Lollapalooza 2014: Day One
Friday August 1, 2014 - Grant Park- Chicago: Watching Lollapalooza in 2014 is an experience like no other. It's not on a farm or in the desert but in the heart of a thriving metropolis. This is the key difference between Lollapalooza and Coachella or Bonnaroo. Each festival has its own unique brand, but there's something intoxicating walking out of a festival onto the burgeoning streets of downtown Chicago the world's greatest skyline in your sight. It's exciting in the lead-up to the festival and even as the music fades into the night of Chicago, the memories are vivid and bright. The first day of Lollapalooza 2014 was an extraordinary one, quite possibly the single greatest day of music I've ever been witness to. For each of its ten hours, I roamed stages across Grant Park in the search of enlightenment, discoveries and surprises and I found it all.
Over the last few years here at antiMUSIC (remember- the focus is always on the "music"), I've been fortunate to cover the Lollapalooza festival in the heart of downtown Chicago. This year I made a conscious decision to see as many acts as possible. This is challenging as going from the Bud Light stage to the Samsung Galaxy stage (my corporate plugs for the sponsors), is a mini trek. I saw fewer complete sets this year, but I was brought to my knees by a few performances that I never would have seen, if not for the continual movement. From 12pm until the Artic Monkeys wrung out their last note at 10pm, I caught nineteen different acts. Here is my journey:
The So So Glos 11:58am
There was a minor delay at the beginning of the festival and as a result, the So So Glos were the first band I planned on seeing, but they were delayed for more than ten minutes and I ventured to see other acts.
Shielded by the trees, the BMI stage has been my go-to place for great discoveries at Lollapalooza. The hard rock trio, led by a pair of twins, served up buzzing guitar chords and double dusted drums under the grey skies of Chicago. The Brooklyn band hollered with their bluesy brand of rock while singer Johnny Stevens matches the twins' intensity.
Roadkill Ghost Choir 12:30pm
There's a lot of long hair in this Central Florida band. With one EP under their belt, Quiet Light, they pull from this and their forthcoming LP later this year. The few songs I saw they plowed through with aggression so effortlessly, I'm excited for the LP later this year.
San Fermin 12:40pm
This was the moment when Lollapalooza got interesting. Hailing from Brooklyn, San Fermin is the creation of Ellis Ludwig-Leone who has a background in classical music. He along with seven other band members performed a mesmerizing set that blended the Velvet Underground, Bjork, the muted soul of The National, Motown, Stax Soul and a symphony. Rebekah Durham's violin graced the songs with shimmery chic while new singer Charlene Kaye stole the show. Her vocals were evocative and ethereal. She recently replaced Rae Cassidy and appears to have found her groove. On "Parasites", John Brandon leapt into the crowd with his trumpet igniting a great response. The eight total members onstage were engaged with one another and the audience. San Fermin is a band you have to witness up close to appreciate. The band was joined by Lucius' Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig on the new number "Sunset". They also hail from Brooklyn (noticing a trend here?), and it was a magical moment as their harmonies enveloped the horns which fueled the song with soul. On "Demon Lover", the shock soul-horns echoed the fiery pits below us while the vocals ascended from above and these two worlds meet in between for a battle. This is the essence of San Fermin and it works magically.
Lead singer and guitarist James Bagshaw told the crowd, "Thank you for getting up early" even if it was early afternoon but the turnout was riotously notable for such an early day slot on day one. Temples opened their set in am ambient manner- bass and drums churned and chugged while guitars sprinkled out chords like stars in the sky. They were confident enough to weave chic and capacious chords around huge tempos. The arrangements are unswerving but spaciousness enough to get lost in. The UK influences permeate Temples with Led Zeppelin and T-Rex being the most obvious.
Into It. Over It. 1:35pm
Evan Weiss is the mastermind of the band and his three fellow bandmates are dressed plainly with a nod to emo and 90's alternative music. The band may not be flashy but they were earnest and intrigued me enough that I'll check this Chicago outfit out again.
of Verona 1:40pm
Mandi Perkins is the lead singer of of Verona and guitarist Dillon Pace took Lollapalooza to the moon with their performance. For me this is where possibly the greatest day or music I have ever witnessed began. The electronic pop group has an ethereal Kate Bush/Peter Gabriel aesthetic. They played material from their 2012 album The White Apple which came across as dreamy and hazy. "Darkness in My Imagination" and is filled with a tinge of helplessness. Perkins is an artist that takes you deep into your psyche confronting calamities you don't want to admit are there. She swayed on the stage and perfectly delivered these songs in the same way a tortured soul would in a coffee house. Pace shifted between the guitar and keyboard laying the smoky underbelly of the world Perkins plays in. of Verona have a sound that feels endless and limitless because there's intense confessions in the music. Their music is delivered like a widescreen synth symphony. Their confidence was intimidating and makes me want to find every last song they have recorded. This is a band that showed up on one of the smaller stages at Lollapalooza and smashed it out of the park. Other acts will have larger audiences over the weekend but few will be as candid and mind-altering as of Verona.
