Lollapalooza 2017 - Day Two Report
The main streets of Grant Park was less crowded Friday morning at Lollapalooza day two. The cancelled headliner slots hung over the festival and the gloomy skies above made many wonder if we were in for a repeat performance. It was also the coldest day at Lollapalooza since its Chicago residency started in 2005 with temperatures lingering in the high fifties and low sixties for the entirety of the day. I walked nearly 27,000 steps on day two and only took my jacket off twice but it was also one of the strongest single day line-ups I have seen which lifted spirits and made people forget about Muse and Lorde's shortened sets the day before. By the time Ryan Adams was weaving tales of faith and redemption, the sun began to beam through the clouds, much the way the music was able to rise above and lift the audience repeatedly on day two.
Jesse Malin 12:00
Jesse Malin is one of the music world's best-kept secrets. His roots are in the punk rock scene with his band D Generation starting his journey in the 1990s but what has followed is what made me love him. His solo career has been one where he has meddled his punk rock roots and began telling tales of down on their luck losers whose disappointments sound conquering in his songs. His 2003 album The Fine Art of Self Destruction is one of the century's best. Produced by Ryan Adams (who I will write about later in this review), the album is a brilliant slice of New York stories captured in an indie-punk rock collage with some of the best song writing of the decade. Since The Fine Art Malin has released a half dozen albums and as I watched his enthusiastic set on Friday, I realized I have never given those albums their due.
The four-piece band and their big rowdy guitars christened day two with a much-needed thunderbolt of rock. "Outsiders", "She Don't Love Me Now", "Death Star" and The Year I Was Born were white-knuckled performances and despite the coolness in the air, Malin unbuttoned his shirt as he worked the crowd. It did not matter he was not on the main stage or that he had the first slot of the day, he was working the music, making a connection, sweating and owning the stage.
Malin has never wavered in his drive to create. His most recent output New York Before the War, Outsiders and his just released EP Meet Me At the End of the World continue his glorious tales of city dwellers seeking a break. Each song during the Lollapalooza set was strikingly textured pictures of life in bristling black and white images. If Woody Allen ever used a rock score for one of his black-and-white New York tales, Malin's discography would serve as a flawless soundtrack. Wendy from The Fine Art of Self Destruction is maybe the finest power-punk-pop song you will hear all weekend on any Lollapalooza stage and Brooklyn was preceded with a hysterical story about opening for KISS back in the late 1990s. The set also included an enchanting cover of the Pogues If I Should Fall From Grace With God and closed with a deafening All the Way From Moscow in which he proclaimed, You can love your country but hate your government all the way from Moscow", and with that Lollapalooza was off firing on day two.
The Districts 12:55
The Pennsylvania four-piece provided howling cinematic guitars ascending under grey skies. Lead singer Rob Grote has a beseeching appetite in his delivery.
San Holo 1:25
Never underestimate the adoration of EDM fans. Early in the afternoon, the field by Perry's was more than 75% filled as the screen and beats assaulted your senses.
Moose Blood 1:40
Are they descendants of British indie rock from the 1990s or from the American emo scene, which found its popularity, explode in the early 2000s? Moose Blood found a way to merge both which allows them to be a part of the Vans Warped tour and the Reading festival. One has to wonder if they would have sounded as good if it was eighty-degrees and sunny?
Mondo Cozmo 1:50
This is why I write. I walk into music festivals to discover new talent. I want to find artists who will not merely put on a great set, but will make me want to follow them on the road. In my six years of covering Lollapalooza, I have been fortunate enough to find a solid dozen artists I will shadow and make part of my soundtrack for the rest of my life. The 2017 induction to my personal hall of fame will be Mondo Cozmo. The Philadelphia native, who now lives in East Los Angeles, took to the stage and for forty-minutes and triumphed. Mondo Cozmo is the alias of Joshua Ostrander who may be best known in the indie circle for his previous groups Laguardia and Eastern Conference Champions. Mondo Cozmo is his latest project and when his single Shine hit number-one on the Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart earlier this year, the label wanted a full album, which was released on the same day as his Lollapalooza performance, Friday August 4th, Plastic Soul.
