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Last Sunday, as dusk settled over a tightly-packed crowd of music fans in Chicago's picturesque Grant Park, one of the most revered live acts of our generation bid farewell to one of live music's most storied festivals. Lollapalooza, the brainchild of Perry Farrell (leader of his current band Satellite Party and ex-frontman for Jane's Addiction), enjoyed tremendous success after its 1992 inception before it fizzled in the late '90s due to declining interest from artists and music fans. Farrell revived the musical and cultural landmark for a 2003 festival tour, but the festival again faltered after tepid response from fans forced another cancellation in 2004. Beginning in 2005, though, Lollapalooza has been an annual fixture at Grant Park. This year's phenomenal event spanned three days, boasted a staggering 130 artists and eight stages, and closed with a stellar two-hour set from rock mainstays Pearl Jam.

The roster of artists included a dizzying array of musical styles, and juxtaposed contemporary artists with established icons like Patti Smith and Iggy And The Stooges. There were household names like Daft Punk, Lupe Fiasco, and Amy Winehouse, and less-established artists like Sherwood. And, with artists like The Wailers and Femi Kuti & The Positive Force, as well as an impressive array of family-friendly performances at the Kidzapalooza stage, the festival ventured outside the boundaries of a typical rock concert.

Amidst the deluge of great music, there was plenty of shopping and an abundant supply of food, including ethnic, vegetarian, and vegan options. The festival also provided carbon-saving suggestions and informative resources for eco-friendly concertgoers, as well as free-trade and earth-friendly vendors, in the Green Street area.

Lollapalooza's very name is part of the pop culture lexicon, and the 2007 incarnation more than lived up to its marquee. From the beginnings of the first day until the stirring finale on Sunday, it was truly a staggering live music experience. While there isn't room here to discuss everything I saw and heard, here are the highlights and the most entertaining moments on each of the three days.

DAY ONE

We arrived at Grant Park on Friday with the August sun blazing through a cloudless sky. The front entrance led us directly into view of breathtaking Buckingham Fountain, which was the central point in the area occupied by Lollapalooza. The area was a long, horizontal strip, with the fountain at the center and one of the two main stages - one sponsored by AT&T and the other by Bud Light - on either end. Adjacent to each of the two stages, bordering the central area around Buckingham Fountain, was a slightly smaller stage that nevertheless hosted big-name artists like Patti Smith and Spoon. The fountain was surrounded by smaller stages for up-and-coming and less-publicized artists, the Kidzapalooza stage, the Green Street area, shopping, food vendors, an art exhibit, and other attractions.

Jack's Mannequin

The sight of frontman Andrew McMahon rocking and swaying at his piano is all it takes to realize that he offers Jack's Mannequin - his side project outside of primary band Something Corporate - a charisma in a live setting that so many bands covet. Dynamic and self-assured, he takes over the stage from his piano bench, something that is so difficult that it may help explain the dearth of piano-playing frontmen in modern music. Meanwhile, his capable band hammered out performances that sounded nearly as buoyant and upbeat as their lead singer's personality.

School Of Rock All-Stars

The School Of Rock All-Stars are, as their name implies, the most promising budding rock musicians from The Paul Green School Of Rock Music (each member that appeared at Lollapalooza was between 12 and 18 years old). Green's celebrated instructional music program is dedicated to turning young men and women into full-fledged rock-and-rollers. The band was the headlining act at the festival's Kidzapalooza stage, offering the first of two performances on Friday afternoon.

The All-Stars played remarkably adept covers of songs like The Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like An Eagle," The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," and a number of other hard rock, heavy metal, and classic rock standards. The group also challenged what should be allowed on a family-friendly stage, offering covers of Jefferson Airplane's drug-themed "White Rabbit" and a version of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" (which, if I heard correctly, was dedicated to someone named Anna).

After proving that they could rock as convincingly as musicians far older than they are, The All-Stars left the stage to prepare for the Kidzapalooza finale on Sunday (which, among other songs, included a version of The Charlie Daniels Band's "The Devil Went Down To Georgia").

