Lolla 2013 Recap: Day Three

Lollapalooza 2013 | Photo Credit: Ashley Garmon

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.

YAWN

YAWN | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

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.

The Orwells

The Orwells | Photo Credit: Will Rice

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.

Wild Belle

Wild Belle | Photo Credit: AP

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.

The Cure

The Cure| Photo Credit: Dave Mead

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.

Lolla 2013 Recap: Day Two

Lollapalooza 2013 | Photo Credit: Ashley Garmon

The biggest story of the second day of Lollapalooza was that of a band that didn’t even bother to show up. Noise-rap outfit Death Grips bailed on their fans at an official Lolla after party at Bottom Lounge Friday night, and according to festival reps “chose not to show up” for their set Saturday night in Grant Park. As much as certain corners of the internet were buzzing about the fiasco, not much of the festival crowd seemed to even notice, which is a perfectly fitting reaction for what looks like a shitty publicity stunt. Now, on to the bands that did play.

Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley | Photo Credit: Matt Ellis

64 year old former James Brown impersonator Charles Bradley made instant fans out of the huge crowd that turned out for his show on Lolla’s Bud Light stage. The singer’s larger than life stage presence was only upstaged by his grizzled, seductive voice; as punchy as Brown’s but as tender as that of Otis Redding. The band behind him walked the line between subtly and braggadocio, content to serve as the backdrop for Bradley’s crooning while ready to shine a little when he decided to dance or take off into the crowd. The music was classic soul, strolling along almost effortlessly before erupting into cathartic fits. Love was a common theme, but Bradley’s proclamations seemed directed as much at the crowd as any muse. He took being appreciative of his audience to a whole new level when, at sets end, he bolted off the stage into the crowd, shaking hands and hugging as many people as possible. For a talent as big as Bradley’s to toil in obscurity for so long, his performance at Lollapalooza was a well earned spotlight moment. He more than delivered.

HAIM

HAIM | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

LA pop-rock band HAIM brought their bubbly, feel-good jams to Lolla’s quiet, tree-covered Grove stage. The comparisons to Fleetwood Mac were justified (they even covered “Oh Well”), but I think a better description is Gold Motel playing Michael Jackson tunes. “The Wire,” from the group’s soon-to-be-released Days Are Gone, featured singer Danielle Haim doing some Gloved One-esque scatting over rattling bass and sharp licks. Much of the set followed this electric-folk meets ’90s R&B formula, and was pulled off with expert precision. The rolling bass and husky vocals of “Don’t Save Me” built a funky drama until bursting into a new wave-y dance track with whiplash percussion. Non-musical highlight of the set? A fan tossed a bra onstage that had “I will always support you” written on it. Aaaww…

Bad Things

Bad Things | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

Tasked with filling in for no-show Death Grips was Bad Things, a band only slated to play a set with Perry Farrell at the Kidzapalooza stage. All anyone seemed to know about the group going in was that their lineup included Olympic snowboarder Shaun White on guitar, but even that stirred more curiosity in me than anything The Postal Service of Mumford & Sons were offering. The songs were mostly straight-up rockers with a few dancier numbers thrown in. If that doesn’t sound remarkable, well, it shouldn’t. What was impressive was the delivery of those songs. Bad Things played like they were getting away with something, possibly because they were. The embarrassingly scarce crowd kept growing, as people rushing between the other two headliners caught sight of how much the few who turned out were having. Most everyone was dancing, which made it all the more obnoxious when singer David LeDuke began pleading with the crowd to “fuck being cool” and let loose. His tired banter aside, the frontman was everything you want from a high energy rock band; a showman with a versatile voice and fuel to burn.

It was hard to judge just what I was seeing in the moment. Bad Things were putting on a killer show, but the fact that they’d risen to the occasion colored my perception. A relatively unknown band scheduled to play an afternoon set for children got thrown into a headlining slot at one of the country’s largest music festivals. The fact that they went balls out and delivered in any capacity was impressive. The deal sealer came when the band admitted they didn’t even have enough songs to fill an hour before launching in to a blistering cover of The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy.” It carried all the muscle of the original, turning the now packed crowd into one huge, fist-pumping mess. Called back on for an actual true, unscripted encore, Bad Things offered up one more song and offered up thanks to both the crowd and Death Grips.  The prospect of a non-music celebrity starting a band is always a bit dicey, but this wasn’t The Bruce Willis Blues Band. Shaun White came off as just a dude in a band who happened to be really good at something else. That alone could be considered a success, but their set went above and beyond.

