Friday afternoon in Hutchinson Field at Grant Park, Lorde provided the type of communal live music moment I wasn't entirely sure we were still collectively capable of having during a transcendent set on day one at Lollapalooza 2014...
"There's magic in the air, Chicago" said Lorde late in her set Friday afternoon at Lollapalooza. And over the course of about fifty minutes in Grant Park, it was the unquestionable truth.
For most of the day on Friday, it seemed as if the bulk of the Lollapalooza crowd was to be found south of Balbo in the softball pits near the Samsung Galaxy Stage and Perry's Stage. But that all started to change as the herds migrated north filling Hutchinson Field near the Bud Light Stage to a densely packed level that felt at times as if it could be bordering on unsafe.
Unlike those in attendance at the Palladia Stage (Petrillo Bandshell) and the Bud Light Stage throughout the afternoon for acts like Interpol, AFI and more, the crowd filtering in for Lorde's set, expectedly, skewed young.
As I stood to the left of the stage about twenty feet back in the crowd forty-five minutes before the start of Lorde's Friday evening set, even minimal personal space disappeared fast. I thought that I couldn't move last year as I watched Chance the Rapper on the smaller BMI stage at Lollapalooza. I felt it could never feel more packed than it did two years ago as I braced against the guardrail during Jack White's set.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
"I don't know how many people are here... It's probably more than my whole town in New Zealand" joked the singer as she surveyed the audience following early monitor problems.
But what was different Friday evening as I stood awaiting Lorde's set - and, make no mistake, it was not necessarily the case elsewhere in Grant Park Friday - was that fact that everyone was incredibly respectful. Sure, there was pushing. But there was a palpable and shared sense of excitement in the air that I haven't felt at a concert since I saw Arcade Fire at the U.I.C. Pavilion in 2011.
"And the crowd goes loud!" exclaimed the singer during "Glory and Gore" to open the show, to which the audience complied (nearly drowning the star out).
Lorde is the rare pop artist with something to say. An artist who, at the age of only seventeen, crafts songs that hit on themes like a fear of loneliness and growing up - coming of age themes that have struck a chord.
"It feels so scary getting old" she said moments before launching into an even more sparsely arranged version of "Royals" than fans are accustomed to on 2013's Pure Heroine album. The irony of her assertion hit me as the fifteen year olds surrounding me - as well as their parents - joined me in silently nodding our approval.
The set-up Friday afternoon was simple but effective: Lorde was backed capably by band members on keyboards and drums. The live drumming proved crucial throughout, providing the type of flexible backbone that allowed the songs to develop and flourish in the live setting. "Biting Down" was powered by that drumming as Lorde danced spastically, appearing to lose herself in the music entirely at times.
And as great as the music sounded Friday evening at Lollapalooza, the most poignant, moving moment of the set actually came as Lorde walked to the front of the stage and took a seat, taking note of her surroundings before delivering one of the more humble, impassioned, sincere speeches to a crowd that I think I've ever seen on a concert stage.
"I'm at such a loss for words. That doesn't happen to me much... It just blows my mind when I play a festival like this that everybody comes together and enjoys music. It's just so cool and I'm really grateful."
Lorde has experienced the type of rare, all-encompassing, worldwide success that has derailed many a seventeen year old star. But she seems to be handling it with incredible grace, providing a powerfully positive message in the process. "I wrote this song about growing up and it means a lot to me. I'm really grateful we get to share that" said Lorde of "Ribs."
And while the collective fan response to "Royals" and "Team" back to back to close the main set was an incredible thing to behold, twenty-four hours later, I remain equally awed by the response to Lorde's between song banter - of which there was a lot. Nobody was staring at cell phones and nobody was leaving for another beer. For approximately fifty minutes Friday night, Lorde had the crowd eating out of her hand, hanging on her every word in a way I didn't think was possible in the live concert setting anymore. My goal was to leave the set about midway through to check out as many different artists as I could - but it was physically impossible. Nobody was going anywhere. That just doesn't happen at a festival.
Lorde's set Friday night at Lollapalooza, and the communal experience it provided, is truly a rare concert event. Everyone was in it together. I'm not sure it would've worked as well at a venue like the Aragon. And I'm not even sure it will work again in a few years at the same festival: It captured a unique moment in time and music and reinstilled my faith in the festival experience.
There really was magic in the air Friday night.
(For more coverage of day one at Lollapalooza and reviews of Interpol, Temples, Lucius and more click HERE)
- Jim Ryan
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