Festival Review: Lollapalooza 2013
By: Emily Schumacher
Grant Park, Chicago
August 2-4, 2013
It’s about eleven am on a Friday morning. The sun is high enough in the sky that it’s beginning to warm up, but clouds linger in the distance, threatening to ruin the beautiful day. This would seem like a normal Friday in Chicago, except for the growing mass of people exiting every means of transportation and pouring onto Michigan Avenue, which is now preventively blocked off in order to accommodate the roughly 100,000 people flooding through a few gates into Chicago’s Grant Park. Why the huge rush? Because this is the weekend that every local suburban kid has been counting down to on their iPhones for the past seven months and the weekend that every actual Chicagoan dreads: Lollapalooza.
This is the three-day festival that draws both hipster suburban children from around the area and die hard hippie festival-goers from all around the globe. In it’s 22-year existence, Lollapalooza has brought in such diverse acts as Nine Inch Nails, Lady Gaga, and Kanye West, as its aim as a festival has always been to bring in music innovators from the whole spectrum of genres. It originally began in 1991 as a traveling music festival that aimed to salute the end of Jane’s Addiction, while also bringing up and coming music to cities all across the nation. However in 2004, poor ticket sales caused a cancellation of the festival, much to the dismay of indie festival goers. Perry Ferrell stepped in and completely revamped the festival in 2005, expanding it to two days and settling it in the heart of the city, in Chicago’s own Grant Park. Ever since, the festival has grown in length – to three full days – and in size. It is now seven stages, taking up all 319 acres of one of Chicago’s most beloved stomping grounds.
This year the festival’s attendance peaked at a 300,000 person attendance total for all three days, becoming the largest the festival has ever been, and now ranking as one of the most highly attended in the nation. And it truly, truly was a monster. Bathroom lines were longer, security tighter, food weirder. Let’s begin.
21 Pilots – This was a show that I ended up going to accidentally, mostly so I could force my way to the front for the always-mellow Atlas Genius. With their sweet electronic beats and fiercely up-tempo drums, Twenty-One Pilots made just two guys banging on drums into an activity the whole audience could enjoy, complete with at least 10 people on shoulders and one dude trying to crowd surf four times by the end. Outside of an EDM concert, I can honestly say I’ve never seen that many white people dance.
Modestep – When I think of a bass, a piano, and a DJ I do not immediately think bass dropping electronic music bonanza. But this mismatched quartet was able to pull out some of the best EDM I heard all weekend. Their killer bass drops were accented by heavy guitar solos and rock and roll edge, which made their relatively typical, repetitive EDM beats a lot more interesting. Huge bonus, their bass was so killer my friend and I had to move back a few rows, just to ensure I didn’t completely lose my hearing before the weekend was out.
Mumford & Sons – Regardless of how stereotypical it is to list such a popular folk group as a highlight, this concert was akin to what someone would call a spiritual experience for me. It may be that toned down indie folk may be my very specific cup of tea, but this collection of extremely talented artists managed to make acoustic guitars and a cello dance party worthy. With the entire crowd screaming every single word and the entire field filled with people just for this band, the air was flowing with Chicagoan good vibes. Marcus Mumford deemed us, “The most gracious crowd [they’ve] ever played for,” and I think just about every person in that crowd was grateful for the awe-inspiring experience.
Beach House – This may have been my second time seeing Beach House within a calendar year, but it felt like an entirely fresh show. I simply cannot get enough of their laidback staging and heavenly sound. Victoria Legrand’s dreamy vocals mixed with the floaty synth vibe of their tracks had me wondering: how can a chick dressed like a sullen punk rocker produce music that makes me feel like I’m floating? Their stage mirrored this feeling, with simple off-kilter rectangles that reflected the moody lighting as their backdrop and faux smoke emanating from the stage. Overall, the duo will always keep me floating, no matter how many times I chant the words to “Other People.”
