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Lollapalooza Day 2 brings Green Day, AFI, and Social Distortion: 'Wait, what year is this?'

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Image Credit: Gary Miller/Getty ImagesIn its second day, Lollapalooza, Chicago’s giant music fest, finally revved into high gear, with concerts by Spoon, Phoenix, and Slightly Stoopid. But it was three aging punk-rock acts that ended up stealing the spotlight—AFI, Social Distortion and, of course, Green Day. These big three called to mind Lollapalooza’s early days, starting as a relatively small alt-rock festival in the early ’90s, before ballooning into the massive multi-day, multi-stage event that has now completely taken over Chicago’s sprawling Grant Park. These were yesterday’s three defining acts, and oddly enough, their sets shared a number of similar traits—shameless pandering to the crowd, some self-indulgent nostalgia, overt political content, showy production values, and some transcendentally amazing moments.

AFI

The Band Also Known as A Fire Inside kicked off the retro-punk festivities with an hour-long performance of their classic mid-’90s hits and a bunch of tracks off their most recent album, Crash Love. Watching them perform their more recent songs, like new single “Medicate,” it’s fascinating to see how far they’ve come from their garage-band beginnings; they’ve now fully immersed themselves in the glam-y “horror punk” aesthetic. Wiry frontman Davey Havok, dressed in black slacks and an untucked white Polo shirt, didn’t play an instrument, instead prancing around, pirouetting, and twirling the mic stand like a baton. The guy can rock. There’s a kinetic pleasure just watching AFI perform.

Shameless Pandering: Havok uttered the standard “This crowd is awesome!” and “Chicago is the best.”

Preachy Politics: Havok’s ever androgynous image follows a long tradition of gender-bending glam rockers but still carries a potent critique of our rigid ideas of gender identity.

Highlight: “Medicate,” the first single off Crash Love.

Social Distortion

The Mike Ness-fronted band is the model for how a punk act can age gracefully. Playing against a background of eclectic props (including a traffic light and a neon crucifix, which could be a rock-art installation in the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art), Social Distortion played hits from all 30 plus years of their career. The sad truth is that their ’80s material is vastly superior to their more recent output. Little that they’ve recorded since 1990’s anthem “Ball and Chain” matches their work then in its emotional intensity.

Shameless Pandering: Frontman Ness talked at length between each song, which broke up the momentum of the concert. Apparently, each number needed to be placed within a specific historical context, which prompted…

Self-indulgent Nostalgia: Ness proclaimed that when they recorded their first record in 1983 (after several years of performing as a band), it was a time “when it was dangerous to be a punk rocker roaming the streets.” This led to…

Preachy Politics: “Don’t Drag Me Down (Motherf—er)” is billed by Ness as “A happy little song about ignorance and racism in America.” He also proclaimed his love for hero Johnny Cash, who he believes was among the first to successfully bridge “white music and black music,” adding “there wouldn’t be any good white music without black music.” As random a comment as that may be coming from a punk rocker, this did lead to the set’s…

Highlight: Social Distortion’s performance of their almost definitive 1989 cover of Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

Green Day

How is it exactly that Green Day’s rock reputation hasn’t suffered because of their Broadway jukebox musical American Idiot? For me they had certainly diminished. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still list that guitar solo finale to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” as one of the great aural pleasures of the past decade, but to have their music become a tourist-trap commodity is an almost unforgivable sin. And “21 Guns,” that wishy-washy call for world peace, seemed like a shadow of the rebellious energy the band formerly possessed. But last night, performing hit after hit for two hours and 30 minutes with no discernable loss of energy, passion, or commitment, I discovered my respect for Green Day all over again. Basically a greatest hits concert, their show demonstrated yet again what a huge place these California punks have occupied in America’s sonic landscape over the past 20 years, and it easily became the stand-out act of Lollapalooza thus far. Still they weren’t above…

Shameless Pandering: Make that extremely shameless pandering. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong showered even more devotion on his fans than Lady Gaga did hers the previous night. He called upon the audience to sing the lyrics to his songs, brought well over a dozen people on stage (including one pretty amazing teen who kissed Billie Joe on the lips and sang along with the band for a good five minutes), shot T-shirts from a cannon into the crowd, and, of course, declared Chicago to be “better than New York.” It didn’t end there, though. The band launched into an ear candy medley of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” the Rolling Stones “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and the Beatles “Hey Jude” that compelled the sardine-packed crowd to jump in place, since room to dance was out of the question. Finally, every other way to engage the crowd being exhausted, Billie Joe turned, pulled down his pants, and mooned us.

Self-Indulgent Nostalgia: Billie Joe thanked the audience for coming out, then said, “And after us, be sure to stick around for Smashing Pumpkins….Wait. What year is this?”

Preachy Politics: The political slant of “American Idiot” and “21 Guns” is pretty obvious, but early in the concert the band had projected onto a screen a series of provocative (and funny) anti-war slogans like “America is not @ war. The Marines are @ war. America is @ McDonald’s.”

Highlight: The retro-rific “King for a Day,” which features a Del-Vikings one-two drumbeat and sax interlude–and drummer Tré Cool sporting a red bra.

Well, that does it for Day 2. What were some of your favorite acts, Music Mixers? And what are you looking forward to today, as Lollapalooza 2010 comes to a close?

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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