The second day of Lollapalooza 2013 began not with any musical act but with the weather stealing the spotlight. The temperature never went above 79 degrees resulting in it being one of the most perfect summer days imaginable and one of the best in Lollapalooza's Chicago history. For my money, Saturday surpassed all of the other days in terms of musical performance. Several acts in their first Lollapalooza performances validated not just their spot at the festival but Lollapalooza's overall relevance in showcasing up and coming talent. Here is a look at the twelve best acts from Lollapalooza 2013's second day.
"How many of you had to set an alarm to be here right now?" asked Nolan Wheeler, vocalist and guitarist for the Austin, Texas five piece folk-rock band. It was a valid question as the second day to any festival starts a little slower due to the action from the day before. The Wheeler Brothers didn't disappoint as their 45-minute set touched on all around Americana greatness. Early morning sets are often victims of bad timing and performances that lack the oomph that only the moon brings out, but the Wheeler Brothers distinguished their influences, notably on their superb title track "Portraits" which segued unpredictably into "I Want You Back", a cover by the Jackson 5. With all of the members sitting in for the harmony falsetto of the Motown classic, they stood out which isn't always easy when your senses are still waking up.
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".
Little Green Cars
At its best, Lollapalooza functions as a platform that gives artists a voice they otherwise wouldn't have. 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 Lollapalooza 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 isn't 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 is a band that doesn't 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. Little Green Cars returns to Chicago at the Metro on October 19th.
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 which 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.
ReignWolf's awe inspiring set had less to do with song construction than sheer swagger. His real name is Jordan Cook and his performance was raw and random. Running and performing his guitar like it was a roller coaster, you couldn't take your eyes off of him. Even as he was being signaled to end his set, he duly ignored those on the side of the stage until one of the stage hands came out signaling the soundboard to cut his sound. As he left the stage, I overheard one person remark "That's one crazy bastard, I can't wait to see him again" Cook's impulsive nature makes you feel as if anything could happen at any given second.
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's 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. The camera crew lost track of him because he was giving so many hugs, he bled into the crowd. No other performance at Lollapalooza elicited unadulterated love like Bradley's. Watching Charles Bradley is so unpretentious it makes you reevaluate your life making you thankful for your blessings and for the gift that music can bring. 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. Anyone doubting this didn't see 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.
Opening with "Don't Say A Word", Ellie Goulding performed on a drum kit and was backed by a powerful four-piece band that helped flex her material into something more than rudimentary pop. She braved rugged terrains relying more on brawn than boisterousness during her inspired hour long set. Unlike some of her pop contemporaries, Goulding has more grit to her than most realize. She strode the stage like a rock star gripping her microphone as she ran and jump enticing the audience to follow her every move. She even put on a guitar for "Burn" while her cover of Elton John's "Your Song" exposed a vulnerability in her that could be felt as far as the crowd could be seen. It's the rare cover that compliments the original. Her sensual vocals quivered with heart and as she repeated the key love of "I hope you don't mind", you couldn't help but be moved. She took a festival crowd and made you feel as if she was singing directly to you without veering into sentimental territory. As she finished the set with her hit singles "Anything Could Happen", "I Need Your Love" and "Lights" she took hold of the audience like the best rock stars on the planet. Many came to dance and lose themselves in the sun and music, but instead the crowd was infused by her energy and as a result walked away illuminated.
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 and a distant buzz from Lake Shore Drive could be heard, Waggoner revealed great 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.
If the National cranked up their amps and distortion levels, they could have been a death metal band. For a band whose brooding could be copyrighted it's so intense and individual, they somehow manage to land a spot on one of the largest stages of the festival. However, if you've never seen the National in concert before, you should, there's more to this band than I initially thought. I saw them open for R.E.M. a few years back where they matched the power of the headliner. Their latest album, Trouble Will Find Me was featured heavily throughout the band's 17-song set. The set began to gain momentum with "Conversation 16" which featured two-fisted drum splits by Bryan Devendorf. The mid-tempo "This Is the Last Time" found the band entrenched in their own awareness, while the skipping heartbeat drums of "Graceless" continued the forlorn set in remarkable fashion. The highpoints came at the end with the unfurling concentration of "England (which was dedicated to Mumford and Sons who played on the same stage later that night) and the closer "Terrible Love". For a band who lurches in melancholy like few could album after album, the National are a band whose compositions are met with the same force with which they're performed. Love them or hate them, there's no denying the National give every ounce of their being in their records and in concert.
Opening with "Submarines", the Denver band the Lumineers played to one of the largest crowds of the festival. Most remarkable was to see them work the enormous Lake Shore stage and turn it into not just a club but a campfire sing-a-long. It's unfathomable to imagine them at the Space nightclub in Evanston, Illinois which only holds a few hundred and yet that is where the band first played less than two years ago. The second song "Ain't Nobody's Problem" was written by Sawmill Joe which the band credited and urged the crowd to discover. There was something natural about the interaction between the band and the audience. It could be argued "Hey Ho" provided the loudest sing-a-long of the festival despite being done as the fourth song in their set. From there the band saliently made its way through their debut record as the young mostly under twenty-five crowd sung along to every word. Two songs, "Elouise" and "Darlene" found members of the band setting up their instruments in the crowd. This is where a connection is drawn and specifically where they'll keep fans and grow. Towards the end of the set, "Stubborn Love" instigated another full-on sing-a-long. Anyone who question's the band's staying power simply had to watch the crowd during this song. This is where art amend and comforts one's essence. Speaking directly to an experience that is universal, the sting and anguish is raised by understated percussion, a chamber chorus and a vociferous understanding between band and fan. The chorus of "Keep your head up" solidified into a pulverizing exorcism for the tens of thousands there to witness the set. They may only have one album under their belt, but their Lollapalooza performance is a testament to their talents which should magnify onto their sophomore record.
Mumford and Sons 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.
Mumford and Sons much buzzed about performance from a few years ago is widely regarded as one of the festival's highlights of the last five years and their headline set this year may have been the most attended of any headliner ever. There was barely any room to move on the field and when the band took to the stage. The one-two punch of "Babel" and "Little Lion Man" pushed the crowd into overdrive. I personally have always found Mumford and Sons a peculiar band because aside from their singles, I'm not sure if their albums have the depth needed to be first rate headliners. The band's set was met with mixed emotions with those further back on the field feeling detached and desolate while those up close felt enlivened. Most of their set, while played with concentrated appetite and resolution, didn't connect with the crowd. "I Will Wait" and "Love of the Light" induced sing-a-longs but the crowd began to exit after these songs. The most intimate moment of their set came when they huddled around a single microphone to perform the Bruce Springsteen song "I'm on Fire" from his mammoth
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 TBT Month: 2013 Day Two