Phoenix – The beginning of the set was absolutely killer, blowing through “Entertainment,” “1901,” and “Liztomania” immediately, using enough energy to power the entire festival for the whole three days. However the rest of their set fell a little short in comparison, as close to no one really knew any of their new album. However they obtained this spot by simply having the greatest light show ever. During the mostly instrumental “Love Like a Sunset (Part I &II!),” the lights created a sunset-like image on the backdrop until the song began its crescendo into a cacophony of sound and electronic beeps, at which point the lights of the stage began to flash every color of the rainbow, seemingly all at once. Pretty Lights better watch his back because Phoenix really has ‘pretty lights.’
Vampire Weekend – This really wins for the most outlandish show of the weekend. The energy of Vampire Weekend was phenomenal and their songs were the perfect mix of erratic and poppy fun. They made this list because of their beautiful set – complete with suspended pillars hanging from the top and not quite making it to the bottom, and the beautiful back drop equipped with roses. They also made the list because of the barely clothed fan who got so excited about them really being there that he simply had to run on stage midset, only to be tackled by several scary looking security guards seconds later. Ezra Koenig played it off very coolly, and even admitting the audience had an amazing vibe. Apparently it was a little too amazing for some people.
Atlas Genius – I was so holding out for the “Trojans” artist to be the break from the previously exhausting sets I’d attended, but they simply didn’t deliver. Maybe it could be chalked up to a member of the audience literally taking the plug in for the lead guitarists guitar to the speaker out? Who knows, their normally smooth and relaxed vibe was seriously stopped up.
Imagine Dragons – Partly due to the Lakeshore stage having serious technical difficulties all weekend, Imagine Dragons got through “Amsterdam” and about half of “On Top of the World” before smoke began to emanate from the back of the stage and power for the whole stage was lost. While the band was able to recover and continue, the sound was never able to and neither was the vibe. Trying to fit one of the more popular bands crowd’s at one of the least available stages couldn’t help but make this show feel defeated before it started. No worries, I still have dreams of being on the rail for them at our school nightly.
Look out for:
Ben Howard – Saturday morning started off amazingly by landing at this show. Ben Howard feels to me like a more toned down, less synth-y Bon Iver with a hint of pop in him. I have a feeling that while he was in one of the earliest spots this year, he will return very soon in a more prominent spot. Every single crowd member that happened to be at this show couldn’t help but sway in a trance like state to the soft sound of his voice at some point in this set. Plus his band featured a woman who managed to play the bass, cello, piano, and tambourine in a six-song stretch. This talent cannot help but be recognized.
The Neighbourhood – Although this band already has a semi-cult like fan base, I think they have nowhere to go but up. Their show was slightly dull at first as the crowd got used to their generally melancholy sound, however it was clear once everyone was shouting the words to their most well known song “Sweater Weather” (or ‘the sweater song’ as one less-informed crowd member screamed at the band) that as long as the Neighbourhood keeps turning out the same kind of sullenly catchy ballads, they will skyrocket to indie fame.
Keys N Krates – An electronic group that has completely gone under my radar, Keys N Krates surprised the hell out of a friend and me whilst we were refilling our camelbaks under the heat of the early afternoon sun. We extended our water break at Perry’s just to hear them finish their set, and I can honestly say their rhythm heavy beats were accented by just enough electronic screeching it sounded absolutely magical. And apparently riot inducing, as many of the Perry’s goers had just begun their Lolla excursion so that mosh pits were already beginning to form.
The festival was undoubtedly phenomenal; proving that the experiment began by Perry Ferrell that ventured into introducing all genres of music to the music lovers of the world will go strong for many years to come. Only on the grounds of Grant Park can you see Lana Del Rey giving one of her only performances in the US (and probably the only tolerable one) while Nine Inch Nails is simultaneously bashing in the minds of their die hard fans with their metallic grunge across the park. Chicago has always been a melting pot, one where a man running across the top of all the south lot Porta Potty’s can garner a whole crowds applause and where people refuse to buy Suja’s pressed juice for $8, so much so that by the last day it had been marked down to $4. This city truly knows how to throw a party, one so large it will take a lot for the city of Chicago to ever forget. I know it’ll take me forever to forget all of the body parts I accidentally saw. Oh, and some of the bands too.