Saturday August 4th, 2012 at Grant Park Chicago
JJ Grey and MOFRO are on stage is tearing up the Lollapalooza crowd with his bluesy brand of rock-soul. Grey in a sleeveless t-shirt and baseball hat is working the crowd as his six backing musicians are hitting every note with absolute precision and perfection, but more importantly, Grey is connecting with the crowd instantly. The crowd is standing in rapturously taking in the performance watching a master of his craft relish a rare moment in front of an vast crowd. Then after fifteen-minutes, he waves goodbye and thanks the festival for the chance to perform. Grey was scheduled for an hour set, so I was perplexed until the announcement came on asking the crowd to evacuate Grant Park until a forthcoming storm passes. To the festival and cities credit, the evacuation took place without incident. The crowd did not fight it misbehave and left in an orderly fashion. While this did damper the second day a bit, the day was not without some staggering highlights.
If there is anything I have learned about Lollapalooza is that it is worth you time and energy to get there early. Each day I witnessed a revelatory performance from a 12pm performer. On Friday, the First Aid Kit gave the day's most spiritual performance and on Saturday, it was Laura Warshauer's turn. Backed by a four-piece band who complimented her songs with sublime strength. On "Dream Sequence" Warshauer strode to the tip of the stage where she did not merely perform to the crowd, but looked them dead in the eye. She was not afraid of their rejection or their love, she simply put every bit of her being into the vocal delivery. An integral piece of Warshauer's sound was violinist Kiara Ana Perico who added sensual touches as her violin bow embroidered the songs displaying the openness of the lyrics. Placing them into this realm of beauty few are capable of. At one point, Warschauser stood next to Perico and she tilted her head towards the sky with her eyes closed and held a note a little longer than normal. The way their two bodies stood next to one another, each releasing something from within, was a remarkable sight and something I had not anticipated seeing so early in the day Our lives are defined by our continual discussion of pain, despair and hurt. Nevertheless, how many people on this planet have the courage to say "I want to make things right". It is a selfless exercise of sacrifice where ego is laid to rest. Warshauer managed to get the crowd to sing-a-long with her. Considering the hour and the lack of fluency with her material, this is a highly impressive feat. On a brand new song, she described as "Dublin meets Asbury Park, New Jersey" "Somebody For Me", the pining was accentuated by the wrapping bow of Perico's violin. Like First Aid Kit the day before, Laura Warshauer was a revelation on the Lollapalooza stage. Remember her name, she will be serenading us for long time coming.
Doomtree is a seven-member hip-hop unit hailing from Minneapolis. The group is full of many individual artists who all have their own careers, but who have notable solo careers and yet came together several years ago and have released two records. Their time on the Red Bull stage was inspiring, considering how early in the day it was. "Bangarang" had the grip of the crowd and for their entire set, the crowd grew and more importantly, so did their enthusiasm. They transcend the hip-hop tag and fuse so many styles that trying and labeling them do not do them justice.
At the far opposite of the field Delta Spirit found them churning their distinctive brand of rock n' roll. They have been granted a tag of indie rock, but while their footing tends to lean more towards classic rock, they shake up their sound with trashcan lids and unique percussion beefing up their sound. Playing to an massive crowd on the Bud Light stage (the same one Black Sabbath headlined the night before), the band struggled early in their set. "White Table" and "Tear It Up" did not connect with the large crowd and I was worried the crowd would exit for other stages, but to the credit of their fans, they held in there and the slow burn set list eventually found momentum. By the time the band performed "Children", they had the upfront crowd in the palm of their hand and the casual fans became more intrigued. "California" featured some the band interlocked in an incessant drive delivered to a crowd that was double the size of last year's Lollapalooza performance. To their credit, when you listen to their records you often think to yourself, "how did they get that sound?" and surprisingly, you see it all on the stage. During the finale of "Trashcan" lead singer Matthew Vasquez leapt off the stage, grabbed a bucket of water and sent it flying into the crowd. The beauty of festivals like Lollapalooza is acts perform to large crowds they otherwise would never see, but it is equally hard to leave a lasting impression. Under the baking sun the Chicago crowd was fatigued, but Matthew Vasquez rose to the occasion.
