The Kills were midway through their Friday afternoon at Lollapalooza when singer Alison Mossheart began to sweat. As she growled the refrain of the bouncy, tribal-beat-fueled “Sour Cherry” — “Shout when you wanna get off the ride!” — her long, black hair became matted to her forehead and her bangs dripped with perspiration. Meanwhile, guitarist Jamie Hince, clad in black pants and a gray blazer, lifted his arms to reveal two massive pit stains.
The garage-rock duo weren’t the only sweltering ones at the mega Chicago fest, which kicked off its 20th anniversary weekend in 85-degree temps and oppressive humidity. Despite the heat, a sold-out crowd of 90,000 packed into Grant Park to hear nearly 12 hours of music by 51 acts, including buzzy British rapper Tinie Tempah, indie icon Bright Eyes and headliners Muse, Girl Talk and Coldplay.
The energy at the 115-acre park picked up midday with a set by Los Angeles trio Foster the People, who broke out earlier this year with their catchy tune “Pumped Up Kicks.” It was the band’s first trip to Lolla, but they’re far from under-the-radar: their fans sang along throughout their set, which included a cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.”
Across the park, Tinie Tempah warmed up the crowd by passing out freebies. Before the London MC took the stage, members of his entourage walked through the audience, offering t-shirts stamped with the rapper’s face, Tinie Tempah-branded sunglasses and CDs of “Till I’m Gone,” his new single featuring Wiz Khalifa. As Tinie’s DJ launched into LMFAO’s hit, “Party Rock Anthem” — which included the revamped chorus, “Tinie Tempah’s in the house tonight,” — the fans waved their swag (and their hands) in the air. Backed by a live drummer, guitarist and keyboardist, the rapper waged a rap-rock assault with tracks off his breakout 2011 album, Disc-Overy. Highlights: a high-energy “The Frisky,” which had the crowd jumping up and down at the line, “Would you risk it for a chocolate biscuit?”
Meanwhile, Bright Eyes dominated the Bud Light stage with an acoustic guitar, busting out fan favorites like from the jubilant, hoedown-ready “Four Winds,” to the spare, melancholy “Landlocked Blues.” “This song’s for all the phonies in the audience tonight,” shouted sunglass-wearing frontman Conor Oberst, before launching into “Shell Games,” which was punctuated by trumpet stabs and power-ballad riffs. Even a pedal-steel guitar made an appearance on the tune “Old Soul Song (for the New World Order).”
As the sun began to fade, Oberst whipped off his glasses to make eye contact with the crowd. He kicked into an emotional version of “One Foot in Front of the Other,” and when he spit the lyrics, “greed is a bottomless pit/and our freedom’s a joke, we’re just taking a piss,” one had to wonder if he was thinking about the debt-ceiling debate.
Oberst’s reference to democracy (or lack thereof?) wasn’t the only nod to the U.S.A. at the festival: Muse frontman Matthew Bellamy showed up for his band’s headlining set in an American-flag-adorned t-shirt and bright red skinny jeans. As a massive crowd gathered at the Music Unlimited Stage, the British rockers unleashed hits like the dark, throbbing “Uprising” and the falsetto-pierced “Supermassive Black Hole.” As the trio kicked into the hypnotic, fiery “Hysteria,” pink and gold fireworks shot off in the background.
In the massive Perry’s tent, which features a dance-friendly lineup curated by festival founder Perry Farrell, superstar DJ Girl Talk cranked the volume and pumped out mash-ups of hip-hop, pop and indie-rock tunes while nearly 20,000 revelers partied. The area was so full that a few dancers jumped onto platforms outside the tent so that they could bust their moves freely.
The scene at Coldplay’s stage was a total 180. Frontman Chris Martin alternated between an acoustic guitar and the piano, playing sweet, mellow trademarks like “Yellow,” “Shiver” and “The Scientist.” The band, which is working on its fifth album, introduced a couple new tunes, one of which was a strummy, harmony-laced number called “Us Against the World.” “This is about a potential love affair between Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin,” Martin joked.
At certain points, the ruckus from Girl Talk’s set obscured the rocker’s voice, so he asked the crowd to sing along. As thousands of voices duetted on “Everything’s Not Lost,” Martin looked around, pleased. “Fuckin’ fantastic singing, everyone,’” he said, before pulsing lights appeared to announce the 2002 hit “Politik.” “Lollapalooza’s on fire tonight.”