So you’ve decided to attend Lollapalooza 2018. Congratulations! You have made a smart investment in your musical future. At four days and 170+ artists however, there’s a whole lot to digest. You can’t see and do everything no matter how hard you try, so choices need to be made. Some choices are easier than others, but if you’re looking for a bit of guidance, allow me to play Pied Piper and point you in the direction of some bands and artists to see over the course of the weekend. Part of the goal here is to point out some lesser known or up-and-coming artists you might not be familiar with yet, but who are worth the effort to try and see (even if they perform early in the day). There are a few veterans sprinkled in for good measure as well, but no headliners because you can presumably figure those out on your own. Five recommendations per day with minimal time conflicts between them, so if you hustle around Grant Park here are 20 performances that will turn your festival experience from good to great. Join me after the jump and we’ll get started!
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In my 13 years of attending Lollapalooza, I’ve had a number of people ask me why I go when “it’s so terrible.” While calling the festival “terrible” is absolutely a matter of opinion, it’s one that’s held by a wide range of people. To most, the idea of spending multiple days in the vast wasteland of Grant Park with 100,000 (per day) of your closest friends is nearly the equivalent of torture. It’s hot and sweaty with lines everywhere and access is tiered by how much money you’re willing to pay and nothing sounds great in the park and a whole host of other complaints. I’ve heard them all, and none of them have deterred me from continuing to go year after year. I understand too, and those grievances are not entirely unjustified. But in my view those issues are also a bit short-sighted.
Lollapalooza may be, as Jim DeRogatis puts it, the music equivalent of “Walmart on the lake,” but I’d argue that the damage it causes every summer is pretty much worth it if you’re going for the right reasons. Specifically I’m talking about the music. If you LOVE live music, Grant Park is not the ideal venue to see it in. Neither is a space where tens of thousands of people (many drunk or on drugs) are all crammed together trying to find the best sight lines. Some are even content to simply talk the entire time and ignore what’s taking place on stage. But where else are you going to have the chance to see 170+ artists over a four day period at a cost that falls somewhere around $350? Economically speaking, you won’t find a better deal than that. Were you to choose 10 artists each day that you’d be interested in seeing perform live and add up the costs of tickets to individual venue shows from each, the total price would be at least double. Hell, I spent nearly the cost of a full weekend Lolla ticket to see Paul McCartney this year, when his prior Chicago show was at Lollapalooza. Also, festivals can serve as a music discovery engine. You can easily wander from stage to stage and stop when you hear something good. I’ve found more than a few new artists at Lolla over the years by stumbling past during their sets.
My grand point is that if you’re there solely for the music, the atmosphere doesn’t matter nearly as much. Unfortunately, most Lolla attendees aren’t there for the music, or at least don’t make it a huge priority outside of a handful of bands they truly love. That’s part of the problem, and one the fest feeds into by creating plenty of distractions for those less musically inclined. Have some food! Wander into the merch store! Check out some tents devoted to various causes! Hang out in some hammocks or check out the wine bar! And new for 2017, strap on some roller skates or play an arcade game! Hey, if it keeps randos who don’t care about the music away from the stage, then more power to you. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself at Lolla if I wasn’t there to watch as many artists perform as possible.
Which finally brings me to Lollapalooza 2017, aka the year things got better but also worse. Let’s start with the good. They improved the restrooms considerably. Entire sections were devoted to urinals, while the traditional plastic port-o-potties were replaced with slightly nicer ones that actually had porcelain toilet bowls that flushed. For once, I didn’t dread using the restroom. At least not at first. Because we can’t have nice things, the very clean and very easily accessible restroom areas slowly descended into chaos as the weekend progressed, until finally on Sunday night I used a urinal that had “Fuck the Police” written in giant letters across it, while a large turd sat below – clearly the result of someone who didn’t have the time or foresight to wait in line to use an actual toilet. This is why we can’t have nice things. In a less disgusting change for the better, this year Lollapalooza also upgraded their video screens. These new gigantic HD displays surrounded the two biggest stages, and made viewing performances from a distance much, much easier. No complaints about those, and I hope they continue to invest in them for the future. Lastly, I’ll say nice things about the roller rink and arcade that were added this year, not because I skated or played any video games, but because I found them to be fun distractions that fit well with the overall aesthetic vibe of the festival.
On the negative side, I’ve only got one complaint, but it’s a major one. It seemed that this year Lollapalooza was struggling with lineup flop sweat. The festival celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016 and because they had “50% more artists than usual” requesting to perform, the decision was made to expand from three days to four. When it was announced organizers said it was a “one time only” thing, but they also weren’t about to turn down that extra money, so the change became permanent. And in all honesty, last year’s lineup wound up being pretty great – enough to justify the extra day. Not so much for 2017. Maybe it was how they scheduled it, but there were multiple periods this year where music lovers were left with artist choices that went from bad to worse. Obviously there are fan bases for SUICIDEBOYS and The Drums, but neither are exactly critically acclaimed nor particularly dynamic live performers. Yet they were on two of the main stages at the same time on Thursday. The same can be said for Vance Joy and Royal Blood on Saturday. Not meaning to be too insulting, but there’s very little original or novel about either artist. Sunday forced the choice of Milky Chance vs. London Grammar on you, and it was a little tough to get excited about either.
Call me a snob if you must, but just because an artist has some radio hits doesn’t automatically make them good or worth your time. To a degree, they make music for casual fans – those that don’t listen to much music in the first place, who automatically accept and embrace whatever band is pumping out of nearby speakers under the assumption that it must be good. If you can live your life that way, taking what’s being given to you without questioning, exploring and coming to your own decisions on what’s good, I feel a little sorry for you. There’s joy to be found in the fringes, but if a festival like Lollapalooza doesn’t give you those fringes then you can wind up trapped in a sea of mediocrity. Hence my criticism of their booking/scheduling for 2017. There were still plenty of great moments (that I’ll highlight in a minute), but fewer than usual with more duds and dead spots that almost make one want to take some time away from the stages and explore some of those aforementioned other options and activities happening in Grant Park. My advice, which organizers absolutely will not take, is to revert back to the three day format. With one less day for bookers to worry about, the quality vs. quantity will be more even-handed and they can ensure that music fans of all types can be satisfied better. It worked quite well for a decade before they added that fourth day, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t work in their favor again.
Lastly, I want to take note of some fantastic performances from Lollapalooza 2017. While I’m a little disappointed I didn’t stumble upon some incredible new artist this year as I often have in the past, there were still a few surprises that caught me off guard in a very good way.
White Reaper put on a better than good performance on Thursday, which was a wonderful way to kick off the festival.
But it was Cage the Elephant’s day, and arguably entire weekend, as their wildly unhinged set was so fun that it was just about all anybody could talk about. I still can’t stop thinking about it, and am under the firm belief they’ll be headlining Lollapalooza sooner rather than later.
As for headliners, while we only got 3 songs from Muse, they managed to make the most of it as everyone went completely nuts in the pouring rain to massive jams like “Psycho” and “Hysteria”. Had they been able to continue their performance in the rain, it likely would have gone down as one of the greatest in Lolla history.
I remain firm in my conviction that The Lemon Twigs are a band to watch, and they delivered yet again on Friday with another stunning set that hopefully won them many new fans.
Then there’s the always reliable Run the Jewels, who continue to assert their dominance with every performance. While they didn’t bring any special guests with them, they did pull some random guy up from the crowd with a sign asking if he could rap “Legend Has It”. The whole thing was a blast, really.
Saturday saw a very accomplished set from Highly Suspect, a band that on record might seem like your typical alt-rock fare these days but who are secretly hiding guitar skills so impressive that even some of the greats would probably approve.
And I have to compliment Mac DeMarco for a typically bizarre and hilarious set that ended with a couple of covers for which he didn’t know the lyrics (Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” and The Champs’ “Tequila”), and the obtuse noise pollution that is “Chamber of Reflection”.
Overall though, it felt like Lollapalooza saved the best for last, since Sunday was packed with remarkable performances. Lo Moon managed to impress and give me chills with their ambitious and ambient epics.
Joseph seemed to be having a blast as their incredible vocal harmonies sounded even better in person and gave life to tired bodies.
Car Seat Headrest continues to evolve as a live band, often switching things up on the recorded versions of tracks to take them down interesting detours.
The Shins have also grown significantly since I last saw them a few years back, seeming more at home in their own skins, having fun and running through a set list that includes almost all of their best songs.
Finally, Arcade Fire put a nice little bow on the entire four days with a strong performance and set list that pulled from across their entire catalog. Let’s just say they were wise to minimize the number of songs played from their unfocused new album Everything Now.
