Here's what I learned about Lollapalooza yesterday: It's huge. Grant Park is such a massive setting that it's hard to get from one side to the other in any expedient fashion. And the bands are of such a quality that you find yourself wanting to rush from end to end and witness as much as possible on the 7 stages spread around the park. Or you can stay put, miss almost everything and sit through a mediocre Bloc Party set to stake out a better spot for Radiohead. I went with the first option Friday, hopping from stage to stage and listening to three or four songs by each band I encountered. After a slight delay trying to track down a ticket for a friend of mine on the streets of Chicago, I launched into the festival's first day around 2 p.m.

EDIT: Photos are now live!

Here's what I learned about Lollapalooza yesterday: It's huge. Grant Park is such a massive setting that it's hard to get from one side to the other in any expedient fashion. And the bands are of such a quality that you find yourself wanting to rush from end to end and witness as much as possible on the 7 stages spread around the park. Or you can stay put, miss almost everything and sit through a mediocre Bloc Party set to stake out a better spot for Radiohead. I went with the first option Friday, hopping from stage to stage and listening to three or four songs by each band I encountered. After a slight delay trying to track down a ticket for a friend of mine on the streets of Chicago, I launched into the festival's first day around 2 p.m.

EDIT: Photos are now live!

Yeasayer

First up was Yeasayer. The Brooklyn-based Genesis freaks were one of indie rock's breakout bands last year, but their set at South by Southwest came off as lifeless to me, possibly because the band was suffering fatigue; SXSW can become a performance marathon for buzz bands. Here they were much more vibrant, much more together and much more captivating. Their swaying grooves and chanted refrains were a fine way to start the day. They still managed to annoy me when the singer busted out of my all-time hipster pet peeves. He commented on how hot it was in his jacket, then when the crowd and his bandmates pleaded take it off, he responded, "No way." Despite this douchery, I would have stuck around for the full set had I not wanted to explore a bit.

As I wandered toward the other side of the park and found something to eat, British bands The Enemy and Electric Touch banged out standard-issue rock 'n' roll and Britpop, respectively. One thing festivals bring clearly into focus is the need to stand out. Making unoriginal music is a double-edged sword it's more readily accessible, but it's also more forgettable. Unless you're writing mindblowing tunes in a classic style (or you have Jack White in your band), developing a unique sound seems like a better way to go to.

Duffy

Duffy, the year's top-selling British artist, was up next. She too fell into the unimaginative retro camp. Petite, blonde and wearing a dress that screamed "Look how classic I am!" the Welsh songstress, who has been hailed as Amy Winehouse without the drugs, belted out a series of white soul cuts. Her voice was a smidgen harsh and trebley, and the songs were a little too smooth jazz for my tastes. Similarly, the gal's Heidi Klum-like stage persona was passable but not magnetic enough to call star power. This was music for people who buy albums exclusively at Starbucks. Next.

I ventured back to the other side of the park, where The Kills were wrapping up their set. The duo rocks a curious setup one female singer, one male guitarist and some piped-it backing tracks. It sounds like it would make for a weak show, but I walked up during their finale and found myself wishing I had watched these two instead of Duffy. They were rocking and dancing and oozing with sleazy charisma, to the extent that had I been there I imagine I would have been sucked in far enough to forget how odd their setup was, or at least revel in it. Some other time, I suppose.

Gogol Bordello

What followed was indisputably the best set of the day. Is Gogol Bordello relentlessly shticky? Yes. Does that mean they aren't a competitor for best live band in the world? Hell no! Eugene Hutz was a firecracker from the first moment to the last, dancing and jumping and stripping and waving his arms in the sky, all while wearing the biggest grin I've seen in months. His band's gypsy punk, a hard-charging brand of Eastern European party music via Brooklyn, might seem like a gimmick, but it's a damn good gimmick. Accordion, violin and all the usual rock tools of the trade provide a marvelous foundation for the bizarre party that breaks out on stage with Hutz as ringleader. The strangest and most awesome part was when two scantily-clad ladies emerged to scream at the top of their lungs over the music while Hutz grinded on one of them. I don't know how anyone could experience this and not come out a convert. In fact, here's two more photos just because.

Mates of State followed this, but no one could really follow it. Another Brooklyn act, this cutesy husband-wife duo has been a sentimental hipster favorite for most of this decade. They mean something to a lot of people, but they've never meant much to me, and yesterday's well-received set didn't do much to change that. But the pair did begin to win me over when they busted out a song so epic that it caused them to lay down their usual drums and keyboards and break into a string duet. I'm not going to go out and buy their records or anything, but I have a new respect for Mates of State.

Grizzly Bear

A runner-up for the Friday crown was Grizzly Bear, for reasons completely different than Gogol Bordello. Whereas Gogol captured so much unhinged energy that it couldn't be limited within the confines of rock, Grizzly Bear's route to transcendence was purposeful and methodic. Yet another Brooklyn-based band, these guys have been described elsewhere as "The Beach Boys on painkillers," which seems like a pretty good fit. After a peppy little keyboard-led opening number, the quartet grabbed their guitars and created a swooning world of foggy windows and four-part harmonies. "I've never heard four-part harmonies pulled off so tastefully," my buddy remarked, and indeed, the only time I can remember such harmonies executed so skillfully was by barbershop quartets, who make music far less tasteful than Grizzly Bear.

Jack White looking confused. "Why do I waste my time with this band?"

The Raconteurs are another one of those bands that I don't quite get. It's good, solid classic rock for sure, but I don't think I would pay it any mind if the band didn't have Jack White in it. After three songs, I was more than ready to bounce. What am I missing here? Obviously this many people liked it:

As previously mentioned, Bloc Party benefited from playing right before Radiohead. It's too bad a more deserving act couldn't have enjoyed this privilege. By the time I got to the south side of the park, the Londoners were smartly sticking to songs from their rock-solid debut Silent Alarm and eschewing their horribly sleepy new stuff. But just like at last year's SXSW, Bloc Party was utterly sloppy in their execution. A song like "Helicopter" requires precision, and there was nothing precise about this performance.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks

While Bloc Party tore down and Radiohead set up, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks performed to a small but devoted audience and the back of many Radiohead fans' heads. It's a shame more people weren't paying attention because the former Pavement frontman, now featuring Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss in his band, gave a clinic on how to pull off jam music without sounding like a wanker. Performing Jicks tracks new and old, the group struck that balance that Malkmus does best, where even wrong notes sound like the right note. And while his shambling tunes allow for a little bit of sloppiness, he was more on-point than Bloc Party by far.

The evening finished out with the weekend's most anticipated set courtesy of Radiohead. I'll have many thoughts on this soon, but for now I have to get to Grant Park for Day 2.