The ride for Lollapalooza, the festival set up by Jane’s Addiction frontman (and recently-anointed Godlike Genius) Perry Farrell has been an eventful if sometimes rocky one. Begun way back in 1991 as a “farewell” tour for his band running across North America, it quickly grew in stature as the alternative music festival, breakingcountless new bands, providing memorable shows by the likes of Green Day, Rage Against The Machine, Smashing Pumpkins and almost any other massive ’90s American band you care to name.
Before Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Nirvana were scheduled to headline it in 1994. Times and fortunes changed, however. Farrell kind of lost interest and the festival slumped to a halt in 1997, before being revived in 2003 to coincide with Jane’s Addiction’s reformation. However, 2004’s tour was cancelled due to poor ticket sales, so Lollapalooza settled into its current guise, situated here in Grant Park, Chicago, where it has run since 2005 as a more conventional three days/five stages/one location-type affair.
Frankly, it’s all the better for it. Friday alone, for example, sees an embarrassment of riches spread across the stages. There are early sets from the rising likes of Holy Fuck, Black Lips and Yeasayer and a typically colourful carnival from CSS (who had to cancel last year) while the headline muscle is provided by Radiohead, whose ‘In Rainbows’-heavy set draws by far the biggest crowd of the weekend. A more surprising highlight, though, comes just prior to Thom Yorke and co’s slot on the main stage (or AT&T Stage, as it’s clumsily known) in the shape of Bloc Party. Sporting red shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with Barack Obama’s face and the legend ‘PROGRESS’ (a popular-if-not-particularly radical statement round these parts), Kele Okereke is obviously keen to make new friends, and does. Bassist Gordon Moakes is on paternity leave, but is ably replaced by one Daniel Lindegren, and the band plough through a set geared more towards the experimental end of their spectrum. There’s no ‘Flux’, but the mini-‘Kid A’-isms of newie ‘Mercury’ (aided by some jagged steps from Kele) and ‘The Prayer’ find the assembled Radiohead masses making mental notes to investigate these folk from what their singer describes as “a cold wet island” further afield.
Saturday is punctuated by the bands seemingly set on playing every festival in the world ever this summer: namely MGMT (“We are Radiohead!” they announce) and The Ting Tings. Both put in satisfyingly ace performances, but today’s real magic happens when Perry Farrell, playing solo on, er, Perry’s Stage, brings on a special guest in the shape of Slash for a techno-driven version of ‘Mountain Song’ to which the place – obviously – goes bananas, even if thanks to some sloppy sound you can barely hear what’s happening. Nonetheless, a singalong version of ‘Jane Says’ brings proceedings to a triumphant close, and everyone dashes off to see returning legends of Lollapalooza Rage Against The Machine. Who of course don’t suffer from any sound problems, and are brain-damagingly loud.
“I’m not pandering here,” lies Mark Ronson during his MySpace stage headline slot on the Sunday. “But I finally got my American passport and citizenship, so I can vote for Barack Obama.” Unbuoyed by the usual array of A-list vocalists, his set falls rather flat, and ‘Just’ grates, if only because its writers didn’t friggin’ play it two nights earlier. In fact, Sunday as a whole is less stuffed full of thrills – only White Lies and Black Kids (another of this summer’s ridiculously regular festival players) standing out from the crowd. Better headlining antics than Ronson come from The Cool Kids who, despite entering into a time-slot battle with both Kanye West and Nine Inch Nails, give this sweltering hot party the kind of ending it truly deserves. And what a party it was…