With sold-out, record-breaking ticket sales – 90,000/day – and a big proverbial 20th-anniversary gold ring for Perry Farrell, the pops of touring festivals took its first breath of three on Friday in its adopted Chicago Grant Park home, humming a far different tune than its Alternative Nation meets circus shit show of yore.
Once a breeding ground of Jane’s Addiction’s circle of grunge, I’m not sure anyone would have predicted Coldplay, one of rock’s most chastised mopesters, would be headlining some day.
But they did. And whether it was a cheeky cop-out or not by leadsinger Chris Martin to tell crowds they’ve been waiting 20 years to do so, they fit the bill suitably, ripping through a best-of list of their most self-deprecating hits, from “Yellow” to “The Scientist.”
The festival’s latest promotor regime, C3, have made a game of seeing how divergent and diverse they can split people across a mile-long stretch of eight stages. And when the closing-hour begins, artists that can fill said space with the most swagger. So while Muse configured its math-rock on the South end of the park, and Girl Talk spewed forth its plugged-in generation of all things hook and hips on the West end, Coldplay’s downtrodden sing-alongs were welcomed in spades, couples ironically making out all across the field as Martin hobbled around from piano ballad to shimmering U2-isms.
There was a bit of nostalgia, perhaps why they were in the spot they were, as some tunes reached back a good ten years across “Parachutes” territory, but the Brits were juiced in their angst, Martin yelping into “Politik” medley, thrusting his pelvis to the drum push on “Fix You,” and closing with a strum-fierce new cut, “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” blasting ash and fireworks in tandem, proving they can get up while down.
Elsewhere in the divergent mad dash, all sorts of great emergent small-stagers were killing it. Greatest of all them during the day’s most humid peak, Mexican thrash-punksters Le Butcherettes, ending with drummer Gabe Serbian puking all over his kit and starting with riot grrrl frontwoman Teri Gender Bender squawking the feminist-slathered half Spanish/half English rager “Dress Off” in mock-bloody threads, an ongoing comment her feelings for post-war housewives.
Georgia’s amalgamation of quirky pop, Reptar, were all sorts of African rhythm-sourced soul and Animal Collective warble, as well, throwing their State fruit at people and inciting many a hand-clap fits from their debut LP, “Oblangle FIzz Y’all,” complete with a keyboardist in a blue leotard.
In one of their more hip-centric strides, a cut dubbed “Blast Off” saw some tambourines thrown across stage, Passion Pit synth kicks and billowing wafts of herb from kids amidst the side-stage’s (Google+) trees, threaded about a choir of “Ohs” on the backbeat, like some awesome misfit child of the Talking Heads and Animal Collective.
Denver’s sweetheart throwback wall-of-sound popsters Tennis had the same charm on the same stage earlier, in a polk-a-dot and apple pie kind of way, swaying through tunes inspired from a grand sailboat adventure the keys-and-guitar couple laid down on “Cape Dory” back in January.
Dudes and dudettes were rolling in the grass and kicking up dirt at one-another as Alaina Moore questioned her husband in Ronettes, curly-haired glow, “Do nautical things make you miss the sea?” His response – a heel-kicked jangle on his guitar and smile.
Within the semi-larger marquee realm, the Mountain Goats held their heady folk own to the North, entering the stage with a scathing metal tune, John Darnielle preceding each tune with a one-liner monologue like “this song is about being young and stupid and somehow surviving.”
And lest us not forget indie-poster child – well now man – Conor Oberst and the Bright Eyes crew, still professing future cynicism off this Spring’s “The People’s Key.” Though Oberst was a bit angrier than normal, and dug into oldies like “Lover I Don’t Have To Love,” and “Road to Joy” encouraging in his frothing verité, “Fuck it up kids, make some noise.” At least in song. At set’s end, he was decrying how much he loved everybody, with hugs for all in the front row.
The small stage won the most hearts, though, reverting back to another sweetheart 60s throwback earlier act, Cults. With only a 30th of the masses in tow for Coldplay, these Brooklyn upstarts slung layer upon layer of shimmering summerisms, Madeline Follin’s doowop harmonies perfectly swimming in the haze of Brian Oblivion’s guitar riffs, with a xylophone chime moving everything forward on that part on breakout single “Go Outside” when Follin reminds everyone how much she wants to get out and play, with just as much swagger as Martin with an arsenal of fireworks.--Words and photos by Gavin Paul