By Mark Guarino
Rain threatened but music struck at the second day of Lollapalooza, the three-day extravaganza stretched across Chicago’s lakefront this weekend. Capped by Butler Field in the north and Hutchinson Field in the south, the music festival hit its stride Saturday after an opening day that suffered from baking temperatures and a bill that felt more like a whimper than a roar.
Saturday featured the diversity that Lollapalooza built a brand on — here was a day where Chicago rapper Rhymefest performed just a few hours before New York City punk icon Patti Smith. There was never music lacking Saturday but the divergent bill allowed festivalgoers to make inevitable comparisons.
The day’s most unexpected highlight was someone who does not have a hit album on the charts, is not a MySpace celebrity and at age 60 is most likely the same age as the parents of most of the people in the audience. But the scant crowd that came upon Roky Erickson in the late afternoon was treated to set more hard rocking and exciting than the majority of music that same day. The Texan is a psychedelic rock pioneer from the 1960’s, a LSD casualty of that era and the subject of a current film documentary that documents his unusual life and unexpected comeback. In an intense but effectively tight hour, Erickson, 60, and his three-member band played an aggressive set of heavy blues and sturdy garage pop. His high tenor was strong, blasting through songs and uncovering their menace.
Interpol and Muse ended the day from opposite ends of Grant Park, but despite both bands’ knack for dramatic flourishes and sleek disassociation, the bands that seemed to connect most Saturday were those that were consciously humbler and did away with light shows and costumes.
The Hold Steady played rock songs on the grand scale once occupied by Bruce Springsteen. Singer Craig Finn sang his conversational lyrics as a conversation, acting out parts and thrusting himself into the music with mad pleasure. Originally from Minneapolis and wearing a Twins jersey, he dedicated songs to the victims of this week’s bridge collapse and, by the end of his set, was as winded as the crowd. “There is so much joy up here,” he said.
The indie dance band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah made the crowd pulse using acoustic guitars and glittery synthesizers. By their set’s end, the music had become its own genre: folky space jams. What mattered was thousands dancing in time.
The Roots, a hybrid hip-hop group and rock band, sweated hard to offer something of interest to anyone within ear’s reach: guitar funk, horn-drenched soul, straightforward rock and interjections of rapping.
Up until Saturday night, bands expressed little political or social conscience. It took Patti Smith, a veteran of the late Vietnam era, to ignite the crowd. “You are the future,” she told the crowd packed into the Petrillo Music Shell. She played an unusual cover to make her point: Nirvana’s generation defining hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Using folk guitars, it was slowed, but when Smith sang “Hello/how low,” she turned Kurt Cobain’s ironic apathy and made it a challenge of defiance.