will always be remembered at The Year of the Evacuation. A massive, quick-moving storm caused an unplanned intermission midway through Saturday’s schedule, but there were still some performances, namely those from Passion Pit and Florence and the Machine, that proved to be just as memorable. Even so, the concert handlers and city officials dealt with the situation with precision and swiftness, and with a cooperating weather pattern, were able to reopen Saturday’s programming after a short delay. In many ways, the evacuation galvanized the experience for concert-goers, creating a unity and presence that definitely set the weekend apart. Also, following the crazy storm of Saturday, Sunday was cool, breezy and utterly beautiful, which is often not the case for Chicago’s normally humidity-laden August climate.
Three-day festivals can be a challenge of endurance and also an exercise in frustration, in that you don’t get to see everything that you want. But, with that in mind, here are the highlights (and some of the lower points, as well) of a weekend that dazzled with excellent music billing.DAY ONE: FRIDAY, AUGUST 3, 2012First Aid Kit
, comprised of Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, opened Lollapalooza on the PlayStation stage with a sophisticated and confident set that made it easy to forget that they’re only 19 and 22 years old, respectively. Drawing mainly from their 2012 release, The Lion’s Roar
, the sisters’ gorgeous harmonies were the perfect way to ease into the weekend. Their cover of fellow Swede Fever Ray’s “When I Grow Up” turned out to be one of the highlights of Day One, as was their ode to American folk artists in “Emmylou.” The Söderberg sisters proved to be a tough act to follow, not just on Day One, but for the entire weekend.
The Google Play stage offers one of the more intimate settings at the festival, being one of the smallest stages, surrounded by a canopy of trees. It’s easy to forget you’re at a festival, until you turn around and see the row of food vendors lining the street. The War on Drugs
did their distorted jam band thing, which was fine, but not especially thrilling.
Back at the PlayStation stage, Sharon Van Etten
received one of the strangest audience comments of the weekend, when a voice from the crowd announced she “sounds so much better live!” and demanded she release a live album. Van Etten responded to the backhanded compliment by telling the audience member they should be her manager. Audience quips aside, Van Etten gave solid performance that consisted almost entirely of songs from her outstanding 2012 album, Tramp
. It’s not necessarily typical festival fare, but Van Etten is such an engaging performer that it works.
All the way across the park, at the Red Bull Soundstage, The Afghan Whigs
delivered an absolutely blistering performance in the afternoon heat. It’s easy to be cynical about reunited bands and assume they show up to the festival circuit just to pay the bills. If that’s the case for The Afghan Whigs, they certainly didn’t show it on stage. The band, dressed in all black in the scorching afternoon sun, was in top form, with Greg Dulli’s voice sounding better than ever. They tore through songs like “Gentlemen” and “Somethin’ Hot,” and even threw in an on-point cover of fellow Lollapalooza performer Frank Ocean’s “Love Crimes.” If there were ever any doubts or hesitations about The Afghan Whigs’ reunion, they were quickly and easily erased with this stellar set.
Despite having toured at an exhausting pace for their debut album, The Head and The Heart
have a reputation for putting on an endlessly energetic show. On Friday, however, even they seemed slowed down by the heat, which had reached into the upper 90s by the time they took to the Sony stage. Still, even when bogged down by the sun, The Head and The Heart are more spirited than most and are a delight to watch on stage. Their tight harmonies and sunny melodies are perfect for an afternoon at a summer festival.
At around 5:50, it seemed as though all of Grant Park was rushing toward the Bud Light stage to catch what had quickly become one of the weekend’s most anticipated sets. Passion Pit
recently cancelled a string of concerts in support of their excellent new album, Gossamer
, in order for frontman Michael Angelakos to focus on his mental health. Lollapalooza (and the official pre-festival show the night before) was the band’s first performance after the cancellation announcement, and the curiosity factor was certainly strong. Angelakos and Passion Pit more than delivered, with a set of their signature bouncy, yet lyrically dark, dance-pop. Angelakos never stood still, pacing, hunching over, and seeming more emotionally open than ever as he sang lyrics like “I was beat down to a pulp, rocking back and forth somewhere/If you knew, if you saw, you'd have said it was the final straw” from “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy.” You couldn’t help but root for him. As the crowd sang along to the “higher and higher” chorus of “Little Secrets,” it was the perfect ending to a triumphant set. It remains to be seen how much of a future Passion Pit has a touring band, but on Friday they gave one of the most memorable performances in recent Lollapalooza history.
Folks wandering over to the Sony stage to see M83
were greeted with the sight of a young man vomiting right next to the stage before the sun had even set on the first day of the festival. Ignoring that unintentional opening act, M83 delivered what they’ve become known for: a shimmering, straightforward set of synthpop. There may not be many surprises in M83’s performance, but they’re great at what they do, and their hit “Midnight City” is the perfect song for a summer evening.
