Lollapalooza 2017 - Day Four Report
When I started my car late Sunday night, after an emotionally gutting closing set by Arcade Fire, in a Chicago parking garage, I had amassed the following:
* 97,209 steps
* 44.5 miles
* 66 live performers
* 3 different pairs of shoes
* Countless calories from the spectacular local food vendors
* 1 headliner cancellation
* 2 rainstorms
* A half container of sunscreen
* 8 Pepsi Zero's,
* A few dozen bottles of water (refilled by the wonderful Hydration Stations placed throughout the festival)
* 40 hours of live music
Lollapalooza in 2017 was another weekend full of escape and forty hours of music. The C3 promoters always find ways to make the festival better every year. This year they introduced flushable toilets, which replaced the porta-pottys. They have a roller rink and arcade that cranked music from the 1980s. The food vendors are out of this world and varied, there was a Godiva chocolate truck and dozens of places to get drinks. The CTA (Chicago Transportation Authority) provided cooling buses with charging stations while the festival had other standalone charging stations, a merchandise store, lockers, a record store, recycling in every way imaginable and a city-within-a-city. Some may be snarky about the setup and the overall commercialism of the event, but fans are exposed to a lot of music and these extras just make the experience more enjoyable. There are those who bemoan the loss of alternative music acts or the lack of bands from the past, but I can assure you, even if you attended all four days, you would still miss quite a few acts because it is simply impossible to see all of them. There is something for everybody at the festival. Lollapalooza is also a financial juggernaut for the city of Chicago, who benefitted in 2016 from having $210.1million injected into the local economy. After festival hours, there were over 55 official after-shows and after-parties featuring over 110 artists if the all-day festival is not for you, one could make a weekend out of the after-shows alone.
The fourth and final day of the 2017 edition of Lollapalooza was near flawless with anticipated showers never coming to light and a series of performances by women, who reflected brave beauty, fierce concentration and road map to a better tomorrow. From Hannah Reid (of London Grammar), Charli XCX, Tove Lo, Maggie Rogers and Rιgine Chassagne of Arcade Fire each did more than perform or look a part, but showed their respective audience what it feels like to be empowered. Charli XCX gripped her audience with boisterous pop hits, Tove Lo was a free spirit roaming the stage with a mission, Maggie Rogers shared a piece of her soul and Rιgine Chassagne danced, sang and led Arcade Fire in a set that takes a look at the trouble brewing in our world at this moment in time. These women are the future. No longer in the background or being exploited, their music and performances were awe-inspiring. Some may remember Lollapalooza 2017 for the cancelled Lorde/Muse sets on night one, the coldest day in Lollapalooza history, Chance the Rapper's homecoming victory lap, but I will remember it for the women who dared to be dissimilar and boundless. When they hit the stage, they left a piece of their soul on it that we all get to take with us back into the real world, helping us make sense of the disarray and inspiring us to be as brave as their art.
Boogie T 12:05
Perry's EDM dance stage is an enormous draw for Lollapalooza. The repetitive beats, bounteous bass, hammering rhythms, smoke, fire and visual attack are simultaneously eye candy and an airborne bucket of cold water. Those doing all four days of Lollapalooza need it too.
Blaenavon had the opening slot on the final day of Lollapalooza which tends to be among the least attended as festival goers are usually in recovery and survival mode, but it didn't stop a passionate following show up to see the English indie rock band shift between soft and solemn songs and manic riffs. The band consists of Ben Gregory on vocals/ guitar, Frank Wright on bass and Harris McMillan on drums. The band did not rest on their laurels and they knew they needed to make an impression. They set was a physical force as the band drove their material through the heart of the crowd. Gregory held his guitar in a upright position as his wrist received a twirling workout, most prominently on the set closer "Prague '99" where all three abandoned their instruments on the stage as they walked off in a conquering victory.
The British punk rock band had no problems stirring their guitars into attack formation for "Fly-By Alien" and "Welcome to the Wonderful World of Berners Lee". Their debut album, Dumb Blood was released earlier this year and the coiling guitar melodies were met with fast and ferocious drums, and pithy vocals. They picked up the challenge Blaenavon thrust down at the end of their set on a corresponding stage, which they gladly accepted.
The Walters 1:05
It is great to see smaller bands still make an impact at a festival as large as Lollapalooza. Their set was full of breezy indie rock pop that was refreshing to hear on a Sunday morning. Hailing from Chicago, the Walters are still unsigned but should not be for long with "I Love You So" and "New Girl (Tom's Song)" drowning on gorgeous melodies reminiscent of the Beach Boys at their peak.
