Lollapalooza. When Perry Farrell chose the nonsensical word to title what was to be Jane’s Addiction’s final tour in 1991, no one could have known how far it would go. From its early days as the premiere touring festival of the alt-nineties to today’s status as the biggest music festival in America, it’s a behemoth on the scene. That beast slouched back to Grant Park in downtown Chicago again this year, Friday-to-Sunday, August 1st to 3rd, with a huge sack of artists & much more.
Rain, the bane of all music festivals, reared its ugly head as Lollapalooza started, but it didn’t dampen spirits among the likes of Courtney Barnett or J Roddy Walston & The Business early on Day One’s start. And though there were some computer problems plaguing the festival in that afternoon, by four o’clock the skies cleared and stayed that way for the rest of the day.
Lollapalooza often presents a chance to catch highly hyped young acts, and to see if they’re worth such words. Yes, playing on a big stage in the daytime isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s rare for anyone to ever play a truly ‘ideal’ setting, and given how financially important the festival season is to touring acts, they must be able to play an event like Lollapalooza. Day One gave a number of artists having to live up to their hype, particularly female artists. Warpaint on the Lake Shore Stage endured the last of the rain to sound really good, a nice mix of indie & psych. While most focus on singer/guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman (or on just how good-looking all in the female four-piece are), one must especially appreciate bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg, who grooved to the music when it called for it, but also broke down with drummer Stella Mozgawa when that was needed.
An early ‘must see’ for fans & press alike at Lollapalooza ’14 was Iggy Azalea playing Perry’s Tent. To paint the scene, there were passed out dudes, crying underage girls in tube tops & short-shorts, and even cops – and that was just while trying to get to the photo pit, which itself was a clusterfuck, with security placing photographers to clear a lane of exit for tiny female crowd-surfers; and this was all before Azalea even took the stage! Throughout the festival, Perry’s Tent was the place for all of the craziness folks of a certain age hate, and folks younger than that love, with tons of bros & the gals in attendance, everyone lightly dressed, but what they were wearing was neon, and lots & lots of partying. It all threatened to overshadow Azalea’s show (especially it being early on the first day, when one isn’t inured to such sights), but the rhymestress knew how to perform. In front of giant screens and DJ Wizz Kidd, Azalea and four “FANCY” dancers (interestingly, seemingly each of a different ethnic group) commanded the stage & the crowd. She had the audience in a frenzy, maybe best encapsulated in when she got them all to put their middle fingers up.
A long way away in age and outright distance at the other end of Grant Park was the Bud Light Stage and Interpol. One of the two biggest stages, the bigger platform gave the usually dark band bigger energy and a bigger sound. Yes, older songs got the largest responses – but that included not just breakthrough debut Turn Out the Bright Lights but also follow-up Antics, which bodes well for 2010’s return to form Interpol (QRO review – if not 2007 major label misfire Our Love To Admire – QRO review), given enough time. With El Pintor out the following Tuesday, the set did feature new songs, which also sounded good.
After Portugal. The Man Portugal. The Man-ned it up at their third Lollapalooza on the other big stage, Samsung Galaxy, it was CHVRCHES’ time to shine at Lake Shore. Another female-fronted act riding a ton of buzz off a new album, in their case The Bones of What You Believe (QRO review), the physically tiny Scottish trio was aided by their large lighting rig set-up (though it was still too bright for it to actually seriously light up) for their uplifting electro-pop. Special note goes to security’s favorite fan, a fellow up front who put on at least the top half of a gorilla suit as CHVRCHES went on (must have been hot in there…), even if they’re not really a ‘gorilla’ band.
But the real XX chromosome that was out to prove herself to everyone at Lollapalooza was Lorde. The New Zealand singer is only seventeen but already has a huge following with her ethereal sound and style. Playing Bud Light Stage in the daylight did diminish that somewhat, not to mention wardrobe issues on the back of her fashion-overalls (different from the pin-stripped suits she was wearing in the press area earlier in the day) that required fixing. So no, she couldn’t quite live up to the live hype, but was still very strong.
