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Lollapalooza 2017: Reflections


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.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2015: Friday in Photos


Join me after the jump for a collection of photos that I took on Day 1 (Friday) of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. Photos are arranged by set time. They are also available in higher resolution on Facebook. Check out my full recap of the day, as well as all the rest of the coverage, by going here.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2015: Friday Recap

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Ah, the hallowed grounds of Union Park. How nice it was to return for yet another year, this time in particular to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Pitchfork Music Festival. Upon my entrance to the park I took a little tour, primarily to get the lay of the land and see what was new compared to years past. In short not much, though the smaller Blue stage has been angled a little differently this year, made a little larger and given a video screen. As a result of the small tweak, what was once a largely shaded area thanks to trees now has a bit more sun but also a bit more space to accommodate larger crowds. That aside, it’s everything in its right place. Here’s a recap of all the music I saw today, which was more a tasting portion of a lot of artists rather than full meals. Details after the jump…

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2015: Friday Preview Guide

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As we continue Pitchfork Music Festival Week here at Faronheit, it’s always a pleasure to offer a closer, more in depth look at not only the artists on the lineup, but some analysis as to the scheduling so you can make the most of your weekend. There are always inevitable conflicts with artists you might like to see, as well as times when it might feel like a dead zone where there’s nothing to interest or inspire you. Fear not! There’s plenty of fun to be had every hour the gates of Union Park are open, whether you know it or not. Sure, there may be some tough calls to make at times, but one of the best things about Pitchfork is that there are never more than two stages going at once. They’re also not that far from one another, meaning that if you really want to see pieces of different sets, it’ll be a five minute walk to pull it off. Minimum effort for maximum musical reward. So without further ado, please join me after the jump for an hour-by-hour look at what Day 1 (Friday) has to offer.

If you missed yesterday’s post featuring audio and video streams/downloads from every artist on this year’s lineup, you can find that post right here.

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#20-11]


As we get into the home stretch of this Top 50 Albums of 2014 list, allow me to briefly reflect in a more general fashion about what this year meant for music and the music industry. There seems to be a general consensus among many music writers and critics that 2014 was a bit of an off year. There weren’t a whole lot of genuinely exciting, mindblowing records that came out, so in a sense I understand where that idea comes from. But it also makes me wonder if we’re just a bit spoiled as well, you know? Like we’ve been really lucky these last few years, and suddenly when the magic starts to fade a bit we just go ahead and blame the artists for not bringing their “A” games every time. For what it’s worth, while I think this year has probably been the weakest so far this decade, I didn’t have any trouble filling up my Top 50 Albums list. There’s about 10 albums I wanted to include but couldn’t due to space restrictions, so that seems to indicate to me that things aren’t terrible. Where 2014 truly shined was actually in the songs. Many of the full lengths may not have been up to snuff, but boy were there some spectacular individual tracks this year that completely blew my mind. We’ve been headed towards a “single” culture for awhile now, and while I’ll always favor the long statement album over the 3 minute track, this year made me understand that concept just a little bit better. I’m excited to hear what 2015 will bring us, and if the couple of albums I’ve heard in advance of next year are any indication, it might be a great year all-around. Now then, let’s get into today’s set of 10 in this Top 50 Albums countdown. In case you missed the first three installments, here are links for you: [#50-41] [#40-31] [#30-21]

Join me past the jump for #20-11!

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Songs of the Year [#40-31]


This Top 50 Songs list is not organized in any other way than by perceived order of excellence, so when you have a look at the set of 10 below, you may be surprised at how thematically related almost all of them are to one another. It was a total fluke things worked out like that, and in fact I didn’t even notice myself until writing up this introduction. The overarching theme is love, whether you’re falling into it, out of it, or somewhere in between, which is a subject matter as old as music itself. I just looked it up, and apparently about 60% of all songs written today are about love, so I guess the similarities aren’t all that shocking after all. Anyways, let’s get right into it, shall we? This freight train keeps rolling on with #40-31 of the Top 50 Songs of 2014! Oh, and in case you missed it, here’s #50-41.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2013: Friday Photos


In case you missed all of the action out at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, I’ve certainly written plenty about it, but haven’t SHOWN you what it all looked like. Well, this and the next couple of photo posts should change all of that. Join me past the jump for a bunch of photos that I took on Day 1. In this set, you’ll find photos of Bjork, Joanna Newsom, Wire, Woods, Angel Olsen, Mac DeMarco and Mikal Cronin.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2013: Final Thoughts


I’m pleased to be wrapping up this week-long adventure into coverage of the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival with a quick look back at the weekend that was. Having attended the festival for the last few years, you really get used to how things are run and where you need to go for everything from water to food to restrooms. So as you return in a sense it’s like coming home, and that’s comforting. I never once felt out of my element or like I had no idea what I was doing over the three days. Of course I didn’t quite see everything I wanted to see and hear everything I wanted to hear thanks to traffic delays and one too many hits of the snooze button, but what I missed was miniscule compared to what I saw. Hopefully you’ve read all about those adventures in my daily recaps (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). That should give you a pretty good idea of the best and worst of the music side of things this year. But just for fun, I put together a little list of superlatives, helping to highlight some of my favorite and least favorite musical treats from the weekend. Check that out:

