Lollapalooza Day 2 dawned bright and early — I woke up a tad late, having burned the midnight oil too long the night before.
Rule No. 2 of Lollapalooza: Get enough sleep. Always. Especially if you’ll be walking every-the-heck-where.
I had been invited to an after-party Friday night, sponsored by Belvedere Vodka, at the W Chicago City Center downtown. I went in my sweaty Lolla regalia, and was rewarded with performances by Two Door Cinema Club and Fitz and the Tantrums. Two Door Cinema (which I saw on Day 1 at the fest) was great; I was glad I got to experience them up close and personal. The crowd was pretty diverse, and all the younger people were grooving. I myself was dancing like a fool. I have no shame. It was awesome.
Fitz and the Tantrums followed and, honestly, I felt like I had won at bingo, because I was able to cross them off my must-see list without running around the festival. Michael Fitzgerald, the lead singer, is one intense dude. He’s got a very Bowie-esque vibe in his demeanor and, well, hair, and he was so focused he almost seemed angry during his performance. His energy was ridiculous, as was his chemistry with co-lead-singer, Noelle Scaggs. The two of them worked the entire room like magicians. Their backing musicians were amazing. The saxophonist wailed in a way Kenny G and that dude from “Careless Whisper” only dream of. The bassist was bumping, the drums were pounding and everyone was enthralled, dancing like crazy.
Well, not everyone. At one point during their hectic, badass closer “Moneygrabber” (and apparently this is a schtick they repeat at every performance, but it really works), Fitz and Noelle made everyone drop to the ground during the buildup and slowly rise before the crazy explosion of funky Soul Rock at the pinnacle of the song. They extended it for some great solos, and the whole thing was the most involved I’ve ever been as a listener at a show. They also did a slick cover of “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics, a personal favorite of mine, so my night was made.
All this being said, I woke up later than I wanted and was worried I wouldn’t make it in time to stake out a good spot for my first band of the day, Cincinnati's Walk the Moon, at 12:45 p.m. I made it to the Music Unlimited stage with half an hour to spare and was surprised to see so many people already there. I quickly discovered that the first four rows of people were die-hard Eminem fans saving a spot for later.
In any case, I was pumped. It took me a few listens to “Anna Sun” to jump on the WTM bandwagon. Their show at the Northside Tavern back in January fully converted me. The passion with which Nicholas Petricca, Sean Waugaman, Kevin Ray and Eli Maiman play is incalculable. The band played to an enormous crowd, full of face-paint-smeared teenagers and college-age kids. The majority of their fan base seems to reside in the 16-25 demographic, but I did see quite a few older people there as well.
Walk the Moon started the set off with “Liftaway,” a perfect introduction to the the band's Indie Rock gold. I recorded it with a handheld Sony Bloggie (a camera/video camera Sony provided at Lolla for free to anyone willing to leave their ID with a volunteer for a few hours), but uploading it has been an issue. In any case, the boys drummed, strummed and sang their hearts out, sweat dripping and trademark face-paint running. It was awesome. The entire crowd was jumping up and down, singing along, feeding off the palpable energy these boys exude at each and every show. If Red Bull gives you wings, Walk the Moon gives you a fighter jet. Seriously.
WTM played a pretty routine set list, dropped in a cover of “Let’s Dance” (another personal favorite of mine, so I performed my patented sporadic-seizure dance) and closed with their big tune, Esquire’s Song of the Summer, “Anna Sun.” Not a single person was standing still. The band members gave shout-outs to all of their Cincinnati and Tri-State area fans that had made the trek and seemed genuinely grateful to be up on that big stage. It was a very cool moment, and at the end of their set, they all hugged each other in the wings. Recently signed to RCA (and currently in the studio recording their major-label debut), you can expect huge things very soon from these hometown boys.
At this point, the overcast skies gave way to a light rain shower, and I was glad to have brought my umbrella.
Rule No. 3 of Lollapalooza: Always. Bring. An. Umbrella.
I popped the umbrella open and made my way to the edge of the metal walkway the Lolla people had so conveniently put down on the grass in the field to watch Phantogram. In another case of me missing a band when they came through Cincinnati (the band played last year’s Midpoint Music Festival and Monday of last week), I was stoked to catch the group at Lollapalooza. Their Electronic/Trance/Indie Rock sound definitely worked well with the drizzling rain that was coming down, combined with vocalist Sarah Barthel’s ethereal, dream-like ambience and the mysterious urgency of the bass and guitars. It was a great and interesting set.
