Lollapalooza Day 1: Hello, Brazil, and Coldplay says 'So long' to Amy Winehouse

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Day 1 of Lollapalooza 2011 is in the books, as the first of 130 bands played on eight stages Friday in Grant Park. Attendance was maxed out – with 90,000 people expected each of three days at the festival. Here’s how Friday went down, with reporting from yours truly (GK) and Bob Gendron (BG):

10:23 a.m.: Lollapalooza celebrates itself backstage with a 20th anniversary cake and lots of glad-handing. Perry Farrell says when he started the festival in 1991 he expected “10,000 to 20,000 weirdos” to show up. Now “we have 90,000 weirdos showing up here in Chicago.” Not really, though. What was once a festival about outsiders has long since shifted identity. It’s now a mainstream smorgasbord, with the weirdness sanded down enough to allow for a family-friendly kids stage and the type of arena bands that the original Lollapalooza Nation would’ve snubbed. But it could be argued that the new, cuddlier Lollapalooza is way more successful because it just keeps replicating, with promoters trumpeting a new South American partnership in Brazil. Last year, the festival licensed its name to promoters in Santiago, who debuted Lollapalooza Chile there last April. Now there will be a second South American Lollapalooza opening  next year in Sao Paulo. Leo Ganem, the Brazilian partner, sees a two-day festival drawing about 120,000 people over two days. (GK)

10:45 a.m.: Lollapalooza’s plans for world conquest apparently don’t include any more North American cities. Charlie Jones, of Texas-based C3 Presents, the primary Lollapalooza promoter, says the festival will remain exclusive to Chicago in North America. “We’ve always said Lollapalooza lives in Chicago.” Marc Geiger, his Lolla partner at William Morris Endeavor, adds in a separate interview that the festival will expand to yet another international location in 2013, with three cities in the running. (GK)

10:55 a.m.: Geiger has been booking talent for three decades. He was a prime mover in making Lollapalooza happen in 1991 alongside Farrell, when dozens of fresh new rock bands arose. But the expansion of the festival this year is fueled not by rock but by the burgeoning popularity of electronic and DJ culture. Rock, Geiger says, is “in a drought.” “We are waiting for two or three greats to emerge in the band format.” Until then, look for the Perry’s stage – devoted to electronic acts -- to continue to play a bigger role in Lollapalooza bookings. (GK)

11:23 a.m.: Mellow sun and a gentle breeze: The best weather in recent Lollapalooza memory greets early arrivers, as does a smarter arrangement of food vendors, which are now lined up down Columbus Drive, affording easier access. The sheer size of the festival is nearly overwhelming, but logistically, the expansion appears to be a great idea. Onur Kayhan, who arrived from Germany to experience Lollapalooza for the first time, agrees. His only complaint. "I didn't know that if you had a single-day ticket that you couldn't leave and come back in." Only fans with weekend passes are allowed reentry privileges. Which is one of the myriad reasons why Brad and Stephanie Mays schedule their summer vacation around Lollapalooza and go for all three days. The Kentucky couple comes up every year, choosing this fest over the more nearby Bonnaroo. Why? "We love the city. Great food. Great shopping." They, too, are also thrilled with the more spacious layout. (BG)

12:05 p.m.: Tough start for duo Wye Oak, with singer-guitarist Jann Wesner driven to near-despair by some cranky guitar foot pedals. The set derails, restarts, and then derails again before the equipment issues are resolved. Then the music starts clicking. Big waves of Wesner guitar wash over Andy Stack’s drumming and keyboard playing – yes, he does them simultaneously, with left hand on the keys and right hand keeping time. Impressive! Wesner’s mood lightens as the set progresses. “I love Lollapalooza because it’s the one festival that even my grandparents know what it is,” she says. (GK)

12:13 p.m.: Hands in the sky! "Beautiful Lie" just began, but Ryan Leslie already has a majority of the crowd in his back pocket, as the singer is in the midst of a non-stop set during which he's intersecting soul, R&B and hip-hop. Keeping it clean but flaunting a braggadocio attitude, Leslie remains determined not to be boxed in by any single genre. He draws from a good influence, as the front man's simultaneous work on a Korg synth and Yamaha keyboard conjure early ‘80s Prince. His combination of rapping and crooning is accompanied by a guitarist and DJ, giving songs such as "Start It Up" and "Glory" a harder-edged bite. Leslie also lays down a clever self-promotional tagline: "They call me Les/But they all want more of me," he boasts, in business casual mode. Leslie's "Diamond Girl" serves as a fine response to Beyonce’s "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)." (BG)

