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Best & Worst of Lollapalooza: Day 2


Best Music for Your Workout: Phoenix
Phoenix has become the Cadillac of pop bands, and the Frenchmen’s eye-popping finale to a smashing Saturday found the quartet hitting on all cylinders. Who knew that the little band that gave us “Too Young” (surely you remember Lost in Translation) exactly 10 years ago would turn into a juggernaut who could play on the shores of Lake Michigan and be heard in Indiana? Phoenix has plenty of features-a sleek, Euro-charming exterior with Thomas Mars, plenty under the hood with the guitar and rhythm section, and the deftly engineered songs of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. They’re not necessarily dancey, but they are catchy and uplifting and aerobic. Even Mars seemed to marvel at the effect they had on masses at the north end of Grant Park. “This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to,” he said. “Thank you.” No, Thomas, the crowd (and their fitness instructors) thank you. -KEVIN BRONSON

Best Band to Cover the Man in Black: Social Distortion
If Devo was the Friday entry in the category Bands Who Made You Possible, Social Distortion filled that role on Saturday. A lightly bearded, heavily tatted Mike Ness led the southern California veterans through a rough-edged tour de catalog, interspersing a few songs from their to-be-titled seventh album, due Nov. 7 on Epitaph. Social D’s outlaw brand of punk rock so contrasts with this era’s eyelinered narcissists that old-schoolers wondered what kind of reception Ness and the gang might get. “This song came out in 1983, when it was dangerous to be a punk rocker roaming the streets,” Ness said, introducing the title track to Social D’s first album, Mommy’s Little Monster. On a day when punks were in absolutely no danger-in fact, the grounds abounded with tykes in Green Day children’s wear-Social D was warmly embraced. And as he has done frequently throughout his career, Ness embraced his idol, Johnny Cash, finishing the set with a cover of “Ring of Fire.” It rarely has sounded so good than in the dusk at Lollapalooza. -KB

Worst Log Jam: Metric
The people have spoken, and next time Metric plays Lollapalooza it must be on a headlining stage. The Toronto quartet’s mid-afternoon set at the Playstation Stage-the fest’s second largest-brought Lolla to a pedestrian standstill. Chalk their burgeoning popularity up to “Eclipse (All Yours),” their song on the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack (which has its own video with closeups of Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, and Kristen Stewart), and the radio play of “Help, I’m Alive,” a single off their latest album Fantasies. As singer Emily Haines sang “beating like a hammer!!!” thousands of fans pogo’d and made hammering motions with their arms. -WILLIAM GOODMAN

Best Lyric Screamed in the Face of Danger: AFI
“I feel nothing at all,” Davey Havok bellowed during “Medicate,” and that couldn’t have been true during the goth-punks’ set on the second stage, where he was staring virtually straight into the blazing afternoon sun. The veterans ended up getting some welcome cloud cover and shredding for an hour, regaling moshers and crowd surfers with hits like “Miss Murder” and “Beautiful Thieves.” Havok went out of his way, too, to throw some gratitude at Lollapalooza’s organizers, recalling how, back in the day, he made the long trip to see Jane’s Addiction. -KB

Best Way to Get Sucked Into a Dance Party: Cut Copy
Cut Copy is like that pesky department store salesperson who always seems to know exactly what you need. Tired of all those harsh guitars? Let me show you our shimmering synths. Groaning singers got you down? Please hop aboard our soaring falsetto. Bored with merely bobbing your head? We have four on the floor, so move your feet. Before you know it, you’ve blurted out, “I’ll take it!” and you find yourself in a massive sea of bouncing souls at the Playstation stage acting as if your every breath depends on the next strobe or puff of smoke. Don’t feel guilty, there are a lot of you. You stay because the Australians insist you do, in the nicest way possible, of course, by providing excellent service with little or no intellectual investment. It’s euphoria, and it’s on sale, wherever Cut Copy is playing next. -KB

Best Place to Station a Bug-Spray Vendor: The Morning Benders
The tree-encircled field in front of the Sony Bloggie stage was damp and dotted by standing water when the Morning Benders started their noon set. “We realize that it is the crack of dawn, Lollapalooza time,” frontman Christopher Chu told the big (and not just for the time slot) crowd. It was feeding time for local residents, swarms of mosquitoes that kept fans slapping when they weren’t clapping. And they did clap-the Benders’ gauzy, measured indie-pop, all from their sophomore album Big Echo, built to crescendo after crescendo, satisfying anybody ravenous for a payoff. -KB