The five-piece band is led by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig who dress in matching outfits and the same blonde haircut. Their harmonies echo a fifties malt shop dream and yet they remind me of First Aid Kit who performed on the same exact stage two years ago. The key component in common is the gorgeous shared melodies. It's like having two hearts to love with. While synths and keyboards are prominent throughout the performance and their superb Wildewoman album, Wolfe and Laessig took turns banging on the drums. "Don't Just Sit There" has a subterranean poignancy in the lyric cutting to the core of the human condition. Their harmony vocals conjure up images of two friends wrangling with life issues. Another female led group who exceeded expectations.
Courtney Barnett 2:20pm
The left-handed guitar player hailing from Australia has an edge to her like early Liz Phair with her real world lyrics that turn ordinary events into risqué affairs of the heart. She takes her art seriously and it shows throughout her superb debut album Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas.
Dugas consists of two siblings from Winnipeg; Sarah and Christian Dugas. Their performance was without precedent, once again being led by a female performer. This was as bare and tangible as performers can be. Sarah spoke about "taking the negativity out of the air" before she performed the sublime "Better Place in Time" Sarah Dugas is an extraordinary performer without an ounce of pretension. She doesn't hold back her feelings even in her dealings with the crowd; she spoke to then as if they were long lost friends. The music has a slow side country road aura where life hangs in the balance as you wrestle with your heart and mind.
J. Roddy Walston and the Business 2:45pm
Friday may have belonged to the women of Lollapalooza as they wore their hearts on their sleeves and taught us something about ourselves, but credit must be given to J. Roddy Walston and the Business for giving the best non-female fronted performance of the day. On the band's first song due to his excitement. Their debut album is a boogie-woogie masterpiece. He's a madman on the piano and boisterous on the stage. The band delivers a larger than life sound between gospel, Sun Records and classic rock. These guys know the history of rock and aren't afraid to show it. From the Malcom Young AC/DC chords ("Heavy Bells") that chug along like a slow but steady automotive- the band is deliciously dependable. When I saw them at the Double Door in 2010 I couldn't imagine them in a bigger space and I selfishly wanted to keep them to myself but they have gotten better with every performance. Performing to a large crowd on the Bud Light stage, their sound was so hot the skies opened up and poured down on them. Few bands are as in-sync with one another as J. Roddy Walston and the Business and even if the albums don't do it for you, they're one of the best war torn bands on the road today and their Lollapalooza performance solidified this standing.
Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano Ramirez front this duo who made waves with the release of their album Diamonds earlier this year. The portion of the set I witnessed had Abner talking about his father being a genuinely good man who always could let anger go, but he asked the audience to "hold onto your anger for the next three-minutes and thirty-seconds" in a distressing solo performance. Looks like it's time for me to give this record another spin on the basis of this performance.
The female four-piece was an intriguing experience. Their latest self-title record was produced by Flood (30 Seconds To Mars, U2) helped refine their sound into mystery immediately making it more intriguing. Men talk about sex but what few are willing to admit is women own the experience and it is because they turn the experience into a sensual one. They have a better top to bottom idea of what it encompasses. The women of war paints music may be deemed sexy but I refer to them as sensual. Sensuality is what endures, captures out imagination and lifts us in the greatest relationships of our time. Warpaint's music is sensually sensational creating an aura of mystery around it. They're the equivalent of a beautiful woman from across the room no one dares approach not because they're intimidated but they are afraid of what they'll reveal to her. Warpaint were in complete control and we were all vulnerable under their sway.
