Sunday August 3, 2014 - Grant Park- Chicago: Lollapalooza came to a climax this year amongst a series a pulsating rain showers which made the day a muddy mess, there's no way to sugarcoat it. Miraculously, it didn't diminish the sets of any of the performers and may have helped a few as they had to up their game to ensure the crowd wouldn't run for shelter. Lollapalooza is the music festival by which all others should be measured. They pull of a three-day musical festival that is more than magical and mysterious, it's a downright miracle. Not even the city of Chicago runs this smoothly and no other festival has as many options as Lollapalooza from metal to EDM to alternative to hip-hop to pop. They cover the full spectrum of music and while it does skew younger as of recently, with eight stages there are always options and on its third and final day, I caught more than two-dozen acts who lifted me, loved me and haunted me in ways I never could have foreseen.
Kidzapalooza- The School of Rock 11:30
A lot of coverage of Lollapalooza focuses around the music, but the festival overall is so much more than that. Graham Elliot overlooks the food of "Chowtown", there is a Farmer's Market, Green Street features vendors selling environmental goods, Lolla Cares allows people to educate themselves with world matters and can sign-up for bone marrow matches, voting and other worldly causes. My personal favorite is Kidzapalooza, which is essential for parents of young children. Many may not know, but kids under the age of 10 are allowed to enter Lollapalooza free of charge. It's a mini festival within the overall festival as it features kid friendly music performances, karaoke, a graffiti wall for them to decorate, dance and music workshops and enough entertainment for your child to indulge in for a few hours.
The keystone of the Kidzapalooza stage is the performances and first up on Sunday was The School of Rock. These are all star kid performers who travel to various festivals including Lollapalooza. The highlight of their thirty-minute performance was a riveting rendition of the Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter" which featured some of the finest vocal acrobatics I saw all weekend.
The Q Brothers 12:30
One of the highlights of the festival, not just Kidzapalooza, is the Q Brothers. Both, GQ and JQ, hail from Chicago and are creative forces to be reckoned with. Their family friendly hip-hop event deserves more credit than it gets. Slicing and dicing intrinsic rhymes, the brothers collaborate with friends and kids who have visited their hip-hop workshop. The collaborative nature of the performance makes it an unforgettable experience where the Q Brothers stand toe-to-toe with the majority of hip-hop performers at Lollapalooza. The free style section of the performance allows them to stretch their legs. Watching the Q Brothers washes away your cynicism because it's a top-to-bottom experience that will not just invigorate you but leave a lasting smile on your family's face. The Q Brothers have a free family hip-hop album suitable for children on their website (http://qbrothersofficial.com/). A Q Brothers' Christmas Carol will return to Chicago this Christmas season. Check out www.chicagoshakes.com for more information.
Lindsay Lowend 1:00pm
Rays of red glisten over the screens on Perry's as rain begins to trickle down on the crowd. Lowend's key influences are video games and big thumping bass, which shouldn't be surprising considering he is only twenty years old. It was loud, boisterous and at times blistering if watching the fans begin to sink their feet into the future mud pit.
Jhenι Aiko 1:05pm
Aiko appeared on Saturday Night Live this past January where she performed a duet with Drake. The way she blends rock, R&B and world music makes for a perfect soundtrack for a rainy Sunday afternoon. Her voice gently glided off the stage and through the crowd as the rain intensified from above. As the fury from above continued, Aiko leapt off the Samsung Galaxy stage and went into the crowd getting soaked in the process and endearing herself to the audience, so much so that this writer sought out her Sail Out EP in the music tent. "Stay Ready (What A Life)" is breezy, subtle and frothy. She may not be a name yet, but she's on her way and if her debut is half as good as this performance of the 2013 EP, she will be a force to be reckoned with.