If you enjoyed this year’s Lollapalooza coverage check out windycityrock.net, where Gene reports on all things Chicago music.

Lolla 2013 Recap: Day One

Lollapalooza 2013 | Photo Credit: Jenny Reece

I know the trend right now calls for me to take a too-cool-for-school attitude about Lolla; to knock its excess hype, branding and mainstream-leaning lineup. As a fan of underground music I’m supposed to have an aneurysm eye-rolling at the likes of Mumford & Sons, The Killers and The Lumineers. Street-cred be damned, that’s just not the case. Lollapalooza is Chicago’s biggest and brightest party set in one of its most incredible spaces and the 2013 incarnation delivered. Here are the Friday highlights.

Deap Vally

Deap Vally | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

I knew next to nothing about this band going in to their early afternoon show, but Deap Vally set the tone for the entire weekend. It was charred riffs, walloping bluesy vocals and gut-punch drumming from start to finish. The songs channeled bits of early Nirvana, executed with Jack White swagger. Deap Vally made a hell of a lot of racket for a two piece but the mayhem was smartly dosed out. The duo’s tight crunching and voracious percussion consistently approached all-out mayhem but always fell seamlessly back into the groove. The chemistry between singer/guitarist Lindsey Troy and drummer Julie Edwards was unstoppable on tracks like “Bad For My Body,” which leaned equally on big vocals and big sound. While Deap Vally handled an outdoor show and a crowd mixed with fans and casual listeners, they’re tailor-made for a raucous club show. Consider this your warning.

Ghost B.C.

Ghost B.C. | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

Intentionally mysterious Swedish metal band Ghost B.C. easily win the award for surprise favorite of Lolla ’13. Clad in heavy black robes and Vader-esque face masks, the group patiently moved into position while prerecorded church bells and chanting blasted over Grant Park’s northern field. Some absolutely huge riffage served as the cue for their lead singer to emerge, also robed, wearing a black papal hat and Skeletor-style face-paint. Luckily it wasn’t all schtick; the band soon launched into some wild glam-Sabbath assault that had even the meekest hipster throwing up devil horns. Avalanches of sizzling guitars and ballistic shredding poured from the speakers, a nice contrast to the singer’s unusually sweet croon. Ghost were an absolute black magic machine, displaying mind-boggling synchronicity and plenty of snarling solos. This wasn’t just screaming, distorted metal either. Ghost whipped out a massive, succubus-themed ’80s power ballad replete with intricate piano work and grandiose guitar solos. The band’s versatility was almost as mesmerizing as their presence, even if their singer’s between-song-banter sounded a bit like Borat conducting a satanic ritual.

New Order

New Order | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

If Ghost was the surprise favorite, New Order was the “of course you fucking loved it.” The seminal new wavers kicked their set off with “Crystal,” and while the sting of Peter Hook’s absence was felt on the first bass lead his replacement did do a fine job throughout the show. “Ceremony” played out brighter and fuzzier than on record, and was uplifting despite featuring singer Bernard Sumner’s weakest vocal performance of the evening. Sumner more than made up for that blase effort on “Your Silent Face,” a kinetic, synthy mediation from 1983’s Power, Corruption & Lies that found the frontman coolly crooning while playing guitar and melodica. The only real sloppy moment of the hit-riddled set was “Bizarre Love Triangle,” whose infectious neo-disco energy is better suited for a club than a massive field. The song did inspire people to dance, but the real bacchanal took place during a pounding rendition of “True Faith.”

New Order’s main set ended with the unmistakable rapid bass of “Blue Monday” and a manic, extended jam on orgasmic synth-pop anthem “Temptation.” The band could’ve walked off then having played the best set of day one, but that’s just not what legends do. All the spacy keys and jangling guitars faded into one focused drumbeat while Anton Corbijn’s haunting video for “Atmosphere” unfolded behind the band. New Order’s rhythm section was haunting as ever; Stephen Morris’ drums sticks sounded soaked in lead while Tom Chapman’s forlorn bass stumbled forward. The song is closely associated with the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, thanks in large part to its placement at the end of Corbijn’s film Control. Each time Curtis’ image appeared on screen the crowd, now silently fixated, offered touching bouts of applause. New Order closed with a couple more Joy Division tunes: the throbbing, angstry yet ultimately danceable “Transmission” and the ever iconic “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” The somewhat older crowd that turned out to see New Order shucked the sadness long enough for one more dance party before exploding into another round of applause. While Sumner’s voice will never sound quite right handling Curtis’ crushing lyrics, the opportunity to see Joy Division’s songs live should never be missed. Then again, neither should New Order.

