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CHICAGO — Welcome to Lollapalooza 2007, a far cry from the alt-rock fest’s gritty Nineties heyday. As the 167,000 who descended upon the Windy City’s Grant Park last weekend for the three-day event can attest, the 130-plus acts — which included Daft Punk, Ben Harper, Amy Winehouse, Patti Smith, Iggy and the Stooges, Muse, My Morning Jacket and Interpol — were all about the music and, despite an air of stylistic insouciance, image, onstage and off.
And though former grunge-rock poster children Pearl Jam closed the show, make no mistake: Lollapalooza has grown up. Not only is the crowd — PYTs in summer dresses; hipster girls and guys in skinny jeans, tanks, porkpie hats and those ubiquitous Ray-Ban Wayfarers — more fashionable, but the festival now runs like a slick, well-oiled, high-tech machine. Extras include a wireless laptop lounge, a local-artist gallery and a big eco aspect. And since many of Lolla’s original fans are now parents, there’s also Kidzapalooza, a children’s stage that features a punk-rock salon, break-dance floor and some of the biggest acts of the festival — Harper, Smith and Perry Farrell among them.
Despite upping its style quotient, Lollapalooza doesn’t have the Hollywood contingent of other music festivals such as Coachella. In fact, seemingly the sole blonde starlet on hand, Ashlee Simpson, was there on the arm of her musician boyfriend, Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, who, incidentally, was not on the scheduled lineup.
The festival owes a lot to Farrell, the former Jane’s Addiction front man who founded Lollapalooza in 1991 and is still behind its organization. He estimates it cost $250,000 to make the festival green, outfitting it with an abundance of recycling bins (though regular garbage cans were in short supply) and biodegradable cups for beer and wine. But he considered it worth every penny. “I have no issues,” said Farrell pre-show in his trailer — done up like home with a white picket fence and sandbox for his two young sons. “I’m proud.”
Given Farrell’s style history, it should come as no surprise that fashion still ranks right up there with his family and eco and tech concerns. He claims to love clothes “almost to a fault.” On his fashion agenda that night: introducing a new color (turquoise!) into the silver-and-white scheme his latest band, Satellite Party, has been wearing on tour. “I’ve been trying on swag all morning,” he admitted. The result: a Monarchy cotton dress, which he cut into a tank; white and silver tuxedo pants, and a sequined silver scarf. “It’s a presentation,” he says. “There’s one comment I can make on young groups: They need to focus more on their presentation. We all come out and we want to see something special.” As far as his own image is concerned, Farrell was clearly out to entertain, making innumerable costume changes throughout the weekend and even mocking paparazzi shots for this story.
Despite Farrell’s remarks, however, it was clear that most acts here had deliberated over their appearance, with stage getups that ranged from covered-up to peep-show. Even in Friday’s stifling 95-degree heat, the 23 members of the symphonic rock collective The Polyphonic Spree, for instance, switched off between black military-medic-esque uniforms and white choir robes. “You’re going to sweat no matter what,” said choir girl Kelly Repka, who prefers the group’s maximum-coverage ensembles even in such steamy conditions.
Later in the afternoon, Maya Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., gave an energetic performance that left her hoarse and bruised after climbing up the stage gates. Her purple sequined short-shorts, silver Chuck Taylor high-tops and purple-and-gold shirt inspired by Indian body paneling screamed look-at-me, though she admitted that her recent visa troubles (she’s Sri Lankan by way of Britain) far outweighed her wardrobe issues. “I’m just excited to be here and haven’t had time to knuckle down and get s–t made,” she noted. Still, there’s no end to the power of DIY: “These are all sorts of bits of material we found in India,” she says of her sparkling ensemble that channeled an “islandy-Third World” theme to match her politically charged music. And while shopping Chicago’s Magnificent Mile post-show was tempting, she said Daft Punk’s Friday-night headliner was even more so. “It’s going to be the high-high-highlight for me,” said the artist.
M.I.A. wasn’t the only one looking forward to seeing Daft Punk — the sound of the French DJ duo’s first electro beat cleared the VIP lounge. Perched atop a laser-lit pyramid, Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo held court in their signature all-encompassing futuristic, full-helmet robot gear. Despite the fact that sans-mask footage recently leaked on YouTube, their faceless mystique continues. Back in the lounge, Brit “It” model Agyness Deyn, who was spotted periodically loading up on the free Larabars in the media area with DJ pal Jackson Pollis, was intrigued by Daft Punk’s anonymity. “It’s wicked,” said Deyn, who on that night was wearing a porkpie hat and polkadot baby-doll dress. “We heard that even backstage, their room is completely empty and they come in helmets and Dior suits. No one knows who they are.”
As it turned out, Chicago-bred Kid Sister (see sidebar, page 9) had caught a glimpse of at least one Daft Punk member. “My boyfriend’s from Montreal, so he’s all Frenchy-Frenchy and in the same scene as them,” she said. “I’ve only seen one of them, but he’s like a really normal white guy. Dorky, but a cute dork, not a bad dork. You know there’s a difference, right?”
While Daft Punk remained covered up, others bordered on the overexposed. Brooklyn songstress Lady GaGa, who performs in risqué lingerie only, actually received a citation for indecent exposure while walking the grounds in her skivvies. Meanwhile, Arckid’s Christian Langdon emerged from the Adidas gift-giving trailer Saturday afternoon in a red Adidas V-neck to match his super-skinny jeans complete with a busted fly. Fortunately, a nearby stylist swiftly accessorized the area with a bunch of safety pins. “There,” she said. “Now it’s a rock ‘n’ roll zipper.”
Over in the media tent, accoutrements of a different sort were up for discussion. “It’s the new social accessory,” said Interpol’s Carlos D of his miniature Italian greyhound, Gaius, who was playing with Smith’s dog, Mick. And Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino faced his own fashion issues when his wardrobe trunk went missing. But by the time the band headlined Saturday night, the problem was solved: All four members appeared in their standard black suits.
The always theatrical Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs kicked and lunged her way through their Saturday night set in a tinseled, black-and-white graphic Christian Joy cape that, once dramatically dropped, revealed a vinyl and feathered leotard and bondage-style tights.
On Sunday afternoon, Amy Winehouse shimmied on stage in a gingham frock paired with pounds of her signature Tracy Turnblad tresses, while the auburn-haired female contingent of Chicago psychedelic pop group The 1900s went the easy-breezy route in high-waisted jeans and lightweight summer dresses. “I’m a nurse,” said singer Caroline Donovan, in a flowered white dress cinched with a scarf belt. “So the white dress is fitting.”
Of course, some others couldn’t care less about their stage appearance. “Some of these people just look like they’re trying too hard. They’re wearing almost costumes,” said a jeans-and-T-shirt-clad Gary Jarman of The Cribs, his gaze set on The High Class Elite’s backup vocalists, decked out in matching gold sequined tank dresses. “We’re a punk-rock band. Gimmicks aren’t really our thing.”