Best fist-pump moment: Santigold
Scheduled against sets by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Avicii, and Frank Ocean, the crowd for Santigold on Saturday night was relatively tiny — one could walk right up and grab a prime spot minutes before she started. That’s good news for the people who did so, because the moment she stepped out, the band launched into Master Of My Make-Believe opener “GO!” — a frenetic, stomping track with a “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” chorus that got every fist in the crowd jabbing furiously at the sky. For a festival that featured Black Sabbath playing “Iron Man” and Jack White doing “Seven Nation Army,” leave it to Santi to give us the best fist-pumper of the weekend.
Most chameleon-like setlist: the Afghan Whigs
Some bands require an atmosphere to set the proper mood for their music. A hot, sunny afternoon in the park is not the ideal environment for the Afghan Whigs, whose songs tend toward the brooding, seductive end of the spectrum. But that doesn’t mean the band couldn’t shine in its Friday afternoon slot: they just kept the focus on the arena-ready rockers in their deep catalog. No, there was no “When We Two Parted” or “Faded” on Friday afternoon – those were for Saturday night’s aftershow at The Metro – but songs like 1965’s “Crazy,” with its stomping, John Bonham-style beat, and “66,” perhaps the band’s poppiest song, sounded just fine in the heat. Meanwhile, the Metro aftershow – where they were joined by a horn section, and where the set stretched out for two full hours – delivered exactly what the band does best when it doesn’t have all that sunshine to contend with.
Funniest response to technical issues: At the Drive-In
For some reason, the song “Mother” by Danzig started playing over the PA as At The Drive-In took the stage for their Sunday evening slot on the Red Bull Stage. Frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala seemed to be in good spirits about the mix-up, though, grabbing the mic and singing along with the hard rock classic. When it ended, he announced himself to the audience: “We are collectively known as Latin Danzig!” It was a gag he returned to throughout the set, singing, “Madre/ Tell your mijas not to walk my way” later on, and reiterating the band’s new name after introducing its members. In fact, the other technical problems the band faced were met with similar good humor. “This next song is called ‘Technical Difficulties,’” Bixler-Zavala said during an unexpected delay, “It’s from our album, What The Fuck Happened To My Pedal?” He then clarified for the crowd that the oft-misheard lyrics to “Quarantined,” which the band had just played are not “have chicken with Jello” (they were vegans when they wrote it!), greeted imaginary holograms of Snoop and Dre, and declared that he was changing his name to Cedric Lion. If you’re going to have tech problems during your set, you might as well be in a good mood about it.
Shiniest undiscovered gem: the Dum Dum Girls
Sweating through a mid-day set on Sunday were the Dum Dum Girls, all decked out in black dresses, tights, and confident rock-and-roll swagger. Small-stage daytime slots are always a crapshoot when it comes to how many people will be there, but those who got to the Google Play stage for the set caught something special. The band’s monster hooks and breezy garage rock tunes made for a perfect Sunday afternoon treat. Even with a smallish crowd, it was bigger than the Dum Dum Girls probably see on most headlining tours, which meant a lot of converts — by the time they got to the second chorus of the standout “Jail La La,” most of the crowd was singing the words, “Someone tell my baby / or else he won’t know I need saving” right along with them.
Best-expressed sentiment: tUnE–yArDs
Saturday’s evacuation sent festival-goers scattered back to hotel rooms, to downtown bars, to underground parking garages that had been repurposed as shelters, and more. When the park reopened, it was a muddy pit full of — well, massive amounts of joy, as expressed by tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus during her band’s set, which had been rescheduled because of the storm. Any time you’ve got a bunch of people back together after something like that, the proceedings take on a triumphant atmosphere, and opening with “Party Can,” with its refrain of “Do you wanna live?” prompted a muddy, happy crowd to shout back “Yeah!” with great enthusiasm. “This was never my idea for how Lollapalooza was going to go,” she told the crowd a few songs into her set, “But this is awesome.”
