Lollapalooza 2018 - Day One Report
Thursday August 2nd, 2018 - Grant Park, Chicago
I can't quit Lollapalooza even if I wanted to try. With the addition of a fourth day to the festival in 2016, the festival has turned into an endurance test for those who secure weekend passes. Unlike Austin City Limits or Coachella, Lollapalooza isn't able to secure the festival grounds in downtown Chicago for a second weekend, so as a compromise they added a fourth day, the only major festival to do so to date. If one is of a certain age they often yearn for the simpler day when it was a traveling festival or those early years in Chicago when it was more compact and featured more of a rock line-up, but the truth is, Lollapalooza has evolved with the times and has found a way to thrive and survive. Even with competition across the nation with new festivals popping up, Lollapalooza is franchise that doesn't show any signs of slowing down and at its core; it's still one of the best ways to spend an extended weekend anywhere in the world as you dive into the deep end of music discovery.
Chicago's Grant Park has served as Lollapalooza's home since it became a destination festival in 2005. Over the last three years, attendance has reached 400,000 attendees over its four days. A lot of focus in placed on the 180 bands on eight stages, including The Weekend, Bruno Mars, Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Travis Scott, The National, Vampire Weekend, St. Vincent, Lykke Li and more, but it has always been more than just about the music, but a widescreen experience with incredible food, art, fashion and even a bustling nightlife after the festival closes at 10pm, featuring 55 aftershows at various clubs in the city. The 2018 edition featured more intense security lines and safety stretched across the entire city. From hotel sweeps, to plain clothes agents in the crowd to eliminating backpacks, there was a heightened sense of security all around. While it made entering the festival more challenging with longer lines, everyone I spoke to felt safe, secure and ready to let the music go to 11.
Lollapalooza began as a music festival forged around alternative music in 1991 but when it was relaunched in Chicago, it expanded its boundaries. While Lollapalooza has grown and morphed from its alternative music roots, it has become something bigger and grander than anyone ever really could have expected. At times I yearn for the festivals of yesterday, but as I walk up to my first stage on opening day, a new world opens up full of unlimited possibilities and exposure. Even with the world of streaming music and playlists, nothing can grab your attention better than a potent and powerful live set under the summer sun. Each year I leave in awe at the sheer talent who is pushing the boundaries of music further than anyone of us ever imagined. At a music festival, you may walk across a field and listen to an act you never would pay to see. I've accidentally been passing a stage when a song, guitar or throbbing beat will summon me towards it. Many of the acts on the Lollapalooza stage I have not heard from again and others like James Bay, Walk the Moon, and Manchester Orchestra have grown and returned to even bigger stages. In 2018, an all weekend music festival is a gift to music lovers everywhere. It shows you more than a genre you may love, but a world of incredible talent waiting for you if you are open to it. Here's our day one report from Lollapalooza 2018.
The music duo LZRD kicked off Lollapalooza at the Perry's, the notorious EDM stage. Thomas Shull and Keenan Hann are two college students who are not old enough to drink, but they took to the stage in dynamic fashion. Lollapalooza's EDM game is always strong, and if you have the slightest doubt, all you need to do is stand on the field at 12:20, shortly after the festival opened, to see the crowd dancing, gyrating and sending their arms to the air. No other stage elicits such a large crowd as Perry's.
The punk duo Slaves hail from Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent and formed in 2012. Their sophomore album, Take Control was produced by Mike D of the Beastie Boys and their PR team have done a good job of building buzz around them, but none of this could have prepared me for the onslaught of the white-knuckle intensity they bring to the stage. The two piece punk band consists of Laurie Vincent (guitar, bass, vocals) and Isaac Holman (drums, vocals). From the stage there was an inexorable wail of belligerence that woke the entire festival up. Holman stood and sang to the gathering crowd as he decimated his three-piece drum kit. Their music is unruly and has the crash of punk grit, but after their first few songs, Holman spoke to the crowd showcasing humor you could not have anticipated. He asked everyone to look at their neighbor and give them a hug, including the security guards. When he saw they weren't moving, he spotlighted them and told one of the men, "Give him a squeeze" before they dedicated their next song, "Cheer Up London", "to the miserable ***** on London transport".