When Jack Antonoff decided to do a side project, he was on tour with Fun but felt inclined to write and record a side project which became Bleachers. While his set began in the rain, it subsided and the sun gleamed down upon the field and that was when Bleachers began to radiate off the stage. The Bleachers record Strange Desire is so yearning, loving and wistful I am not sure if Antonoff needs to go back to Fun. If his pop-flavor of the songs wasn't enough, he asked the crowd if anyone grew up in the 90s before taking the Cranberries "Dreams" for a spin around Lollapalooza where the melody soared from his guitar bringing it to a close. Antonoff and the band delivered a carefree set overflowing with surging melodies wrapped up in arms-to-the-air anthems. "Rollercoaster" glided merrily, "Wild Heart" drums burst with heart and "You're Still a Mystery" bristled with urgency. There will be skeptics who will tell you Bleachers offer nothing new, but they are overlooking the overwhelming sensations that overcome you seeing these songs live. I bought the record on Friday and had spun it three times before this set on Sunday and the best part if "I Wanna Get Better" isn't even the album's best song. Bleachers' Lollapalooza performance was more than a side project but a musical force to be reckoned with.
Fly Golden Eagle 2:15pm
Slogging bass and drums counteract with prompt guitar chords all of which is underplayed with a sly organ. Spacey and psychedelic the focus is on the music with spacious arrangements allowing for an unlimited space which served as perfect chill music under the shaded BMI stage.
Delta Rae 2:20pm
Hailing from Durham, North Carolina, Delta Rae has harmonies that are gorgeous- there's simply no other way to designate them. This is a delightful band full of brilliant musicians who put it all on the line when they perform. The harmonies echo early Fleetwood Mac and you can understand why some feel they are one of the best live bands of the moment. The band's final song, "Dance in the Graveyards" was filled with spiritual consciousness and this connection flowed into the crowd for a sing-a-long moment. The majesty of the performance strengthened the significance of the song and etched a moment in time in the audience's mind. I had not seen Delta Rae before, but now am itching to see them again.
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue 2:45pm
Guitars and horns came out blazing. Embracing funky jazz workouts for their hour long set, Trombone Shorty proved that you don't have to be an EDM act to get a crowd to shake and shiver. As soon as his set started, people start rushing across the crowd to hear and experience up close because they don't want to miss a single second. Trombone Shorty may do for New Orleans jazz what Gary Clark Jr. has done for the blues in recent years; take it to the masses.
London Grammar 3:30pm
In their first US festival gig, London Grammar let the weather set the mood for their set, melancholy and dour. Despite gloom hanging above all, singer Hannah Reid delivers hushed and lush vocals set for serenading one after an insufferable day but who can also calm biblical waters.
The DJ duo GTA are Matthew Toth and Julio Maji who oversaw Perry's stage as things began to get interesting with the crowd as mud became as common as a smartphone. The sun was shining down on the crowd, but the rain continued to pelt the bump-and-grind crowd who swam in the mud decorating their bodies like war paint for impending battle.
Mining 80s pop influence blended with new wave, RAC's sound may not be idiosyncratic but judging by the size if the crowd- they've found an audience who adores them. The crowd at the Grove encompassed the entire grass and went into the street. Four piece band jams into the sunset with glacial guitar chords, teetering cymbals and a feel good rhythm.
Run the Jewels 4:20pm
Run the Jewels consists of MC's El-P and Killer Mike and have only been in existence for a year, but their crowd at the Palladia stage was one of Sunday's most enthusiastic. In between raps, Killer Mike was a source of laughs as he continued to take pictures of the crowd, including one where he asked the crowd to raise their fists to the air so he could post it to Instagram. When he discovered what time it was he told the crowd, "happy 4:20 somebody tweet that for me!" Despite its cultural prominence over the last two decades, it was refreshing to see an act who was charming, full of humor and who completely connected with their crowd. My heart will forever belong to rock n' roll but sets like this one, which I wouldn't ever experience if not for Lollapalooza, make me want to see not just them but more hip-hop throughout the year. As I went to catch another set, Killer Mike was taking further pictures of the crowd during "A Christmas F*****g Miracle", he merrily told the crowd, "One day I won't remember a thing but I'll have pictures and an ounce of weed".
Cage the Elephant 4:30pm
Despite the field turning into a mass of mud, Cage the Elephant drew a massive crowd at the Samsung Galaxy stage. Singer Matt Shultz almost immediately entered the crowd to get dirty with his fans. The performance was contagious. If not for the artist wristband, he most likely would be mistaken for a fan who decided to take a swim in the mud. Love them or hate them, Cage the Elephant's sound is vast and animated and made for moments just like this.