So that about wraps up my thoughts on Lollapalooza 2017. It was a pretty good time this year, as it is just about every year, even when the music wasn’t quite up to par. Let’s hope they literally get their acts together and do a better job with booking for 2018, tough as that has to be in the current 4-day structure. At least everything else ran smoothly and resulted in few to no inconveniences for those who knew what they were doing. Will I be back again next year? Probably, out of tradition mostly, but it’s my sincere hope that maybe one of these days they’ll finally manage to assemble one of the greatest festivals of all time.
So you’re headed to Lollapalooza. Whether it’s your first time or your thirteenth (points to self), spending four days in the heart of Grant Park is never easy, but if done properly, is always a ton of fun. And while there are plenty of activities to do and things to consume, the real reason you’re there is to see and hear some of your favorite bands and artists perform as well as maybe make some new discoveries. So in between waiting in line to get in and waiting in line to get a beer and waiting in line to use the restroom and waiting in line to get food, you could realistically catch a good 8-10 performances each day. The punishment on your body won’t be great, but the rewards will likely be worth it when all is said and done. Whether you’ve already planned out your Lolla weekend or are simply going to play it by ear, it helps to at least have an idea of some of the top artists for every hour of every day. This guide is here to help! After the jump is a roadmap to four days of festival fun that will hopefully ensure a quality experience with fewer challenges and scheduling conflicts.
But first! A couple of annual tips about how to manage your time at Lollapalooza, from somebody who hasn’t missed a single day since 2005. First and foremost – prepare for weather! Coat yourself in sunscreen and bug spray before even leaving the house. You’ll thank me later. Bring a poncho, because it’s probably gonna rain at some point. As I’m writing this, the forecast says rain on Thursday and Saturday, so you’ll want to stay dry as best as you can. Wear comfortable but disposable shoes. If it rains at all over the four days, Grant Park will turn into a mud-filled swamp, and your shoes may not survive, so don’t wear your new, flashy sneakers. Don’t pick flip flops or heels, either. You’ll likely be on your feet for several hours each day, and the last thing you’ll want is to feel like your feet are going to fall off. Speaking of which, don’t forget to rest every now and then! Get off your feet by finding a comfortable spot to sit in the grass or dirt. It can be near a stage so you don’t miss anything except maybe some sweaty bodies rubbing up against one another. Just be aware that if you stand the entire time and keep walking between stages, your body will take a huge beating and each subsequent day will be a greater struggle than the one before it. Tons of water helps too, so drink more of that than you’re comfortable with and use the park water stations to keep refilling containers for free. Lastly, a word about stage locations. The Grant Park, Lake Shore and Perry’s stages are all on one side of the park. The Bud Light, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, BMI and Pepsi stages are on the other side. It is about a 15 minute walk from one end of the park to the other. Make sure your daily strategy doesn’t involve too much back and forth otherwise you’ll get worn down fast. Similarly, if you want to see the start of a set taking place on the opposite side of the park, you’ll need to head out early to make it in time. With good planning and everything in moderation, you too can survive Lollapalooza weekend without taking a trip to the medical tent or at least feeling like death for days afterward. Now then, let’s get to that day-by-day artist guide!
This year, Lollapalooza celebrates its 25th anniversary as a music festival. It’s had some ups and downs, including a couple of years when it went away entirely, but since settling down in Chicago back in 2005 things have been smooth sailing. Things have expanded exponentially in the last decade alone, with more stages, more artists and now more days than ever before. Yes, for the first time ever (and in celebration of this milestone), we’ll have four full days of music and mayhem. If three days and 130 artists somehow wasn’t enough to make your head spin, four days and 170 artists practically crosses the line between enjoyment and punishment. I’ve nearly killed myself in the past attempting to cover every single day of this festival for the last 11 years, and in all honesty I’m quite concerned with how I’m going to survive year 12. Don’t overextend yourself, drink lots of water, and wear comfortable shoes are just a few pieces of advice I can offer and will be abiding by myself.
That said, with four days of music it gives you an even greater opportunity to enjoy some of your favorite bands and discover some great new ones. Instead of analyzing every artist on the lineup, or even taking an hour-by-hour look at the insane schedule, let’s try something a little more sensible and manageable for 2016. In honor of 25 years of Lollapalooza, I’m going to recommend 25 can’t-miss artists who will be performing at the festival this weekend. They’re broken down by day, and distributed evenly across the weekend with the exception of Sunday, which has one extra artist just to hit that magic number. The only downside in limiting this to recommending six (or seven) artists per day is that a few really cool acts inevitably get left out. If you’re going all four days it’ll be tough to catch everything worthwhile as it is. The way these picks are structured, there’s not a lot of time slot conflicts happening, so you could theoretically see just about all of these artists if you play your cards right.
Join me after the jump for the full list of 25, complete with multiple audio/video streams from each. Best of luck to you if you’ll be in Grant Park this weekend. I’ll see you on the battlefield. Follow my Twitter and Instagram feeds for live, on-the-ground reports all four days.
Are you prepared for three days of music madness right in the heart of downtown Chicago? Yeah, me neither. Every year Lollapalooza starts out so promising, the sense of excitement palpable in the air as you walk onto the grounds of Grant Park. But if you take this music festival seriously, and you should, then by Sunday night you’ll be about ready to collapse, practically wishing for the sweet embrace of death. It sounds terrible and in many ways it is at the time, but once you’ve had a couple days to recover only the fondest of memories will remain. You’ll have seen many of your favorite artists perform, and might have even been introduced to a few new ones along the way. You’ll have eaten some delicious food, sipped some delicious drinks, spent quality time with friends and maybe even made a new friend or two as well. There’s so much to be gained from the pain and punishment we put our bodies through at this festival, especially walking back and forth from one end of the park to the other. If you play it right so you’re not running all over the place, and you’re cool with sitting down and taking a breather a couple times each day, the experience actually becomes quite pleasant. So beyond tips to minimize walking, I’ll also say to wear plenty of sunscreen and drink plenty of water. That’s just a rule of thumb for life in general actually.
But what about the music? Sure, you know at least a handful of artists playing each day of the festival, but there’s likely to be times where either you’ll be clueless about who you should see or two (maybe even three) of your favorites are all on at once and choosing between them seems too difficult. Fear not, loyal reader! I’m here to help. After the jump you’ll find an advice guide recommending artists worth seeing every hour of every day, all weekend long. You’d have to be some sort of superhuman to see all of these sets, but if you’re smart and economical enough you can catch most of them and wind up having a spectacular time. So enough with the chit-chat, let’s dive right in. Brace yourselves, this is going to be a bumpy ride.
Here’s where the weekend finally caught up with me. After exiting Grant Park on Saturday night riding high thanks to an excellent set from Cut Copy, I jetted off to a Glen Hansard aftershow that would eventually become my downfall. See, the headlining set for most aftershows lasts 90 minutes or less, so attendees get out at a (somewhat) reasonable hour for another day of festival-going. Well, Hansard seemed to feel like he wanted to give the crowd a proper SHOW, and decided to play for a little more than 2.5 hours. That’s following an opening band, too. It was incredible but also took a more serious toll on my body than expected. Add in an early morning brunch that was previously scheduled, and suddenly I needed a nap just to ensure I’d make it through Sunday at Lolla. So I arrived on the grounds a couple of hours later than I had the previous two days, and missed a couple of artists it might have been nice to have seen. Alas, this is one of the problems with getting older – you can’t always do as much as you might like. Here’s a closer look at the music I saw on Sunday:
After a healthy 30 minute wait to get through bag check (which was a bit longer than Saturday but about equal to Friday), I made it through the gates to find that thanks to plenty of rain earlier in the day, Grant Park had once again become Mud City. Getting dirty wasn’t so much a choice as it was an occupational hazard, particularly if you wanted to get anywhere close to the stage to watch your favorite band perform. I had arrived in time to see the final 15 minutes of London Grammar‘s set, but noticed significant gaps in the crowd where the mud was just so thick nobody wanted to stand in it. That’s not something I wanted to embrace at the start of my day either, so I hung back a bit and enjoyed them from a distance. To my delight, the band was actually pretty fantastic. I think that singer Hannah Reid said at one point that the overcast skies and light drizzle felt just like home, as they are from the UK. And indeed, London Grammar seemed quite comfortable in their performance. My only gripe was that they ended a bit early, with about 20 minutes left to go in their time slot. Of course they’re a relatively new band and only have an album and EP under their belts, so it’s entirely possible they just ran out of material.
