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.