On Friday through Sunday, July 31st to August 2nd, Lollapalooza returned to Chicago’s Grant Park to take over the world of music. The festival featured everything, from massive venerable veterans to just-on-the-scene newbies, intimate backwoods folk to cutting edge EDM dance parties, a brutally hot sun to storm-shortened sets:
The sun was beating down as Lollapalooza began on Day One, but there was also some serious wind going on. That more-than-a-breeze played havoc with SZA’s mighty locks as she opened up the massive Samsung Galaxy Stage, but she was still all smiles with a sweet and soulful sound. Following on the Sprint Stage was the first of many female-led electro-pop acts there, MisterWives, who were very upbeat, but why not? They got the most hand waves & snaps that they’d ever had.
On the more intimate (relatively speaking) Pepsi Stage, Jamestown Revival brought a country-backwoods revival under the trees. Any festival’s gonna have sound problems, and Jamestown Revival’s set began with a too loud bass drum, which they proceeded to joke about. At the even smaller (but shady) BMI Stage was Black Pistol Fire, a gritty party-garage guitar-and-drums duo that are, of course, from Austin. Singer/guitarist Kevin McKeown played on top of the speakers in the pit early (and it was not a large pit), nicely fitting the relaxed, young party atmosphere of the BMI Stage (including BMI Backstage VIPs).
There was soul in the air when Glass Animals brought their modern take on it to the Samsung Galaxy Stage, while St. Paul & The Broken Bones had more of a James Brown thing going on at Bud Light Stage on the other end of Grant Park. It was a hot show when Tove Lo played Sprint Stage, with an excited crowd and the singer burning her bare feet on the black stage, having to go to sandals after her first song (she also mentioned that her breasts looked larger – right before performing “Bodies”). Father John Misty was much more relaxed on the Palladia Stage, even picking a flower from the large pot/trench at the front of the stage, not to mention playing with his mike stand. He had a whole lounge persona going on, though longer fans thought it was an off set from him.
Not off was Hot Chip, touring behind their new Why Make Sense?, who sounded great on the Bud Light Stage. Many people at the festival remarked that they’d already seen Cold War Kids more than once before, but that was no reason to miss them at the Samsung Stage, as there’s a reason they’re still alive & active (even if their old songs like “Hang Me Out To Dry” are still their best). MS MR brought another female-fronted electro-pop act to the Sprint Stage, with a smiling & seductive Lizzy Plapinger and a dancing Max Hershenow shaking the fringes on his jacket. They were just out of the studio and playing new songs, along with old ones (i.e., from How Does It Feel, which came out two weeks before…).
Alabama Shakes brought Southern-fried blues & soul to the Samsung Stage, though it was a little hard to see Brittany Howard belt & rock as the wind threatened to lift the covering on the equipment in the pit in front of her up so high as to block the group out. An actual male closed out Day One on the Sprint Stage, Gary Clark Jr. His neo-blues, which is really just blues done by a contemporary artist (kind of like ‘alt-country’), isn’t exactly revelatory, but he does it well. And his poncho- and sombrero-wearing guitarist clearly wants to be Jimi Hendrix, but what’s wrong with that? It’s worked well enough for Lenny Kravitz all these years…
A man who could & did name-check Hendrix headlined Friday at Lollapalooza on the Samsung Stage: Paul McCartney. The former Beatle (as if you needed to be told that) played a massive set for a massive crowd, which stretched as far as the eye could see (and the security barriers would allow). He & his band opened with “Magical Mystery Tour”, and the set seemed to go ‘one Beatle song, one not,’ before getting even heavier on the Fab Four at the end. Perhaps because it was a festival set, Sir Paul knew he had to play the hits, though also did “one for the Wings fans!”, “Let Me Roll It” (plus of course “Band On the Run”, “Live and Let Die”, and a few others), and a few of his own from more recent times, such as “My Valentine”, which he said he wrote for his wife Nancy.
But this was a performance about seeing a Beatle play Beatles songs. It was great to see that the crowd wasn’t all old-timers, but people whose parents and even grandparents listened to The Beatles (finally getting their music on iTunes has paid off…). McCartney did “Blackbird” and his solo song “Here Today” solo, dedicating the latter to “my friend John,” saying that the piece is about all the things you didn’t say to people who left you too soon. He also joked at that point about the audible beats coming from Perry’s Tent (from Dillon Francis), saying that he “planned this … It’s like a mash-up between me and whatever shit they’re playing,” miming the beats. Some will say that McCartney’s just a cranky old man and he ‘doesn’t understand the kids these days,’ but people have been saying that for decades – hell, the people who were saying that in the eighties are old enough to be complaining about the kids in these days – but McCartney’s still here & still drawing massive crowds, and his songs are still great; will today’s hot EDM artists still be filling stadiums in fifty years?
