10 remarkable things I saw or that happened to me at Lollapalooza on Sunday
1. I sat down next to Grizzly Bear lead singer Ed Droste without realizing it at first. After arriving around 1 p.m. but having to deal with a minor snafu in which my wristband wouldn’t scan, forcing me to run around to the box office to get a new one and then re-enter, I made a beeline for the media lounge to get food and water, in order to have ample time to catch Angel Haze. I picked up a couple skewered meatballs and some KIND Bars and promptly began to stuff my face in the media tent, vaguely aware of someone interviewing someone else next to me. I stood up to get more free food, and upon coming back to check my iPhone, I realized that the vocalist of one of my favorite bands was three feet away from me.
“Act natural,” I silently told myself. “Don’t try to make too much eye contact, but if you do just pretend it’s an accident. Or don’t pretend and confess your complete admiration for him and his music, and ask if he remembers that one time he replied to my Facebook comment.” This anxious inner monologue continued for about five minutes, until he got up and went to another interview. I figured I should spare him and his well-ironed shirt the discomfort of talking to me, or rather listening to me talk.
2. I saw Angel Haze absolutely kill her performance, without the help of a backing vocal track or even a hype man: two staples of rap shows that can often detract from a performance. She could’ve used some help though, as she delivered her verses rapid-fire and hardly stopped to take a breath. For those who don’t know her, Angel Haze is one to watch. The Brooklyn-via-Detroit MC is not shy about either her sexuality or her talent, both of which will attract attention in the hip-hop world, and often not the good kind. It’s clearly not something she dwells on, and she needn’t worry with a lightning-quick cadence like that. She also has had a somewhat publicized feud with Azealia Banks, another female rapper who pulled out of her Saturday slot at the last minute. In my opinion, Haze is the better talent anyway, so let’s hope she gains a lot from this spectacular showing at Perry’s.
3. As I was watching two young gentlemen light up a bowl at Perry’s, I began thinking to myself, “Gee, what a great free society we live in where people can ingest plant smoke in public and not be persecuted for it. Bravo, gentlemen!” Promptly, a security guard approached them and told them to leave. Lolla is really stepping up their drug enforcement game this year, it seems. The Tribune reports at least 10 arrests made relating to Lolla, although these were for much bigger offenses involving the distribution of much riskier substances. Still, it’s evident that some people have voiced complaints about the ever-present cannabis consumption, and C3 (the company that produces Lolla) is trying to do something about it.
4. I witnessed Wild Nothing’s effortless weaving of interlocking guitar harmonies, drenched in reverb and blasted out into the midday air. I then saw New York’s MS MR and realized what amazing effect Lolla has on artists. The thing about Lolla is that, with such a huge amount of people everywhere (this year broke the record with at least 300,000 in attendance), any band playing it bound to have at least a decent crowd. For some of these lesser-known bands, this is the biggest crowd they have ever played to. This has a remarkable impact on the performers, especially if they can get the crowd moving a little. MS MR started somewhat mellow and laidback, but as their songs got more forceful, and their singer Lizzy Plapinger more animated, the crowd responded and initiated a positive feedback loop of good vibes. By the end of the set, Plapinger was owning the stage and very obviously loving ever second. This is yet another under-appreciated facet of Lolla that makes it such a great time.
5. The entirety of Wavves’ show was a spectacle in and of itself. Frontman Nathan Williams arrived on stage, nonplussed by the screams of adoring fans (mine included), and began setting up his own equipment, which is something I would not at all expect from Nathan Williams. They then proceeded to play a blistering 45-minute set filled with all their latest hits and some old favorites, while the crowd went absolutely berserk. Someone threw a half-full bottle of wine from one side of the crowd to the other, raining down like blood on the sweat-soaked moshers. It felt like “Braveheart” but with more guitars and less Scottish people.
6. Unintentionally meeting up with friends is another undervalued thing about music festivals, especially Lolla, since if your friends live in Chicago, chances are they are there. I managed to randomly bump into a couple friends three times throughout the weekend, and several others at other times. Apparently, the trick to meeting up with your friends at Lolla is to not look for them in the first place.
7. Seeing Beach House for the second time and being even more enraptured by them than before. Beach House is known for pairing mesmerizing, mellowed-out vocals and guitar with simple, almost hip hop-esque beats (in fact, their song “Silver Soul” is sampled on Kendrick Lamar’s hood anthem “Money Trees.” Lamar, who also played at Lolla on Saturday, must have been given permission to use this by the notoriously litigious Beach House, which makes me even more in awe of them). They don’t move around a lot while making this incredible music; their guitarist even has a stool onstage for some reason. Vocalist Victoria Legrand would occasionally thrust her hands out in front of her as she belted out lyrics and as the crowd got more into it (again with the feedback loop), and at times would linger on notes that were in the sweet spot of her vocal register, making them resonate through Grant Park like a cannon shot. Everything about their performance was amazing, perhaps my second favorite of the weekend.
8. Contributing writer Liz Peterson had this to say about Vampire Weekend’s set:
“Vampire Weekend had the whole crowd dancing and jumping around, especially during their hit ‘A-Punk’ and their new song ‘Diane Young’. During one of their songs, a vagrant crowd surfer somehow made his way onto the stage. The band played it off well, although the look of surprise on their faces was priceless. Security quickly handled the matter and dragged the man off the stage.”
9. Phoenix is just remarkable, period. They’ve been around since 1999, yet prior to their 2009 album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” had only sold modestly in the U.S. and were virtually unheard of. After that album, they headlined Lolla in 2010, and returned this year to do it again. They were backed by a spectacular light show, and surrounded by tens of thousands of people, and they made the most of every minute.
According to Peterson: “Their set was a mix of old favorites and new material. The lights dazzled the crowd, especially during the song ‘Love Like a Sunset’ as they set slowly with smoke surrounding the stage, and then a red and orange explosion as the vocals came in at the end of the song. Everything coincided to make for a great live experience. Lead singer Thomas Mars maintained his energy throughout the entire set, until the very last song where he crowd surfed all the way from the sound booth to the front of the stage.”
10. On my way out, I stopped to watch Cat Power for 10 minutes, and thought it was remarkable that she didn’t freak out on stage as she is notorious for doing. It was also remarkable how loud her band played without sounding terribly good, and often verging on the brink of skull-rattling feedback.
Overall, my third Lolla experience in so many years was remarkable. Being alone most of the time, I had ample opportunities to really soak up the vibe of the festival, and as I said in my Friday recap, the bad reputation it gets for being the everyman’s music festival is elitist and misguided. At Lollapalooza, you have the feeling of being a part of history. With such big name acts on the bill, you feel compelled not to miss a minute, you must bear witness so you can be a part of the conversation the next day. As the skyscraper fluorescence bears down and washes over you, so too does a sense of euphoria, a feeling that is not easily explained in text. When your favorite band plays your favorite song, even if you only know it from that one commercial or because your friend played it for you, you run up closer to be part of it. You stand up and dance and jump around to it, even if you’re half a mile away from the stage because you love it and want everyone else to know. I guess you just have to be there.