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August 4, 2012

The opening day of Lollapalooza 2012 closed with a black celebration. Or the north end of Chicago’s Grant Park, devil horns flew and heads banged as Black Sabbath brought forth a metal onslaught of the heaviest form. On the south end, fireworks illuminated fans who swayed and shimmied to the sexy blues licks of festival faves the Black Keys. And somewhere in the midst of it all was organizer Perry Farrel, taking in his annual summer circus with his famously impish grin.

On its 21st anniversary (and its 8th year as a stationary, 3-day event), Lollapalooza remains the grand poobah of late-summer American festivals. With a lineup that veers from rock legends to rap rebels to dubstep deities, Lolla offers something for everyone with an ear for cutting-edge tunes - which is why more than 160,000 sun-drenched fans will swarm the 319 acres of downtown Chicago park land where the festival is held by weekend’s end.

It’s impossible to catch all the action and see each of the 50 bands that played on Lolla’s eight stages Friday, but that didn’t stop us from trying. Here’s the high points of what went down on day 1:

Illness and inner-band turmoil have plagued the members of Black Sabbath since the band announced its reunion in late 2011. But when metal monarchs took Lolla’s Bud Light stage for their one-and-only scheduled North American show, drama took a back seat to the heaviest riffs heard on a Lollapalooza stage since Metallica made the bill in ‘96. Founding members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler attacked each of their classic cuts with a vigor one normally doesn’t se from 60-year-old granddads. The hits kept coming as the band tore through iconic hits like “War Pigs,” “Sweet Leaf,” “Iron Man,” “Fairies Wear Boots” and a set-closing rendition of “Paranoid” that brought Grant Park to its knees. Ozzy, who was drenched with set by the end of the first tune, kept the crowd amped with menacing vocals and barely comprehensible banter, while Tony inspired dramatic air-guitar feats in the crowd. The absence of original drummer Bill Ward kept the show from being a 100% reunion, but the acrobatic skills of touring skinman Tommy Clufetos - who dazzled the crowd with a 10-minute solo that verged on the inhuman — helped to make Sabbath the Friday night show not to be missed.

The ample crowd at the Red Bull Soundstage let out a big whoop when Ohio blues-rockers The Black Keys kicked off their set with “Howlin’ For You” (from 2010’s “Brothers”), all full of gritty guitars and a big, dirty thumping rock beat. “We’ve been coming to Chicago for so long, but it’s such a thrill,” singer/ guitar auteur Dan Auerbach said by way of greeting before the duo ran through “Run Right Back,” “Same Old Thing” and more. But it was when the Keys hit the jam “Gold On The Ceiling,” from their 2011 breakthrough album “El Camino,” that a tipsy girl who ran breathlessly onto the field near us voiced the unspoken feeling in the crowd, saying “Oh, I got here just in time.”

The obvious choices at the end of the night were headliners Black Sabbath and The Black Keys, but the several thousand people in the throbbing maw of the expanded EDM-haven Perry’s stage might have argued that Bassnectar deserved equal billing as a headliner. The California DJ lived up to his name by sending such huge waves of bass rippling across the crowd, they made eyebrows vibrate even at the very back of the open-air field, which was adorned with wrap-around screens and easily boasted the best soundsystem of any of the festival’s stages.

As one of four closing sets (competing against Black Sabbath, The Black Keys and Bassnectar), rapper Wale made sure to give his audience a reason for choosing him over the others. During the performance of his Rick Ross collaboration “Tats On My Arm,” the D.C. rapper jumped into the crowd and performed alongside fans. Despite two bodyguards standing around stiff as boards, the crowd around him went wild.

Many Passion Pit fans were bummed when the band cancelled several U.S. tour dates earlier this summer due to singer Michael Angelakos’ mental health issues. But the Cambridge band didn’t dissapoint their Lollapalooza fans, as the group delivered an energetic comeback performance that packed enthusiastic, hand-waving fans to the Bud Light stage in the late afternoon. If there’s any kinks left in Passion Pit’s machine, it certainly didn’t show. Angelakos was an engaging a frontman as ever, with his falsetto vocals prompting several sing-alongs throughout the 75-minute set, which featured a healthy mix of old and new cuts. Recent singles “I’ll Be Alright” and “Constant Conversations” from the band’s sophomore album “Gossamer” were warmly received, but the crowd lost its proverbial shit to first-album anthems like “The Reeling” and “Little Secrets,” resulting in one of the day’s biggest mid-day dance parties.

French synthpop band M83 has swelled in popularity since they released their excellent 2011 album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” Lolla organizers should have taken that into consideration when they decided to book the band on a side stage. The massive crowd crammed onto the Playstation stage dwarfed than that of some main stage acts, making it impossible for late-comers to get anywhere close to the stage. But fans that crowded closest to the stage got dazzled not only by the group’s lush, energetic dance tunes, but by their LED light show, which reaped the benefits of the setting sun.

