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Studs and duds of Lollapalooza 2011

Courtesy of MCT

It’s been 20 years since Lollapalooza, a three-day outdoor music festival in Chicago, first won the hearts of music fans and this anniversary year saw some of the best sets yet. But as usual, there were also a few duds Aug. 5-7. While there were simply not enough hours in the day to catch all the acts I would have liked to see, here’s a recap of the highs and lows of Lollapalooza 2011.

HIGHS

Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters played the final set on the final night, a coveted headlining spot opposite Deadmau5. While I was disappointed that I didn’t get to catch Deadmau5’s set, my heart belongs to Foo front man Dave Grohl, and the band’s set on Sunday proved why. Foo played a combination of songs from their newest album “Wasting Light” and old favorites such as “Learn to Fly” and “Best of You.” When their first few songs were so good that Mother Nature decided she didn’t want to miss the show, Foo tore through an unforgettable “My Hero,” encouraging fans to jump around and sing despite the monsoon-like rains that came over Grant Park. While some audience members ran for cover, most people stayed put, literally soaking up the experience.

Grohl ripped artists who use electronics to play their instruments for them before rocking through a few more songs. With the band standing onstage soaking wet, shaking their hair and smiling the whole time, the audience couldn’t help but enjoy themselves in spite of the uncooperative weather. In a highlight of the set, Grohl thanked the audience  and performed a stripped-down solo version of “Times Like These,” only to be joined by the rest of the band at the end, amping the song up to its usual rock form on the final runs through the chorus. The band, who refused to waste a minute of their allotted time, chose not to leave the stage and return for an encore. Instead, Grohl recalled attending the first Lollapalooza in Los Angeles in 1991 with Kurt Cobain, his Nirvana bandmate. After thanking Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell for changing music, Foo played a heartfelt “Everlong” to close their set, easily the weekend’s best in my opinion, and the festival. I’m not sure anything will ever feel that real again, but it sure was good while it lasted.

Fitz & the Tantrums

I had only heard one or two songs by the relatively new band before catching their Saturday set, but I had high expectations for the group which is known for their Motown sound. And boy, oh boy did they deliver, with what I’d consider the second day’s best set. Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs, the singers in the group, brought such passion and soul to the stage that you couldn’t stand still. They had the audience singing riffs back to them. At one point, they told everyone in the audience to get low to the ground and to jump up when they hit the chorus. Old and young folks alike were dancing and clapping despite sweltering midday Chicago heat. It was true entertainment and musicianship, with Fitz and Scaggs working the stage like seasoned pros. Saxophonist James King carried the band’s rocking tunes while the rest of the band created soulful perfection. They rolled through songs such as “Breaking the Chains of Love” and their first single, the incredibly catchy “Moneygrabbers.” Now, I’ve never met a “moneygrabber,” but the group was so convincing that they had me thinking I had. And they did all of it without a guitar.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Who says girlie-girls can’t rock? Potter, sporting a shiny, very short dress and mountain-high heels, flipped her hair back and forth while tearing through songs such as “Ah Mary,” “Stop the Bus” and her recent hit “Paris (Oh La La),” during which she had the whole crowd singing “Oh La La La La-pa-looza.” Sprinting back and forth between her guitar and the keys, Potter kept the audience engaged the entire time, dancing right along with her. Her musicianship was fantastic and her powerful rock voice rang out across the north side of Grant Park.

Walk the Moon

Hailing from Cincinnati, Walk the Moon brought with it a large crowd of Ohioans who traveled just to see them. In an early Saturday time slot, they played through the relentless heat and had everyone in the crowd moving. Their cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was a fun surprise, but it was their performance of audience-favorite “Anna Sun” that captured my heart. I’ll admit I had never heard of them before my best friend dragged me to the park early for their set, but part of Lolla’s appeal is the chance to find new bands to love. Walk the Moon will certainly be among my favorite Lolla finds for years to come.

LOWS

Cee Lo Green

After his meltdown onstage at Coachella and a shaky performance at Bonnaroo, Green needed to save face in my book. I saw Cee Lo five years ago at Lolla when he was half of power-duo Gnarls Barkley, along with Danger Mouse, and he put on an incredible show. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the audience, Saturday was not Cee Lo’s day. Known for his crazy costumes, he walked out in a black get-up with spikes all over it, looking like something from “Super Mario Bros.,” and he proceeded to start and stop songs halfway through. He did this several different times throughout the shaky set. Part of the blame lies with Green’s technicians as his sound was completely muffled, but ultimately, Cee Lo fell far short of my expectations. He chastised the audience for being disenga
ged, but Green himself didn’t seem to be all there. While “Bright Lights, Bigger City” and his cover of The Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone,” along with his hit song “F*** You” were highlights of the set, it seems Cee Lo is the one we’ll be forgetting.

The Cars

How can you possibly go wrong with a nostalgia-inducing band playing hits such as “Good Times Roll”? Well, when the band members, specifically lead singer Ric Ocasek, decide they’re going to stand still like they’re bored by their own music, it’s a cue to the audience to check out. And check out, I did. The combination of heat and lackluster music meant that rather than dancing along to some classic hits, I chose to watch the video screens from a distance so I could bolt quickly to find another band. Very disappointing.

Skylar Grey

I didn’t actually see Grey, but from all accounts I heard, she was unimpressive. While I was busy watching Fitz and the Tantrums, one friend of mine watched Grey’s set, which she described as “weird.” My friend said that no one in the audience knew Grey’s songs, mostly because Grey’s fame comes from her featured performances with other artists. Some of her more notable ones include Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor” and Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said.” But at a festival like Lolla, playing unknown songs isn’t usually synonymous with “festival low,” unless you proceed to ramble about completely random, unrelated topics between these unknown songs as Grey did.

City and Colour

To be fair, this set wasn’t a bad set. It just wasn’t good. I like City and Colour, but I didn’t feel as though I took anything away from this performance that I wouldn’t have gotten by simply listening to the CD. Rather than getting into the music, I was perfectly content with listening from a distance while sitting on a picnic blanket. I didn’t want to be content with sitting at all this weekend. This set in the city could have had a lot more color to it for me.

Fence Crashing

Apparently some people thought that instead of paying for their tickets like everyone else, they would simply gather in groups large enough to just crash through the fences that walled off Grant Park. This caused security at the park a lot of unnecessary headaches, will cost the promoters a ton of money to fix and is generally frowned upon by people who actually paid for their tickets. Definitely a low.

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