The first show I saw on Friday was the worst show I saw on Friday. I don’t want to hate on Conan Gray, because he seems like a nice guy who loves his fans, and performing at Lollapalooza clearly meant a lot to him. However, his music is not very good: His particular angsty brand of synthpop is so unoriginal that it defies specific description, and he doesn’t even have that much of it. Gray was allotted an hour, and after performing every song he has ever released, he finished his set with fifteen minutes to spare. In the end, it was an uninspiring performance.
Luckily, up next was Japanese Breakfast, the solo project of Michelle Zauner, an act who could hopefully right the wrongs of the previous set. Tito’s, the stage upon which Japanese Breakfast played, is the worst at the festival — there’s rarely sufficient space for the audience and those who aren’t far from the stage are forced to stand on concrete while baking in the afternoon sun. That said, the music of Japanese Breakfast could not have contrasted more sharply with the mood in this ill-favored setting. Japanese Breakfast put on perhaps the most relaxing set of the weekend, her groovy bedroom-pop the perfect antidote to the stultifying sea of concrete that engulfed me. Zauner’s voice is breathtaking live, soaring with clarity over reverb-laden guitar and fuzzy bass. Her guitarist is also quite talented, firing off a handful of roaring solos. Towards the end of the set, as a tribute to Chicago, she performed a touching cover of Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc.” It was an all-around pleasant experience.
Maggie Rogers may not make the most interesting pop music in the world (or have the keenest sense of melody), but it is impossible to dislike the artist herself. Rogers put her heart and soul into her performance, and it shone through. The crowd adored her; they were singing and dancing to every song, and even did their best to sing through the technical difficulties on “Alaska.” It was an endearing set, even if the songs themselves are not remarkable.
Death Cab For Cutie put on an earnest and enjoyable performance, but their elegant music does not translate all that well to live shows. The desolation of “Title and Registration” and the creepy intensity of “I Will Possess Your Heart” seem not to carry through from their studio renditions. Strangely, the band only played one song from their most recent album, and the album they are ostensibly touring in support of, Thank You For Today. Granted, it wasn’t a very popular album, but neither was Kitsugi, which got more play time despite being four years old.
Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard claimed they originally were not going to play their most popular song, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” but changed their mind thanks to the request of “a prominent Chicagoan.” That Chicagoan, to the surprise of no one given his appearance earlier in the day at Calboy’s set, turned out to be none other than Chance the Rapper. He emerged from backstage to join the band in a performance of “Do You Remember,” a sentimental cut off of Chance’s new studio album, The Big Day, that features Gibbard on the hook. The performance was decent. They did not play a few of their live staples (“Transatlanticism,” “Grapevine Fires”) that were expected by many, likely due to time constraints.
There was no encore. While I enjoyed Death Cab For Cutie’s set in spite of some flaws, they were not the primary reason I was at that stage. I had come to secure a spot for the act that would follow them on the Bud Light stage: Tame Impala. Check out The Daily’s coverage of their set here.
Friday was an experience similar to Thursday: The earlier sets were mixed in quality, generally functioning better as background music than as something to really get into. The headliners and higher-billed artists performing later tended to live up to expectations. Four days is perhaps a little too long for such an intense festival — Lollapalooza used to just be three days until 2015, when they switched to four for reasons unknown (money). The need to be as big as possible, while probably a clever business decision, has diluted each individual day’s lineup and contributed to a sort of festival fatigue. Four days is a long time, and people seemed to already be feeling the marathon catching up to them by the end of Friday. Perhaps it’s time for another change.