Lollapalooza day one review: Nine Inch Nails drive their point home

Trent Reznor's eagerly awaited return to the American stage dominated the first day of the Chicago music festival

Despite the looming suggestion of an epic storm, a robust bout of Friday morning rain has made itself scarce in time for the lunchtime start of the first day of Lollapalooza. Seeing as I'm wearing woefully impractical sandals, I'm overjoyed, but today's comeback king – Trent Reznor, the muscle-bound bench-pressing champ of synth-driven sleazecore – probably wouldn't have minded a sultry electrical storm fizzling away during Nine Inch Nails' first North American set in almost four years.

Though Nine Inch Nails are up against The Killers and Lana Del Rey, it's not surprising that the more mature festival-goers make up Nine Inch Nails' doggedly enthusiastic audience. Trent Reznor, now 48, evidently hasn't spent his time since his most famous act's last album sitting on his laurels. He's been flexing them instead, proudly keeping up that sleeveless tank top and bulging biceps combo. A smattering of new songs, aired last weekend at Fuji Rock and Ansan Valley Rock festivals, are played, but the crowd are really here to be blasted with strobes, swamped in dry ice and engage in an unsettling sing-alongs with the 1994 track Closer. A rather explicit deckchair lapdance also takes place during the song, on a bit of swampy grass to my left. So if you've ever wondered what gets the mild Midwest's pulses racing, it's thudding industrial alt.rock with well placed swearing and nods towards bestiality.

The day starts with the Swedish duo Icona Pop, who bring mass euphoria to hundreds of teenage girls, pogoing into the Thelma & Louise-ish best-mates anthem Girlfriend. Thematically, it's the kind of PC pop that puts its daughter in a blue babygrow and gives its son a Barbie to play with, but why it took 11 people to write it we're not quite sure. However, lets not question such chart-tickling genius, even if it does need a crew the size of a football team to create it.

The young crowd are also enchanted by Father John Misty, a Zevon-via-Zappa showman who wriggles about on stage laying forth the Kenny Rogers stomp of Writing A Novel alongside various other country-fried LA stories. After sardonically smooching a toy unicorn plucked from the crowd, he mocks the festival's Platinum Pass system and its multifarious VIP benefits. "You get to dry hump Lana Del Rey," he suggests, dryly. "I'm really looking forward to you guys eating sushi off me later."

In theory, Crystal Castles are the kind of band you should only ever see late at night, or at the very least in a dark and preferably padded room. However, despite contending with an open-air afternoon set, Alice Glass's purposeful sampler pummeling – which she does with a ciggie on the go and a look on her face that suggests she might have seen war – is captivating. The idea of hiding pop melodies under electro violence has come on in leaps and bounds since Glass and Ethan Kath took the concept overground five years ago with their debut album, but there's something to be said for them being unsurpassable when it comes to screeching over brutal beats.

Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age performs
Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age gives it some desert-dwelling matador. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

In the most unlikely coupling of the day, hard-drinking, tough-living rock beasts Queens of the Stone Age take to the Bud Light stage. It's a ferocious return to Stateside festival stages for the band. Even the piano-led The Vampyre of Time and Memory is rampant, while If I Had A Tail lets Josh Homme – in desert-dwelling matador black and red – indulge his passion for murky funk. The only time the foot comes slightly off the throttle is for the lascivious Make It Wit Chu. Meanwhile, local lad Chance The Rapper does his best to be heard by all of the sprawling audience at the tiny, tree-sheltered BMI stage. He is way more popular than the promoters evidently though he was going to be and try as we might, we just can't get close enough to hear hip-hop's next big thing properly.

No doubt he'll be playing stages three times as big next summer – but hopefully we won't have to wait that long to have another go.


Leonie Cooper

The GuardianTramp

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