Ah, the music festival.
For some, it is simply an escape from reality, a place where you can let loose, get ripped and forget about the pressures of the outside world, if only for a few days. For others, it’s an almost religious experience, a mecca for those wanting to feel closer to the rock gods that transform dull car rides, painful jogs and otherwise clumsy sexual experiences into moments of passion. For me, a bit of both; I go for the bands, but it’s impossible not to feel loosed from reality when you walk through those gates. That many festival are set off in remote areas ensures that the controlled chaos of the festival-goer will remain isolated, so as not to confuse them with the world at large, which become two completely different things.
Lollapalooza, however, is a different case. Unlike the aforementioned “typical” festivals set out in the Tennessee boonies (Bonnaroo) or the West Virginia mountains (All Good Festival), the Chicago cityscape looms over the Lolla horizon in all directions. It’s gorgeous, sure, but it’s also a reminder that come 10pm each night, you’re back out on the bricks, regardless of how face-melting that guitar solo/hit of acid was.
Despite its unorthodox setting, Lollapalooza managed to transform Grant Park into a full-fledged musical playground, with 130 acts on eight stages over the course of the weekend. I showed up with two friends on Friday after a 16hr drive-a-thon from Boulder, Colorado, exhausted. Defeated, even. But that changed by the time we caught Kids These Days, a funk/jazz/hip-hop inspired collective of Chicago teenagers with enough soul to satisfy satan himself. It’s an A.D.D. amalgamation of genres to be sure, but they blend them seamlessly, and more importantly, it sounds incredible: imagine that a high school jazz band holed up for a week in the music room with a Ouiji board and a stack of Ellington, Fitzgerald and Outkast vinyls and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about. The group ran through a quick rendition of the songs off of their EP Hard Times to an impressive crowd considering they’re still under the radar, but I’d expect that unknown status to change once they decide on a label for their full-length LP.
Afterwards, we grabbed $21 worth of beer —which only comes out to three Budweiser tall boys, hilariously — and found ourselves in the Perry Tent, which we affectionately referred to as the “Oonce Tent” because of that laser-bass sound present in near all techno/house/dubstep songs. I expected chaos from this place, and was not disappointed:
We caught the last ten minutes of Skrillex, a well-renowned dubstep DJ, just long enough to get smeared head to toe in sweat and see a girl get wheeled away to the emergency tent with her head in traction. I quickly got the feeling that there was a two-pill minimum in the tent, so we left through the back to gather ourselves over a Camelback water station and prepare for Ratatat, one of Friday’s headliners.
But holy hell, nothing could of prepared me for that show. Via headphones, Ratatat are essentially a guitar duo with electronic leanings, mixing trance-y flangers with a cybernetic-king’s ransom of static gurgles, quasar trickles and sandworm vocoders. That’s really the only way to put it. And if that sounds incredible, well, see ’em live and hold on to your butts.
As the show began, three projectors flicked on: a standard projector on the stage floor pointed behind the band, along with two other, cooler projectors, one on each flank. While the main projector displayed a bevy of whacked out imagery seemingly designed to scare away anyone on psychedelics, smoke engulfed the side projections, creating ghastly three-dimensional depictions of dancing cowboys and Bach-era cellists among other oddities. Combine that with an incredible performance and you’ve got one of the better dance parties this side of the 21st century:
Saturday started off with a kick in the pants via the Black Lips, essentially a garage rock band gone national. They came out swinging, playing hard and fast between swigs out of a bottle of bourbon that would have the bassist and guitarist spewing all over the place by the end of their set. But like true professionals, each blasted it over their shoulder and kept on playing without a second thought/napkin.
At some point during the show, a guy in a fedora recommended the band “Dom,” with little description other than “It’s like rock, but it’s different,” which is basically a description for every band at Lolla featuring an electric guitar. But he was from Austin — a town I typically associate with good music — and had that cool hat, so I figured, what the hell. Dom is a cool name for a band. I’mma check ’em out.
And lo, therein laid the biggest mistake of the festival, because Dom was horrible. While the lead singer slung his head over his shoulder as if he’d broken his neck, he sang the
purposefully bored bedroom blues, and soon enough, the crowd began to look at one another and ask questions:
“How did we get here?”
“How did he get here? Someone gave this man a microphone, and I want to know who.”
“What’s he doing now? Is this a song?! Oh, okay, he’s just tuning his guitar. Wait…did he just say ‘jay kay’? Alright, fuck this.”
Heads down, we headed to the Local Natives show, a welcome change of quality after the aforementioned Dom fiasco. It was one of those good vibrations shows, with songs that fit perfectly with the fading light and blue sky, swaying the hip-hop heads, alt-rockers and Eminem-iacs all equally. Transcendental, man.
The choice for the headliner of the night and final show of the weekend was a no brainer: My Morning Jacket is known as one of the best live bands on the circuit today and are hot on the heels of an excellent new album, fittingly titled Circuital. Sure enough, they put on one of the greatest rock and roll shows I have ever witnessed. The scope of their music is staggering, demanding an equally epic spectacle and audience, and they had both. Frontman Jim James’ howls cut through the dawn and on into the night in a sprawling two-hour set that checked in with a few numbers off of the new album before delving into the back catalogue, alternating between classics and some dusty gems. I could easily geek out talking about the setlist, but I’ll let the video do the talking instead:
And in true rockstar fashion, James hucked his guitar across the stage and walked off at the show’s finale.
After the show, the mass of Lollapalooza faithful were ushered out of Grant Park and unleashed upon downtown Chicago in a scene reminiscent of the inevitable hipster apocalypse:
We survived unscathed, but were forced to miss Sunday’s shows and retreat back to Colorado the next morning. I’ve heard they’ve contained the outbreak, but the entire downtown Chicago area has been downgraded from “Scoff” to “Simultaneous-Eye/Shoulder Roll Alert.” Be strong, Chi-town. I will come back for you.
Dylan Owens is currently a senior in the creative writing program at the University of Colorado. As an ex-baby model, he peaked early, but is mounting a comeback as a writer for elephant journal and the Boulder Today. You can learn about his exploits and interests via photo, blurb and hand-picked Youtube video on his Twitter, or simply Google “pickle recipes,” “life-sized Jenga” and “PBR&B” for the same effect.