Lollapalooza isn’t a festival; it’s a metropolis. Eight stages swarm nearly all of Grant Park’s 319 acres, making the festival one of the largest in the country if not the world. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Back in 2005, when the brand was just an underdog finding a home in Chicago, the Perry Farrell-led fiesta was fighting to stay alive after its heartbreaking cancellation in 2004. (That year, dynamite acts like Morrissey, PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, The Flaming Lips, Wilco, and many more were left without summer plans and scrambled to readjust their touring itineraries. It was a disaster.) But as history shows, the Grant Park experiment was a grand success, resulting in nine successful years that have turned the brand into an essential facet of Chicago’s tourism. What’s more, Lollapalooza has grown into an international enterprise, and the modifier “-palooza” has been adopted as an idiom for all things partying.
This year’s 10th installment at Grant Park was just as successful financially speaking. Tickets sold out, stages were slammed, and the park continued to feel more overwhelmed. But there’s something missing these days. Whatever Lollapalooza originally stood for — an off-the-path chance to experience something alternative in music — has been warped for years. Critics have written about this year after year, especially with the inclusion of more mass-marketed EDM and pop-oriented flair. Yet, even despite these tired grievances, 2014’s lineup disappointed on another level: the lack of any identity whatsoever.
Upon its unveiling, the Internet — specifically, the online festival scene — erupted in disappointment, lambasting the (rather abrupt) returns of Eminem and Kings of Leon, the unimaginative headliners in Skrillex and Calvin Harris, and the run-of-the-mill midsection that’s been a part of just about every festival these past few months. Even the booking of OutKast was labeled as easy-to-please, regardless of the fact that they’ve been one of the most requested acts over the last decade. Most of these criticisms were a tad unfair, sure, but they weren’t exactly unwarranted, either. What used to be a chance to catch The Alternative has since become an opportunity to witness The Current. By that standard, the lineup came up rather short.
But then the weekend actually came, and the negatives slowly turned into positives. (Well, aside from the ugly controversy surrounding Dev Hynes’ set, which we’ll further discuss in the pages ahead.) Eminem made up for his lousy and unimaginative performance in 2011, Kings of Leon introduced a string section, and the EDM was easy to ignore, namely because there was always something else to find. Look, Lollapalooza’s certainly guilty of becoming more or less gluttonous over the years with regards to expansion, which has certainly reached its nadir. But said gluttony has provided brilliant alternatives; for example, each night, if you “couldn’t give a fuck” about the main headliners, The Grove and Perry’s were perhaps your refuge.
Photo by Joshua Mellin
That explains why Phantogram entertained those who didn’t care for Eminem or Arctic Monkeys on Friday night, or Cut Copy, Krewella, and Calvin Harris won the 100 people over that didn’t want to witness OutKast Saturday evening, or why Darkside and Chance the Rapper experienced heavy traffic in lieu of Kings or Skrillex for a proper finish to the weekend. These other paths saved the weekend from the general malaise that original lineup poster exuded back in April. They proved that Lollapalooza is not only a chance to see The Alternative or The Current, but an escape for everyone and anyone. That populist approach might not make for the most leisure-oriented weekend, but in the long run, it’s what keeps the majority happy and coming back. Scoff all you like — I have — but that makes the most sense for the business.
And that’s all Lollapalooza ever was in the first place. That’s all any festival is period.
Best Song About a Pet
Into It. Over It.’s Ode To Miles
Photo by Heather Kaplan
After seven years of playing as Into It. Over It., with the majority of those shows being in-house shows and tiny clubs, Chicago native Evan Weiss finally made it to Lollapalooza. “What’s up, Lollapalooza? I never thought I’d get to say this. This is awesome,” he said, beaming, as he and his band took the stage. From there, it was all relentlessly positive vibes from Weiss and co. as the band went through many cuts from 2013’s Intersections and 2011’s Proper. With sometimes ripping, oftentimes gorgeous and elaborate guitar work and Weiss’s astute and confessional lyricism, it was the most intimate and uplifting set imaginable for a 1:00 p.m. slot at the Grove stage.
