Concert Review: Lollapalooza - Friday, July 29, 2016 in Grant Park - Frightened Rabbit, M83, Wolf Alice, Radiohead

Concert Review: Lollapalooza - Friday, July 29, 2016 in Grant Park - Frightened Rabbit, M83, Wolf Alice, Radiohead

Despite more rain, day two of Lollapalooza 2016 went off without a hitch in Grant Park featuring performances by Frightened Rabbit, M83, Wolf Alice, Radiohead and more… Since severe weather forced an evacuation of Lollapalooza in 2012, rain has become an almost annual presence, falling in three of the last five years.

For the second consecutive day, rain fell on Grant Park Friday. While opening gates were pushed back due to the possibility of inclement weather on Thursday, Friday’s sets weren’t impacted at all and, just like Thursday, afternoon rainfall gave way to gorgeous weather in the evening.

What’s incredible so far is just how dry Grant Park is. Despite a lot of rain, and foot traffic from nearly 100,000 concertgoers, the park is soggy… but not muddy. Yet. Which is a crucial difference. Credit festival organizers for bringing in large amounts of wood chips to soak up some of the rain between the Lakeshore and Samsung stages on the festival’s south end – an area notorious for standing water and mud over the last few years.

Downtown traffic Friday afternoon was at a gridlocked stand still in the middle of rush hour, particularly on streets like Randolph and Monroe headed west from Lake Shore Drive toward parking garages like Millennium Park. It’s hard to put into words just how frustrating Friday’s traffic was.

So with the potential for more rain in Saturday’s forecast, a Cubs home game at 1:20PM and events throughout the weekend at Navy Pier, it may seem obvious but public transportation is strongly recommended. Metra in particular is offering extra service, added capacity and great deals for concertgoers headed in from the suburbs.

After sitting in traffic for three hours Friday, my day got off to a late but great start as Scottish indie rock quintet Frightened Rabbit performed on the Lakeshore stage.

In the past, I’ve grumbled about the sound at the Lakeshore stage but it was clear upon walking from the Samsung stage, past the mid-field supplementary speakers toward the Lakeshore stage that that won’t be an issue this year. The sound was clearer and louder than it’s ever been on the south end and it’s a welcome upgrade.

Lollapalooza 2016 Chicago - Photo by Jim Ryan

Lollapalooza 2016 Chicago – Photo by Jim Ryan

With five studio albums under their belt going back to 2006, Frightened Rabbit has been criminally underrated in the United States. The combination of their terrific new album Painting of a Panic Attack, combined with the strength of their set Friday, should go a long way to changing that.

The buzzsaw guitar of “The Woodpile” straight into the sing-a-long chorus of an extended take on “The Loneliness and the Scream” was a resplendent set closing moment Friday afternoon in Grant Park.

Occasionally, the scheduling gods pull of a particularly strong one-two punch and that was certainly the case Friday afternoon in Hutchinson Field as Frightened Rabbit’s set ended and M83’s began without skipping a beat.

Opening with “Reunion,” one of the stronger tracks from their finest studio effort, 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, the French outfit got the crowd moving almost immediately.

“Reunion” is a song co-written by M83 leader Anthony Gonzalez and Morgan Kibby. Kibby’s backing vocals shined throughout Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming so it was anyone’s guess just how the band would be impacted live on stage since her departure last December.

Keyboardist/vocalist Kaela Sinclair had big shoes to fill and did so quite admirably Friday at Lollapalooza. Handling keyboards and vocals on gorgeously soundscaped cuts like “We Own the Sky” proved she was more than up to the challenge.

What sets M83 apart from some of their colleagues in the contemporary electronic music sphere is their utilization of live instrumentation. From their latest studio effort Junk, “Go!” sounded terrific, Jordan Lawlor’s lead guitar solo cutting through the humidity hanging over Grant Park like a knife before the band headed for the finish line with their biggest hit, “Midnight City.”

It’s been interesting this week to watch the guitar driven rock that characterized Lollapalooza’s 90s heyday manifest itself onstage this year as an influence on a number of contemporary European acts performing as Lollapalooza turns twenty-five.

Frightened Rabbit proved a good example and the influence will be front and center again Saturday when Welsh trio The Joy Formidable perform Saturday at 2:15PM on the Bud Light stage.