Iggy Azalea 4:30pm
Perry's stage, largely the EDM stage, was pumped before Azalea made it to the stage. Insanity was on the menu and by the time she came out in a body suit (with The New Classicdown the side). People can turn their noses up at the EDM craze, but without question, Perry's is the most interactive stage at Lollapalooza. Everything else is a distant second. There are better performers than Azalea, more prominent women rappers but none owned the stage and the crowd at Lollapalooza like her. This was truly about capturing a moment in time. Amongst a sea of people she performed like a headliner with her high energy forty-five minute set that shook your body to its core. She owned crowd's devotion and while they may be other more established artists on these stages this weekend, Iggy will be forever in their minds. When the opening bass from "Fancy" rolled throughout the park, she didn't even need to sing. The swell of the crowd's voices over took what was going on the stage. This ladies and gentlemen is the future of stadium rock. It's not in a stadium or even rock n roll but it's still a communal experience that captures the hearts of the crowd. No other song the entire Lollapalooza weekend would have the reaction "Fancy" did. Her set, while short, was forty-five minutes of beat bumping ecstasy.
The synthpop styling of this group expands beyond what you'd believe. The layered instrumentation is gripping but doesn't overshadow her vocals. Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty comprise CHVRCHES and together they carefully craft synth perfection with nuanced layers of music that build until Mayberry takes the song to a crescendo that enlivens like the simplest of life's pleasures. Wearing eye glitter she seduced the crowd and worked her magic. Graced with a magnetic presence and voice, Mayberry is what draws us in. Lollapalooza is a festival that is always taking us to the future with a firm understanding of the past. It would have been easy to make Lollapalooza a festival that thrives on nostalgia and there would be nothing wrong with that but as I watched CHVRCHES I could help but feel this is a band that wouldn't have made any of the 90s versions of the festival yet in Friday they played to one of the largest crowds.
Cash Cash 6:15pm
On "Take Me Home", the electronic number zipped through the audience like a firebird on an open road. The BMI stage is tucked to the side under trees with Lake Shore Drive zipping behind it, but it has been my greatest stage for discovery and only Cash Cash was no exception capturing my mind with only two songs. The audience was leaping up and down and while it couldn't compete with Iggy Azalea's crowd, the reaction was every bit as engrossing as "Fancy".
I don't think AFI was taken seriously when they first emerged more than a decade back but their greatest secret back then was deep down they were a great band and their greatest secret today is that they are still a great band. Last year at Riot Fest I was particularly impressed with singer Davey Havok, who I had not realized cut his long locks from last decade and in place is a short cut that oddly makes him come off as someone with greater confidence. The band has had the same lineup for fifteen years which is probably a record for Lollapalooza and their Palladia stage performance was enduring and rock-hard. Their set ending "Miss Murder" teeters between submerged tension and the ultimate release. Havok is a sight to see and this performance was no different and he is continually leaping across the stage while transfixing the audience with their music. Here's to another fifteen years hopefully where I will be writing about their veteran performance at Lollapalooza 2029.
I was fascinated by Debbie Gibson when I was younger because she wrote, produced and sang songs that came from her garage. She was and is an anomaly…until now. Lorde captures the confusion and chaos of teen life better than anyone has in decades and taking into account that she is a teen is extraordinary. Most artists have the fortunate luck of time and wisdom on their side when they mine these emotions from their past but Lorde is in the thick of it. She does it with grace like few have before her as the songs conjure feelings that are unpretentious and don't feel like they are processed pop. Opening her set with "Glory and Gore" her body twisted and turned in tandem with the rhythms of the drums. I see a woman twice her age roam the stage and command it. As a stage performer you exude confidence in front of the crowd, but considering she may have had the highest attended show of the weekend, her poise that is rare. She also doesn't need to tease her audience with flesh; she does it with her mind. By the time she performed the album opener (and current single) "Tennis Court", the crowd was in the palm of her hand.
The crowd knows ever lyric and nuanced vocal but it's more than that- they feel like they live it. I can't imagine another artist over these three nights that the audience has clutched onto. Artists often distance themselves from their early material as they evolve and mature. They often come into their own and really learn the craft of making music. Whatever path Lorde heads down, I will follow her but she should never look back on this period because she is as invigorating of a performer as we have in 2014. Twenty years after Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette and Jewel stole the airwaves from disgruntled men in flannels, we have a new generation of women who are every bit as strong and secure. People look at Beyoncé and see a star, but when they look at Lorde and see one of themselves.
Lorde was accompanied by only two auxiliary musicians, a drummer and keyboardist who add color to her lyrics with vitalizing arrangements. She sincerely appeared speechless by the size of the crowd that turned up for her. This was the type of performer I walk through the door of my house and tell my wife about. It electrifies me that artists like Lorde exist. She sold out the Aragon Ballroom this past winter, but this type of performance could only have taken place at Lollapalooza. This is the essence and elation of a festival performance. She possibly played to more people than anyone who played Soldier Field in the last few years. "Ribs", "Royals" and "Team" took the audience over-the-top, as they latched onto the songs and gave back unfiltered enthusiasm. By the end of "Team" and the start of album and set closer "A World Alone", the crowd had officially lost their mind. Lorde's hour long performance would be the one everyone else would try and live up to for the remainder of the weekend.