Speaking of artists running out of material, the hip hop pairing of El-P and Killer Mike, aka Run the Jewels, also wound up in that same situation. Of course because they’ve had lengthy solo careers they also know a thing or two about stretching for time. When they ended their set with about 15 minutes still left, they came back out and asked the crowd if they wanted to hear some new, unpremiered material from the forthcoming Run the Jewels 2 record. It was something they had “just recorded like five days ago,” and though they claim they probably wouldn’t remember the lyrics, seemed to get by just fine. Following that, they left the stage again, only to return due to chants of “one more song.” They were technically out of material, but did one of Killer Mike’s tracks on which El-P guested before Run the Jewels ever came into existence. As for the rest of their set, it was nothing short of stellar. They plowed through the only Run the Jewels record in masterful fashion, and though the crowd was a bit thin, just about everyone had a blast. Well, except for one person, who got into it with security. El-P stopped in the middle of a track to yell at security for roughing up a girl, only to be told a moment later that it was a guy. Whoops. A brief guest appearance from Z-Trip helped to make up for it, elevating the set to an even higher level than it was already at. As a whole it wound up being one of Sunday’s best, and it’s just a shame so many people missed it in favor of Cage the Elephant or other options.
The 1975 are another band from the UK, and they too pointed out that the rainy, overcast weather reminded them of home. Unfortunately, they didn’t sound very at home during the first half of their set. At first I thought they were dragging a bit out of sheer apathy, like they didn’t want to be there and decided to give a half-assed performance. Watching more carefully though, I spotted a couple of band members drinking wine straight from the bottle in between songs. Singer Matt Healy was also talking pretty slowly and slurring his words, which gave me the impression at least he was drunk. Whatever state the band was in wasn’t increasing their likability, though I’m not entirely sure how many people really cared. They were just there to hear The 1975’s two hit singles “Chocolate” and “Sex,” which they naturally saved for very last. For whatever reason, they perked up for those two, and made me wish the entire set was at that level. I think their record is okay, and from what I’ve been told by friends who know or have met them they’re very nice guys, but their Lolla performance didn’t do much for me.
As the rain began to increase just a bit, I sought shelter in the trees near the BMI stage, where Betty Who happened to be performing. More accurately, I wanted to be there, as I’ve heard good things about the up-and-coming pop singer-songwriter. She’s got two EPs to her name, a full length album out later this fall, and will be opening for Katy Perry on the Australian leg of her world tour this November. In other words, she’s about to blow up. The moderately large sized crowd for her set at Lolla could certainly be an early indicator of future success. They were there to sing and dance, and Betty Who wasn’t about to let them down. While the first half of her set was very upbeat and fun in a similar vein as Swedish pop star Robyn, the last few songs were where things really started to get interesting. She performed one song for what was likely to be the last time in a very long time (for whatever reason), slipped into a seriously crowd pleasing cover of the Destiny’s Child hit “Say My Name,” and then wrapped everything up in a nice little bow with her rising hit single “Somebody Loves You.” Her band played it cool, and was reliable through every twist and turn. She may be on the small BMI stage for right now, but rest assured next time will be a much different story.
Somewhere about three or four songs into The Airborne Toxic Event‘s set, it started to pour. Like soaked to the bone sort of pour. I had my poncho on and was huddled up underneath a large tree but was still getting pretty wet, just to give you an idea of how heavy it really was. It actually almost put a stop to the band’s set too, as they quickly went into their biggest hit “Sometime Around Midnight” and implied that the plug was likely going to get pulled at any second. Yet it didn’t, and they were able to play for their full time in spite of everything. As for the crowd, well, those already stuck in the middle of things just embraced it, while small groups on the outer edges made a break for drier ground. Mostly though, everyone stuck it out with the band, who was extremely appreciative. They kept the energy high, spaced out their singles pretty evenly, and even managed to fit in a new song from their next record. Overall I was pretty impressed, quite possibly because I went in with low expectations in the first place. As soon as the band’s time was up and they left the stage, the rain stopped. Funny how that happens sometimes.
Following that extremely heavy downpour, the wet and muddy conditions became extremely sloppy. It was messy any time you stepped off the pavement, and what used to be puddles had quickly become small lakes. If you knew the right spots to go however, you could stay relatively clean amidst the mud people. With that logic in mind, I ventured over to see how Childish Gambino was doing. If the gigantic crowd was any indication, he was doing quite well. Decked out in an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and swim trunks, Donald Glover looked like he was on vacation and ready for a day at the beach. He got a day in the mud instead. That didn’t seem to have any effect on him though, as he strutted back and forth across the stage to work the crowd and kept throwing up his hands in an effort to control them like a puppet master. He earns serious points for stage presence and charisma. Towards the end he even tossed some serious pyrotechnics into the mix as well, with gigantic flame cannons shooting up from the front of the stage. With all that flash, was there any substance? I’d argue not really, but judging by how much the crowd seemed to love every second, clearly I was in the minority.
Having stayed for the duration of Childish Gambino’s set, I missed about half of Flume‘s over at the nearby Grove stage. There was a pretty huge crowd already there when I arrived, and it only got bigger as more people filtered over like me from other stages. Given that Flume is essentially an electronica act and that he effortlessly blends his own original compositions with remixes of tracks by popular artists, he probably would have been more at home on the Perry’s stage. Not that stage placement really matters in the end, anyways. People showed up to his set to dance, and he delivered the music that allowed them to do so. Armed with his super cool looking Infinity Prism and busting out remixes of tracks from Lorde and Disclosure (among others), the sounds and crowd enthusiasm reminded me a whole lot of Girl Talk when I saw him perform at Lolla a few years back. Will Flume soon become an equally respected household name in the world of dance music and remixes? That seems like a reasonable assumption.
Exactly 366 days after his Lollapalooza debut on the tiny BMI stage, Chance the Rapper was now primed and ready to headline Perry’s stage. Last year, he attracted such a huge crowd on the side stage that people bled out into the major walkways and caused a huge traffic jam on that end of the park. This year, he managed to fill the huge field set aside for Perry’s and then some. To say he’s become huge would be an understatement, and it’s even more incredible that he hasn’t really released any new material in that time either. Compared to the no frills approach he had last time, suddenly he had all the frills, including gigantic smoke machines, dynamic, multi-colored lighting, and screens for huge graphics. I jammed myself in on the sidewalk as close to the stage as I could get without venturing out into the huge mud pit, and still felt like I was watching from a pretty extreme distance. That was about as good as it was going to get, and I wasn’t planning on staying the whole time anyways. The 25 or so minutes of the set that I saw were pretty fantastic. It’s clear that Chance is not only ready for but fully embracing his sharply rising star in the hip hop world. He dedicated the performance to his home, the City of Chicago, and in turn the city embraced him. He and his full band were still going strong when I stepped away to go and see what else the night had to offer. Afterwards, I heard he brought out R. Kelly for a couple of songs, and even tried to teach the crowd a new dance. Sounds like it was a blast.
My final stop of the entire festival would be a return to The Grove stage, where DARKSIDE were closing out the weekend. By comparison to the other stages, they had a rather paltry few hundred people in the crowd, but anybody that skipped them missed out on one of the truly unique and brilliant performances of all three days. DARKSIDE’s debut album Psychic was one of 2013’s finest, and the duo’s set was just about at that same level. Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington aren’t ones for stage banter, choosing instead to let the music and atmosphere do their talking for them. They sounded fantastic, their experimental electronica consistently shifting between cool dance floor beats and slower, more subtle flavors. The show played up the visual as much as it did the audio, and through careful use of lighting and fog the duo appeared in shadow almost the entire time. The small crowd that was there seemed to love it. Most were dancing, some were whipping around glow sticks on strings, while a couple other guys decided it would be a good time to roll around in the mud while moving to the music. Overall it put a nice little bow on this year’s Lollapalooza, once again providing enough incentive that I want to do it all again next year.
After the first day of Lollapalooza, I was in pretty rough shape. Not following my own advice, I didn’t sit down for about 12 hours straight, and that’s definitely not a pleasant experience for the human body. So I made it a point on Saturday to be smarter and look out for my own well being a little bit more. After all, I needed to power through the full three days. And so the chronicle continues, with a recap of all the music that I saw on Saturday:
Following Friday’s lengthy fiasco that took about 45 minutes to get into the gates due to heavy security, Saturday was light by comparison. This time it only took 15 minutes, either because I went to a different gate or because security wasn’t being as thorough. Either way, it was a benefit, and one that allowed me to see the final 10 minutes of Benjamin Booker‘s set. And oh what a final 10 minutes they were. Having never seen Booker before and only being familiar with a couple of his songs (his debut album comes out in about two weeks), I was immediately struck by his passion. He positively attacked the final three songs of his set, singing his heart out with that sandpaper voice of his, and playing guitar riffs like his life depended on it. Rarely do I witness a live show where I repeat the word “Wow” over and over again just completely impressed by everything happening on stage, but this was one of those times. At the very end of his set, Booker removed his guitar and proceeded to smash it on stage, Pete Townshend style. I’m a total sucker for moves like that, which in turn immediately made me want to declare the set one of the festival’s very best. For all I know the first 20 minutes of his set could have been a total trainwreck, but somehow I sincerely doubt they were. At the very least, Booker has quickly become someone to watch very closely.
