It wasn’t just at Perry’s Stage, the dusty club two football fields long full of kids high as balloons pumping fists to club tracks tossed out by over-priced DJs, it was everywhere. Friday’s Lollapalooza lineup was infested with four-to-the-floor beats from the majority of bands morning to night because a) that’s what sells, b) that’s what’s on the radio and c) that’s what sounds great against some Tito’s Vodka and methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine. Icona Pop rolled through with their post-dub dance parties and Crystal Castles screamed their way into the chests of hundreds. New Order, one of the founding fathers of techno and dance music, played a mostly-greatest hits set, peaking with “Temptation” and petering out with some perfunctory and unsatisfactory Joy Division songs.
And while The Killers took what New Order did sprinkled it with more glitter and emotion, on the north side, Nine Inch Nails recalled what was once known in the ‘90s as “angst.” Trent Reznor, 48 and apparently no stranger to the gym and mass gainers, led his revolutionary industrial band of revolving musicians through a hale and hearty setlist culling from the big touchpoints in Nine Inch Nails discography. They even played the Atticus Ross and Reznor collaboration “What If We Could,” off The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo soundtrack, during a pronounced lull in the middle third of their set, which may have rewarded patient NINophiles at a stadium show, but sent the average festival wayfarer to the bar, or to conversation, or home.
It’s not really the band’s fault because you sort of expect less of Lollapalooza ticket-holders and I mean that in literally every way possible. In interviews, Reznor had stated that he loosely based his well-rehearsed new live show on the Talking Heads’ 1983 tour, where the set pieces would come together throughout the show, and the music would reflect the crescendo of technical/visual elements. You can watch this happen in the famous Jonathan Demme-directed live concert movie Stop Making Sense, but it was hard to see that translate into Nine Inch Nails’ setup. Literally, because the jumbo-tron screens were not in use for the duration of their headlining set, making it difficult to stay involved in the spectacle if you didn’t have a good sightline.
The first moments of “Copy Of A” incidentally began with a bare beat like the one Byrne used for the opening of “Psycho Killer” in Stop Making Sense. It’s one of three songs played from the band’s unreleased and forthcoming new album Hesitation Marks, and as the band marched onto the bare stage with Reznor in the very beginning, the set and the music was more or less together and off we went jumping from The Fragile to Broken to Pretty Hate Machine for about 2 hours. The shape of NIN’s first US show in over three years was a little more cinematic with peaks and valleys, action and development, not the kind of slow build that the Talking Heads did.
But it’s NIN, so the “valleys” and “development” were still heaped with psycho-sexual anger issues, and the band remained more or less full throttle for the duration. Reznor’s trademark aggressive mic-stand lunges were highlighted by the constant sheen of sweat on his body reflected out by the harsh white light that filled the stage. The other members flailed about or stood stoically over their keyboards and guitars, all very muscular and intimidating. The band first shined on the new “Came Back Haunted,” which the crowd seemed to fully know. It was less broad strokes than early NIN material, which seemed to suit the band and crowd better than the once riot-incitng “March Of The Pigs.” I don’t know, maybe this was more of an “Ants Marching” crowd.
It’s just that festival-goers at Lollapalooza don’t seem to have any angst anymore, or any real connection to it. Or at least they’ve forgot how to react to it when they see it. You watch footage of NIN from Lollapalooza in ‘90s and there are massive circle pits, furious and shirtless, full of kids purging and venting whatever ails them, to music that you can tell is angry because Reznor always really lands on the word “f**k.” In 2013, that kind of connection wasn’t there — kids just wanted to dance. They wanted to dance so hard that during back to back songs from the thrashy Broken EP, there were kids lining up in front of me to do the limbo using a pool noodle as a limbo bar.
Reznor’s strident, seemingly ageless voice and the band’s massive crests of white-noise synths and guitars were met at many times with indifference, a double blow perhaps with Chicago being the spawning ground of industrial music with Ministry and WaxTrax! The NIN fans, sure, were singing along to “The Wretched” and we all pulled it together for “Head Like A Hole” but the mentality of the festival crowd wasn’t what it used to be. It used to be a 1:1 connection with an avid fan of heavy music and Reznor. Now It’s more of a 5:1 connection between Preston and his college buddies who are mock-singing “Closer” to each other and Reznor whose words are maybe a little too real, and a little too dated for kids who just want something they can ultimately ignore. It’s too bad, because Nine Inch Nails demands you pay attention, you little piggies. - Jeremy D. Larson
THE KILLERS, POPULIST FAVORITES
Nine Inch Nails were the clear headliner choice by a mile for many, but The Killers garnered their own devoted crowd of fans. The band started their set with “Mr. Brightside,” off their 2004 debut, Hot Fuss. It’s arguably their biggest hit, but in the ten years that the band has been around they’ve managed to make three other studio albums, that barring the so-so reviews, have kept them very much a fan favorite.
