The corporate music jewel of Chicago’s Grant Park launched large this Friday, August 6th, flooded by 20,000 more hearts to push capacity from last year’s 75,000 to 95,000 (minus fence jumpers), making the decision to head to The Strokes or Lady Gaga that much more of a clusterfuck. 

Of course, those who still believe in rock and roll all flocked to the appropriate place, where Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas and his studded leather jacket pals flashbacked as blasé as ever to a time when the genre was begging to be saved, Casablancas firing off, back facing the crowd, “Alright.  Let’s do this shit.  What’s next?”

The decree came after a “We Will Rock You” Queen stage walk-on, and before Albert Hammond Jr. uzied out one of their stomping grounds’ finest middle finger shredders, “New York City Cops,” fans, eager to see these dudes for the first time in the States since the First Impressions of Earth tour in ’06 all shoulders and hips into one another. 

It’s always interesting to see bands rise to the mass appreciation challenge that Lollapalooza breeds. The Strokes pulled it off; channeling heavily Is This It fury threaded with bits of latter post-punk, book-ending another First Impressions single, “Heart in a Cage,” on the heels of “Take it or Leave It.”

Casablancas evened ditched his cool and warmed up a bit mid-set, getting a little nostalgic for Lollapaloozas past. “I’ve always wanted to come here.  The land of dreams.  Where Nirvana and Pearl Jam played all that shit.”  Can’t help feel it was a bit tongue-in-cheek. But call it the glory of being a Stroke.  

Elsewhere in day one, I kept navigation purely rock and roll, as I’ll journalistically confess, was to kick out some pre-angst for the Strokes.  Thing is, in years past, most of the frantic, guitar-based energy got pushed into side-street stages, too close to the larger stages, resulting in awful sound bleeds. 

This is where the new capacity, and the Westward expansion of about 35 more acres, made ears happy, Staten Island’s Cymbals Eat Guitars completely isolated by trees and a city block, so as to turn Joseph D’Agostino Wrens-like battle cry into club-like catharsis, rallying a “wahu, wahu” yelp-in-mass to Why There Are Mountains’ lead-off gem, “And the Hazy Sea,” until his forehead saw some purplish hue. 

I would have stayed forever, if not for the max exodus to the Black Keys, and their requisite – this being their third or fourth Lolla assault – whipped whiskey bottle at the back of a pick-up truck two-man anomaly, even if shrouded in the porch-timey banner of a Brothers emblem, as Dan Auerbach used his melon-sized pick-up only once to bring things down a notch in the vein of “Everlasting Light.” 

All other time went to the Thick Freakness and Magic Potion days of their youth, the two tightened in flannel and shaven beards.  It was no setting sun heel kick as in their 2006 appearance, but as the crowds flock larger to the two, they still pay supreme homage to blues and rewarded all who stayed for an encore with Attack & Release’s coming-of-rockness thump, “I Got Mine,” diluting every other sound coming from other stages with a single off-mic “hey” shout aimed at the Chicago skyline.    –Gavin Paul, Photos by Andy Keil (The Strokes, Black Keys), Cymbals Eat Guitars by Gavin Paul