Barns Courtney 1:15
Barns Courtney was born in Ipswich and spent most his childhood in Seattle before returning to his native UK aged 15. He has made a name with himself and his song "Glitter and Gold" has more than ten-million streams on Spotify. As I approached the stage, he was in a bed with a cast on his leg, performing his acoustic guitar while a nurse drove him around the stage. Courtney's songs are sweet sing-a-longs, but it is his charming stage manner that made him stand out. He broke his leg at a Summerfest performance last month and since then has continued performing in a cast. For Lollapalooza, he had a make shift bed made with a microphone that "Nurse Kimberly" drove him around as he performed. When he was not playing his guitar, he hobbled to the microphone stand and performed with crutches. Courtney is a first rate entertainer and his songs were bristling with life which was shown in his enthusiasm. By the time his set ended, he had the audience in the palm of his hand, quite a feat for an early performance.
The Q Brothers 1:50
The Q Brothers have to distinction of being the only performer to have played Lollapalooza every year since it relaunched in 2005. The Q Brothers are always of the highlights of the festival, not just Kidzapalooza. Brothers 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 with a top-to-bottom experience that will not just invigorate you but leave a lasting smile on your 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.
Machine Gun Kelly 2:05
Machine Gun Kelly was born Colson Baker and he has one of the biggest hits of 2017 with "Bad Things". Would the rapper/rocker with a titanic hit deliver or falter? He delivered. Personally, I was happy to hear the Fastball chorus at Lollapalooza, but so was the immense crowd who took up half of the south end of Grant Park. This was an inspiring set where Machine Gun Kelly encouraged the audience to reach for their dreams because he was a kid who could not have imagined being at Lollapalooza when he was 15. His set was spirited and galloping. He did more than rap, but play guitar, encouraged audience participating and even ventured into the crowd a few times, setting the bar high for those performers following him.
Tucker Beathard 2:30
Beathard performed a set veering between modern country and southern rock. Tucker made many fans underneath the shaded BMI stage with his earnest and easy-on-the-ears set. Country music is rare at Lollapalooza, but Lolla alum Eric Church has a connection to Beathard whose father co-wrote "Homeboy" with Church partly inspired by Tucker's upbringing in Nashville and his rebellious spirit, which he has transposed to a now burgeoning music career.
Maggie Rogers 2:50
Maggie Rogers is only twenty-three years old. She grew up loving classical music and soul singers, while learning guitar, piano and banjo. Her 2017 EP Now That the Light Is Fading merges her eclectic tastes into something transformative and spellbinding. Her ethereal voice will lift you to a higher plane and watching her onstage was a transfixing experience. Playing the opposite stage where Machine Gun Kelly just finished, she riveted the audience with her assurance and innocence. Wearing a red dress with silver streams hanging from it, she held their attention despite the softer nature of her material. This is not party music but pensive and brooding songs that stay with you. She covered Neil Young's "Harvest Moon", which broke half of the audience's heart. She let herself go on this one, swinging and swaying on the stage in a manner in which you believed every word escaping from her lips. Before she ended her set, she told the crowd "My story is about people sharing my story" and with that she launched into her song "Alaska". She radiated as she sang in her falsetto voice with its hypnotic beats continuing her story for the audience to share with their family and friends.
Charli XCX 3:30
Days after her twenty-fifth birthday, Charli XCX made her return to Lollapalooza where for an hour, she tactically engaged the audience like a basketball point guard. Performing many songs off her new mixtape Number 1 Angel, she worked the crowd into frenzy several times. While her 2015 may have excelled on sugary pop, this time she had to work a little harder and when it was time for "I Love It" which she wrote for Icona Pop, the audience was hers. If she was a sports star, her offense statistics would be off the charts. She views the audience as a challenge and one that just be conquered. In a white t-shirt, she belted out an anthem of individuality with "Break the Rules". It does not sound like rebellion to me so much as enabling one to steer their life on their own terms. Holding her microphone where she steered her legs and torso back and forth the audience was right there with her and she encouraged dance floor mayhem. If the audience was not familiar with the song, she was going to do everything in her power to make sure they knew it by the end.
She even pulled out Halsey, who performed at Lollapalooza last year, for a cover of the Spice Girls anthem "Wannabe". As they set wound down, the festival was hers for the taking. Performing "Fancy", which Iggy Azalea owned at Lollapalooza 2014, but in 2017, it became Charli XCX's. To close out her set she thrust herself on the audience for a sing-a-long "Boom Clap", which left the crowd wholly euphoric.
Tove Lo's music teeters between the Saturday night dance halls and Sunday morning prayers. Expressing a carefree and enabling viewpoint, her songs are edgier than most pop music. Her 2016 Lady Wood record is a startling step forward for a pop star best known for the bold lyrical declarations of "Talking Body". She yearns but also reflects and it is this dichotomy that makes her stand apart from other pop stars. She took to the stage in a tank top and red pants with "Lady Wood" on her backside and strutted with supreme confidence.
