"Last year we played here and I said it was the most fun I ever had at 3 PM. This is shaping up to be the most fun I've ever had," proclaimed Craig Finn two songs into the Hold Steady's unhinged late-afternoon set. If not the finest, the singer-guitarist's quintet made a watertight case for at least being the day's most jubilant and ecstatic performance. Finn understands that a frontman needs to be unafraid to act a fool. Keyed-up and rambunctious, the bespectacled singer pointed, hopped and shuffled while playing the role of an inebriated storyteller. Drinking ("Party Pit"), driving ("Multitude of Casualties"), drugs ("Cattle and the Creeping Things"), dealers ("You Can Make Him Like You") and sex ("Southtown Girls") fueled the location- and character-rich tales, alternately shot through with barroom swagger, driving power chords and Southern rock abandon. Adorned in a Ron Gardenhire Minnesota Twins jersey, Finn also spoke of the I-35W bridge collapse that impacted his beloved town, and did a sign of the cross after mentioning the Mississippi River during "Stuck Between Stations." A throng of converts soaked it all in, but the biggest fan of all was Finn, whose uplifting presence and merry mood caused anyone within earshot to grin.
Not to be outdone, Karen O dressed in black latex and criss-cross-patterned stockings. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman also brought masquerade masks and glittery towels to throw over her head. She wasted no time in smearing her makeup or ripping gloves off of her hands with her teeth with her band aptly followed O's animated antics and vocal meows, snarls and screams through songs from their latest EP, Is Is and tracks from their most recent full-length, Show Your Bones.
For pure, genuine rebellion, all anyone needed to do was hoof it across the park to see Patti Smith. Initially, Smith clung to calmness. Outfitted in a homemade peace-and-love T-shirt, she strummed an acoustic guitar while taking "Beneath the Southern Cross" into the mystic. But as Smith picked up the pace, so did the drizzle. Sneering "Free Money," she invoked a sinister justice that paralleled the resolve of her anti-war rants during a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?" Her lone misstep was an acoustic rendition of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that spun into karaoke. "Gloria" hadn't any such problems, Smith simultaneously spitting poetry and saliva. "Now motherfuckers!" she challenged before launching into "Rock N Roll Nigger" with rarified ferocity, exiting stage right in a swirl of feedback after forcibly popping the strings of her Fender Stratocaster.
After the Hold Steady, Smith and the frayed-nerve zest of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the evening's closers, Interpol and Muse, were slightly reserved by comparison. The former entered to a prolonged introduction that framed their chugging-riff post-punk and somewhat distant stage presence. Muse threw its collective arms around bombastic crescendos, high-pitched vocals and precious balladry on tracks like "Hysteria." The British favorites also came equipped with enough illumination to light up a small city as the second full day of Lollapalooza in Chicago called it a night.
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