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails | Photo Credit: David Mead

The headliner debate for Friday night wasn’t too tough a call for me. Having seen both The Killers and NIN before, the latter is far more my style and always puts on a hell of a show. When you can see it. And therein lies the only problem with Reznor and company’s set at Lolla ’13: the video screens were out. When the band opened with new song “Copy of A,” all that was visible to those not crammed in front were the band’s massive shadows rocking against a white screen. Initially I chalked this up to mood setting, but when the video remained off through the next few songs the crowd grew audibly pissed. NIN sounded phenomenal, especially on the riotous “March of the Pigs,” but even that wasn’t loud enough to hush the bitching of upset concert-goers. Any time the band attempted a quieter tune the beer-soaked conversation of everyone but the diehards fizzled the atmosphere. I stuck around long enough to hear true-to-record versions of “Terrible Lie” and “Closer” before heading on over to see The Killers.

The Killers

The Killers | Photo Credit: Cambria Harkey

I arrived at Grant Park’s southern field just in time to catch thousands of people bopping and goofballing to The Killers’ massive 2004 hit “Somebody Told Me.” The sea of smiling faces and bright lights was a sharp contrast to what I’d just left at The Bud Light Stage, and a welcome one. As the applause died down Brandon Flowers, the group’s ever charismatic frontman, proclaimed “Tiffany stole this song from Tommy James and the Shondelles. Tonight, we’re taking it back.” With that, they launched into an exuberant cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” much to the delight of the tens of thousands at the Red Bull Stage. As The Killers set rattled on I was blown away by just how big the band had gotten. Not in popularity, that much is a given, but in scale. I loved the tight, driving pop of their debut record Hot Fuss, but fell off the bandwagon afterward. Almost ten years later The Killers have morphed themselves into a massive scale stadium rock show, complete with kitschy covers, over-sized piano ballads and showy drum solos. When Flowers settled the crowd for a somewhat pandering take on Frank Sinatra’s “Chicago” I started to roll my eyes as my girlfriend, a huge Killers fan, aptly remarked “his Vegas is showing.” And I suppose that’s the story of The Killers: a rock band that grew up in Vegas and adopted all that city’s dazzle and spectacle when they got their break. Was the Sinatra tune necessary? No. Was it even that good? Not really, but Flowers is just charming enough to pull it off. The band closed out in crowd-pleasing fashion, with mega-hits like “Read My Mind” and “All These Things That I’ve Done.” The latter song brought me back to 2005, seeing the same band play the same stage during Lolla’s inaugural Chicago run. They’ve come a long, long way, and while I may not argue that they’re a better band, they’ve become top tier entertainers.

If you enjoyed this year’s Lollapalooza coverage check out windycityrock.net, where Gene reports on all things Chicago music.

Lolla 2012 Recap: Day Three

Lollapalooza Day 3

All good things come to an end… or at least take a break until coming back next year. Such is Lollapalooza. Here’s Day 3.

Overdoz – Andrew

I started my day with this four-piece LA hip-hop collective at the small BMI Stage. Their set reminded me of early 90s hip-hop that veers to the funky side. Despite the chill vibe of their recent mixtape Live For, Die For, they performed with intense energy and crowd interaction, not to mention pulling off a handful of successful stage dives.

Trampled By Turtles – Gene

Duluth, Minnesota’s most famous bluegrass quintet (that’s got to be accurate) graced the Red Bull Soundstage on Sunday afternoon, providing Lollapalooza with one of its more relaxed sets. I found a little bit of shade, spiked some iced tea and settled in for what proved to be an eye-opening show. TBT didn’t do anything dramatic, but their songs carried an idyllic sentimentality that had me suddenly wanting to escape to country life. While that urge didn’t last long, the band made enough of an impression with their crystalline string arrangements and polished vocals to leave me wanting more. It would’ve been nice to see them bust out their usually taut, glistening cover of The Pixies “Where is my Mind?,” though.