But the most impressive example Friday was provided by North London alternative rock quartet Wolf Alice.

Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice crowd surfing at Lollapalooza 2016 in Chicago - Photo by Jim Ryan

Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice crowd surfing at Lollapalooza 2016 in Chicago – Photo by Jim Ryan

Following several EPs, Wolf Alice released its debut album My Love is Cool in 2015, one that, even if a bit uneven, contains several fine moments.

But that album, as good as it is, fails to establish the infectious energy the band maintains in the live setting.

“Are you ready for a sad one?” remarked vocalist/guitarist Ellie Rowsell introducing 2013’s “Blush.” The song was eerily reminiscent of Veruca Salt and its slow churn, headed into the driving thrash of “Moaning Lisa Smile,” was one of the best things I’ve seen so far this week. It made me wish I had it made it to the Pepsi stage a little earlier.

But Friday night belonged to Radiohead.

The band has performed in Chicago only a handful of times over the last ten years. Friday marked their first local set since performing in Tinley Park in 2012 and their third set in Grant Park.

The previous two Grant Park sets both took place on the south end in Hutchinson Field and both are legendary.

A 2001 set that fell less than two months after the release of Amnesiac – and not even a year after the Kid A album – proved to be a celebration of what many consider to be Radiohead’s creative peak and had to be moved from Arvey Field to the larger Hutchinson Field to accommodate demand.

It was one of the first shows of that magnitude to take place in Grant Park in many years and proved to be a successful dipping of a toe in the water by a Daley administration notoriously wary of live music.

Lollapalooza would make its way to Chicago as a destination festival and call Grant Park home for the first time only four years later and fans of the festival might just owe Radiohead a debt of gratitude.

In 2008, fireworks went off nearby at Soldier Field during a Chicago Bears summer family event as Radiohead performed “Everything in its Right Place” and “Fake Plastic Trees” on the south end of Lollapalooza in what many still consider to be one of the festival’s most transcendent moments.

So it goes without saying that expectations were high for Friday’s headlining Radiohead set.

It was apropos that some of the greatest moments of Friday’s set involved moments from Kid A and Amnesiac almost fifteen years to the day of that first performance in Hutchinson Field on August 1, 2001.

The combination of “Everything in its Right Place” into “Idioteque” at the end of the main set alone was worth the price of admission and “Pyramid Song” sparkled shortly before that. The band moved seamlessly into “Idioteque,” its signature electronic beat coming before “Everything” even ended, a deft, fantastic segue.

The terrific sound on the south end this year ensured during tender, intricate moments like “Pyramid Song” and “No Surprises” that there’d be no repeat of the sound bleed that plagued Paul McCartney’s set on the same stage in 2015.

And even though they’ve done it on each of their three American dates so far on this tour, the band’s performance of the beautiful, atmospheric “Let Down” – a highlight on 1997’s OK Computer and only the third time the band has performed it since 2006 – was an incredible way to open the first encore.

Radiohead did a fine job of touching on virtually every corner of their studio catalog, eschewing only their 1993 debut Pablo Honey in a two hour and ten minute set that consisted primarily of tracks from OK Computer and their latest release, May’s A Moon Shaped Pool (the band’s ninth).

Friday’s set opened with three from A Moon Shaped Pool and “Ful Stop” in particular made the strongest argument for the merits of that record.

From The Bends, “My Iron Lung” was a pleasant surprise early in the set as was “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” to begin the second encore as the band continued past its scheduled end time of 10PM.

Thom Yorke was as animated on stage as he’s ever been, his Michael Stipe influenced dance moves on full display, particularly during cuts like “Bodysnatchers.” The spastic bursts of guitar during that one proved to be some of Jonny Greenwood’s finest fretwork Friday night, especially following “Paranoid Android” as closely as it did in the set.

But at the end of the night, as good as it was, Friday’s setlist didn’t provide much of a departure from any of the recent shows the band has played in 2016. And maybe it’s not fair to hold the band to such a high level of expectations – but given their lack of recent Chicago shows and the history they have in Grant Park, Friday’s set lacked a truly magical moment.

And that was Friday’s biggest let down.

– Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)

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