Opening the show with a triple guitar attack, the band screeched with a burning distortion.
"Chemical Dream" was unbridled, spastic and a stunning collage of rock n roll at its finest. Before the song came to its finish, they had left a pint of blood on stage. Many are attributing the sound of Mondo Cozmo to Beck and U2, but I think the scratchy guitars, big bright sound and beseeching performance fused Motown, Joe Strummer and Bruce Springsteen. Chemical Dream, Plastic Soul (written for David Bowie) and Automatic erupted off the stage. Watching Mondo Cozmo was a fantastic experience and one that despite seeing thousands of artists live rarely occurs. Much like the first time I saw Butch Walker and Will Hoge more than a decade back, I felt like I was watching something extraordinary that was wholly mind-altering as the guitars, drums, bass and transcendent overtones of the lyrics took hold of me. These artists are wired in a way, where they have a profound appreciation for what came before, and they want to tell their own story using those influences as a spiritual fountain of inspiration that they will drink from and make their own.
Performing a cover of the Verve's Bittersweet Symphony pushed the audience into overdrive while the sing-a-long Shine is a future festival classic in the making. Mondo Cozmo came to Lollapalooza and stole the entire festival with a heart-on-its-sleeve performance that punctuated minds and souls in a way no one will forget any time soon. If you have lost your faith in the power of music to help and heal your battle torn soul, then Mondo Cozmo's debut album is the right musical medication for you.
Caitlyn Smith 2:35
Originally, from Minnesota, she went to Nashville to become a songwriter. She was personal with the audience as she confessed, Your job as an artist is to out your heart out on the line". It served as an introduction for the heartbreaking "This Town Is Killing Me" which drew its inspiration from being a beat up as a songwriter in Nashville. After a particularly tough week, she face plopped on her bed, thought of this title and picked herself up and wrote it. Having previously written for Dolly Parton, Meghan Trainor and Garth Brooks, she is now making her craft personal. Under the shaded area of the BMI stage, she revealed herself not just in her lyrics but in her vocals, which included a fall-to-your-knees version of (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman.
Skott is a Swedish singer who made her first festival performance at Lollapalooza. She is currently supporting Phantogram on their current tour. Amelia, Lack of Emotion and Mermaid were ghostly in a serene lifting manner placing you in a trancelike state. Her stage presence was cryptic channeling Kate Bush. Skott spent her youth in a remote forest community of folk musicians and it was not until she was much older that she ventured into a city. This innocence makes her performance veer into mythical and entrancing territories. Playing at the Pepsi stage, this is covered by dozens of trees, proving to be the optimal setting for her songs specializing in solitude. Her second album is due in 2018 via Sony music and she will be supporting MΨ in the fall of 2017 on her UK tour.
Cobi was a member of Gentlemen Hall but left them a few years back to go it alone. In watching, the singer from Minnesota it is the bluesy swagger in his voice echoing heartache and despair that stands out. Some acts you go to see the stage show, the fiery guitar player or the incandescent beats that make you escape life for a few hours, but watching Cobi is all about the booming voice and what he makes you feel when he sings.
Lemon Twigs 3:55
Brothers Brian and Michael D'Addario, both still in their teens, front the Lemon Twigs were theatrical in their presentation and their vocal skills would not be out of place on Broadway. There were some genuinely beautiful harmonies amongst their stripped down performances, which I preferred to the more dramatic aspects of their show.
The duo of Josh Carter and Sara Barthel came out fast and furious with their dual approach attacking the audience with their brand of electropop. Performing on the festival's largest stage, they slashed through a deafening opening trio of You're Mine, Same Old Blues and Black Out Days proving they justify the stage they have been granted use of for an hour.
Tegan and Sara 5:05
Tegan and Sara have a long history with Chicago and Lollapalooza performing in 2005, 2013 and now in 2017. Opening with "Back In Your Head", the twin sister duo showed how much they have grown in the last fifteen years since they started making records. They made a name for themselves creating acoustic records wrapped in striking melodies but with a punk rock edge. In 2013, they released Heartthrob, which found them getting genuinely personal, but also traded their acoustic guitars for synthesizers. It was startling for many long-term fans but the truth is Heartthrob was not just a game changer, but stands as one of the best records of the decade.
