M.I.A., Amy Winehouse, and other highlights from this year's alternative music fest

By Leah Greenblatt
August 10, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Midwest, represent! Over three alternately sweltering and rainy August days and nights, 167,000-plus fans gathered in Chicago’s historic Grant Park to see more than 130 bands. Us? We loved nearly every minute of it. Below, a festival CliffsNotes for those who missed it.

BEST BREAKOUTS Florida rockers Against Me! ruled Friday’s midday crowd with sing-along anthems. The next day, Kentucky’s electric, Southern-fried punks Cage the Elephant stormed their tiny stage, flaunting obscenely tight jeans — and riffs to match.

BEST ELDER STATESMEN It doesn’t get any Vedder than this: Amid their trademark firebrand politicking, Pearl Jam closed out the weekend with a ”Rockin’ in the Free World” free-for-all, after pleasing the populus with their classics ”Alive,” ”Better Man,” and ”Why Go.”

BIGGEST BUMMERS Eccentric folkie Regina Spektor, always a pleasure, was drowned out by her (awesome) stage neighbor, psych icon Roky Erickson. Swedish favorites Peter Bjorn and John blew an amp after three songs, while M.I.A. stopped an incendiary set cold to chastise her stumbling DJ. Speaking of MIA, disco-fuzz outfit CSS, who missed their Lolla-bound flight, were a no-show.

NICEST SURPRISES Brooklyn’s techno-clever LCD Soundsystem made ”More cowbell!” a rallying cry. Amy Winehouse sang like a Ronettes angel, danced, and even — holy hairdo! — smiled. Funk-punk collective !!! (pronounced chk chk chk) morphed from drum-circle kooks into genuine dance-rock superstars. And finally, the area dubbed Kidzapalooza was an intergenerational blast, with mohawk makeovers, tiny-guitar giveaways, and G-rated sets by Patti Smith, Ben Harper, and fest cofounder Perry Farrell.