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The Beginning Of Something Great?

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 25, 2005 6:10PM

Though it may have been Lollapalooza in name, it wasn’t 2005_07_25_lolla2.jpgexactly Lollapalooza in spirit as Chicago hosted what may become the next great destination rock festival after organizers work out some of the kinks in the festival's rebirth.

If nothing else, Lollapalooza organizer Capital Sports Entertainment deserves credit for making the fest happen at all considering Chicago’s long-standing animosity to rock acts. But a lack of musical diversity and the tightly controlled atmosphere meant the few “were you there when...” moments only happened onstage, not on the grounds themselves.

On the first day only Pixies, Weezer and Billy Idol (in what likely came as a surprise to people who prefer their rock and roll to be devoid of big, stupid fun) were the only acts to galvanize the crowd. The second day offered a correction of sorts thanks to OK Go (who hoofed their way through a choreographed dance routine to a track off their upcoming album), the onstage truce between Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols during the latter’s set and the jaw-dropping excitement of Arcade Fire who proved their true strength is their live act. Unfortunately, Sara from Tegan and Sara contributed a moment of her own as she took ill halfway through their set. The one unifying element throughout the whole weekend turned out to be the blazing heat though Coachella's usually got the corner on that particular market.

The Planet Stage came closest to recalling Lollapalooza’s heyday as an “experience.” But because it was banished to a location far from the main stages, most people decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to make the trek across Columbus Drive and robbed themselves of some of the more diverse acts like Soulive, VHS or Beta, and Soundtribe Sector 9. The Lolla brain trust should consider swapping this stage 2005_07_25_lolla3.jpgwith Kidsapalooza next year. Another problem that needs fixing is the sound bleed from other stages. Anyone sitting in the many shaded areas suffered from aural confusion as Lolla became a battle of the bands.

For those who came strictly to hear great music, there was plenty. The Bravery and The Killers fought to a draw with excellent sets; Saul Williams’ rhymes cut through the stifling Sunday heat; and Louis XIV dropped the polish of their most recent studio effort in favor of tortured Strats and AC/DC-like crunch. Local acts The Changes and The Redwalls all used the national attention to their best advantage. Unfortunately, success seems to have spoiled Liz Phair. She’s survived debilitating stage fright and last year’s critical drubbing and adopted a casual onstage persona that befits her more recent material but doesn’t jibe with her earlier works. As she ended her set with a rushed, tossed-off, honky tonk rendition of “Flower”, Phair seemed to close the door on her status as an innovator.

While the Lolla security detail hydrated all the front-row concertgoers by passing out cups and bottles of water, more attention needs to be paid to the details. Cooling buses were a godsend but more visible water stations need to be installed. Many of the yellow-shirted volunteers were unable to answer basic questions and there was no water available to wash your hands after braving the port-a-potties.

While CSE shouldn’t necessarily feel tied to the past, the expectations of the Lollapalooza name dictate that the crowd should be reminded at every turn that they’re part of something unique and not just another outdoor rock show. As an outdoor festival, it had plenty to offer. The challenge for the next year will be to create a true destination and not just an exciting weekend diversion.