There’s something thrilling — maybe even masochistic — about entering a big music festival on the first day. So many people at the gates, squeezing in, getting hassled by security goons, all intent on making it inside. Once you’re finally in, you can take a deep breath and get your bearings. Bar, porta-potties, stages. Check, check, check.
I showed up on Friday at Lollapalooza excited to see Father John Misty, and Josh Tillman’s band did not disappoint. Tillman is a charismatic front man, poking fun at both the VIPs in the platinum section as well as the “idiots in the back.” The band was tight and since they only have one album, they played all my favorite songs. It was such a great show that I was afraid nobody would be able to top it for the rest of the weekend.
Crystal Castles had me thinking how the electronic stuff that used to be relegated to Perry’s tent/stage has spilled over on to the main stages. I was coming up with a theory about EDM’s recent influence on indie rock…when New Order came on and reminded me that this has actually been going on for at least 30 years. Beer can make you a little slow.
New Order is a band I’ve wanted to see for a long time. And even without founding bassist Peter Hook, I figured it would still be fun. And it was. For a while. I guess it’s pretty obvious but seeing them live really drove home the fact that Hooky’s bass is the defining characteristic of a New Order song. Bernard Sumner’s voice has never been particularly strong, and now that he’s an old man it’s even more obvious. Gillian Gilbert looked bored and annoyed. The songs are classics though.
An enthusiastically wasted young girl next to us was super into it and asked who this band was; she misunderstood and shouted, “WOOOO! NEW ORLEANS! I LOVE NEW ORLEANS! WOO!” for the remainder of the set, which of course became the highlight of Day 1 for me and from now on I’ll exclusively refer to this band as New Orleans.
I don’t get why people are so into Nine Inch Nails. I like “Head Like a Hole” as much as the next guy, but is Reznor really doing anything that Ministry and all the other Wax Trax bands weren’t already doing? He reminds me of Jim Morrison in his ability to convince teenagers that he’s deep.
The sound was amazing though. The organizers have done a good job of making live music sound good and loud in a giant, outdoor setting. That didn’t really help poor Lana Del Rey, though, who had to deal with NIN’s beats that were clearly audible around the corner at the “Grove” stage, formerly known as the Google Play stage (2012), the Google+ stage (2011), and the Sony Bloggie stage (2010).
Speaking of which, this year only three of Lollapalooza’s eight stages were sponsored this year, down from six in previous years. Only Bud Light, BMI, and Red Bull claimed naming rights, so we got Petrillo, Lake Shore, and the Grove instead. Sony was nowhere to be seen, whereas before their brands (including Playstation) were splattered all over Grant Park. Google and Adidas were also noticeably absent.
Lollapalooza sold 100,000 tickets per day this year, up from 90,000 last year. Did they release more tickets to offset the loss of big sponsors?
It shouldn’t surprise anybody that Charles Bradley started out as a James Brown impersonator. He’s got an amazing voice and awesome dance moves and more soul than all of this year’s headliners combined. He was also wearing an Iron Maiden influenced Nudie suit.
I had one of my favorite Lollapalooza moments back in 2007 when I stumbled across Matt & Kim filling in on a small stage when the scheduled band got held up at customs. Six years later and they’re huge! Their fans spilled across the Petrillo shell, which is still the worst stage at Lollapalooza thanks to its abundance of cement and claustrophobic walls.
We met up with friends who were into Local Natives and had a blanket spot. We spent the next couple hours camped out there with occasional expeditions out for beers, felafels, and porta-potties while we waited for the National.
From across the field Eric Church came across as typically cheesy modern country. Every time I heard a new cliche, I would shake my head and think, This has got to be a joke, an ironic spoof created to fuck with the indie kids. “Jack Daniels kicked my ass again tonight.” Really, dude? Faux-outlaw horseshit.
The National is a good band with a bunch of good songs and maybe a few great ones. I never got into them until I saw them at Lolla in 2010, and they were even better this year. But they didn’t really need that 75-minute set and by the middle I was yawning.
And I had to pee. And because of the upcoming Lumineers/Mumford double whammy, the entire south side of the park was already packed. And the porta-pottie lines were 30 people deep, no shit. I had to walk for 15 minutes to find a place with lines only 3 or 4 people long. Dudes were pissing everywhere, including in their pants. How much can it cost to rent a few thousand extra johns? It’s not as if they don’t have room for them.
By the time I got back the Lumineers had started and were playing their hit. So we packed up our camp and headed back across the park to get in place for Postal Service.
100,000 people is a shit ton. So despite the fact that the majority was watching Mumford, the Postal Service side was still packed. And Gibbard, Tamborello, and Jenny Lewis put on a good show. It’s sort of ridiculous for a band with one only album to be given a 90-minute headlining spot to fill, but they pulled out some b-sides and a cover and finished with a psychedelic freakout and everybody had a fun time.