Lykke Li 7:35pm
Continuing the soul searching agenda of women, Lykke Li, hailing from Sweden, was a wandering spirit for an hour during a meticulously crafted set full of sensual spirits. Her set largely drew from Wounded Rhymes and her most recent album I Never Learn, one of 2014's five best records released so far. Bulldozing passions are served up for an hour with her magnificent backing band providing angst and perfection bringing her records to life. "Just Like A Dream" is full of starry-night vocals which take her audience to that place where anguish and adoration try to come to terms with the past for a restored future. Her sensuality is wrapped up by the moon and the night. As she began "No Rest for the Wicked", it became the soundtrack for the sun rising and setting. Her music evokes the end of something profound that altered our life course, but her gentle vocals are like soothing words from a kind friend who helps us find our way onto the correct path. When I hear her music I feel her tussle and her inborn need to share these experiences with others. Any artist worth anything will take that audience and make them feel blessed, consecrated and enabled.
Li roams the stage like a spirit. She's young and stunning and songs like an angel from the heavens but her soul is old. Her songs wash over you like life lessons from a grandmother you take with you through life, pass on and even to the grave with you. There's a spiritual aspect to her music- her records feel like lost classics you heard your parents and grandparents play, but they're not and that's a compliment to the earthiness and secrets that embody them. Is it possible for a sound, voice and performance to be a gateway to something life altering? I believe I Never Learn to be a record I will listen to for decades with its opulent arrangements that will haunt me for years to come. Her performance is more suited for a small club or theater, but she took the Lollapalooza crowd to a spiritual space that we all need from time to time, no matter whom we are. "Never Going To Love Again" wrapped the crowd up in a tidal wave of emotions which they responded by swaying their arms back and forth. To disconnect yourself from this lyric and this pain is to be the world's greatest actor but her clenched tight eyes tell me everything I need to know about her. I only wish I could have had more time with her.
Midwestern rap God Eminem had the weekend's most impressive staging for Friday's headline slot. Despite playing Lollapalooza three years ago, his infrequent touring makes him a must-see performer every time. In the last fifteen years he may be the most important artist to emerge in any genre and regardless of what one may think of him, his impact on the music industry and his ability to connect time and time again with such a sweeping and large fan base is impressive. Most of his set featured portions of songs, but it didn't matter, he packed his set with close to thirty-songs and even brought Rihanna out for a few songs. I had made my way to the Artic Monkeys by the time she arrived, however, the reason Eminem is so engaging is because of his lyrics which the audience knew. It doesn't matter what genre of music you work in, what matters is the connection you make with the audience and connect he did.
Arctic Monkeys 9:20
I wasn't impressed with their debut record despite all the praise, it simply left me cold. But something has happened over time, they have evolved into an unstoppable rock band. There is an over reaching story here where the band has grown. Each record has its own story and culminating in a headline spot- this is a band at the peak of their powers- something I had not expected. The brash punks who made headlines last decade are still there, but they've evolved their sound. Band has become fine students of rock with an engaging performance. "One for the Road" and it's tepid bluesy guitars and marching bass paired with the soul fueled love song "I Wanna Be Yours" reflect their ability to ascend to a headline slot.
Closing Thoughts on Lollapalooza Day One
The world of full of incredible musical talent and Lollapalooza has proven to be a place where it showcases these up and coming stars. Day one without question belonged to the women. They come across as the most tangible, the most candid and the most authentic. Beneath the outer beauty of each one of these women is a true inner exquisiteness where they wrestle with their sentiments in a way to share them with the world. The women I witnessed on the opening day of Lollapalooza 2014 (Lorde, Lucius, Dugas, of Verona, Lykke Li) are the future. They exude confidence, elegance, enlightenment and educated minds to take their audiences to new heights. New heroes were born and substantiated under the world's greatest skyline at what may be our greatest musical festival, Lollapalooza. As I walked inside my home exhausted from what I had just witnessed because I went for enjoyment and came out spiritually spent. Images sped through my mind of the past, present and future. As I kissed my five-year-old on the forehead as she slept, I know there will come a time where she will be lost and alone and I pray she gets to experience a day of music like this one where the artists, especially the women, who share a piece of their soul on the stage can teach her a lesson or two about moving forward.
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
Lollapalooza 2014: Day One
Share this article