Lollapalooza’s final day was set up to be my busiest of the weekend. Early sets by a few of my favorite local bands meant powering through a hangover to be there at noon, and the quality of the lineup meant there was one golden half hour to slam some food, hit the toilets and stock up on more liquor. It was, of course, all worth it.
Local psych-pop band YAWN opened Sunday with a noon set full of twirling harmonies, looping hooks and layers of splashy synths. “Indigo,” from 2011’s excellent Open Season, wooed the crowd with its seductive dream-reggae, while older track “Kind of Guy” got ’em dancing to its tribal percussion and toy piano jingle. The band’s versatility payed off when their laptop threw a fit, forcing YAWN to lean on vibrant guitars for a couple of straightforward rock tunes. The crowd responded to the lysergic downpour with overwhelming approval; a significant portion of those wandering by stopped to check the band out and stuck around til the end. The set wrapped up with club-friendly dance tune “Yabis.” The fluid groove, glitzy embellishments and cooing tandem vocals were blended perfectly by the band- a strong finish to an impressive and hopefully breakout performance.
Another group of Chicago-based (read: Elmhurst) rabble-rousers, The Orwells put an emphatic stamp on the weekend with their combination of bombastic hooks, breakneck pacing and a typically manic effort from frontman Mario Cuomo. The boys kicked things off with “Mallrats,” the dizzying punk tantrum from their 2012 debut Remember When. Landslide drums and chainsaw guitars backed Cumo as he exercised the lyrics from his throat, gyrating with the swagger of a born rock star.
While The Orwells’ brand of dramatic and filthy teenage rock n’ roll isn’t groundbreaking, their furious delivery, keen musicianship and gaudy presence set them miles ahead of most bands their age. As great as the records sound, songs like “Other Voices” and “In My Bed” were taken to another stratosphere live. Even the relatively subdued malt shop ballad “Halloween All Year” felt epic in-person- its jangly guitars and lamented, lasery lead the perfect springboard for Cuomo’s wailing. Every year Lollapalooza offers a performance or two that serve as a coming out party, and this was it for 2013. While there has been no shortage of buzz and positive press around The Orwells, their set on Sunday caught them at their peak-to-date, and left a crowd of screaming, sweaty converts begging for more.
The third great local band to go on Sunday, Wild Belle faced two Herculean tasks: one (for me anyway) following The Orwells, and two, trying to stay cool under the August sun dressed in heavy white suits. I can’t speak to whether they succeeded on the latter, but the Caribbean-infused pop group did an admirable job of switching the mood with relaxed rhythms and tropical bop. Wild Belle’s twinkling keys and classic reggae chugging sounded crisp, but singer Natalie Bergman struggled to command the huge space her vocals had to fill. Her band didn’t do much to help early on; the highs never stretched far enough and the lows fell flat.
The disappointingly languid vibe turned around on “Shine,” from the band’s recently released LP Isles. The tune’s effervescent ’80s groove and the bright sass of Elliot Bergman’s sax inspired the singer, whose chirrup began to soar over the tight guitar blasts. Where early in the set Natalie’s vocals faltered without her brother’s backing harmony, the second half of the set found the singer confident and energized. Call it a comeback or a rebound or a smart correction, either way Wild Belle finished up solid. Saving the best for last, the group closed with a hypnotically rude romp through “Keep You.” Natalie’s vocals bounced a sort of nimbus hip-hop while her brother skronked raunchy saxophone licks- the exact combination that makes Isles such a strong record and Wild Belle a band worth keeping an eye on.
Goth rock megastars The Cure closed out the 2013 incarnation of Lollapalooza with a massive set packed with over 30 years of hits. Robert Smith and company began by unfolding “Plainsong,” a gorgeous and over-the-top dream from 1989’s Disintegration. Airy synths, sparkling chimes and forlorn bass guitar poured over the expectant crowd, creating the most moving moment of the weekend. A perfectly selected opener for a nighttime show against the backdrop of Chicago’s glowing skyline, the tune drifted seductively around Smith’s typically melancholy poetry. The chimes fizzled up again near the song’s conclusion, moving seamlessly into the iconic hook of “Pictures of You.” While I had my concerns over what a 54-year old Robert Smith might sound like, his croon on “Pictures” put my trepidation to rest. His vocals inflated and dove on cue, imbuing lyrics that in less capable hands might induce eye-rolling with a delicate sincerity that mesmerized.
The Cure drifted through their most successful singles, pleasing the crowd with true-to-album versions of “High,” “Lullaby,” “In Between Days” and “Lovesong.” Strangely, the saddest moment of the show came about five minutes after an earlier-than-expected jaunt through their biggest hit, “Just Like Heaven,” when two girls raced over from seeing Phoenix and asked if the song had already been played. The cynic in me wanted to chalk it up to karma- that’s what you get for ditching out on a legend to dance to an iPod commercial- but the girl’s devastation actually drew a bit of sympathy. The mood brightened again with the perfect back-to-back combo of “Mint Car” and “Friday I’m In Love,” whose infectious giddiness sent the crowd into a sing-along tizzy.
The only obnoxious moment of the set came when the band left stage after plowing through “Disintegration” for the obligatory pre-encore pause. More bands ought to follow Foo Fighters’ lead and give their fans an extra couple songs, seeing as an encore at a headlining set is nothing short of a formality. That encore did prove to be worth the wait though, as the band returned with an unexpected frolic through “The Lovecats.” Another string of hits, including the new wave dance jam “Let’s Go To Bed” and the pastel pop of “Close To Me,” crescendoed with 1979’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” Smith’s voice glistened with the same youthful weariness it had over 30 years ago, pouting over wiry guitar licks and stuttering percussion. It was one last dance party across Grant Park; Cure fans bouncing while Phoenix fans shimmied during “Entertainment” and the people at Perry’s did whatever it is people at Perry’s do during Knife Party’s finale.
If you enjoyed this year’s Lollapalooza coverage check out windycityrock.net, where Gene reports on all things Chicago music.