Despite a relatively tame lineup, the first day of this year’s Lollapalooza had some legitimate highlights — the heavy grooves of afrobeat star Femi Kuti, the gorgeous orchestration of The Polyphonic Spree, and the marvelous light show of Daft Punk.
Despite detractors harping on continued corporate sponsorship and a focus on “Kidzapalooza,” the main drawback of the radio-friendly three-day festival is a predominantly average lineup. Thankfully, there was plenty of life left elsewhere on the event’s roster, as Ted Leo and the Pharmacists got the afternoon going with rousing power pop and a closer lamenting the Central Intelligence Agency. Protest punks Against Me!, led by the throaty, piercing vocals of singer/guitarist Tom Gabel (shown right), continued as one of the day’s only other voices of dissent.
Alt-experimenters Blonde Redhead, one of the lineup’s biggest throwbacks to ’90s-style indie rock and not too dissimilar in sound to Sonic Youth, mesmerized concertgoers with delayed clean-channel guitar, dirty rock riffs, sampled drums, sequencers, and the whispy, near-falsetto vocals of multi-instrumentalist Kazu Makino (left of image).
Multi-ethnic rapper M.I.A. (shown right) earlier offered up hot beats and mild gyration, although her act and vocal style grew old quickly. The highlight of her party-flavored set, in fact, was when she climbed a riser during the penultimate song and dropped lines atop a large speaker.
Kuti (below) and his backing band, The Positive Force, were one of Friday’s biggest standouts. Clad in matching green and purple outfits, The Positive Force provided a forceful backdrop for Kuti to rock harder than anyone else on the bill.
Between funky, succinct bursts of brass and traditional African rhythms, the Nigerian musician fired up the crowd with frenzied eruptions of organ, saxophone, encouraging lyrics, and spinning, kicking dance moves.
Earlier in the afternoon, the dozens of performers from The Polyphonic Spree appeared to crave heat stroke while all dressed in matching black attire. With singer Tim DeLaughter at the forefront, the small orchestra inundated its audience with triumphant, typically distortion-free, über-heavy pop in support of recent album The Fragile Army.
The group, which flaunts a flautist, harpist, and two drummers among its mammoth roster, then switched into white robes for an encore that included a massively layered rendition of “Lithium” by Nirvana.
At the end of the evening, famous electronica duo Daft Punk dazzled dance fans with the same fantastic stage setup it has used at festivals in recent years. Though the outdoor venue was less conducive to getting down than a club setting, the ever-changing pyramid of lights in which the two played was a site to behold.
– Scott Morrow
Photo credits: Tanya van Kampen