Dum Dum Girls
Dum Dum Girls | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

Dum Dum Girls – Gene

Dum Dum Girls are one of those bands that sounds like they were born in the wrong decade. While their most recent Sub Pop release, Only in Dreams, evokes a lot of Mazzy Star comparisons, the Dum Dum Girls’ performance at the shady Google Play stage had more edge and elasticity than that association would suggest. Opting for a grungy, nicotine-pop closer to the likes of Joey Ramone and Iggy Pop than Hope Sandoval, Dum Dum frontwoman Kristin “Dee Dee” Gundred led her band through a tight set that, while great at Lolla, would’ve been perfect for a divey rock club.

Sigur Ros – Andrew

I was skeptical about watching this orchestral Icelandic group perform in the middle of the afternoon; I don’t think I’ve ever listened to them when it wasn’t dark out. But they were definitely one of the most compelling sets of the festival. Anticipating the issue Frank experienced at Windy City Rock, I moved up closer to the stage where the crowd was more respectful to the band, as they moved through a set that surprisingly focused more on 2005’s Takk and 2000’s Agaetis Byrjun than this year’s Valtari. The stand out for me was definitely “Hafsol,” which begins with the bassist playing his strings with a drumstick, a tale that rises and falls until its cathartic, trumpet-blaring culmination. With guitars played with bows and vocals expressed with a forehead (not to mention an actual piano, vibraphone, and various string, brass and woodwind instruments), Sigur Ros had a set that more than stood out this weekend.

Amadou & Miriam
Amadou & Miriam | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

Amadou and Miriam – Andrew

Guh. It took forever to get from the south side of the park to the north so I missed more than half their set (seemed like everyone was getting food at this point too). For those that were there, the husband and wife team from Mali performed to a mid-afternoon audience with still enough energy to dance (and get a conga line goin’) or simply find a spot in the shade to take in the afro-soul jams.

Florence + The Machine – Gene

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from the UK’s Florence + The Machine, but the last thing I saw coming was both the size and diversity of the crowd. Their unoffensive brand of soulful rock is something I’ve never minded as background music, but aside from my initial curiosity in their cover of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” I’d not been impressed. And hell, even that song is overshadowed by Kim Gordon’s heroin-drawl on Ciccone Youth’s 1988 cover of the same tune. Needless to say, when I saw packs of Bud-swilling bros and mohawked punks sprinkled throughout the expected Feist-demographic audience, I took note.

Florence Welch, the vocal force behind The Machine, stunned me more than a handful of times with both her range and panache. Her band backed the fragility of her delivery with thunderous percussion and subtle harp embellishments, combining for an impressively dynamic and versatile sound. “Rabbit Heart” was layered with a spirit and punch I still find lacking on the recording, and stood out as one of highlights of The Machine’s set. A new song, “Breath of Life,” sounding crisp in its first performance, was an elegant, piano-driven ballad with a calculated unravel at the end that totally paid off. While the band’s hit single “Dog Days Are Over” was the crowd’s favorite (and deservedly so, as I found it impossible not to want to join Flo in running around onstage smiling), “Shake It Out” absolutely stole the show. Florence stretched over voice the song’s delicate angles, moving deliberately through the song until it’s end. That end found The Machine going unexpectedly dance party on the crowd, channeling Benny Benassi’s popular remix for its conclusion. Florence bounced with the crowd as her voice soared above the synths, and I came away damn impressed.

Florence + The Machine
Florence + The Machine | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

The Big Pink – Gene

Regrettably I only managed to see a couple songs by new wave-meets-5-Hour-Energy rockers The Big Pink, but what I did catch grabbed hold of the Jagermeister in my blood and shook it up. The group’s infectious hooks and airy vocals worked in perfect unision; a sonic adrenaline shot that propelled me across the park to see some of Miike Snow. I wouldn’t advise missing these guys next time they roll through town. I sure as hell won’t.

Miike Snow – Andrew

Happy to You is one of my favorite albums this year so needless to say, I was excited for this. While the band’s given up their nondescript (read: creepy) white masks, I think it’s for better effect. The electronic side of their music can sound robotic, they’re attention to subtle song-writing is entirely human. Between the crowd-surfing for “Pretender,” addicting keyboard leads, and extended outros for many songs (best attributed in “Animal”), it was a set that surpassed expectations. Not a band to miss in the future.

Childish Gambino – Andrew

After catching the beginning of Jack White, I had to go see what Childish Gambino could pull. Better known as Donald Glover (Community star, former 30 Rock writer, and part of the sketch troop Derrick Comedy), Gambino is more about rhymes than jokes on stage. Save for the seizure-inducing light show, he and the set didn’t “tank” as Hipster Runoff likes to “report“. High energy with meta-lyrics playing mostly from last year’s Camp (including emo-tinged fan favorite “Heartbeat”) and the recently dropped American Royalty mixtape.