The hidden BMI stage has become a favorite. It backs up to Lake Shore Drive and it is the perfect place for discovery as trees cover the grounds. The synth heavy duo, Lonnie Angle and Thomas Dutton, take their art seriously, especially Angle whose body shakes as she wrongs every last emotion out of her. Their stage is more than a performance altar, but one where demons and distress are purged.
Inordinately bass synth echoes throughout the park as Dave Macklovitch and Patrick Gemayel made their way to the oversized Bud Light stage. Guitars battle with synths and there's no winner which is what makes them so unique. To some they are rock's refuge in a world being taken over by EDM and to others they are in the same beat boat as EDM. On record Chromeo never connected, in concert, I became intrigued. Coloring just outside of the edges of their own coloring book, they made an deep enough impression that it may send me back to the records to see if I was initially wrong about them, once again, the power of the festival setting.
Glen Hansard 5:00pm
The only complete set I watched on Sunday belonged to Frames and Swell Season front man Glen Hansard. The Irishman felt right at home as the rain continued to downpour on the audience. This was the set where my shoes descended into an abyss of brown mud but I didn't care because Hansard radiates coolness and confidence. The heaviest rain occurred during his set, but unfazed, Hansard told the crowd to put the umbrella's away and soak it in, literally. "I love this rain, it feels like home" shortly before he leapt off the stage until a portion of the stage gushing water where he stood under it, smiled and took it all in. For some of the acts who hopped off the stage, it was an act, but for Hansard this was an everyday act of appreciation. He may have cleansed himself with the rain, but the attentive audience went through a spiritual cleansing during his all-too-brief nine song set.
Shifting between New Orleans jazz ("Lowly Deserter"), rhythm & blues (Marvin Gaye's "Baby Don't You Do it) and straight up soul "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting", Hansard is a man of many gifts easily shifting musical styles and coming off as an proficient master of the music through all of them. His backing band, including three horn players, complimented his warm, reedy and soul searching vocals that have the ability to shatter anyone seeking answers. This is a man who understands soul and not just because he was in The Commitments. I cherish what music does for my life more than just about anyone on Earth and as a result, I allow artists to have egos, to splinter from what makes them great and I allow them indulgences. I forgive it all because of what the music gives me. But as I watched Hansard purge whatever anguish he has experienced in his life out of his soul and through the six-strings on his guitar, it becomes evident, he doesn't need me. Glen Hansard is an artist in the truest sense of the word. If the movie Once never came out, Hansard would still be world purging demons out on a street corner. "Bird of Sorrow" brings you down before it lifts you right back up. His music conveys cognizance, empathy and consolation. He then marches on the highway to hell plugged in and tearing through "Revelate". Closing his all too brief set was the Irish folk classic "The Auld Triangle". He introduced crew members who came out and sang verses to the crowd before he wielded his power and had the crowd singing along at the end in an arm-swaying experience that didn't just feel refreshing but spiritually releasing as well.
Avett Brothers 6:00pm
Despite the assured delivery of opening numbers with heavy feet and strumming hearts on "Satan Pulls The Strings and "Talk on Indolence", the crowd was weary from the continued rain and the shape of the field by the Samsung Galaxy stage probably kept a few fans from seeking it out.
Betty Who 6:10pm
The Aussie born pop starlet owned the stage at BMI. In fact, I was so disappointed I couldn't' make it for the full set that I sought out her excellent EP Slow Dancing which is one of the most pure pop records I've heard in some time. The crowd adored her, and her hit "Somebody Loves You" is a surefire hit full of infectious melodies and cues her up for pop stardom.
