On an exceptionally chilly Monday night on the Near West Side of Chicago, a few hundred people gathered at House of Vans for a remarkably intimate set from The National. The band had flown into town from Europe for a special performance at the Obama Foundation Summit, but arrived a couple days early to give fans an extra special treat. Tickets to the show were being given out for free through an online lottery, and considering the 500 person capacity of the venue, it’s safe to assume that a lot more people entered than actually won. Those with luck on their side were treated to an engrossing and often aggressive performance that skewed towards the dark and political.
Tag: concert Page 2 of 3
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.
The 2017 edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival is now officially in the history books. It’s been three incredible days of music, and arguably one of the festival’s best years in recent memory. Sunday brought another fair share of surprises and delights, though one truly disappointing piece of news created a minor hiccup in an otherwise smooth day (and weekend). That disappointing news was that experimental electronica duo The Avalanches were forced to cancel their set at the very last minute due to a serious family illness. These things happen, and of course wish nothing but the best for the group and those they care about. It would have been their first-ever show in Chicago, so hopefully they’ll make up the date at some point in the near future (though that would likely be at a separate venue for a separate ticket price). The cancellation resulted in a minor schedule change, moving Jamila Woods from the small Blue stage over to the much larger Green stage to take The Avalanches’ place. More on her performance in the recap below. Please join me after the jump for further details about all the various performances that took place on Sunday. And if you missed the recaps from Friday or Saturday, just click on the links and you’ll be transported directly there. Keep an eye out for photos posts here within the next few days.
Two days down, one left to go. While I’m always impressed with the general lineup and flow of the schedule for just about any day of the Pitchfork Music Festival on any given year, there was something about Saturday this year that stood out. I had a strange sense of uncertainty about how some of the performances would go, and about how the crowds would react to them. Sometimes you’re expecting a rousing success and instead it turns out to be a tepid mess that nobody likes. Other times you watch an artist pouring his or her heart out while a bunch of people chat instead of paying attention to what’s happening on stage. The music festival world can be a complex and fickle beast. So on a day where it felt like there were more question marks about artists than usual, I’m pleased to report that the entire day went tremendously well. So much so that it handily bested Friday and I can’t imagine Sunday improving upon it. But we’ll just have to wait and see! In the meantime, please join me after the jump for a lengthy summary of every performance I witnessed on Saturday. They’re all sorted by paragraph, with the artist name bolded for easier navigation. I’ll be sharing a full photo set from Saturday at some point in the coming days, so keep an eye out for that!
Day one of Pitchfork is done, and boy was it a lot of fun. Apologies for that rhyming introduction – I immediately regretted it after I had typed it, but still liked it enough to not delete it. But yes, on the whole it was a delightful day and a great start to another year of the festival. The primary lesson that I learned – well, rather had reinforced on me – was that the best performances always had genuine passion and respect behind them from both the artists and the crowds. There are some examples of the good, the bad, and the middling peppered throughout this recap, so join me on the other side of the jump for a chronicling of all that went down from a musical perspective on the first day of the 2017 Pitchfork Music Festival.
One of the things I admire most about the Pitchfork Music Festival every year is the dedication to crafting a lineup that’s diverse in style, background and gender. While that is always showcased throughout the entire weekend, it feels particularly prominent on Saturday this year. You can gravitate from rock to folk to funk to pop to R&B to hip hop all in the course of a few hours, and at least half of those artists and bands prominently feature female members. A third have persons of color, though that’s actually the lowest amount of all three days. The point being, other festivals should take note, and make more of an effort to be inclusive. I feel like it creates a better sense of community among the attendees too. The strangers I encounter at Pitchfork Fest every year are among the nicest and coolest people you could ever meet, so don’t be afraid to say hello to me or anyone else.
Okay, let’s get into this preview of Day 2. After dancing yourself clean with LCD Soundsystem the night before, I can understand that it might be hard to get out of bed and be ready to hit it hard first thing the next day, but there are rewards to those willing to show up early. Join me after the jump and I’ll explain why.
Slap on some sunscreen and hose yourself down with bug spray, because Pitchfork Music Festival is starting early this year! Well, a couple of hours earlier than usual. In past years, the opening Friday has always been a shortened day, typically kicking off around 3PM. I’m not exactly sure what the point of that was, beyond letting some people take a half day of work and still make it in time, or perhaps working a full day and not missing too much. Maybe it was also a budgetary concern, as the cost of booking another 3 or 4 artists to fill out the lineup might have been just a touch more than they wanted to spend. Whatever their logic, it seems like the organizers have stopped kidding themselves and are finally ready to extend the overall festival experience by a couple of hours. Gates on Friday open at Noon, and the first artist takes the stage at 1PM.
