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Lollapalooza 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Spotty rain, surreal lightning, and mighty winds were no match for Chicago's Grant Park

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    This Lollapalooza 2015 coverage is presented by the JVC XX Elation

    JVCKenwood_Lolla XX v1It’s weird: Ten years ago, Lollapalooza found a new home in Chicago’s Grant Park, and the whole festival atmosphere felt so fresh and exciting. Now, it’s second nature. The pre-gaming starts Thursday night, the following three days whiz on by, the cleanup begins, next year’s dates are announced, speculation heats up, a headliner surfaces, those two-weekend rumors pop up again (only to be quickly squashed), another headliner leaks, and finally, the full lineup drops. No matter who’s on the poster — it could be The Cure or Kings of Leon or Lady Gaga or Paul McCartney, whatever — people moan and groan and smash their keys in anger. It’s all for naught, though, because the damn thing sells out in five minutes anyhow.

    Times have certainly changed since those salad days of 2005. What was once Perry Farrell’s traveling festival of alternative oddities has now instead become a lucrative global brand, thanks to thriving installments firmly established in Santiago, Chile, and São Paulo, Brazil, with two more on the way for Berlin, Germany, and Bogotá, Colombia. And considering that Live Nation has a controlling interest in C3 Presents, this aggressive expansion should only continue, which means, hey, maybe we’ll finally get that oft-rumored Lollapalooza Toronto. Or Lollapalooza Israel. Wouldn’t that be wild? Roger Waters could headline!

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Jokes aside, there was something curiously nostalgic about this year’s Chicago installment. While it’s technically the 11th time Lollapalooza has taken over (and strangled) Grant Park, it’s actually been a clean 10 years since the fruitful partnership began. Walking around, I tried to remember that understated first year, back when only the south fields were in operation and acts like Weezer or Death Cab for Cutie could headline over Arcade Fire and The Killers. Late Saturday afternoon, I stood under the same friendly trees behind the Sprint stage, where I watched the madness ensue around me, recalling a time when there were four stages blasting music at hour-long intervals and the record heat was keeping everyone away from Ben Kweller.

    Squint hard enough and you can still see fragments of that era in today’s festivities. It’s just bigger, louder, and overstuffed with younger audiences starved for every “button-pushing” act at that one-time little tent called Perry’s. Some might also argue there’s an assault of corporatization, and they’d be right, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Late Friday evening, Contributing Editor Philip Cosores remarked on how the glut of corporate sponsors wasn’t offensive enough to detract from the bolder and more useful amenities on site. The food’s more affordable and diverse than most destination festivals, the security’s startlingly efficient and effective, and there’s an arguably strong commitment to everyone from GA to VIP to Press.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    One of the reasons I’m always drawn to Lollapalooza is because it’s so synonymous with Consequence of Sound. This site wouldn’t exist without that make-it-or-break-it year in Grant Park. The brand’s Chicago resurrection came with a lively message board that connected me with my colleague and partner Alex Young, and the rest is as you see it today. And so, each passing year feels like a new step we’re also taking. But, let’s be real: We’ve also changed drastically. We work with more and more sponsors each month, and we’ve expanded and experienced a variety of face lifts, too. There are always going to be ugly factors with regards to change, but I’d like to believe that change only works if the positives outweigh the negatives.

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    Once again, Lollapalooza proved just that. Did the undercard suffer from having both Sir Paul McCartney and Metallica on the bill? Sure, but over 80,000 ecstatic fans walked out of the park singing “Hey Jude” or screaming “Master of Puppets” as they flooded the streets of downtown Chicago. Sure, that tense and unexpected evacuation was hardly ideal on Sunday afternoon, but somehow over 48,000 festival-goers and 4,000 staff, artists, and vendors were safely evacuated and then reentered into the park in under an hour. To their further credit, the organizers were even able to rearrange the splintered schedule and accommodate the early close in preparation for the next storm.

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    There’s something remarkable about this 10-year-long winning streak of Lollapalooza, even to a cynical dickhead like myself. Forgive me for getting a tad sentimental about the proceedings, but as someone who’s only missed one year in Grant Park — the great lineup of 2007, all because of a negligent landlord (it’s a long story) — I feel comfortable in saying I’ve seen all the ups and downs of this polarizing franchise. I’ll agree the festival’s long been removed from its original roots and will also contend that there’s something depressing about this, but for all of its radical changes, whether it’s the cheap assault of EDM or the Live Nation takeover, the honest echoes are still vibrant enough to keep considering this a must-see event.

    To paraphrase the weekend’s third headliner: “How Big, How Shrewd, How Beautiful.”

