This year’s Lollapalooza was, in a word, loud. Dance jockeys Justice and Avicii headlined the same stage where stoner rock legends Black Sabbath reunited on Friday night, and the ubiquitous bass explosions emanating from the EDM-specific stage/eventual mud playground, Perry’s, was loud enough to defibrillate an unconscious raver. Every band, whether wielding guitars or MacBooks, had to jack up the volume as a result, leading to the loudest, smokiest, bro-iest bro-down in the Chicago alt rock festival’s history.
Here’s the most interesting things we saw over the weekend:
Least Annoying Nationalism: Random Canadian Dudes At The Sheepdogs
It’s surprisingly easy to get a clutch of boozey bros to chant their American pride—sporadic choruses of “USA! USA!” and, more bizarrely, “MICHAEL PHELPS!” could be heard at any given moment somewhere in or around Grant Park this weekend—but it’s remarkably less simple to get a crowd of boozey bros to rep the Maple Leaf. Three long-haired Canucks tried to get a “SASKATOON!” chant going during the Sheepdogs’ Sunday afternoon set (a lite hits version of the set they played at Mercury Lounge not long ago), currying camaraderie with the good-natured Canadian Southern rockers. Nobody else joined in. But nobody wanted to sock them with a wadded up flag, either.
Best Guitar Faces: Gary Clark Jr.
Neo-bluesman Gary Clark Jr.‘s latest of nine festival performances this summer may have been his ballsiest. The first blast of bass on “When My Train Pulls In,” an eight-minute acoustic solo on Clark’s Bright Lights EP, was startling. Likely competing with the software-augmented fusillade of sound drifting in from Perry’s across the park, Clark’s hour-long, improv-heavy set choogled by through muddy sheets of reverb that rendered the shredding climaxes of “I Don’t Owe You A Thing” and city-swag closer “Bright Lights” nigh indistinguishable. But when Clark and his backing band (picture three understated badasses in sunglasses) dropped the tempo and the feedback in the middle of the set to make room for some crisper solo showmanship, the resulting stomach-pain crinkles of concentration and revelation-through-rock jaw drops that unfolded on Gary’s face proved just as fun to watch as the music itself.
Best Stage Banter: At The Drive-In
“Literature. I fucks with books,” Cedric Bixler-Zavala admitted toward the end of his newly reunited band’s scorching Sunday set. The At the Drive-In front-serpent had just finished a tangent about proper sandal attire while the band dealt with audio difficulties, and is an apparent champ at filling awkward silences with random opinions. He’s probably a hit at after-parties.
Most Likely To Inspire Some Quixotic Wandering: Black Sabbath
Content having seen the solid first hour of Black Sabbath’s behemoth two-hour reunion show (they played “Black Sabbath” and “War Pigs,” crunching into the heaviest Iommi-driven nuggets early on), I followed the crowd on Friday night.
Please Chill Award: Wale
The smallest crowd of Friday night’s headliners was at Wale, whose set on the tree-enclosed Google Play stage had the misfortune of falling right between the skeleton-disintegrating chomp of Sabbath and the nonstop bass fart gunfire drifting downwind from Perry’s. Some devoted watchers pumped their fists in anticipation of the Maybach musician’s arrival, which came 15 minutes behind schedule, and would show Wale love up through his “Rack City” finale. Others left as soon as Wale took the stage to start an episodic tirade about the shitty sound engineers controlling his mic. It wasn’t a good look, especially on a dude trying to rap “fuck fame / fuck money” with a straight face.
Hardest Band To Actually See: Black Keys
Most of the Lolla collective was watching the Black Keys. Halfway into their set, the Keys’ crowd was near impenetrable and extended to the concrete steps a couple hundred yards from the stage. The main stage’s twin video screens were scarcely visible, providing a nice shot of Dan Auerbach’s hands during one of his El Camino solos.
