Lollapalooza 2016 Day Three
Saturday July 30, 2016 - Grant Park, Chicago
2016 marks my fifth year of covering Lollapalooza for the antiMUSIC Network and in that time I have written over 50,000 words about this festival. I have covered its food, the side stages, the overall park layout, the urban downtown landscape of Chicago, after parties, new discoveries, tangible excitement, utter disappointment and music that rattle my soul. In the end, it is always about the music. I write this at a time when festival experiences are often being associated with more of a social setting than the acts who bring it to life. Make no mistake, the team who put on Lollapalooza deliver an A-grade experience like no other where even advertising feels like it's being done with class (and allowing the festival to keep prices are reasonable levels). It's important to note that in an age of cynicism, more great music is being made than ever before and I was there to witness it. Will these acts find their wings and continue to fly or crash and burn? I can't tell you, but I do urge you to seek out many of these acts, listen to their music, buy their albums, purchase merchandise and go and see them in concert.
The Strumbellas 12:30
The Strumbellas are a six-piece band from Canada who kicked off the party of Saturday with a foot-stomping set chock full of joyfulness. The sun shone down on the stage and the band illuminated it back to the audience who basked in the splendour of their music. They have a few records under their belt but their most recent, Hope is a crushing step forward. People may be quick to say that the Lumineers are distant musical cousins, but I think it is a disservice to the Strumbellas, who have forged their own arm-waving acoustic jams. Two songs stood out during the set; "Spirits" is evocative while "Shovels & Dirt" is a spiritual test for the audience as the songs wrap themselves around like an old friend at a moment in need. They capture earnestness, comfort and inspiration in their music and one can only hope this is the beginning of something much bigger for the folk-rock six-piece.
Nothing But Thieves 12:45
Opening with craving alternative rock groove of "Itch", the five members of Nothing But Thieves, who hail from Essex, England, delivered untarnished performance for a significant sized crowd on the south side of Grant Park. Followed by the fuzzy distortion of electric guitars, "Painkiller" was a freeway chase of thrills where the band escalated their intensity leading to a fist-to-the-air chorus that signified alternative rock is still alive and well at Lollapalooza.
Generik is Tyson O'Brien, who has lit up dance parties with his hit single "The Weekend" blasted his grooves out to Perry's audience who represent the most steady stream of fans throughout the festival. Generik was still warming up at 1pm, but do not tell any if the few thousand fans there, they were in their element dancing and swaying as if it was 2am in a ritzy dance club.
A trio from Germany who brought their brand of pleasing power-pop to the BMI shaded stage. They may receive the reward for the best dressed. Singer Oli Wimmer was dressed in a suit while guitarist Ali Grumeth was in a spiffy vest. "Lights Out" and "Don't Call Me When It's Over" with their lush melodies made an endearing impression. They did not stop there as they dial-up a fiery rendition of "Fire" by Jimi Hendrix to end their all-too-short set.
The synth-pop duo hailing from Brooklyn has worked with Beyoncé and their single "Bruises" has over 22-million streams on Spotify. Their afternoon slot on Saturday found them at their peak with steady and fast rhythm and whereas the closer "Get Real" may have touched the crowd a bit too delicately to leave a lasting impression.
When I last saw X-Ambassadors they were opening for Muse this past January. Their Lollapalooza set ignited the fire even fast with a revving opening for "Loveless" with its big hooks, chanting chorus and soulful exposition; they demonstrate shades one may take from the radio dial. It is easy to dismiss a band like this who has experienced success, but "Hang On" exuded dimensions of soul demonstrating that their influences are eclectic and infectious, validated by the swaying in synch arms in the air. Tom Morello, Chicago native and guitar God of Rage Against the Machine, made a guest appearance towards the end of their set (which I missed for good reasons you can read below).
Potty Mouth 2:35
Three women with assertiveness and aptitude from Massachusetts provided a bombshell at the BMI stage. Festival newcomers Potty Mouth dial-up gritty and contagious punk rock in heavy doses. This past March I watched them persuasively sway a few thousand CHVRCHES fans to their side with a heavy blend of shredding guitars paired with destructive and determined drums. Their Lollapalooza set, especially the fizz bass "Cherry Picking" blends resolute punk rock with a 90s Breeders ambiance.
The Joy Formidable 2:50
Lead singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan is all ferocity. She sings with all her might, plays her guitar with speedy fists of fury while drummer Matthew James Thomas and bassist Rhydian Dafydd are lock step behind her. The band made an art out of rolling drum fills while the bass pulverized paths for Bryan to murmur her lyrics building a cathedral of sound where she will shift between the solemn, soulful and screeching. In between songs, her banter was charming, fueled with humor and a bit of wry Welsh humor. "Sometimes it's f***ing cool to go against the grain" she proclaimed right before singing a song about acceptance entitled "Passerby" as she alluded to the current political climate in the US ("Don't let that mop head get into power")as well as the UK with Brexit making national headlines recently. She is an angel not afraid to turn up the fire when dealing with the hell raisers below.
