It wouldn't be Lollapalooza without rain... though that didn't stop performances from Band of Horses, Imagine Dragons, Chance the Rapper, New Order, Nine Inch Nails and more as Lollapalooza 2013 officially got underway in grant park...
In what has started to become an annual tradition the last few years, rain fell once again on Lollapalooza. Granted, this year it took place in the early hours of Friday morning, long before the gates would actually open and ninety thousand people would flood Grant Park. And there's actually no more rain in the forecast for the rest of the weekend so odds are all concertgoers will experience a rain-free Lollapalooza.
But they will experience mud.
When I arrived in Grant Park Friday around 4PM, the south end of the festival grounds (near the Red Bull stage) were already pretty swampy. At least the early rainfall gave crews plenty of time to scatter woodchips and try to soak up standing water which kept it from being as muddy as it could've been. Festival organizers should be credited for that.
After navigating my way through a pretty incredible traffic bottleneck on Columbus near Jackson (without question the worst I've seen in the past two years), I made my way north to the Bud Light stage to check out my first band of Lollapalooza 2013: Band of Horses.
Band of Horses attracted one of the biggest crowds that I saw on Friday and for good reason as they put on the best set that I saw on day one.
The pulsing bassline of "Knock Knock" got things started and hits like "Laredo" followed shortly thereafter over the course of an hour set. Singer Ben Bridwell said hello to his daughters via the festival webcast he assumed they were watching, dedicating "No One's Gonna Love You" to them in the process.
Every year at Lollapalooza, there's that first transcendent music moment of the weekend... Where you look around at the skyline (one of the cooler festival views in the country), huddled amongst tens of thousands sharing the feeling of enjoying an incredible live performance.
For me, that moment came Friday as Band of Horses launched into "Is There a Ghost." The song's lyrics might only contain thirteen words but building from simple, underplayed guitar licks into a giant, cacophony of sound, it was jarring and awesome Friday in Grant Park..
As easy as Band of Horses made it look onstage at Lollapalooza, Imagine Dragons had a decidedly harder time Friday afternoon. As I arrived to a packed south bowl to catch the band's set on the Lakeshore stage, navigating my way through the mud, I was happy to find myself much closer to the stage than I was for the previous set.
So it seemed strange when the music started and I could barely hear it. I gave up as the band started their second song and started to head out... which is when I heard the sound cut out altogether. It was literally as if someone pulled a plug, bad sound becoming no sound at almost the snap of a finger.
There's no luck like bad luck and Imagine Dragons had that... and in front of thousands of people no less. But eventually the sound problem was fixed and the band was able to finish their set, laughing, joking and taking the whole ordeal incredibly in stride. Eventually, one of the summer's biggest hits "Radioactive," proved a triumphant moment in an otherwise marred and unmemorable set.
My first big "Who should I see?" moment came Friday afternoon as Queens of the Stone Age and New Order performed at the same time on opposite ends of festival grounds. It's virtually impossible to catch both sets and since I caught Queens of the Stone Age Thursday night at Metro, I opted for New Order.
It's interesting in 2013 to see several predominantly eighties acts headlining at the festival (New Order on Friday and The Cure on Sunday).
"Chicago might be the closest place to Manchester... We've always felt at home here, don't know why" said Bernard Sumner midway through a seventy minute set that saw the five piece band very casually stretch out on what was primarily a greatest hits set, ultimately closing with a few Joy Division favorites.
Forget about vintage NBA jerseys or other hipster fashion trends, the day's biggest fashion faux-pas actually belonged to Sumner, clad in a New Order t-shirt - yes, he was wearing his own band's t-shirt. While it's unclear if he had to hit the merch table like everyone else or if he actually owns a variety of his own band's t-shirts, it did break an unwritten rule and kind of illustrated the fact that some artists grow old a bit more gracefully than others.
There wasn't exactly a sense of urgency during New Order's set but nevertheless, the hits came one after another and it's hard to ignore the band's contribution to electronic music (especially as Modestep could be heard in the distance performing their brand of electronic rock at what has become one of Lollapalooza's most popular attractions: Perry's stage - the Lollapalooza home to all things Molly/EDM).
I credit the band for creating so many of their sounds live instead of merely relying on backing tracks which would've been easier and cheaper. The cutting riff of "Regret" sounded great early on as did Tom Chapman's bass on "Blue Monday" (though the band misses original bassist Peter Hook - who, incidentally, will be performing a set of Joy Division songs in September at Riot Fest).
But the most impressive part of the set was a longer, alternative take on "True Faith" that relied more heavily on electronics and elements of techno and more. That particular rendition of the song sounded particularly at home in the birthplace of house music.
Closing out day one of Lollapalooza Friday in Grant Park was The Killers on the south end and Nine Inch Nails to the north. Having never gotten the chance to see NIN live, and armed with the knowledge that frontman Trent Reznor had developed a stage show specifically for the festival crowd before the band begins their own tour later this year, the choice for me was a clear one.
The set swung wildly between strings of hits and more subdued material (including several songs from the forthcoming new album Hesitation Marks) that hit upon just about every facet of Reznor's career (even performing the Reznor/Atticus Ross collaboration "What if we Could" and "1,000,000" from the oft-forgotten 2008 NIN album The Slip).
And while I think that Reznor is the epitome of a true artist, and probably the single musician who came to prominence in the nineties that's still at it whom I respect the most, I felt like this set misfired almost immediately.
For starters, I wasn't all that far from the stage and couldn't see a thing - the band opted not to use the massive video screens flanking both sides of the large stage. Unlike your typical outdoor shed, the lawn in Grant Park isn't sloped, and despite an incredible amount of video screens onstage, it was pretty tough to see them for the most part.
Some of the set's more subtle moments were lost in the festival expanse but two things are worth noting here: 1.) The sound on the Bud Light stage is unbelievably good (it was something I thought during Band of Horses and a point that was hammered home by how clear every single nuance of the NIN set was despite the outdoor locale). 2.) The new NIN lineup that Reznor has put together sounds equally amazing.
While it's clear at all times that Reznor is calling the shots (as was the case with Bob Dylan a few weeks ago at Toyota Park, every single band member onstage Friday was watching Reznor closely, sure not to miss even the smallest cue) the band is ridiculously tight and left me eager to hear the new album and some of the softer material performed in a bit different venue.
At times the set could drag... but then the band would come roaring back with multiple stretches of ridiculously huge hits: early on it was "March of the Pigs" and "Piggy," later it was "Terrible Lie" and "Closer" and eventually it was a string that included "Wish," "Only," "The Hand That Feeds," "Head Like a Hole" and "Hurt" to close the show impressively (Musically, the performance of "Head Like a Hole" was the best thing I heard all day while the red and blue light show that closed the main set easily surpassed any of the visuals that I saw during EDM sets at Perry's stage).
Successfully fighting what I initally feared could be an overly nostalgic run following the announcement of these festival dates, Trent Reznor knows how to structure a set and the new music, while not necessarily my favorite moments of Friday's set due largely to the nature of the festival setting as opposed to the quality of the music itself, leaves me once again intrigued to see what Reznor has up his sleeve with Hesitation Marks.
- Jim Ryan
*** Please feel free to join the conversation via Facebook in the comments section below and sign up for email alerts via the form below. Thanks! ***
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.