Airborne Toxic Event 6:20pm
An impressive live outfit that in 2012 I saw tear down the walls of the Metro in Chicago with a high energy and blistering set that echoes the spirit of the Clash. At the Grove, the rain endured but the crowd that looked on were fans who knew these songs, their three albums and just how blazing they are on a concert stage. Two new songs debuted on the Lollapalooza stage; "Dope Machine" and "California" which was written in recent weeks. The latter is among the best songs the band has ever crafted. Steely rhythm guitars lace the song of renewal and redemption and should be a staple on their fall tour of the US. The rain strengthened during the band's anthem "Sometime Around Midnight", which coalesced into a prayer for the lonely, heartbroken and confused. When I saw them in 2012, I wrote the following:
A great song doesn't just move you; it leaves deep cuts that can't be sewn back together. It flows inside your blood where when you hear it, you don't listen to it, but become a part of the song. Inside Chicago's Metro club, eleven-hundred voices shudder as they screech "You just have to see her" five times in a row. The band roars, the crowd wails and everyone voices break as they share a piece of their soul as the lyrics to "Sometime Around Midnight" escape from their lips. It's a transcendent moment in terms of performance from the Airborne Toxic Event, but it's an exorcism for the audience. This is a song that the sold-out crowd relates to; it's one that defines them. We've all pined for a lost love and when our paths unexpectedly cross, it sends out world into a whirlwind and to have someone craft these emotions so perfectly is something we can grasp and hold onto and the Airborne Toxic Event has mastered the craft of heartache and melancholy in song.
This is the single greatest song of the last century without a chorus and was the single paramount song performance of Lollapalooza's three days. As blades of rain fell, a ray of light shone down on the crowd in between the towers of downtown Chicago signaling something magnificent was about to occur. Fans began to relinquish their umbrellas, hats and poncho's and took the advice of Glen Hansard and simply embraced the rain. With each passing lyric the concentration of the crowd ripened into a dizzying fury where band and fan played off one another in a spiraling squall of emotions boiling over, bodies leaping for the sky, hearts being baptized by the rain, ache dissipates, hope surges, the bass rolls, the drums step up, the guitars wail, the violin accentuates and Mikel Jollett's vocals heightens to colors undefined highlighting one of the great emotional purges in the history of music. Rolling the intensity into "Missy" and set closer "I Fought the Law", this was dedicated to Blood Orange due to his Friday night misfortune. Before Lollapalooza the Airborne Toxic Event were a damn fine band, but after Lollapalooza, I'll go on record and say they are a great one.
Childish Gambino 6:45pm
Racing across the stage in shorts and a collared blue shirt that was wide open, Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) took control of the Bud Light stage immediately. He kept them under his sway for the duration of his set. Fired up by a backing band, they made his brand of hip-hop more accessible. The music was tangible and echoed alternative soul more than straight-up rap. Despite all the buzz he has received in recent years, he lived up to it in the vast Lollapalooza stage. His free-styling talents felt more like Bobby Womack or Jackie Wilson than modern hip hop. An massive crowd has turned out for this engaging artist who fully knows how to clutch his audience's emotions and never let go.
Bronze Radio Return 7:10
I was not expecting to fall in love this late in the day, but I did. Out of nowhere (once again on the BMI stage), a band smoldered me with a roots rock performance that was without pretension. Singer and guitarist Chris Henderson has an air of forthrightness to him. Not only does he sing and play with every ounce of being within, but the backing band locks in with one another and gallops through every song as if it is their final encore. Henderson warbles the lyrics with glee and the band follows his cue for enthusiasm. Song-after-song the melodic warmth of the arrangements bloomed onstage. The most recent record Up, On & Over will now be on a continual replay in the coming weeks as I listen to the airy rock music that surges as the stories warrant and takes me places I've never been.
The Grove stage once again is overflowing with kids so they can hear twenty-two year old Australian Flume. To put his age in perspective, he was born six-weeks after Nirvana's Nevermind was released. Flume doesn't seem to just deliver big sweaty beats but sets a mood by spinning music on its head with trippy beats. One of his more inspiring samples was "Tennis Court" by Lorde. The music may be a bit derivative for some people, but it is about the mood it sets and permeates. As I viewed a sea of people, as big as cut/copy's set the night before, I couldn't help but feel this is the future. It's a communal experience that is no other music genre as a whole can compare with.
