Lollapalooza 2013 in review: Cell-phone bulges and great expectations

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This is what Robert Smith of the Cure looks like now.
  • Alison Green
  • This is what Robert Smith of the Cure looks like now.
Attending Lollapalooza requires some planning; with an estimated 100,000 attendees descending upon Grant Park each day, merely maneuvering through the masses with friends presents a challenge. Some folks carried markers to help friends locate them from a distance—a flag from, say, Ireland or Brazil would pop up in the middle of the crowd, as did the blown-up cut-out face of Honey Boo Boo or Nicolas Cage (circa Vampire's Kiss). The latter were also certainly designed to attract the attention of complete strangers, but it wasn't just people waving pictures on sticks who sought to catch the eyes of attendees they didn't know—folks came dressed as Power Rangers, a handful of guys dyed their goatees blue, and one dude appeared to be so far from his last laundry day that he'd run out of every item of clothing except a neon-green thong. Even wearing next to nothing required some strategizing.

Arguably some folks cared more about assembling their wardrobe, while others put more effort into coordinating their daily musical schedules, but everybody came to the festival with expectations for how their plans would pan out and spent the weekend adjusting to the realities. The folks who wore nothing but skin-tight underwear had to, say, find a place to keep their cell phones and wallets, while open-minded listeners were sometimes forced to choose between three or four worthy acts slated to perform at the same time. I had the problem of juggling an overstuffed festival schedule, and at times I felt the way the dude in the neon-green thong looked—unprepared despite clearly thinking ahead. But like that barely clothed guy, who tucked his phone between his left ass cheek and his skimpy bathing suit, I rolled with the punches and dealt with unexpected itinerary shifts and other curveballs as best I could.

Some issues I knew to expect. Like any festival, Lollapalooza has its fair share of sound problems. Jessie Ware's powerhouse vocals were too low in the mix and struggled to break through her slinky, nocturnal R&B songs; Local Natives' delicate, multilayered indie-pop songs were trampled by overpowering but muffled drumming; Ghost B.C.'s clean, heavy 70s rock seemed to have been dragged through the mud; and Baroness's anthemic quasi-pop metal jams weren't nearly loud enough to compress my chest like they should've. The schedule included overlapping sets that made for tough game-time decisions (Queens of the Stone Age, New Order, and Chance the Rapper on Friday; the Cure, Phoenix, and Cat Power on Sunday) and resulted in awkward mashups (Major Lazer's bombastic global dance-pop sounds bleeding into Beach House's pleasant, low-key indie-pop). Chance the Rapper was stuck playing the BMI Stage, whose grounds were too tiny to accommodate the thousands upon thousands of fans who wanted to see him. And Alt-J, a band that seems more interested in triangles than in music, was for some reason on the bill.

Chance the Rapper

It was rather the unexpected hitches that were troubling—for example, the cancellations of Azealia Banks and Death Grips were particularly rough, as they diminished the already fairly low number of hip-hop acts at the festival. But not all the curveballs ended up being so bad. Local production duo Supreme Cuts were scheduled to perform Saturday night, but after their computer crapped out, several of their friends—The-Drum, Jody, Kit—jumped to the rescue and threw down a triumphant impromptu performance, with members of Jody serenading the crowd from the photo pit while Supreme Cuts and the rest of their crew danced onstage like nothing else mattered. It was hardly the strongest performance of the weekend, but it was heartwarming to see such talented locals supporting each other at such a big event.

Supreme Cuts

That Jody set also stood out because it was a surprise—unplanned and unscripted, it captured a kind of magic that rarely happens at big, tightly engineered festivals, and everyone in Supreme Cuts' crew reacted with obvious passion. Festivals such as Lollapalooza tend to reward those who can reliably and efficiently deliver a solid performance, and there were plenty of those—the National's professional, mannered mope rock and Grizzly Bear's soaring choral pop, to name just two. There's nothing wrong with consistency, but if you can anticipate every aspect of a performance, it can lose its power.

Grizzly Bear

Many of my favorite moments of the weekend were unexpected. For me that sometimes meant watching an act I knew only vaguely, such as Crystal Castles, Tegan & Sara, or Charles Bradley (who remains a spirited and enthusiastic showman in his 60s). Other times that meant focusing not on the stage but on the crowd's reaction to a performer: watching a field full of people raise both hands every time Kendrick Lamar asked them to, or listening to thousands of kids sing the chorus of Chance the Rapper's "Everybody's Something" a cappella, or seeing countless delirious adults dance like children to the hook-heavy tunes of Phoenix.

Tegan & Sara
  • Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times
  • Tegan & Sara

One act in particular dealt with the friction between anticipation and reality by performing some songs about balancing romantic expectations and the sometimes crushing real world—the Postal Service. Their 2013 reunion trek (which ended at Metro last night) was an odd undertaking for a band that's benefited so much from the romance of inaccessibility. Core members Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello collaborated on the group's lone album, 2003's Give Up, via snail mail, and despite having toured once prior to this year, the Postal Service are best known as a group that never quite existed in the flesh—as Gibbard said at Lollapalooza, they're from "nowhere." It's been easy for folks to fall for a band that's essentially a blank slate, and whose ethereal electronic-pop songs about love and loss beg to be listened to in a private place; the very idea of seeing the band in public surrounded by strangers seemed foreign and uncomfortable.

Postal Service

Yet anyone who ever felt something for the Postal Service could set aside their reservations and expectations to see what would happen, and the results were, well, not quite what you might have thought if you'd been listening to Give Up for a decade; they turned "We Will Become Silhouettes" into an extended dance jam, Gibbard playfully danced with multi-instrumentalist and singer Jenny Lewis, and the band covered Beat Happening. The audience sang every word of "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" so passionately that it transformed a song about loneliness into a bit of communal catharsis. Hearing total strangers belt out the song was unsettling, which was something I didn't even plan on. But I went with it—even though, like thong dude's cell-phone bulge, it sometimes seemed a little silly.

Check out some more photos from Sunday's performances below.

Baroness

Baroness

Baroness

2 Chainz

2 Chainz

The crowd during 2 Chainzs performance

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

The Cure

The Cure

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