John & Jimi weren’t the only ones who got the nod from Paul (Jimi’s nod came in the form of a guitar solo, plus a story about Hendrix going out of tune on stage, then asking to the crowd if “Eric” was in the crowd and would come up and retune his instrument – “Eric” being Eric Clapton…). McCartney said that, “Most people don’t know this, but George was a great ukulele player,” and played “Something In the Way She Moves” solo on ukulele before the whole band broke in – and how great it would be to be the guitarist who gets to do that solo? Indeed, McCartney still played bass on some songs – imagine being his bassist? Most pressure since… Ringo’s drummer.
Maybe the most special Beatles song Paul McCartney did was “Eleanor Rigby”, because it’s so personal and intimate that it really matters that it’s coming from a Beatle. But the most fun was “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, because it’s the opposite – so upbeat and encompassing that it matters that it’s coming from a Beatle.
McCartney joked about playing “Back In the U.S.S.R.” in Red Square (a song so old it’s come back around again), and had fireworks for “Let It Be” and at the night’s finish. He closed with “Hey Jude”, which is special coming after this year’s death of one of its subject, Cynthia Lennon. Naturally there was an encore (admittedly you knew the performance was going until 10:00 PM), with almost all Beatles songs (save first piece, Wings’ “Hi, Hi, Hi”), including “Can’t Buy Me Love” because he has to do one of their early mop-top pop hits, and “Get Back” with special Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, and ended with “The End”.
All in all, while obviously there were other songs that you wanted to hear (your correspondent wanted something from Rubber Soul, his favorite Beatles record – not necessarily the best, but his favorite), it was what you were looking for from Sir Paul McCartney at Lollapalooza.
The sun was once again beating down as Lollapalooza entered August on Day Two. To open up Samsung Stage for the weekend, Catfish & The Bottlemen brought a nice rockin’ sound, if not as original as their name (but what is?). Sprint Stage continued Friday’s trend of electro-pop leading ladies with Ryn Weaver, who asked that everyone in the crowd make friends with two people next to them.
On the north end of Grant Park at Palladia Stage, GIVERS were having fun despite not playing to that sizable of a crowd. They seem to have moved from their earlier folk days to a more rock sound, though perhaps that was just a shift for the outdoor daytime festival setting. Zella Day still had to do some soundcheck at Pepsi Stage, but the sweet songstress sounds eventually showed through (if pretty mainstream), to a heavily female audience. Meanwhile Travi$ Scott was charged with disorderly conduct for inviting his fans at Perry’s Stage to jump the security barricades to get closer to the stage.
Back to the south, Django Django fit nicely into the sunny climes of the Samsung Galaxy Stage thanks to the tropical and dance elements to their modern alt-rock. Of course Charli XCX was playing the Sprint Stage. In addition to her music, one has to appreciate how much energy, how much of herself, Ms. XCX puts up & out there.
Hopefully all the Metallica fans (saw one with a t-shirt that said, “If you stomp on my flag, I will stomp on your ass”) caught Death From Above 1979 on the main Samsung Galaxy Stage. Their powerful rock was shredding on guitar & drums and blowing people away. They killed it with “Virgins” and others, powerful without being pummeling. “The spirit of Lollapalooza is alive in my purple hair” – Sebastien Grainger.
Sprint Stage finally got some electro-pop without a female lead in Walk the Moon. “Shut Up and Dance With Me” isn’t just a song of theirs; it’s practically their mission statement (though they still closed with their breakthrough ‘song of the summer’ from 2012, “Anna Sun”). They unfortunately played at the same time as Delta Spirit on the Pepsi Stage (one of the toughest conflicts of Lollapalooza ’15); the latter featured guest vocalist T. Hardy Morris and dedicated their cover of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” to Day One headliner Paul McCartney (even though it’s a John Lennon song…).
An artist even more in style with the Fab Four was Tame Impala, on the same Samsung Galaxy Stage that Sir Paul had graced the night before. The Perth, Australia group’s psych sounds felt reminiscent of late-period Beatles (though they could use to move around a bit more up there).
Headlining that Samsung Galaxy Stage on Day Two was an artist not quite as old as McCartney, Metallica. Though that’s a rare comparison to make Metallica seem ‘young’ – earlier in the day their kids played the Kidsapalooza Stage as The Helmets, with Perry Farrell, Peter DiStefano (Porno For Pyros guitarist turned kids artist), and Metallica’s own Robert Trujillo on bass.
Yes, Metallica played the hits that you were looking for. It’s “Sad But True”, but their old stuff is still their best, and that’s what the band largely played in only their second North American show this year (for an act that hasn’t toured the U.S. since 2009 – QRO photos). They also invited 100 contest winners on stage, creating a bit of a mess for security, but you couldn’t say that their turned-up-to-eleven sound was marred by whatever was coming out of Perry’s Stage (like had happened to McCartney on Night One).
For everyone who doesn’t like Metallica (such as those who mocked them & their hair when they headlined Lollapalooza the last time they played it, back in 1996), there was the much more current Sam Smith topping the Bud Light Stage. As well as playing nearly all of massive breakthrough In the Lonely Hour, he covered Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry On Their Own” (dedicating it to the late singer), segued into Motown classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, and closed out the mix with Chic’s own seventies hit, “Le Freak” (all while eye-flirting with the crowd).