The sun reappeared shortly thereafter, and I scurried over to the Playstation stage (on the other side of the world) to catch The Black Lips. They were surrounded by a massive crowd, so I stood perched by the sound tent, getting a serious contact high from the loads of weed being burned, but not really getting into the Lips' crunchy, lo-fi Surf Rock. I was glad to have seen them, but not blown away.
Next, I made a fun discovery at the Google-Plus stage. New England-based band Dom (pictured above) played Indie Rock drenched in synth and reverb, with a cunning Surf/Garage edge and layered percussion to help set them apart. They did a ridiculously good cover of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” and their slightly snarky, winking personalities pervaded every note. I highly recommend checking them out, particularly their song “Living In America.” The video for the song (below) is particularly appealing, with an Instagram-like production quality and lots of indulgent, middle American, suburban youth behavior.
Mercifully for my poor feet, Death From Above 1979 was playing nearby at the Bud Light stage. A friend had told me that if I missed them we could no longer be friends (and she’s a good friend, so I didn’t want to risk it), so I stopped by the edge of the huge crowd to observe.
The drummer is the lead singer, which was the first thing that threw me for a loop about DFA79. He was dressed in all white, with bleached platinum hair, and the guitarist in all black, which was a cool contrast that also translated to their music. Great dynamics, build-ups, break downs, lots of synth and noise-rock sensibilities filled the entire park. I was impressed that two skinny dudes could create so much controlled chaotic sound.
Next up was my personal favorite, Local Natives. I have listened to this psychedelic-choir Indie Rock band nonstop for the past five months and was incredibly excited to see them live. They didn’t disappoint. Their tribal drumming and beautiful vocal harmonies soared over the biggest crowd I had seen yet. This five-piece from L.A. was incredibly enthusiastic and the members are seriously talented musicians. They have an intricately layered sound, sprinkled with thumping drums and portentous guitar lines that complement lead singer Kelcey Ayer’s guiding, beautiful voice. All the boys can really sing; it was pretty cool to see all of them simultaneously rocking out and harmonizing.
My favorite performances included “Sun Hands,” a sprawling, genre-spanning stop-and-go jumpstart of a song, and “Airplanes,” which is essentially a letter from Ayer to his deceased grandfather. The emotional impact of “Airplanes” is evident in recordings and even more so live. The entire — and I mean entire— audience sang along with nearly every word. It was so cool to be a part of that heightened atmosphere.
Unfortunately, my phone totally peaced out after the Local Natives show. The reporters in the media tent were hogging all the outlets and I was in desperate need of caffeine, so I headed to a downtown Starbucks, where things made sense. I chilled for about an hour and a half, reviewing notes, charging my phone and guzzling iced coffee. After feeling sufficiently refreshed, I headed back to Grant Park in time to catch My Morning Jacket.
Often, I fall for a single released by an artist but then find it hard to jump into the rest of their body of work. With MMJ, it was “Off The Record” from the 2005 record Z. I wanted to give MMJ a good go, so I stood on the outskirts of the large crowd in front of the Bud Light stage, as the sun was setting and was rewarded with some seriously talented musicians really plying their craft. Their patented swirling, open-up-the-sky Rock is incredibly impressive live, with the dedicated, decisive, hairy musicians rocking out all over the place and jamming on minutes-long musical interludes and breaks. There was also a giant stuffed bear on stage. I love when bands show their personality like that. Glad I caught them.
That wrapped up Day Two in Grant Park, but my musical adventures continued. I ended up going to the Hard Rock Café and saw this crazy group of adolescents, Kids These Days, whose youthful, soul-filled Funk/Indie style was like Outkast divided by Reel Big Fish. With a rapper, a horn section, a John Mayer-esque lead singer/guitarist, a girl on the piano, a drummer and a bassist, KTD's energy was contagious and the entire club of adults was jumping up and down like the hyperactive but focused kids on stage. They were stellar.
After that, Hey Champ played. A trio of slightly nerdy dudes from Illinois, Hey Champ performed to an unfortunately fairly empty room, but I enjoyed the set. I'd heard their single “Cold Dust Girl” back in 2009 and have been intrigued ever since. I thought they were a one-hit wonder, but it seems they have a solid repertoire of Disco Indie Synth Pop to hold them up. I hope to hear more mature sounds from them in the future.
And that drew Lolla Day 2 to a complete close. Day 3, how I love and loathe you! I never want to leave shows when they’re done, even when the house lights are being turned on, so check back to see how I deal with the onset of separation anxiety.
Photo of Dom by Tiffany Dawn Nicholson