Lollapalooza once again took control of Chicago and Grant Park on Friday, beginning a weekend filled with screaming, sunburn and sound. This year’s lineup seemed heavy on the comeback band, with headliners like The Cure, Nine Inch Nails and New Order promising rare performances. Seemingly in line with this theme, many of the acts rounding out the bill are making their second or third Lolla appearances in so many years, such as Grizzly Bear, Local Natives, Crystal Castles and Smith Westerns, but this time with a much higher spot on the lineup. For fans and bands alike, it’s good to be back.
I arrived around noon, not long after things had kicked off, and upon entering the cordoned-off, empty streets of Grant Park, felt a friendly sense of familiarity. This is my third Lollapalooza in three years, and it has yet to let me down. Still, hating on Lolla has become a pastime for some people, whether it be for perceived hyper-commercialization, overcrowding or the abundance of 15-year-olds. These may be accurate critiques, but despite them, Lolla continues to be a spectacle and has been almost every year since being revived in 2005. Surprisingly, it’s not the largest music festival in the world; there are a few European festivals that manage to draw (and contain) even bigger crowds. It’s hard to believe that, though, when you’re standing in the middle of Columbus Drive at night, with swarms of people bouncing off you, and the Chicago skyline as the backdrop. You feel incredibly small in a huge world, and somehow that is energizing and powerful.
My overwhelming sense of oneness was quickly struck down when I realized I could not find the media tent’s location on the map. It was, in fact, not printed on the program’s map, so I had to ask some volunteers, and even they seemed unsure. I eventually found my way, after wandering around rather aimlessly, into the “Media Lounge,” as it is called. At Pitchfork, I had settled for simply a tent from which to conduct my press duties, with such meager accommodations as free water, wi-fi and pizza at 5:30 p.m. Lolla took their press area to another level. Upon entering, I was lavished with free chicken and quinoa bowls, KIND Bars and an assortment of beverages. At dinnertime, we were treated to our choice of mini-burgers or mini-tacos. I felt bad not paying for these delicacies. As an international attraction, Lolla certainly has the amenities to fit their reputation.
The first bands I saw were engaging, but overall felt a bit tired. Robert Delong wowed the crowd with some cool, one-man-band type sampling and singing. Emeli Sande opened up the Red Bull stage with some interesting soul/funk numbers, but ultimately got a little too power ballad-esque for me. I ran around to the other end of the park to catch Deap Vally, who impressed the crowd with not only their sound (loud garage rock) but also their gender (girl bands always elicit cat calls, surely as a gesture of solidarity). Then I ran back to check out Icona Pop and got close for Smith Westerns, whom Crystal Castles would follow.
Crystal Castles was by far my favorite of the day. They were at Lolla two years ago, but I was relegated to watching them play from afar as I camped out early for Muse. This time, I was front and center, and I couldn’t have been happier. They played a wide-range of their hits, with frontwoman Alice Glass screaming and crowdsurfing her way through all of them. For those unfamiliar, Crystal Castles makes aggressive electronic music and verges on hardcore in its vocal stylings but nonetheless keeps things dancey and bouncy. Non-fans of the electroclash group probably found themselves covering their ears and/or questioning their being there in both the concrete and the abstract/metaphysical sense, but as a longtime listener of the group, I loved every second. Glass knows precisely how to put on a grotesquely bewildering show Š—ê I had heard stories of other shows where she vomited into the crowd or done some other similarly insane thing. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen today, but the group still performed to their best and left with the crowd feeling inspired and ready for more great music.
I think my experience for the day peaked after the delightful Crystal Castles set, and I felt quite weary for some time after. I saw Chance the Rapper from a distance Š—ê he drew a huge crowd to the tiny and secluded BMI stage, which meant bad vantage points for almost all involved (one intrepid fan decided to climb a tree to get a better view. This was met with cheers from the crowd but he stayed for all of two minutes). I then caught some Hot Chip and the opening of Nine Inch Nails, who played to a backdrop of massive shadows of the band cast on the stage wall behind them. The Killers began soon after, opening up with their classic “Mr. Brightside.” I stayed for about half of their set before deciding to call it quits for the day.
Stay tuned for more adventures in the life of a Lollapalooza press correspondent.