One minute you are basking in the sun waiting for George Ezra to take the stage for an hour-long set and the next you are evacuating Grant Park looking for cover due to an impending storm. Lollapalooza fans have been here before, notably in 2012, where they evacuated the entire festival in thirty-nine minutes flat. This year the evacuation was for the most part seamless and without issue. Props must be given to C3 Presents who must have some of the greatest project managers on the planet. Not only do they manage to manage food vendors, drinks, free watering stations, seven stages of music, VIP guests and one-hundred-thousand fans, but they are forward thinking enough to execute an evacuation with ease. In 2012, the evacuation was long enough that acts like the Alabama Shakes had to be cancelled all together, but this year, they made a key decision to ensure everyone was able to perform, albeit via shortened sets, and the headliners would be extended to 10:45 beyond the standing 10:00 curfew. As fans flocked back to Grant Park the sun came out and all appeared to be well with the festival...for the time being.
Londoner Jack Aisher grew up a classically trained musician. He spent his teens years perfecting his skills with more than twenty-hours every week dedicated to rehearsal, practice and music events. After seeing Fatboy Slim at a club in Ibiza on vacation, he was swept up with the world of electronic dance music. He took to the Perry's stage Sunday morning when most festival goers were clearing their eyes of the previous night's hangover, the EDM Jack Aisher became jackLNDN and was a sight to see and hear. He took the stage and performed like it was a Saturday night headline slot. His music was loud, boisterous, big and warranted to be heard. The music swelled and as fans reached for the sky.
The Wombats 12:20
While relatively new on these shores, The Wombats have been a band for more than a decade and hail from Liverpool, a city with a rich rock n' roll history. Having just played Australia the Thursday before they made their way to Chicago and would be continuing their tour in the Czech Republic later this week. This was a one-off performance and the band could have gone through the motions, but instead hit the stage with big crushing guitars. Touring in support of their third album, Glitterbug, the Wombats are a great indie-power-pop-rock band who may just be getting warmed up. They closed with "Let's Dance To Joy Division" and they performed it just like every song that came before, with a take-no-prisoners approach.
Circa Waves 12:45
Picking up where the Wombats left off on the other side of the field, Circa Waves took no time to wake up those who still weren't shook awoke by the previous guitar rock drive. Bass drums, crashing cymbals, pounding bass were evident on the one-two punch of "Young Chasers" and "Good For Me". Some may say the music is slightly repetitive, but feeling the energy pour off the stage was something that was undeniable.
Twin Peaks 1:30
There was a pattern emerging on the south side of Grant Park, liberating and raging guitars paired with a youthful exuberance and a fiery drive. Chicago based Twin Peaks picked up the garage rock mantle and tore through yet another high energy set at the south end of the park. The five-piece band spread their set through their two albums and a couple of unreleased songs as well. The highlight was "Making Breakfast" which vocalist Cadien Lake James transported with a wry smile and an audience that gleamed right back at him.
Festival Evacuation 2:30-4:15
As the crowd was waiting for George Ezra an announcement was made that they would be evacuating the park in anticipation of a storm that was being tracked and scheduled to hit the area within forty-minutes. This happened in 2012 and this time it also came off without any hitches. Fans scurried to the designated safety zones and also into bars and restaurants to wait out the storm. The storm missed the park by a few miles so within forty-minutes, the Lollapalooza app pushed a message that gates would re-open at 3:30 and performances would start up at 4:00. A decision was made that no acts would be cancelled but their sets would be shortened and the curfew extended to 11pm to accommodate the ninety-minute pause.
George Ezra 4:15
George Ezra took to the largest stage in the festival after the music had started again only to see his set had been cut in half. With a quirky but infectious hit to his name, would fans show up? They did in droves and when Ezra emerged from the shadows it was without a backing band and just an acoustic guitar. I had only anticipated seeing one or two songs but he was charming, effective and despite the vastness of the stage and field, he managed to make a mark with him and his acoustic guitar. His booming voice made the sound of four highly skilled musicians and engulfed those fortunate to be there. "Budapest" closed his all-too-brief set out, but it was a cover of the Bob Dylan classic "Girl From the North Country" and a last minute set list addition entitled "Did You Hear the Rain?" which swept down from the stage and seized me. For bands with songs on the radio that get festival slots, you venture to the stages with a weary anticipation not fully sure if they can hold the audience's attention for a full set with material as strong as what has made its way to the radio, but in the case of George Ezra he came and gripped a crowd with only a guitar and his voice. Look for him to make a return to Lollapalooza in the future.
