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

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6:17 p.m.: A Perfect Circle cuts a cool, theatrical image on stage, with five figures in black arrayed against a painterly backdrop. The music is a similar mix of arty ambition and careful plotted details. Spidery guitar patterns weave over abstract drum beats. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan is a somber, serious presence, in contrast to the twitching menace he projects in his other band, Tool. The crowd is vast, attentive, but the music isn’t really designed for big spaces. It’s better-suited for brooding on shut-in winter afternoons. (GK)

6:33 p.m.:The contrast is startling. I move from the funereal atmosphere set by A Perfect Circle to the nearby Perry’s, where bedlam reigns. Skillrex, a k a Los Angeles DJ Sonny Moore, is playing to a packed house in the tent, the audience spilling out the sides and into the surrounding lawn. A dozen fans clamber atop a generator and start spazzing out for the amusement of those who can’t gain entrance to the main event. But Skillrex’s raucous beats permeate the air, a mix of sweat, humidity and pot smoke. A snippet of Ludacris’ raunchy rapping gives the audience an added jolt. “I’m about to put your lights out!” Party in full effect. (GK)

6:36 p.m.: Is this farewell? Conor Oberst has stated that this current tour is the last go-around of Bright Eyes, and his band's conservative choices suggest the rumors are true. Well-rehearsed albeit content to stick to the arrangements, Bright Eyes opt for a solid, uneventful set steeped in recent material and what can be considered greatest hits. Oberst's wordy narratives no longer sound so dense, and the addition of a trumpet and pedal-steel brings welcome levity. Still, Oberst adores grand statements and front-stoop philosophizing. Broken dreams, fears of death and complicated boy-girl communication dominate the heavy subjects.(BG)

7:02 p.m.: Columbus Drive, Lollapalooza’s main north-south thoroughfare, resembles Times Square as the full weight of the day’s 90,000-capacity crowd begins to be felt. The lines at portable toilets are 10 deep, and twice as long for concessions such as pizza and “hot Asian buns.” But walk a half-block further and the wait for both essentials is cut in half. Lollapalooza is now so vast, covering 115 acres, that it resembles a vast collection of distinct musical neighborhoods rather than a unified village. So waiting times can be considerably different depending on where you are and how far you’re willing to walk to find a better option. My general sense is that the human bottlenecks that plagued previous festivals have been somewhat reduced by the expanded playing field and some astute rearranging of stages and concession stands, particularly in the park’s north end. (GK)

7:25 p.m.: Can there be a Crystal Castles set without fog – and lots of it? And no matter how hot it is, can keyboardist Ethan Kath perform without being shrouded in a hoodie? And vocalist Alice Glass, is there any way she can’t jump around like a high school kid freshly sprung from school for the summer? “No” on all three counts. Though the band writes catchy melodies such as “Baptism,” it’s becoming a huge live draw because it delivers the big dance beats that are the underlying story of this year’s Lollapalooza. (GK)

7:42 p.m.: OK Go performs a song on -- wait for it -- hand bells. Ugh. No, most fans can't hear the faint notes, and yes, it's a gimmick. Just like the L.A. via Chicago quartet. With each member dressed in a different colored bold suit--red, green, yellow and blue--the band outright acknowledges the large role that farce plays in its existence. And devoid of those eye-catching quirky videos that turned it into YouTube sensations, OK Go is left with songs, and they're not nearly as interesting. A little bit of goofiness goes along way, and while vocalist Damian Kulash can push his falsetto into feminine regions, the bubblegum fare fails to persuade. It might help if the group wasn't so laidback, but, as is apparent from the hand-bell stunt, it's in no rush to make a lasting impression. (BG)

7:58 p.m.: No wonder the North side of the park has so much open space. Everyone is packed into Perry's. As Afrojack cranks up pulsing house and techno, the party continues to expand beyond the facility's borders. Inside, it's a sweatbox, the rave atmosphere replete with a huge backdrop of swirling visuals, flashing lights extending to the back of the tent courtesy of lighting trusses and mobile projections on the ceiling. (BG)

8:28 p.m.: Perfect timing. Just as Muse's rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" concludes, fireworks erupt behind the stage. The event isn't planned, but part of a Chicago Bears activity at Soldier Field. Nonetheless, the excess suits the English trio in a manner that makes it appear more than coincidence. For Muse, no excess is too much. Every major festival needs a group with anthemic aspirations, and Muse fills that niche. Overlapping harmonies on the disco-etched "Supermassive Black Hole" inspire sing-a-longs. Guitar heroics run rampant, along with prog-rock songs that race against time. Expressing a flair for the dramatic, Muse liberally borrows from three of its native countrymen--Radiohead, Queen, Pink Floyd--but the pomp and circumstance translate to the extent that it avoids mimicry. Not taking any chances with misinterpretation, the Brits even post the lyrics to "Uprising" on side projection screens. Enjoy towering choruses and chest-thumping soccer stadium riffs? Resistance is futile. (BG)

9:44 p.m.: Nearly an hour into his set, Gregg Gillis, a k a Girl Talk, displays no signs of quit. The mash-up artist presides over what is unquestionably one of hottest, sweatiest, uninhibited, cramped and high-energy sets in Lollapalooza's two-decade history. Certain access points are shut down due to capacity. Anyone attempting to enter Perry's tent is guaranteed to rub limbs and other body parts against strangers. It's so humid that fans shove and elbow their way out, desperate to get air. Simultaneously, others want in. Meanwhile, Girl Talk has people jumping, swaying, bobbing and chanting. He immediately invites dozens of dancers onstage to set the mood. Hallucinogenic images and humorous visuals (babies floating amid hot dogs in a deep-space galaxy, rotating money symbols, giant lightbulbs) add to the craziness. Yet nothing tops Girl Talk's continuous sequencing and mixing of snippets of disparate tracks. Here's where Black Sabbath, DJ Kool, Blackstreet, Lil Wayne and the Ramones all congregate on the same street corner. A Beastie Boys verse over a passage from Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life"? Why not. Confetti explosions, airgun-launched toilet paper, glowing sticks and balloons fill the air. Girl Talk is known for his "what will he do next" stunts, but tonight, he's primarily focused on the music, and, along with more than 10,000 friends, the collage wizard needn't do anything more. (BG)

9:50 p.m.: Coldplay brings its set to a close by paying tribute to the late British singer Amy Winehouse, when Chris Martin performs a muted version of her darkly prescient hit “Rehab” at the piano. It segues into the quartet’s “Fix You,” a small gesture turned into a big stadium moment by a band that has become expert at such transformations. Coldplay once again focuses on what it does best. They write simple songs in two major categories: hymn-like ballads and rockers that exploit soft-loud dynamics. When a band can sprinkle guaranteed crowd-pleasers such as “Yellow” (even with no stars to “shine for you” in the hazy sky, the glowing city skyline was a strong visual counterpoint), “Clocks” and “Viva La Vida” through its set, it doesn’t have to worry about prolonged dead spots. Martin, with his falsetto voice and self-deprecating charm, presides over the world’s biggest karaoke bar as the audience joins him in a string of sing-alongs. Love or loathe them, Coldplay and its trove of indelible choruses are ideal for wrapping up the opening night of a big rock festival. (GK)

greg@gregkot.com
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The Grammys 2011