One of the set’s best moments, one that captures why Weiss is such a beloved figure not only in Chicago but throughout the “emo” scene, came right before Intersections highlight “Spatial Exploration”. Weiss asked the audience if anyone was married. When a slew of hands rose, Weiss honed in on a couple in front: “If you don’t mind me asking, how long have you been married?” When they responded, Weiss couldn’t help but exclaim, “Fuckin’ a! Two years married. That’s great. Give it up.” That, combined with a song about his 30-pound “legendary cat” Miles (RIP), makes Weiss one of this year’s most endearing characters.
Most Charming Set
Photo by Heather Kaplan
When Australia’s Courtney Barnett performs, her straightforward show matches her no-pretenses, clever brand of indie rock. There was no gaudy backdrop with her name on it (nor will there ever be), just her, her bassist, and her drummer emphatically playing songs off her excellent The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, specifically highlights “Avant Gardner” and “History Eraser”.
With a successful U.S. TV debut on Fallon under her belt and now the surprisingly sizable 2:15 crowd at the Grove stage behind her, Barnett can only go up. While she won’t go for the gimmick, the marketing ploy, or the headline-grabbing behavior, Barnett’s razor-sharp narrative lyricism, and proclivity for punchy, ‘90s-imbued indie rock proves she’ll never need any of that.
Best Rain Dance
J. Roddy Walston & The Business
Photo by Jack Edinger
Day One of Lollapalooza started off with a young teen sitting outside Perry’s Tent crying her eyes out and a young man sitting against a tree so partied out that he was making himself vomit. And all by roughly 2:30 in the afternoon. The shit show was in full force early, but J. Roddy Walston & The Business were there to help. Walston was maniacally flying around the stage, arms raised, whoopin’ and hollerin’ like a Southern preacher, and about halfway through his set it seemed that “God” was listening. The old Lollapalooza tradition of a downpour started right as the band launched into the opening track of 2013’s Essential Tremors, “Heavy Bells”. Some ran for cover. Some stayed and loved the cooldown. Walston & The Business just played heavier and harder. They taunted the rain like Foo Fighters did at Lollapalooza in 2011. It washed away the tears and puke, and the crowd was ready to rise again.
Best Example of Life Imitating Art
Iggy Azalea Performs “Fancy”
Photo by Heather Kaplan
“Hot girl, hands off, don’t touch that/ Look at it I bet you wishing you could clutch that/ It’s just the way you like it, huh?/ You’re so good, he’s just wishing he could bite it, huh?” No truer words could have been uttered at Perry’s Stage on Friday afternoon as Iggy Azalea stomped around the stage, performing her Song of the Summer: “Fancy”. As expected, the scene was a clusterfuck of epic proportions as thousands of teenagers swarmed the stage, thirsty for booze, hungry for sex, and rabid for noise. “Feels so good getting what I want/ Yeah, keep on turning it up,” Iggy sang, providing a mantra for a sea of would-be extras for that forthcoming DTV Spring Breakers sequel.
As for the set itself, Iggy’s an exhilarating performer; “Work” and “Lady Patra” were rather athletic highlights that kept the ample demands low. It’s just unfortunate there’s little depth to any of this. At the end of the day, she’s parading around ostentatious pop that’s not so much a conversation on social perversity but more a ringleader. Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, and Bill Hicks’ Coke commercial bit all came to mind throughout this set, nudging as lost purveyors of future truths that are only starting to scream at us from the stage today.
Still, not everyone’s a believer. Shortly after, one bloated festivalgoer chortled, “All that for one song?!” To quote Iggy herself: “You can hate it or love it.”