Marina and the Diamonds 4:45
Dressed in a black vinyl suit lead singer Marina (Marina Lambrini Diamandis) hit the stage with a momentum that would not relent. The opening three-pack "Bubblegum Bitch", "Forget" and "I Am Not A Robot" were foot-stomping and fearless. The rhythm section swerved in-and-out of traffic with ease never crashing allowing Marina to soar.
The Lonely Biscuits 5:10
Under the sleepy trees of the BMI stage, simplicity was shining through with two chiming guitars, kick-drums and a bouncy bass. Their innocence was understated and their vibe perfectly matched the aesthetics of the stage. This is the type of band who would take to the stage at a bar and be completely unassuming but with every passing song, a few extra patrons take notice. The Nashville four-piece paced their set meticulously and created some magic under the trees in a memorable set.
Twenty One Pilots
Twenty One Pilots defy categorization. The duo who had their humble beginnings in Columbus, Ohio hit the Lollapalooza stage and by the end of their set an hour later quite possibly performed every genre represented at Lollapalooza over the weekend. Have you heard one song by them? If so, then they have a dozen others that are nothing like it. They're Linkin Park one minute, Queen the next and Eminem a few minutes later. You could call them a power-pop band, a rock-rap hybrid ("Heavydirtysoul") and a reggae band as well. In a shocking twist, this variety worked in their favor. Tyler Joseph was no slouch either, he canvassed the stage like few others did the whole weekend. They used a ukulele on one song and a few songs later they were covering "No Woman, No Cry" by Bob Marley. They had the most eclectic set of the weekend - synth pop, shades of hard rock, hip hop, reggae, - you name it, they dipped their toes into the water of all genres which climaxed in a pounding and triumphant performance of "Trees" that evoked the ghost of Freddie Mercury. Their genre-melding set was eye-opening and one I hope to experience again.
Lord Huron 6:30
Ben Schneider began his musical upbringing in Michigan before moving to Los Angeles in 2010 and forming the band Lord Huron. The jangly folk pop of their debut Lonesome Dreams resonated with a wide audience highlighted by the ht single "End of the Earth". The misty soft acoustic rhythms took the audience to the moon and then earthbound once again as they split their set between their debut and Strange Trails. The shuffling rhythm is reminiscent of early Paul Simon. "Fool For Love" and "Time To Run" were the perfect alternative for a early evening performance.
Of Monsters and Men 7:15
The five members of the Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men may appear to be a indie folk band, but the force of their congealed efforts can't be denied. The musical arrangements are ambitious in their nature and at Lollapalooza they brought their precision and a underlying sense of drama to the stage. "Dirty Paws" has an meek opening strum but it becomes a frenzied piece of musical poetry delivered with a confident piledriver force. The way the piano chords danced around the drums and acoustic rhythms had the power to emotionally debilitate me. "Mountainsong", "Lakehouse" and "Little Talks" rippled with the crowd who looked on and gleefully danced. Right when the wrong act had the potential to lose and audience, Of Monsters and Men came in and inspired an entire crowd to dance like no one was watching. It was one of most perfect and ebullient moments of the entire weekend.
TV on the Radio 8:15
I remember Rolling Stone magazine granting TV on the Radio's 2008 album Dear Science the album of the year. Out of curiosity, I purchased the album, gave it a dozen listens and never went back. I've continued to give new albums further listens (Nine Types of Light in 2011 and Seeds in 2014) and I get a cold chill when I listen to them. While a technically proficient band, they've never connected emotionally and I was hoping their performance would change my mind. Unfortunately, the band suffered from distorted sound that bled and never captured the attention aside from the die hard fans up front.