It’s easy to forget that The Black Keys
have erupted into a hugely popular band until you see a field of tens of thousands singing along to their version of dirty blues rock. While they’ve played Lollapalooza several times before, this was their first time headlining. As the band appeared in a cloud of fog on the Red Bull Soundstage, even Dan Auerbach realized the theatrics were excessive, laughing as he greeted the crowd, “Chicago? I can’t see you! I’m lost up here! The guy running the fog machine is new.” The band then straight into “Howlin’ For You” from their 2010 album Brothers
. Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney tore through an almost 20 song set of focused, loud, crunchy blues that never seemed to get off track. Often midway through a festival headliner’s set, audiences can be seen wandering away from the stage in an attempt to beat the crowd to the gate. This wasn’t the case at all on Friday. Auerbach and Carney held the audience’s attention all the way through the final notes of “I Got Mine,” bringing Day One of Lollapalooza to a thoroughly satisfying end.DAY TWO: SATURDAY, AUGUST 4, 2012
Hopefully Milo Greene
’s exceptional Day Two opening set on the PlayStation stage won’t be overshadowed in posterity by weather events that took place later in the day. Like First Aid Kit the day before, Milo Greene rewarded earlybirds with one of the best sets of the weekend. It was the first non-SXSW festival for the band, which only released its debut album two weeks ago. The group of multi-instrumentalists easily won over the crowd with their beautiful harmonies on songs like “1957,” “Perfectly Aligned,” and a cover of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.”
Over on the Google Play stage, FIDLAR
wanted everyone to know that they like drugs. A lot.
It was during Neon Indian’
s set on the Sony stage that the sky started to look a little gray, but not especially ominous. In fact, at the time, it seemed like nothing more than a relief from the blistering sun that had pounded down on Grant Park the day before. Then, frontman Alan Palomo told the crowd that the band had been asked to cut their set short due to weather. The band made it through one more song, before festival goers were told to evacuate the park.
Announcements were made on all stages, texts were sent out via the Lollapalooza app (though one has to wonder how much good that did, with the festival’s notoriously spotty coverage), and exit locations were broadcast on screens throughout Grant Park. It’s possible to be nitpicky about the evacuation -- there were serious bottleneck situations at some exits where not all of the gates were open, which could have resulted in panic had the rain started before everyone had made it through, and most festival goers seemed unaware that there were predetermined shelter locations in nearby underground parking garage -- but no one was injured during the evacuation or storm, and the whole park was cleared out within 40 minutes of the initial announcement.
After an inspection by Lollapalooza crew and city officials, the festival reopened at 6 p.m. with a modified schedule. Some artists were moved to Sunday, some had their set times pushed back, and others, such as the much buzzed about Alabama Shakes, had their sets cancelled.
When the gates reopened, most people were not yet aware of the new schedule and who would be playing when, so they just headed toward stages and hoped for the best. The Tallest Man on Earth
, rescheduled for 6:30, was already well into his set by 6:25, only adding to the confusion. Kristian Matsson is utterly charming, though, and truly made the best of the situation, quickly winning over the rapidly growing crowd at the PlayStation stage.
Across the park, crowds waded through the mud pit of the South field to catch The Weeknd
on the Red Bull Soundstage. Backed by a band that produced an absolutely huge sound, 22-year-old Abel Tesfaye sang in a confident falsetto, coming across as much more personable than the mysterious persona he’s crafted through his much-hyped mixtapes.
Over at Perry’s, the end of Skream & Benga
’s set was all at once confusing, depressing and rambunctious as they literally just pressed play on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was a move that seemed a bit beneath the Dubstep pioneers, but the audience loved it, crowd-surfing, throwing mud and screaming along to the lyrics. Is this what Kurt Cobain pictured when Nirvana infamously pulled out of headling the 1994 touring version of Lollapalooza?
To end the night, most of the post-storm mud people headed to Red Hot Chili Peppers or Avicii, while everyone else had the tough choice between Frank Ocean and Santigold, whose set times exactly overlapped.Santigold
seemed absolutely thrilled to be there, and her enthusiasm and huge smile were wholly infectious. Opening with “GO!”, Santigold’s set of her truly unique form of pop was complete with costume changes, props (including a two-person horse costume) and an onstage dance party. Her phenomenal performance was highlighted by “The Keepers,” a standout track from 2012’s Master of My Make-Believe
As Day Two drew to a close 45 minutes later than originally planned, everyone wondered what Sunday could have in store that could possibly top what was a legendary (not necessarily for the expected reasons) Saturday in Grant Park.DAY THREE: SUNDAY, AUGUST 5, 2012Bowerbirds
had the unenviable task of opening Sunday on the Sony Stage at the South field, which had dried out a bit from the day before, but still featured several mud pits and had now developed a weird stench. It certainly wasn’t the ideal environment for their airy songs, and while the audience politely gave them their attention, it would have been much more enjoyable to see the band over at the tree-lined Google Play stage.
Next up at the Sony Stage was Poliça
, a band that has received a lot of attention lately, thanks to endorsements from Bon Iver and Jay-Z. Vocalist Channy Leanagh comes across as both confident and removed on stage. The songs are a gorgeous mix of R&B and electro-pop, punctuated by two drummers. The quality of songs like “Lay Your Cards Out” easily carried the band through their set, but they’re another band who are probably best enjoyed somewhere other than a smelly field in the early afternoon.
