It took a few hours and a couple dozen bands, but the Lollapalooza audience finally came alive for The Raconteurs, erupting as co-frontman Jack White delivered his first line in the band's opener, "Intimate Secretary." For the next hour White and partner in crime Brendan Benson pulled out all the stops with their super-group-of-sorts, verbally somersaulting over each other's vocals while they one-upped each other's guitar riffs. With one 10-song album under their belt and an hour slot to fill, The Raconteurs fleshed out their set with a few choice covers, including David Bowie's "It Ain't Easy," Nancy Sintatra's "Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" and, much to the crowd's delight, Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."
Sleater-Kinney never performs at anything less than full throttle, so the fact that their Lollapalooza set was (more or less) their last Chicago show before going on indefinite hiatus made more of a psychological impact than a musical one. The songs, mostly drawn from last year's excellent "The Woods," were by turns taut and intense, though the three members of the group were surprisingly cool and cordial backstage. Some have called them one of the best bands of the past 10 years. Try "of all time." They'll be missed.
My Morning Jacket
Atmospheric and moody on record, My Morning Jacket act like a band possessed onstage. Even mellower songs like "Wordless Chorus" were energized by long-haired lead singer Jim James's plaintive wail. James explained the Kentucky band's enthusiasm by telling the audience of his dreams of playing Lollapalooza when he attended an earlier incarnation in 1994. Perhaps the September release of their live album "Okonokos" will finally deliver on the group's live sound.
"Are you hot?" asked Stars singer Torquil Campbell. "Don't die." That kind of melodrama is par for the course from a band indebted to Morrissey, New Order and their romantic--if sometimes morose--like. Fortunately, the Canadian band also has plenty of hooks and a secret weapon in singer Amy Millan, whose cool, cooing vocals helped make songs such as "Elevator Love Song" sound like the greatest hit that never was.
"S-O-Veeeeeeeeeeeee!!" -- she chanted it, we chanted it, and everyone ate up this little Brit rap machine's raucous set. She was about 20 minutes late to start, and she continually flicked off the audience and flung profanities, but the overheated crowd was on the same good-humored page and still mustered a mild effort to make it a dance party worthy of Lady Sov. and her crew's (DJ, drummer, bassist and, today, a painter) raw-but-catchy grind-hop output.
Few acts can bring the middle-aged and childless to the KIDZ stage, but a pack of curious (and, no doubt celebrity obsessed) fans flocked to watch The Blisters, whose main attractions are Spencer and Sam Tweedy, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy's two sons. The crowd wasn't disappointed. Not only did they get a glimpse of the proud papa watching with wife/mom Sue Miller (former Lounge Ax co-owner), but they got a playful batch of covers, including The Ramones' " "Blitzkrieg Bop" and The Flaming Lips' "She Don't Use Jelly."
For much of Blue October's repetitive set, it seemed as if singer Justin Furstenfeld's delivery was meant to channel Jack Black's Tenacious D routine. Except Furstenfeld wasn't joking as he bellowed cheesy lyrics and jerked his head from side to side. His styled hair, makeup, and suit-and-tie combo clashed horribly with the maroon T-shirt worn by his shaggy-haired brother, drummer Jeremy Furstenfeld.
Temperatures peaked as Chicago's The M's took the stage just after 2 p.m., but singer/guitarist Josh Chicoine looked perfectly cool with his cream-colored suit and tussled blond hair. He and his three bandmates were anything but cool and detached, however, delivering an energetic set of damaged British Invasion telegrams about lost love and late, late nights.
He didn't bring string-playing ladies, a pipe or a walking stick--like he did when he played an intimate, seated show in town a few months ago--but Mark Oliver Everett (aka "E") instead toted along other kitschy flare and plenty of rock. He and his compadres, all bearded and dressed in costume (including an aviator and a construction worker), blasted through a set packed with crowd faves. E's warm, sweet, distorted vocals soared over trademark organ and sparse drum parts, and the crowd was receptive despite being beaten by a relentless sun. The goofy entertainment by the fellow in the black "Security" garb? Bonus.
The seven-member Michigan group of self-proclaimed "marching band geeks" sounded incredibly tight, never missing a beat amidst group hand claps, foot-stomping and members continually changing instruments. The band looked genuinely happy to be there--"This is insane for us," singer Matt Joynt said--and used unusual arrangements to shift between coming off as sincere youngsters and a demented marching band on the loose. The blend was fascinating and unpredictable.
Iron and Wine
Poor Sam Beam. First, the Iron and Wine frontman couldn't start his set on time because problem child Ryan Adams decided to kick out the jams long after his set was scheduled to end. Then Beam's delicate strumming and whispered voice were peppered with the thump-thump from nearby performer Lady Sovereign. Things turned around soon enough, however, when Beam's band took the stage two songs later and kicked into the trance-inducing "Woman King," setting the wheels in motion for a pleasant mid-tempo afternoon.
Though the early crowd pleaser "Dear Chicago" brought cheers, Ryan Adams turned in a snoozer of a set. Drawing heavily on his albums after "Gold," the pride of North Carolina kept the focus on the country saloon singer side of his persona and meandered through songs that didn't so much end as trail off. It was an underwhelming performance despite picking up steam at the very end with a barn-burning rendition of "Shakedown on 9th Street."
Despite failing to draw much of a crowd, Enigk is one of the most distinct and revered voices in indie-rock, and the former Sunny Day Real Estate frontman proved he certainly still has his pipes in fine working order. Sadly, and I say this with great difficulty as a longtime Sunny Day zealot, Enigk's set of all solo material felt a bit thin and unadventurous. Plus, Enigk's audience got an earful of what sounded like a great Stars show across the way.
In a world of Coldplay copycats, it's refreshing to find a piano-based Brit-popper capable of crafting his own swelling arrangements with varying degrees of beauty and tension. Under his moniker Aqualung, troubadour Matt Hales delivered a mostly moving set, despite a few drowsy ballads, focusing on crests from last year's "Strange & Beautiful." Yet it was the debut of the swirling "Outside" that proved most promising, riding high on its reflective lyrics and riveting chord progressions.
Panic! At the Disco
If someone were to cross-pollinate Fall Out Boy and The Killers, they'd wind up with Panic! At the Disco, who aside from borrowing too heavily from each influence, committed two cardinal sin covers. Members massacred Radiohead's "Karma Police" and the Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight," the latter of which found frontman Brendon Urie howling incredibly off key. A slew of burlesque dancers who constantly tantalized the band added the only spice in the otherwise stale show.
Editors are no strangers to major music fests--the British foursome has played Glastonbury and Reading--yet during their set singer Tom Smith said playing Lollapalooza is "[expletive] awesome." Smith made spastic arm movements and played his guitar high and tight--often up around his neck--but his rich vocals remained steady and clear throughout. When slowing it down with "Fall," off debut album "The Back Room," the group conjured up a dark intensity reminiscent of Echo & the Bunnymen. A slightly sped-up version of single "Munich" had the crowd dancing.
Death Cab For Cutie
To hear Death Cab For Cutie recorded is to enjoy them; to see the band live is to adore them. These geeky indie-pop rockers are stunning and always fun in concert, and thus a pristine choice to close this breezy first night of Lollapalooza. Harnessing giddy, nervous energy, they played an hour-and-a-half-long set of punchy, clean and ridiculously energetic tunes, plus a two-song encore. Highlights: salutes to Sleater-Kinney and Stars, plus an impressive dual drum set bonanza with singer Ben Gibbard taking up sticks to join the ever-amazing Jason McGerr.