Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012


 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

For the eighth time in a row, Lollapalooza returned to Chicago’s Grant Park. While the festival has received its share of rain over the years (e.g. Billy Idol’s mesmerizing sun shower set in 2005, The Gaslight Anthem’s downpour debut in 2009, Best Coast’s muddy power hour in 2011, to name a few), the grounds have never had to shut down. Yet with recent catastrophes at festivals worldwide, management took no chances and they made the right choice. Only three hours were ultimately lost and in those three hours something wild happened — there was a sense of adventure.

As Chicago’s sacred park weathered harsh winds and thick, thick rain, the hundred thousand festivalgoers fled into the city, stalking nearby bars, restaurants, coffee shops, book nooks, newspaper stands, subway stations, hotel lobbies, miscellaneous stairwells and awnings, and parking garages. Twitter sparked alive with critics and other festivalgoers, while publications remained on the ball with its rumblings and hearsay. When the storm finally passed, there was a chill to the air, a spark of excitement in each festivalgoer, and a newfound sense of coping. There was also a great makeshift community that matriculated throughout the city, where stories and accounts were passed to one another. It all felt very analog, despite everything still remaining very digital.

More than anything, though, it gave the three-day festival something to remember. With such a heavy focus on rock — Jack White, Black Sabbath, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Keys, At The Drive-In, etc. — this year’s incarnation was admittedly starved for character. On paper, things appeared a little convoluted. Whereas EDM used to be locally contained at Perry’s, acts like Avicii or Justice or DJ Zebo or DJ Mel crossed over into other outside stages, which confused the schedule some. Couple that with a lack of hip-hop, save for Childish Gambino or Doomtree, there just wasn’t much spunk to a festival whose trademark was just that. But one rainy afternoon put things in perspective, and it wasn’t just the mud people that found solace.

Godspeed to the folks in charge of re-sodding, that’s for sure.

-Michael Roffman

Thursday, August 2nd

 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Sergio Soltero

Band of Horses – Metro Chicago – 8:00 p.m.

After newcomer Michael Kiwanuka’s soulful half-hour set (with two drummers, no less), Band of Horses hit the stage. “We’re here to play songs for you, so we’ll just do that,” Ben Bridwell promised the Metro’s capacity crowd. Blazing through crowd favorites like set opener “The Great Salt Lake”, the rapturous “Is There a Ghost”, and cigarette-infused “Laredo”, the band also managed to sneak in a few songs from their upcoming Mirage Rock LP. Traces of southern rock icons are found in “How to Live” (think Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That”), but “Knock Knock” is its own horse, with a chorus and rhythm section that don’t let up, even though the band had to after “The Funeral”. They’ll be missed at Lolla this year, but Band of Horses were no doubt a rousing opening act. -Justin Gerber

Friday, August 3rd

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Michael Kiwanuka – PlayStation – 1:30 p.m.

This was a surprising and great way to start off the fest. Michael Kiwanuka‘s studio records didn’t really do much for me, but live he was this slow-burning soul folk jam thing where he covered Jimi Hendrix’s “Waterfall” in the best way. His single “Home Again” also came alive with some extended bars thrown in for breathing room. Kiwaunka went from background to foreground with his live show. –Jeremy D. Larson

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Photo by Megan Ritt

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – Perry’s – 2:00 p.m.

Dinosaurs were not totally extinct at Perry’s Stage Friday afternoon, as Orlando Higginbottom took the stage wearing an austere expression and a blue, finned dinosaur costume. He started his electronic set in his usual quietly glitch-y style, but kicked up the bass drops to keep the crowd interested. Higginbottom sang while he mixed on “Trouble” and played with a female vocal loop on “Stronger” during a sun-baked set that, while entertaining, would’ve been better for dancing after dark. -Megan Ritt

warondrugs lolla 2012 kaplan 2 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Heather Kaplan

The War on Drugs - Google Play - 2:15 p.m.

The War on Drugs have always driven their chugging heartland rock through an ambient fog, painting a surreal, yet relatable, soundscape of rural America. Live, they expanded both their hooks and white noise into loose jams made all the more hypnotic by the midday heat. The crowd watched in a daze as frontman Adam Granduciel took his Dylan-esque yelp to new improvisational heights during longer versions of “Baby Missiles” and “Needle in Your Eye”. The only downside to the looseness and extended run time was that it made for fewer songs. -Dan Caffrey

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

The Black Angels - Bud Light - 2:15 p.m.

