Lollapalooza 2013 Day Three
The 2013 edition of Lollapalooza ended this past Sunday but not before it set free another ten hours of eclectic alternative music. The perfect summer day allowed one to maximize their time between the stages. Here are antiMUSIC's twelve highlights from Sunday August 4th.
The Q Brothers
The one stage that does not get enough attention from the press is Kidzapalooza. It takes place under a well-shaded area where there are music acts, activities and workshops for children. Lollapalooza allows children under the age of ten to enter the festival free with an adult. The admission allows them to watch an assortment of acts on the stage, hang with their parents and most importantly, discover dissimilar types of music they may one day grow to love. The first act on Sunday was the Q Brothers. Two brothers, GQ and JQ, both hail from Chicago and have been performing on the kids' stage at Lolla for eight straight years (and will take part in the Austin City Limits festival in October). GQ and JQ take to the stage with several friends, collaborators, and rap with a dynamic enthusiasm that is infectious to both parents and children alike.
The actual performances from the Q Brothers range from stark declarations to family friendly hip-hop poetry that will make you beam. Growing up I never could have imagined such a workshop existing. What many may not know is the colossal resume of the Q Brothers. GQ was one of the creators of the off Broadway smash hit The Bomb-itty of Errors, a hip hop theatre retelling of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors. That led to feature film roles which include One the Line, Drumline and Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn. He joined his brother JQ to form the Q Brothers and that resulted in another Shakespeare adaptation, Othello: The Remix, which is another hip-hop inspired version of Othello which just finished a five-month run in Chicago. It also had its premiere at the Globe-to-Globe Festival and World Shakespeare Festival in 2012. There is brilliance in being able to alter between infusing contemporary musical styles with the most studied stories in the English language and then taking a misinterpreted art form (hip-hop) and making it something you want your kids not just to watch, but take part in. Just because the Q Brothers appeared on a kids stage, do not mistake them for being lightweight. Fusing contemporary pop culture into their music was not a trick as so much a tease eliciting smiles from children and parents alike.
The Q Brothers run a hip-hop workshop, are available for private events (when they are not touring one of their productions that take them to South Korea and London in September) and even have a free family hip-hop album suitable for children on their website for download available. If you find yourself at Austin City Limits in October, put them on your must-see list and if you have children, I urge you to download the record (for free) at this link, seek out their plays and hire them for your corporate or children's parties. The Q Brothers capture your heart, body, mind and soul, which are more than mere entertainment, but they provide you a guide to riches and experiences you never could have imagined.
Palma Violets are hailed as one of the "50 Artists You Must See Before You Die" by NME, so their presence on the mammoth Bud Light stage came with almost implausible expectations. The good news is that despite performing at one in the afternoon, they tore through a 45-minute set in breakneck pace that the crowd relished. You cannot teach enthusiasm to someone, they have it or they do not; the Palma Violets swam in it almost daring the crowd to take their eyes off them. They opened their set with a earsplitting "California Sun" cover before winding through most of their debut album 180. "Best of Friends" with its catching chorus relied on both grandiloquence and a feral appetite to make their mark. Bassist-vocalist Chilli Jesson sprinted across the stage and hunkered down on his four string bass with pride and purpose as the songs are played with attentiveness usually reserved for clubs. Guitarist-vocalist Samuel Fryer strummed along to "Tom the Drum" conjuring the vocal spirit of Joy Division's Ian Curtis. Both Jesson and Fryer are bonded at the hip and dedicate themselves to giving them crowd their all. At the end of the set Jesson placed his bass on the ground and leapt into the crowd, stirring the few non-believers left into submission. "Chicken Dippers" with William Doyle's shuffling drums and a faultlessly inconspicuous organ by Peter Mayhew give the track the essence of horror analogous to "House of the Rising Sun". They return to America this October with their brand of no-nonsense rock that blisters and boils until they attain a sense of distorted splendor. The Palma Violets are every bit as good as you've heard where with only one record to their name, they make every song feel like an extended encore where the four musicians are bonded in a powerful synch most bands dreams of capturing but few attain.
