Every summer when Lollapalooza takes over downtown Chicago for a weekend over 150 acts perform. Some are well-established artists, but many take the side stages at the festival with big dreams and open hearts. The 2013 edition was eye opening for the confounding musical endowment I witnessed. At its best, Lollapalooza is about exposing these burgeoning new artists giving them a bigger stage for them to flex their musical muscle. This year I walked away with more than a dozen acts that I never would have seen if not for Lollapalooza. Music festivals are about more than socializing or finding escape under the summer sun; it is about discovery. With radio playlists streamlined and a multitude of choices to choose from, it becomes harder with every passing year to find that musical act whose passion is so ferocious and fierce that you can't help but let them into your heart. Nine Inch Nails, Mumford and Sons and The Cure attained the lion share of the headlines for their headlining sets, but the true stars of Lollapalooza took place on the side stages and often early in the day. I have narrowed down the list of artists you should seek out to twelve from the more than forty I watched. The dozen acts below weren't just playful but performed their instruments with purpose. Do yourself a favor and buy their albums, merchandise and concert tickets when they come to your town; each and everyone has the power to make you fall in love with music all over again. Therefore, without further adieu, here are Lollapalooza's Twelve Greatest Discoveries of 2013.
Deap Vally hails from California and consists of two women, drummer Julie Edwards and vocalist/guitarist Lindsey Troy. Let's get two items out of the way- yes, there are inevitable comparisons to the White Stripes and Black Keys as Edwards and Troy embrace the same two-member blues template and yes, they exude sexuality the way only vintage Rolling Stones songs can conjure. That being said, while many pop starlets hide behind their sexuality because there isn't much depth to the music, Deap Vally defy the tag of garage rock as they take you on a distorted journey of rock n' roll that will bring you to your knees. If the Rolling Stones released "Bad for My Body", radio would have no choice but to play it hourly. Deap Vally are a band capable to owning every audience member from the first note to the last. "Gonna Make My Own Money", "Walk of Shame" and "Ain't Fair" sounded like distorted thunderbolts with magnetic grooves. What differentiates Deap Vally from other garage rockers is there's more to them than distortion. These are well-crafted songs and it's why they are getting notices from festivals across the world. If you could create a soundtrack of mountains cracking the Earth to its core, it would be Deap Vally, who proved to be the defining act at Lollapalooza. This is why this festival exists, to highlight underground talent like this. They do not just deserve to be performing here, but to one day be headliners. Deap Vally will lead men on and entrance them making them fall in love with them while reminding women of their female supremacy their inner and outer beauty of embracing who they are. Their performance is not an act but a mesmerizing look at the blues. They understand it, they feel it and they perform it like veterans. Beneath the veneer of their sensuality is assurance and grit. These are two girls to watch because whatever they have experience and endured throughout their short lives they brought with them on the concert stage.
On the flipside of the garage rock sounds of Deap Vally was the Swedish metal of Ghost B.C. (also known as Ghost everywhere outside of the US). Possibly the heaviest band to grace Lollapalooza, Ghost is the type of act who owe a tip of the hat to King Diamond, but appear to be capturing an even larger audience. Draped in black hoods and masks, they could be the house band for the Stanley Kubrick directed Eyes Wide Shut starring Tom Cruise. From the dry ice opening (with theme music from Eyes Wide Shut ironically) to the members taking the stage one-by-one, you could see this was not a band to miss. While the costumes draw people in, the melodic thrusts keep you engaged. The guitars are substantial and monstrous to the extent that even if you do not know their music, they slowly draw you in. While they are not the first band to play metal music in costumes, they have filtered it to their strengths. They capture your imagination with heightened sense of drama, but the music is poised and powerful with an image that winds up wrapping itself around your ears. Focusing heavily on material from their latest record Infestissumam the music was crushing, haunted and hallowed, notably on "Secular Haze", "Year Zero" and "Ritual". Vocalist Papa Emeritus II was dressed like the Grim Reaper but he elicited incredible crowd interaction conducting them like a symphony. Ghost was unlike any other band at Lollapalooza taking the crowd through a maze of mystery during their one hour set that for those who saw it, will not only remember it, but will desperately want to experience it again.
Little Green Cars
In the few years I have been attending the festival, I walk away with a handful of acts I'll keep near and dear to my heart for all time and whom I quite possibly never would have known about or appreciated as much without the existence of Lollapalooza. Little Green Cars, hailing from Dublin, Ireland is one such act. Hitting the stage with one album and five years of live performances under their belts, they ingeniously brought a set big on sleepy soul and eye-popping realizations. The five-piece on paper may appear like any other indie rock band, but their adjoined harmonies and nuanced lyrics educe real drama. Despite all band members being in their twenties, their songs have an intellect of necessity that is not overwrought. Little Green Cars are to twenty-something's enduring young adulthood the same way Bruce Springsteen is to disheartened factory workers. The band walks a delicate tightrope between passion and purpose. Surprisingly, none of the songs felt overwrought with misdirected sentiments. "The John Wayne" begins like a prayer and ends like an epiphany with its chamber harmonies and unremitting drums, courtesy of Dylan Lynch. This band does not dismiss the feelings of being desired. The mere survival of adolescence can feel like a feat all unto itself. Their debut album Absolute Zero is every bit as captivating as their performance. Little Green Cars has put a lot of effort into their craft and it culminated in a spectacular set at Lollapalooza many will take with them days, weeks and months from now.