I was concerned that The Black Angels’ grungy neo-psychedelia wouldn’t resonate in the open air as well as in a liquor-soaked dungeon; but when the tribal drums thundered through the sticky guitars panning in and out of “Bad Vibrations”, I actually got chills up my spine. Not even the girl next to me, who was so intoxicated that she fell over, or Captain Obvious on the other side pointing out that “they have a girl drummer” could distract from my psych-rock reverie. -Harley Brown

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Sharon Van Etten - PlayStation - 3:00 p.m.

“My ’90s dreams are coming true today,” Sharon Van Etten joked before peeling open her set with “All I Can”. The melancholy ballad is one of many emotional facets explored in this year’s Tramp, and, similar to the LP, the New Jersey alt-folkster slid on many masks–from the wear and tear of “Warsaw” to the bluesy reflections on “Magic Chords” to the guitar-heavy “Serpents”. Before sliding back to the lush country crooner “Save Yourself” (from 2010’s Epic), she explained how “this song is about someone talking shit about Chicago.” Locals weren’t the only ones cheering. -Michael Roffman

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Tame Impala - Sony - 3:15 p.m.

For a stage named after and sponsored by a media conglomerate, Sony Stage’s sound engineering should be pitch-perfect. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Tame Impala: Nick Allbrook’s muddy bass sat so low in the mix it was high, drowning out drummer Julien Barbagallo’s tight fills and the guitars’ expansive meanderings. By the second song, the sound cleaned up noticeably, just in time for frontman Kevin Parker to say, “You guys are fuckin’ soldiers” in his delightful, high-pitched Aussie accent. -Harley Brown

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Photo by Megan Ritt

Metric - Bud Light - 4:00 p.m.

What the Bud Light Stage lacked in sound quality, Metric’s Emily Haines made up for in stage presence. She breezily ran around and danced amidst the poor acoustics of Lolla’s largest platform, never ceasing to move her hips and endless legs as Joshua Winstead’s bass and Joules Scott-Key’s drums melted into a numbing drone. The band’s rawer, earlier material fared best sonically, the mosquito-truck guitars of “Empty” far more effective and clear than any of the more New Wave-focused tracks off this year’s Synthetica. -Dan Caffrey

afghan lolla 2012 kaplan 6 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Heather Kaplan

The Afghan Whigs - Red Bull Soundstage - 4:15 p.m.

The boiling sun toppling over Chicago’s skyscrapers didn’t add much atmosphere to The Afghan Whigs’ morose and bleak lyricism, but the Cincinnati alt. rockers hardly needed it. Slimmer and sounding better than ever, frontman Greg Dulli powered through a 13-song set that properly resurrected the band’s celebrated discography to precision. Lyrically, he’s gritting through tales of alleyway romanticism with that bitter rasp of his, especially on dusty tracks like “I’m Her Slave”, “Somethin’ Hot”, and “Gentlemen”, but onstage, he’s an outgoing showman. “How ya doin’, Grant Hart? Is he here,” he joked, referencing the Hüsker Dü bassist. That sort of chummy enthusiasm seeped through the band’s later material (“Crazy”, “66”), but staved off during more serious flare like “What Jail Is Like” or “My Enemy”. When Dulli cuts deep, he annihilates the jugular, which is why he’s able to sell a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes”. The surrounding seven members–including two backup singers–helped push him along, but only guys like Ocean or Dulli can handle a line like: “Murder murder murder she wrote.” -Michael Roffman

die antwoord lollapalooza 2012 ritt 3 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Megan Ritt

Die Antwoord - PlayStation - 5:00 p.m.

Die Antwoord pretty much embodies weird-yet-sexy music. Backed by DJ Hi-Tek, Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er owned the Playstation Stage for an hour as the setting sun finally gave the crowd some relief. Ninja rapped so fast that it was hard to tell what language he was in, and Vi$$er’s otherworldly coos echoed off “Enter the Ninja” and “Baby’s on Fire”. Other cuts from 2012 release Ten$ion included “Hey Sexy”, “Fatty Boom Boom”, and an enthusiastic “I Fink U Freeky”, which ended on Vi$$er’s haunting whisper. -Megan Ritt

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

thenewno2 - BMI - 5:40 p.m.

“This is the best festival ever,” shouted an excited Dhani Harrison halfway through thenewno2′s set. Harrison both resembles and sings like his father, George, but that’s where the similarities end. thenewno2 takes after Yeasayer more than the Fab Four. Opener “Station” (taken from the band’s new LP, thefearofmissingout) set the tone for the rest of their 40-minute set: blips and beeps augmented by the occasional dialogue sample from Time Bandits. And ukulele! -Justin Gerber

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Passion Pit - Bud Light - 6:00 p.m.