Biggest sing-along: Calvin Harris
Perry’s Stage, the dedicated EDM side of the festival, was continually nuts all weekend long, packed with the happiest people in all of Grant Park and in full-on party mode. By Saturday night, all the dancing had facilitated the creation of a giant mud pit in front of the stage, and nobody seemed to care. During Calvin Harris’ late-evening set, 10,000 muddy revelers spent over an hour with their hands in the air, continually losing their shit. And when he gave them a big hook to sing along to, like during Swedish House Mafia’s “Save The World,” there were thousands of voices belting out the words “Who’s gonna save the world tonight?” loudly enough to make every other sing-along at the festival sound downright tame.
Weirdest invocation of Occupy Wall Street: Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Be kind, be gentle, fuck shit up,” Anthony Keidis offered as seemingly contradictory instructions to the audience early on in the Peppers’ headlining set on Saturday. “Power to the people, and fuck the One-Percent!” concluded the rock star with an estimated net worth of $120 million. But the massive crowd – stretching on for a couple of football fields — gave the guy a pass. Well, when you’ve written “Californication” and “Under The Bridge,” you’ve given the 99% enough to appreciate that you’ll be spared the pitchforks.
Instead, the band’s performance was a clinic in how to deliver a massive rock-and-roll experience full of mega-hits that still feels loose and organic, thanks to Flea’s jazzy bass interludes between songs. Each song seemed to emerge out of the band’s jamming and noodling, providing a surprisingly fresh feeling to the sort of set that normally sounds like a slick production. If sincerity is at the heart of the movement, it’s no surprise that the Chili Peppers identify.
Fewest fucks given: Frank Ocean
Yeah, Frank Ocean has a hot album that dropped just a few weeks ago, but for a sustained stretch of his Lollapalooza set, he kept the focus firmly on his early, freely-available mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra. That’s not the best way to sell records, but Ocean didn’t seem to care at all, explaining that he was just feeling songs like “American Wedding” that night. When he finally went back to Channel Orange toward the end of the night — with a sincere “I love you all back, for real” to the members of the crowd who copped it illegally, much to their cheers — it was much-anticipated after making us wait. For a singer whose greatest strength is the fact that he continues to seek out new ways to define himself as an artist, the detour just made sense.
Most satisfying festival band: the Shins
Has literate, challenging indie rock ever produced a band more suited to the major outdoor music festival circuit than the Shins? James Mercer’s catalog – it’s fair to refer to it as Mercer’s, since everyone else currently in the band joined up in 2009 or later – is full of lovely melodies, big rock numbers, and uniquely sad moments that never bring down a crowd standing in a park on a bright day. Playing a well-balanced set that offered a number of favorites from the band’s breakthrough Oh, Inverted World alongside tunes from this year’s Port Of Morrow, the Shins absolutely delighted Friday’s early-evening crowd on the massive Red Bull Stage. It’s good to have the Shins back, no matter who’s in the band.
Finest swan song: Black Sabbath
Let’s be real. It wasn’t officially a farewell show, but between the band’s penchant for suing one another, their tendency to take years off between tours and reunions, and the reality of health and aging – not to mention the portentous fact that Lollapalooza was the only date the band scheduled on this side of the Atlantic – it is entirely possible that Black Sabbath’s headlining showcase on Friday night will end up the last time it will ever play on our shores.
If Sabbath’s Lollapalooza appearance was the band’s final US performance, it was a perfect way to go out. Yeah, they’re showing their age a little bit – Ozzy’s voice during “Snowblind” was continually strained, and an extended drum solo by fill-in drummer Not Bill Ward (real name: Tommy Cluefetos) seemed timed in the set specifically to give Ozzy and the boys an off-stage break – but the hour and forty-five minute set was quintessential Sabbath. They ran through the highlights of the band’s near-perfect first three albums, opening with the first two tracks from the band’s eponymous 1970 debut, “Black Sabbath” and “The Wizard,” back-to-back and serving five of Paranoid’s eight songs.
The drums were thunderous, the riffs were ominous, Ozzy’s charisma is undiminished, and there’s really nothing more a person could hope for from Black Sabbath in 2012. Those songs – even relatively obscure numbers like Technical Ecstasy closer “Dirty Women” and Paranoid deep cut “Electric Funeral” – remain untouchable, and the band that plays them remain as intense and heavy as ever. It’ll never be 1972 again, but the Black Sabbath we have right now is the right one for these times. Here’s hoping those litigious senior citizens do it again in another three years – but if not, this was a fine way to go out.
Check out photos from Lollapalooza 2012 by Cindy Duckworth.