Best Band You Need to See Again… And Again… And Again: Spoon
Since the January release of their latest album, Transference, the Austin, TX, indie vets and consummate road dogs have played SXSW, Coachella, and presumably every city in America, twice, and not much has changed other than frontman Britt Daniel’s outfit (he’s going for an all-white Andrew WK look now, instead of the long-sleeved black button down). But that’s exactly why their Saturday Budweiser Stage set was so impressive: By now, we’ve all heard “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “I Summon You,” “Turn My Camera On,” and “Don’t Make Me a Target” live. But the quartet performed with genuine emotion, like they’d be doing this in their basements anyways if it wasn’t for the 30,000 people who wanted to watch. On “My Mathematical Mind” Daniel even got a bit lost in the moment, dropping to his knees for a jagged solo at the back of the stage, nearly out of sight. “Sorry,” the tousled-hair rocker apologized afterward. “I lost it.” -WG

Best U.S. Debut: Empire of the Sun
It’s a shame that their Saturday night set was America’s first taste of this Australian psychedelic electro duo’s live show – we Yanks have really been missing out. The hour-long performance at Perry’s dance stage was a spectacle of the eye and ear: Four dancers wore silver rectanglular helmets with matching metallic capes and spandex suits; singer-guitarist-keyboardist Luke Steele (of Sleepy Jackson fame) was dressed in medieval chest armor, a black gown, and a crown with spires extending two feet into the air; bassist Nick Littlemore (formerly of Aussie dance group Pnau) was in 18th-century colonial wear; and the drummer looked like a Trojan warrior with a leather vest and battle helmet adorned with a feather Mohawk. A video screen behind them showed footage of solar systems in deep space. As for their sound, imagine if MGMT, Prince, Of Montreal, and David Bowie adopted a child together then bought it a drum machine and a handful of MDMA. Highlights like “We Are the People” blended the futuristic with the past, using both shiny synth grooves and drum skitters, as well as a searing guitar solo and snappy acoustic chord pattern that recalls Ziggy Stardust. Their best song, “Walking On a Dream,” the title track off their only album, was the set’s apex as glow sticks came raining down on its shimmering chorus. -WG

Best Music for a Tribal Ceremony: Wild Beasts
Need to summon the spirits? Missing a few tracks on that iTunes playlist titled “My First Visit to a Shaman”? Try this Brit quartet’s tribal indie rock led by frontman Hayden Thorpe’s otherworld-opening falsetto. “We find ourselves dancing late / Like young reprobates / By the milky light of the mighty moon,” he shrieked-crooned-chanted like a possessed man-witch over a groove of bass and sparkling guitars on “This Is Our Lot,” a standout from their latest album Two Dancers. Two other highlights from their Playstation Stage set-“Hooting and Howling” and “The Devil’s Crayon”-were played with equal abandon, their mallet-wielding drummer pounding like the rhythm master aboard a Viking ship. The closed-eyed hippie girls dancing in slow-mo, and the dude in body paint who blew a vuvuzela, definitely approved. -WG

Best Band You’ve Probably Never Heard Of: Royal Bangs
For this Knoxville, TN, outfit, it’s addition by subtraction. In 2008, the band-then a quintet-impressed with their performance on a side stage at Bonnaroo at 3 A.M. Since then, Royal Bangs have shrunk to a trio, and now their music is more urgent than a heart attack. Like a mix of LCD Soundsystem’s pulsing electro-punk and the new wave-y shimmer of the Strokes’ second album Room On Fire, Royal Bangs tracks “War Bells” and “My Car is Haunted” featured frenetic riffs, busy drums, and dance-y keyboard melodies from Ryan Schaefer, a schlubby but commanding frontman not unlike another disco-punk, Mr. James Murphy. And that’s a good thing. Royal Bangs’ set was without question the best thing I’ve seen so far at Lollapalooza. -WG

Best Refuge for the Real Partiers: Rusko
With all the clean-cut young Gaga and Green Day fans roaming Grant Park, one can’t help but wonder: Where are all the girls with tongue piercings and glow sticks, the tattooed wanksters in ankle-length shorts and ball caps, and the 16 year olds who look so high they could die? Answer: Perry’s, the dance stage. Rusko-the producer behind M.I.A.’s current new single, “XXXO,” who has also worked with Rihanna, T.I., and now Britney Spears-rocked a twilight rave with his booty-shaking dub-step sounds. The crowd came ready to party: Within five minutes I was told that “the guy in the green hat has the best Mali (MDMA),” and that Rusko’s brand of dub step was inspired by the effects of huffing nitrous, which some people freely did. -WG

Best Case For Practicality Over Style: Dan Black
?British electro-pop hotshot Black hadn’t even played his singles “Symphonies” or “Alone” when he came out of his shoes-literally. “Stupid shoes,” he said. “They look great but they don’t work … And they’re expensive too.” Maybe it was just his quick feet? -KB

In Brief:

The walls of Lollapalooza are under siege. Ticketless fans bum-rushed the fences and sprinted for the protection of the crowd with security in pursuit. Props to one dude, who after being apprehended two different times, finally escaped into the masses. -WG