On paper, the two bands headlining the final night of Lollapalooza couldn’t be more different. Over the course of their initial four-year run, from 1987 to 1991, Jane’s Addiction pioneered a hazy California psychedelia, writing strange songs long on mysticism and foreboding, placing Perry Farrell’s ethereal screech atop Dave Navarro’s charging guitars.
The Killers, on the other hand, are all pomp and preen. They thieve giddily from ’80s new wave and the back catalog of Bruce Springsteen with equal relish, fusing those disparate sounds into alarmingly effective pop songs. Sharing the same bill, they represented the past and future of modern rock — one generation putting emphasis on grinding guitars and strange imagery, the other favoring strong melodies, bleeding hearts and memorable choruses.
Both bands have a thing for spectacle, though, and Lollapalooza’s final night was full of expert showmanship. Jane’s set launched as the charging thrum of “Mountain Song” began and a helicopter swooped down across the crowd, shining a spotlight on the impatient assembly. When the white curtain concealing the stage finally dropped, it revealed Farrell in a gold lamé jacket with matching pants — a kind of alt-rock Neil Diamond ready to belt out an unending assortment of songs blue. A pair of dancers in 18th Century-style wigs cavorted near the rear of the stage, batting their lashes and getting playfully tangled up in one another.
But all of that was just stage dressing for the music, which has become surprisingly muscular in the years since the group initially disbanded. Jane’s used to be more interested in teasing out strange sonic patterns, but Sunday’s set was long on classic rock riffing. “Three Days” was expanded to a whopping 15 minutes and boasted a lengthy, corkscrewing guitar solo from Navarro. The songs stomped like Zeppelin, big cinder blocks of sound dead set on wrecking anything in their path. The Jane’s that played Sunday night was less West Coast ‘shroom heads and more classic rock bruisers, so it was only natural that they should be joined by Aerosmith’s Joe Perry for a rousing run through “Jane Says.”
Where Jane’s seemed set on showing off their musicianship, the Killers are built for one thing: hits. This group’s transformation from awkward new wavers to a bona fide stadium band cannot be overstated, and Sunday night they commanded Lollapalooza’s south stage with gusto. Brandon Flowers is all angles and bones, and he cast a sharp figure dressed head to toe in black.
Flowers is the consummate frontman, selling each verse with bottomless conviction, heaving his body forward and back and thrusting his microphone stand heavenward. Their set was a nonstop cavalcade of sing-alongs, each one sounding a little better than the one before. Songs like “Spaceman,” which on record is adorned with humming synthesizers, grew teeth, guitarist Dave Keuning replacing the keyboard lines with a few tense, dazzling runs. Even “Dustland Fairytale,” which, in Day & Age is a shade bombastic, sounded triumphant here, its grand finale having all the thunder and opulence of a symphony. Their set built slowly until it earned its euphoric conclusion, a bracing run through the group’s biggest hits, showing how “Mr. Brightside” has gone from nervous new wave number to an anthem of defiance.
“We’ve only got one song left in us,” Flowers announced near the close of the night. “And we’re going to play it as hard as we can. Are you ready to receive it?” When the crowd hollered its assent, Flowers turned to the band and said, “All right, boys, let’s see what this thing can do.”
And with that, they launched into “When You Were Young,” a song that distills all of the Killers’ best elements — nostalgia, raw ache, heartache and disappointment — into three and a half minutes. The song may have started out as an attempt to mimic Springsteen, but it’s become the group’s own personal “Born to Run,” a song of belief with a power that becomes alarming when multiplied by a few hundred thousand. As Flowers delivered the song’s final chorus, a shower of sparks rained down from the rafters — a brilliant, shimmering conclusion to the weekend.