Monday, August 5, 2013

Lollapalooza 2013 Recap: Day One

By Gene Wagendorf III   

Lollapalooza 2013 | Photo Credit: Jenny Reece

I know the trend right now calls for me to take a too-cool-for-school attitude about Lolla; to knock its excess hype, branding and mainstream-leaning lineup. As a fan of underground music I'm supposed to have an aneurysm eye-rolling at the likes of Mumford & Sons, The Killers and The Lumineers. Street-cred be damned, that's just not the case. Lollapalooza is Chicago's biggest and brightest party set in one of its most incredible spaces and the 2013 incarnation delivered. Here are the Friday highlights.

Deap Vally

Deap Vally
I knew next to nothing about this band going in to their early afternoon show, but Deap Vally set the tone for the entire weekend. It was charred riffs, walloping bluesy vocals and gut-punch drumming from start to finish. The songs channeled bits of early Nirvana, executed with Jack White swagger. Deap Vally made a hell of a lot of racket for a two piece but the mayhem was smartly dosed out. The duo's tight crunching and voracious percussion consistently approached all-out mayhem but always fell seamlessly back into the groove. The chemistry between singer/guitarist Lindsey Troy and drummer Julie Edwards was unstoppable on tracks like "Bad For My Body," which leaned equally on big vocals and big sound. While Deap Vally handled an outdoor show and a crowd mixed with fans and casual listeners, they're tailor-made for a raucous club show. Consider this your warning.

Ghost B.C.

Ghost B.C.
Intentionally mysterious Swedish metal band Ghost B.C. easily win the award for surprise favorite of Lolla '13. Clad in heavy black robes and Vader-esque face masks, the group patiently moved into position while prerecorded church bells and chanting blasted over Grant Park's northern field. Some absolutely huge riffage served as the cue for their lead singer to emerge, also robed, wearing a black papal hat and Skeletor-style face-paint. Luckily it wasn't all schtick; the band soon launched into some wild glam-Sabbath assault that had even the meekest hipster throwing up devil horns. Avalanches of sizzling guitars and ballistic shredding poured from the speakers, a nice contrast to the singer's unusually sweet croon. Ghost were an absolute black magic machine, displaying mind-boggling synchronicity and plenty of snarling solos. This wasn't just screaming, distorted metal either. Ghost whipped out a massive, succubus-themed '80s power ballad replete with intricate piano work and grandiose guitar solos. The band's versatility was almost as mesmerizing as their presence, even if their singer's between-song-banter sounded a bit like Borat conducting a satanic ritual.

New Order

New Order
If Ghost was the surprise favorite, New Order was the "of course you fucking loved it." The seminal new wavers kicked their set off with "Crystal," and while the sting of Peter Hook's absence was felt on the first bass lead his replacement did do a fine job throughout the show. "Ceremony" played out brighter and fuzzier than on record, and was uplifting despite featuring singer Bernard Sumner's weakest vocal performance of the evening. Sumner more than made up for that blase effort on "Your Silent Face," a kinetic, synthy mediation from 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies that found the frontman coolly crooning while playing guitar and melodica. The only real sloppy moment of the hit-riddled set was "Bizarre Love Triangle," whose infectious neo-disco energy is better suited for a club than a massive field. The song did inspire people to dance, but the real bacchanal took place during a pounding rendition of "True Faith."

New Order's main set ended with the unmistakable rapid bass of "Blue Monday" and a manic, extended jam on orgasmic synth-pop anthem "Temptation." The band could've walked off then having played the best set of day one, but that's just not what legends do. All the spacy keys and jangling guitars faded into one focused drumbeat while Anton Corbijn's haunting video for "Atmosphere" unfolded behind the band. New Order's rhythm section was haunting as ever; Stephen Morris' drums sticks sounded soaked in lead while Tom Chapman's forlorn bass stumbled forward. The song is closely associated with the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, thanks in large part to its placement at the end of Corbijn's film Control. Each time Curtis' image appeared on screen the crowd, now silently fixated, offered touching bouts of applause. New Order closed with a couple more Joy Division tunes: the throbbing, angstry yet ultimately danceable "Transmission" and the ever iconic "Love Will Tear Us Apart." The somewhat older crowd that turned out to see New Order shucked the sadness long enough for one more dance party before exploding into another round of applause. While Sumner's voice will never sound quite right handling Curtis' crushing lyrics, the opportunity to see Joy Division's songs live should never be missed. Then again, neither should New Order.

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails | Photo Credit: David Mead
The headliner debate for Friday night wasn't too tough a call for me. Having seen both The Killers and NIN before, the latter is far more my style and always puts on a hell of a show. When you can see it. And therein lies the only problem with Reznor and company's set at Lolla '13: the video screens were out. When the band opened with new song "Copy of A," all that was visible to those not crammed in front were the band's massive shadows rocking against a white screen. Initially I chalked this up to mood setting, but when the video remained off through the next few songs the crowd grew audibly pissed. NIN sounded phenomenal, especially on the riotous "March of the Pigs," but even that wasn't loud enough to hush the bitching of upset concert-goers. Any time the band attempted a quieter tune the beer-soaked conversation of everyone but the diehards fizzled the atmosphere. I stuck around long enough to hear true-to-record versions of "Terrible Lie" and "Closer" before heading on over to see The Killers.

The Killers

The Killers | Photo Credit: Cambria Harkey
I arrived at Grant Park's southern field just in time to catch thousands of people bopping and goofballing to The Killers' massive 2004 hit "Somebody Told Me." The sea of smiling faces and bright lights was a sharp contrast to what I'd just left at The Bud Light Stage, and a welcome one. As the applause died down Brandon Flowers, the group's ever charismatic frontman, proclaimed "Tiffany stole this song from Tommy James and the Shondelles. Tonight, we're taking it back." With that, they launched into an exuberant cover of "I Think We're Alone Now," much to the delight of the tens of thousands at the Red Bull Stage. As The Killers set rattled on I was blown away by just how big the band had gotten. Not in popularity, that much is a given, but in scale. I loved the tight, driving pop of their debut record Hot Fuss, but fell off the bandwagon afterward. Almost ten years later The Killers have morphed themselves into a massive scale stadium rock show, complete with kitschy covers, over-sized piano ballads and showy drum solos. When Flowers settled the crowd for a somewhat pandering take on Frank Sinatra's "Chicago" I started to roll my eyes as my girlfriend, a huge Killers fan, aptly remarked "his Vegas is showing." And I suppose that's the story of The Killers: a rock band that grew up in Vegas and adopted all that city's dazzle and spectacle when they got their break. Was the Sinatra tune necessary? No. Was it even that good? Not really, but Flowers is just charming enough to pull it off. The band closed out in crowd-pleasing fashion, with mega-hits like "Read My Mind" and "All These Things That I've Done." The latter song brought me back to 2005, seeing the same band play the same stage during Lolla's inaugural Chicago run. They've come a long, long way, and while I may not argue that they're a better band, they've become top tier entertainers.

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