Jack White – Gene

Pardon the blasphemy all you White Stripes fans, but this didn’t feel like a headliner to me. At least not going in. I’ve never been the biggest fan of this former garage duo; they’re fine and all, but save a few exceptions they’re awfully redundant. Seeing that imposing two-hour block on the schedule sectioned off for what I feared could be one long three-chord jam had me anxious (though not anxious enough to brave electronic duo Justice). White ended up turning in a fine performance that eased most of my concerns and had me rocking out with the rest of the muddy masses.

Jack White
Jack White

Infinitely more enjoyable with a full band behind him, Jack White seemed to relish in jamming with all that extra muscle. His set was a mixture of new material, stuff from his time with The Stripes and The Raconteurs, and “Two Against One,” from last year’s collaboration with Danger Mouse. In one of those is-this-obnoxious-kitsch-or-is-it-actually-kinda-cool moments, the scraggly-looking rocker switched backing bands mid-set, playing half his show with The Buzzards (an all-male ensemble) and half with The Peacocks (you guessed it, all chicks). The biggest surprise of the set was the brilliance of “Hotel Yorba,” a jangly White Stripes romp performed with a freshly Americana-twinge thanks to a standup bass, fiddle and key (courtesy of The Peacocks). While “Yorba” had the crowd unsure whether to mosh or square dance, the sweaty southern crunch of “Blue Blood Blues” left no mysteries.

White did essentially jam for two hours, but it wound up being a wonderful thing. Festival organizers might still have been smart to let RHCP close out the fest, but White’s encore of favorites like “Steady As She Goes” and “Seven Nation Army” was appropriately epic and cathartic. The star of that encore wound up being “Freedom at 21,” from his solo debut, Blunderbuss. The song’s more-intricate-than-Stripes percussion gave White new mountains to climb with his guitar and his vocals, and the resulting thunder almost justified his place as a headliner by itself.

Gene’s Lollapalooza Awards:

  • Best Set for Dancing: Passion Pit, Franz Ferdinand
  • Best Set for Being High: Sigur Ros
  • Best Set for Falling in Love: Sharon Van Etten
  • Best Set for Breaking Up: Dum Dum Girls
  • Best New Discovery: Los Jaivas, Polica
  • Delivered on Expectations: JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, tUnE-yArDs
  • Exceeded Expectations: Florence + The Machine
  • Did Not Meet Expectations: M83
  • Best Thing I Ate: Strawberry Lemonade cream puff from Puffs of Doom (see Andrew’s Food Recap below for more info on good eats!)
  • Best Thing I Drank: The Belvedere Seabreeze at The Hard Rock Hotel
  • Biggest Disappointment: Fans chanting “USA” and “Fuck The Police” during the Day 2 evacuation
  • Worst shtick: Ozzy repeatedly telling the crowd, “I can’t fucking hear you!” (because it was probably true)
  • Worst Decision I’ve Made In My Entire Life: Seeing Die Antwoord instead of The Head & The Heart, or, well, anyone else
  • What I Want For Next Year: A DIY Stage, a Hot Doug’s stand, the Tamale Guy
  • What I Don’t Want to See Back: Electronic music on main stages

Andrew’s Lollapalooza Food Recap:

I was disappointed to see Sola was no longer there, and Gene and I agree that Kuma’s, while certainly will always be Kuma’s, was actually a bit underwhelming this time around. Everyone knows how great the Lobster Corndog from Grahamwich is, so I decided to try some new bites this year, all of them turned out to be fantastic.

Chizakaya’s Japadog

I scarfed this thing down right before Frank Ocean’s Saturday night set. A bacon-wrapped hotdog with teriyaki, Japanese mayo and Godzilla toppings, while not as monstrously-spicy as that sounds, was an all-around flavor joyride.

Australian Truffle’s Grilled Cheese

I must have looked like I was enjoying this, because someone walking by actually stopped in their tracks to ask me what it was. I explained that it was the best grilled cheese I’d ever had. Three slices of thick Black Forest ham combined with rich, truffle Brie on bread that was on the grill for a perfect amount of time for that perfect crunch… it was unreal. I’ll never look at that simple sandwich the same way again.

River Valley Ranch’s Portabella Mushroom Tamales

Having just discussed with Gene how great the Tamale Guy walking around the park would be, I stumbled across this gem in the Farmer’s Market. Surprisingly filling with a nice kick in the salsa they put on it, tamales were a quick way to refuel without waiting in the lines that form along the main Chow Town blocks.

See you next year, Lollapalooza!

Fan waving the Chicago flag
Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

Lolla 2012 Recap: Day Two

Lollapalooza Day 2
A muddy, post-storm South Field | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound – Gene

Local soul-gang JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound kicked off Day 2 of Lolla with a sweltering noon set. Of the few Chicago acts playing the festival this year, Brooks and co. were the singular must see. I’ve caught the group several times, and while it’d be nice to embellish and say they really outdid themselves for Lollapalooza, the truth is that they always seem to give it their all, and in that sense this performance was no different. Their cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” got the crowd moving, but the real show stopper was “River.” The b-side tune from the I Got High 7-inch, is a classic, majestic soul ballad that earned its right to be played before Chicago’s skyline.

For more of Gene’s thoughts on JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, check out this review from Windy City Rock.

Chief Keef – Andrew

This rising Southside rapper took over Perry’s with his crew to kick off the day. It was a short set, but they were bouncing around the stage the whole time, and the crowd more than fully embraced their hit “I Don’t Like,” a dark but catchy tune that has a chorus that can be appropriated every time something annoys you.

Los Jaivas – Gene

My post-JC plans were kind of up in the air, but I’m glad I opted for checking out Chilean ensemble Los Jaivas in lieu of stuffing more Wow Bao down my gullet. Delicious as the fist-sized dumplings are, Los Jaivas’ blend of South American folk and prog rock was infinitely more satisfying. Drummer Juanita Parra directed the flow, mapping a snappy course for her multi-instrumentalist companions. Mixing native instruments like the charango, quena and zampoña with guitar, bass, violin, keys and a sax, the band pulled off a frolickingly epic sound like none other I’ve heard. Slower, oscillating tunes made dramatic use of the wind instruments and organs, while loopier guitar solos gave Lolla-goers the bombast needed to help shake their lingering Day 1 hangovers.

Los Jaivas
Los Jaivas | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

Aloe Blacc – Andrew

From machine-gun backed rap tracks to soul-jams about lovin’ everyone… you can’t say Lolla doesn’t have a diverse lineup. Highlight: Blacc got the crowd to form two soul-trains, albeit short lived. Naturally, everyone sang along to his biggest hit, “I Need a Dollar” (insert snarky comment about ticket and food prices here).

Neon Indian – Andrew

Not entirely dissuaded by the pre-show from Thursday, I still wanted to see a bit of Neon Indian’s set. Well, it still wasn’t anything too amazing, still struggling with sound issues. And then, twenty minutes into the set, the band announced they had ten minutes left before they were cut off because a massive storm was brewing. Oy, the flashbacks…

tUnE-yArDs – Andrew

Finally, we were back in action. Some sets were cancelled, but luckily Merril Garbus was still able to loop her voice and play her ukulele for us. It was her last American show for a while before she heads back into the studio. Considering she’s been supporting last year’s whokill for quite some time, definitely looking forward to new stuff. That said, always great to hear “Do You Want to Live,” “Gansta” and “Powa” before heading to the North side of the park for Franz.

For more of Andrew’s thoughts on tUnE-yArDs, check out this review from Windy City Rock.

Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

Franz Ferdinand – Gene

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the Scottish troubadours in Franz Ferdinand, but these guys more than made up for Mother Nature’s two and a half hour delay of festivities. They kicked things off with the lazery ramble of “The Dark of the Matinee,” immediately setting the tone for the next hour. Franz battered the crowd with bass-driven dance rock, only ever really pausing to soak in the scene of a giddy, mud-soaked crowd.

The band played the hits, and while “Take Me Out” and “Do You Want To” sounded fine, they were far from set highlights. “Walk Away” found the band taking a more tender, lamenting approach live, giving singer Alex Kapranos a chance to break some hearts as the sun began to set. Conversely, a wild, full-band percussion jam built itself into a torrid rendition of “This Fire.” Backed by what seemed like all of Grant Park chanting and stomping along, Franz Ferdinand snagged the chaos of the day’s earlier evacuation and funneled it into a positively blustering closer. If these guys have a reputation for being an amazing live act, I’m out of the loop. That said, from this point forward I’ll be the first to encourage anyone who has a chance to see them.

Frank Ocean – Andrew

Frank Ocean is undeniably one of the hottest artists out there right now. Having graduated from the Odd Future collective, he’s more into smooth R&B than gangsta rap, with a voice that can hit every note over the span of a few octaves. This year’s Channel Orange has received near unanimous critical acclaim. “Thinkin’ Bout You” got the camera phones and glowsticks out, but it was the tracks from his first mixtape that got the crowd most amped, including “Novacane,” “Strawberry Swing” and “American Wedding.”

Frank was obviously excited to be headlining the show, but was beyond humbled to the response from the crowd not only for appreciating the older hits, but ecstatically cheering when he mentioned his recent coming out. He closed the night out with lead single “Bad Religion” and the nine-minute tale of the life of a stripper, “Pyramids.” Naturally, the crowd begged for more, but none could be obliged, the festival already having pushed back their curfew by an hour to accommodate as few cancellations as possible.

Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Gene

Likely to the surprise of no one, my thoughts on RHCP’s set start and end with Flea. The rock legend and bass savant wasted no time in stealing the spotlight Saturday, gurgling through the first of several ridiculous solos. As the crowd hooted and hollered I couldn’t help but watch Flea’s bandmates. You’d think a band just one year shy of it’s 30th anniversary might begin to take each other for granted, but the other Peppers looked to be enjoying Flea’s madness as much as any ticket holder. His jam eventually boiled over the grunge-rumble opening of “Around the World,” and the show was officially on.

Upon returning to Grant Park after the storm, I’d mentioned to Andrew that I was glad a veteran act like the Chili Peppers was closing the festival on Day 2. As riotous as they can be, the band has plenty of mellow hits, and at their core they’re a band whose music is about beauty, transcendence, love and perseverance. I was a little worried watching the wet, booze-fueled crowd press at the festival gates, stumbling through misplaced chants of “USA! USA!” and “Fuck the Police.” Flashbacks of aggressive sets in Lolla’s past by bands like Rage Against The Machine and Tool reminded me of the dangers of over hyping an exhausted, drunken crowd. RHCP were savvy in balancing both their set and qualifying their instigation, leading to charming Flea quotes like, “Be kind, be nice, and fuck shit up. Power to the people.” The bassist is the embodiment of that dichotomy, and in that way a perfect human version of everyone’s favorite Muppet drummer, Animal. As likely to build something beautiful as he is to topple it while moshing, Flea’s energy carried the band through the funky “Suck My Kiss” and the far more somber “Californication.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers

Flea-gushing aside, The Peppers’ success has often been a result of frontman Anthony Kiedis’ ability to point the bassist in a direction, to use his skills in crafting anthemic and bold alt-pop tunes. The singer’s masterpiece, 1992’s “Under the Bridge,” was by far the most moving performance of Lollapalooza. Stripped of their pomp and flash on the song, the band instead focused on nuance and emotion. Kiedis sang the ode to Los Angeles with as much sincerity as ever, and the four and half minutes RHCP spent immersed in the tune were the quietest I’ve ever heard a crowd tens of thousands strong.

The Peppers’ encore featured two moments of note: the iconic junk jam “Give it Away,” and one more speech from Flea. He thanked the crowd for their love and encouraged them to continue to support live music of all genres. He specifically urged the crowd to check out their local underground scenes and “support weird music,” which got me thinking about Lolla 2013… Perhaps Perry Farrell and crew might take the suggestion next year and add more local acts to the bill — and further yet, maybe provide a stage to celebrate Chicago’s incredible underground music scene.

That music, and that side to this city, are dear to my heart as well, so here’s a plug: If you’re reading this review you probably dig music, and you probably live in/have visited/are visiting Chicago. Check out Gonzo Chicago and diychi.org for some amazing coverage and information about our own wonderfully weird underground scene. Check out a show. Donate to some truly alternative bands and spaces, and use social media to push Lolla to give that scene its most deserving spot at the festival.

Lolla 2012 Recap: Day One

Lollapalooza
Welcome to Lollapalooza, Day One!

UPchicago’s Gene Wagendorf III and Andrew Hertzberg joined forces once again to cover Lollapalooza 2012. Enjoy!

