It was the twentieth anniversary of the first ever Lollapalooza and I have never been to one! For those of you not in the know, Lollapalooza was conceived by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell back in 1991. It ended up being an annual festival until 1997 then returned in 2003 to continue occurring annually. Chicago’s Grant Park is the home of the festival every year now, though the first Lolla Chile took place earlier this year.
This year’s three-day festival consisted of over a hundred artists on eight stages. With so many stages, there will sometimes be scheduling conflicts when you want to see two different bands that are playing simultaneously. This year, the bands I most wanted to see that I passed on or only briefly watched due to other performances were the Cold War Kids, Portugal the Man, Muse and Arctic Monkeys. These decisions are tough, but that’s just the way it goes. With that being said, I picked out 32 performances that I watched just enough of to critique and rank. Instead of just ranking them, I tried to categorize them a bit. Also, if you haven’t heard my Lollapalooza podcast yet, you should.
The Big Disappointment
I am a fan of Cee-Lo’s album The Lady Killer. I was looking forward to him putting on a good theatrical performance with costumes and what not. He was my second-most anticipated performance (behind Glitch Mob) on a fairly weak Saturday schedule, though I did see many things I didn’t know that I ended up enjoying. I left a great performance by Ellie Goulding to check Cee-Lo out. I can honestly say what I saw on stage was one of the worst and definitely the most disappointing performances I have ever seen. The set started a bit late, but I don’t let that bother me too much when there are so many performances taking place throughout the day. Then the all-female band came out with a 007-themed video playing on the screens. After a long intro, Cee-Lo finally arrived decked out in a black road warrior-like costume. So far everything was as I expected. Then he broke into a cover of Danzig’s Mother. At first I was pumped, but I soon realized that it wasn’t very good. So I waited to see what would come next, and the transition between songs was terrible. There was a DJ in the band who started playing the intro to Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way. Cee-Lo brought the microphone to his mouth looking like he was about to sing, then Lenny Kravitz’s voice from the audio track came on and Cee-Lo just stopped. It was clearly a technical difficulty, but it was pretty bad. After appearing to half-ass an original song, Cee-Lo did not take kindly to boos from the crowd. He said something like “what’s wrong with you people?” and “don’t let these costumes go to waste.” It was at that point I had it. I couldn’t take anymore, accepting how wrong I was to think it would be a good performance. I was severely disappointed.
The Barely Watched and Unmemorable
There were a number of artists I watched briefly, generally as a transition between other performances. Some were good but I didn’t watch enough to honestly rank them, and others just didn’t stand out.
31. Black Cards
This pop band was the only thing I saw at the small BMI stage located in a wooded area. I had some time to kill before OK Go and decided to stop at the closest stage at the time. The small crowd that was there was having a good time dancing to the music. The lead singer sounded a bit like Ke$ha and was pulling people on stage to dance. It was a fun time, but the music wasn’t incredible.
30. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
I went to watch this band as my roommate really wanted to and there was nothing else going on at the time. After a couple songs I wasn’t really getting pulled into the performance. They were good, but pretty ordinary. So I left.
29. The Cool Kids
I stopped by Perry’s, a tent where the DJ’s performed in a club-like atmosphere, when I was getting bored with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The Cool Kids are a hip-hop group, and I was looking forward to something different. The music was alright, but the most entertaining part was a mud pit that formed just outside the tent.
28. Rival Schools
I watched Rival Schools briefly while killing time before making my way to the other side of the festival grounds. Pretty good performance, but didn’t watch enough to critique.
Immediately after Rival Schools I stopped in Perry’s on the way to the Pains of Being Pure at Heart set. Daedelus was performing, a DJ playing some electronic music. The music had a good beat, but didn’t stand out to me at all. I just realized #27-30 were all in a row on Sunday. What an uninspiring block of music!
26. Smith Westerns
I was able to hear some of the Smith Westerns right before The Kills came on. I liked what I heard, but I didn’t hear enough or pay enough attention to give a fair assessment.
