Tales From Lollapalooza

Videos by American Songwriter

I tend to compare every festival to Bonnaroo. It’s not a conscious thing, nor is it particularly fair, but it’s impossible to stop. For example, Rothbury is a smaller Bonnaroo, with less heat and more Midwesterners. CMJ is like a spread-out Bonnaroo, stretched wide over a week’s worth of gigs and a whole city’s worth of venues. And Lollapalooza, currently in the middle of its 20th year, is an episodic Bonnaroo, far more corporate than the other events I mentioned – Bud Light sponsored last night’s Coldplay show, after all – and more intermittent as well, with people often buying tickets for individual days as opposed to the entire weekend.

Things kicked off yesterday around noon, but I didn’t get to Chicago until rush hour. That means I missed groups like TAB the Band, whose lineup includes two of Joe Perry’s kids, and Foster the People, who reportedly turned in a fine cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” By the time my wife and I found parking off of Lakeshore Drive – a hard thing to do on a Friday afternoon in Chicago – and made our way to Grant Park, Bright Eyes had just taken the Bud Light stage for one of the day’s final performances. Their hour-long set included songs like “Four Winds” and “Landlocked Blues,” but this wasn’t the same Bright Eyes that used to emanate from the female dorms during college, when a thousand girls would seek solace in Conor Oberst’s brittle voice after breaking up with their boyfriends. This was a bigger, noisier, messier, and altogether more interesting band, conducted by Oberst with the sort of confidence that belied his earlier material. Toward the end, he jumped down into the photo pit and sang a verse of “One for You, One for Me” with his fans in the front row, hugging three security guards in the process.

Coldplay was up next, and we’d already managed to weasel our way toward the front of the crowd. I wanted to catch the end of OK Go’s set before heading over to Muse. My wife wanted to stay where we were and moon over Chris Martin. Such is the dilemma of attending a festival with your loved one, particularly a loved one who thinks “Fix You” is actually a solid one. I wound up relenting, partially because I didn’t want to rock the boat and partially because the walk to Muse’s stage would’ve been a long, long journey past 90,000 festival attendees and 100some acres of obstacles. You win this time, Coldplay.

For the most part, Coldplay made my immobility worth it. The guys obviously know how to play to a crowd whose population dwarfs that of a small city, and they had one helluva laser show to boot, shooting golden beams into the crowd during “Yellow” and bathing the stage in red for “Viva la Vida.” Chris Martin had some people cringing during his abridged cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” – it was a nice gesture, but man… too soon — but most of the set was focused on big, Technicolor, singalong hits, which is something Coldplay has in spades.

They wrapped things up with “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” the lead single from Coldplay’s still untitled fifth album. Just when I found myself thinking, “You know, this song is alright, but the first verse is by far the best – “I got my records on” makes it sounds like Beyonce anthem or something,” the band had to go and shoot off some fireworks, making the whole crowd freak out with adulation and converting me into a Coldplay fan, at least for that moment. I later found out that Muse had fireworks, too, and Matthew Bellamy apparently worked short snippets of “Back in Black” and Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” into the band’s set. Bummer.


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