The Worst Thing All Weekend That Ruined One of the Best Shows All Weekend
The Blood Orange Controversy
Photo by Joshua Mellin
Blood Orange put on the best show of Friday, easily. The groovy energy was infectious, taking even the stiffest Day One fest attendees and setting them off into a dancing frenzy. Dev Hynes started the show off with a sincerely grateful speech, telling the crowd how lucky they all were to be there and that he felt just as lucky as they did to be able to be in a place where something like this was possible.
He wore a shirt adorned with the names of victims of recent police and civilian profiling and brutality: Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Eric Garner. Samantha Urbani, of New York band Friends and also Hynes’ girlfriend, wore a shirt that read “Stop Police Brutality” and pleaded with the crowd mid-set to film all arrests and remember that figures of the law are not above the law themselves. All of this made for one of the more politically charged but still wildly entertaining sets of the weekend.
The events that followed the show put the word irony to shame and brought up a bevy of questions about the state of the festival. While walking through the festival, Urbani was stopped by festival security and questioned for reasons that remain unknown. When Hynes tried to interject during the aggressive interrogation of Urbani, he was grabbed by the back of his neck and forced to the ground, where two other security staff members joined in to restrain the musician. Such an unmotivated act of violence is entirely out of place in an environment meant for enjoying music and the company of like-minded people.
Photo by Joshua Mellin
In recent years, Lollapalooza has become a safe haven for Molly-tripping tweens to sneak in booze and drink it all before they have to take a train back to the suburbs. With so many attendees now fitting into the largely white, largely suburban mold that the festival seems to be aiming for more and more every year with the growth of Perry’s Stage and the consistently younger-skewing lineups, the activities of non-white people become something that security evidently feels must be monitored closely, and if they aren’t doing something wrong, then hey, at least they checked. In a largely white environment like Lolla, it’s important to notice that those presumed to be holding the peace often see people of color as aggressors before anything has even been done to indicate so and will act on these urges with the slightest provocation.
In a series of tweets after the events of Friday afternoon, Urbani said that after speaking with Lollapalooza officials, she had learned that the security was a private firm hired by Lollapalooza for that stage specifically. I’m sorry, but the people who perpetrated the offense not being volunteers only makes it worse, because they are then by definition Lollapalooza employees and not just volunteers who are acting under Lollapalooza’s will but not always within the rules. They were paid to do a job, and instead they assaulted an artist and his girlfriend because they didn’t fit the mold of the festival and were wearing shirts that might come across pretty inflammatory to a security guard who is only doing this to make the money he didn’t make when he failed the police exam. The festival security protocols at Lollapalooza bring to mind the old system that Chicago’s Congress Theater had in place before being shut down for being undoubtedly the worst venue the city had to offer. Ex-cops and muscle heads worked the door, looking intently for someone whose rights they could violate without being called out for it.
Photo by Joshua Mellin
There have only been two places where I have seen a security person hold a concert attendee’s face against a wall while patting them down to the nth degree, and those two places are the Congress three years ago and Lollapalooza this year. The festival security culture is now officially at a crossroads, with a newsworthy story that paints them in a light that can’t possibly be spun in their favor and brings to the attention of many that there are unchecked protocols being carried out by people unfit to have the responsibility they’re given. As of press time, Lollapalooza had refused to give any statements other than that the events were being looked into and that safety was always their biggest concern. Ok, Perry. How about you prove that and fix this security mess that has been festering for years.
Lolla’s It’s Always Sunny Episode
The Gang Pays Homage to Dayman
Who doesn’t love a good cover? Them boys from Wasilla, AK, certainly do! Portugal. The Man proved this by tossing out four during an afternoon showpiece that shifted between originals and mainstream rock anthems. Opener “Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2” and set closer “We Are the Champions” were lighthearted takes on songs that everyone’s heard too many times before. And that’s exactly why it was a treat to watch the band venture a little deeper into the UK songbook with a captivating take on Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. But the absolute highlight was their “Dayman” tribute, ripped from the potholed streets of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Frontman John Gourley’s straight-faced falsetto and sense of the absurd had folks doubling over in laughter as he proved himself a worthy master of karate and friendship for everyone. The gang would be proud.
