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This was a review I wrote for the JS, but wasn’t printed. 🙁

Un-frickin-believable lineup aside, four things aptly summed up this year’s Lollapalooza: Obama rumors, Radiohead hangovers, onstage parties and hipster headbands.

radiohead at lollapalooza

radiohead at lollapalooza

Whoever planned this year’s Lollapalooza lineup was pure genius: it was the best collection of old and new acts, cult favorites and up-and-comers of 2008. Everyone was there for Radiohead, of course. But there was also Rage Against the Machine! And Nine Inch Nails! And Kanye West, playing his hometown! Any of those acts probably could’ve sold out the 75,000-capacity Grant park this weekend. All together? It was a three-day, eight-stage, non-stop barrage of great music.

There isn’t enough space to namedrop every single Lollapalooza artist mirrored in every self-respecting music snob’s iPod. The best part? The organizers did justice to this ne plus ultra of festival rosters.

Each of the eight stages seemed like they were mind-melded by the great DJ in the Sky. For example, on Friday, the north side of the park had Duffy, followed by the Black Keys, Cat Power, then the Raconteurs. Bloc Party preceded Radiohead. Saturday, the south side of the park had Spank Rock, Jamie Lidell, Lupe Fiasco, and then Rage Against the Machine. On Sunday, it was Girl Talk, Gnarls Barkley, Mark Ronson then Kanye. Everything made sense sonically, like a perfect mix tape. Each set was deliciously planned — to the minute — and always on time, especially important at alternating stages.

So yes, rumors of Obama showing up were everywhere. First we heard he was supposed to go onstage with Wilco on Saturday. When that didn’t happen, everyone assumed he would introduce the other Chi-town local, Kanye West. Even without his actual stage presence, Obama was everywhere — on concert goers’ t-shirts, stickers and pins.

Likewise, it seemed that each band who took to the stage gave props to Radiohead. Gnarls Barkley covered “Reckoner.” Mark Ronson performed “Just” with Alex Greenwald of Phantom Planet. The Foals’ drummer was wearing an “In Rainbows” shirt while they performed. Everyone was in love with Friday night’s headliner, with good cause.

About 75,000 people stood, sweaty body by sweaty body, to hear Thom Yorke croon into the mic and flail his arms around. Radiohead is one band that everyone feels intensely personal about, so witnessing the communal mass of people collectively swoon over Radiohead was chilling. Yorke and company seamlessly wove in every song from “In Rainbows,” their latest release, with classics such as “Fake Plastic Trees,” “2+2=5,” and “Everything in its Right Place.”

For many, Lollapalooza peaked when Radiohead performed; two days later, audiences were still declaring it “the best show I’ve seen in my life.”

But many Friday acts surpassed expectations: gypsy punks Gogol Bordello wowed the crowd with their gypsy-dance-punk soundtrack, punctuated with cymbals, back up dancers, bass drums, accordions and electric violins. Brazilian electroclash group CSS burst onto the stage in full fruity flavor; lead singer Lovefoxxx wore a red catsuit lined with a garland of fake flowers, propelling her Apple-commercial boosted fanbase into a writhing, dancing frenzy.

Saturday had the British dance-pop duo the Ting Tings setting the dancing mood at high noon. Despite the heat, audiences kept on moving — to the Foals, who played an electrifying set, and MGMT. Many fans consider MGMT’s debut the album of the summer, but their performance seemed a bit lackluster. Not that it mattered to the fashion conscious; in the crowd, audiences rocked the MGMT-inspired headbands with impunity.

Of course, Rage Against the Machine was the night’s highlight. Zack de la Rocha spat out nostalgia-inducing songs of the ’90s with the same fervor as he did 10 years ago, but he repeatedly stopped performing to ask the crowd to take care of one another and “take five or six steps back” because audiences were getting hurt from the crowd pushing forward. At one point, someone in the crowd replied by yelling out a famous Rage lyric: “F— you I won’t do what you tell me!”