South African hip-hop freaks Die Antwoord left a lasting impression on Chicago crowd during their first Lollapalooza appearance - and not just because the group’s female MC bared her ass on stage. Mixing bass-heavy rap and rave beats with the twisted rhymes of Ninja and the rump-revealing Yo-Landi Vi$$er, the group brought a substantial crowd to their late afternoon set on the Sony stage and delivered one of the day’s most energetic sets. New hits like “I Fink U Freeky” went down as well as early tracks like “Enter the Ninja,” proving that the group’s Zef style might stick around longer than the haters anticipated.

Anyone sitting at the center of Grant Park around 4 p.m. Friday would have thought that the south stages had been shut down. What seemed like the entire festival capacity moved in a steady stream toward the northernmost stage, filling the field — which had been empty just minutes before — for Metric ’s 60-minute set. It appeared that everyone in the park was mesmerized by Emily Haines’ soothing indie rock vocals, as the group played their way through a non-stop set, mixing classics with newer tracks from this summer’s “Synthetica” album.

While a packed crowd ecstatically bounced to Metric on the Bud Light stage down at the northern end of Grant Park between 4 and 5pm, a smaller, calmer, older but far more rapt audience had their eyes glued to the recently reunited Afghan Whigs ’ rock ‘n soul workout on the Red Bull stage at the opposite end of the park. It was well over 90 degrees in the baking Chicago sun, but that didn’t stop the veteran Ohio band (whose members wore matching dark shades, black jeans and black shirts) from shredding through its 13-song set, which included goodies from 1992’s “Congregation” (“I’m Her Slave”), 1993’s “Gentlemen” (“Fountain and Fairfax,” “Gentlemen”), 1996’s ‘Black Love’ (“My Enemy”) and a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes.” For set closer and all around favorite “Miles Iz Ded,” frontman Greg Dulli was a perfect Lollapalooza snapshot: belting it out in his spot-on tenor, sunglasses off, eyes closed, with sweat pouring down his face.

Lines for water were several-dozen people deep, fans were crammed under every inch of shade, and the audience was starting to feel the heat by the time the Shins took the stage at 6:15 p.m. That didn’t stop the crowd from singing along with James Mercer and co., however, as they rocked their way through a catalog of hits. During “Phantom Limb,” everyone raised their hands in unison, creating a ripple effects as thousands of arms moved back and forth to the beat.

While Zedd has a forward-thinking track with his debut single “Spectrum” featuring Matthew Koma, his afternoon DJ set on Perry’s stage was hardly as groundbreaking. The German producer stuck to a playlist of songs any mainstream music fan would know, including current hits like David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium,” classics like Daft Pun’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” and remixes of more dated singles like “Coming Home” by Diddy - Dirty Money. Minus the tons of beat dropping, it hardly sounded like the producer (who is currently working with Lady Gaga) was bringing anything new to the table. Fellow rising EDM star Madeon, who played 15 minutes after Zedd at the same stage, offered a much fresher perspective with newer sounds and unexpected song inclusions like “Standing In The Way Of Control” by Gossip.

It was a family affair for Haley Reinhart ’s early show on the BMI stage. Not only were her sister and mother on back-up vocals, but towards the end of the set, her father joined in on guitar. The former “American Idol” contestant, who is from Chicago suburb Wheeling, played tunes from her debut album, including the first single “Free,” and as well as a track she revealed hope would be a single, “Oh My!” which features fellow Lollapalooza performer B.o.B. (who sadly did not appear).

Although they were the easiest to spot, Sharon and Kelly Osbourne weren’t the only celebs spotted wandering around the festival. “True Blood’s” Joe Manganiello was seen walking the park in a black tank top and shades and he tweeted about some of his favorite sets: M83, Black Sabbath and Die Antwoord. Alison Brie of “Community” is also in town for the show, and chances are she’ll be in the audience Sunday night for the set by Childish Gambino — a.k.a. her “Community” co-star Donald Glover.

Is Dev more recognizable by beats than her voice? At one point on her show at the BMI stage, the singer/rapper, who works frequently with production team The Cataracs, began singing lines to their No. 1 hit “Like A G6” with Far East Movement. Yet the crowd didn’t react until the slinky production kicked in which then encited screams from the audience. The bleached blonde singer seemed unfazed as she sprayed the crowd with her boxed water and proclaimed “I love you motherfuckers!”

After Grant Park shut down at 11 p.m., the music kept going in clubs all over Chicago as many artists drew fans to aftershows all over the city. The hottest ticket in town was Frank Ocean , who previewed his Saturday night set with a gig at Metro in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, an 1,100-capacity venue that was noticeably more intimate than the bigger venues he recently played in Los Angeles and New York. While the setlist mostly stuck to the same format as his recent shows, the rapturous crowd made highlights out of the opening Sade cover of “By Your Side,” a triumphant sing-along to “Thinkin’ Bout You” (“We bout to start a mothafuckin’ mass choir up in here,” he told the crowd) and a veritable hymn out of “Bad Religion,” which was received with roars of approval that lasted well over a minute. Ever-cognizant of his official Lolla set the next night (and his final U.S. tour appearance before making the festival circuit in Europe this month), Ocean skipped an encore - much to the dismay of fans who faithfully chanted “one more song!” until the house music played.


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