Afterwards we met up with some pals from the Mumford side who told us they got bored after three songs and split. From what I’ve heard, their reaction was not unique.
This is the day I realized that most of the bands that I wanted to see on the weekend’s lineup were playing between 5 and 10pm on Sunday. To make it work would require some tough decisions, a little planning, and a lot of footwork. I ended up crossing the length of Grant Park (one mile from end to end) six times in five hours to see partial sets by nine bands.
Tegan and Sara have clearly been working on their pop craftsmanship since the last time I paid any attention to them. Some of their stuff reminded me of Cheap Trick, some of it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Taylor Swift album.
We split in the middle to catch Wavves, who I’ve liked since they stole Jay Reatard’s rhythm section. We only stuck around for a few songs though because my crew wanted to see Alt-J. I got to hear my favorite song though (“Bug”), so I was happy.
We should’ve stuck around longer because Alt-J was pretty boring. We couldn’t get close enough to get engaged because apparently everybody loves Alt-J. Who knew? Not me.
We headed up to Perry’s for Dog Blood who took too long to set up. When they finally dropped the giant screen their shit was intense and crazy. I joked that if people knew this was Skrillex’s band they’d have attracted a lot more people. A minute later they introduced themselves and I watched dozens of newbs on the street simultaneously mouth, “Holy shit, it’s Skrillex,” and run over toward the stage. I appreciate the self-sabotage of anonymous band names.
But I had to be across the park again to catch the end of the Vaccines. There was nobody there so we got right up front as they kicked into my favorite song, “Norgaard.” Phil said I was totally Reaganing. Everything was working out great.
Vampire Weekend was up next, and I’ve loved this band from the first time I heard their debut album. Despite the fact that I’m a midwesterner who’s a decade older than them, their early stuff just sounds like college to me. And college was fun! Their new album shows they’re getting older and dealing with shit you figure out as you’re closing in on 30. But fuck it, my twenties were fun too!
Ezra Koening is an adorably charming front man. Everybody around me was having a blast. It was a family-friendly show with lots of parents dancing with their kids all around us. Good vibes were on full display. There were two bros standing next to me decked out in total #fest bro gear (tank tops, cargo shorts, Camelbaks, baseball caps) making out with each other. Nobody seemed shocked. We stuck around for the whole set, the only complete set I’d catch that day.
Back across the park for the Cure, but first a stop at Perry’s for a little Major Lazer. I saw them at Pitchfork in 2010 where they blew my mind and confirmed that indie rock was boring and dance music is where the action is. I’ve softened up on that stance a bit, and EDM has settled into some of its own boring cliches. But Perry’s stage is still where you go for a blast of youthful exuberance. The kids are covered in glitter and mud and #plur, throwing garbage in the air, macking on each other, and dancing their asses off. It’s awesome.
I love the Cure, and they sounded great, but seeing Robert Smith was disheartening. I know I know I know that people get old. Even rock stars. Even spooky goth dudes. But Robert Smith looked like Elizabeth Taylor…right now. His famous mop looked like the world’s craziest comb-forward. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was 80% bald on top. I know I’m being shallow and ridiculous, but the rest of the band looked great; they need to convince old Bob to join them them at gym.
After 45 minutes we headed up to check out Knife Party at Perry’s. As usual, the EDM stage made all the guitar bands seem old-fashioned. And once again, I saw two tank-topped bros totally getting down with each other. It’s incredible how quickly the acceptance of gay folks has advanced over the past several years. This would’ve been shocking when Lolla settled in Chicago in 2005, and unimaginable at the first Lolla tour in 1991. Now it’s like, two dudes on ecstasy making out in the mud? No biggie. That’s progress!
We made it across the park in time to hear Phoenix play “1901” (again: Reaganing!) and see Thomas Mars crowd surf on top of a bunch of kids who couldn’t decide whether to support their hero or film him on their phones and let him crash into the dirt. Phoenix was the “Strokes moment” of 2013 for me, where I had been excited to see a performance (back in 2010 it was Lady Gaga) only to be disappointed and ultimately redeemed by a band that was unexpectedly awesome.
Finally, on our way out we caught the last ten minutes of Cat Power’s set as Chan collected white roses from fans and threw them back into the crowd. I had managed to see a reasonable chunk of all four headliners’ sets that night, a Lolla first for me. My feet were sore from the non-stop back and forth, but it wasn’t anything a burrito from El Cid couldn’t cure.
Lollapalooza is a lot like IKEA. It’s crowded and overwhelming and hard to get around. It’s full of annoying people and tons of shit you don’t need. But if you go in with a good attitude and list of what you want — as well as some flexibility — you can get a lot out of it. I’ve enjoyed it every year and I’m already looking forward to next year.