Photo: Ryan Lowry
After 8 years solidly planted in Grant Park, Chicago’s summer behemoth, Lollapalooza, was one for the record books.
With nearly 300,000 attendees, 150 bands, and 8 stages, it wasn’t an easy weekend to navigate. But Chicago’s Cassie Walker Burke, Elly Fishman, and Erin Osmon spent three days swimming upstream against nearly naked teens to catalog the fest’s highs and lows.
Here are the 14 moments that defined Lollapalooza 2013—and the 5 we’d like to forget.
The Best Moments:
1. Kendrick Lamar easily gave one of the best performances of the weekend. His clear, confident delivery and well-rehearsed between-song banter was like that of an elder statesman—Nas, for example—and the crowd hung on his every word. His expanded stage setup at Lollapalooza included live guitar and drums. Later on, at an after show at the Aragon, Lamar's set featured opening appearance by Southside R&B singer B.J. The Chicago Kid—who recently inked a deal with Motown. Spitting from the 2012 record Pineapple Now-Laters, The Chicago Kid proved that even though he’s best known as a backup man for the likes of Usher and Kanye, he’s not to be overlooked.
2. When Cat Power walked onto a smaller sidestage on Sunday night, she was every bit the awkward frontwoman we’d encountered before. She shuffled her feet, looked down at the stage, and seemed, well, unsure. But when she opened her mouth—kicking off her set with a melodic riff on “The Greatest”—the crowd was immediately hers. She might have been tucked away on a sidestage— an apt symbol of a career that has had its highs and lows—but she was there to lay the ground for a comeback and seemed determine to put her best, if most awkward, boot forward. Forget “Cherokee,” the overly poppy single from her latest album, Sun; her brightest moments were her reinterpretations of such songs as “I Don’t Blame You.” Her hour flew by, and she rewarded all those who eschewed headliners Phoenix and the Cure by throwing out white roses into the crowd at the end.
3. Rising local Chance the Rapper’s set was endearingly loose, but what he lacked in cohesion he more than made up for in enthusiasm. And by enthusiasm we mean crowd surfing— in an inflatable kiddie pool, no less—through the sea of arms at the packed BMI stage. That Twista and Vic Mensa joined him for “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” was the icing on the Acid Rapper’s cake. We’re still scratching our heads over why the Lollapalooza organizers chose to put this local phenom on a sidestage—the crowd was spilling over the hedges and fences of this collective Chi- lovefest.
4. Nine Inch Nails' song “Hurt,” thanks to Rick Rubin, is likely as well-known for the late Johnny Cash’s bone-chilling cover as it is for the NIN original. But Trent Reznor closed Friday with the heart-wrencher, and you couldn’t help but appreciate the industrial rock icon, and long for Cash, and celebrate the impact of both men’s versions.
5. Band of Horses has been known to perform touching tributes to fallen comrades and their appearance on Friday was no exception. In a simple T-shirt baring the name J.J. Cale—founding father of the “Tulsa Sound” who passed away of a heart attack July 26—Ben Bridwell lead his band through a fantastic cover of the Oklahoma troubadour’s “13 Days” after earnestly explaining how much the legendary songwriter means to him.
6. The Cure. Oh, The Cure! Though Robert Smith may now resemble a puffy hybrid of Phil Spector and Baby Jane, he can still melt a heart (and you have to hand it to him for sticking to makeup over all these years). The goth-pop masters swung through deeps cuts and hits and had nearly all of Grant Park transfixed. The slowed-down version of “Boys Don’t Cry” that closed the set was especially great. Also, “Plainsong,” “Lovesong,” “The Walk,” “Fascination Street,” “High,” ”Doing the Unstuck,” “The Caterpillar,” “Wrong Number,” “Love Cats,” “Why Can’t I Be You?” “Let’s go to Bed”….those were all great, too.
7. Sexagenarian Charles Bradley, in a slick blue jumpsuit, offered a soul-dipped trip to church, and ye of little/big/no faith cheerfully obliged. How could you not, with that much revivalist brass and sass?
8. Dog Blood—a thumping collab between Boys Noize and EDM poster child Skrillex—sent the already caffeinated dance tent bubbling over into a full-on frenzied eruption. On Dog Blood's last U.S. stop, it was impossible not to get moving: Even the workers inside the adjacent beer tent got into the action and turned their post into an erstwhile club.
9. Crystal Castles frontwoman Alice Glass dove into the crowd on Friday (after multiple swigs from an onstage bottle of Jameson). But that really wasn’t all that shocking. What was impressive was that even though her mic lost its connection, the singer continued to scream with a vengeance as she slowly made her way back to the stage.
10. The extended intro into Alt-J's “Tessilate” on set Sunday afternoon and the eerie gang vocals that everyone in the crowd knew the words to.
11. Angel Haze almost missed her 2 p.m. slot at Perry’s stage Sunday. Her flight from Canada was delayed, and she made it to Grant Park just 20 minutes before she was set to perform. “I hope you know how special this is to me,” she said. The woman’s conviction both onstage and off is impressive.
12. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s psych-drenched set was a breath of fresh air for many reasons: The fact that frontman Ruban Nielson is, apparently, so tuned out of mindless pop culture that he didn’t ID the giant “baby head on a stick” in the audience as Honey Boo Boo, most notably.
13. The National is a band that can either immerse an audience in a magnificent maudlin haze or put them straight to sleep. On Saturday, the Ohio-natives did the former with a knockout set that drew one of the larger crowds of the afternoon. The quintet of Rockers played a variety of songs, but they knew to mostly focus on the megahits—such as “Bloodbuzz Ohio” from its 2010 album High Violet.
14. As the rocking sister trio HAIM pointed to a drunken, paper-eating, selfie-taking audience member in a nearby tree, they referred to him as both “Swiss Family Robinson” and “George of the Jungle.”
And the Worst:
1. It’s one thing when a notoriously agro noise-rap act disrupts a behemoth corporate music festival, which Death Grips did—with aplomb—by not bothering to show up for their Saturday set (even though they played equally corporate South by Southwest in March). But it’s another thing to mess with dedicated fans, which they did by shirking their Friday appearance at Bottom Lounge. We get that the show was “officially” associated with Lollapalooza. Blowing off the people who paid money to see your band specifically, just to shake up the Farrell establishment? Good luck with that.
2. The Lolla crowd loves hip-hop, but there’s seemingly never enough on the lineup. We’d like to see more in 2014—it would be a great way to get some up-and-coming Chicagoans on the bill.
3. The sound for Imagine Dragons on Friday was tinny and slight, rendering this percussive powerhouse of a pop band into something muted.
4. Yes, the lines for the toilets are long, slow, and stinky, but using the festival fences as urinals is just plain gross.
5. We don't know what happened to indie-rock mainstays Grizzly Bear since the band's third LP, Veckatimest, blew up the world's earbuds in 2009. Much like their latest album, Shields, their performance was sleepy and a bit one-note. The crowd naturally perked up during mega hit "Two Weeks," but overall the mutual disinterest was palpable. "This is our 101st show on this tour," explained Ed Droste. Maybe that had something to do with it.