Jake Bugg recorded his self-titled record when he was a mere eighteen years old. You're still finding yourself at this age and no matter the drive or determination, there are often still growing to be had. Despite this, Bugg's debut is rich of impressive lyrical imagery that matches the best Noel Gallagher compositions. On the Lollapalooza concert stage, Bugg lived up to the buildup where the solemnity of his set outweighed naivety. There is directness in his deliverance notably on the powerful "Lightning Bolt" and the stoic "Seen It All". How an 18-year-old came up with a song of such introspective profundity is remarkable. It is unlikely if Bugg were a bit older, that he'd write so freely and unveil himself in the manner he has. Each song during his set was performed with assured poise. None of this would be worth anything if the songs paled but his writing is prosperous and his self-confidence is irrefutable. Jake Bugg has only just started his career, but look for him to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his heroes one day.
So much of the weekend owes a tip-of-the-hat to a trio of British artists who emerged thirty years ago- The Smiths, New Order and The Cure. Two of the three performed at Lollapalooza 2013 but their descendants numbered in the dozens. Wild Nothing was one of them who owes a significant part of its lineage to the Cure. Singer Jack Tatum sings beautifully matching the bright melodies with provocative arrangements that aim for timeliness. Their latest album Nocturne is a vivacious wonder full of lilting melodies that satiates a musical thirst. Snappy drums, minimalist vocals and gussied arrangements took me by surprise during their Lollapalooza set. As a live entity, they meticulously capture the fundamental nature of their record without sacrificing ambience. The high point of the set was the stunning "Paradise" which gave the impression of flying through clouds in the sky. The silky guitar chords balanced well against baritone vocals and fast drums with a double bass kick. When the synths emerged, they surround you and envelope your senses making you feel like you've reconnected with an old and lost friend.
Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas has the voice of an angel. The sound that emanates from her is as tranquil and soulful. Instead of painting lush pop or r-and-b landscapes, she uses her hollow bodied 1964 Harmony Alden Stratotone to compliment her beautifying voice. Watching the London born musician carefully put forward every lyric as her hands gently grip her guitar is something I'll never forget. She radiates gorgeousness in an indescribable manner. She's an attractive woman but listening to her voice, you feel closer to her than any level of sensual intimacy could ever elicit. The sing-a-long "Forget" with its howling chorus is etched in your mind while the Radiohead cover "Weird Fishes" makes you want to go back to In Rainbows immediately to see if you can still listen to it how it was originally conceived. The jazzy rhythm of "They Could Be Wrong" is the type of song Beyonce should be seeking out, leaving the bombast to the side and yet when you watch La Havas deepen her grip on the crowd without tossing of instruments or accelerating vocal fireworks, you begin to realize how celestial her talent truly is. For a festival not always known for its subtlety Lianne La Havas rewarded the Lollapalooza crowd with a inconspicuous set full of soul illuminating hymns from her debut record Is Your Love Big Enough?. Watching her and listening to her record is an unexpected experience as it reveals the soul of someone you don't just admire but want to love with every bit of your being.
Tegan and Sara
Tegan and Sara have been writing these wildly catchy pop songs in the guise of a folk-rock duo for over a decade. Earlier this year, the band released their first top-to-bottom masterwork- Heartthrob. Their Lollapalooza set list contained eight of the album's ten cuts and while some in attendance were disappointed "Walking With the Ghost" "Monday, Monday, Monday" and "I Hear Noises" were unaired it was hard to tell as the duo worked the crowd into a dance party tizzy illuminating vulnerabilities and heart. The set opened with the vibrant "Drove Me Wild" and "Goodbye, Goodbye" absorbing the crowd instantaneously and they never let go for the entire hour they were onstage. The Quin sisters are twins and their live banter is something you can't conjure up unless you've spent every waking moment of your existence together. The two sisters know each other like the back of their hand and their interplay is priceless. Sara passed out from a heatstroke at the 2005 Lollapalooza and Tegan made sure to remind her of it, as did a fan with a sign that read "Sara will survive at Lolla".
