Tension about politics, economics, and the environment has the U.S. (and the world, natch) in something of a vicelike grip. Even as it seems less bold and brave enough to critique this atmosphere directly, music thankfully still manages to generate cathartic, escapist power in response to it. Particularly in 2008 America, there seems to be an uptick in the quality and variety of artists playing festivals both new and well-established.
All Tomorrow’s Parties’ reintroduction of My Bloody Valentine to U.S. soil merely scratches the surface of fests for indie-rock cratediggers. Thanks in no small part to the presence last year of Rage Against the Machine, Wu-Tang Clan, and Public Enemy, this year legitimizes Rock the Bells as hip-hop’s traveling salvation show. Bonnaroo continues to add to its bursting-at-the-seams lineup musicians who extend beyond perceived jam-band boundaries. Coachella, meanwhile, remains the gold standard of exclusive bookings heavy on the WTF and OMG.
And then there’s Perry Farrell’s little engine that almost couldn’t: Lollapalooza. Its first few years as a tour for musical freaks and geeks broke the ground on which all these other guys now tread, but eventually collapsed under the weight of its own variety and logistics. The Jane’s Addiction/Porno for Pyros frontman’s decision to anchor the fest in Chicago might have been initially considered a downgrade or admission of failure. Now, it’s just a prescient bit of rightsizing.
This year, a record 225,000 fans not only got three days of the green setting of Grant Park, a wide variety of activities and refreshments, and the amenities of a big city just two streets away, they were greeted with a lineup capped by seemingly more heavy hitters than any other: Rage Against the Machine, still riding the momentum of their reunion; hometown heroes Kanye West and Wilco, ready to claim their respective titles as king and princes of Chicago; Radiohead, arguably the biggest alt-rock band in the world with a stage show rumored to back up the boast; and the suddenly prolific Trent Reznor leading Nine Inch Nails. mxdwn.com was there with various capturing electronics in hand—here’s what we saw and heard.