Lollapalooza 2012 celebrates 21 years of stellar music

Highlights from this year's Chicago fest, with photos

click to enlarge Lollapalooza, 2012 - Tracy May
Tracy May
Lollapalooza, 2012

The scorching hot sun faded into the earth as music fans gathered in Chicago's Grant Park on Friday, August 3, for the 21st Lollapalooza festival. Though there were numerous noteworthy acts appearing at the three-day festival, the mainstays and fresh hot talent generally perform when the sun fades off into the horizon. Even the rains and mud that returned for another round this year didn’t stop festival goers from enjoying the enormous, genre-spanning musical event. [Text by Michele, photos by Tracy.]

The indie hipster crowd faded away from the massive Budweiser stage Friday as Passion Pit wrapped up a set that was reminiscent of New Kids on the Block ripping off Foster the People and Arcade Fire. The black tee-shirt metalheads invaded the center stage pit area, and related Black Sabbath antics from years past.

As the dark scrim dropped to reveal the "Prince of Darkness" himself, Ozzy Osbourne, along with guitarist Tony Ioni, bassist Geezer Butler, and new drummer Tommy Clufetis, the crowd roared. (Clufetis was brought into the fold when former drummer Bill Ward had a contract dispute with other members during the group's reunion.)

There is no denying that these mature head bangers can play the hell out of a song. Half way through the set, Ozzy began drenching himself with water and at one point, cajoled legendary guitarist Ioni like a bad school boy. The men played with and off each other as if they were transported back to their heyday. The music, even for those of us who aren't headbanging metalheads, was undeniably incredible, blues based rock n' roll with a unique edge that warrants full appreciation. These guys created a movement in the music world, and even though that music is far removed from the current trends, it hasn't lost its luster.

Playing the hell out of legendary hits like "War Pigs," "18," "Sweet Leaf" and "Paranoid" among countless others, the band made it feel like the night and their energy was endless. Clufetis mastered a drum solo that was more intense than an earthquake at the encore's end, and just when you thought it was over, the rest of the musicians came back for more. By the night's end, Black Sabbath proved that any music this powerful will always rise again and stand the test of time, despite its vintage.

Saturday at Lollapalooza introduced the elements and a loss of some music. The threat of severe thunderstorms and dangerous winds created significant concern that led to an evacuation. Torrential, though brief storms, put the festival on a two-and-a-half hour hiatus, prompting canceled performances and late-running sets once the fest re-started. It was an hour later than scheduled when Romeo-pop sensation Frank Ocean took the stage.

Wisely staying away from all of the heat caused by recent comments about his first love (a man) by turning down press for Lolla, Ocean decidedly let his music speak for itself. Fans had plenty to say for him as a 10-year-old girl in the crowd commented, "I love Frank Ocean because he said his first love is a man and so was mine." Thank God the children are, indeed, our future.

Opening with a moving cover of a Sade’s "By Your Side”, the young crooner turned up the heat a notch with "Novocane." Ocean coyly asked if the crowd knew of the free online album project "Nostalgia," which featured many of the fabulous songs he sang during his too brief performance. He got a strong response when he inquired who illegally burned his new release Channel Orange, Ocean said "as long as its in your hands, that’s all that matters." He continued on with "Monks” and “Crack Rock” off of his newest LP. And just as things seemed to be winding down, he drew the crowd back with a soulfully crooned "Bad Religion," the very song he penned for his first love. There was no encore, no goodbye, he just stopped cold and walked off, leaving the weathered fans begging for more and showing that Saturday was worth the price of admission no matter what the weather.

The Lollapalooza crowd was treated to a perfect Chicago summer day to wrap up the fest on Sunday. An intense performance by At The Drive In created an insane mosh pit that was eventually replaced with Jack White fans. As the sun set, the stage transformed into a world of blue, black and white. White’s crew were dressed in black suits, blue ties, and black hats that made them look like Amish door-to-door salesmen. Leave it to White to create his own little world, which leaves you to wonder if it's all for us, or him.

Taking the stage with his all-male band, they opening with a tight rendition of “16 Saltines”, then kicked back into a gritty, funky version of “Black Math”. The band challenged White as they veered from White Stripes into a brief Led Zeppelin guitar riff into a song off the Danger Mouse/Daniele Luppi collaboration Rome, "Two Against One”. There were some technical difficulties and mic squeeks before and during his duet with back-up singer Ruby Amanfu, “Love Interrupted." The distraction of sound issues was distraction enough that the crowd didn't immediately notice that the all female band had suddenly taken stage.

It seemed White didn’t quite gel with his second band as well, and though classics like "Ball and Biscuit" were furious, in parts, the vibe petered out and became lackluster, almost dragging. It was White's rollercoaster and we are all were just along for the ride.

After a brief intermission, he and the ladies returned strong and tight with The Raconteurs song "Steady as She Goes," White Stripes track "Hardest Button to Button" and "Seven Nation Army." The audience was thrilled and left the show imitating the pounding bass line of Seven Nation Army as they flooded out into the warm summer night.

Lollapalooza 2012 promised top acts like Jack White, Black Sabbath's only reunion tour date of the year, and Frank Ocean's headlining debut. With the festival spreading to Spain and Tel Aviv, and having just signed another 10-year contract with the officials of Chicago's Grant Park, Lolla is here to stay. The good news is that it's also also growing and spreading outstanding music throughout the world.

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