On "Liana" from their excellent album Hitch, cymbals crashed, while Bryan's guitar did battle with itself as the snivelling chords shifted between melody and decadent distortion. She told the crowd about a fear of flying when introducing the song and that tenseness flowed through to the performance. What differentiates the Joy Formidable from other acts is the tension within their material. It is pulverizing to experience but you can feel the melody, the angst and their message. Despite the shackles hanging from your arms and legs, you feel the music, the manic nature of it all and you want to shred the chains and move forward.
I will fully cop to having a minor crush on Ritzy Bryan whose guitar yowls like a siren seeking shelter on the swelling stadium anthem "Radio of Lips". Bassist Rhydian Dafydd steered this semi of a song with his pulverizing four-string as Bryan colored her chords with sprightly nerve. The band drills their message through not just their lyrics but also their instruments. As a trio, they overpower the audience with raw emotion and pinpoint musician dexterity The embodiment of the full potential of what rock music should do, invigorate and channel their anger with the world through their hands. The Joy Formidable embody the spirit of rock n' roll at its most primal and poetically potent.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats 3:45
Amidst all of the chaos, one may experience at Perry's there has been a significant amount of artists whose style is a throwback but they are simply embodying the message and music of some of the greatest artists of all time. One of the criticisms of Lollapalooza is they have abandoned their roots by bringing in more dance and pop acts to appeal to a younger generation. Personally, I find those comments often unwarranted and Saturday afternoon was proof as it offered quite a selection of artists who love music and its creation as much as anything in this world. Nathaniel Rateliff is one of these people, who taps into the bloodstream of early 1970s rock owing much to acts like The Band and Wilson Pickett. Organ solos, cool jazz drums and moody bass were all on display. His hit single "S.O.B" closed out the soul revue set with the crowd clapping, singing and dancing like no one was watching. The truth is you cannot be this good without having the DNA of the music seep into every pore and Rateliff's pores are overflowing.
Leon Bridges 4:45
Dressed in a white and red shirt with sunglasses, Bridges wasted no time showing off his dance moves and his willingness to shake his body. His motivation is faultless as he perfectly recreates the great soul and R&B sounds of the 1960s. His live band captured the essence of his superb Coming Home record flawlessly. If Nathanial Radcliffe was a throwback to the late 60s and early 70s, Bridges went even further to the 50s. Not only does he keep the flame burning so bright for soul and R&B you almost think he's the reincarnated spirit or Otis Redding and James Brown. The arrangements are fresh and energizing even if he is not innovating. He could update his sounds with beats, bring in a guest DJ or a hip-hop artist, but it would not be who Bridges is. He can immaculately deliver after-hours wispy soul on such songs as "River" and shuffling R&B on "Mississippi Kisses" and bring the crowd to its knees on the vociferous "Smoouth Sailin'".
Chris Stapleton 5:45
Continuing the throwback portion of Lollapalooza is country artist Chris Stapleton who has been a force to reckon with ever since his CMA performance last year with Justin Timberlake, which helped his album skyrocket to number-one on the chart. Just this month Guns N' Roses hand selected him to open their show in Nashville which helped sell out the show. Opening with "Nobody To Blame", Stapleton engineered a set heavy on songs from Traveller but he also performed several songs from his previous band, the SteelDrivers. Stapleton is a star for staying true to himself and embracing the music he grew up loving rather than what is hip. The only downside to his performance is the Petrillo band shell is a far too small location for someone like him to perform.
Jane's Addiction 6:15
The members of Jane's Addiction have become larger than life personalities. Perry Farrell is the face of Lollapalooza while Dave Navarro has become a reality television staple. Once you go from nowhere to everywhere, there is inevitable backlash. At Riot Fest in 2014, I watched the band smolder the drenched audience with a spine-tingling performance of Nothing's Shocking that silenced the naysayers. The 2016 Lollapalooza performance was in celebration of the festival turning a quarter century old and it gave them a chance to perform their sophomore record Ritual De Lo Habitual in its entirety. The set was filled with pyrotechnics, swinging women above the stage, suave fashion and scorching alternative rock. This was a showcase for the classic alternative band to not just give the crowd a jolt of nostalgia but to also show everyone where the idea and music of Lollapalooza was birthed from. As I mentioned in my day one coverage, the first Lollapalooza was planned as a farewell tour of sorts for Jane's Addiction but it morphed into the best known traveling music festival possibly if all time.