From one guitar virtuoso to three, following up Benjamin Booker’s set I walked to the nearby Palladia Stage for the start of Parquet Courts‘ set. I saw them live for the first time last summer, and went in with such low expectations that I wound up being completely shocked by their wild attack dog style of performing. They’re pretty unassuming guys who you might think are slackers with sloppy playing styles, but the delightful surprise is that they’re none of those things. When they get going on high energy numbers like “Borrowed Time,” not only are they pushing forward like there’s something to prove, but know all the right ways to add frills like excessive distortion to push things beyond what you might hear on record. The set list was ordered a bit like a rollercoaster or a wave, building in speed and vigor until a peak is reached, then plateauing out for some slower cuts before racing towards the finish again on the downslope. The band does it all very well, though the quicker numbers that turn the crowd into a frenzied mosh pit can feel particularly special.
Kate Nash has become an increasingly reliable live act over the last few years, thanks in no small part to her embrace of louder and more visceral rock sounds. Nobody is going to confuse her with a hardcore punk or heavier alt-rock artist, though she does seem to be taking notes from the riot grrrl movement and innovative bands like Bikini Kill or The Runaways. She may have had multi-colored balloons all over the stage and she and her band may have worn dresses, but they made it very clear that rock and roll was priority number one. Along the way, Nash screamed, wailed, shredded and ran around the edges of the stage barricades giving the fans a more up-close and personal thrill. She brought a bunch more fans up on stage to dance and have fun for a few songs as well. And towards the end, she encouraged all the females in the audience to pick an instrument and start playing, because the music industry needs more women. If those women turn out anything like Nash, I completely agree.
I wasn’t particularly psyched about seeing the John Butler Trio perform, but I do enjoy a handful of their songs and decided it might be enjoyable if I were to sit down somewhere and relax while listening to their set. That turned out to be a wise decision, as my legs needed rest and my body needed shade. While I did stand and watch a couple of songs, the band wasn’t really doing much on stage so sitting down and listening didn’t change much. Ultimately what I heard and partly saw was a halfway decent, if unremarkable set. They performed the songs almost exactly as they were on record, and sounded pretty good doing so. I only wound up sticking around for about half of their set, as I was soon being beckoned by friends to join them on the other side of the park.
On the other side of the park, Fitz & the Tantrums were performing on the big stage. They’ve become a much bigger, more popular band over the last couple of years thanks to their most recent record, which has spawned at least two hit singles so far. The band treated their set like a gigantic party, keeping the energy very high and encouraging the crowd to participate by clapping or singing along to various parts. It seemed like a show I’d seen before, done by better bands who didn’t seem like they were trying as hard. Shortly after their set, I tweeted that Fitz & the Tantrums are the Dave Matthews Band of funk and soul these days. It’s a statement I stand by, as they had a huge crowd of devoted fans, but very little of the band’s performance could be described as much more than hollow platitudes. A friend of mine would tell me later that day it was her favorite set, and I totally understand why some people might feel that way. In many respects they’ve had the proverbial wool pulled over their eyes (and ears).
Manchester Orchestra is a band that I was passionate about for a hot minute around seven years ago, and haven’t thought about much since. They’ve continued releasing a steady stream of music, and have even performed at Lollapalooza a few times, though I’ve only seen them live once before at a non-festival show back in 2007. As I recall, they put on a pretty decent show back then. The Manchester Orchestra of 2014 still puts on a pretty good, possibly even great show. In a world where the genre of alternative rock has shifted in meaning a bit, they remain one of the true holdouts by still unleashing pummeling guitar work and vocals that require a good scream every now and then. Sure, there are other bands doing the same thing, but very few of them get late afternoon slots at a massive music festival like this one. I suppose what helps separate this band from the pack is their passion and precision. They appear to love what they do, and it shows. Their crowd wasn’t very large – probably one of the smaller ones of the day – but those that stuck around hopefully walked away with a greater appreciation for Manchester Orchestra than they had going in. I know that I did.
Unlike Fitz & the Tantrums’ set from an hour earlier, Foster the People appear to know the secret formula to an exciting live show. What is that secret exactly? I’m not entirely sure – earnestness, maybe? Whatever it was, it worked. The reason I’m comparing Fitz & Foster is partly because they were on the same stage, but also partly because I like both bands almost equally and view them as more hit single oriented than brilliant full album oriented. Whereas Fitz & the Tantrums may have been trying a little too hard to engage with the crowd during their Lolla set, Foster the People found the right vibe, played it cool and stuck with it. Singles were spread generously through the half of the set that I saw, and Mark Foster danced around the stage like he was just there to have a good time and play music for some fans who just happened to number in the thousands. Though I was having a good time, about 30 minutes in I decided it was time to venture back to the other side of the park.
Having seen Spoon headline an aftershow on Friday night, I wasn’t too concerned about seeing their full festival set on Saturday. They’re such a great live band though I wanted to see at least a little bit of it. To my partial surprise and actual excitement, the portion of Spoon’s set that I did wind up seeing was largely different than what I’d seen the night before. Songs like “Jonathon Fisk” and “My Mathematical Mind” are favorites I was hoping to hear, and suddenly my wish was granted. Beyond that, it was a pretty strong show overall. Maybe not quite as amazing as their full set in a smaller venue, but still great. My singular gripe with Spoon at the moment concerns their hit single “The Underdog,” which they’re obliged to play at every show from here throughout eternity. They’ve done away with any actual horns (which is an essential part of the track) and replaced them with artificial keyboard horns. It makes the track sound dinky compared to the muscular recorded version. If they could get just one band member to play trumpet for that song it’d make a world of difference. While I loved Spoon’s set, it’s worth noting a friend told me he was disappointed, claiming they “sound much rawer on record.”
If there was one set on Saturday I was most excited for, Jenny Lewis‘ would probably be it. I’ve been a fan of hers for many years, but had never seen her perform solo until now. It was a long time coming, and ultimately a delight. She didn’t attract a huge crowd thanks to her time slot facing off against The Head and The Heart along with the beginning of Outkast, but it made those of us who were there feel that we were witnessing something a little more special and intimate. About half of her set focused on the new album The Voyager, and the rest pulled from her previous two solo efforts along with a couple of tracks from the Rilo Kiley catalog. Dressed in a lovely and colorful airbrushed suit and with her now signature airbrushed acoustic guitar, people danced and sang along for the full 45 minute duration. What more could you ask for?
Part of me had serious gripes about going to see Outkast. I love most of their records, but this whole reunion thing is essentially a huge cash-in, and they perform the exact same set list at every single show. The sheer lack of spontaneity and the clear dislike that Andre 3000 and Big Boi share towards one another have left me apathetic about Outkast. Yet with a 30 minute window between the end of Jenny Lewis’ set and the start of Cut Copy’s, I decided it might be nice to see the hip hop duo do at least a couple of songs. That side of the park had an absolutely massive crowd that was probably the biggest all weekend. People were shouting and rapping/singing along with their favorite tracks the whole time, which I’m sure was great for them but served as a distraction. In the 20 minutes I spent watching the set from very far away, I got to hear “Ms. Jackson” set to Soldier Field fireworks, plus “The Way You Move,” among other things. It was okay, and then I left.
Officially closing out my night would be Cut Copy, who were performing on the small Grove stage sandwiched in between Calvin Harris and Outkast. There was so much noise coming from those two big stages, you couldn’t really hear Cut Copy until you got pretty close by. But wow, what a great set. Over the course of an hour, they plowed through almost all the highlights in their catalog, including old favorites like “Hearts on Fire,” and new favorites like “We Are Explorers.” A decent sized crowd danced like crazy for the duration, and the band peppered their performance with some really eye popping visuals that only enhanced the overall experience. They closed things out with “Lights and Music,” and everyone went absolutely nuts. My body may have been extremely tired from spending all day on my feet at a music festival, but suddenly I forgot about all of it and just wanted to move my body. When it was all over, the crowd chanted for one more song, and for a brief minute it seemed like the band might come back out and oblige. Sadly, it was 10 p.m. and the noise curfew was officially in effect so nothing happened. I exited Grant Park on a serious high, and primed to do it all again on Sunday.
