Lollapalooza: Eminem, Foo Fighters, Deadmau5 Highlight 20th Anniversary Show

Dave Mead/Flickr

Despite rain delays and difficult-to-navigate crowds, the three-day festival offered diversity while still proving its might as the biggest party in music.

In 1950’s great Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, the crime caper is told from several points of view. In 2011, music festivals offer a similar multi-dimensional experience so that one person’s Lollapalooza could be completely different from that of the music fan standing three feet away.

The size and scope of Lollapalooza, which continues to grow in urban mass (this year sold out 90,000 tickets a day) and takes over even more of Chicago’s Grant Park, forces fans to make those tough decisions. On Friday night, for example, attendees were made to choose between Coldplay and Muse. And unless you’re in triathlon shape or can navigate tens of thousands of people packed into one street on a skateboard, on Saturday, it came down to Lykke Li or Cee-Lo, as each played opposite sides of the park.

With over a hundred bands, not to mention several off-site parties where the likes of Fitz & The Tantrums, Skylar Grey, Patrick Stump and Delta Spirit played, the competition for attention is overwhelming. But there were a few themes that managed to unite the entire festival, starting with the continuing emergence of dance music as a growing attraction.

This year, festival founder and Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, who made his only appearances as a performer at the Kidsapalooza corner and his own Perry’s dance tent, saw the stage that shares his name grow into a full-sized rave that accommodated more than 15,000 fans at a time, making it even bigger than Coachella’s dance-oriented Sahara Tent. And even at 15,000, it often overflowed, with enthusiastic club kids celebrating the pounding beats from the sides and the back.

Deadmau5, who became the first dance act to headline a main stage at Lolla, and competed with the Foo Fighters and the rain on Sunday, commented backstage beforehand that the love he saw for the genre proved that it was bridging the gap between rock and dance.

Another moment that brought the festival together took place on Saturday night when Eminem delivered what was easily the most anticipated set of the weekend. Proving his headliner might, the Detroit native had the entire backstage shut down and rerouted so he could drive directly onto the stage. The badass move left no doubt as to who was the biggest rock star of Lollapalooza 2011.

In fact, given the infrequency with which he tours, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how dynamic a performer he is, but after a spectacular 90-minute show, there was no denying the rapper’s power. Em engaged the crowd constantly while delivering a wide-ranging set that covered early material like “The Way I Am” and “Stan,” as well as the anthemic “I’m Not Afraid” and “Lose Yourself,” and a spectacular “Love The Way You Lie.”

Musically, it was unquestionably the high-point of the weekend. The only band capable of competing on that big a stage? The Foo Fighters, who rocked a surprise (and free!) three-hour show Saturday night at the Metro, and came back for more unbridled headbanging on Sunday. Unfortunately, their Lolla set was hammered by rain four songs in, turning what was already a mud pit fit for Bonnaroo into field conditions only a pig could love (the Arctic Monkeys’ set earlier in the day was delayed by 20 minutes because of lightening -- a risk any rock festival faces when held outdoors and in the midwest).

Still, fans were not deterred, and neither was Dave Grohl, who declared, “I don’t give a fuck it’s raining.” Indeed, tens of thousands of fans braved the torrential downpour, which fortunately came and went quickly, and as rain pelted them, they sang along to Foos hits like “My Hero,” “Stacked Actors” and “Learn to Fly” unfazed.

The few who did decide to call it an early night on Sunday missed out. This being Lollapalooza, albeit a bigger version, the one constant that remains even 20 years later is the feeling of discovery, a sentiment that was celebrated all weekend long. Whether it was Imelda May’s bluesy set, that closed with a version of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” or Los Angeles’ Local Natives, who seemed genuinely humbled by their own Sunday afternoon turnout, or buzz-worthy sets by Foster The People and Fitz And The Tantrums attracting, by their estimates, some 25,000 people.

Newcomers certainly had their moments. Skylar Grey, who shared a stage with Eminem for the Dr. Dre hit “I Need A Doctor,” admitted she was more nervous doing her own set than singing to 80,000 fans with the rapper. Dale Earnhart Jr. Jr, who rocked a Rolling Stone party with covers of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Going On,” topped themselves with a Lolla rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”

And the veterans delivered, as well. A Perfect Circle put on a magnificent performance, Big Audio Dynamite, featuring former Clash guitarist Mick Jones, reminded the audience how incredibly hooky the British post-punk movement was, and the Cars returned with a hit-heavy set that included radio staples “Just What I Needed,” “Magic,” and “Good Times Roll,” sounding just as vibrant as decades ago. Twenty years after its first North American run, which featured Jane's Addiction, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Nine Inch Nails, Ice-T and Violent Femmes on the bill, Lollapalooza 2011 lived up to its lofty reputation of bringing iconic moments and artists old and new together for the biggest party in music.