Femi Kuti & The Positive Force

It's always difficult to live up to family pedigree as a musician, but Nigerian bandleader Femi Kuti has been held to the highest of standards with Fela Kuti - the influential world music iconoclast credited with conceiving the Afro-beat genre - as his father. Fortunately, Femi is anything but hemmed in by the vastness of his father's achievements. He has toured with a recent incarnation of Jane's Addiction, and his much-lauded 2001 record Fight To Win slanted his Afro-beat approach towards contemporary hip-hop - as evidenced by guest appearances by Common and Mos Def. His appearance at this year's Lollapalooza further suggests his mainstream appeal.

Along with his band, The Positive Force, Kuti treated a Saturday evening crowd to a performance that was closer to musical theater than any other I saw at Lollapalooza - complete with African attire, an animated band featuring lively percussionists and a horn section, and a troupe of dancers decked in brightly-colored native garb. Kuti himself, jubilant and animated, led the band through a dizzying display of propulsive rhythms and intricate instrumentation.

Ben Harper And The Innocent Criminals

Ben Harper's versatility, as both a songwriter and performer, has been well-publicized for a reason. He expertly synthesizes a staggering range of genres - rock, blues, folk, country, and funk are among them - into a style that is immediately recognizable, and his emotive voice ties together a rich body of work that began with his debut album in 1994. Add in a tremendously skilled band, The Innocent Criminals, and the results have been a string of quality records and an unforgettable live experience. Friday's performance was full of brilliant musicianship, including dazzling bass guitar work from Juan Nelson. Harper and his band were completely in sync throughout the performance, which closed Lollapalooza's first day opposite a performance from Daft Punk on the other end of Grant Park.

Along with select new tracks from his upcoming record Lifeline, which will be released on August 28th, Harper played career highlights like "Diamonds On The Inside," "Ground On Down," and "With My Own Two Hands." Harper also offered the crowd-pleasing marijuana anthem "Burn One Down," which is among Harper's better songs with its delicate melody and message of tolerance. He ended the set by inviting Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder on stage for a scathing version of Bob Dylan's greatest political song, "Masters Of War," which provided dramatic closure to the first of three days rich with fine performances.

DAY TWO

Sherwood

There was a chill in the air on an overcast Saturday afternoon as we settled near a sparsely-attended stage to listen to Sherwood's buoyant pop-rock. I came in with absolutely no expectations for the band, which released its second full-length, A Different Light, earlier this year. I left with unexpected respect for a rock band that may not be changing the world, but did their part to enliven a dreary afternoon and pique my interest in tracking down their record. The performance was proof that, although the big names are what draw the crowds to festivals like Lollapalooza, it's the up-and-coming bands like Sherwood that add variety and excitement to a festival.

Silverchair

Ah, the cruel fate of Silverchair. In 1995, the three Australian rockers launched their career while still in their teens with the radio hit "Tomorrow," and have had a number of hits since then. Based on their performance at the AT&T stage on Saturday, though, they seem to have faded to a '90s nostalgia act, at least judging from the lukewarm response from the sizeable crowd gathered to hear their set. The band actually proved to be efficient, skilled performers capable of putting on an engaging live show, and some of the strongest moments in the set were recently penned songs. Still, as so often happens to bands that strike it rich and then gradually fade from the public eye, Silverchair did seem a bit outdated among so many commercially viable and up-and-coming bands and artists.

The band didn't help its cause by failing to play "Tomorrow," although strong performances of "Freak" and "Ana's Song (Open Fire)" did cater to those who came for radio hits. Lead singer Daniel Johns' bizarre interactions on stage also muffled the effectiveness of the band's performance. On more than one occasion, he showed his distress when he received a tepid response after asking the audience to sing along with his songs. He entreated the audience to "make me feel famous," and began an anecdote between songs by informing the crowd "I once had a dream I vomited dolphins." All of this added up to a memorable performance that was as frustrating and polarizing as it was engaging.

Cage The Elephant

At about 4:30 on Saturday afternoon, we decided to cross Grant Park to watch The Roots, hoping to secure a good spot to see Regina Spektor's set at 5:30. Seeing the mass of people headed in that direction, though, we diverted our attention to one of the smallest and least conspicuous stages in the park to watch Kentucky rock and roll rebels Cage The Elephant. The band's nervy garage rock, which was admittedly impressive, did little to draw attention away from frontman Matt Shultz, who climbed, stage-dove, and swore his way through a set of visceral hard rock. Not to be outdone by his brother, guitarist Brad Shultz unceremoniously left the stage during the band's set to vomit, with Matt involving the crowd in an impromptu refrain of "don't throw up, Brad," and inciting a chant of "suck it up!" to lure Brad back on stage. Outside of Iggy Pop's set on Sunday, it was the most riotous rock and roll performance of the weekend, and further proof that the least-advertised stages are often the most interesting.

Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor's performance on Saturday afternoon, which saw her sitting alone at a grand piano on an otherwise empty stage, was among the weekend's quietest - and most spectacular - performances. The always-engaging pianist and singer-songwriter, well-known for her inventive vocal acrobatics, has seen increased exposure in recent months as her songs "Fidelity" and "Better" have infiltrated popular radio. She is among the most versatile female vocalists making music today. Her songs veer in haphazard directions, intertwine both conventional and experimental elements, and include odd vocal tics and charmingly offbeat lyrics.

Spektor is also among the most modest and gracious performers I've heard. During her Saturday afternoon set, she offered genuine, soft-spoken thanks to those gathered to hear her play. She expressed how deeply honored she felt to occupy the stage that would host Patti Smith later that night. And, if her sincerity weren't enough to win over the crowd, she even stopped her set in the middle of a rendition of "The Flowers" to check on a sick audience member. After making sure the fan was safe, Spektor continued a set that included a number of songs from her popular Begin To Hope album (including "Better," "Fidelity," and "Samson"), as well as rarities and a number of excellent tracks from her previous record, Soviet Kitsch. It was a reliably entertaining performance from a performer who is winning over the music world, fan by fan, with her charming, idiosyncratic music.

Patti Smith

As partial as I am to Regina Spektor, Patti Smith's thunderous performance was Saturday's best - and, other than Pearl Jam's finale, possibly the best of the entire weekend. Amidst impassioned rants that may have been truly frightening if they weren't pleas for peace, tolerance, and an end to our destruction of the environment, the 60-year-old Smith offered spectacular versions of songs both well-known and obscure. Among the most notable was a version of "Gloria," the leadoff track on her seminal Horses album, which was among the most raucous rock performances I've ever heard. She also played the shuffling island rock of "Redondo Beach," a dirge-like cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and "Because The Night," which became a megahit for 10,000 Maniacs long after Smith had recorded it in on her Easter album in 1978.

DAY THREE

Rodrigo Y Gabriela

At first glance, a performance by all-instrumental guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela may not seem like much of a spectacle. But if the two virtuosos deceive with their ordinary appearance, their frenetic all-instrumental performance on Sunday afternoon was all they needed to captivate the crowd. Drawing from their Mexican heritage as well as classic rock, heavy metal, folk, and classical, the two musicians thrilled the crowd with blazing originals, an inventive cover of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven," and an audience sing-along during an instrumental rendition of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

Iggy And The Stooges

Iggy And The Stooges' performance was the second iconic punk-rock spectacle, after an incredible set from Patti Smith on Saturday. Anyone questioning whether Iggy Pop has mellowed as he enters his autumn years had their answer from the start: he prowled the stage like the rock and roll animal he is, making clear the magnitude of his influence on innumerable bands since The Stooges' self-titled debut in 1969. Pop plowed through early Stooges anthems like "1969," "I Wanna Be Your Dog," and "No Fun" - the last of which he performed after inviting a raucous crowd of audience members to share the stage with the band. Pop did quell what was a near-riotous situation, but it took time to restore order before he and his fellow Stooges could continue their set of raw, primal rock and roll that lived up to their legacy. It was without question the most stripped-down, undiluted rock and roll set of the festival.

Pearl Jam

We left the Bud Light stage as Iggy And The Stooges were wrapping up their spirited - and borderline-chaotic - performance, and headed for the AT&T stage to stake out seats for what we expected would be a spectacular closing set from Pearl Jam. In the middle of the three hours we spent anticipating the weekend's finale, we watched a solid performance - including an intriguing on-stage collaboration with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra - by My Morning Jacket. The band's latest studio album, the highly-praised and succinctly-titled Z, was released in 2005.