Most surprising set: Killer Mike
Most disappointing set: Yo La Tengo
Set that best lived Up to the hype: Savages
Band that sounded better live than on record: Parquet Courts
Most openly fun set: Solange
Most likely controlled the weather during their set: Bjork
Set that proved punk rock is alive and well: Metz
Veteran act that still has “it”: Wire
Veteran act that has lost “it”: The Breeders
Band whose set would have been far more popular in a different decade: Chairlift
Band that felt so right in the middle of a sunny afternoon: Phosphorescent
Quietest set (artist + crowd): Joanna Newsom
Funniest set: Mac DeMarco
Most gratuitous use of the word “SWAG”: Lil B
Flashiest performance with the least amount of genuine substance: M.I.A.
Most pathetic attempt to attract attention: Foxygen

Outside of those superlatives, I want to talk for a brief minute about how things went overall. Since we’re on the topic of music, let me say a few words about this year’s lineup. To me, it felt just a little bit weaker than in the last few years, though all of the headliners were certainly nothing to sneeze at. Perhaps that’s where most of the budget went this year. I suspect it was telling that unlike the last couple years, the festival wasn’t a total sell out this year. Sunday was sold out, most likely due to obsessive R. Kelly fans who camped out at the Green stage for much of the day just waiting for him. But Friday and Saturday didn’t sell out, as far as I’m aware. I did keep hearing that there were a “very limited number” of tickets left for Friday, so maybe that eventually sold out too. When I look at it, I like most of the artists on the lineup for this year, but I’m not overly passionate about a lot of them. It made for another fine festival overall and I’m glad I saw what I did, but for whatever reason it sometimes felt like something was missing. Not a whole lot of artists really jumped out and grabbed me by the ears, so maybe that’s what it was. If I were put in charge of naming one act each day that was my favorite, the list would be the following: Friday – Bjork, Saturday – Savages, Sunday – Killer Mike. Of all the days, I’d classify Friday as my least favorite, primarily because many of the artists that performed that day were either relatively bland (Woods, Mikal Cronin) or didn’t quite feel like they belonged at an outdoor festival (Angel Olsen, Joanna Newsom). Perhaps I should have made it to Union Park in time for Trash Talk, I heard their set was crazy.

Music aside, let me comment on the amenities this year. Considering the capacity of Union Park every year, festival organizers have gotten everything at just about the right levels to make things comfortable. The restrooms are plentiful and you’ll never wait too long for one. The food booths offer a wide variety of cuisine for even the most sensitive of palates or dietary restrictions. I had some amazing tacos on Sunday. The return of Goose Island as the provider of alcoholic beverages was an inspired move. The availability of key beers like 312 and Green Line was nice, but even nicer was the special Goose Island booth that had a rotating cast of different beers from the brewer’s catalogue, not to mention two beers crafted exclusively for the festival. I tried both of the fest-exclusive beers, and they were delicious. The singular gripe I have, and it’s basically always been a problem, is with water fountains. Union Park has a distinct lack of water fountains, and therefore the few it does have resulted in long lines. There’s nothing that can really be done about that, but I’ve got to hand it to the volunteer crew at the festival for often walking around with cases of bottled water, handing them out to anybody that wanted one. A lot of people were likely spared a trip to the medical tent as a result of such gestures, though I did see at least a few people go down due to heat exhaustion and dehydration. On the whole, this year’s festival went rather swimmingly, where the sets all started on schedule and the lines were never astronomically or annoyingly huge. It’s a sharp reminder that no matter what the lineup might be, this is one of the best-run music festivals in the country. As I stated in my earlier coverage, Pitchfork Music Festival weekend is my favorite weekend every single year I attend. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true again by the time we reach the end of 2013.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2013: Friday Recap

Most things about Day 1 at the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival could be considered challenging. Or, perhaps described a little differently, most things except the performances. The main factor on Friday was the weather. A glance at the temperature would tell you the heat index was in the upper 90s, and therefore it bordered on oppressive. Then again, it’s nothing particularly new for this festival or mid-July in Chicago. Still, the volunteer staff could be credited as doing a fair to good job of distributing bottled water to the sweaty masses, even walking around with cases of it through the crowd during sets. Yet if you went to one of Union Park’s few water fountains, the lines were long. The same could be said for all the beverage tents. Everyone was in need of some fluids. And while outside of the heat it was a nice and sunny day, it became less so when severe storms rolled in during the evening hours and effectively shut down Bjork’s set 30 minutes early. It hadn’t rained a drop when organizers pulled the plug on the evening, but there was a pretty great lightning show that could hypothetically have put people in danger. The actual rain, as it was reported to me, started about 30-45 minutes after the park was cleared. Hopefully it won’t be a soggy mess for the rest of the weekend. Beyond weather and lines though, let’s talk about the music itself. Here’s a recap of the artists I saw:

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