7/26/05 Lollapalooza Review

Grant Park rocks -- often on hot air

for the Chicago Sun Times

Lollapalooza 2005 went out with a whimper instead of a bang on Sunday. Or, given the festival-closing 2-1/2-hour performance by the absurdly self-indulgent jam band Widespread Panic, I should say "with a burst of flatulence."

When Lollapalooza founder, co-owner and wiggy emcee Perry Farrell introduced the Georgia sextet, he claimed it was the first band organizers sought for the reinvented festival, as well as "the best outdoor music band" today.

No offense to the legions of self-described "Spreadheads," but Widespread Panic is one of the worst albeit best-drawing groups on the current scene, failing to achieve the soul of great Southern rock or the invention of inspired jamming. Its members should have been arrested by Chicago police for slaughtering Bill Withers' R&B classic "Use Me."

For great Southern rock, the Panic boys could have taken some cues from the Drive-By Truckers, who rose to the occasion of playing to such a large audience (Sunday attendance matched Saturday's at 33,000) by capturing the same intensity of a small-club gig at the Hideout.

In comparison, the penultimate marquee act, Las Vegas' much-hyped Killers, was stiff and contrived while delivering its designed-to-be-radio-friendly glam-rock. But Texas art-rockers Spoon, who can be spotty in concert, were both looser and more fiery than I've ever seen them.

Farrell used Lollapalooza to launch his new space-funk band with former Extreme shredder Nuno Bettencourt and No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal. But Satellite Party was only about half as strong as his last group Porno for Pyros, which was half as strong as his original band Jane's Addiction. That means Perry is one quarter the artist he used to be, but he's certainly gotten better as a salesman.

By far the best act of the day, the Montreal ork-pop band the Arcade Fire added a rhythmic intensity to the beautiful, melodic and sometimes fragile songs of its acclaimed debut "Funeral," adding a power the album only hints at.

To recap my Lollapalooza experience, I managed to see at least half the sets of 25 out of the 39 acts performing on the four main stages -- and I have the blisters on my feet to prove it.

(I also need to make one addition to the list of suggestions to promoters for improving Lollapalooza next year: Don't give Beatle Bob an all-access pass. The middle-aged mop-topped go-go dancer, as ubiquitous throughout this festival as he is at many across the country, is just plain annoying. Besides, in Chicago we have our own Thax Douglas.)