It’s weird to think of The Kooks as ‘veterans’, considering how young they still are, but the British outfit knew what they were doing at the Grove Stage – and they still had tons of teenage girls out there to see them, a high number & percentage even for Lollapalooza. Singer Luke Pritchard played to them in his tight pants in curly hair, like a younger & British Nic Offer of !!! (QRO live review days before), though without quite as much thrusting of the pelvis.
The flipside to love is heartbreak, and bringing said damaged organ to the Lake Shore Stage was Lykke Li. The Swedish songstress brought heartache on this year’s I Never Learn (QRO review), but live she was more defiant. Coming onto the stage like she’d got caught in the rain (including wet hair and shiny black slicker-like top), she had great moves & a great voice (aided by darkening – but not yet dark – skies).
The inevitable headliner-vs.-headliner dilemma of every day of Lollapalooza (that’s why the two main stages are so far apart, so that both can host performances at the same time) was a strange one on Day One: über-successful über-American über-veteran Eminem vs. finally-getting-as-big-in-US-as-in-native-UK Arctic Monkeys. The best-selling rapper delivered what you expected from him, like “My Name Is” (introduced with, “Can I take you back to when I would get fucked up!?!”) and “Stan”, not to mention the shouldn’t-have-been-shocking guest appearance by Rihanna (they’re about to go on tour together). Meanwhile, the British rockers went full-on lothario behind singer/guitarist Alex Turner, who strutted and rocked as their crowd had hands in the air.
So what plucky outfit would dare play the smaller Grove against these two titans? Phantogram would, and completely pulled it off. While their electro-dance sound shrinks in daylight performances (QRO photos), it was only more intense in the evening for a crowd that wasn’t ‘walking by and decided to check out between other acts,’ but there and staying there for Phantogram.
While Friday had begun with rain before getting sunny, Saturday was sunny all the way through – very sunny. This worked distinctly in favor of the day’s opener at The Grove, Jon Batiste & Stay Human. The New Orleans act were coming off an electric appearance on The Colbert Report (QRO Music on Late Night TV), which included literally “taking it to the streets” – with even your favorite pundit busting a move. The Lollapalooza set naturally couldn’t have that sight, but the group had tons of energy despite it being just after twelve noon.
A crowd with a lot of energy was the one at Palladia Stage for Parquet Courts. The garage-punk group saw a full-fledged mosh pit, but it was a friendly one, while guitarist Austin Brown even tried his hand at noise-rock distortion by putting his guitar up to his amp. There was more party-rock over at the secluded BMI Stage with Desert Noises, who southern sounds got a strong crowd on the small tent (draw aided by all the shade from the trees).
Once upon a time, Kate Nash was a cute Anglo indie-popster in the mold of Lily Allen, but she has by now broken out as a twenty-first century riot grrl, albeit one who still knows a thing or two about fashion. Her Lollapalooza set might have featured balloons and six-inch-high platform shoes, but it was definitely her rock side, and it worked well on the big Bud Light Stage. Nash was also ably aided by her all-girl group, who might have rocked even harder – including when Nash went to stand on the front speakers for “Mariella”, and then into the pit for the following “Do Wah Doo”.
As The Temper Trap started at Lake Shore Stage, singer/guitarist Dougy Mandagi admitted that the Australian group had been out of commission for a while, but that it was “fucking great to be back.” Absence must have made the hearts grow fonder, because they had a huge crowd that stretched across the grounds to the Samsung Galaxy Stage. Their new songs seemed to be harder ones, but they also did their ‘oldies’ – as well as a cover of The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah”.
After that set the large crowd easily moved over to the Samsung Galaxy Stage for Fitz & The Tantrums, and if you were lagging in pep at this point in the day, Fitz & The Tantrums brought the energy in spades. Their neo-soul was originally categorized alongside the likes of fellow ampersanders Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (QRO live review), but Fitz & co. actually felt a little more reminiscent of the day’s headliner, OutKast (see below), albeit without the rapping.