Considering how hot and sunny it was at the start of the final day of Lollapalooza, it was amazing how much energy The Wombats had as they play the dusty baseball diamond infield that was Sprint Stage. Singer Matthew Murphy acknowledged the heat and that “about 50% of you are hungover,” but still asked the crowd to dance for “Techno Fan”. Following on the Samsung Galaxy Stage was Circa Waves, garage-mainstream rock that was actually pretty fun.
Night Terrors of 1927, the new band from Jarrod Gorbel (of The Honorary Title) and Blake Sennett (of Rilo Kiley), managed to keep the emo-epic sound of debut full-length Everything’s Coming Up Roses (QRO review), even under the hot midday sun at the Bud Light Stage. Gorbel (QRO interview) may be the frontman, but former teen actor Sennett was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer – he also stepped down onto the pit speakers more than once to play close to the fans. Meanwhile, band & crowd was suitably wild at Sprint Stage for Twin Peaks, and though the audience was not as large as expected, there were still crowd-surfers. Shakey Graves, however, came out solo on Palladia Stage.
At 2:30 PM (during, amongst others, Sirenxx at BMI Stage), a storm threat brought a park evacuation. Admittedly walking out one could see dark clouds on the otherwise sunny horizon, but it did feel like overkill. Your correspondent spent the break in the Dell Lounge across the street (before it closed its doors), which at least had air conditioning and free Wi-Fi. But after an incredibly short shower, gates reopened at 3:30 PM, with music to begin again at 4:00 (thankfully the dry festival grounds weren’t muddy, even if that only further pointed out the pointless of the evacuation). The festival worked its butt off changing the schedule, and was able to cancel no one thanks to City of Chicago officials allowing the fest to run past its 10:00 PM curfew, until 10:45 PM (considering that it was the City of Chicago which had likely been the one pushing for the ‘better safe than sorry’ evacuation, it was only fair).
George Ezra opened to cheers at 4:15 PM at Samsung Galaxy Stage, though that was as much for it being the festival that was reopening. He had a country-soul sound – so of course is from England. Englishwoman Marina & The Diamonds reclaimed the Sprint Stage for the electro-pop leading ladies of Days One & Two, a big songstress with lots of love.
Over at Samsung Galaxy Stage, Twenty One Pilots had an exciting upbeat electro sound in the vein of Imagine Dragons and other acts like that these days. But they also covered Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”. Meanwhile Gogol Bordello kept sounding like no one except their gypsy-punks selves on the Palladia Stage. Lord Huron was a rare act that moved stages due to the schedule change, bringing their bright alt-country/folk to the Sprint Stage, though got more rock as they continued.
One of the most anticipated acts as Lollapalooza ’15 was Of Monsters and Men. The Icelandic alt-folk collective broke through in a massive way with debut My Head Is an Animal (QRO review) and hit single “Little Talks”, so all eyes were on a possible sophomore slump with follow-up Beneath the Skin (QRO review) and the subsequent tour. Thankfully, the group has adjusted well to their big-time status, and so have their fans, as the crowd knew new songs as well as old. There is uplift to them, having been through the darkness and into the light (kind of like the seasons in Iceland). Singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (who does look like Björk, not just facially – probably a lot of people in Iceland look like its most famous native since Erik the Red – but in her shyness) thanked the sign language interpreter at the side of the Samsung Galaxy Stage, and even hugged her after running into the pit to embrace the crowd.
Keeping Lollapalooza 2015 from the ever-present threat of veering into the lily-white, A$AP Rocky threw down at the Bud Light Stage (he next goes on tour with fellow Lolla ’15 performer Tyler, the Creator). Meanwhile TV On the Radio on the Sprint Stage reminded Chicago that they virtually invented alt-Brooklyn and are still inventing, and dancer-turned-singer FKA Twigs partied up a storm at the Pepsi Stage (kind of surprising that she wasn’t at a bigger stage, but her stock has only risen since she was booked for the festival).
Unfortunately, the threat of storm reared its ugly head once again as Lollapalooza came towards its end. The start of headliner Florence & The Machine’s set at Samsung Galaxy Stage was pushed forward fifteen minutes (and thus QRO missed photographing the performance…), and then was ended early (well, 10:00 PM, the festival’s original end time). This did not damper frontwoman Florence Welch, who is very much all love about her/their success. She asked the crowd to be the band’s choir (stating it was the one thing they couldn’t bring on tour), and dedicated “Various Storms & Saints” to the storm. Announcing that they had to end early, the band went directly into breakthrough hit “Dog Days Are Over”, with Welch asking everyone in the audience to take off a piece of clothing, and it would represent taking off bad feelings – then ended the song by taking her own shirt off and running through the pit again.
Lollapalooza 2015 had its highs and lows like any festival, but there were some pretty serious highs (catching up-and-coming acts, seeing a Beatle play Beatle songs), and even the lows weren’t that low (while the evacuation felt unnecessary, it was about the best evacuation you were going to have, in terms of how well it was run and how short it lasted). It was a truly mammoth experience.
-words: Ted Chase
-photos: Jessica Alexander and Ted Chase