The sensual tales that exemplify Heartthrob are paired with faultless pop hooks that grip you like no other record they've ever made. What I admire about the duo is their eagerness to speak their minds about conflict and discomfort of the fallout from relationships, especially after physical intimacy has been shared. They write things we all think but most are afraid to say. The arrangements on Heartthrob emulate the mischievousness of their being, but have a more sophisticated depth than your average pop song. The songs could be re-imagined as a doo-wop record with DNA from early Beatles records. "I Couldn't Be Your Friend" is framed by a chopstick keyboard riff featuring the sisters focusing on their vocals with instruments laid to the side. "How Come You Don't Want Me" with its musical pedigree going back to the mid-80s is amiable and exquisite but onstage Sara's vocals bled from ghosts of the past and wounds still not healed. Tegan and Sara are the embodiment of musical evolution. For a solid decade, they've continued to grow and evolve. I don't call Heartthrob as masterpiece because of its hooks but because of the hard-fought truths they reveal within. It's a deeply personal record and watching the two sisters sing these lyrics with eyes closed in full-on intensity was one of the most real moments of Lollapalooza. Both sisters embody pure loveliness not for what they wore of how their hair was styled but by their willingness to be so candid. Singing under the sun, both Tegan and Sara took the audience to a wounded and frail place where all of our hearts have resided at one time or another and for that reason alone, they will exude more beauty than any pop princess could ever dream of attaining.
Praised and adored by many, I found their set sleepy and monochromatic. I find it odd some may criticize artists for expanding and enhancing their arrangements and yet their deep baritone arrangements are heralded as new and exciting. Despite my reservations, there was a significant crowd on hand to catch the four-piece band who hails from Leeds, England. Spare guitars, jangly drums and the occasional use of a distortion pedal makes them sound like monks who discovered Radiohead's OK Computer. They have a fervent following but I couldn't help but notice many on the field who were either snoozing or making their way to another stage to invigorate the senses.
After the monotony of Alt-J, Wavves stormed the stage with an oomph and cohesiveness that was deficient from where I was previously. The set closer "Green Eyes" found the band pummeling their instruments as if they had misbehaved. Singer and guitarist Nathan Williams was unhinged as he was jumping on the stage as if he was a manic adolescent. The fuzz box grit (courtesy of Williams' V-neck guitar) of "No Hope Kids" snarled with a blithe fortitude. In the end, none of that mattered as long as the Williams and the rest of the band ensured the crowd was always welcomed to their never-ending open house party. You may not be able to hear yourself, but you are damn sure to have a good time.
I knew next to nothing about the Vaccines when I walked over to the stage they were playing at but sixty-minutes later, you could call me a transformed believer. Right from the skillful opening of "Blow It Up" to the fist-pumping fan favorite "Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)" the Vaccines literally owned the stage and revitalized the crowd. Their set occurred in the festival's twenty-fifth hour right around the time fans begin sitting sets out, but singer-guitarist Justin Young was a man possessed. I would have loved to see the Vaccines and the Palma Violets face off against one another to see who could make who pass out first. Young and the three other band members ripped through seventeen songs in less than 60-minutes never allowing the crowd to take a breather. In fact, with each passing song, the crowd grew more frantic and familiar with the band. The band rewarded them with a traditional old school performance the Ramones would have had to approve of for not just its breakneck pace but for the craze the band brought to the stage and poured back out to the all too animated crowd that ate it up like the greatest indie rock show ever done.
When they debuted more than five years ago, the buzz surrounding them was deafening and the backlash equally devastating. However, instead of collapsing under the pressure and intense scrutiny, Vampire Weekend have continued to evolve on record and on stage. Touring in support of their third studio record, Modern Vampires of the City, the band appears to have found their footing and an audience that grows with them. The crowd at the Bud Light stage, which was adjacent to the Petrillo Stage, was engulfed by fans on all sides making it one of the largest crowds of Lollapalooza. "Diane Young" from their latest studio offering with its alternative soul-twisting rhythm captured the crowd's imagination proving there is life in them and when the band's first initial hit, "A-Punk" appeared midway through their set, the crowd proceeded to lose their mind. The only question on anyone's mind at the end of their blazing set was when the band would be headlining the festival.