The band must be aware of the album's impact because they performed five songs in a row from it, How Come You Don't Want Me Now, I Couldn't Be Your Friend, Goodbye, Goodbye, Drove Me Wild and Shock To Your System. Not only do these tracks make you want to dance, they are contemplative and cognizant in their lyrics. These smart dance pop sounds maintain their authenticity because of how they are paired with deeply personal wrenching lyrics. Their last few albums have been awash in lush arrangements and have veered into the sensual and confessional. Heartthrob is bare, naked and emotionally turbulent yet simultaneously joyous. They take their art and craft seriously. They are ardent on the concert stage and like Lorde the night before, you see yourself in them because they expose the trials and tribulations in such brave beauty you cannot help but fall in love with them.
A pair of songs from their 2007 album The Con, Call It Off and Nineteen bristled with raw heartache accentuated by their melodies, the latter of which was transformed into a beautiful piano ballad. They will be heading out on a tenth anniversary tour for The Con this fall and will return to Chicago on November 4th. Look for an announcement in the coming week. Closing out their set with U-Turn, Boyfriend and Closer, Tegan and Sara gripped hold of the crowd for one of the best closings of any set all weekend. In the words of Ryan Adams, who followed them on a corresponding stage, Did you see Tegan and Sara kicked ass? Their set was tight and poignant. Some fans may yearn for the coffee shop records that defined their early career but you have to recognize that instead of choosing a monotone path forward, they have embraced a fluorescent palette of kaleidoscope colors to paint their words with and we are all better for it.
Ryan Adams 6:00
Opening with "Do You Still Love Me", Adams mined his most recent album, Prisoner for a good portion of his set. We are seven months into the year and I do not think there has been a better album released in 2017 than Prisoner. Ryan Adams gets my vote for the most compelling and significant artist to emerge since 2000. His solo work has defined much of this century for singer-songwriters. While a one-hour set at a festival is not enough for an artist as versatile as Ryan Adams, he was in excellent spirits and for the first time all day, the sun made an appearance during his set. Highlights included the youthful abandon of "To Be Young", the fiery Outbound Train, the zigzagging Let It Ride and a cinematic electric version of Dear Chicago which channeled the sexual tension of Springsteen's "I'm on Fire"
I was fortunate enough to see Adams a few nights earlier in Milwaukee, where he was able to deliver a full two hour set in support of Prisoner. What I walked away with was the notion that there is clarity in this collection of songs that expresses what he is feeling in a manner not heard since his first few records. Every Adams record is a notable entry in the 21st century discography of music, but Prisoner is his best top-to-bottom album since Love Is Hell. On record, and in concert since 2011, he has been laying everything bare for his audience to take in. He is not hiding from anyone or anything and it is a great time to be a fan of Ryan Adams. He has had a tangled and twisty existence as a recording artist, but I would rank his catalog above Beyoncι, Kanye West and even Kendrick Lamar for the sheer volume of A-grade work he has released.
His Lollapalooza set while all too short featured some magnificent moments for the large crowd including fan favorites Come Pick Me Up, New York, New York, Where the Stars Go Blue and a revved up version of 'Dirty Rain. His backing band knows how to rock, where to infuse heartache blues and country confessionals when needed. As a live performer, I think Adams is at his peak right at this moment in time. Years after first seeing him in concert, I learned I had to stop wanting him to be someone he was not and to trust him, the artist, to take me down winding, constricted, asphyxiating and often enlightening paths. I now sit back and appreciate all the hidden corners his catalog has to offer. His current tour provides an illuminating overview of his career to date with hearty arrangements that may not align exactly with their recorded counterparts but he is able to capture their spirit in these novel arrangements. What made me happiest about this performance was to see how content, down to Earth and candid Adams appeared from the concert stage. He gave Tegan and Sara (who finished their set at the stage in front of his) a perfect complement, gave props to Bloodshot Records for supporting him early in his career before performing "Shakedown on 9th Street" and smiled non-stop during an set closing jam of "Magnolia Mountain" / "Cold Roses". When an act plays Lollapalooza, one never knows if they will see the act ever again, but in the case of Ryan Adams, it feels like he is just getting started.