It was a tad suspenseful when five minutes passed by without any sign of Passion Pit. After all, they’d cancelled a number of dates, and over the past two weeks, Lollapalooza had essentially become their return, of sorts. But, ten past six, Michael Angelakos emerged, and the band brushed through Gossamer‘s opening track, “Take a Walk”. While the newer track rang flat around the edges, the following two-hit slam of “Moth’s Wings” and “The Reeling” conjured enough pop magic to get the rhythm and energy flowing. Now, if there’s anything to take away from the set’s hour and change, it’s that Angelakos may be this era’s most iconic vocalist. On playful soon-to-be-favorites like “Carried Away” or “I’ll Be Alright”, his four-octave yelp was just awe-inspiring, and he’s so controlled these days, it’s hard to differentiate between what’s on record and what’s being performed to thousands of sweaty fans.

Here’s the thing, though: While he’s an agreeable frontman cracking open his heart on “Constant Conversations” or bludgeoning his feet into the floor on “Sleepyhead”, he’s far too removed to ever sell himself with the music. He’s spearheading some of the best pop of today, yet when he’s not in it, he looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. That’s not a mark on his character, not at all, and in fact, it adds a certain severity to his material, but it might also jeopardize the band’s chances in ever parading through arenas. -Michael Roffman

shins lolla 2012 kaplan 2 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Heather Kaplan

The Shins - Red Bull Soundstage - 6:15 p.m.

With an actual band under his direction once more, The Shins‘ mastermind and only constant member, James Mercer, was able to blow open the ornate songs from this year’s somewhat underwhelming Port of Morrow and transform them into something big and compelling. Lead guitarist Jessica Dobson (nowhere to be seen on the record) gave the psychedelic title track some much-needed teeth with her jagged soloing, while lending staggered harmonies to Mercer’s back catalog. The sylvan majesty of “Kissing the Lipless” was contrasted by more volume and distortion than ever during its crescendo, the finale of “Sleeping Lessons” almost felt like punk rock, and “Caring Is Creepy” was extra creepy.

“Thanks for helping out,” Mercer told the crowd after their contributed “whoo-oohs” and arm sways on “Phantom Limb”, before casually smiling and remarking how the moon would soon replace the sun. He was at genuine ease behind his craggy beard, seeming grateful to play with his most famous project once more after five years of turmoil and, most frightfully, silence. -Dan Caffrey

nero lollapalooza 2012 ritt 1 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Megan Ritt

Ner0 – Perry’s - 7:00 p.m.

The party continued at Perry’s with Nero, the duo of Daniel Stephens and Joseph Ray, remixing dance favorites into a cheerful slurry of dubstep. Songs mixed into the madness included Daft Punk’s “Technologic”, Drake’s “Forever” (which elicited a wild whoop from the crowd), and a nod to earlier performers Die Antwoord with a remix of their “Fok Julle Naaiers”. Nero didn’t seem particularly invested in the performance, mixing with stoic faces and standing mostly still, but the EDM crowd was just happy that it was cool enough to dance, the lack of enthusiasm luckily failing to transfer to the crowd. -Megan Ritt

m83 lolla 2012 kaplan 2 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Heather Kaplan

M83 - Sony - 7:30 p.m.

Sunset is the perfect time to see M83, a magical band born in the twilight memories of our youth. My neighbor, however, seemed to think they were there only to play “Midnight City”, requesting it loudly and often when he wasn’t trying–and failing–to harmonize with the falsettos on Saturdays=Youth’s “We Own the Sky”. When M83 finally acquiesced, they swept pinpricked light across the audience and boomed, “Chicago!” to a crowd who exploded like they just experienced the drop over at Perry’s. No one seemed to be having as much fun as Anthony Gonzalez and Co., who headbanged and danced across the stage as their frontman’s saxophone riffs tore through the ecstatic audience. -Harley Brown

black sabbath lollapalooza 2012 larson 9 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Black Sabbath - Bud Light - 8:05 p.m.

The energy was at an all-time high before the reunited Black Sabbath appeared. Ozzy Osbourne’s famous, maniacal laughter echoed across the crowd as archival footage of the band appeared on the monitors (even shots of erstwhile drummer Bill Ward, who opted out of this reunion over contractual issues). The curtain fell as guitarist Tony Iommi played the death march of the song that provided the band’s name, the crowd’s devil horns ablaze. Geezer Butler played the bass with such youthful exuberance that it seemed as though he was touring behind 1970’s Paranoid, with Iommi matching him. It was only Ozzy who appeared to be very much in his 60s.

“Come on, you fuckers!” screamed Osbourne after “Behind the Wall of Sleep”, though he didn’t need to; the audience was receptive throughout (there was laughter aplenty after he described “Snowblind” as a “pastime we used to do”). Osbourne, however, struggled as a vocalist. He too often relied upon a teleprompter, which would have been fine if he kept up during the chorus of “Under the Sun” and the speed section of “Electric Funeral”. While his bandmates played as strong as ever, the “Prince of Darkness” struggled in his attempts to hit the high notes in the otherwise terrific “War Pigs”. Despite all the critiquing, it’s the image of kids and young adults jumping around to every song that reminds that this particular performance was more about legacy than Sabbath’s relevance today. It seemed enough for the thousands watching. -Justin Gerber

blackkeys lolla 2012 kaplan 12 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Heather Kaplan

The Black Keys - Red Bull Soundstage - 8:30 p.m.

A festival headliner should know how to make an entrance, and The Black Keys proved themselves worthy of the spot when no less than the mayor of Chicago, Mr. Rahm Emanuel himself, introduced the band. A mountain of fog rolled over the stage, and it looked like the Keys had planned a pompous entrance indeed when Dan Auerbach’s voice came through: “Chicago! I can’t see you—I’m lost up here!” As the cloud broke, he teased warmly, “There you are! The guy doing the fog machine is new,” before he and Patrick Carney ripped into “Howlin’ for You”.

The Keys started their set backed by a bassist and a keys player, who left partway through so Carney and Auerbach could play some songs “just the two of us now.” The more intimate (but no less dirty-blues) portion of the program included “Girl Is on My Mind” and “Little Black Submarine”, Auerbach holding the guitar close to his face and nodding when the notes hit right—and just about all of them did. For a deeply funky rock band, the Keys are deliberate with each individual chord. Fireworks broke over the lake as the duo wailed on “Money Maker” and continued through “Strange Times”, and it was hard to say whether it was the Keys or the coincidental pyrotechnics that inspired more oohs and ahhs. -Megan Ritt

Saturday, August 4th

milo greene lollapalooza 2012 ritt 1 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Megan Ritt

Milo Greene - Playstation - 12:00 p.m.

Lollapalooza has never been short on up-and-coming bands, but in Saturday’s earliest slot, Milo Greene truly had something to prove. In fact, the L.A. quintet released their debut album only two weeks ago. “I can’t think of a better coming out party than this,” they told the crowd between perpetual harmonies, adding a surprising amount of energy and thrash to bittersweet anthems, from the yearning momentum of “Don’t You Give Up on Me” to the heartbroken roll of fan favorite “1957”. To further show their gratitude to the city, they launched into an invigorated cover of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” in what was perhaps the classiest move from a band at the festival thus far. -Dan Caffrey

chief keef lollapalooza 2012 larson Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Chief Keef - Perry’s - 12:15 p.m.

Chief Keef has a mixtape out this year called Back From the Dead and it’s completely whatever except for one song, “I Don’t Like”, which is addictive as hell and has lots of style and very little substance. It’s essentially a catchphrase song, which is nearing the kind of out of context insufferableness as “The Motto”. The song owes a large part of its success to being able to insert “That’s that shit I don’t like” into daily conversation, and mark my words the phrase will end up on a designer t-shirt before the end of a year.

Anyhow, Keef brought out his crew of aproximately 1,000 people to the stage with him as he opened the day at Perry’s stage. His performance had very little substance and unfortunately very little style. I can’t blame him though — if I were offered to play Lollapalooza last minute because of the hype surrounded me, I’d know that they want me more than I want them. That kind of arrogance (or was it shyness?) was on full display with Keef hardly acknowledging the audience for most of the set. When he closed with “I Don’t Like”, the crowd of eager EDM kids seemed to recognize it and chanted along and mobbed out. I believe in Chief Keef, but you don’t see me picking a bushel of apples from a sapling. Pump the breaks a bit. -Jeremy D. Larson

doomtree lollapalooza 2012 larson Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Doomtree – Red Bull Sound Stage – 12:45 p.m.

Doomtree came blasting out in full force, harnessing the power of the midday sun to deliver a set crammed with 13 songs (both solo work and tracks from group album No Kings) for an eager crowd. The entire crew was there minus Sims, and they rarely stopped for more than a breath between songs. Their energy was intoxicating, their flow lycra-tight, and all the live-produced beats from Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger were on point. Rocking a studded, sleeveless jean jacket during one of the set’s few breaks, POS stepped up to say, “We want to just give you guys as many songs as we can in the time we’ve got, but I wanted to take a moment to say how honored we are to be here. Truly, truly honored.” The crowd was more than thankful, even standing in the open sun. -Nick Freed

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

JEFF the Brotherhood - Playstation - 1:30 p.m.

