One of the most marketable elements of any music festival is the nostalgia factor. With bands celebrating reunions, anniversaries, or comeback material, festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and last weekend’s Lollapalooza place well-worn, old school heavy hitters against current bestsellers. Despite some redundancy in the line-up, there’s comfort in the familiarity of the past, which is exactly what encore sing-a-longs to Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” drove home at Chicago’s annual music festival.
Having last played Lolla in 2008, a year before mastermind Trent Reznor played their final show before an “indefinite hiatus,” it was only fitting that Reznor & Co. would play their first American show in four years at the fest given the band’s lengthy history with Perry Farrell’s formerly traveling alt rock circus. They were part of the festival’s very first line-up in 1991 alongside Farrell’s band Jane’s Addiction and a diverse roster of artists including Ice T and the Violent Femmes. Twenty-two years after that preliminary tour, Lollapalooza is not only stationary now but larger than ever, having sold out for both three-day passes and single day tickets almost immediately.
Much like the festival itself, Nine Inch Nails proved how time has made them grow stronger by performing a 100-minute set packed with career-spanning classics juxtaposed with newer songs off the forthcoming Hesitation Marks that fit seamlessly into the set. With the video screens at the sides of the stage off and massive panels that would project shadows of the band Matrix-style visuals in the background throughout the show, Reznor walked on stage at the 8 p.m. start time with no theatrics, drama, or warning and jumped into a killer performance of new song “Copy of A.” Classics like “March of the Pigs” brought out massive mosh pits towards the front of the crowd that matched the level of intense vigor the band displayed on stage. With very few moments of subdued energy, the musicians went from song to song with the industrial resilience NIN is known for, Reznor never saying much more than “thank you” in between songs towards the end of their set.
Ending with “Hurt” as the single-song encore left a moment of satisfaction and thirst for more at a show filled with heart-warmingly happy and thankful fans. Prior to the show, many of the fans in my section were sharing how long they had waited to see Nine Inch Nails perform, set predictions, and how happy they were that their chance to see them perform classics like “Closer,” “Piggy,” and “Head Like a Hole” live hadn’t been erased forever. As the massive festival crowds calmed down from moshing in the mud after the rain from earlier in the day, the sound of thousands screaming out “what have I become?” just before the 10 p.m. curfew made the angsty hit more unifying than heartbreaking.
Sunday saw a similar muscle memory shared by the festival crowd when the quintessential purveyors of ’80s goth pop The Cure made their first appearance at Lollapalooza ever. Witnessed by an appropriate sea of dark eyeliner and black clothes, the forever glum and kooky Robert Smith stayed true to his ’80s form with messy red lips, messier guyliner, and the messiest hair in all of Grant Park. With his signature voice that sounds nearly as pure as it does on their early singles, the band spit out their most culturally pervasive hits and love songs, like “Pictures of You,” “Just Like Heaven,” “Friday I’m in Love,” and, of course, the well-covered “Lovesong” within the first half of their two hours on stage.
Sans the moshing in Friday’s NIN audience, it was a set nearly dedicated to and most definitely made for singing along with the crowd shouting “show me, show me, show me how you do that trick” back at Robert Smith as if they were all simultaneously participating in a national karaoke competition. The active concertgoers also kept moving and dancing too until the very end when the opening chords of one of the band’s earliest gems “Boys Don’t Cry” ended the set as beautifully as it began their career.
These two headliners sandwiched a meaty weekend of fantastic performances that included a strong presence by female artists who will hopefully move up to more prominent set times and larger stages next year. Lana Del Rey held Friday’s headlining spot against the Killers, Steve Aoki, and Nine Inch Nails, and judging by the number of floral crowns making their rounds around the park all day, she had a pretty good turnout. Cat Power played the same stage Lana had on Sunday (and Azealia Banks would have on Saturday had she not canceled due to a throat infection).
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Saturday’s set from the Postal Service delivered the same nostalgia factor against the current top sellers of mainstream rock Mumford & Sons as they did their final celebration of their debut album Give Up‘s ten year anniversary and reissue and played what they say is their very last gig during their headlining set. As this year’s festival season comes to a close, Lollapalooza presented one final nod back to the past only made so much sweeter by each day’s well-cultivated showcase of what’s happening now across many musical genres.