Foster the People 7:00
The propulsive rhythm is contagious. They are not a band that can be boxed in by any genre and their evolving discography has some of the most ambitious music this decade reflected on Pat the Man and Helena Beat.
Run the Jewels 7:15
Playing at a smaller stage at Lollapalooza in 2015, Run the Jewels gave notice they belong playing one of the headline stages and this year that promise became a reality. The hip-hop duo of El-P and Killer Mike started as side project and they have now turned into one of the most imperative hip-hop voices in music today. The live experience expands on their albums, as you are able to be seduced by their direct charm. Their rhythmic harmonies and aggressive music is one piece of what makes them so enjoyable, but their onstage banter takes everything to another level. The in-between song banters were charming yet hold a societal importance as well with them warning the crowd to not take advantage of any women and El-P singing the praises of Killer Mike for being a voice during these politically charged times to speak to what is right. They raised their audience in a way that made you ready and determined to face tomorrow. They dedicated the last song of their set, Down to Chester Benington of Linkin Park. "We hate to see people leave. We've seen the darkness, we've been there. We need you to stick around, we need you here" and with that, life just became a little more meaningful for those in attendance.
Little Dragon 7:45
A madly eclectic party band that aren't afraid to flex their flair. Singer Yukimi Nagano was dressed in a modern light-up dress in fluorescent green. Songs ranged from full on dance party to after-hours come down, their set was an engaging and enlightened mix of modern dance with some first-rate theatrics.
The Killers 8:50
The Killers performed at the first Lollapalooza in 2005 and it was one of the first signposts that the band was destined for great things. While they have never matched the incredible commercial success of their debut Hot Fuss what they have done is build a catalog and live show that is tough to match. Their fifth album is scheduled to be released next month and the Lollapalooza gig is one of only two shows scheduled in the US in 2016, with an arena headline tour to commence in January. Opening with new song "The Man", three backing singers accentuated the mid-tempo number before the set went into overdrive with "Somebody Told Me", "Spaceman", Smile Like You Mean It and Human.
The Killers are one of rock's great live bands at this moment in time. Their performance at the UIC Pavilion in December 2012 found the band tight, focused and determined to tear the walls down before the night was over, which they did magnificently. It still stands as one of the greatest arena shows I have seen by anyone. The Lollapalooza set carefully cradled some of the biggest rock hits of the last decade with some deep cuts and a few superb covers. The Joy Division cover Shadowplay has been a mainstay of their set for nearly a decade, but never gets old, while a cover of Starlight by Muse was a most welcomed surprise. They played it in honor of Muse's set being cut off after a few songs the night before. The cover was surprisingly tight and very well received. Last up was a haunting Disarm by the Smashing Pumpkins, which lead into a fighting Read My Mind. Other highlights included For Reasons Unknown which Brandon Flowers strong arming the arrangement with his bass, set closer All These Things That I've Done' and the underrated Shot at the Night which appeared on the bands 2013 best of compilation which was released after their last Lollapalooza performance and made a nice addition to the encore.
"For Reasons Unknown" is a vast strapping heavy-footed rocker. Every hit single was elevated by the band with tight and incensed performances. "A Dustland Fairytale" took on epic proportions with lead singer Brandon Flowers swaying the crowd into their corner with a staggering vocal performance while "When You Were Young" pushed the crowd into overdrive led by the steely precision of Ronnie Vannucci Jr. on drums. Much of the band's strength as a live entity is due to Vannucci who tackles the arrangements with a heavy-handed muscularity needed to reach the masses. During the encore, the band was assertive with the audience and despite ten hours in the sun, the crowd matched the band song-for-song with power before the crescendo wail of Mr. Brightside. Watching the crowd, its evident these songs are embedded into their DNA. At the end, the fans were singing along to every word, raising their arms to the air, and dancing like there is no tomorrow. Can you ask for anything else from a rock n' roll band?
More in-depth Lollapalooza coverage will be published all this week
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 Two Report