Weirdest Crowd: Bassnectar
Meanwhile, at Perry’s, Bassnectar was commanding a pulsing wub-and-light show whose brain-obliterating bass drew the most eclectic crowd I’d see all weekend. Beyond the predictable hydra of flailing EDM fanatics crowding the front of the stage, there were several families with small children laying out blankets between the cylindrical speaker turrets halfway between the stage and the exit. The weirdest/best thing I saw at Lolla this year was a kid—who couldn’t have been more than six years old—watching Bassnectar on his dad’s shoulders, putting him on a level plane with the girl dancing topless a few feet ahead of him.
Best Cover of “We Are Young”: Drunk Dudes Hiding From A Flash Flood In Kasey’s Tavern
On Saturday afternoon Chicago was hit with so much rain that Lollapalooza’s 60-or-so thousand attendants were forced to evacuate Grant Park and seek shelter downtown. Many of the day’s predominantly teenaged, distressingly shirtless EDM fans took refuge in the likes of the Chicago Public Library, Starbucks and Target stores, while other stranded evacuees were bussed to nearby garages for safety. The festival’s 21+ refugees, meanwhile, crowded into bars and neon-lit liquor stores throughout the financial district. My friends and I Jenga’d into Kasey’s, a narrow tavern in Printer’s Row made even narrower by the 75 other wet and thirsty savages queuing Chili Peppers on the jukebox, applauding Olympic volleyballers and their own weather-slighted brethren on local news reports, and eventually uniting in an atonal chorus of Fun.’s “We Are Young.” On the patio, a group of older wristband-wearers sat in the rain smoking pot from a wooden pipe. The Chicago police had their hands full. Mad props to them, and to the fleet of bartenders who remained pleasant and professional through the afternoon despite a belligerent scrum of vikings taking their city’s fire safety codes to task.
Best Concert-Turned-Muddy-Tribal-Ritual: Santigold
After the storm, each of the night’s four headliners pushed their sets back by about an hour. Though the augmented schedule slighted bands like Alabama Shakes and Paper Diamond whose sets got rain-nixed entirely, the storm is pretty much the best thing that could’ve happened for festival attendants. The air was cooler, the turf was softer, and the resulting attitude of elation pouring in sweaty chants from thousands of returning party-starters fostered some of the most uninhibited audience experiences of the weekend, especially at Santigold. The baseball diamonds ringing Perry’s stage were reduced to flip-flop-eating rivers of mud, and for every attendant hesitant to vacate their islands of solid ground there was another fan crumping shirtless in the ankle deep muck. The booming, tribal drums of stripped club beats like “Creator” and set closer “Big Mouth” proved indispensable soundtracks to the crowd’s mud stomping mania. For a few minutes, those in the front rows who were invited to storm the stage during “Creator” enveloped Santi and her lock-step backup dance badasses entirely.
Best Performance Adjusted for 100,000 Stoners: Jack White
As a panting, sweat-drenched Ozzy Osbourne reminded everyone on Friday night, being a headlining musician at a sold-out festival ain’t easy work. Sunday headliner Jack White came prepared with his two backing bands—the all-male Los Buzzardos and the all-female Peacocks—but ultimately the success of the two-hour set rested on his own madcap leadership. After zipping up a tight rendition of “Sixteen Saltines” from his new album, Jack gave Los Buzzardos an almost imperceptible cue to drop the tempo of “Black Math” down to a stoner slug’s pace, more in line with the languorous vibe emanating from the drugged, fatigued loyalists who made it to Lolla’s final show. Jack cut like a buffalo through 20 fiery White Stripes, Raconteurs and solo singles, eschewing his whip-crack garage tradition for sludgier noodling. Ever a fan of threes, Jack dressed the stage and all its inhabitants in somber shades of black, white and blue, giving their haunted blues an almost funereal feel, especially when the Peacocks swayed with flowing hair and dresses through softer, clearer cuts of “Love Interruption” and “The Hardest Button to Button.” Both bands came out for the curtain call, Jack bowing tall, pale and tired in the center. After an encore of “Seven Nation Army” satisfied the wordless hook that festival attendees had been chanting all weekend, they all earned it.