Across the field on the Red Bull Soundstage, Trampled by Turtles
delivered a fantastic set of fast-paced foot-stomping bluegrass. Sunday finally truly came alive as they dove into songs like “Victory,” “It’s A War” and “Walt Whitman.” The band plays at an absolutely blistering pace, proving EDM isn’t the only way to work a festival audience into a frenzy.
At the PlayStation Stage, the staggeringly talented Gary Clark Jr.’
s set was unfortunately marred by poor sound. Only midway back through the crowd, the mix was muddy and Clark’s vocals were unintelligible. Many stubbornly pushed forward, while those who were farther back gave up and left to check out other stages.
Over at the Google Play stage, Dum Dum Girls
played to what seemed to be mostly an audience of Gaslight Anthem and Of Monsters and Men fans who had arrived early to stake out their spots. They won the crowd over, though, especially with the gorgeous closer “Coming Down.” Frontwoman Dee Dee’s obvious shyness came across as charming instead of aloof as she admitted it was surreal to play the festival, being an American teenager in the 90s. It was a bit disappointing, though, that an all female band seemed to be a bit of a novelty at the festival.
Next up at Google Play was The Gaslight Anthem
, opening with “Great Expectations.” Their set was a 45 minute sing-along with an audience that stretched out to the street. The appeal of The Gaslight Anthem, the thing that gets all of these people to sing along, is Brian Fallon’s unashamed tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve, and his heart was on full display Sunday. Fallon smiled through every song, seeming to truly appreciate the crowd who chose the smaller, more intimate setting of the Google Play stage over Sigur Ros’s more hyped main stage set across the park. The highlight of the set was during the bridge of “Old White Lincoln” when Fallon threw in a verse of Ryan Adams’ “Dear Chicago.” By the time the band got to “The ‘59 Sound,” crowd surfers were flying over the barricades and people were climbing trees to get a better view of the stage. The Gaslight Anthem probably could have played one of the bigger stages at the festival, but Sunday’s set at Google Play worked so well because it felt like we were all in on a wonderful moment that everybody else was missing.
By early evening, what seemed to be almost all of Lollapalooza’s ticket holders had gathered at the Bud Light stage to catch Florence and the Machine
. If Florence Welch wasn’t a headliner, this fact was certainly lost on the crowd. She seemed to draw more people to her stage than all of the headliners combined. Her most devoted fans had camped out all day at her stage, with signs like “You are My Flo-tation Device” and greeted her with tears of joy as she opened with “Only If for a Night.” The only indication that Welch is even human, and not some sort of magical fairy queen in an Alexander McQueen gown, are her lyrics of heartbreak and drama. She seemed to float across the stage, and even when she left the stage to get closer to the audience, her feet never seemed to touch the ground as a security guard struggled to keep up with her. She struck dramatic poses, wailed, and demanded human sacrifices. And it was brilliant. What’s even better, though, is Florence and the Machine has the music to back it up. These are songs that were written to be played to a huge crowd, as audience members threw their arms in the air and sang along to songs like “Shake it Out” and “Dog Days Are Over.” Along with obvious highlights like “Cosmic Love” and “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up),” the band treated the audience to the live debut of “Breath of Life.” Florence and the Machine gave such a legendary, headliner-worthy performance, it was almost difficult to remember that the festival wasn’t over after they left the stage.Chairlift
was probably the band the benefitted the most from Saturday’s schedule change, when they were bumped from their Saturday mid-afternoon Google Play stage slot, to a Sunday set that started on the PlayStation stage just as people were walking in their direction from the Bud Light stage after Florence and the Machine. While it wasn’t a huge crowd, many people sat down and enjoyed the band’s dream pop as the sun set.
Back at the Bud Light stage, Justice
appeared to the sounds of the National Anthem. Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay are completely ridiculous and they know it, perched atop their disco-cross set. But that’s what makes them so appealing. They approach dance music with a sense of humor that’s missing from a genre that can often take itself way too seriously. They were loud, they were thunderous, but they were also hilarious and refreshing.
Across the park, Jack White
closed out the festival on the Red Bull Soundstage. Dressed in all black and bathed in blue light, White recreated the artwork color scheme of his first solo album, Blunderbuss
. He’s been touring with two bands for the album: Los Buzzardos and The Peacocks. The all-male Los Buzzardos opened the set with White, but were replaced midway through by the all-female Peacocks. It could have been an eye-roll inducing move, but White has always been equal parts performance artist and musician, and both bands were more than capable of keeping up with him. Ruby Amanfu’s backing vocals were the perfect complement to White’s lead on songs like “Love Interruption” and “The Hardest Button to Button.” White ended the night with the White Stripes’ megahit “Seven Nation Army,” leaving festival goers still singing the memorable riff as they poured out onto Michigan Avenue.
© All photos courtesy of Lollapalooza
. All rights reserved.