    –Michael Roffman
    Editor-in-Chief

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    Artist Who Benefitted Most From Their After-Show

    ODESZA

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    ODESZA’s set got off to a promising start when the duo emerged wearing matching Chicago Bulls jerseys and was followed by the team’s official drumline. It was a bold move that played to local sports sympathies, and it succeeded in working the sweltering crowd into a fervor. As soon as the drumline dispersed, however, reality set in. ODESZA really has no business on any Lollapalooza stage not named Perry’s, as their music is only a few shades removed from EDM, and none of those shades are particularly interesting. Their hour-long set seemed interminable, and it didn’t help that the oontz-oontz beats acted like a siren song to all the worst kinds of bro. The drumline came back out for a viscerally satisfying conclusion, but it all boiled down to two great moments sandwiching a thick slice of crap. –Collin Brennan

    Most spontaneous on-stage marriage proposal

    White Sea

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Okay, so no one actually got engaged on Saturday that I know of, but White Sea’s Morgan Kibby came close to wedding the BMI stage’s biggest hype man on the spot. “I’m so excited that you’re here,” said Kibby, and in response, a guy in matching Hawaiian shirt and cargo shirts nursing spiked Gatorade hollered back, “We’re so excited for you!”

    “I will marry you later,” Kibby promised, and her number one fan agreed: “I will marry you!”

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    Kibby, who’s known for her vocal work with M83, strained a little sharp on her own songs’ high notes, but her anonymous fiancé cheered fiercely all the same. “Future baby daddy right here,” she said. I hope they’re very happy. –Sasha Geffen

    Most Overcrowded and Underplanned Stage

    Young Thug

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    For some reason, Thugger landed on the BMI stage on Friday evening. This doesn’t make sense because Young Thug has a bunch of hits, and hits draw fans, and fans take up space. The BMI stage is a shady grove to the east of Grant Park by the lake, and when Young Thug took the stage, the whole area got clogged up with a whole lot of people smoking weed. It seems that more than a few people were there to see if he would even show up, given his recent run-ins with the law, but show up he did to rap through tracks like “Stoner” and “Danny Glover”. It was a fun enough set if personal space isn’t really your thing and you like your secondhand smoke fresh and bountiful. –Sasha Geffen

    Cheapest Cover of Cheap Trick

    The New Pacific

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    The early afternoon slot on Friday is not particularly enviable, but The New Pacific brought all the energy they could muster to the sparse crowd at BMI. The Los Angeles band walked out to the tune of Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba”, and lead singer Alec Strickland proceeded to punctuate every other verse with a cry of “Let’s go!” Sheer willpower, however, wasn’t enough to elevate an eight-song set of mostly ho-hum pop punk, and Strickland’s brief forays into the crowd were more clumsy than endearing. Ditto for the cover of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender”, which felt like a, well, cheap way to garner some Chicago-area good will. You can’t say anything bad about these guys’ gamesmanship, though. When Strickland broke a string mid-set, he had to duck behind the stage and grab his own backup while the rest of the band filled time. It was a nice reminder that not everyone playing at Lolla is a rock star, and some of these bands are still trying to make their own luck. –Collin Brennan

    Worst Pairing of Band and Festival

    Wet

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Brooklyn dream pop trio Wet didn’t bring super soakers like Mick Jenkins and his crew, but they still lived up to their name during a sleepy afternoon set. “Let me see you drink water,” singer Kelly Zutrau asked the crowd between songs, as underwater visuals played behind her band’s sparse setup. Wet’s version of R&B is a hypnotic one, highlighted by the interplay between Zutrau’s voice and Marty Sulkow’s slippery riffs. Everything’s drenched in reverb, as the genre’s rulebook dictates, and it makes for a contemplative listen that lends itself more to headphones than to a mid-day festival set. The Pepsi crowd was amped up after the back-to-back combo of Jenkins and human firework Raury, and Wet felt more like a wet blanket than a revelation. –Collin Brennan

    Most accurate simulation of literal hell

    Carnage

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    Evangelists warned me of eternal damnation as I made my way back through the gates to Perry’s stage Saturday evening. I had no idea I would get a glimpse of it so soon. Peter Rosenberg introduced DJ Carnage, and then the man himself lorded over us like Lucifer over stacks of flame-red screens. Jets of fire launched into the air, while people screamed and bodies writhed against bodies. Every time the beat dropped, the whole crowd jumped until we all sank one level further into the unholy deep. –Sasha Geffen

    Next on CBS: Big Stage, Small Band, Problematic Sound Guy

    Glass Animals

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    If this set was on the Pepsi stage, that would have been fine. Palladia? Overjoyed. But the Samsung Galaxy? Give me a break. Glass Animals has one album to date (see: 2014’s Zaba). And while they still managed to snag a fairly large crowd, the Oxford quartet was inevitably swallowed up by the amount of vacant space. Also, what the hell happened to the sound guy? Frontman Dave Bayley was hardly audible, and his lyrics came off as mostly gasps and moans, which is a damn shame given the guy’s vocal range. Still, their performance and cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” was as good, if not better, than their Triple J performance from last year. –Phillip Roffman