After My Morning Jacket left the stage, we stood among a rapidly growing crowd, all of us waiting patiently for Pearl Jam to take the stage an hour later. It was a typical scene at a crowded outdoor concert: drunk and aggressive fans shoving for position amidst those trying to peacefully watch a show, and otherwise passive audience members retaliating in frustration, with all of us stealing glimpses at the stage in anticipation.

Pearl Jam, of course, did finally take the stage, and it shouldn't surprise anyone who's been to a Pearl Jam show that the band's weekend-closing performance was the most impressive at this year's Lollapalooza. They have always been a band that can take a song that, on record, is mediocre or forgettable, and infuse it with an unbelievable energy in a live setting. The most telling example on Sunday was a rendition of "Severed Hand," one of the few weak tracks on the band's 2006 studio album (a self-titled record that is their finest effort since Yield more than eight years before).

It's difficult to quantify what makes Pearl Jam such an exceptional live act. All five members are accomplished musicians, and the band is very democratic in sharing songwriting duties, an approach that is reflected in their tremendous chemistry on stage. What is most exciting about their concerts, though, is dynamic frontman Eddie Vedder, one of music's most outspoken and charismatic on-stage personalities. On Sunday, he kept a quiet, commanding presence on stage, sprinkling in political commentary that - probably because of how sincere he is in expressing his views - never came off as preachy or condescending. After Vedder urged the crowd to protect the overly polluted Lake Michigan from oil company BP, Pearl Jam offered a tossed-off rock song urging the crowd to boycott the company until it changes its policies. Vedder also amended the lyrics to Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2," which he tagged onto a performance of "Daughter," to reflect his disdain for the Bush administration: "George Bush, leave this world alone," he sang, as insubordinate as ever. (Distressingly, the alterations led to controversy when most of Vedder's anti-Bush sentiments were edited from an AT&T webcast of Pearl Jam's performance, prompting the band to lash back via a statement on their website: "AT&T's actions strike at the heart of the public's concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media.").

Politics aside, the crowd witnessed an engaging rock and roll [show] from the introduction to "Why Go" until the rousing rendition of Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World" that closed the two-hour set. The hits were many: "Alive," "Given To Fly," "World Wide Suicide," and a long list of other Pearl Jam standards. True to form, the band also played a handful of songs only dedicated fans were familiar with, including "Education," "Lukin," "Save You," and a poignant cover of Victoria Williams' "Crazy Mary."

It was during the encore, though, that the show was transformed from an excellent Pearl Jam set to the stuff of history. Vedder introduced a veteran of the Iraq war and member of Iraq Veterans Against The War, Tomas Young, who was the focus of a recent documentary titled Body Of War. Vedder wrote and performed original songs for the film, which was produced and directed by TV icon Phil Donahue and filmmaker Ellen Spiro. After allowing Young to address the Lollapalooza crowd, Vedder introduced close friend Ben Harper on stage to share vocals on an acoustic rendition of "No More War," one of two Vedder-penned songs featured in Body Of War. The song's lyrics are spare, despairing, and full of the kind of naked hope that has been vital to folk music since the 1960s. The band then closed with a triumphant cover of "Rockin' In The Free World," with the stage packed with - among others - Tomas Young, a group of fans, and former Chicago Bull's All-Star Dennis Rodman. The encore, and Lollapalooza 2007, closed with Vedder lifted onto Rodman's shoulders as the crowd roared its appreciation of Pearl Jam's marathon performance.

*

As a festival of its magnitude should be, Lollapalooza 2007 was an exhilarating and exhausting three days. As we left Grant Park and headed for the train station, the fatigue of the weekend music marathon set in, and it took a couple of days to relieve our aching legs and find the energy it took to experience what will likely be among my most treasured memories as a music fan. And, as a music writer, it's always humbling to see a long list of bands and artists I know absolutely nothing about - so, after I brushed my ego aside, I soaked in plenty of unfamiliar, and often great, new music. It was an experience that more than justified the $195 price tag and the money I poured into food, water, and festival merchandise.

If you're ever able to experience Lollapalooza, expect to come home tired, sore, and a few hundred dollars poorer. But, more importantly, expect to experience three days of music, entertainment, and camaraderie that will more than justify those expenses. If you get the chance, take it. I can guarantee you won't regret it.

-Dan Warren

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