The dream-pop band Beach House could be considered by others as shoe gazing for the lack of emotion put forth by the performers. In recent years, I have been seduced by the atmospheric and wistful guitar sound that soothes and serenades. At Lollapalooza the band from a mechanical perspective performed a set full of gentle compositions designed to sweep you away, however, the band sat for the majority of the performance, which was odd considering they had one of the penultimate sets of the festival. Two cuts from their latest album, Bloom, glistened under the summer sky; "Lazuli" and "Myth" which help you ponder your subsistence. Sadly, you can't help but feel there was an opportunity for them to win over more with their slow-motion music that dials down makes dreams three-dimensional.
Lollapalooza is a festival designed to highlight, celebrate and launch careers, which is why their choices for headliners in recent years have come under (in my opinion unwarranted) scrutiny. However, when it comes to the Cure, how can anyone argue against them? There are the cynics who believe they've had their place in the sun and time and energy should be spent elsewhere heralding the lesser-known acts of Lollapalooza. Nevertheless, when you see the Cure carefully execute an expansive set list with relative ease, you realize they are the bar every band who has ever played the festival has attempted to attain. What makes their performance at Lollapalooza so extraordinary is the fact that they are appearing for the first time since it was created twenty-two years ago. The other aspect was the sheer opulence with which they performed each song.
As dry ice engulfed the stage, the legendary five-piece band took their places and initiated their 26-song set. The ethereal Goth of "Plainsong" opened their set and sounds like chimes in the wind speaking to you. "Pictures of You" found front man Robert Smith hugging himself and every bit of sentiment poured out of him. During the song's middle section bassist Simon Gallup and Smith traded glances and liberating riffs. On "Lullaby" drummer Jason Cooper kept the beat steady and strong while keyboardist Roger O'Donnell generates groundswells of gloom. Most bands hit the stage with all cylinders firing, but the Cure took the road less traveled; they slowly and meticulously worked themselves and the crowd into the set. For a band whose set lists often surpass the 30-song mark, the band weaves these tales of expressive emotion and depressive desolation with great care. The mid-tempo "High" was followed in quick succession by some rather monstrous hits including "Lovesong" "In Between Days" and "Just Like Heaven". You could argue that two of these three songs are their biggest hits and would be relegated to any encore for any other band, but the Cure themselves are not just like any band. On "Just Like Heaven" guitarist, Reeves Gabrels (best know for his work with David Bowie) wove the melody around the ever-tight rhythm section while O'Donnell sprinkled the piano keys with sweetness that can't be described but only felt. Gabrels was a revelation on the concert stage holding his own often fading into the songs as required and then reappearing to shock and awe as he did on "Doing the Unstuck" which featured the most spiraling and strident solo of the evening.
The hits continued to flow ("The Walk", "Mint Car", "Friday I'm in Love", "Fascination Street ", "The Lovecats" and "The Caterpillar") while the band tugged harder at the audience's hearts and tapped into their minds. It's rare for a band with such a storied history to exceed expectations, at a festival no less. By the time the band made it to the encore, they could have done anything, but continued an onslaught of hits which culminated with "Close To Me", "Let's Go To Bed", "Why Can't I Be You?" and the closer "Boys Don't Cry". Throughout their 2-hour set (the longest of the festival), the Cure empathized with the audience in an exceedingly tender manner. When the Cure began to achieve mainstream popularity it was during the end of Ronald Reagan's term in office. During this time, our parents were brought up in a culture to repress emotions and as many of us grew into our teens and then young adults, we searched for a way to make sense of our experiences and bands like the Cure defined our delicate lives. On stage at Lollapalooza, you never once questioned Robert Smith's sincerity as he sung every song with such grace and eloquence because he knows there is someone out in that audience now who needs the songs of the Cure to heal them.
I've continually referred to Lollapalooza as a one-of-a-kind experience designed to discover new and up and coming acts, but what it truly is at its core is a festival that highlights artists who empathize with their audience. I don't attend Lollapalooza for an escape so much as to find myself in the music. Finding your life reflected in the words and music of someone you never heard about before, as I did with Little Green Cars and Deap Valley, is deeply rewarding. However, it's equally moving to see a band like the Cure who reminds you of where you once were and how far you have come. A band like the Cure has the potency to recharge the flame within to not just move forward and survive, but to thrive in life. Music is the art world's greatest healer and Lollapalooza is a first class pharmacy carefully prescribing artists capable of enlightening our souls.
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
Lollapalooza 2013 Day Three