JJ Grey and MOFRO
JJ Grey and MOFRO took to the stage at 3:15 with a six piece-backing band (two of which were horns) and they overpowered the crowd from the first note. Grey roamed the stage with more confidence, further the crowd gazed intensely on Grey and MOFRO and were witnessing magic and just as he was about to take the crowd to another level with his bluesy-soulful tales of life, he waved goodbye to the crowd and announcement came on requesting the crowd to evacuate the festival due to a storm. To my utter astonishment, the evacuation proved to be an easy. Fans made their way throughout the streets of downtown Chicago (where convenience stores, hotels and bars had late afternoon rushes). Even though they reopened the gate at 5:45 and performances were scheduled to start at 6:15, most acts did not start until 6:30 with heavily reduced sets. Acts like JJ Grey and MOFRO, Alabama Shakes and the Temper Trap all had their sets excised and were unfortunately not rescheduled. It was a hard-hitting decision to be made, but for the safety of the crowd, the festival organizers made the correct choice and the acts that followed the delay, brought an concentrated vigor that otherwise may not have occurred.
The first act I caught after the rain delay was on the Google Play stage- fun. To say that fun. exceeded expectations would be a gross underestimation. If there were such a thing as playing to a capacity crowd at a festival, this would be it. They did not hit the stage until 6:45 and their set was drastically reduced, but for the time they graced the festival crowd with their presence, they owned it. The second lead singer Nate Ruess placed foot on the stage, the show became one wild party. fun. have found a way to surpass one-hit-wonder status. Their short 30-minute set of melodies, which owe something to Queen, had a whipping rhythm that seduced the crowd. The songs are driven by perfectly constructed melodies that almost sound too good to be true. On "Why Am I the One", Ruess separated his arms and signaled the crowd to keep the rhythm with their claps. Ruess does not look like your textbook rock star and yet, I could not keep my eyes off him and neither could the ecstatic crowd. We the opening bass drum beat of "We Are Young" began, the crowd reached levels of pandemonium. I still believe the greatest live performances find a perfect marriage between the band and the fan. When strangers break bread and become a community unto themselves because music is one of the greatest mysteries of the world. This experience was intensified by the festival setting. The crowd who came to Lollapalooza was there for socializing, seeing great music under a skyline but also to share something and up until this moment on day two, no other band could touch fun.'s force. If the rapturous crowd was not enough to watch, watching fun. on the concert stage was like watching your child open presents on Christmas morning. You are overcome with a sense of glee that anyone could compose and design something that connects as much as "We Are Young". By the time the last notes of "Some Nights" were performed, fun. attested to the Chicago crowd there is more to them than merely one song and I for one will be watching them with a close eye.
On the other side of the street, Franz Ferdinand, an alternative Scottish rock band, wasted no time in delivering wrist-spinning rhythm guitars. The band is set to release a new record before the end of the year, but what was striking about their set at Lollapalooza was their capability to capture a crowd's attention on a very large stage. This is no easy feat considering it has been a number of years since they have had a hit on the radio. Opening with "The Dark of the Matinιe" from their debut and following it with a dual whammy from their second album You Could Have It So Much Better. "Walk Away" and "Do You Want To". The band were meticulous in their performance on the Bud Light stage and to my surprise, the crowd ate up each song like they were the latest and greatest indie rock entry. Later in their set, "Take Me Out" and "Ulysses" were tough but just as appealing. One was a bonafide hit and the latter jigged my memory bank as their third record, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand making me want to revisit it because it was evident I did not spend as much time with the record as I should have. Franz Ferdinand was one of the great surprises of the day proving they are not ready to surrender without a fight.