Tove Lo has grown immeasurably since she first performed at the festival in 2015. She is a woman with more capability under her belt and was not shy to push boundaries where during "Talking Body" she flashed the audience by dropping her top. It was not a titillating moment so much as a potent feminist proclamation. The world we live in does not appreciate women despite the fact that it will be women who save the world. They are our mothers, teachers, caretakers and often the ones who teach us how to love. The dichotomy of Tove Lo's music is so gratifying because she basks in the light and dark taking her audience for a ride with disarming lyrics and a bold stage presence. "Cool Girl, "Talking Body" and "Habits (Stay High)" found the audience in a trance about this sensual delicacy of freedom. I still try to imagine her eating dinner in her bathtub. Is it cold cuts, hummus or a hot meal? Is this she something she did out of despair, club nights or every night? When was the last time you pondered this much about any song? Tove Lo creates pop music that transforms the body and mind with piercing expressions from deep in their soul.
London Grammar 5:30
For a festival that prides itself on what on music that is big and boisterous, London Grammar may appear out of place, but it proved to be an antidote to most of the festival providing solace to those seeking it. Deep, brooding tracks provided with languid vocals by Hannah Reid. "Big Picture" appeared early in the set and what a moment it was with Reid losing herself in the beauty of the moment. The beats may be non-existent and the minimalist approach of the band may appear out of place at a festival, but make no mistake, what they lack in "show" they make up for with emotion. The other band members, Dan Rothman and Dominic 'Dot' Major, delicately compliment Reid with their discreet accompaniment. Later in the set, they performed a convincing "Nightcall", a cover of the Kavinsky song, most associated with the dazzling Ryan Gosling film Drive. Other acts manipulate your senses with theatrics, synthesizers, blazing guitars, but London Grammar's secret weapon is Reid's voice, which tears right through you with her penetrating delivery.
The Shins 6:30
James Mercer can write perfect, bubbly, spacious and taut alternative pop songs. When you hear "Simple Song" or "Phantom Limb: you wish you wrote it. Humble melodies interspersed with amiable chords, textbook rhythm and misty vocals make for some of the most memorable alternative rock songs of the last fifteen years. Mercer is someone who warrants admiration, but for one reason or another, he has struggled with appealing to the crowd during the 2012 and 2017 Lollapalooza performances. The loudest applause during the set occurred for a sample of Tom Petty's "American Girl" during "Sleeping Lessons". The talent and musicianship of the Shins is not up for debate, but their sets are.
Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi had the potential for a challenging set as many of the audience were finding their place for Arcade Fire, but Grouplove rose to the challenge and engrossed the audience for their entirety of their hour onstage. Whether it was originals like "Welcome To Your Life" and "Colours" or carefully placed covers of the Beastie Boys "Sabotage" and David Bowie's "Space Oddity" the band kept the audience's energy high and left them wanting more.
Arcade Fire 8:30
Arcade Fire returned to what was one of their first conquests, which was the Lollapalooza festival in 2005. During the intro music and opening of the title track from their recent number-one album Everything Now, they released balloons into the audience and took off. In recent weeks, the band has received considerable criticism about their new album, but by the time they launched into "Rebellion (Lies)", their power as a live entity was not up for debate. The opening of the show felt like the next chapter of the band with the synthy melody of the track. The rhythm section was especially on point with its shuffling beats adding more to the song in concert.
While the new album was represented by a few strong performances, notably "Creature Comfort" and "Electric Blue", the set was a success because of their ability to meld their first four albums into a set capturing the turmoil and distress of the world. Before performing "Keep the Car Running" from their second album Neon Bible, Win Butler told the crowd, "I still believe in this country". They wrote the song during the Iraq war and their ability to emphasize with its audience has always been one of their strongest qualities. On "The Suburbs", which they dedicated to David Bowie and explained how none of us would be there without him, Butler sings in a melancholy voice about how he wants to show his daughter some beauty before it is too late.
Arcade Fire's festival closing set was near perfect as they went head first into their strongest songs. They have mastered the way to build up, tear down and then take the audience overboard. They are masters of drama and are able to capture the dual nature of beauty and horror that defines our times. He chiming bells of "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)", the greatest ABBA song that never was "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" and a dip into Bowie's Berlin period "Reflektor" all sprang off the concert stage. The inspirational encore of "Wake Up" found the crowd swinging their arm in unison where for one last moment, we felt connected as one. As people were about to leave, the band had one more trick up their sleeve with a cover of John Lennon's "Mind Games" which they played beautifully and was introduced by Butler as a warning to "don't believe everything you read". They held the ending of the song for a few minutes singing lunes from Radiohead's "Karma Police", David Bowie's "Oh, You Pretty Things" and a reprise of "Wake Up". As Lollapalooza 2017 ended, Arcade Fire wrapped the audience in a musical blanket inspiring us to use our power to make tomorrow better.
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 has seen over 1,000 concerts in his life, has far too many CD's and has covered Lollapalooza in-depth for six years. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMusic DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Lollapalooza 2017 - Day Four Report