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Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009

Lollapalooza @ Grant Park, Chicago

Aug. 7 – 10, 2009

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Poor planning, a lackluster lineup and a brutal recession forced the cancellation of Florida's veteran Langerado music festival earlier this year, so Lollapalooza had particular cause for concern after unveiling its own modest 2009 lineup. Where Lollapalooza last year sold out on the strength of mega headliners including Radiohead, Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against the Machine, this year's meager marquee banked on smaller draws like Depeche Mode, Kings of Leon and Jane's Addiction. More pain came when the festival's sure-thing headliner, The Beastie Boys, canceled after the discovery of Adam Yauch's throat cancer.

Yet in spite of the dearth of star power-not to mention an unforgiving weather forecast of rain on Friday followed by brutal heat, humidity and sun on Saturday and Sunday-Lollapalooza sold out for the second time since planting itself in Chicago's Grant Park five years ago, a testament perhaps to the combined appeal of this year's smaller, supporting headliners.

Electronic music carried more weight than ever this year as Perry's, the dance stage that debuted almost as an afterthought in 2008, was given newfound prominence and a bright, glamorous makeover. The stage drew overflowing crowds at all hours, both with name performers like Diplo, Simian Mobile Disco and MSTRKRFT, as well as with lesser-known representatives of Chicago's electronic scene like The Hood Internet and He Say, She Say. Remixes of Kid Cudi's "Day 'n' Nite" could be heard at least a couple times each day; Cudi himself headlined the stage Friday night.

From Lykke Li to Sound Tribe Sector 9 and Thievery Corporation, headliners at other stages also embraced dance-music conventions. The synth-pop group Passion Pit worked up the audience with dramatic breaks, beat drops and throbbing bass and euphoric sing-alongs, while Crystal Castles preferred cacophonous video-game blurts and glitches, which frenzied the crowd even when singer Alice Glass' microphone cut out for songs at a time. A shrieking, 90-pound time bomb, Glass took out her rage on one fan who apparently got grabby while she crowd surfed over him. She landed a full-body punch on him from atop the crowd, then shaking her hand in pain, surfed back to stage and self medicated with a swig of vodka.

Santigold's sunny set complemented her new wave- and reggae-accented pop songs with the energy and crowd interaction of a rap show, but actual rap shows were few and far between on this year's schedule. The massive crowds at Atmosphere's and Snoop Dogg's infectiously cocky performances made a case for adding more to next year's festival.
TV on the Radio delivered one of the weekend's most unforgettable performances, translating with the help of a blaring horn section their mechanical, claustrophobic avant-funk into 60 minutes of sweat and soul. The Decemberists, similarly, filled the northern main stage well with their gaudy prog opera.

Animal Collective's show ended with a bang, though not one Animal Collective intended. When their repetitious set ran a couple minutes long, it was drowned out by the amplified death rattle of Tool from the neighboring stage. The dueling performances were a study in contrasts both aural and visual: Animal Collective's was adorned with psychedelic, pastel projections; Tool's with a foreboding, hologram skull.

While Tool's confident riffs rumbled the south of Grant Park, replacement headliners the Yeah Yeah Yeahs struggled to fill The Beastie Boys' shoes on the northern main stage. Karen O took the stage in a decadent, towering headdress but lost steam when the set gave way to the band's softer material. A formless, acoustic treatment of "Maps," the band's signature song, was so divorced from the original arrangement that Karen O forgot the lyrics. Not everything at Lollapalooza worked this year, but whenever the performances—or the schedule itself—under whelmed, there was always a bustling dance party at Perry's stage as a fall back.