12:33 p.m. Perry's electronic stage is already hopping. It's early, yet the odds suggest this is the place to be. With a state-of-the-art sound system that pumps out loud, physical volume levels sans distortion or harshness, two projection screens and a stage that elevates the performers as if they're up on a throne, it's a dance-music fan's dream. Nicely done. (BG)

12:45 p.m.: Dan O’Conor is a super fan, a Chicagoan who has been an attentive presence – and a distinctive one, with his Rollie Fingers-like handlebar mustache -- at countless rock shows around the country for years. He’s at Lolla and he’s literally wearing his schedule. On the back of a blue collared shirt he has stenciled the names of all the bands he plans to see over the next three days, from the Foo Fighters to the Smith Westerns. “I’m ready,” he says with a smile. (GK)

12:57 p.m.: Oozing a typically British unflappable cool, the Vaccines' appeal relates to the group's filtering of girl-group fare through reverb-soaked walls of sound that Phil Spector would admire. Vocally, "Post Break-Up Sex" and "Blow It Up" shrug their collective shoulders at messy situations, but the insistent momentum hints at ironic contrasts probed by the Strokes a decade ago. Indeed, there's a fair degree of garage-rock revivalism in the Vaccines' detached swagger, punctuated by an occasional organ swell or squealing distortion. Not the most original approach, but amid the hazy sonic washes and catchy songs, an effective one. (BG)

1:10 p.m.: Lady D is sending some bass tones through the big speakers at Perry’s that are spine-rumbling. With its giant video screens and heavy-duty lighting rigs, the massive tent is a first-class venue for the weekend’s dance-music heads. It’s early but it’s already filling up quickly, a natural magnet for fans as they enter through the main gates. Lady D throws in some Little Louie Vega to set the tone: “Music takes me where I want to be.” (GK)

1:30 p.m.: You know festivals have changed a lot since the days of mud, rain and roughing it at Woodstock. But just how much? Welcome to the festival that will sell you something called a “scallop explosion” or “torched ponzu aioli” for eight bucks when those hunger pangs strike and a plain old hot dog just won’t do. Then there are the lobster corndogs, a concoction of Lollapalooza “Chow Town” curator Graham Elliot; he expects to move 15,000 of them this weekend. Though I wasn’t there, I feel fairly certain those were not served at Woodstock. (GK)

2:48 p.m.: Singer-guitarist Matt Vasquez climbs atop a piano as the Delta Spirit's set winds down. Before it's all over, the quintet breaks out a metal garbage-can lid for percussion, harmonica for hoedown blues and a host of material that comes across with more looseness and rambunctiousness than it does on record. Vasquez plays the role of a train-hopping hobo, his reedy voice evoking images of a drifter wandering from town to town. The band's narratives confirm such solitary restlessness and pronounced hesitation: "You don't need anyone"; "Someday, darlin', maybe, you'll be my baby"; "I got no place of my own"; "I take my own stand." Jangling like spare change, the group's swampy Americana fare occupies a comfortable place between crunchy boogie and jittery country. Yet compared to the Delta Spirit's 2009 Lollapalooza performance, this showing lacks the spark necessary to take the Californians to the next level. (BG)

3:19 p.m.: "This is the most amount of people we've ever played in front of," gushes Mark Foster. The Foster the People leader goes on to talk about the odd jobs he worked while toiling as a struggling musician, and while it makes for a heartwarming story, little of the band's show is worth remembering. Flat, weak and often off-key, Foster doesn't possess the pipes (or falsetto) required for the kind of blue-eyed soul and funk he's trying to deliver. He and the group are awkward, the tunes flavored with vanilla arrangements and wimpy lounge pop beats. Foster sweats through his formal shirt, but his dancing and mousy warbling bring to mind the worst stereotypes of a white guy trying to get down. "Call It What You Want" is as cliched as its title implies, and the collective wrecks Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," which disastrously resembles Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy." Another sign of the band's green nature? The hummable summer hit "Pumped Up Kicks" is held back until nearly everything else is played, and even it doesn't ignite. One-hit wonders? Quite possibly. (BG)

