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Lollapalooza 2017: Preview Guide

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!

Tuned In: Jena Friedman

photo by David Szymanski
Tuned In is a feature in which special guests from the world of pop culture share a playlist of songs based on a topic or theme of their choice.

Jena Friedman is the definition of a multi-hyphenate. She’s been a field producer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and a correspondent for National Geographic Explorer. She’s written for The Late Show with David Letterman, and is currently hard at work on her first film Serial Dater, starring Imogen Poots and John Cho. She wrote and is directing that one. So yeah, you could say that she’s got a lot of talents, and has been putting them all to good use. It’s left her plate very full, yet you might not know it because she’s not in front of the camera that often.

On a personal level, I found out about Jena Friedman a few years back via her stand-up comedy. She is tremendously funny and possesses that rare quality of being able to make you laugh about some of the darkest and most challenging topics facing our world today. Her recent, pre-election stand-up special American Cunt dives headfirst into politics, feminism, abortion, guns and religion without losing sight of our shared humanity no matter what your personal opinions might be.

After getting her start in comedy here in Chicago more than a decade ago, Jena Friedman is coming back to town next Friday, June 2nd for a set at her old stomping grounds, The Hideout. It is part of the Onion/A.V. Club’s 4th Annual “26th Annual Comedy Festival,” and promises to be a hilarious late night of stand-up with plenty of whip-smart insight about the pitch black turn our world has taken in recent months.

Jena Friedman
Friday, June 2nd at The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.)
10:30 PM / $15 / 21+
Buy Tickets

Lollapalooza 2014: Friday Recap

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.

Album Review: Warpaint – The Fool [Rough Trade]

Topics that tend to come up when talking about the band Warpaint: 1) Wow, their drummer is really, really good. 2) Shannyn Sossamon used to be in the band, along with her sister Jenny Lee Lindberg, but is no longer in the band. 3) They have an interesting sound, and one you wouldn’t expect from a group of women. Please keep in mind that those are not things I personally have said about Warpaint, but in the handful of conversations I’ve had with people about them, those three topics seem to be universally mentioned. In the last few months, hype surrounding Warpaint has hit a fever pitch, and they became even more buzzed about for their set at Lollapalooza. They played a show the night before opening for The Walkmen that I attended, and having only heard a couple tracks from them beforehand, I walked away moderately impressed. Not nearly as excited as many others have been, but enough that their debut album “The Fool” seemed like it’d make for an interesting listen when it came out. Well, we’ve finally hit release week, and support for the band continues at a steady, if not frenzied pace.

Assuming you’ve caught wind of the Warpaint buzz, perhaps you’re now wondering if all the talk is backed up by a great debut album. A short while ago, the band toured with The xx, and naturally that exposed them to a whole other world of fans that could appreciate the dark and feminine songs they make. Many have tried to define exactly what Warpaint sounds like, and labels like shoegaze and dream pop have been thrown around a lot. The thing is, with a lack of fuzz on the guitars and generally sparse melodies, Warpaint lacks the waves of noise that typically define those genres of music. They have more in common with psychedelia largely thanks to the serpentine way their songs bob and weave for an average length of 4-6 minutes. Another interesting thing about the band is how few chords they use, choosing instead to craft most of their melodies by individual string picking, with bass and drums equally prominent in the mix. The equality of instruments brings all of them into closer focus, making standout performances that much more apparent. Now’s a good time to mention what a prize Warpaint has in drummer Stella Mozgawa, another great female percussionist in a long line of great female percussionists. Drummers aren’t always the most noticeable members of any band, but Mozgawa holds her own court in Warpaint. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the band’s live show, though in dealing exclusively with this album you still get a pretty good idea of what kind of force she is. And while the drumming may get its fair share of attention, all of these women are strong presences in their own rights.

“The Fool” is largely a record based around mystic energies, the sort of telepathical bonds some people share with one another. To many people such concepts are utter loads of crap, but we’ve all experienced those moments of deep connections, whether it’s saying the exact same thing at the exact same time as somebody else or trying to negotiate a small hallway with someone walking straight at you from the opposite direction. Yes, most of these things last but a second, but in Warpaint’s case it’s like these women work through their songs via brain waves. One part compliments another in just the right fashion, and it’s enough to turn these compositions from feeling like they’re drifting without purpose to ones that are intentionally directionless because they’ll find their own path anyways. Call it the natural course of things. Another purpose such a style serves is to create a bit of tension, the lucidity of it all hovering so close to the edge that you’re constantly worried things will come off the tracks suddenly and without warning. There’s a similar sense to the vocals, but that’s far more reliant on tonal inflections that dictate the eerieness of it all. There are lyrics that deserve a very harsh and angry vocal that simply float by in a disaffected manner, and the confounding of expectations is disturbing like a guy quietly sitting in a corner sharpening his knife. There’s no direct indication this guy is going to stab you, but at any second he might just leap to his feet and attack, right when you let your guard down. Songs like “Baby” and “Undertow” rely on these vocal and instrumental combos to creep you out in just the right way, and that’s something both unique and cool about Warpaint.

The thing about “The Fool”, and at this point Warpaint in general, is that as interesting as their sound might be, it can be both draining and lightly boring after awhile. There’s enough variation on the album’s 9 tracks to give each song its own identity, but you’re left wondering how long they can keep such a thing going. Their “Exquisite Corpse” EP mined the same sort of material as well, and with so much tension building and little to no release, listeners are bound to become frustrated with it sooner rather than later. That this isn’t an outwardly pop-oriented record hurts it too, as the lack of song structure and catchy verse/chorus payoff can make for problems when it comes to memorability. Outside of a whole bunch of listens that involve memorizing lyrics, if someone asks you to recall a specific Warpaint song it might prove difficult as your brain might register it as one big amorphous blob. That said, there aren’t enough amorphous blob bands making music these days, and these women have the talent to make it work for them. “The Fool” is a good start, but not quite the incredible surprise of 2010 many hype-peddlers might have been hoping for. At the very least it’s an overly solid introduction to a challenging band that certainly has the potential to one day become the toast of the indie world. For now though, maybe test the waters a little bit with this album should it strike your fancy even a little. Above all else though, should you have the ability, be sure to see them perform live, as they move from an intensity on record to pure transcendence on stage.

Warpaint – Undertow

Buy “The Fool” from Amazon

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