While Holman stood behind his kit on the left side of the stage, sweat dripped down his shirtless body as he used his hands like sledgehammers purging his demons through throaty yet madly effective vocals. While Holman is the more animated of the two, bassist / guitarist Laurie Vincent stood on stage in a vest barely covering his tattoos. As he attacked his bass, he would sneer at the audience like he wants to start a fight. Ready to roll, his bass punctuated the crowd with laborious thrusts of distorted power chords. Sprinting across the stage, he channeled the Damned, Sex Pistols and blues legends for his unique sound and also was able to show a little of his humor off teasing his partner in crime. Between the lashing and distorted songs, humor was abound. Whoever says rock n roll is dead should look no further than Slaves. They pulverized the crowd like it was a Saturday night headline show. Their performance was a revolution from two men who signaled to the crowd they were taking no prisoners and did just that performing a tour de force set that swallowed the crowd whole, with a smirk and wink.
Tyler Childers 1:45
Growing up in Kentucky informed Tyler Childers with a sense of dread and a capacity to tell great stories. His easy going, yet mesmerising, old school country vibe was an anomaly at Lollapalooza. However, the way he and his band were able to paint pictures with vintage seventies foot stomping country sounds, about heartbreak, religion, drugs and booze . In a day and age where every other country artist follows the Mutt Lange formula of hooky choruses, Childers was refreshing under the early afternoon sun. In support of his debut album Purgatory (which was co-produced by the great Sturgill Simpson), dips into every imaginable country music cliché but he sells the heartbreak and sketches of southern life with zeal.
The Canadian indie-rock-pop band hailing from Toronto had not been to Lollapalooza in a decade but their return was most welcomed. Co-lead singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell delivered an urgent set of melancholy and perfectly ebullient indie pop. Their synths glided while the rhythm guitars and drums churned meticulously while the melodies draped the songs as the passionate crowd took it all in. Their hour long set featured several songs from their 2017 album There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light
Dressed in pink with hoop earrings, the indie singer-songwriter FLETCHER had the ardent crowd at the shaded BMI stage in the palm of her hand eliciting a sing-a-long the crowd was all too happy to provide on the unreleased song "Shark in the Water". The crowd adored her and felt a connection to her openness.
The Wombats 4:10
Their genealogy is complicated, with the band members hailing from Norway and London, but whose music is rooted in Liverpool. The Wombats are a band perfectly crafted for a music festival like Lollapalooza. They're hip, catchy and are sterling live performers. On "Lemon To A Knife Fight", the band gelled and hit their stride. "Moving to New York", "Let's Dance To Joy Division" and "Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)" only solidified their connection with the audience.
Franz Ferdinand 4:45
Formed in Scotland in 2002, the five piece alternative rock band have performed at Lollapalooza before and their lean and ripping guitars were most welcomed in the early evening starting their show with "Do You Want To" which jumped off the stage. Franz Ferdinand are touring in support of a new album, Always Ascending and the four new songs found a home in their tight and driving thirteen song set that was a clear highlight of day one. The band has always had a physical presence on the stage and this performance was no exception. They pull you into their orbit and they may be a perfect festival band, as they lift you when you most need it by delivering terse rock anthems tinged with sadness. Lead singer/guitarist Alex Kapranos jaunted across the stage charming the crowd and igniting the fierce nature of the band.
On "Glimpse of Love" Kapranos structured a without his guitar while Julian Corrie ticked the keyboard keys to seduce the audience before the band showed their more susceptible sides with contemplative performances of "Walking Away" featuring a soul baring vocal from Kapranos, who continually exuded confidence on these more internal numbers. Music festivals are all about bombast and intimacy isn't one of its strong suits, however, the band continually showcased their openness. On "Jacqueline" the band continued their fist-pumping set as the rhythm section locked in with one another and were ready for battle as they congealed as an impenetrable force. "Take Me Out" brought about a mad rush to the front of the stage and was the first universal anthem of the festival I witnessed during 2018. The crowd size which was quite big to begin with, seemed to double within minutes.