By Sunday, many of the festival goers were spent. But there was still a lot of dancing going on; indie pop group the Black Kids led to Saul Williams’ punk rock set, which segued seamlessly into Mark Ronson’s guest-filled extravaganza. Rhymefest, Candy Cane and Phantom Planet were all onstage with Ronson right before Kanye West’s resplendent light show lit up the stage exactly at 8:30 p.m.

Ironically, of all the weekend’s performances, the hip-hop artist and Chicago homeboy’s was the most emotional. He sang odes to Chicago (“Homecoming”) and his mother (a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,”), while audiences alternately danced and teared up. By the time he closed with an ecstatic version of “Stronger,” Chicago’s party people were sated — both by the amazing music of the weekend and hometown love from Kanye West.


The best thing about Lollapalooza this year is that we were staying at a friend’s condo on N. Harbor, maybe a block away from Grant Park. Yup, no cabs, no public transportation, no driving — no parking fees, either, since my friend hooked us up with a spot after the first day. (Thanks Meredith!)


So on Saturday we got to Grant Park early enough to see Matt & Kim, the drum and keys duo from Brooklyn who seemed really grateful to be there. It was the only overcast day as well — which was perfect because I was tired of sweating buckets.


Then I finally caught Tokyo Police Club, who played the main stage (!) at 1-ish. I missed the underage Canadians when they opened for Cold War Kids last winter, and their performance was … underwhelming. I mean, maybe milky white skin does it for other people, I dunno. But I think underwhelming is something I’m going to use to describe a lot of bands.

We watched Pete Yorn, then Stephen Marley (mostly because I’ve always wanted to see a Marley — any Marley!– perform). And while he wasn’t underwhelming at all (it was a good show, with good vibes all around), it wasn’t what I was waiting for.


I then headed over to what was supposed to be the stage du jour: the Citi stage, where Cold War Kids and CSS were performing in succession. It was both the highlight and biggest disappointment of the day. Cold War Kids’ sound had matured to a highly cohesive sophisticated show (I used to watch them at our neighborhood bar in Orange County), and it was amazing to see that side tent so crowded. But CSS, the main reason I was even at Lollapalooza, cancelled.
One thing about Lollapalooza that was a bit of a turn-off were the sponsored stages: there was the Bud Light stage, the Adidas stage, the AT&T stage–kind of like at Summerfest. The only difference (which ideologically didn’t make any sense except it may have made the organizers feel better) was that these companies’ logos were incorporated into the Lollapalooza design.

I heard that Eddie Vedder was supposed to play at the Kidsapalooza tent, but at the last minute there were too many people around, so the dude from My Morning Jacket played. He did, however, play with Ben Harper on Friday.

So basically because I had nothing else to look forward to other than the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I hung out at the media tent for a while, where I saw Patti Smith, Daniel Kessler and Carlos D. from Interpol, and not the Roots MC as I previously thought, but Rhymefest (thanks, Dwellephant!).




I lined up for about 45 minutes to take photos of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the main stage.

Karen O is still ridiculously amazing and hot, but with all my camera gear I couldn’t mosh in the pit like I used to at previous YYYs shows. (Note: YYYs mosh pits are the safest I’ve ever been in — especially for girls!) They played a bunch of new songs but still did crowd faves like “Pin” and “Maps” and “Y Control.”
I’m not a Muse fan, and I just saw Interpol this week. And by then, it was already drizzling. So while I could’ve stayed in a tent in the press area, I ventured forth in the name of journalistic integrity to photograph Muse.

Incidentally, I never got into Muse because all the Radiohead comparisons turn me off. How can any band in the world compare to my beloved Radiohead? But three songs into their set I started thinking of how similar their light show was to Radiohead’s. And that Matt Bellamy really channeled that Thom Yorke spirit onstage. And that, whoa, I couldnt’ bear to listen to another minute of thier set.

So we ran all the way to the other end of the park to watch Interpol and sing along to every single song they played in the rain. And that was still the best way to end the day.


— Text and photos by Lilledeshan Bose