Lollapalooza 2011: Best and Worst of the Festival
Say what you will about Lollapalooza—it’s too mainstream, it’s too hot, it’s too commercial, it’s too crowded—but, overall, it’s a pretty great show. Bands that get by on good hair and a hit at other fests fall flat when stacked up against plain talent—regardless of whether it’s in or out (or in again for the third or fourth time—this being Lolla’s 20th anniversary).
It would be an inhuman task to take it all in, but several acts and general festival moments stood out as being among this year’s best (and others, notably, the worst).
Lollapalooza came into the world in 1991—the same year the Riot Grrrl Manifesto was published. Hearing Teri Gender Bender, founding member and front woman of Les Butcherettes, shriek “You take my pretty dress off!” during the Guadalajara trio’s potent, frenzied set on Friday made any nostalgia trip for subversive feminist punk a moot point.
Security guards couldn’t stop Alice Glass—the diminutive, kohl-eyed singer for electro goth band Crystal Castles—from climbing off stage and over the security barricade. A sea of upturned hands held her steady and upright while she grinded through the band’s dark, blippy anthem “Baptism” late Friday afternoon.
English dance pop doesn’t often have the fullness, the flavor, or the unabashed dorkiness that Friendly Fires delivered during its amped-up set early Saturday. Singer Ed Macfarlane cut loose with some big-armed moves and big-lipped dance faces that were vaguely reminiscent of the late Chris Farley, a man who also had a talent for bringing the party.
The shininess of corporate sponsorship looks and feels weird in the afternoon, when broad daylight underlines the lack of personality behind high-resolution band logos, LED lights, and other high-priced festival hocus pocus. Atlanta garage rockers Black Lips were the joyfully delinquent, semi-disgusting antidote in Saturday’s lineup: a spray-painted Black Lips banner advertised their ear-ringing, sloppy mid-day set, which began with bass player Jared Swilley shot-gunning a beer and guitarist Cole Alexander spitting some like a geyser. Nothing groundbreaking, but no less fun or refreshing for it.
Death From Above 1979
Lolla’s multi-stage lineup tries to satisfy a hodgepodge of musical tastes most of the time, which rarely results in everyone being impressed at the same time. A straw poll of rap fans, hard rock enthusiasts, and dance music freaks was unanimous that Death From Above 1979—the Canadian noise rock duo that recently reunited after a five-year hiatus—shredded on Saturday.
By Saturday evening, a trend was spotted: festivalgoers, mostly women, wearing homemade Eminem t-shirts. Later that night, one of the world’s most talented performers—complicated and conflicted as his self-documented relationship with women may be—sent plenty of love back at the female half of the most overwhelming crowd of people I’ve ever seen. It was one of the most extraordinary performances, too—Em’s flows were unrelenting to the point, at times, of taking his own breath away.
Clouds the color of pencil lead had been hanging low for more than an hour when garage pop band Best Coast started their set early Sunday evening. It was dumping rain before singer Bethany Cosentino was halfway through the band’s first song. Hundreds of undeterred fans stuck it out and clapped along through 45-minutes of surf-y, angsty pop. As the last bars of “Each and Every Day” faded out and Best Coast ran for the cover of plastic garbage bags, a perfect rainbow appeared.
It was the end of three days punctuated by the stresses of extreme heat, torrential rain, and merciless waves of sweaty, damp strangers. Even still, tens of thousands of people smashed together to see Foo Fighters, who early in their set tore into “My Hero” as curtains of rain started to rip across the crowd and directly at the stage. Dave Grohl whipped water off his hair, drops flew off Taylor Hawkins’s drums, and the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd—signing along to every single word—went bananas. I hadn’t paid attention to Foo Fighters since The Colour and the Shape, and I couldn’t think of one good reason why—especially when I realized it was the only truly epic rock-and-roll moment I had ever experienced.
More of the Best
- The ubiquitous, sweet gesture of friends holding hands to help each other get through hellish crowds and heat.
- Accessibility measures—including wheelchair ramps, elevated spectator platforms, and signing interpreters—were a tactful part of the festival’s infrastructure and seemed like a genuine priority.
- I’ll say it again: Homemade Eminem fan shirts. Whether they were airbrushed, written in Sharpie, or decorated with puff paint, they were really cool.
- Heat, rain, and mud.
- Witnessing a nightly medley of drunken meltdowns, including several that were petulant protests at the damage of expensive clothing or shoes.
- I had to check my fury when Coldplay’s Chris Martin, during one of Friday’s headlining sets, weakly asked a park filled with a quarter million people, “Is anybody out there?” Yes, Chris. We’re out here. And we’ve been sweating on each other all day.
- White guys dressed as Saudi Arabian sheikhs, Native Americans, or anything other than white guys.
- The Cars, who played a tight set but whose energy and stage presence resembled statuesque lizards staying cool in the desert.
- Any item of clothing printed with a sentence starting, “Show me your…”
- The uncomfortably commonplace sight of a man pulling on, twisting the arm of, or otherwise terrorizing his female companion.
- Watching Cee-Lo Green (who, as a member of Goodie Mob, was a really good rapper) bark through a nonsensical medley of rock covers while dressed like a Harley Davidson-riding dinosaur.
Photograph: Jeff Schear