Concert Review: Lollapalooza - Friday, July 31, 2015 in Grant Park - Cold War Kids, The War on Drugs, Kaskade, The Weeknd, Paul McCartney

Concert Review: Lollapalooza - Friday, July 31, 2015 in Grant Park - Cold War Kids, The War on Drugs, Kaskade, The Weeknd, Paul McCartney

Friday afternoon in Grant Park, Lollapalooza got off to a sunny start with performances from Cold War Kids, The War on Drugs, alt-J, Kaskade, The Weeknd, Paul McCartney and more… 

With each passing year Lollapalooza continues to grow.  Maybe not in the most obvious ways – more days, more stages, etc. – but grow it does.

That’s become most clear in the past few years as more and more “after shows” have been continually added (arguably as a response to the effect Lollapalooza could be having on the ability of smaller venues throughout the city to successfully book acts in the months leading up to, and immediately following, the annual festival).

There are now a good number of “after shows” taking place as early in the week as Wednesday night before the festival itself even starts on Friday afternoon.

But in a city that hosts a number of major national festivals (Pitchfork, North Coast, Riot Fest, Lollapalooza and more) the after shows are part of what makes Lollapalooza the most immersive festival experience in the city for nearly a full week.

This year "Floodfest" brought headlining acts like Win Butler of Arcade Fire (in his guise as DJ Windows 98), Father John Misty and more to an incredibly small room on the 25th floor of the new Virgin Hotel for a series of after shows.

Butler spun and mixed everyone from Carly Simon to Beck into the wee hours of Thursday morning while Misty brought his dry sense of humor (“What would Lollapalooza be if it wasn’t a music festival?  I mean, it’s such a perfect name for a search engine”) to a stirring acoustic performance which featured selections like “I Love You, Honeybear” and more.  As good as his songs are on record, they were no match for the intimacy of Friday night’s solo acoustic takes.

But the most interesting aftershow took place Friday night/Saturday morning at Hard Rock Hotel, part of the annual “Culture Collide” series – one which has more than lived up to its name so far this year.

Following an opening set from local rapper Chris Crack (surrounded by fellow New Deal Crew conspirators like Vic Spencer), English born rapper Slick Rick (flanked by DJ Kaos) captivated the Hard Rock crowd with his unparalleled use of narrative in songs like “Children’s Story,” offering young fans an impromptu hip-hop history lesson with “La Di Da Di” along the way.  It was the most surreal Lollapalooza after show I’ve ever attended – in a good way.

Lollapalooza gates opened Friday at 11AM beginning a day of music that saw early performances from Daye Jack, Coasts, James Bay and more before the afternoon hit it’s stride with a set from Cold War Kids on the festival’s far south end.

On a day that would later feature a headlining Lollapalooza performance from 73 year old former Beatle Paul McCartney, Cold War Kids covered John Lennon’s “Well Well Well” (think about that for a moment).

But the afternoon’s highlight, a set that will be difficult to top all weekend, was the performance at Petrillo Bandshell of The War on Drugs. Early in the afternoon, as fans fought the sun, trying in vain to cram into the shadows, the harmonica of frontman Adam Grunduciel on “Baby Missiles” got the crowd moving.

Riding high on the success of an acclaimed Thursday night "after show” at Metro, the band tore into it’s breakthrough 2014 effort, Lost in the Dream (one of last year’s best albums).  Friday afternoon, the six piece band meandered their way through “Under the Pressure,” drummer Anthony LaMarca smiling wide throughout.

The song clocks in at nearly nine minutes on record.  The quickest way to lose a festival crowd in an abbreviated set is to overdo it with the jamming – but The War on Drugs channeled Wilco and masterfully navigated a set that didn’t drag.

Lollapalooza is famous for making fans choose.  One of Friday’s biggest scheduling choices was whether to catch The War on Drugs or Alabama Shakes… My plan was to catch a bit of both but The War on Drugs set was the rare festival performance so good you simply couldn’t leave.

That said, one of my favorite moments at any festival is when I see an act I’m unfamiliar with for the first time and am blown away.  Friday afternoon, I was lured by the sounds of pedal steel to the tree-lined surroundings of the Pepsi stage where Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit was performing as a quartet.

Sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg harmonize beautifully on tracks which cull from authentic country music, straddling the pop line but never blatantly running across it in the way most American country artists do.

One of Friday’s finest moments came as First Aid Kit covered Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” making the heavy metal anthem their own by way of unique, dueling female harmonies and glorious pedal steel guitar.  It’s discoveries like that that continue to make Lollapalooza a worthwhile endeavor.

Once again, Friday’s headliners provided an array of tough choices with The Weeknd, Paul McCartney and local EDM star Kaskade all starting within a forty-five minute window between 7:45PM and 8:30.

Out of the more than one hundred artists performing this year at Lollapalooza, The Weeknd is currently the most streamed on Spotify, eclipsing even Saturday headliner Sam Smyth.

So it was interesting to see the size of the crowd crammed into the softball pits on the festival’s south side Friday night for Paul McCartney’s headlining set.  More to the point, it was fascinating to see the incredible number of young attendees singing along to the Beatle song canon.  And make no mistake, this wasn’t kids trying to catch a glimpse of a legend en route to an electronic dance music set – the south field was absolutely packed for every moment of McCartney’s 135 minute set.

Unfortunately for fans, McCartney’s outdoor return to Chicago, for the first time since a pair of shows at Wrigley Field in 2011, was marked by one of the worst sound bleed incidents I’ve witnessed since the festival’s first year as a Chicago destination fest in 2005.

Kaskade’s set at the nearby Perry’s Stage (one featuring the bulk of the weekend’s EDM bookings) started about forty-five minutes after the Beatle legend and immediately began to drown it out.

I started from a good vantage point near the front of the stage and the sound was inexcusably bad/quiet from the get go.  Once Kaskade was up and running, it was inevitable that things would only get worse.

Eventually, I found the sound bleed so intolerable that I made retreat to the center of the crowd, directly underneath a row of supplementary speakers where the sound was notably louder than it was nearer the stage.

Early on, McCartney took the issue in stride, joking about turning his performance into a series of mashups.  But he seemed to grow more irritated as it continued.

One of the more poignant moments of McCartney’s set over the course of the past few years has become his heartfelt nightly tribute to former friend and Beatle bandmate John Lennon via a solo acoustic performance of his 1982 song “Here Today.”  Friday night, he knew it was going to be drowned out, uncharacteristically introing it as a mashup “with whatever sh-t they’re playing.”

Regardless, Friday’s set proved once again that McCartney may have assembled the best backing band in rock and roll.  Drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr. powers the band throughout (most notably on “Golden Slumbers”) and guitarist Brian Ray keeps McCartney on his toes.

While Friday’s set was structured similarly to the 2011 Wrigley shows (with moments dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison and John Lennon), there’s simply no denying the power of the Beatle catalog.

The highlight of Friday’s set came as McCartney welcomed Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard to the stage where she joined the band on both guitar and vocals during a rollicking take on “Get Back,” only moments after McCartney’s contemporary take on one of the all time great pop songs in “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

For a moment Friday night, Kaskade was drowned out entirely as Grant Park became an all out sing-a-long during “Hey Jude.”  Not even festival exhaustion could keep the massive throng from smiling throughout during one of the cooler moments I’ve experienced at Lollapalooza - one only this Beatle could provide.

- Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)

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