Considering the way things went, you could say that the first day of Lollapalooza 2014 was dominated by the ladies. On the whole, it was a lot of fun. The weather was pretty good, outside of the 30 or so minutes it rained, and the crowds weren’t even that thick until late in the day. Here’s a rundown of all the music that I saw on Friday:
Following a lengthy wait to get into Grant Park due to new stricter bag checking procedures, I made it through the gates in time to see most of Temples’ early afternoon set. The Australian psych-pop band’s debut album Sun Structures sounds like a slightly weaker, less convincing imitation of Tame Impala. They come across that way on stage too, playing their songs verbatim and without any exceptional charm or extra energy. That’s not to say their performance was bad, it was just a little lackluster when the crowd needed something better. I’m sure the people laying down on the grass nearby were probably enjoying it.
Wildewoman, the debut album from Lucius, has a handful of great and fun songs on it, which I was excited to hear during their set at Lollapalooza. Unfortunately the other half isn’t so great and you can’t get one without the other when you’ve got an hour-long time slot to fill. The two main vocalists in Lucius do their best to look and sing exactly the same as one another, and the three guys playing instruments do the same. Altogether they’re a well oiled machine able to crank out exact copies of their songs as they appear on record. But sometimes you want more than just a gimmick. Lucius showed flashes of spontaneity and experimentation during their set, particularly in the way they used percussion, but it didn’t do a whole lot to lift the level of presentation beyond mediocrity.
After a seeing a fair portion of Lucius’ set, I felt that walking the short distance to The Grove Stage to see how Courtney Barnett was doing would be in my best interest. Two days earlier, I saw Barnett deliver an incredible set to a sold out crowd at Schubas, and had high hopes she could keep that streak going. I was only able to see the final 20 minutes, but oh my what a final 20 minutes it was. Barnett plays her shows with a bass player and drummer, and while they’re both excellent she manages to outshine them thanks to a supremely relaxed vocal style not to mention what appears to be sloppy guitar playing. I say appears because its clear she very much does know what she’s doing and not a single note was off. It’s just her particular and unique style, which is clearly something other artists should pay attention to.
As Barnett was finishing up her set, it began to drizzle a little bit. That drizzle would turn into something heavier leading right into Warpaint‘s set. It’s almost like the band requested the change in weather since their music is built on the ideas of darkness and gorgeous atmospherics. They did what they could to use that to their advantage, crafting a slow burning and often beautiful show that sounded great. The interplay between band members is probably what struck me most, like each one had the ability to fill in any sonic gaps as needed. Sure, it may not have been the most high energy set of the day, but the rain and overcast skies for 25 minutes basically suggested that everyone take it easy anyways.
While the rain had stopped about an hour earlier, the skies were still pretty grey, which also helped out Interpol a bit. Not that they particularly needed that assistance. Over the course of a dozen songs, they proven to be as reliable and engaging as ever. Perhaps that had something to do with the set list, which pulled entirely from the Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics records (their two best) plus included two new songs. The band knows what their finest moments are, and did their best to give the fans those highlights. It was really nice, actually, and to hear the new songs fit in so well with the old ones gives great hope for the upcoming El Pintor album.
In my Lolla Preview Guide, I mentioned that the last time I saw CHVRCHES they were pretty good, but still needed to work on their stage presence to deliver something worthy of the larger crowds they were attracting. At Lolla on Friday, they pulled in one of the bigger crowds I encountered, and this time did an admirable job handling the responsibilities that go along with that. Singer Lauren Mayberry was charming in her stage banter, and passionate in her vocals. There was plenty of dancing and sing-alongs in the crowd, and even though it was sunny out, there was something pretty cool about their light show. Of course a cool light show doesn’t replace stage presence, and while that’s still technically a work in progress, they’re absolutely getting better at it.
Probably the biggest crowd I encountered over the entire day was for Lorde, and that was go be expected given the number of awards she’s earned and chart-topping hits she’s had in the last several months. The teen sensation is living up toe the hype surrounding her, and that includes a dynamic and energetic live show. Clips I saw from her shows just a few months ago looked a touch awkward, largely with strange movements and aesthetic choices, but thankfully all of that is gone. Perhaps it was a confidence thing, or somebody has given her coaching, but she took everything in stride, danced around, was humble with the crowd, and sounded absolutely great. It was pretty amazing to see, and made for one of Friday’s best sets.
After Lorde it was dinner time, so I grabbed some food and wandered over to The Grove Stage to see how The Kooks were doing. Turns out, quite well actually. They’ve now got a few records under their belts, and are true showmen in their sets. Basically, they’re all energy, moving and jumping around all over the stage and trying to encourage crowd participation. Even though I only saw a handful of songs and had a sandwich in my hand, it was clear that everyone was having a great time. The music can get a little bland from time to time, but so long as you focus on giving the crowd something they can dance or sing to, that’s all you really need to keep everyone satisfied.
The last time I saw Arctic Monkeys in 2011, they had vastly improved their live show and appeared to be flirting with the notion of headlining a U.S. festival like Lollapalooza. The crowd for their set then was absolutely massive, and on all counts the band delivered. Now that they’ve reached the mountaintop, how was the view? In short, not quite as great. First, the crowd numbers were down a bit, thanks in no small part to Eminem on the other side of the park. Secondly, their show has become extremely polished. For most artists, being polished live performers is a good thing. In Arctic Monkeys’ case, a little bit of sloppiness is almost required. Many of their songs have this grimy, down in the gutter type vibe, and to remove that element from your show takes something away. So yes, we got everything from “Brianstorm” to “Dancing Shoes” to “Crying Lightning” and “Do I Wanna Know?,” and for the most part it sounded great and came off as effortless and charming. This is clearly a band that has fully accepted their massive popularity, it would just be nice if they could find a little better way to stay true to their roots.
As much as I enjoyed Arctic Monkeys (don’t let my above reaction fool you), part of me also wanted to see how Phantogram was doing as the headliner on the nearby small Grove stage. I stopped over there for about 40 minutes (bookended by Arctic Monkeys), and wound up having a pretty great time. Phantogram’s new album Voices is a big step forward for them, and they’ve really become an act ready for the ensuing wave of popularity that comes along with it. Their crowd wasn’t gigantic, seeing as most were at one of the two main stage headliners, but the people who were there might best be described as passionate. There was so much dancing and jumping around it was equal parts impressive and fun. Sarah Barthel has really grown as a performer since the last time I saw the band, and she was all over the stage getting people riled up whenever she wasn’t stuck behind an instrument. The lighting and visuals were spectacular as well, and honestly the whole thing felt like what might happen if Sleigh Bells were a synth pop band. That’s meant as a compliment. So
So that about wraps up all of the music I saw on Friday of Lollapalooza 2014. We’ve got two more days to go, and I’m pretty excited to see how they’re going to go. I’ll have full recaps from Saturday and Sunday coming up soon, but in the meantime you can get (largely) real time updates and reactions from the festival grounds via Twitter.
Welcome friends, to the start of Faronheit’s Lollapalooza 2014 coverage! This weekend, more than 100,000 music lovers will pack into Grant Park each day to see around 140 different artists perform. It’s a behemoth, and essentially one of the largest events to happen in Chicago every year. As somebody who hasn’t missed a day of the festival in the last 10 years, I can promise you it’s a very fun time. My main advice for surviving the full weekend intact are as follows: Take it easy. Trying to see a little bit of everything will wear you out quickly, especially with a festival this huge. Choose who you want to see very carefully, and maybe make some compromises on others so you don’t have to walk from one side of the park to the other over and over. Be sure to sit down at least a couple of times a day to rest a bit. You’ll need the break more than you think. Always be prepared for the weather. Most of the time it’s going to be sunny and hot. Wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Bring a poncho and/or umbrella, just in case it rains. And most importantly, have fun!
With so many artists on the lineup, there’s absolutely no way you can see them all, and even the biggest music fan won’t recognize every name performing. So what I’ve tried to do is compose a bit of a preview guide for the weekend. I’m not going to go over every single name on the lineup, so instead I’ve broken down the must see artists by hour and day. That way, no matter what time it is, you’ll have something good or great to check out. Join me past the jump to see the hourly breakdown and learn a little bit more about the best music to see this upcoming Lollapalooza weekend! Then be sure to check back over the weekend for daily recaps of all the things I’m able to see. I’ll also be providing updates when possible via Twitter, so follow me there for up-to-the-minute news (when reception allows). Thanks everyone, and if you’re headed to Lollapalooza with me this weekend, stay safe.
