Published Aug 06, 2008We applauded ourselves when it was over. Tens of thousands of concertgoers spilled out onto Chicagos downtown streets. Sighs of joy paired with exhaustion before the sound of thousands of hands clapping strut down Michigan Ave. Our cheers rose up to scale the skyscrapers. Multiple encores ensued. The next day a headline in the Chicago Sun-Times read "Biggest 'Looza. Its placement next to a photo of Gnarls Barkley's Cee-Lo Green hinted at weight loss, but the 225,000 tickets sold told the real story.
The child in me eagerly awaited the Go! Teams set, but I missed most of it. Their tunes were fun, but tumbled from the Bud Light stage in one big mess. Duffy did okay. Her looks may sell but her soul (and stage presence) needs schooling from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, who on Saturday sold a smaller crowd a sweeter deal. Sweat poured from the Black Keys, but the duo mistakenly turned their back on 2008s Attack and Release. A no-nonsense Bloc Party leaned on hit-heavy Silent Alarm, pleasing the masses with the high-strung tunes. This after trotting out the best of their sophomore album and new song "Mercury. Calm swept over the crowd as Radiohead kicked things off with "15 Step. Having never seen them before I was stunned. Having never seen them alongside 75,000 fans seared in my head an unforgettable adventure. A Matrix-like light show hung above their heads and video screens put us face-to-face. Their songs, chief among them "Paranoid Android, "Videotape, "Reckoner, and "All I Need, tugged righteously at the brain and the body. Noise bleeding from the Citi stage hurt MGMT's set and when "turn it up chants went unanswered, I folded my arms. Only the sprawling psychedelia of "Electric Feel" and "Time To Pretend" their hits rattled me. Jamie Lidell's amazing backing band allowed the man to focus. His nerdy Al Green look amused and using only his own voice and a sampler to make a song is still a sweet gimmick. We left early to support our fellow Canadians in Broken Social Scene, who seemed lonely without Emily Haines or Feist and a bevy of instrumentalists. That left an unusually sparse stage, though Amy Milan emerged for a superb rendition of "7/4 (Shoreline)". At days' end, a choice needed to be made. Rage Against The Machine or Wilco? Rage, the band and the emotion, won out. This delighted Wilco fans, who sprawled out with space to spare. No such luck at the opposite end of Grant Park, where "Testify ignited a furour. Moments later Zach de la Rocha demanded we chill out and step back. It seemed funny at first, but berserk fans were endangering people near the stage. So we shrugged and did what he told us. Tom Morello's sinister shredding and de la Rocha's barbed-wire tongue cranked up the aggression level as well as expected. "Killing In The Name Of sent us home with a target for our hate, a reminder that evil still lurks behind noble icons.
Feathers were handed out before Saul Williams' high-energy set. Lyric sheets may have been better, as the show was more spectacle than spectacular. Aborting Gnarls Barkley's set after several songs proved the right choice as Girl Talk's mash-ups inspired flailing limbs, man-made ice storms, and all-around revelry. Mark Ronson shared the spotlight with lesser-knowns, and suffered. Organizers asked us to make another character-defining choice on the final night. Nine Inch Nails or Kanye West? Tucking away my apprehension, we opted for the hometown boy. West tamed his ego and light show, and earned redemption after a summer of festival missteps. The hits and highlights were plentiful, including a tweaked "Get Em High" and "Diamonds from Sierra Leone, during which hands formed the Rocafella sign and video screens showed Chicago's diamond-shaped Smurfit-Stone building. Genius. A cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and an auto-tuned verse from Young Jeezy's "Put On" stood especially tall, with a full band bulking up his already muscular productions. I expected a tantrum. What I saw was progress.