I have always leaned towards rock n' roll music as my primary love, I have always been fascinated by all genres and forms of music. If there was one lesson to take away from Lollapalooza 2012 it was that EDM (Electronic Dance Music) is here to stay. Calvin Harris, born in Scotland, has made quite a name for himself as one of the definitive DJ's of the genre. To those unfamiliar with him, he wrote and produced the monster smash "We Found Love" for Rihanna. I chose to miss the last few Franz Ferdinand songs to catch a portion of Harris' set my mind proceeded to be blown. Taking place on Perry's stage, the entire field was filled, as were the sidewalks and there was significant overflow into the streets on the side and rear of the crowd. It was possibly the largest crowd I saw the entire festival. Bodies churned against one another in the wet mud. What I saw were tens of thousands of fans having the time of their lives. Credit the DJ's, they have found a way to enliven crowds in ways few rock bands ever imagined. Calvin Harris proceeded to have the Lollapalooza crowd drunk of his incredible screens, perfectly sequenced blasts of dry ice, gargantuan stout beats, and towering melodies. Not even the rain and mud could have dampened the crowd and even if it did, Harris thrust it back to life.
What should have been one of the most revealing sets of Lollapalooza wound up being substandard. Bloc Party's hour-long set featured a smattering of songs from their forthcoming record, Four. A Saturday evening set if among the most prized times in any festival and somehow, the four members of Bloc Party never found their footing. "Helicopter" appears to have resonated with the fans up close, but alienated the remainder of those in attendance (who were mostly positioning themselves for the Red Hot Chili Peppers set which was to begin immediately upon Bloc Party's completion). Their performance of "Flux" featured of tease of the aforementioned "We Found Love". The breezing quixotic intermingling of instruments on their studio records was deficient and replaced with a much more serrated border which didn't come off as unrefined so much as muddled. The svelte production has always matched their collective drive on record but at Lollapalooza, the band and crowd felt amiss. Could it have been the conditions of the area in front of the stage, which was severely wet from the storm, or was it those en route to the Red Hot Chili Pepper's headline set that drew attention away from them? Probably a bit of both.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Twenty years after they had initially headlined the second Lollapalooza festival, the Red Hot Chili Peppers returned to headline once again. Having their set shortened a bit due to the storm meant the band went on later than expected with a new end time of 10:45, instead of 10pm. Many writers passed up on the Chili Peppers in favor of Frank Ocean, but my mind and heart were with the Peppers if for no other reason than their music is meant to be experienced by crowd's that have the power to overwhelm the band. After the opening of "Monarchy of Roses" and "Around the World", the band appeared to find their footing with the sing-a-long smashes
"Snow ((Hey Oh))" and "Otherside", the latter that found the band and the capacity crowd in a perfect marriage of give-and-take responses. Drummer Chad Smith and bassist Flea found themselves locked in the tight swinging grooves.
The journalist in me probably should have chosen Santigold or Frank Ocean over the Chili Peppers, but the warm embrace of the crowd and the comfort of these songs cleared my conscience. On "Under the Bridge", lead singer Anthony Kiedis did not even need to sing. The crowd, and not just those upfront, was hanging on every lyric. It is for this very reason that seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers in concert can still be capable of discovery. People dismiss acts who have decades of hits under their belt, but what they forget is that festivals like Lollapalooza are designed for us to discover new music and to reignite the flame within for other acts. I was stunned by how many songs of the Chili Peppers I had forgotten or not listened to in years. Seeing 50,000 people hang on every note is something that will not be leaving my memory bank any time soon. Acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers are rare these days and when you are reintroduced to a forgotten song and you can share the experience with a large crowd, it is the equivalent of a warm embrace from a long lost friend. The clinch triggers our minds to a time and place where we knew this person and calls to mind the shared experiences we had that forged who we are today. This person, this crowd and this band are the concrete we poured into our mental foundation. The Red Hot Chili Peppers may be a Goliath sized band these days but they are still capable of triggering your heartstrings, as they did on those opening chords of "By the Way". With the added weight of 50,000 helping pull those strings, we are reminded not just of whom we are and where we came from
but above all else, where we still want to go.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter