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!
It’s been just over a year since The Drums released their self-titled debut album, and for all the touring they did to promote it, for whatever reason the band had enough time on their hands to write and record a follow-up. This in spite of undergoing a lineup change last fall as well. There are a number of potential reasons for a band to crank out another record so quickly. If you’re like Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox or The Fiery Furnaces’ Matthew Friedberger or Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard, songwriting comes so naturally that it becomes problematic if you aren’t consistently making new music. Other bands and artists will keep creating new music in order to keep the hype cycle going, keeping your name on the tip of everybody’s tongues. Then you’ve got those that did relatively well with their last album, but are being pressured by their label to hurry up and record something new in the hopes of generating more cash while the iron is still hot. Of course some artists have also been operating with a low profile for a lengthy period of time and have built a large catalogue of songs and demos that are just waiting to get that studio polish on them. Where do The Drums fall in amongst these possible options? Well, with their new record “Portamento”, it’s a little tough to say. Based purely on conjecture and the songs on this new album, it would seem that the band probably should have given some more time and consideration when putting together their sophmore record.
What brought The Drums moderate success in the first place was their whistle-happy song “Let’s Go Surfing” off that debut album, a track that was super catchy and embodied the spirit of its title. In fact, “surf rock” is one of the descriptive labels you could affix to the band’s sound, though they go far beyond that. They earned early comparisons to New Order and Joy Division, along with The Cure and The Smiths, essentially amounting to their sound being well within the realm of 80s synth-pop, but again with that sunnier, surf edge to it. The funny part is that in spite of their lighter and brighter pop side, the band is more interested in poking fun at those elements and recent surge in popularity than they are succumbing to their charms. Plus, though the melodies themselves might be charmingly upbeat, close examination of the lyrics reveal a much darker and more depressed side of the band. That’s a big part of where the 80s new wave influence comes in, along with a bunch of bass-dominant songs. There’s a certain script that The Drums followed on their debut that felt wholly unoriginal while still sucking us in and winning us over. Here appeared to be a band on the verge of either making it or breaking it based solely on whether or not they played their cards right.
“Portamento” does very little to change what we’re already familiar with about The Drums. They’re still all about those super catchy 80s-inspired melodies with just a hint of lighthearted surf, but they do throw in a twist or two to project at least some evolution. The songs go a touch darker in mood this time around, whether it’s discussing the absence of an afterlife in “Book of Revelation” and “Searching for Heaven” or emotional unavailability in relationships in “Hard to Love” and “I Don’t Know How to Love”. Yet there’s still a very toe-tapping and easygoing feel to many of the melodies. Instrumentally speaking, the band has broadened their sonic palette just a little, adding in things like vocal looping and a greater reliance on synths which means pulling away from guitars just a touch. Yet it doesn’t work out too well, especially on “Searching for Heaven” where synths and vocals are the only two elements in play. Pinned to start the second half of the record, the track just limps along with little to nothing going for it outside of Johnathan Pierce’s vocals, which come across as oddly off-key and disaffected. It becomes one of the album’s standout moments for all the wrong reasons. While nothing else ever gets quite so poor in quality, “Portamento” is absolutely front-loaded with all the best moments. Either that, or after the first half the second half starts to sound like virtually the same songs over and over again. The tempo stays relatively quick and the choruses keep pushing hook after hook like they’re going out of style, but they’re rendered as blunt and moderately ineffective on tracks like “If He Likes It Let Him Do It” and “In the Cold”.
The good news is that The Drums still have at least a handful of super addictive songs on “Portamento” to keep us on the leash for a little while longer. “Days” is by no means their most creative effort, but it’s tough to not find yourself humming it to yourself a few hours after hearing it. There’s a saxophone that pops up on “What You Were” that is a nice little treat when paired with the brisk pace and dreamy atmosphere. First single “Money” is super fun and super danceable, even if the chorus strikes far too many times over 4 minutes that it begins to feel uncomfortable. Amidst the lowlights the second half of the record brings, “I Need A Doctor” is either a good song or feels a lot like one because it’s sandwiched between two bad ones. “How It Ended” closes the record on a strong note though, practically rediscovering the energy and playfulness of the first half of the album and leaving you wondering why the entire record couldn’t have maintained that same quality.
In a nutshell, if you liked the first Drums record, you’ll likely feel the same way about the second. There are no tracks on “Portamento” that are as strong as “Let’s Go Surfing” was, but there are still plenty of successes on it in spite of that. Even then, it’s easy to call this new record a disappointment, largely because the band appears entirely reliant on big choruses and brisk tempos to get by. They seem to figure that the more times you hear a hook, the greater chance it has of getting stuck in your head. As the old saying goes though, quantity does not always equal quality. Even when you are faced with a quality chorus that doesn’t necessarily mean the more times you hear it the better. If you were to eat your absolutely favorite meal every single day, eventually you’d grow tired of it and desire a little more variety. The small sonic experiments with synths and looping and horns don’t nearly provide the sort of variety you might hope for. None of the songs on this album make it past the 4.5 minute mark, but with how quickly they bounce from verse to chorus to verse, there are times where you just want to check and see how much time is left because it starts to feel like it’s been going on forever. The same can be said about the entire record, which may only be 45 minutes but feels closer to 60. Time flies when you’re having fun, and it moves like a snail when you’re not. The Drums may have approached “Portamento” with good intentions and the hope of sustainability/increased popularity, but the reality of the situation is that they’re trying too hard. Perhaps if they ease back on that throttle just a little, take their time and write more carefully layered melodies, success will find them instead of the opposite.