While never the most popular of acts from the alternative era, their importance can't be denied. While the splintering riffs of "Stop" and "Been Caught Stealing" elicited the largest roars from the crowd, it was the vivacious bass on "Three Days" that perfectly embodied the essence of this band. "Classic Girl" was tender and a showcase for Navarro in a restrained fashion which he excels at. For the remainder of the set, there was the fiery "Just Because" from their underrated 2003 record Strays and a pair of Chicago legends who made guest appearances. Tom Morello appeared once again to shred strings on "Mountain Song" while Jimmy Camberlin of the Smashing Pumpkins sat behind the drums for "Jane Says". It was a celebratory moment for a quarter century of their sophomore album and the festival but it's also a startling reminder to how potential and powerful this band and this music continues to be until this very day. The overwhelming majority of artists who play Lollapalooza, even those pop and EDM stars would not have a home in music if not for some of the counterculture bands like Jane's Addiction.
Under a dizzying kaleidoscope of lights, fist swinging thumps, urgent drums, and sliding synths the Canadian synth-pop electronica goddess gripped the audience for a career changing set. After creating a pair of ambient music made for late night noir, she released "Visions" in 2012 and became more than a fringe artist. Onstage at Lollapalooza on the Lakeshore stage, she had a prime timeslot on a key stage and delivered. The highlight of the set was "Genesis" with its hypnotic marching drums and reverberating vocals that concurrently haunt and enlighten. Her set was full of dancing, jumping, surging bass (when called for) and songs with clever constructs. She may have once been a fringe artist but she's now a full-fledged festival headliner and one everyone can expect to see more of in the future.
Red Hot Chili Peppers 8:35
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have played Lollapalooza more than any other act. Despite performing at Lollapalooza (and every other festival known to man) over the last several years, no other act drew a bigger crowd the entire weekend. From teens to adults coming up on social security, everyone and their mothers (literally) came to see the biggest alternative rock band of all time. This isn't an easy band to love and is one that divides many, however, only a jaded cynic could see the turnout and want to write something negative. Opening with a extended jam followed by "Can't Stop" the Chili Peppers delivered one hit after another including persuasive performances of "Scar Tissue and "Dani California" which was exactly what this crowd was hoping for. Personally, the band's festival set lists have become too reliant on the hits and classics and could use a revamp digging deeper into their classic albums with the occasionally rarity thrown in, but this is one person's opinion and there were 50,000 on a Saturday night who couldn't care less about hearing "Taste the Pain".
Perry's stage is always lit up with non-stop lights and action for the entire day but Hardwell's headline set was something different to behold. Many consider Hardwell the best DJ in the world. Other contemporaries may be household names but he revved up the crowd with several teases and big 1-2-3-4 deliveries. He is a master of building bests and manipulating them with skilled proficiency. It is less about pop than taking the audience into darkness hoping they find the light that will ultimately emanate through the rise of the sun. Other dj's heavily rely on samples whereas Hardwell masterfully builds the anticipation before the climax which were in no shortage on this Saturday night.
Vic Mensa 9:30
At a mere twenty-three years old, Mensa speaks like an older soul with knowledge, experience and wisdom that often surpasses our elders. Mensa has grown up on the streets of Chicago and has seen the beauty of the city and its deepest and darkest nightmares. "New Bae" was ominous and sexy and he tantalized the crowd with her sway. However, it was his political commentary which was a lightning rod of inspiration. He sang "Shades of Blue" and dedicated it to the people of Flint, Michigan. He spoke to the resilience of the people who live there, including a preacher who has lost his whole family to the water crisis, but he gets up every day to bring clean water to his community. "Blue" is a distressing tale of empowerment and responsibility. Speaking to the horror and hope that is Flint, Michigan, Mensa showed his lyrical power. His lyrics open up worlds that capture the imagination and fill the heart as well.
Living in Chicago informs you, especially if he has risen out of dilapidated neighborhoods that politicians pretend do not exist, keep down and look the other way when horrors occur daily. It is ironic that the audience he is singing to is mostly white and in many cases entitled. However, his music is as powerful as a documentary film; people may dance and lose themselves in the music, but they are discovering something as well. The world is a big place and the more we expose ourselves to different cultures the more chance we stand to improve not just ourselves but our neighborhoods, homes, countries and even the world. At its best, music is a dialogue we continue for the other 361 days of the year when Lollapalooza (or any festival) is not in town.
Electronic music is here to stay and will be a pivotal part of festivals ongoing and artists like Disclosure are one of the reasons. They may e defined as an electronic act, but they have shades of pop. "Holding On" and "Moving Mountains" from their Caracal album had many of the crowd heading towards the exits after an incredibly long day but were enticed back by the evening's final performance. "Latch" (a huge hit that Sam Smith sang, who headlined Lollapalooza last year) was a massive crowd pleaser so much so that huge crowds heading for the exists came back for this final song before the 100,000 in attendance headed for the exits to rest up for a record breaking fourth and final day of Lollapalooza.
Check back this week for more in-depth Lollapalooza coverage here on antiMUSIC
Read our day one report from Lollapalooza here.
Read our day two report from Lollapalooza here.
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 and has covered Lollapalooza in-depth for five years. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Lollapalooza 2016 Day Three
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