At 8:15 p.m., as a single light illuminated the front of the Bud Light stage, Trent Reznor brought Nine Inch Nails back to America. It was Night One of Lollapalooza, and the ever-mysterious musician took the stage to grand expectations: This was, after all, the first Nails set on American soil since Reznor put his most famous band on indefinite hiatus following a 2009 tour.
Reznor and his new lineup – which has already undergone several personnel changes in the lead-up to their festival-heavy set of forthcoming tour dates – have in recent weeks begun unveiling cuts off the band's new album, Hesitation Marks. Friday was no exception: New tracks were abundant during their Lollapalooza set, including "Copy Of A," the dance-heavy lead single "Come Back Haunted" and "Find My Way."
Nails' hardcore fans were treated to classics as well: "Sanctified," off the band's choke-slam of a debut album, 1989's Pretty Hate Machine, was busted out early on, and live staple "Head Like A Hole" was naturally trotted out, albeit typically late in the set.
The Downward Spiral is the bread-and-butter album to many longtime fans, and Reznor seemed to know as much. The singer unleashed a one-two punch of "March Of The Pigs" and "Piggy," the former providing a jolt of adrenaline with the crowd screaming along to the song's melodic refrain.
Fifteen minutes after Reznor began pulverizing the Lolla crowd, a more measured but equally over-the-top performance took flight on the opposite end of Grant Park. "Windy City!" the Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers bellowed at the hysteric masses packed in to see the Vegas rockers, who previously headlined the fest in 2009. "Tonight you're with the boys from Sin City. We'll try not to corrupt you."
Flowers, of course, was being hyperbolic. Unlike NIN, there's little depravity in the Killers' musical repertoire. It is, however, imperative to strap in when seeing the Nevada four-piece, since the hits come fast and furious. The Killers wasted little time on Friday. The band, which includes guitarist Dave Keunig, bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr., immediately charged into their biggest hit, 2004's "Mr. Brightside," off their name-making debut album, Hot Fuss. They then proceeded to fill their 95-minute set with songs both seasoned ("Spaceman") and those still finding their place in the set ("Miss Atomic Bomb" off last year's Battle Born).
Portions of the Killers' set lacked headliner-worthy energy. But Flowers, ever the poignant performer, wearing a black leather jacket before stripping it to reveal a blue silky shirt emblazoned with stars, took it as his personal calling to reclaim any lost momentum. There he was much of the evening, hopping from one stage position to the next, particularly during "Human," or theatrically miming the lyrics to tunes like "The Way It Was." The set was big-balled, arena-worthy and mammoth. Some acts struggle to translate their aesthetic to the live arena; the Killers are not such a band.
The Killers also made good use of the opportunities big-ticket festivals offer for collaboration: They invited New Order founder Bernard Sumner out to duet on guitar for a spin through "Shadowplay" by Joy Division, the groundbreaking band Sumner co-founded.
Earlier, on the same stage that Reznor and Nine Inch Nails did their brutal handiwork, Queens of the Stone Age, a band undoubtedly influenced by the Nails, unleashed a stellar set of rollicking rock. Frontman Josh Homme, a typically stoic figure, seemed almost jovial. "I kind of like the clouds," he remarked, seemingly poking fun at the fact that, for once, rain did not brutalize the fest. "It's a beautiful day and everyone is looking so fantastic."
The alt-metal crew's hour-long set, delivered just before dusk, included plenty of material off their superb new album, …Like Clockwork, including the slow and methodical "The Vampyre of Time And Memory," as well as "My God Is The Sun."
The two main stages were by no means the only ones teeming with action. At the mid-sized Grove Stage, UK DJ duo Disclosure, comprising brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence and fresh off the release of their UK-chart-topping new album, Settle, unleashed swampy dance grooves to a crowd stuffed in and sweaty. "We love Chicago and everything its music has done for us," said Guy, referencing the city's deep house-music history. What Disclosure offer, in contrast to many DJs, is a palpable live performance: The two play instruments onstage. Throughout the set, and most noticeably during standout cut "You & Me," Guy went wild on percussion; Howard was a more stoic presence on the bass guitar. The crowd seemed disappointed when Jessie Ware, who performed earlier in the day at the fest, did not come out to perform her vocal feature during "Confess To Me." In an interview earlier that day, Ware told Rolling Stone that she wouldn't be joining Disclosure in their set, but gushed about the opportunity to again work as a dance vocalist with the duo. "It's where I started," she said, recalling her early days of singing back-up. "I never want to lose that. That was the most exhilarating time – to go to the club and hear my voice."
On the nearby BMI Stage, local boy Chance The Rapper, riding high off his breakout mixtape, this year's Acid Rap, easily drew one of the rowdiest and most enthusiastic crowds of the entire day. "Let's turn the fuck up!" the MC instructed. The set was heavy on material off the elastic, nasal-voiced rapper's breakout tape, but selections from his debut #10Day also made an appearance. The standout moment was undoubtedly when Chance, returning for one of the day's only encores– one that included his head-trippy "Cocoa Butter Kisses" with assistance from fellow Chi-town spitter Twista – jumped into an inflatable kiddie pool and crowd surfed with a gigantic smile plastered on his face.
The early afternoon was not without its merits: On the Red Bull Stage, Scottish soul-pop singer Emeli Sandé serenaded the early-arriving crowd with selections from her debut album, Our Version of Events, including her breakout single "Next To Me," and the new, gospel-infused "Lifted" ("I've been lifted/reach out for the light").
Longtime Lollapalooza attendees, Chicago indie-rockers Smith Westerns ("We all drank underage here," said frontman Cullen Omori) fought off early sound issues to plow through a 45-minute set, highlighted by Dye It Blonde's "Weekend" and the sprightly new synth-heavy single "Varsity" off their latest LP, Soft Will.
Backstage after the set, Omori celebrated the unexpected benefits of a hometown, big-festival gig. "You see random acquaintances you went to high school with," he said. "It's like, “Whoa! What are they doing now?"
Additional reporting by Steve Baltin