Of course just because we’re getting a full day on Friday doesn’t mean there are more names on the lineup to help fill that extra time out. Instead, a number of artists at the start of each day will perform unopposed, meaning you’ll have the choice to either watch one specific performance, wander around Union Park and explore other areas of the festival (/drink more/hang with friends), or simply show up late. The choice is yours, but I would strongly recommend arriving early all three days. You’re likely to discover something truly great as a result. There is at least one set starting before 2PM each day that has the potential to be among the best of the entire weekend, and it’d be a shame for you to miss out! Then again at Pitchfork, just about every set is a must-see. Navigating the weekend filled with such great music can be a little challenging, which is why this day-by-day preview guide is here to help! Join me after the jump for a breakdown of Friday’s lineup and schedule, where I’ll do my best to point you in the direction of exciting, fun, and amazing things to do, see, and hear.
It feels like every calendar year there are about two or three local Chicago rock bands that manage to raise their profile high enough to earn attention and praise on a global level. Such hallmarks are important for any local scene as proof it is thriving, and to serve as an inspiration for those little guys trying to get their various music projects off the ground. In 2016 for example, Twin Peaks grew larger than they ever had before, earning steady radio airplay and touring around the globe. The same can be said for Whitney, though those guys had an obvious leg up by forming from the ashes of another higher profile Chicago band Smith Westerns.
So what local rock collective is set to break out in 2017? I’d put my money on the guys in NE-HI. They’ve grown a tremendous amount in the last couple of years, really expanding their sound into new corners beyond Wire-esque post-punk while also giving new focus to their songwriting. It all comes together in spectacular fashion on their sophomore record Offers, which is out on February 24th. Not coincidentally, their tour will lead them straight to the Empty Bottle that very same day for what promises to be an unforgettable hometown album release show.
Beyond sounding prolific and incredibly catchy on record, NE-HI are perhaps best known for their wildly fun live shows. Their songs get transformed into these hulking behemoths on stage that rattle your body in the best sort of way. It makes perfect sense that most of Offers was recorded live to capture that blissful yet intense energy. The riffs are tighter and the hooks that much more addictive than ever before. In certain ways it feels like they’re channeling the sunny and meandering side of Real Estate mixed with the garage rock heft and psychedelia of The Velvet Underground. It works surprisingly well, and I encourage you to check out the tracks below to hear exactly how that shakes out. Also, if you’re in Chicago please come out to the show and support local music!
NE-HI / Deeper / Cafe Racer
Friday, February 24th
9PM / $10 (advance) / 21+
“Fuck Trump! Fuck Pence! Fuck Jeff Sessions! Fuck Betsy DeVos! Fuck Steve Bannon!” Priests vocalist Katie Alice Greer yells, arms stretched high above her head, middle fingers extended. The crowd at Beat Kitchen cheers loudly in agreement. It’s only a couple songs into the band’s set, but even before that explicit statement Priests have already revealed their rebellious spirit. They tear through songs like someone throwing a tantrum, and it is loud and exhilarating and profound and life-affirming. And that’s so very important, especially in these challenging times.
Later in their set, Greer clarifies her position: “Lots of people want to call us a political band, but we’re trying to distance ourselves from that label. I said those things earlier not because it was a political thing to do, but because it was the human thing to do.” Therein lies the power of Priests. Their music connects because it pushes back against the status quo and encourages exploration beyond our current reality. It asks us, with the subtlety of a baseball bat to the side of the head, to wake up from our complacency and fight for the betterment of ourselves and others. Or, summed up in lyrics from their song “Puff”: “My best friend says, ‘I want to start a band called Burger King,’ and I say, ‘Do it! Make your dreams a reality!'” Oh yeah, and they’re funny sometimes too.
There’s a phrase that I’ve heard quite a lot in recent months, but particularly since the election and subsequent inauguration of the new President. “This is not normal.” Recite it like a mantra, and continue to remind yourself that those day-to-day pleasures and sense of comfort have given way to a general unease at the state of our country and world. These are dark times, indeed. And we need art and culture more than ever to help us survive and ignite our will to fight for our causes and against injustice. Enter the Washington D.C. punk band Priests. Not only do they present a voice of dissent direct from our nation’s capital, but their debut album Nothing Feels Natural might as well be another way to tell the world “this is not normal.” Of course, despite its timely release, the album was written and recorded well before the terrifying political events of the last couple months. It just seems awfully prescient given the state of our world today. Yet Priests are less of a political band and more of an anti-establishment band, raging against oppression of any type no matter which side of the aisle it falls on. They’re pushing back against the idea of normal, which means different things to different people. And they’ve never sounded more confident.
