gallery, featuring great shots from Mary Beeze, Francisco "Frasko" Perez Mejia and Andy Shore, in addition to a few not-so-great shots from yours truly.
On arrival: Extremely overwhelming and disorienting. The media area, at mid-afternoon Friday, had a few limited (non-alcoholic) beverages and "snacks" available, in addition to a bunch of bored-looking network types, at the time I swung through. Walking through the southern area of the festival grounds, I overheard a bit of Delta Spirit's perfectly pleasant set while getting my bearings on the grounds' layout.
Booze and discovery: There are beer tents within viewing from nearly every point on the grounds, a vast improvement on the booze availability situation at Pitchfork, where getting a beer is a serious undertaking often taking as long as 20 minutes. Eventually winding over to the Google+ stage, I catch the tail-end of Brighton, Mich.-based Passion Pit-esque tropical pop punkers Reptar, one of my favorite new musical finds of the day.
Like an escaped madwoman: Guadalajara, Mex. garage punk group Le Butcherettes are the first complete set I see. As they are tuning up pre-set, I can hear Grace Potter's yalps reverberating through the trees, which provides a great precursor to the set from Teri Gender Bender and company. Wearing a butcher's apron covered in "blood," this band has a sense of Pedro Almodovar-esque melodrama that wears its association with The Mars Volta (whose producer also produced the band's debut long-player, out this year) on its sleeve. At one point, Teri, a.k.a. Teresa Suarez, slammed her forehead into the microphone to punctuate a song's end. At another she was running in place with bent knees and bugged-out eyes. Then she threw her high-heeled shoes into the audience (no one was hurt). Theatricality aside, the music was tight and left onlookers hanging on every note.
Hometown boys: I caught a bit of the Smith Westerns' sleepy set, which would have been better suited to relaxing in the grass somewhere than standing on the concrete laid out in front of the PlayStation stage. While this young outfit's songs sail on their latest record, "Dye It Blonde," it all came across as far too muddled (and muffled) on Friday. A bit of a snooze, particularly compared to the Butcherettes' energy that preceded it.
Killing it: Also surprisingly paling a bit with the Butcherettes' electrifying set still fresh on the mind was the British two-some The Kills' set on the Bud Light stage. Sure, the songs all sounded phenomenal (particularly two where they were joined by back-up singers to help flesh out the songs' album sound) but a bit of the unhinged, voyeuristic quality that often accompanies their gigs in smaller settings was not quite as evident in the festival setting. That said, it was still, by and large, superior as Alison Mosshart brought her trademark rockstar-to-the-bone presence to the stage. Another unexpected highlight were the extremely energetic festival workers who were translating The Kills' lyrics into American Sign Language to the band's right.
Hold the goat cheese, please: Wandering away from the Bud Light stage to the sounds of The Kills' standout track "Baby Says," it was time to check out the "Chow Town" selections and attempt to catch a bit of the Cults' set nearby. Apparently they ended at least ten minutes early. Nevertheless, the falafel pita from Goose Island Brewpub comes highly recommended -- and a number of other vendors seem to have some solid food options too. Sitting in the shade to listen to much of The Mountain Goats' set, I was struck by how closely the songs -- written and sung by John Darnielle -- verge onto cheesy, nerdy territory, but the band's musicality and tongue-in-cheekiness ultimately save the day. The Goats delivered one of the day's best sets, hands down.
On euphoria, Tinie Tempah and Afrojack: Heading back to the Google+ stage, I was baffled at the outpouring of enthusiasm that British rapper Tinie Tempah's set was being given by his audience. As his marketing team showered the audience with free CD samples, posters and flyers, the audience gladly took in what was, for many, their first introduction to this talent from across the pond. It was perfect. The same sense of group bliss usually reserved for megachurch audiences was palpable again over at Grammy-nominated Afrojack's DJ set at Perry's dance stage later in the day. As far as I could see, folks were dancing like it was their last day on earth. And, again, it was perfect.
Bright-eyed nostalgia: It feels strange to refer to Conor Oberst as a "nostalgic" act, but over 15 years since his first album, the mastermind of Bright Eyes is deserving of the label of "icon." While this set was comprised mainly of newer material I was less familiar with, Oberst offered up a few older gems, including the nearly decade-old "Lover I Don't Have to Love," complete with a really tripped-out trumpet section, which brought this writer right back to his angst-filled high school days. Oberst, unfairly lumped together with that unfortunate "emo" trend for a number of years, is a consummate performer and this was yet another fantastic set.
Crazed castles: Finally making my way back over to the festival's southern end for only the second time in the day, I caught the first half of Canadian noise-tronica band Crystal Castles' set before the songs began to blend indecipherably into each other and into the ether alike. While vocalist Alice Glass's energy brought some excitement into the stage -- she sang parts of the set's second song, "Baptism," while crowd surfing -- if you removed the beat that clouds over everything else around it, I'm not sure there's all that much left. That said, this set would have probably been better with a lot of weed flowing through my system and there was ample marijuana available for sale throughout the crowd -- at least two "entrepreneurs" passed by me with their baggies of merchandise plainly in tow.
Headliners: In an attempt to catch snippets of all four headliners, I only caught probably ten minutes of each, as can happen at a festival as sprawling as Lollapalooza -- though Ratatat's fifteen minute delay in getting started did not help matters either. After watching the first two songs of Muse's operatic, beautiful set, I headed back north to see what Coldplay had to offer -- with fireworks happening both in front and behind me at one point as I speed walked down Porta Potty Lane. I arrived just in time to catch two of Coldplay's stand-by hits ("Yellow" and "In My Place") and felt surprised as the melody-intensive songs sent shivers down by spine. These guys know what they're doing.
Ratatat ran very, very late, but once they got going, they sounded incredible and had some killer, trippy visuals to back it up. Back down south for Girl Talk's Perry's stage closing set, it sounded from the back of the crowd like business as usual for Gregg Gillis. The samples and transitions were not too surprising and, perhaps because it was so late in the day, the audience felt far less energized than during Afrobeat's set. But still, they were energized nonetheless and Girl Talk fans probably got exactly what they came to see and hear: One hell of a sweaty, bright lights dance party.
Celebrity sightings? So far, not much to say besides I'm 99 percent sure I walked about 20 feet ahead of David Navarro and a female friend of his for a few blocks up North Michigan Avenue after day one's end. I'm also 40 percent sure Perez Hilton was rocking out in the stage-side VIP area during Crystal Castles' set. Finally, though the complementary booze was flowing and Two Door Cinema Club and a number of DJs offered up some solid entertainment at the Belve Music Lounge after party at W Chicago City Center, I think the roped-off VIP area was hoarding away all the famous types.
Day one highlights: Le Butcherettes, Tinie Tempah, Afrojack, Bright Eyes.
HuffPo will be offering up more Lollapalooza coverage over the course of the weekend, plus don't forget that the festival is live streaming much of the day's goings on via YouTube. Among Saturday's expected highlights on the stream include Fitz & the Tantrums, Black Lips, Death From Above 1979 and My Morning Jacket. Stay tuned.