Moment Most Enjoyed by Middle-Aged Rock Journalists Everywhere
Eating a Kobe Slider in the Media Tent While Watching CHVRCHES on TV
Photo by Heather Kaplan
Note: This entry was written by 55-year-old guest reporter Gunther Guthrie.
I have to admit, I was quite excited when the CoS team asked me to cover Lollapalooza to get a “different” perspective on things. But my excitement diminished as soon as I went through security. Even though Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman (hi, Mike!) told me I could go through the media entrance where there was no bag check, I decided against it since it was all the way near Roosevelt and I had just eaten some Panda Express and didn’t want to walk that far. I made the wrong choice. Apparently, you can only bring in tubed suntan lotion and not the bottled stuff. Look, I’m all about safety, but um … what the heck, guys? Sigh. Nine dollars down the drain.
Still trying to remain in good spirits, I headed to the Lake Shore Stage for a band called CHVRCHES. I wasn’t too familiar with them but had heard a couple of their songs while driving my oldest daughter, Jordan, to school. While I prefer Jethro Tull for any sort of commute, I’m also a pushover, so I often let her listen to what she wants. And I have to say, CHVRCHES isn’t bad! Also, they spell the “U” with a “V,” just like the Art Institvte of Chicago, which makes me happy. It’s always great to see today’s youth embracing some culture for a change.
Photo by Heather Kaplan
Anyway, back to the festival. Turns out, the Lake Shore Stage is on the other side of the park. I should’ve just used the media entrance! I walked. It took almost 20 minutes, and I couldn’t even find a spot in the back of the crowd—or should I say, mob—once I got there. I tried mixing in with all the young folks but got a little queasy. These teenagers and the way they dress … well frankly, it upsets me, especially with the girls: all cutoffs and frayed midriffs with their gangly, undeveloped bones hanging out all over the place. Do they like looking like clumsy, newborn deer? I’d never let Jordan leave the house like that. And the guys! Don’t even get me started on those hats. Doesn’t anyone know how to fold the bill anymore?
After dancing to CHVRCHES for about three minutes (some song called “Scientific Visions”, I think), I felt exhausted and depressed. Luckily, I had access to the media tent, where I figured the rest of the CoS writers were hanging out. After some more walking (that should really be the title of this coverage: Lollapalooza: Three Straight Days of More Walking), I found the press area. And what do you know, not only was the whole gang there, but there was free food galore! Kind bars, coconut water, you name it. For dinner, they were serving braised pork tacos and Kobe beef sliders. Since there were also plenty of patio chairs, I was able to sit back, relax, and have a burger while I watched CHVRCHES play on a TV screen. It was just like being next to the stage, only more comfortable and with food and friends. Now this is the life!
Most Disarming Moment
Lorde Takes a Seat to Express Her Gratitude
Photo by Joshua Mellin
On Friday evening, Ella Yelich-O’Connor, aka Lorde, ascends to an empty stage, looks out at the sea of faces turned up to meet her, and floats her soothing, melodic voice over the congregation at Butler Field. Illuminated against a stark black-and-white background, her body convulsing to the hungry beats, she keeps her audience wonderstruck and, if not singing along at the top of their lungs, mouthing her every word.
“You ok?” she asks repeatedly between songs, in her endearing New Zealand accent. Magnificent roars swell in return.
Ella is 17. Let that sink in for a minute.
Towards the end of her set, which runs the gamut of tracks from her smash hit debut, Pure Heroine, Ella lets her guard down. Perching on the edge of the stage, her feet dangling off, she remarks that the crowd is “the size of my hometown.” She says that our faces remind her of people she knows from back home, and many of us look like people she could have been friends with, had she met us on the street.
As she thanks us from the bottom of her heart, we can only look back at her in awe, wondering how she must feel, looking out at us.