At some point, not in this post, I’m going to complain about how worn out and tired I was heading into Sunday at Lollapalooza. Again, I want to emphasize that now is neither the time nor place to comment on such things, because the main focus is on a summary of the things I saw on the final day of the three day festival. I prefer to use the term “lazy Sunday” to describe how I approached things, though the amount of walking and standing I did probably qualifies as the opposite of that. But compared to previous days, my main goal was to finish out the weekend in a very relaxed atmosphere without pushing myself too hard. For the most part you could call that mission a success. Here’s a Sunday recap for you:
Since Angel Haze is a member of my Class of 2013, I really, really wanted to see her perform at Lolla. Unfortunately, I made one fatal mistake: I chose to take a 15-minute cat nap before heading out the door. That 15 minutes turns into 30, and suddenly you find yourself racing to Grant Park in the hopes of catching the last few songs of a set, only to hit some heavy traffic on Lake Shore Drive. So ultimately, no Angel Haze was in my future and I arrived at the exact time her set was ending. My other realistic choices were to see the second half of sets from Alex Clare or Lianne La Havas, neither of which sounded attractive to me. So I wandered the grounds instead, taking in some of the “sights” and grabbing a pizza along with a t-shirt before dropping by the Petrillo stage for some Baroness. That was the official start to my musical day, and they were a great kick in the teeth for those of us that needed it. They had the energy of a great metal band, complete with plenty of guitar posturing and long-haired head banging. Part of what makes Baroness such a strong live band though isn’t their energy, but the music itself, which strives to transcend easily definable genres. It leads to some cool psychedelic and punk rock ethos that blend perfectly with the much heavier guitar work. They may have lost a couple members following their tragic bus crash last fall, but they’ve fully recovered and are as impressive as ever.
Have you ever seen Tegan and Sara perform live before? It’s been about seven or so years since I last caught their live show. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with it that forced me to stay away, but I saw them play a couple of small club dates back in the So Jealous era and then follow those up with a Lollapalooza set in which Sara wound up with heat stroke which caused them to abort after the first 30 minutes. Personally I think their sharp uptick in popularity combined with performing at increasingly larger venues turned me off a bit, as did their 2009 album Sainthood. But I also think that Tegan and Sara have been avoiding Lollapalooza since 2005, and I was eager to see what would happen when they returned to the festival for the first time in eight years. I also wonder how many people in the crowd saw that 2005 shortened set. Given the demographics of the festival these days, I’m betting very few people besides myself and Tegan and Sara were there. Still, in true sisterly fashion, Tegan couldn’t help bring that incident up multiple times during their set, checking in on Sara to see how she was surviving the balmy 78 degree weather. Last time the heat index was 100+ degrees. Both of them did just fine, and they triumphed with a full set that was 50% devoted to cuts from their new album Heartthrob. It all sounded rather great, and that’s sort of been the Tegan and Sara modus operandi for over a decade now. They have a lot of fun on stage, trade off witty banter and goofy insults at one another, and hit all their notes right on target. Not much more you could ask for, and why would you want to?
The appeal of alt-J is something I’ve not fully grasped yet. Their debut album An Awesome Wave is a pretty strong cocktail of the many different popular styles of indie rock from recent years, and while there are plenty of highlights (“Breezeblocks,” “Fitzpleasure,” “Something Good”), beyond those carefully spaced hits are sonically interesting but largely quiet moments. Therefore if you think that’s going to translate well to a festival stage, you’re sorely mistaken. The massive sized crowd was moderately well-behaved for much of the set, waiting patiently for the hits they recognized, then promptly singing and/or dancing along with them before another lull arrived. While I didn’t hear anyone expressing outright disappointment with the band’s performance, the turnover was high, with a mini exodus happening each time the band finished one of their hits. So what was alt-J’s biggest failure, their relative inexperience with trying to engage a festival crowd, or the mere fact that their material doesn’t lend itself to that type of situation? I’d argue a little from column A and a little from column B. As time and new material emerge, I feel like things will get better. From what I saw at Lollapalooza though, they’re a band in the spotlight who aren’t quite ready for it just yet.
While I wasn’t able to catch all of their set, part of me felt inclined to watch at least a little bit of Grizzly Bear. I haven’t seen them perform live since their latest album Shields came out last year, and the thought was it’d be nice to hear a couple songs from that album to see how well they translate on stage. In short, like pretty much everything else from the band’s catalogue, it sounds pretty great. Of course Grizzly Bear aren’t the most lively bunch when performing, and on an early Sunday evening with the sun beginning to set, their golden melodies felt almost just right even as it could well have lulled the crowd to sleep. I was invested enough after a handful of songs to want to stick around for more, but another band was calling my name on the other side of the park.
If you read my review of Vampire Weekend‘s new album Modern Vampires of the City, then you know it’s one of if not THE finest albums of 2013 so far. It was on that reasoning I felt the need to make sure I was there for at least a majority of the band’s Lollapalooza set. The crowd was one of the biggest all weekend, and for good reason given their consistent increase in popularity over the last few years. As one might expect, there was quite a bit of material crammed into the 1 hour and 15 minutes they were allotted, though the slight surprise was how evenly distributed things were across the band’s three albums. Of the 18 songs played, the band did six from each record, except for Contra which only got five. The extra outlier was the b-side “Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)”, which has been around since before VW’s debut album when they sent out a CD-R to a bunch of music writers in the hopes of earning some attention. Overall the set was a whole lot of fun, and the crowd really liked it too. I’m just glad I got to hear “Hannah Hunt” performed live as I began to venture back to the other side of Grant Park in search of the perfect way to end my weekend.
As I wandered over to find a decent viewing spot for The Cure‘s festival-closing set, I overheard Beach House beaming out a perfect rendition of their song “Myth” to end their set. When I saw the band perform at a different festival last year, they almost put me to sleep, and I anticipate something similar would have happened had a stuck around for their full set. Beach House is a great band, but the best way to experience their live show is in a seated theater, not outside at a music festival. Which does bring me to The Cure, and how they practically excel in a setting such as this. Lollapalooza is their only show in the continental U.S. this year, as part of their “Great Circle” world tour, and naturally they aimed to please. All of their essential hits were played, from “Love Song” to “Friday I’m in Love” and “Pictures of You,” plus a handful of deep cuts to satisfy their more intense fans. Of course most were there to hear their biggest songs, which is why the crowd went nuts for anything easily recognizable but largely stopped paying close attention when “Trust” and “Want” and “The Hungry Ghost” showed up. You could claim Disintegration dominated because six out of the total 26 songs were from that record, but Wish got quite a bit of love too while the rest of the set was scattered across the band’s vast catalogue of time and space. I realized while watching their set that it’s been nearly 10 years since I last saw The Cure perform, and don’t really remember much about the last time except that I was a little disappointed Robert Smith was still doing the bird’s nest hair and white makeup style two decades later. These days I’m older, wiser and presumably more accepting of such eccentricities. But getting back to the Lollapalooza performance, I walked away quite satisfied, but felt like the pacing was off by just a litte bit. There were some big hits in the first 45 minutes of the set, but those second 45 minutes were thorny and somewhat difficult to enjoy. The 30 or so minutes of encore time was just one big hit after another, and I think if all those songs were spread out a bit more it would have kept not only myself, but the overall crowd more interested too. A small part of me was also hoping to hear a new song or two, as it’s been five years since the band’s last album of original material. Alas, it was not to be, though maybe that was for the better considering their track record the last 12-13 years. The Cure touring around just playing crowd favorites seems like the smartest move they could make, so long as there’s still a demand for it. If the crowd at Lollapalooza was any indication, that demand won’t be waning any time soon.
After what was a pleasant and somewhat inspiring first day of Lollapalooza, Saturday was supposed to be the “big one.” When single day tickets went on sale a few months ago, Saturday was the first to sell out, and almost immediately. What was its biggest selling point? Mumford & Sons, probably. And maybe a little help from The Lumineers. I had a feeling the crowds were going to be huge for both bands, and I only moderately like them, so naturally I avoided going anywhere near that stage. I felt almost rewarded as a result. Of course the entire day was rewarding, even though I got a later start than I was hoping for or anticipated. The extra time I took to sleep in really helped me make it through the day, I think. As a reminder, though service is all but nonexistent in Grant Park this weekend, I am doing my best to live tweet about every act that I see. If I don’t do it during the day, I catch up at the end of the night. Just so you know for reference purposes. Anyways, here’s a short bit about the things I saw on Saturday.