Ethan Kath (of Crystal Castles) 7:50pm
Smoke, trippy lounge rhythms, deep-toned bass and lasers add up to a pretty good way to lose track of time and life as the sun set on the festival. Kath was a last minute addition to Lollapalooza and he proved to be the ultimate opener for Skrillex who was setting up on the opposite stage. Machine gun lashes, double-fisted drum strokes and pelts of synthesizer intoxicate you, let alone the dry ice, strobe lights and wailing and extended crescendos. This is a symphony synth of destruction
Kings of Leon
With dance and DJ's taking the Sunday night headline slots, the Kings of Leon flew the flag of rock. The Samsung Galaxy stage had a bigger crowd than either of the previous night's headliners (Eminem and Outkast), Their southern rock spiraling guitars and rhythm strengths suit them well exemplified by the one-two opening punch of "Supersoaker" and "Taper Jean Girl". On their best records they tug and pull from a place of bluesy soul and when done well, the end result is the Kings of Leon at their best. I love the burly guitar heavy band I fell on love with in 2003 but appreciate their conversion to arena headliners. Their Lollapalooza set showcased a collective unit who plays to their strengths with big hooks, dirty riffs and an unyielding rhythm section. The highlight was "Back Down South" with its slow burn vocals that send quivers down your spine. Come Around Sundown was largely lambasted when released a few years back, but the southern blues they exemplify on this cut, may be the most perfect song in their catalog. There is a great tenderness and an genuineness affirmation of where they come from.
The king of EDM had the crowd in the palm of his hand and this wasn't on the EDM stage Perry's, but the Bud Light stage. An emerging theme, in the artists Lollapalooza books, is their aptitude to command a crowd. I think rock music may be more pure and heart affecting, but I can never deny the EDM and hip-hop artists who truly connect with their fans. EDM is a show, and the Skrillex one is no different. Lasers stretching as far as they can be seen along with a futuristic spaceship serving as the platform Skrillex performs from is downright seducing. There are rock stars from certain eras that often complain about the backseat nature rock has taken in popular culture. In the desperation to be number-one the anti-establishment ethos of rock dissipated and fueled inflated egos. This led to less than great records, self-indulgent bands and live shows that often underwhelmed. What EDM has going for it is an audience who is never let down. I almost understand U2's Popmart tour because their hope was to draw the audience in. Bands are almost afraid to put evocative stages together that can be appreciated from every seat at a festival and often rely on musical muscle. Bruce Springsteen, Prince and the Foo Fighters don't need it, but I believe many others would have their shows enhanced by stages like this. Skrillex gets this and uses the "show" aspect to engage and enhance while being a consummate performer. He was the only EDM artist who had screens showing him work all weekend. Partly because he's a star, but also so the crowd could see his excitement level come through, thus inspiring and exciting those dancing and watching on. Those who dismiss the EDM movement haven't experienced it and while it may not be for everyone, it's taking the place of stadium rock.
Nicolas Jaar is an electronic musician and Dave Harrington if a multi-instrumentalist who can shred on guitar and together they are DARKSIDE. This isn't dance music, it's not metal, but it's ambient and atmospheric. Harrington and Jaar face-off onstage against one another and that is where the tautness is built. They are at the intersection of sensual steaminess and unexploited intellect. The anti-big beat, rapid-fire percussion, guitar chord roars and scratching synthetic tension. It's profoundly hypnotic as only their shadows could be seen under the basking glow of stage lights. What may be a late night record spin that confounds, in concert it is a transcendent experience that enigmatic. The set focused largely on their 2013 album Psychic, which haunts and without knowing it, allows noir eeriness, fear, and the moon come into play. DARKSIDE doesn't perform a set of music, they perform a full-fledged widescreen film where David Lynch meets Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive). As their set wound to a dramatically Earth-shattering finale, the crowd stood in awe at what they had witnessed. DARKSIDE can't be compared to any other act that performed at Lollapalooza this past weekend; they are their own animal carefully navigating in the dark waiting for the sun to rise. I watched sixty-nine unique artists over three days and I'm still haunted by not what DARKSIDE showed me, but how it infected me. They brought the 2014 edition of Lollapalooza to a lingering and dreamlike finale I will never forget.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. He has covered Lollapalooza for antiMUSIC exclusively the last three years. 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