While some might have balked at the idea of the Vegas band, whose latest album Battle Born came out last year, headlining the fest, but their everyman appeal makes them the perfect choice to fill the mainstream rock hole that U2 usually fills.
Frontman Brandon Flowers stalks around the stage as lasers and fog machines go off behind him, getting the crowd to sing along to earlier hits “Spaceman,” “Somebody Told Me,” “Bling (Confessions Of A King)” and along with newer songs like “Miss Atomic Bomb” and “Runaways.” Flowers played to the crowd covering Tommy James & The Shondells “I Think We’re Alone Now,” made famous in the ‘80s by mallrat Tiffany, and Frank Sinatra’s ode to Chicago, “My Kind of Town.”
The band also surprised the crowd by bringing New Order’s Bernard Sumner out on stage for their cover of his other band’s “Shadowplay,” with the two men sharing lead. – Shannon Carlin
NEW ORDER PLAYS THE NOSTALGIA CARD
New Order technically opened for The Killers, playing the same stage in the slot right before. It’s sort of funny in awkward sort of way, seeing as The Killers took their name from a New Order video (for “Crystal,” their 2001 comeback single). Considering we saw Sumner go almost immediately from the stage to The Killers’ backstage compound for pleasantries, we’re guessing no one’s feeling too weird about it.
Sumner, who took the stage in his New Order t-shirt, told the crowd that Chicago was like Manchester with better weather. “Until now,” he joked. Though the skies looked a bit menacing the rain never fell. With no new album to support, New Order’s set was a nostalgic trip down memory lane, starting with “Crystal,” and then continuing with fan favorites like “Ceremony,” “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Blue Monday.” They ended their set with three Joy Division covers (can you call them covers, really?): “Atmosphere,” “Transmission” and “Love With Tear Us Apart.” - Shannon Carlin
LANA DEL REY PLAYS FOR THE IMITATORS
Spend a few minutes at Lana Del Rey’s headlining Lollapalooza set on the shady Grove stage and you will hear no less than five girls screech, “I want to be her!” That was obvious by their flower headdresses and truck-stop beauty queen look (think: cut-offs and curls), but it was, in places, a little like being at a 1D show, what with all the screams. The faithful sang along to every word, though Lana needs it less these days. Her stage act has improved and become more elaborate, with a string section really rounding out the sound and more thematic video vignettes driving her points home. – Jillian Mapes
IMAGINE DRAGONS BATTLE THE FORCES
Imagine Dragons had some technical difficulties during their afternoon set. Halfway through, the music just stopped. While fans stood around confused, the band huddled onstage. A few minutes later, the sound was back. “The generator is down, but we’re doing our best,” frontman Dan Reynolds said. The rest of the set went scot-free as they played the two songs everyone wanted to hear, “Radioactive” and “It’s Time,” off their 2012 debut, Night Visions. – Shannon Carlin
LOLLA STAGE BANTER AWARD: FATHER JOHN MISTY
Sub Pop folk-rocker Father John Misty plays the kind of music that wafts nicely in a summer breeze, and he was as effortlessly excellent as ever during his Lolla set Friday. But the real reason to see the former Fleet Foxes member was his Lewis Black-esque stage banter. He chided a dumb girl he has heard earlier in the day say, “I hate the rain,” by going on a tangent about how he loves the rain because it makes us so people could exist, which leads to groupthink, which allows bad music to be popular. He mocked the fest itself by noting that the jewelry-rattlers in VIP “get to shake hands with Imaginary Dragons and dry-hump Lana del Rey.” – Jillian Mapes
LOLLA BEST-DRESSED AWARD: THEOPHILUS LONDON
Theophilus London was all about new music during his afternoon set, songs he described to us earlier in the day as “digital, progressive electronic funk.” With the upcoming album, his goal is to “change people’s tastebuds of what they perceive [him] to be.” He seemed to achieve that with his set, going far funkier with his live band while still keeping an easygoing hip-hop vibe to the whole thing. At various points in the set, he sampled Ginuwine’s “Pony” and Shirley Bassey’s “Big Spender.” The crowd reacted with grind and/or makeout sessions. Classy. – Jillian Mapes