LANY is an acronym for "Los Angeles New York" and the trio delivered breezy synth pop that was well received by the crowd, and proved to be the perfect setup for another synth-pop band that would perform across the field as soon as their set ended.
Supa Bwe 6:00
A small but deeply devotional crowd gathered at the BMI stage for Supa Bwe (pronounced Supa Boy or Supa Buu). The hip-hop artist hails from Chicago and those in attendance were swinging their arms back and forth and following his every word like it was scripture.
Billie Eilish 6:15
Billie Eilish is barely old enough to drive a car, but the buzz around her is deafening. American singer-songwriter has been a constant presence on streaming services with a few of her singles nearing nine-figure streams. Her buzz is so strong that she has a fall tour scheduled that is already sold out and the anticipation for her Lollapalooza performance was high, even though it proved to be disappointing for reasons that had nothing to do with Eilish. For the last several years, Lollapalooza has been placing big artists at the stage opposite Bud Light on the second biggest field in Grant Park. Tito's Handmade Vodka is the current sponsor, but for the third year in a row, it's become a stage often associated with disappointment due to its horrid sound. They don't have the sound system to support the crowd to hear more than a few hundred feet from the stage. I was on the concrete directly in front of the stage and many around me were wondering when she would begin her set, which unbeknownst to them was in progress. You could not hear Eilish and could barely see her. This is the same stage that Chris Stapleton, Live and Third Eye Blind have played in recent years and each time, the size of the crowd has overwhelmed the support for the stage. They need to improve the sound on this stage.
Another band hailing from Scotland, the synth-pop trio has made a name for themselves over the last five years continually crafting delicious melodies paired with ebullient passion and Lauren Mayberry's vocals. While CHVRCHES is a group whose members are essential, it is Mayberry who captures the crowd's imagination. The keyboards and synths give her space to let loose, let go of what she's holding inside and to share with the audience. She's dynamite on the concert stage, tapping into universal emotions that the audience grapple with. "Get Out", "Forever", "Recover" and "Leave a Trace" penetrated the soul of the audience who stood in rapt attention taking every note and lyric in. One notable moment from the set was the inclusion of "My Enemy" which features Matt Berninger of the National who made a special appearance during the set, in advance of his band's headline set on Friday night. CHVRCHES delivered a towering set where the band and fan wrestled with emotions as one.
Camilla Cabello 7:45
The Cuban born singer/songwriter has been to Chicago multiple times in the last year opening for Bruno Mars in August of 2017 and more recently, opening for Taylor Swift on her current stadium tour. Make no mistake, Cabello has crafted a few earworms, "Havana" and "Never Be the Same", that are impossible to escape. While she's an engaging performer, she would have benefitted from an earlier set time that didn't last an hour, which she struggled to fill with only one album to her name.
Arctic Monkeys 8:45
Arriving onstage with blinking red light, they dived into "Four Out of Five" from their recent album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino which has polarized fans and critics alike with its jazzy detours. The set finally kicked into overdrive on the third song "Brainstorm". The Arctic Monkeys are headliners for good reason, like Lollapalooza they've evolved and always keep their fans guessing where they will go next. The band's 2012 performance featured the band at the peak of their powers, where they had evolved to a happy spot, whereas the current version of the band is stretching itself which dragged the set a bit. Despite this, the band had one of the shortest headline sets in recent memory (80-minutes) and somehow managed to fit 21-songs into it culminating with "R U Mine?", reminding the crowd their worthiness as a headliner.
Taking to Perry's stage for the finale was the duo Galantis consisting of the Swedish electronic dance music production, songwriting and DJ duo consisting of Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklöw. Just like it had started ten hours earlier, the EDM stage was strong, bursting at the seams and featured a crowd of fans all too willing to let the music take them away. There was foundation-shaking bass, dry ice, fire, pyrotechnics reminding us that it doesn't matter what day or time it is, the EDM stage will always end the night like it began; with a bang.
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 seven years. He can be contacted at tonykAT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Lollapalooza 2018 - Day One Report
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