While it’s relatively easy to classify Priests as a punk band because of their ethos and hard-charging guitars, Nothing Feels Natural feels a little like a departure from the EPs and singles they’ve released in the past. Their sound has become much more nebulous, incorporating a wide variety of elements from a multitude of genres thereby making it more challenging to classify. That’s by design, and it’s part of what makes this band so unique. There’s little regard for adhering to any sort of convention or mining familiar territory unless there’s a real reason to. Part of the fun is guessing where they’ll go next, which is why one minute you’ll get distorted guitars and Katie Alice Greer singing like she’s about to die, and then the next minute you’ll have a full orchestra rising to a gorgeous, jazzy instrumental. Surf rock and saxophones get their due as well, because why not? Varied though the listening experience might be, there’s a very visceral nature to the entire record that holds it steadfast and commands your attention. You can tell they believe in what they’re doing, and understand that even if one fight ends, another one has already begun. We’re all very lucky a band like Priests exists to inspire and remind us that we make our own paths in this life, so stay true to yourself and forget what you think you know about being normal or natural.
Priests are currently on tour in support of their incredibly great new record, and will be in Chicago next Thursday, February 9th. The wonderful Stef Chura as well as Blizzard Babies will be opening. I strongly urge you to check out this all ages show! Details:
Priests / Stef Chura / Blizzard Babies
Thursday, February 9th
7PM / $13-16 / All Ages
P.S. – $1 from every ticket purchase goes to Casa Ruby, which helps the LGBT community in the Washington D.C. area.
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.
There were a surprising number of people in Union Park at 1:45pm on a Sunday, but I suppose that’s what happens when quality acts are booked to start the day. Porches kicked things off on the Red stage with what can best be described as dance music for lonely people. Indeed, Aaron Maine and his band used synths, bouncy bass lines and the occasional saxophone assist to settle into a groove, and the modest crowd shuffled around entranced while staring at their feet. Many of them may have been nursing hangovers or were simply tired from the previous two days, but at the very least they were moving. While the songs would undoubtedly have sounded even better under the cover of night, Porches still managed to inspire and help people get motivated for one more full day of music.
Sunday at Pitchfork Music Festival is set to be just about the sexiest day of any music festival ever. To quote Tracy Morgan, “Somebody’s gonna get pregnant!” The lineup is stacked with all kinds of R&B and freeform jazz that’s designed to put you in the mood for some lovin’. Not sure how perfectly that pairs with sun and 85 degree temperatures, but we’ll find out, right? At least things will be steamy one way or another. If you’ve been to the fest for two days already, the generally slower and more relaxed vibe on Sunday should be a nice change of pace. The slightly later start time than usual is an added benefit. Gates may open at noon, but the first music doesn’t start until 1:45, so sleep in an extra 90 minutes or at the very least stay off your feet for that period of time. As with the other two days though, there are some serious benefits to showing up early and catching those first bands of the day. Join me past the jump for the hour-by-hour breakdown of who’s playing when, and what artists you simply can’t miss.
Thanks for reading. If you’re headed to Pitchfork this weekend, I’ll see you in Union Park!
Let me use today’s introduction to offer a few festival tips and tricks to help you survive the weekend at Pitchfork Music Festival. Six years of coverage has helped me get this down to a science, so if you follow my lead I guarantee everything’s gonna turn out great for you (you know, within reason). First, the general outdoor festival stuff. Stay hydrated. Drink at least 3-4 full bottles of water each day. That is a minimum. I know it’s tempting to have a few beers, and you realistically still can, just don’t make that the only liquid you drink all day. You’ll sweat tons in the 80+ degree heat and will be on your feet pretty much all day, so those fluids need to be replenished unless you want to wind up in the medical tent. Next up, sunscreen and bug spray. Use both liberally. If you get sunburned on Friday, the rest of the weekend will be painful. You also don’t want to scratch a bunch of bug bites either, so protect yourself.
Don’t overexert yourself. There’s a temptation to go hard and try to see just about every band. It’s possible too! Union Park isn’t that big, and with three stages you won’t need to do that much walking. Just remember to take breaks and sit down from time to time. Eat food – probably more than you’d otherwise have – to maintan energy while you burn calories. Explore! There’s plenty of fun things to do, including the CHIRP Record Fair, the Flatstock poster sale, Book Fort, Craft Fair and Kids Area. A bunch of brands have tents/booths where free food and merch is given away. Lifeway frozen kefir bars are typically being given away near the basketball court, so that’s a nice cool treat on a warm day. You can probably screen print a t-shirt for free too, if that’s an interest. If you’ve got some down time or don’t like any of the artists performing, wandering around the festival grounds can make for a great time.
So that’s about all I’ve got in terms of tips. Well one more – be good to others! In my experience, everyone at Pitchfork is very chilled out and friendly, so treat them in kind. Join me past the jump for an in-depth, hour-by-hour look at the schedule for Saturday. There’s plenty of great stuff to recommend.