25. Chico Trujillo
On the way to Friendly Fires I managed to catch the last couple songs of the performance by Chico Trujillo. They are a Chilean band that seems to personify fun. It was like a big Latin party on stage and in the crowd. I wish I had gotten to see more of this band.
You Can’t Kill The Metal
24. Death From Above 1979
With about thirty minutes to kill between bands on the same stage, I ended up checking out Death From Above 1979 who was playing nearby. I didn’t get close enough to really look at them, but I certainly didn’t need to be close to hear them. Their metal was loud and powerful, and quite good. I enjoyed laying back to the smooth sounds of some Death From Above 1979 metal.
Not A Fan, But Surprisingly Enjoyed
23. Manchester Orchestra
I’ve tried to get into Manchester Orchestra in the past, but their music has never stuck with me. My companions wanted to check them out before heading to the main event, Foo Fighters. I was really just looking forward to getting in place for Foo Fighters, but I did like the time I spent watching Manchester Orchestra.
Female-Led Performances I Half-Watched
22. Lykke Li
At the end of day two of Lollapalooza I was getting quite tired. The headliners for Saturday were all pretty weak in comparison to the other days. Lykke Li was the last thing I watched, and though I enjoyed it, I already had my sights set on catching an early train. So I watched for a couple songs, then sat nearby and listened for a while, but I didn’t give her my full attention.
21. Best Coast
The rain started to come down early Sunday evening. I made my way over to the wooded Google+ stage to watch Best Coast, but ended up hanging out under a tree the whole time. The surf-rock group put on a good set, but I was busy sharing a tree with some girls from Detroit and just talking to them for a while.
Ten Years Almost To The Day
Before college I had gone to a few concerts with family and my girlfriend, but never just with friends. In 2001 within weeks of going away to college for the first time, I went with my friend Kimble to see Godsmack, Deftones, Puddle of Mudd, From Zero and Darwin’s Waiting Room in Hartford. That was the last time I had seen the Deftones until Lollapalooza 2011. I never really listened to the Deftones much over the last ten years, and only went to watch them at Lolla because there wasn’t much else going on at the time. I had forgotten however that they are really cool live and put on a good show. It took ten years, but I’m glad I saw them for a second time.
Likeable Unknown Fillers
The lead singer of Fences was very proud to be the only Seattle band at Lollapalooza this year, as he mentioned it multiple times. I can honestly say there are much better bands from Seattle than Fences, but they were alright. I did watch the entire set. Some songs were good, but overall the set was pretty boring.
My roommate wanted to go watch Dom since he’s familiar with one of their songs from satellite radio. Their singer has a very unique sound that is fairly high-pitched for a guy, but it mostly works. There were a couple of songs I really didn’t like, but the ones I did like were quite good.
17. Black Lips
Black Lips put on a good punk rock show, though it felt more like they should be in some hole-in-the-wall club instead of a big outdoor venue. Extra props for their awesome banner which looked like a kindergarten class made.
16. The Drums
The Drums performed a fairly solid indie-pop set, though there were no particular songs that stood out during the performance.
15. The Mountain Goats
The best way I can describe The Mountain Goats is a folk/blues version with vocals reminding me of Against Me and Flogging Molly. I know that description seems to be all over the place, but they are a tough band to describe.
Memorable Female-Led Performances
14. Gold Motel
Sunday afternoon I made it to the festival earlier than any other day, and I was rewarded with Chicago’s own Gold Motel. It was very hot and sunny around 12:30pm, but I was happy to stand out in the sun for this set. Gold Motel is a new band formed by Greta Morgan of The Hush Sound, who are currently on hiatus.
13. Ellie Goulding
Ellie Goulding will forever be remembered as the set I left in order to be disappointed by Cee Lo. Ellie Goulding put on a great show for the brief time I watched her. I would have liked to watch the full set, and had I she might have placed better in my rankings.
Recently Popular On Radio
12. Cage the Elephant
Recently releasing their second album, Cage the Elephant is a band I heard about on FM radio and have heard a lot of since their debut of “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” a year or two ago. Their performance was full of high energy, with the lead singer jumping into the crowd multiple times. The rain clouds rolled in during their set and started coming down a few songs in. The vocals were a bit weak though full of energy. Considering how much the singer was running around I can certainly imagine the vocals suffering a bit.
