Festivalist Live Review Lollapalooza Showstopper

Festivalist ’13: Lollapalooza 2013 Highlights (8/2-8/4)

So many highlights, so little time. Read below for my favorite moments and other thoughts from my return to Lollapalooza.

The National – Saturday, Red Bull Sound Select Stage (set list)
The biggest semi-popular check mark I needed to make all weekend just so happened to be my favorite performance at Lolla. The unseasonably pleasant weather felt like a thunderstorm of emotion during a raucous, explosive afternoon set from The National. The Brooklyn by way of Cincinnati act has paid their dues on the road and their sound might have been the most professional of the weekend. Every song from “Mr. November” to “Bloodbuzz Ohio” felt even more anthemic in front of the large Saturday crowd. Front man Matt Berninger’s baritone lived up to all I’d heard it would in person, but his stage antics were just as entertaining. Berninger roamed each side of the stage growling through hits like “I’m Afraid Of Everyone” and “Sea of Love” with poise and passion. “Terrible Love” aptly closed the grand set with Berninger howling from the crowd in epic fashion.

Disclosure – Friday, The Grove (set list)
When I Fire Starts To Burn, Right?” Going into the weekend, the brotherly duo of Disclosure were my most anticipated “ready to blow up” act. Their debut album Settle has been in constant rotation thanks to a balanced mix of house, garage and electronic pop music. Our spot near the center of the Grove stage crowd was the perfect spot to take in the bass and pulsing synth throughout the set. Sidenote: there is nothing funnier and more odd than seeing thousands of dudes belting female hooks to dance anthems like “You & Me” and “Confess to Me”. “White Noise” and “Latch” proved to be crowd favorites, but the duo could have caused a frenzy if Jessie Ware would have been able to guest on the remix to “Running”. The only thing more criminal than the absence of Ms. Ware? The fact the non-stop dance session only lasted 45 minutes.

Vampire Weekend – Sunday, Bud Light Stage (set list)
If you consider Phoenix a headlining festival band (debatable), Vampire Weekend could have easily closed a main stage at Lollapalooza. Maybe Lolla organizers were nervous about the success of the quartet’s 3rd album (for the record: Modern Vampires In The City > Bankrupt!). Either way, Ezra & co. drew one of the largest crowds of the weekend as they showed off their marquee potential. With only three releases under their belt, VW had a choice set list (sometimes I forget about “Horchata“) with an astounding amount hits with live revelry. The fast paced guitars of “Cousins” kicked off the afternoon before sunny delights like “Ya Hey” and “Campus” had fans nodding and singing along. “A-Punk” and “Step” were definite highlights as the lead man Ezra Koenig exuded confidence in front of the massive crowd. Props to the guy who climbed a street light during the latter half of the set before disappearing into the abyss of fans. Negative points to the guy who got tackled climbing on stage. Yikes.

Wild Cub – Sunday, BMI Stage (set list)
The BMI stage is tucked away in an enclave of trees perfect for shade and finding artists on the rise. Lady Gaga once performed there and while Wild Cub’s fame may not reach those heights, they came away as one of my surprise favorites. Lead singer’s Keegan Dewitt amiable nature and punctuated presence had fans enamored as the band rolled through much of their debut album, Youth. The indie rock and new wave sound reached it’s apex with a thumping rendition of ideal closer “Thunder Clatter”. Pro tip: the hill on the right side of the stage is an underrated way to take in a great show and reserve energy for a long day at Lolla.

Emeli Sande – Friday, Red Bull Sound Select Stage (set list)
It’s not often that the first act I see at a festival makes it to my “best of” list, but Emeli Sande was much more seasoned than her time slot would assume. The Scottish songstress jovially performed like she was headlining even though it was 1:00 pm. Backed by an exceptional full band, Sande’s powerful vocals soared across the North side of the park on cuts like “My Kind Of Love” and “Wonder”. Sande closed with her biggest US hit “Next To Me” and had many fans wondering if she could one day be as big of a performer as Beyonce. Let’s hope so.

Other Lolla Thoughts:

  • 2 Chainz: While his performance was slightly better than your average hip-hop show, I wasn’t expecting comedy from the artist formerly known as Tity Boi. 2 Chainz offered up condolences to Trayvon Martin in what seemed quite serious before (somewhat awkwardly) pronouncing “and R.I.P. to this stage because I’m killing it”. 2 Chainz: king of uncomfortable transitions?
  • Nicolas Cage: Whoever used this monster size photo of Nicolas Cage as their totem was a genius. Especially considering the inside jokes within my group surrounding the legend of “Con Air” and “Face Off”.
  • Rivals Of The Peacemaker: An early Sunday highlight with that Americana/alt country sound I love so much. Full post coming soon.
  • Bud Light Stage Saturday: Hillside might be the best spot to catch a number of acts without trying to fight through massive crowds. On Saturday we caught sets from Local Natives, Eric Church, The National, The Lumineers and Mumford all from basically the same spot over the course of about 5 hours. If you stay there long enough, you even get some shade with the help of the VIP tent behind it.
  • NIN: Wasn’t a fan previously, but I’m very glad our trio checked the legendary band out. The industrial rock/dance set was electrifying and certainly made me wonder how much NIN ‘Yeezy was listening to while making Yeezus. Too bad the band didn’t turn on the video screens though. Only the first few 100 people could see whatever art Trent Reznor and band mates were going for.
  • Frightened Rabbit: The Scottish rockers almost made the “top moments” list with a set I heard from a curb during a quick rest/snack session. I’m hopeful to catch them live at St. Jerome’s Laneway Fest this Fall. Stream an excellent Spotify playlist of their work here.
  • Surprises w/Eric Church: For being one of the few country acts on the Lolla line-up, organizers found the right man for a rowdy Saturday afternoon. Eric Church’s live show is more rock n roll than traditional country, including name-checking the Boss on hit “Springsteen”. Consider Church one of my top surprises of the weekend.
  • Jessie Ware: An act that I was highly anticipating, but didn’t quite deliver. Early sound issues were clearly an issue, but the soothing sounds of Ms. Ware will likely sound better at St. Andrew’s this Nov.
  • St. Lucia: A truly fun set of tropical synth pop that I came away enjoying much more than I imagined. Front man Jean-Philip Grobler sounds a lot like Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon and the nostalgic backing suits St. Lucia well.
  • Baauer: If all you know is the “Harlem Shake”, then you don’t know much. Catch him in your city (Pontiac on 9/6) if you can.
  • C3 Does It Right: After attending Hangout Music Fest for the past 3 years, nothing beats watching live music on the beach. However, Lollapalooza organizers proved they have festival weekends down to a science. From the easy flow of security to numerous bathrooms and food options, crowds estimated at 100k per day impressively didn’t seem large until after sunset. A lot of growing festivals like Hangout and Music Midtown, could learn a few tricks from the veterans at C3 Presents.