By Mark Guarino
Fireworks sailed over the heads of Pearl Jam Sunday as a picture-perfect ending to Lollapalooza, the three-day music festival that brought tens of thousands of people to Chicago’s lakefront.
“As a young man who spent a lot of time riding on the El train listing to bands like Patti Smith and Iggy Pop, a deep honor comes with playing here tonight,” said Eddie Vedder, a North Shore native, of his festival fellows. Pearl Jam played a nearly two-hour set, reaching fans from Hutchinson Field south to Buckingham Fountain far in the north.
Lollapalooza is in its third year as a destination festival and a recent agreement with the Chicago Park District guarantees its August arrival in Grant Park for the next four years. No doubt the festival more or less exists as a brand name for Austin, Tex. producers C3 Presents and, like most mass-scale gatherings, it provides ample marketing potential, which was in full swing all weekend, considering the endless corporate sponsorships, VIP suites and wine bar.
But is Lollapalooza the artistically vibrant enterprise it was back in the 1990’s when it launched the careers of a new generation of bands and celebrated the appeal of counterculture art and fashion?
Likely no. Concertgoers (a specific number of whom was not provided by festival organizers) who could afford the high-ticketed admission were not challenged as they were back then but were instead treated to some singular moments that are likely to last in the memory for a long time.
Many of these took place Sunday. Motor City punk godfather Iggy Pop seized the day by turning into a one-man firebrand, wiggling, jumping and thrusting himself across the stage. Joined by the reunited Stooges, he played new songs but ignited the crowd with boogie-punk classics like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “1969.” Then, in a moment that is likely not to be forgotten, he invited concertgoers onstage. A melee broke out and about 200 people rushed up, creating a spectacle that teetered between dangerous and thrilling. Eventually the stage was cleared, but seeing Pop kissed, caressed and excessively manhandled by adoring kids was a spontaneous highlight of a festival that didn’t have many.
My Morning Jacket played a set of grand, sweet, Southern guitar rock while joined by members of the Chicago Youth Orchestra. The idea didn’t seem essential to the music until the end when the dramatic arrangement of the symphonic players rose to fill up the wide-open spaces created by the band. An informal Chicago tribute came in the form of covering “Move On Up,” by hometown soul music icon Curtis Mayfield.
The ringmaster of Lollapalooza continues to be Perry Farrell who popped up on stages introducing bands and, curiously enough, was caught on the kids stage playing a set of music to children including Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” and later, backed by a band of junior high kids from the local chapter of School of Rock, a rendition of “Summertime Rolls,” by his former band Jane’s Addiction.
The greatest anticipation and also the greatest disappointment was Amy Winehouse. The bee-hived British soul singer and tabloid played a stage ten times the size of her music, tasteful and meticulously arranged 1960’s soul. Her trademark hair rarely rustled as Winehouse remained locked in place, at times mumbling lyrics. She is this year’s biggest success story but on that hot Sunday afternoon, she burnt out.