3:35 p.m.: Le Butcherettes is a three-piece punk-garage band from Mexico. The fuzz-tone bass is relentless, the drumming ferocious, but it’s Teri Gender Bender, a k a Teresa Suaréz, that makes the show. She flings her high heels into the audience, performs somersaults on stage, and dives into the crowd. She also sings in two languages and plays guitar and keyboards. Her voice moves from warbles and trills to dirty growls, as if trying on multiple personalities. She twitches and moves like a flamenco dancer on hot coals. “Put me back together!” she demands, and makes a phrase like “You take my pretty dress off” sound like anything but an invitation. The pace of the set and the humidity of the midafternoon eventually take a toll on drummer Gabe Serbian, who pauses from his duties to projectile vomit several times. Then he jumps back behind the drums and resumes hammering away. “I love him to death … to death!” the singer proclaims, having finally met her match. (GK)

4:25 p.m.: Kids These Days is a young Chicago octet with some chops. Everyone gets a turn to riff a little, with trumpet, trombone and sax bobbing and weaving with an agile rhythm section. Vic Mensa’s rap cadences swap places with Liam Cunningham’s bluesy rasp and Macie Stewart’s jazzy mellowness. It’s a mish-mash of styles that isn’t easily pinned down, but makes for a good party. The group isn’t very ambitious lyrically, but the music flows with energy supported by above-average technique. The showpiece is a lengthy interpretation of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” with a brief detour into George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” It’s a celebratory set, as Mensa reminisces about far different circumstances at Lollapalooza 2010. “I almost died trying to get in here last year,” he says. “It’s amazing to be up here.” (GK) 

4:47 p.m.: A cheetah-print backdrop is the only eye candy the Kills provide, yet scenes from a bizarre David Lynch film would be more than appropriate as the co-ed duo summons rude aural gestures and raw, twisted noise from guitars and preprogrammed electronics. Save for a backing gospel vocal duo that adds to the dark scenery, nothing is straightforward. Notes get mangled, bent and shoved through the equivalent of a trash compactor. Jamie Hince uses his fingers, not a pick, to slash, snap, stab and swipe the strings. The output is dirty, threatening and grimy, and vocalist Alison Mosshart, adorned in tight black jeans and embracing the figure of a femme fatale, can't get enough of it. She and Hince engage in games of cat and mouse, turning droning passages into struts and exuding a sultry, highly charged energy. Mosshart glares at the audience, painstakingly bringing her arm above her head, utterly in a trance as she gets caught up in the ominous vibrations of "Baby Says" and pouty "Future Starts Slow." The visceral feel extends to the duo's hypnotic chemistry; the Kills are as intriguing to watch as they are to hear. And just when you think Mosshart is the queen of cold stares, she unleashes the vulnerable ballad "The Last Goodbye," etched with the type of vulnerability that doesn't usually translate on a big stage. (BG)

5:31 p.m.: Pete Wentz launches himself into the crowd. It's the first of several stage dives the ex-Fall Out Boy bassist attempts during the Black Cards set, which in nearly every aspect seems like a self-gratuitous luxury hobby for the North Shore native. Other than twisting an occasional knob or dialing up computer beats, Wentz is primarily an animated observer. A pair of female dancers, initially wearing gorilla masks, and a freakishly double-jointed male dancer not for the faint of heart, join vocalist Bebe Rexha in doing a majority of the heavy lifting. Not that there's too much muscle required. The Black Cards' manipulated, hyper electropop and bass-heavy dancehall lean on silly bridges and wordless chants. It's all about the beat, and when not tossing rolls of toilet paper into the crowd, Wentz just smiles at what's happening. "I just wanted to have fun," he confesses, explaining his reason behind the party-centric group, a 180-degree shift from his prior outfit. (BG)

5:50 p.m.: Superchunk’s Jon Wurster doesn’t suffer mediocre music, so chances are things are going to be fine when he’s behind the drum kit. Such is the case with Mountain Goats, one of the most respected – if not particularly widely known – indie bands of the last couple decades. The band’s sole constant is singer-songwriter John Darnielle, whose songs manage to be open-hearted without being mawkish, and witty without coming off trite. He plays with energy, duck-walking like Chuck Berry and digging into his strings as if he were trying to scrub them clean. He can be wordy, but manages to keep the tone conversational: “This is a song with the same four chords/I use most of the time/When I’ve got something on my mind,” he sings in setting up the lovely ode-to-a-misfit “You Were Cool.” And he’s seriously geeked about the opportunity to play in front of a larger-than-usual crowd. “The first time I played in Chicago there were about 30 people in the room at the Empty Bottle,” he says. “So thank you.” (GK)

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