A few months ago, when we posted our breakdown of 2013’s festivals, we called Lollapalooza a melting pot, under the assumption that of all the country’s festivals, it cast the widest net. Having gone to the festival now—which took place in Chicago’s Grant Park over the weekend—let’s confirm that we were, as usual, right.
It was bonkers. Huge acts. Huge sounds. Huge crowds. Long lines, but no need to focus on the negatives, particularly when Lollapalooza is getting so many things right. And although the weekend was a string of terrific moments, here’s our breakdown of the 10 best moments from this year’s festival.
Playing their first Lolla set at an early slot on Saturday morning, Shovels & Rope did their part to make sure a crowd of strangers who had probably never heard of them would never forget them. A relatively new act out of North Carolina, Shovels & Rope have a Johnny and June Carter Cash vibe, a husband-and-wife team with a blend of rockabilly, blues and dirty country music. Their live show has to be seen to believed, with the two of them switching instruments and lead vocals mid-song without missing a beat. This won’t be their last Lollapalooza.
As you may know, we happen to think Vampire Weekend has put out 2013’s best album so far, and their live show—which has struggled in the past—has improved exponentially. But there’s no live show on earth that could top the one put on by an athletically gifted fan who scaled a street light in front the stage. As the band played, this guy displayed a fairly remarkable gift for acrobatic poses, all about 15 feet above the rest of the crowd. Vampire Weekend took the show in stride, and after a few minutes, this wizard performed a spectacular dismount, landing somewhere in the crowd to uproarious cheers. Dyin’ young didn’t seem to scare him.
The Killers took their band name from a New Order music video, so it was fitting that New Order’s Bernard Sumner joined them onstage for a spooky, thrilling take on Joy Division’s “Shadowplay.” The Killers have covered the song a few times, but Sumner’s onstage presence lent this round a particular gravitas. You wouldn’t imagine that Killers’ fans are well-versed in Joy Division cuts, but the band sold it well enough to have the crowd singing along by the end.
7. Jenny Lewis
Ben Gibbard is a better performer than his oft-demure vibe might lead you to believe, but Postal Service’s secret weapon has always been Jenny Lewis. Though not officially in the band, she pops up frequently on their album, has joined them for the reunion tour, and her stage presence is a tremendous asset. The band might be credited with creating electronica pop, but Lewis gives Postal Service’s sound the human element so many of today’s electronic acts lack.
6. Mumford & Sons Claims Its Throne
There are no official numbers on crowds, so it’s hard to say for certain, but the Mumford boys headlined Saturday night, and they may have just pulled in the weekend’s biggest audience. It’s a nice picture of just how far this band has come and in how short a time. Last time this band played Lolla, in 2010, their star was just starting to rise. This year found it as one of the brightest on the musical landscape, and it shows no sign of fading soon.
Has there ever been a dorkier collection of superstars than Local Natives? A quartet of marvelous musicians who absolutely empty the tank on stage, breaking up rapturous performances with awkward, guileless stage banter. “We’ve played a lot of festivals this year,” lead singer Taylor Rice said after a wonderful take on “Breakers.” “Some of them weren’t so good!” There was a brief pause where he realized he might need to follow that up. “But, well, I think this might be my favorite one yet!” That’s pretty standard fare, but it truly sounded like Rice was trying to make up his mind about it. However they might feel about Lollapalooza, it loved them. Local Natives’ complex, clattering, idiosyncratic sound is a daunting challenge to take from the studio to the stage, and but this band makes it look easy. They put on one of Lollapalooza’s best sets. Do not miss this Local Natives’ tour.
One of the troubles of festivals like Lollapalooza in this day and age is that, from the time a band has been booked to the time they actually perform, their career can take on a whole new trajectory. Such is the case with Alt-J. Nobody could have guessed that this band would have merited a much bigger stage than the side one they ended up getting, but “Breezeblocks” has become such a monster hit that crowd spilled nearly out of hearing of the band itself. This success can cut both ways, as it leaves an awful lot of new fans milling about, waiting for the single. But when “Breezeblocks” finally played, it threw thousands of people into an ecstatic fit. It’s not a simple song to play live, and it’s to Alt-J’s credit—who, remember, were playing to empty pubs as recently as six months ago—that they can translate it to a crowd of this magnitude without missing a beat.
It can be such a downer to see bands like The Cure. You find yourself wishing they had gone out on a high note, remaining forever that “great band from the ‘80s.” And yet, when they took the headline stage on Sunday night, they did so with enough grace to make you wish they would start recording again. Robert Smith still sounds winsomely mournful, and the rest of his band reminds you of just why they remain such a compelling band 30 years after their hay day.
Cat Power was up against Phoenix and The Cure, so it’s not surprising that her crowd was so small, but it is a shame. Chan Marshall is a soulful performer with a knock-out voice. Her classic rock obsession comes through in her live act far more than it does on her most recent release, last year’s excellent Sun. The few people who chose to see her play live saw something very special.
Nobody besides Kendrick Lamar seemed at all nervous about the fact that two men in wheelchairs were being crowdsurfed towards the front of the stage—to the point where he stopped in the middle his blistering set to tell everyone to be careful. The two men were passed across security lines, where handlers started to wheel them away. “Where you going?” shouted Kendrick, stopping his set. “Let them stay!” The crowd went absolutely nuts, security caved and the two spent the rest of Kendrick’s set dancing in their chairs. Lamar is one of the most exciting things to come out of hip-hop in ages, and moments like this reveal what makes him so unique. In a year where rap’s reigning kings have released albums crowing about their achievements, Kendrick seems more interested in being of the people. “You guys aren’t fans,” he shouted. “You’re family!” In that moment, it truly felt like it.