Also bringing the energy, on the other side of Grant Park, was Grouplove at the Bud Light Stage. The young Los Angeles group did have some tech issues early on, including mikes not working (forcing the crowd to sing a verse of “Itchin’ On a Photograph”) and a replacement bass & chord for new bassist Daniel Gleason, but worked around it – indeed, it was particularly neat to see singer/guitarist Christian Zucconi (QRO interview) and singer/keyboardist Hannah Hooper share a mike, the real-life couple singing to each other. While Hooper bounced around the stage in her new leopard print leotard, Zucconi gave the stage crew more work when he went directly to the crowd.
An unfortunately schedule overlap saw Grouplove going up against friends Manchester Orchestra, who played the Lake Shore Stage. But while Grouplove went pop, Manchester hit the ground & the crowd hard – not quite ‘pummeling’ in their sound, more finesse than that, but kicked raw rawk ass the way not enough bands at Lollapalooza had up until that point.
As early evening set in, the younger fans headed over to the Samsung Galaxy Stage for Foster the People, whose singer Mark Foster was bustin’ moves on stage with a killer shuffle to go with their big electro-pop.
Meanwhile, the more veteran indie-rock hipsters went the opposite direction to see veteran indie-rockers Spoon, who were doing what’s right about indie-rock. The group already has a ton of great songs, and despite having a new album, They Want My Soul, out three days later, Britt Daniel & co. stuck mainly to performing the classics that you wanted. They were even able to play hit single “The Underdog” without a horn section, something they had not always been to do. Other neat moments included calling out some incident at the front of the crowd involving a guy in a blue shirt (security?), and an on-stage huddle.
Few acts wanted to go up against the heavyweight closer, with the likes of Calvin Harris and Cut Copy starting much later – instead, the little ol’ Grove Stage had little ol’ Jenny Lewis standing tall. Admittedly an act with a different sound & fan base, the songstress brought the sweet alt-country that you were expecting from her.
Of course, the biggest act of Day Two of Lollapalooza, the biggest act of this festival season, was headliner OutKast. Andre 3000 and Big Boi reunited this year and are seemingly headlining every festival out there, and while festival veterans might complain that their sets are the same, if you haven’t seen OutKast this year, go see OutKast. Arriving from inside of a giant cube with the Stars & Stripes projected on it, the duo delivered the songs that had made the wider world realize that hip-hop wasn’t just East Coast vs. West Coast, but also Dirty South. The crowd loved every minute of it, while security had to be on their toes in the organized chaos that was the photo pit (which, for some reason, was also where VIPs would walk through to get to their section).
While on Friday the rains ended by the afternoon, and Saturday was nothing but sun, on Sunday the rains started at 1:00 PM and were on & off throughout the rest of the day, including sudden downpours. It was particularly amazing how all the young people at the festival were utterly unprepared for rain, throughout the festival.
Full disclosure: QRO has loved Brooklyn’s Bear Hands for a long time, and your correspondent made sure to get to Lake Shore Stage by noon to catch not just the start, but all of their set (a luxury when one is shooting the festival, and usually only sees the first three songs of an act, i.e. the time one is allowed in the photo pit). While the set was admittedly not as electric as local NYC evening headlining shows, they still gave it. Overall, the band has gotten a little more intense, a little less party as they’ve gotten older – but singer/guitarist Dylan Rau (QRO interview) did get to roll around a bit on stage, and dedicated new single “Agora” to anyone on SSRIs or benzodiazepine. The biggest response was reserved for prior Distraction (QRO review) single “Giants” (QRO review), which ended the set – it was impressive to see the crowd (which seriously grew as the performance went on) react to just word that they were going to play it, indicating that Chicago knew & loved the song.
Jack Antonoff of current indie-pop hit fun. (QRO live review) has a side-project in Bleachers, who at the Lake Shore Stage somehow managed to sound like the Springsteen-esque Gaslight Anthem (QRO live review). But delivering exactly what you expected, for better or worse, was White Denim right after at the Samsung Galaxy Stage: country-twang jam like you’d find at a jam-band festival (if somewhat younger and with shorter hair), ‘sweetness’ faces to the music, etc. Following them back on the Lake Shore Stage was the highly hyped London Grammar. Actually from Nottingham, but still British, they’ve been riding a tidal wave of buzz back in ol’ Blightly and now here in America; certainly ethereal and arty, reminiscent of Day One’s Lorde, but even higher art.
All musical acts are either better on record or live, and distinctly better live is Cage the Elephant. While their southern guitar party-rock isn’t particularly impressive on one’s stereo, live at the Samsung Galaxy Stage they took it to a whole other level and beyond. Remarking that the last time they played Lollapalooza it was in the rain, so it was only fitting that it rain again for them, that completely did not stop them, with singer Matt Shultz and brother/guitarist Brad diving into the super excited crowd early and often.
Another act super happy to be there, with a crowd that felt the same way, was the musically very different Chromeo all the way on the other side of Grant Park at the Bud Light Stage. Unabashedly disco on this year’s White Women (QRO review), men & women of all colors were screaming for the duo (okay, majority women), who were able to put out an incredibly big and diverse sound despite being ‘only’ P-Thugg and Dave 1 (later saw the pair in the press tent, Dave 1 joking around with the Getty Photography people – because this is a band who knows how to look good…).
But if you wanted to be just up with life, The Avett Brothers on the Samsung Galaxy Stage had your fix. It was interesting to watch the dynamics among the high-profile alt-country act up there; while singer Scott Avett seemed a little reticent, especially when on the piano farther back on the stage, it was guitarist Seth Avett who played the rabble-rouser, including leading the crowd to sing along to his brother. But there was a lot of rabble-rousing on stage, including violinist Tania Elizabeth bounding around and Joe Kwon lifting his cello in the air (Bob Crawford was ‘tied down’ to an upright bass for much of the time).
The knock on Young the Giant has long been that they play nice-but-not-gripping indie-rock – however, they were quite gripping on the Lake Shore Stage, very active, very alive. Perhaps that was due to that weekend’s return of guitarist Jacob Tilley, as mentioned by singer Sameer Gadhia, in between his many faces.
On Sunday the Samsung Galaxy Stage played host to a lot of country-rock, from White Denim to Cage the Elephant to The Avett Brothers to the evening/festival closers, Kings of Leon (not to mention lots of brotherly music, from Shultz’s of Cage, Brothers Avett, and Family Followill of Leon). Their giant and effective rock has been known for a while, but they upped it at Lollapalooza by bringing on a string section mid-way through.
A few main take-aways:
Lollapalooza is huge – The festival itself takes up three blocks of Grant Park (plus another three for entrance and backstages). It needs that space to fit in so many stages, and to have two main stages (Bud Light & Samsung Galaxy) that can have two headliners on at the same time. But with that comes some serious hikes, if the next stage you want to head to is at the opposite end of festival (and the bigger the stage, the farther away it is). It gets to the point where you start hating the giant Buckingham Fountain in the middle of everything, because if you see it, you’re still less than halfway to wherever you’re trying to get to (but, then again, it is from the Married… With Children opening credits…).
A young crowd comes to Lollapalooza – All festivals cater to the younger folks, who have the energy and time to do festivals, to see acts they don’t know between ones they do, and can’t get into hipster 21+ clubs. But the boys and girls seem particularly young, perhaps because they wear so little, and what they do wear is usually neon. Or because a good percentage are drunk by two in the afternoon (interestingly, a rogue urinating guy was busted, but not a pair of dudes snorting lines out in the open…).
There’s both more and less time that you imagined at Lollapalooza – A schedule could look like a Sophie’s Choice of who vs. who to see, or a desert of no one you care about, depending on your tastes & the line-up. Of course, early in the day when you’ve got energy it’s openers you don’t know, while later in the evening when you’re worn out is when you need to run from stage to stage.
Lollapalooza is huge – Really can’t stress that enough. It’s big enough to have a diverse range of acts, both in style and popularity. It makes it hard to come up with a ‘sum up’ statement about the festival, other than to say that you can’t sum up Lollapalooza 2014 in just one statement.
-words & photos: Ted Chase