Wild Cub's shimmering guitars sounded like a wailing wind with a footprint in 80s new wave. Most unexpected about the quintet is that they hail from Nashville, something one would never imagine for a band that clasps for airy dreamscapes. Breezy blue sky splashes full of retro-pop, island music and lite-alternative are all experimented with during their set. KEXP summed the band up beautifully just in June when they posted an MP3 of the band; "Formed just over a year ago, Keegan DeWitt and Jeremy Bullock's brand of darkly-tinged new wave recalls elements of the youthful abandon of John Hughes soundtracks, the baleful allure of Greg Dulli, and the clockwork electronics of New Order's middle period." Guitarist-vocalist Keegan DeWitt is a prodigious front man singing and riffing tender and trembling new wave pop most eminent on "Thunder Clatter", "Colour" and "Wishing Well". The performance drew me in enough to pick up their album, Youth that absorbed me on my drive home under the lights of the city as it captured wide-eyed virtue as processed through a Linn LM-1 drum machine.
Imagine walking through life alone and one day by accident, you meet your soul mate at a coffee shop, on the train and through a friend. Life altering moments like these define your existence, make you believe in higher powers and afford you a look into a world of light that feeds your humanity. Seeing Charles Bradley perform is a miracle no one will forget. Taking to the stage in a purple suit, Bradley owned the crowd with his inspirational confessionals and exuberant performance. Perfectly capturing the essence of 60's r-and-b soul, Bradley doesn't mimic this genre as own it. "You Put the Flame On Me" would have been an enormous hit in the 1960s if it had existed. The 65 year old is a story unto himself. Pulling himself out of poverty and working miscellaneous jobs for decades before moonlighting as a James Brown impersonator where he was eventually discovered by Daptone Records. After a series of singles, he released his first record in 2011 and followed it earlier this year with the secular Victim of Love. Despite being in his 60's, Bradley move and shook better than most acts half his age. When Bradley performs, he transforms not just himself but his audience as well. Watching him swing the microphone stand to the ground only to whip it back by the cord in time to meet his cue was one of several feats he performed on the Bud Light stage to an enormous mid-afternoon crowd.
His seven-piece band was firm and tight allowing Bradley to work his magic on the stage and crowd including several moments where he move, shook and danced eliciting roars from the audience. When he walked off stage for a quick breather, he returned in a white jacket and black pants. When he removed the white coat a few songs later, he made drama out of it leisurely spreading his arms and letting it slide off to a level of applause usually reserved for seven song encores. Bradley's presentation and songs are laced with heartening and empowering messages that never preach but come from someone steeped in optimistic views.
Charles Bradley was a gift for the Lollapalooza crowd. Bradley has the life experience of coming through despair and into the light and each and every second he spent onstage was a life affirming delight to watch. Charles Bradley has made it to the other side and he is not going to waste a single moment and chooses to spread the happiness inside of him. At the end of his set, he left the stage and walked through the crowd on both sides and up the middle. No other performer at Lollapalooza elicited unadulterated love like Bradley. Watching Charles Bradley is so unpretentious it makes you reevaluate your life making you thankful for your blessings and for the gift music brings. Bradley will return to the Metro in Chicago in early December.
St. Lucia is Jean-Philip Grobler who creates synth-pop that is buoyantly danceable. No one doubting this saw the crowd bask in the glow of Grobler's natural performance. The dance-jam workout of "All Eyes on You" (available on the self-titled EP) was met wildly by the Lollapalooza crowd who was so receptive, Grobler told the crowd he wanted to move to Chicago. Their first full-length record When the Night drops on October 8th and during the set they performed "Elevate" and "September" which added to the high-energy wonder of the set.
Brooke Waggoner performed at Lollapalooza in 2012 as part of Jack White's solo band and in 2013 she returned on her own. To her credit, her Lollapalooza bio does not mention White in any way, a testament to her drive to make it on her own. On a piano and under the shadiness of the BMI stage, Waggoner performed to a sparse but attentive crowd. As the trees hung over the crowd, a distant buzz from Lake Shore Drive reverberated. Waggoner revealed immense power in her musical prowess. With nearly two decades of classical music training, her dexterity behind the piano keys was a sight to see and despite a smaller crowd, all were attentive. Her musical arrangements were spare but strong-willed focusing largely on material from her superb new album Originator. Her fingers danced across the ivory keys and she sung passionately allowing every emotion to expose itself on her face on "Shiftshape", "Ink Slinger" and an unreleased song called "Sing To Me". Despite specializing in spare piano ballads, her music defies genre labeling. With dashes of ballroom jazz (the dynamic "Perish") and balladry (the tantalizing "Squint"), Waggoner simply creates full realized songs that flourish under her heartfelt direction.
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 do not just admire but want to love with every bit of your being.
Shovels and Rope
Shovels and Rope, a married duo from Charleston, South Carolina, exerted their brand of rockabilly to a large crowd. Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent may only be two individuals but they are genuinely compelling on the concert stage. The chemistry they share in real life flows over into the crowd. Their set was sincere and focused on their debut record, O' Be Joyful where their fragile voices aimed straight for the heart. Both Hearts and Trent switched off between guitar and drums. Halfway through their set, they spoke of finding love and told a fan to make his move and in the swarm of fans, a couple was engaged and the band tore through a cover of "(I'd Go The) Whole Wide World" by Wreckless Eric. The performance tugged at the heart because it wasn't just the beginning for one couple's journey, but the continuation of another; Cary Ann's and Michael's. Whatever harmony they share in real life was united with the Lollapalooza crowd. When they played "Birmingham", it all came into focus, notably one of the last lines in the song; "Making something out of nothing with a scratcher and our hope/ With two old guitars like a shovel and a rope".
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.
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 owe 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.
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.
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