    Worst Bass Mix

    Charli XCX

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Technical difficulties are nothing new at music festivals, but no Lolla platform has shittier sound than the Sprint stage (or whatever corporate moniker it’s slapped with on a given year). Facing the Field Museum and the Samsung Galaxy headliner stage, Sprint keeps the volume of nearly every band in a perpetual state of flux, with everything fading in and out with the wind. Bass remains the one exception to this rule, somehow staying consistently cranked and swamping everything else in the mix. This became a huge problem in the middle of Charli XCX’s set, when, during “Doing It”, her bass player repeatedly hit the same sour note in the chorus.

    It happens all the time — you think you’re playing the right note or chord, so you keep plunking away at it until it’s too late. But rarely is your mistake so loud that an entire baseball field can hear it. Outside of that, Charli XCX attacked her Sucker-heavy show with trademark club aggression, thrusting her hips, pumping her fists, and constantly working the crowd. But — and through no fault of her own, it’s worth noting — her charismatic showmanship ended up looking slight and silly when driven by such weak sonics, as if the whole thing was a static-barred TV show rather than an outdoor concert. –Dan Caffrey

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    Worst Band Name!

    The War on Drugs

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Note: This entry was written by 56-year-old guest reporter, Gunther Guthrie.

    Hey, hey, readers! It’s your old pal Gunther Guthrie, back on the music beat again after a successful first year of Lollapalooza coverage. Read about last year’s adventures here! First off, I want to thank Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman for letting an old warhorse like me give his perspective on things. He’s a gentleman and a scholar (and a gentleman again, for that matter!), and I couldn’t thank him enough. Love ya, Mike!

    Alright, so first thing’s first. My bosses at Prudential wouldn’t let me leave work early, and I had to pick up my daughter Jordan from school so she could meet her friends at the festival (some stage called Perry’s — never heard of it!), so I didn’t get to Grant Park until pretty late. I knew from last year not to bring any suntan lotion, lest the gestapo that is Lollapalooza security make me unload my fanny pack, so I got in pretty quickly. But I still didn’t have any time to hit the media tent for a kobe slider or two. (The free food in the press area is the highlight of the festival, and I’m sad I wasn’t able to sample it on all three days. Oh well.)

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    The band Michael had assigned me to was some group called The War on Drugs. I remember these guys being at the A.V. Fest/Hideout Block Party last year, but the only war I got to see was the one waged between my bowels and the port-o-john after eating one too many funnel cakes. They sounded pretty good, but it was also hard to hear them over the loud music coming out of my body, if you get my drift.

    So yeah, I was excited to finally check these guys out.

    My excitement soon disappeared.

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    I actually liked the music — kind of like a trippier Dire Straits with Dylan singing — but I take huge issue with their band name. When I hear “The War on Drugs,” I think of an anti-drug band with a positive message for today’s youth. But the kids in the crowd were smoking up a storm. Seriously, it felt like a Cheech & Chong movie! I’m no square (remember, folks, my favorite band is Emerson, Lake & Palmer), but when you call your band The War on Drugs, you have an obligation to be a role model for your audience. And if The War on Drugs has such a message, it sure as heck isn’t getting through. The proof? Four boys in front of me who were no older than Jordan kept passing a joint back and forth and got really amped up during some song called “Red Eyes”?

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    “Red Eyes”??? Hmmm. I think I know why frontman Adam Granduciel has red eyes, and it’s not from staying up too late either! Also, he’s dating the woman who played Jane on Breaking Bad. She watched him from the side of the stage, and with her dark sunglasses on, let’s just say that I have a feeling life is imitating art. This couple is clearly talented, but I’m worried for their future. So if you’re reading this, guys, please get in touch with CoS so I can get you some counseling. I’ve seen too many of the greats taken away too soon, and I don’t want to see you go down the same path. Love, Gunther –Gunther Guthrie

    Best Cover Band

    Hippo Campus

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    It’s funny that Hippo Campus comprises four youngsters from Minnesota. Their music couldn’t be further from the state’s trademark wintry confines. Welding together the sounds of Minus the Bear and Vampire Weekend, the outfit sounds like four laid-back bros from Key West, Florida, and they look like it, too. Early Saturday afternoon, over at the BMI stage, singer Jake Luppen bounced up and down from behind his microphone in an airy, flamboyant shirt. “We thought 10 people were gonna show up,” he admitted to the fairly large, energetic, and loving crowd, joking that he could see 11 fans out there. Hardly. No, they’re tapping into that mainstream indie audience that made Young the Giant such a novelty a couple years ago. They should do well for themselves in the months ahead — especially if “Suicide Saturday” takes off. –Michael Roffman

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