11. Foster the People
Another band I first heard on FM radio, Foster the People were the first band I saw of Lollapalooza 2011. It was a great warm up to the rest of the weekend. Though not spectacular, the set was consistent with no real weaknesses.
Best Dance Party
10. Girl Talk
Girl Talk headlined Perry’s tent on the first night against Muse and Coldplay. Even with the tough competition, the tent was jam-packed with people looking forward to the best dance party of the weekend. It was everything I expected, and was quite entertaining. It definitely felt like a club in there.
9. Damian Marley & Nas
I really don’t know too much about Damian Marley or Nas. I know Damian Marley is the youngest son of the late Bob Marley, and I’ve heard some music from Nas over the years. They released a collaborative album last year, which has led them to performing together this year. It was a really cool set. They did some collaborative songs and they did some of each other’s songs. The set was Sunday evening after the first rain stopped and it was fun watching people dance around in the mud pits.
As Good As I Remember
8. Flogging Molly
Having seen Flogging Molly in the past, I knew they would be one of the better performances of the weekend. Their Irish-influenced rock is fun to listen to and sing along with. I think I’ve only ever seen them outdoors at festivals, and they fit in really well in that setting.
7. Glitch Mob
The last time I saw Glitch Mob they still had four members (now three), so it had been a couple years. They performed in Perry’s where most of the DJs were performing, and there was a great showing for them. Their original electronic sound is great to bounce you’re head to.
Coldplay and Muse headlined against each other on the first night of Lolla. I was able to split time between them and it was well worth it. While I love Muse and listen to them regularly (and have seen them before), I have never seen Coldplay and don’t really listen to them. I’d say they were pretty much equals in the performance department. Muse used fireworks during their set and Coldplay had lasers. I may have become a fan of Coldplay because of their performance, and I still very much like Muse.
Best Female-Led Band
4. The Kills
This is one of the top three bands I was most looking forward to seeing whom I had never seen before. Interestingly the other two rank above this, so with all three ranking in the top four performances I’d say they lived up to my expectations. The raw, lo-fi sound of The Kills translated really well live. I was able to sit back and relax on the grass and just take in the awesome sound. My friend who went with me didn’t care for them so much, but that’s ok. They have a unique sound that isn’t favorable to those who don’t go out of their musical comfort zone much. It was a treat watching Alison Mosshart working the stage the way she did.
3. Friendly Fires
To break into the top three when there were three bands that I was so excited to see for the first time is impressive. I went to see Friendly Fires on a whim and I am only better for it. Their eye-catching banner pulled me in before the music started playing. They came on and performed one of the only sets I watched from start to finish where I wasn’t wondering what was next. I was sucked in and there was no way I was leaving. Friendly Fires is a British band that plays a style of music that is a mix of dance music and classic pop. They reminded me a lot of Men, Women and Children. They also worked the crowd very well, talking just enough and having multiple members come off the stage at various times to interact with the crowd. I look forward to an opportunity to see them in the future.
2. OK Go
I really believed OK Go would be number one on this list, but they were defeated by a worthy opponent. OK Go put on an incredible set. I love all their music so I was singing along from the beginning. Their set included lead singer Damian Kulash performing an entire song with an acoustic guitar and microphone stand set up in the crowd. There were giant red balls (think beach balls) that were introduced into the crowd during the second song. They also performed an entire song with only different sized bells. Oh, and they looked good, each wearing a different bright-colored suit.
Best In Show
1. Foo Fighters
It is an understatement to say Dave Grohl is an incredible showman. I’ve always liked Foo Fighters, but never enough to go out of my way and see them. What a mistake that was. As the rain poured down on the final night of Lollapalooza 2011, I found myself standing in shin-high mud singing into the rain at the top of my lungs with a group of people I had met only a couple hours earlier. It was an incredible experience. Dave Grohl was mesmerizing on the stage. I still like listening to OK Go more, but Foo Fighters definitely put on the best performance of Lollapalooza this year.