Lollapalooza: Day one

Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - 7:26pm

Charles Reagan Hackleman

Charles Reagan Hackleman Buy this photo
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For the fourteenth consecutive year, Grant Park in Chicago became home to one of the largest music festivals in the world for one weekend. The brainchild of Perry Farrell, former frontman of Jane’s Addiction, Lollapalooza returned once again this summer, kicking off on Thursday, Aug. 1.

First up for me at Lollapalooza this year: French electronic artist CloZee. Electronic artists who get day slots tend to suffer in that visuals have less impact and the crowds tend to be less energetic during the sleepy early afternoon. In spite of these natural impediments, CloZee performed well, engaging the crowd with her mellow, tribal sound, well suited to the event. 

Yielding to peer pressure I then set off across Grant Park towards Fitz and the Tantrums. At their best, Fitz and the Tantrums are passable as background music for a sunny afternoon with friends. That’s about their limit. Two of their biggest hits, “HandClap” and “The Walker,” are profoundly annoying, and their latest slew of singles constitute a low point, even for them. I missed their one decent song (“MoneyGrabber”) because I was busy eating something called a “tenderizer” which consisted of a grilled cheese with bacon, chicken tender bits and mozzarella. It was excellent. I derived more utility from that sandwich than I did from Fitz and the Tantrum’s entire set. 

Performing later on the same stage was Rüfüs Du Sol, an Australian electronic music trio. Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, inexplicably came out on stage to introduce them. While their show wasn’t really much of a visual spectacle, I was impressed by their ability to augment their songs in a live setting while still retaining their characteristic economy of sound. They do well to combine deceptively simple elements to form a unified and cohesive artistic gestalt. 

While Rüfüs was good, I left about halfway through to go see King Princess. Waiting for King Princess to take the stage, I was able to catch Hozier’s passionate performance of “Take Me to Church.” By all accounts, Hozier is an excellent live performer, and I regret having missed most of  his set. Unfortunately, that’s the downside of massive music festivals — you have to make some tough decisions.

When she took the Lake Shore stage that evening, King Princess entranced the crowd with her special brand of dreamy pop. Although I regretted having to miss the end of Rüfüs Du Sol’s performance, after the first song (“Upper West Side”) I knew I had made the right decision. Her band, decked out in all white, deserve praise for their flawless performance. The set design was simple but distinctive and effective: a large screen depicted the image of floating through clouds in a luminescent sky, a giant white couch placed on the stage in front of said screen. King Princess performed a few excellent unreleased cuts (“Tough On Myself,” “Trust Nobody,” “Maybe It Will Change,” “Ohio”) that surely succeeded in building anticipation for her forthcoming debut album. 

As the sun dropped behind the skyscrapers, I trekked over to the set I’d been waiting for all day: The Strokes. I reached their  stage with a minute to spare, yet I was able to get fairly close to the front. The low attendance was partially due to their show conflicting with that of the more popular Chainsmokers, partially due to the fact that much of the festival clientele were not yet born when The Strokes’ two most popular albums were released. 

They came out on stage about ten minutes late to Public Enemy’s “Harder Than You Think,” an unexpected but somehow fitting choice of walkout music.  They chose to stick to their first three albums during the set, perhaps a wise decision given the mixed reception their more recent projects have received from fans and critics alike. They gave roughly equal time to songs off of their less-popular third album, First Impressions of Earth, which came as a slight surprise to me. In fact, they opened with three straight songs from that project  (“Heart in a Cage,” You Only Live Once,” “Ize of the World”). Despite having only played seven shows since they resumed touring together after a lengthy hiatus, The Strokes showed no signs of rust: Their show was accomplished and energetic.

Frontman Julian Casablancas’s stage banter was that of an endearing mess. He frequently mentioned the “techno monster” (i.e. The Chainsmokers) raging off in the distance, whose sound would bleed into the set between songs. He rambled for a few minutes about Chicago’s nickname, “Windy City,” saying that he had heard that it was because the local politicians were full of hot air, but then halfway through discussing the matter with the crowd he decided it was probably a joke that he had fallen for. He emphasized that he didn’t mean to offend Chicagoans by insinuating something negative about their city. His fellow band members, in stark contrast, were reserved, despite Julian’s prodding them to engage with the crowd. Sometimes it felt playful, sometimes it felt as though the rest of them were fed up with Julian’s desultory antics and just wanted him to shut up and get through the set.

At times it seemed as if the band weren’t loud enough, especially Julian’s vocals. To be fair, an element of rawness is to be expected from their shows given their garage-rock style, but I wouldn’t equate an unpolished aesthetic with subdued, inadequate volume. If anything they should be too loud. Despite that minor qualm, theirs was a strong set to close out the first day of Lollapalooza.