In advance of Sunday’s events, heavy overnight showers moved through Chicago and resulted in standing water, marshy grounds and stinky sod. Bayou-level humidity has also set in, and the predicted cloudy skies quickly cede to beaming sunshine. It’s a sticky, sweaty day. That said, it’s worth noting that Lollapalooza is running extremely smoothly. Concertgoers are enjoying themselves. Kids are in tow with parents. Food lines are relatively short, and complaints sparse. Not bad, given that approximately 160,000 witnessed the three-day spectacle.
New York’s White Rabbits kick off the festivities on Sunday, and their woozy, wobbly rock heeds advice to “just take it easy.” Dressed in a polo shirt and sporting Ray Ban sunglasses, singer-guitarist Greg Roberts is a spitting image for Bob Dylan at his 1965 Newport Folk Festival appearance. Lounge piano notes softly twinkle on “Tourist Tap,” and besides closely recalling the Walkmen, the sextet is rooted in a Sixties-style boho cool.
The Summer of Love is also evoked by the soft psychedelic pop of the 1900s, whose three-part harmonies, easygoing violin passages and tambourine-on-hip rhythms give neo-hippies a reason to live. With his headband, retro shades and long hair, guitarist Edward Anderson resurrects Country Joe McDonald for the twenty-first century. Acknowledging a family member in the crowd, the Chicago septet half-seriously jokes “no one else knows who we are” before playing the curiously titled “Acutiplantar Dude” from its forthcoming record due in October.
At the rate they are going, everybody is going to know about the Cribs before long. The three brothers Jarman behave like siblings with histories of sharing, brawling and reconciling. Their lively Brit-rock is meant for those hazy early mornings long after the bars have closed, girls have headed home and friends have disappeared. Songs tug forward with subtle tension, scrappy momentum and bratty effortlessness. Cymbals are smacked and fall to the ground, prompting stage hands to run out and pick up the pieces. “I’m Alright Me” addresses boredom and unrest with its humorous “take drugs / don’t sleep / have contempt for those you meet” verse and “Men’s Needs” finds bassist-vocalist Gary Jarman growing hoarse. The Cribs are righteously messy, and just right for hoisting a pint of beer or two in a pub.
Rodrigo y Gabriela disprove that you need lyrics or electricity to rock out. They don’t say much, either. Using their acoustic guitars not just as string instruments but as percussive devices, the Mexican duo puts on a clinic of lightning-quick hand-eye coordination. Fingers fly down the guitar necks; strings snap and pop; palms slap and rap against hollowed-out wood. Rodrigo Sanchez wears a T-shirt from Bay Area thrashers Testament. The duo’s love of heavy metal is manifest when they play a few bars of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” and the Spanish rumbas and gypsy jams owe as much to Yngwie Malmsteen as classical maestro Segovia. The crowd claps along, mesmerized.
Back to the Sixties. Tens of thousands have gathered to see Amy Winehouse, and with her black-and-white checkered dress, bat-wing-patterned mascara and big ol’ pile of hair, the retro English soul singer has charisma to burn. But passion is AWOL. Winehouse starts slowly and never connects with the crowd. She looks disinterested, and not even the snorting horns on “Just Friends” wake her up.
By contrast, Lupe Fiasco requires no motivational push. The Chicago rapper is finishing up across the park, and wants everyone to know it: His lyrical flow and feel-good vibes of “Daydreamin'” are what summer festivals are all about, and can be heard blocks away.
No peanut butter is involved, but the Stooges succeed in creating menacing mayhem at their late-afternoon set that young attendees will tell their children about. One can only imagine what those peering out of nearby condos thought of the Detroit-bred racket. Iggy Pop thrives on physicality, and wasn’t about to let barricades prevent him from his kicks. Pop might be sixty years old but he’s still pure animal, a sinewy banshee of a frontman better than a majority of artists two-thirds his age. The Stooges throttling proto-punk is just as timeless. With ex-Minuteman Mike Watt huddled down, his bass cradled between his legs, the quartet is poised to strike. “Loose,” “1969,” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” are obnoxious, plaster-cracking thickets of sound. The droves that packed the north end of the park aren’t disappointed; for many, this is their live Stooges initiation.
Meanwhile, Pop is flailing about like a downed power line reacting against a puddle of water. He woofs, barks, howls and yowls. He jumps offstage during “My Idea of Fun,” but it’s not close enough. After the ugly blues of “Dirt,” during which Pop rolls around like a crazed dog on a carpet, the Stooges’ concept of participatory democracy takes hold. Towards the end of “Real Cool Time,” Pop wags his index finger and beckons fans to join the band. “Let ’em up!” he yells. “Share the stage.” Within seconds, fans are crawling up onstage like ants drawn to honey, clawing and scratching to get near the iconic singer. The Stooges launch into “No Fun,” hundreds crowd Pop and chaos ensues. It’s a wonderful sight. A pause in the action is required to disperse the invitees, who are hugging and thanking Pop. Order is restored, but Pop remains hyper. “Out of my mind!” he shouts on “1970,” and everything else, including Steve MacKay’s skronking sax, is gravy.