It's a successful Lollapalooza when the TSA agent groping you at the airport comes away from the pat-down with muddy hands. Three days, countless shows and one hell of a thunderstorm later, Lollapalooza 2012 is officially on the record books, with Chicago's Grant Park vacated to the clean-up crews and the homeless as the energy echo of Jack White, At The Drive-In, Florence and The Machine, Sigur Ros and many others lingers in the thick August air.
Slow to rise on Sunday morning after Mother Nature's beatdown the previous day, we arrived just in time to catch Gary Clark Jr. channel a hybrid of Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix with larger-than-life versions of "Bright Lights" and "Don't Owe You A Thang," among other highlights. Bob Lefsetz was right – this man's music doesn't translate to studio recordings. But in a live setting, you'd be hard-pressed to find a man more completely immersed in blues history and legacy, carrying the torch of the greats before him with a cool demeanor and effortless execution of incredible rock-led blues explosions. The crowd was enormous, and getting close was an absolute non-starter for those arriving after the first song.
So on we traveled, to the Red Bull stage, where Sigur Ros was delivering a heaping dose of their wrecking-ball-to-the-chest ethereal soundscapes. Jonsi and Co. were backed by a full horn and string section, with an electronica addition that perfectly complemented the delicate frontman's use of a violin bow across his guitar for the majority of the show. That wasn't the only unique aspect of the instrumentation, however, as drum sticks on basses and instrument change-ups between members took place in nearly every song. The only gripe? They were playing in blazing sunshine. This is a band built for atmosphere, for power through nuance. In a mud-caked field (where perilous falls awaited the careless puddle jumper) in the brightest point of the day isn't exactly their most fertile ground. But they handled the challenge in excellent fashion, leaving more than a few streaming tears in their wake.
Florence and The Machine followed, debuting their new song "Breath of Life" during a set of gorgeous eloquence of the heart that began with "Only If For a Night" and closed with a captivating rendition of "No Light, No Light".
Having seen Florence only moments earlier in the media tent, I was looking for signs onstage of her confessed near-hallucinatory exhaustion from her schedule intensity of late, but the delivered a magnificent performance that heavily favored the band's latest album Ceremonials. We couldn't stay long, however, as there was some spastic exorcism of musical demons to be had over at the Red Bull stage with At The Drive-In.
After a blast of refreshment in the media tent and a quick trip to Perry's to check out Little Dragon's electro-love immersion among the EDC kids, we made our way over to At The Drive-In, who are evolving into a very present band in their reunion tour . The post-hardcore outfit was plagued with gear issues in the first half of the set, leading spastic frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala to drop one-liners such as "This song's called Technical Difficulties!" The man was a firestorm of snark and adrenaline, leaping from the amps and drum riser one minute and impersonating John Madden the next, announcing "I've got a big fuckin' pair of Pampers, and I'm gonna fill 'em!" after introducing the band as Latin Danzig, and singing lyrics from Shaggy's "Mr. Boombastic". Best stage banter of the weekend? You bet your ass.
The reunited El Paso blasters delivered a spitfire set of furious passion and excellence, opening with “Arcarsenal,” and running through a hearty selection of songs from In/Casino/Out and their brilliant final record, Relationship of Command, not a single fan seemed anything but shitgrinningly ecstatic to be in attendance. Guitarist Jim Ward poured every ounce of himself into screaming the "Get away! Get away!" part in the chorus to "One-Armed Scissor," while bassist Paul Hinojos and drummer Tony Hajjar were perpetually engaged in a rhythm intercourse throughout the set, each of them wearing their excitement plainly in expression. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, guitarist, songwriter and general hyperactive virtuoso, was stoic yet satisfied, small grins popping up throughout the set – particularly when his singer referred to him as “The Puerto Rican Woody Allen”.
It was a spectacular return to a decade prior, when ATDI's relevance was peaking and the band was imploding. The Mars Volta and others rose from those ashes, and we're all the better for it, but the band's blistering set on Sunday proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the band still holds significant relevance and capability.
An hour later, after countless "Whoooaaaa-oh-oh-oh-ohhhhh-ohh"s crowd-sourcing the riff of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," Jack White took the stage to deafening cheers. Opening with his all-male band and “Sixteen Saltines” from his solo debut Blunderbuss, any debate as to whether the Stripes-less solo artist could command a headlining crowd was instantly rendered laughable. The black-clad iconic DIY blues-passion torchbearer, former White Stripes frontman and Third Man Records nucleus commanded a soul-hijacking performance with a thunderous low-end backing.
A consummately nuanced showman, White stayed consistently upbeat, incorporating favorites from his beloved Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, as well as a hefty sampling of Blunderbuss. "Hotel Yorba" was a mad-bouncing countrified screamalong. "Ball and Biscuit" was pure hip-jutting sex. In "Steady As She Goes," Jack commanded the crowd's energy reserves for a call and response of "are you steady now?" to the chorus. During "Take Me With You When You Go," a silk-smooth transition brought out his all-female band for a stylistic change-up. "Top Yourself" was as powerful and dangerous as ever.
And yes, going from "Cannon" into "Nitro," before a sly walk over to the keys for a ferocious (and maniacally celebrated) blast of "John The Revelator" was pure ecstasy.
Carla Azar's drums were a stunning blur of backbeat versatility, taking Jack's cues on the setlist-free performance and leading with more than a few of her own. She absolutely owns "Freedom at 21".
Finally, Jack delivered what the main meat of the attending masses had been chanting for long before he hit the stage. A grinding, powerful "Seven Nation Army" brought the show – and the festival – to a leaping, celebratory singalong close. White brought all the players to the stage for a final bow at the end, leaving the mic on the ground and opting instead for a show of solidarity among his backing performers. A beautiful, appreciative send-off to the muddy masses, and then off again, to wherever Mr. White is scheduled to cook up his magic next.
We'll be there, one way or another.
Jack White Setlist at Lollapalooza 2012
With Los Buzzardos
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
Wasting My Time
Cannon/ Nitro/ John the Revelator
The Same Boy You've Always Known
Take Me With You When You Go
With The Peacocks
Weep Themselves to Sleep
Blue Blood Blues
(Screwdriver intro) Ball and Biscuit
Steady, As She Goes
The Hardest Button to Button
Freedom At 21
Seven Nation Army