My day started with Charles Bradley. He’s widely regarded as a soul legend, and his set showed that in spades. I could hear the horns blaring and his powerful wail well outside the walls of Grant Park, and for a minute I thought I’d accidentally stumbled into Chicago’s world famous Blues Fest instead. Even though he’s getting up there in age, Bradley commanded the crowd with his strong presence and even broke out a dance move or two. It may be a long way from his early days as a James Brown impersonator, but at some point in time there will hopefully be a Charles Bradley impersonator just making his way up the ladder to legendary status as well.
As I started to walk across the field to the stage just behind me for Matt & Kim, I ran into problems. Specifically, I hit a wall of people. The crowd stretched back extremely far at the Petrillo stage, so far that I couldn’t see the stage from my vantage point and couldn’t hear the band too well either. Whenever I run into that situation, as I did with Imagine Dragons on Friday, I figure there’s no point in watching or listening if I can’t watch and can barely listen. So I wandered over to Ellie Goulding’s stage about 30 minutes before her set was scheduled to start. I could kind of hear Matt & Kim from there, and enjoyed renditions of “Cameras” and “Let’s Go”, mixed with bits and pieces of some interesting and odd covers.
I think Ellie Goulding is one of the most talented mainstream pop acts today, and her energetic set had the huge crowd going totally nuts. I was packed in tighter than any other spot I’ve been in all weekend, and everyone around me was jumping up and down, singing along, clapping, and other things you do at an overly enthusiastic pop show. For her part, Goulding kept the mood light and upbeat, and she certainly sounded great. She covered Elton John’s “Your Song” at one point, and it actually felt both earnest and earned.
I’ve seen Unknown Mortal Orchestra one time before, and it was an okay set. At a certain point last time I thought it started to wear thin and get a little boring, so my expectations were lower when venturing in for a second round. The crowd turned out to be one of the lighter ones of the day, primarily because there was a lot going on at all the other stages. But the band made the most of their time and actually impressed me with a bouncy, pleasant and rather psychedelic set that was really strong on technical chops. Maybe it’s the fact that they released their second album and the new songs are working better for me, or playing a lot more live shows has made them a much stronger band overall, but whatever it is it’s working. The extended outro to “Ffunny Ffrends” featured a rather great guitar solo from frontman Ruban Nielson, and left the crowd in a great mood.
A few records and a few hundred live performances under their belts, Foals know exactly what they’re doing, and how to achieve results with a crowd. Their set builds slowly and steadily, an energetic instrumental one minute, a ballad with a soaring chorus the next, and a heavy rock cut after that. They covered all their bases, and though they dispatched one of their best songs “My Number” early on in their set (which drew a great dance party in the crowd), it was “Inhaler” that finally was the knockout punch. It was the perfect introduction to Foals if you’re not very familiar with their music, or had never seen them live before. The list of new converts at that show has to be pretty huge.
This was the fifth or sixth time I’ve seen The National perform live, and with each new experience I’m treated to what feels like an improved version of the band I saw the previous time. At this point I think they’ve been around long enough and know each other well enough to truly click on stage, even in a festival setting that doesn’t work as well with their particular brand of nuance. Frontman Matt Berninger is certainly working the stage a lot more, breaking away from his perpetual stance behind a mic stand to hang out on the sides for a few minutes. Some tricks, like Berninger running into the crowd during “Mr. November,” are long-time band staples, but they’re highlights that continue to thrill, so why stop? The new material sounds great, and the crowd was very receptive through it all. Certainly one of the day’s highlights.
After all the turmoil that hit the scheduling at The Grove stage on Saturday, what with Azealia Banks being forced to cancel due to vocal chord problems and Death Grips refusing to show up for whatever reason, the band Haim got either a really good or a really bad deal depending on how you look at it. The printed version of the schedule has them going on stage around 3:30 up against Matt & Kim, Court Yard Hounds and Local Natives. Not exactly bad bands to be up against. Their actual set time wound up being at 7:15, which was more prime time, but up against Kendrick Lamar and The Lumineers. So it wasn’t too surprising that the crowd for Haim wasn’t massive, though it was pretty decent sized overall. The three sisters played material off their EP and some new songs from their forthcoming debut album. Overall their set was a whole lot of fun, that includes the highly amusing sisterly stage banter. All of them also proved to be incredibly talented musicians, and a couple of small jam sessions they had included some face-melting guitar solos and wild bass work. I saw the band perform again at an aftershow a few hours later, and they were even better. I’ll have a report on that later. Be on the lookout, Haim is going to be huge.
With the sea of people over at Mumford & Sons, it was nice to simply stroll up to a close spot for The Postal Service. As Ben Gibbard had said in a tweet earlier in the day, their Lollapalooza set and their subsequent Sunday night aftershow would be their final two shows ever, so in my logic, why would you miss that. It helps I love their one record Give Up to the point where I’ve got every lyric memorized. A lot of people do, apparently, because the entire set was like one massive sing-along. The only time the crowd stopped singing was when they played some of the b-sides and previously unreleased material that appeared on the deluxe 10th anniversary reissue of the album. Overall the arrangements were very similar to what they sounded like on record, though they were made a little more buoyant and full at times which was nice. There were extended versions of some hits, particularly “Such Great Heights” and the closer “Brand New Colony.” A cover of Beat Happening’s “Our Secret” was a nice additional treat. Jenny Lewis was in many ways a jack of all trades during the show, playing a number of different instruments in addition to her supporting vocals role. Gibbard was his typical self, upbeat and honest, and he seemed to really appreciate how much this band and their one record means to so many people. This might be the official end to The Postal Service, but I can’t express how happy it made me to finally see it performed live. I’ll take them over Mumford & Sons any day of the week.
With Lollapalooza kicking off on Friday, my goal is to bring you the best possible coverage of the festival to help you get an impression of what it’s like to be there, and comment on some of the amazing slash not so amazing things I see. Traditionally in the past that means writing somewhat lengthy recaps of each day to describe all the action. Well, this year I’ve decided to do something a little different. I’m keeping the daily summaries very short, and will expand upon them at the end of the weekend with a lengthy final writeup. Basically, I’m taking my Twitter impressions and giving you a little bit (but not much) more. That said, here’s the bands I saw on Day 1, and my lightning quick thoughts on all of their sets.
San Cisco are a band with plenty of mediocre indie pop songs, but it’s sunny out & they’re fun, so who cares? A great way to start the festival (to a degree), and if everyone’s enjoying themselves, far be it from em to call this bad.
After a somewhat slow start to their set, Deap Vally really stepped it up and brought some great rock ‘n roll to their Lolla. Nice work, ladies. The duo crafts what basically amount to party and heavy drinking songs under the guise of a Black Keys/White Stripes garage rock/blues combo, and while early afternoon on a Friday isn’t exactly the best time for such debauchery, the crowd still seemed receptive to their charms.
Almost as if by prophecy, rain clouds rolled in and it began to drizzle in time for the start of Ghost B.C.‘s set. Thankfully for everyone in the crowd, it was only a brief, five minute light rain and the only precipitation that would hit Grant Park on Friday. In terms of the band though, they came out in their traditional black hooded robes and skeleton cardinal outfits and did some spectacular work moving beyond the mere theatrics of their performance and turning in a precise, enjoyable set of Swedish metal.
Jessie Ware‘s set was a fair amount of fun. Though her songs aren’t always the most energetic, her enthusiasm gave them a much needed boost. She was super friendly with the crowd, and in turn the crowd was super friendly to her. Smiles and light dancing abound, Ware charged through her debut album and certainly helped me to see it in a new light.
For the first time ever, I watched a full Crystal Castles set. Generally speaking, I had a blast. Alice Glass is hardcore. She came out on stage drinking straight from a bottle of Jameson and smoking a cigarette, then proceeded to crawl to the microphone like she could barely make it there. But she as usual, she wound up the focal point of the set, dancing and tossing a microphone stand around. Twice she attempted to crowd surf. The first time her microphone got detached and she has to abort the song and get back to the stage, but the second time she almost literally walked on top of people and kept singing at the same time. There was a big crowd and they loved every second of it. Even the cuts from their relatively weak third album sounded pretty good live.
Attempted to watch some of Imagine Dragons‘ set, but the crowd was so huge I could barely hear and certainly couldn’t see the band. So I left. I had a similar experience during M83 on the same stage at Lolla last year, but this time was even worse. Apparently the stage lost power after two songs and it took 10 minutes to restart it, but I was long gone by that time. It may as well have lost power from the very start, since I was so crushed into a spot so far away it was near impossible to hear anyways.
The Disclosure dance party at Lolla was absolutely one of the day’s highlights. Jessie Ware had to prep for her aftershow later that evening so couldn’t be there to do her vocals live for her guest track, but the duo just played back the recorded vocals from the record, along with those of AlunaGeorge and a host of other guests on their debut album. Though they were triggering those samples and some beats via laptop, they also tried their best to “perform” via some additional live drums and bass. It all worked pretty well, but I think nobody in the crowd really cared. All they wanted to do was dance.