Pre-Party – Andrew

Whoa whoa whoa, you didn’t think we were going to jump into the Lolla-pool without getting our feet wet first, did you? Thursday night, Filter and S.O.Terik through a party at Logan Square Auditorium featuring festival acts Neon Indian and Twin Shadow. Neon Indian is masterminded by Alan Palomo, the man mostly credited/blamed for chillwave, but one of the few artists that was able to put out a decent second album from the movement (Era Extrana). Unfortunately, the flat out awful acoustics of LSA didn’t play to their advantage. I sometimes couldn’t pick out what song was playing until a more noticeable melody at the chorus. Hard to say who’s at fault, so they’re still on my list to check out at the festival on Saturday. Luckily, Twin Shadow was not as marred by those issues. More energetic, clearer sound, and an overall better performer, Twin Shadow’s dark, new-wave inspired dance-pop was a great way to kick off the weekend.

Wax – Gene

There was no easing into this year’s Lollapalooza. The combination of being slightly hazy from the previous night’s Shonen Knife concert and Wax’s juvenile, Blink182-lite whine had me wondering whether I’d accidentally stumbled into Warped Tour. Wax lists his influences as everything from “Jay Z to Johnny Cash,” but all that came through onstage was a kid who loved Sublime and wanted to write dirty songs to embarrass his parents at dinner parties. That schtick could be entertaining, but here it fell incredibly short. After listening to the guitarist muse about how… loose his ex-girlfriend was, the only person who should have been embarrassed by the set was Wax himself.

O Rappa – Gene

Rio de Janiero sensations O Rappa did a solid job of making me forget the boner-joke of a welcome to Lolla, livening up the festival with their slick, hip hop-infused reggae. Sweaty beats laid the foundation for some simple grooving and turn table flairs. The group bounced through their set with veteran confidence and swagger, putting on a pleasant, though unspectacular performance. Good festival act though, as the band was perfect to take in while chilling in the grass, awaiting the heavy hitters.

Dr. Dog – Andrew

For some reason, Dr. Dog is a hard band for me to describe. I generally default to “a non-psychedelic Flaming Lips,” due to their weird-pop songs and one of their singer’s voice resembling Wayne Coyne’s. But live, they gain a certain power-pop stance, but with more rock, due to the two guitars and two keyboards that play seamlessly off each other. I wish I hadn’t left their set early, because whatever they are, they nail it. Running through their 10+ year career, they played “Shadow People,” “That Old Black Hole,” and “Jackie Wants a Black Eye” before I bailed to catch Sharon Van Etten. But at least before I left, they did manage to throw in a shoutout to Chicago’s skyline, as any band at the south stage properly should.

Continue reading “Lolla 2012 Recap: Day One”

Lollapalooza 2012 Preview

lollapalooza
Happy Lolla everybody! You know it’s one of our favorite weekends of the year in Chicago and we’ll be there every day keeping you in the loop. Here is our Lollapalooza preview with our picks for what bands to see when.

Reason to Get There Early:
Friday: First Aid Kit (12:00, Playstation Stage)
Saturday: JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound (12:00, Sony Stage)
Sunday: Bowerbirds (12:00, Sony Stage)

Worth Seeing the Full Set:
Friday: The Shins (6:15, Redbull Soundstage)
Saturday: Franz Ferdinand (6:15, Bud Light Stage)
Sunday: Miike Snow (7:15, Sony Stage)

Tough Calls:
Friday: Afghan Whigs vs. Metric / Gotta go with the revived grunge rockers Afghan Whigs (4:15, Redbull Soundstage)
Saturday:tUnE-yArDs vs. Tallest Man On Earth / No matter how many times I’ve seen her, Merril Garbus of tUnE-yArDs is just a phenomenal performer, she always wins (5:00, Sony Stage)
Sunday: At the Drive In vs. Florence and the Machine / Now’s probably a good time to get that lobster corndog from Grahamwich if you haven’t already.

Take a Chance:
Friday: thenewno2 (5:40, BMI Stage)
Saturday:Los Jaivas (12:45, Bud Light Stage)
Sunday: Overdoz (2:10, BMI Stage)

See what the buzz is all about:
Friday: Die Antwoord (5:00, Playstation Stage)
Saturday: Chief Keef (12:15, Perry’s Tent)
Sunday: Dum Dum Girls (3:30, Google Play Stage)

Reason to stay out late (aftershows that aren’t sold out already):
Friday: Grimes at Logan Square Auditorium (free with RSVP here)
Saturday: Doomtree at Empty Bottle
Sunday: Toro y Moi DJ Set at Beauty Bar

Have a great weekend everyone! Remember to stay hydrated and be safe!