Florence + the Machine 9:00
When the new schedule came out post-evacuation, Florence + the Machine had their set pushed back to 9:15-10:45, however, a storm was due to hit Grant Park around the 10:30 time frame and the Lollapalooza organizers made the difficult decision to move up all headliner times by fifteen minutes. Revealing herself to the crowd in a white shimmery suit, her voice on "What the Water Gave Me" telescoped throughout the crowd in a visceral and beautiful moment. The sun had set and north of the stage behind the Chicago skyline, thunder and lightning was making the city look like a war zone. In the end, their set was cut from ninety-minutes to sixty-minutes (ending at 10pm) to allow enough time for the fan to leave the park before the rain storm hit around 10:45.
Some headliners would coast and others may have let the reduced stage time affect their performance, but not Florence + the Machine who elevated their game and pushed and pulled the crowd in a communal fashion so storming, you couldn't but sit back and be in awe of it all. Paul McCartney played to one of the biggest crowds in the festival's history, Metallica was deafening and defiant in their performance and on the same stage Florence + the Machine are working a minor miracle by conducting the audience in a masterful performance. When she sung "Shake It Out" Florence Welch informed the crowd with her tales of embittered confessions. Despite injuring her leg earlier this summer, there was no sign she ever hurt herself as she continually sprinted across the stage and into the crowd several times during her short but significant sixty-minute set.
"Ship To Wreck" from the excellent How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful oozed, drained and and painted a picture of devastation that it was hard to not be affected watched Welch's long red hair drape over her shoulders knowing that the words escaping her lips were earned, they weren't crafted to be a hit, but to heal heartbreak. It's been awhile since an artist who puts so much on the line has ascended to heights this dizzying. One of the most personal and devastating concerts I have seen this year was Butch Walker in support of his excellent Afraid of Ghosts album inspired by the death of his father. Florence + the Machine put every bit of
Heartache was translated into sonic riotous aural pastiches which were notable on "What KInd of Man", "Delilah" and "St. Jude". Whatever Welch experienced had a profound effect on her and it can be heard in these immaculately languid performances. Throughout the entire performance, she pushed herself physically elevating the performance and the crowd in the process. As the storm drew closer Florence looked into the eye of the storm and wasn't afraid, she fought it and wanted the audience to never forget the shortened performance. "Dog Days Are Over" turned into more than the closing of the festival, but an exclamation point. As a storm whirled its way towards Grant Park, she danced, sung, let her vulnerability ripple, and climbed peaks in order to inspire and engage her audience. "Dog Days" simultaneously became a baptism and resurrection where we are once again born anew but with the knowledge of our past thus allowing us to hurdle obstacles in front of us and face demons head-on. As the thunderclap rhythm of the song surged towards a conclusion, Florence once again entered the crowd and removed her shirt leaving just her bra. The rigorous performance released submerged tension and led to a moment no one will ever forget making it one of the most dramatic endings ever in the festival's history.
With every passing year, I become more impressed with what I walk away with from Lollapalooza. The 2015 edition of the festival will be remembered for the mouth gaping headline performances by Paul McCartney, Metallica and Florence + the Machine, but also the hungry artists who played a wide assortment of stages to crowds of all sizes.
As a festival, it's run and executed with fine tuned precision. A friend attended the first day with me who has attended other festivals of a smaller nature and he commented to me how much easier it is to navigate Lollapalooza even with 100,000 compared to the others he has attended. You experience many other festivals which all have their moments and elements to love, but few can match Lollapalooza
A sampling of why it has few peers:
2) Enough restrooms
3) A farmers market
4) An eclectic array of food and drink choices
5) Merchandise & Autograph tents
6) VIP options
7) Green solutions which include teams who pick up trash and recycle throughout the day
8) Free water courtesy of Camelbak
9) More than fifty after-shows
10) A mobile app that continually updates
11) Live Streams for those at home
12) Eight (8) stages of music over thirty (30) hours.
Few festivals can offer such an array of services and talent. Lineups changes year-to-year and outdoor weather can't be predicted, but what is guaranteed is a weekend of musical enrichment and exploration few other festivals in the world can match. If you haven't set out to Chicago for the festival yet then mark your calendars for July 29-31, 2016 when the twelfth edition of the Chicago-based festival will return.
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 2015 Day Three: Florence and the Machine and more
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