New Order‘s Lolla set was almost exactly the same as the one I saw them do in Chicago a few months ago. Same backing videos, nearly the same stage banter, and the arrangements of their greatest hits hasn’t really changed either. As such, to me it was like watching a rerun of a TV show I love. It doesn’t take away from your love, you just know what’s coming and are probably only watching because there’s nothing better on. But for those that hadn’t seen New Order in awhile (or ever), this was a treat, and another dance party.
They should’ve put Chance the Rapper on a bigger stage at Lolla. The BMI stage was packed beyond packed for his set, and the crowd went so far back they spilled into some of the main walkways of Grant Park. Because the BMI stage is the smallest stage, you couldn’t see much unless you were really close. But the audio was crisp all the way back, and you could tell it was a strong performance simply by listening. Chance seemed overwhelmed by the crowd, and also equally appreciative. At the end of his set he tried to crowd surf to the back of the massive crowd while riding inside of an inflatable kiddie pool. He didn’t make it very far. Oh well.
Finally, it was a treat to see Nine Inch Nails again. Trent Reznor knows how to put on a live show better than anyone I can think of, and NIN’s headlining set was a feast for both the eyes and the ears. The interplay of shadows, the blinding columns of light, the fierce, attack dog way he tears apart every one of his songs with his band is nothing short of mindblowing. There were 3 songs off the band’s forthcoming record that were performed last night, and all sounded great. I was hoping for some off-kilter, reworked renditions of some popular NIN classics, but unfortunately only “Sanctified” got that treatment and nothing else. Still, “Closer,” “Head Like A Hole,” “Terrible Lie,” and all the others retain their power. It doesn’t feel like the band has been gone at all, though this was their first North American show in four years. Welcome back, Trent.
Welcome to the official Lollapalooza 2013 Preview Guide! In this post, you’ll find an hour-by-hour breakdown of all the bands you won’t want to miss during each of the three days at Lollapalooza this year. Whether you’re an experienced Lolla attendee or a newbie showing up in Grant Park for the first time this year, there’s probably no chance you’re familiar with every single artist that’s part of the lineup. This guide is intended to help. Maybe you’d just like to familiarize yourself with the artists by listening to them. I understand that logic as well. Find something that suits your tastes, and then go see that artist, even if you’re not necessarily very familiar with their catalogue. Allow me to provide some assistance in that aspect. Here are Spotify playlists for Friday, Saturday and Sunday so you can let your ears make some decisions. All of those three playlists are organized by musical genre, to help everything flow just a little smoother in case you want to give the whole thing a listen. Moving past the sonics and into the nuts and bolts of the lineup, after the jump are my thoughts on what you should see each hour during each day of Lollapalooza 2013. Please note that I’ve restricted myself to one and only one artist during each hour of each day. There are some tough conflicts I’ve been forced to make decisions on, and in some cases you might want to do split sets and see half of one and half of another. Have a look at the full schedule here for all of those details, and keep in mind that things are so spread out it takes at least 10-15 minutes to walk from one side of Grant Park to the other. Plan accordingly. I do think that if you follow the game plan that I’ve set out for you below, you’re guaranteed to have a great time at Lollapalooza this year. Without further ado, here’s my preview guide to Lollapalooza 2013!
The success of Phoenix is just a little bit perplexing. They’ve been plugging away and working hard as a band for close to 15 years now, but it wasn’t until their fourth album, 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, that they finally saw any sort of measurable success. It’s equally strange that the popularity of that record and their introduction to the mainstream populous really offered nothing different or more attractive than their previous efforts. Indeed, this band has been writing incredibly addictive and danceable songs since at least 2000, it’s just not a lot of people bothered to pay attention for all those years. So what changed? Tastes, most likely. Phoenix have been ready and waiting this whole time, the general public was still trying to work up to their sound. Either that, or they had a piss poor team promoting their music until their last record. No matter how you look at it though, the band paid their dues. To those of us that have been listening to them for several years already it wasn’t so much a matter of if they’d ever be successful but when. Spurred solely on the singles of “1901” and “Lisztomania,” they rocketed to stardom, to the point of major music festival headliner status, which when you think about it is about the most confounding thing of thos entire crazy tale. Are two really great, really catchy songs all one needs these days to earn a place along side the likes of Pearl Jam or Green Day or Coldplay? Apparently so. As they cash in and prepare to headline virtually every major music festival in 2013, Phoenix are finally unleashing their Wolfgang follow-up, which is ironically titled Bankrupt!.
The album sounds like they spent a whole lot of money on it to make it sound as shiny and grandiose as possible, which is what you might expect as they’re trying to metaphorically top themselves and extend their shelf life another few years. Yet Phoenix has always been a big, anthemic band with a super clean sound, so you’re not going to notice much of a difference except that they really try to maximize what they can do with that sound. First single and opening track “Entertainment” is a great example of that, aiming for a grand slam sort of synth pop song with a dash of Asian-sounding keyboards to lend the French band a little more international appeal. The song itself is about the band’s experience with fame and singer Thomas Mars’ largely passive feeling about being viewed as this big rock star. Despite it’s aims and very “1901”-like feel, something about the track feels just a little bit off. The fluctuation in tempo knocks it back on its heels a little, and there seems to be some slight hesitation in the band’s approach that prevents them from really, truly, genuinely going for broke (album title pun intended). It may be largely satisfying the masses thanks to the strong and forceful hand of promotion and radio airplay, but that awkward distance makes it feel like the least effective of their major singles so far.
In fact, Bankrupt! as a whole is has less going for it in the way of singles than just about any of Phoenix’s previous records. It’d be nice to think that they weren’t concerned about such things, and maybe they aren’t, but on songs like “Drakkar Noir” and “The Real Thing” there’s a certain forcefulness built into their structure and hooks that feels more coldly calculated than genuine and organic. Despite this small issue on a couple of tracks, less effective single material leads to some interesting and perhaps better developments in terms of overall album cohesion. Whereas Wolfgang could often feel like a record built around its singles with not much else to inspire in between, the new album brings a consistency and pattern that flows far better despite being less memorable. The same can be said for the lyrics, which have continued to grow ever more obscure and random with each new record from the band. Mars often sings in what feels like half sentences, starting one thought but then finishing it with another that comes across as completely out of context. If you’re looking to connect with these songs on a deeper level, perhaps it’s best if you fill in your own blanks and interpret the lyrics in whatever fashion best suits your own life rather than trying to penetrate the impenetrable.
The best moments on Bankrupt! come when Phoenix sound most relaxed and in their comfort zone. “SOS in Bel Air” is the brightest spot on the album, a jittery would-be single that’s well on par with some of the best things they’ve ever done. Sliding from that into the toe-tapping “Trying to Be Cool” makes for the strongest pairing of tracks as well, right before the colossal mistake that is the seven minute title track shows up to add dead weight in the middle of the record just as it started to hit its stride. Still, “Don’t” and the upbeat closer “Oblique City” are great second half highlights that serve to add balance to the album and keep the listener properly engaged. For the legions of new fans that discovered this band via their last album in 2009, there’s enough going on with Bankrupt! to keep you happy. Like Mumford & Sons, who are arguably the biggest thing in music today, the formula hasn’t really changed and they certainly don’t stumble much in the face of what might be seen as overwhelming pressure to maintain their status among that same upper echelon. What’s truly lacking on this record is a sense of drive and experimentation. Then again, Phoenix have never been the sort of band to rock the boat much with each new album. You’d hope that success would afford them greater freedom and more leeway in their sound, but perhaps where they’re truly bankrupt is in the new ideas department. Oh well, after 15 years of hard work and paying their dues, they’re more than entitled to a victory lap.
Now that all the written pieces are out of the way, I wanted to share with you the collection of photos that I took at this year’s Lollapalooza. Before we dive in, I want to make sure you’re aware of a couple things. First and foremost, I was not given a press photography pass for the festival. That means I didn’t have the opportunity to stand right next to the stages and zoom in to get photos of sweat dripping off the faces of every artist that was up there. When you see Jack White looking like an ant in one of these photos, that was taken from pretty far back. I like to think that most of these photos are still reasonably decent though, and I tried my best to only select the ones that worked. Secondly, what I’m posting below is only a small sample of the total photos I took over the duration of the weekend. If you want to see the all the photos, head over to Facebook for day-by-day sets. Also, if you’d like to gain a little perspective on what bands I saw and the good/bad of it all, simply click this link to see all of my coverage of Lollapalooza 2012. Thanks! Photos are after the jump.