If your band consists of only a drummer and guitarist, you better have the tunes and charisma to pull it off (see: The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and Japandroids). Nashville siblings JEFF the Brotherhood had neither. Although pleasant to the crowd, the Orrall brothers seemed oddly apathetic as they slogged through their country-baked garage cuts. Their constantly whirring fog machine did nothing to enliven the thin percussion and soloing, and neither did Jake Orrall’s lackadaisical sneer. -Dan Caffrey

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

The Tallest Man on Earth - Playstation - 6:30 p.m.

After 50+ mph winds and heavy rain tore through Grant Park, suspending Lollapalooza for over three hours, Sweden’s Kristian Matsson (aka The Tallest Man on Earth) assumed the responsibility of restoring the festival’s energy (as a friend wisely observed: “The tallest man feels the rain first”). It wasn’t easy: A buzzy, frenetic crowd gathered for his intimate, soul-scratching folk, only to splinter a series of opening tracks, namely “1904”, “The Gardener”, and “Criminals”. Yet Matsson, with only a guitar or a piano in tow, found a way to satiate a very hungry crowd–even wearing a Hawaiian lei tossed up by a nearby fan–with empowering, heart-wrenching cuts, like an unplanned performance of “It Will Follow the Rain”, an easy sing-along in “King of Spain”, and an electrified encore of “Where Do My Bluebirds Fly”. While one passing festival-goer thought Matsson resembled a grizzled Joel McHale and sounded like Dashboard Confessional (can’t make this stuff up), everyone else walked away with a new hero to behold. -Michael Roffman

the weeknd lollapalooza 2012 larson Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

The Weeknd - Red Bull Sound Stage - 7:15 p.m.

“Mother nature’s a fucking bitch,” Abel Tesfaye (AKA The Weeknd) declared shortly after beginning his delayed set. “We’re still gonna rock out though, right?” And he and his backing band did precisely that, transforming his brand of rhythm and blues into fully realized rock n’ roll. “High for This” featured enough thudding percussion to knock mud off the filthiest festival attendees, while the seductive “Life of the Party” had the crowd raising roofs in unison. A month ago, this would have been the genre pull of the weekend, until that dude from Odd Future popped up later on. -Justin Gerber

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Franz Ferdinand - Bud Light - 7:30 p.m.

“We see rain in Glasgow, but I’ve never seen rain like that,” quipped frontman Alex Kapranos. As Franz Ferdinand kicked off with the staccato dance-punk of “The Dark of the Matinee”, the crowd seemed drowsy, the Bud Light Stage’s sound was muddled (as usual), and neither the band’s video projections nor the jumbo LED screens worked (much to the grumbling of folks stuck way in the back). The first half of the set was serviceable, with Kapranos jolting his baritone through perfectly fine renditions of hits such as the dude-seducing “Michael” and the stadium staple “Do You Want To”.

But then something remarkable happened. The screens suddenly switched on, the crowd went wild, and the people in the rear could finally see what Franz Ferdinand looked like. It’s unclear whether their setlist was preplanned or whether the decision was impromptu, but they went full throttle into “Take Me Out”, inducing audience-wide dancing and infectious energy for the rest of their show. -Dan Caffrey

bloc party lollapalooza 2012 larson Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Bloc Party - Sony - 8:15 p.m.

Olympics aside, the Brits know how to put on a good show, and Bloc Party was no exception. As frontman Kele Okereke hit the stage, just as the gray skies shifted to a murky, black abyss (for a second time on the day), the post-evacuated Lollapalooza audience reeled in excitement, ready to kick up some mud. The UK four-piece wasted no time testing material off of their forthcoming studio LP, Four, opening with “3X3”. Albeit a rocky opener, the tired crowd received it well enough, and Okereke continued with more favorable material like “Banquet”, “This Modern Love”, and “Helicopter”.

It would, however, have been nice to actually hear the songs from this stage, as opposed to deciphering them through beats emanating from Perry’s. This bleed-through was a recurring issue at the Sony Stage, one that peaked amidst Friday’s M83 set. Thankfully, though, Bloc Party still managed to deliver what little goods were actually being expensed in the shortened evening offerings. Rain or shine, right? Oy. -Phillip Roffman

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Twin Shadow - Google Play - 8:30 p.m.

It was inspiring to think that 15 minutes would leave ample time to set up and take down between each set–yet also far too idealistic. Following Washed Out’s swift and balmy performance, an overzealous team put together Twin Shadow’s  intricate setup. The minutes inched towards 8:30 p.m., then scaled past with ease. Some 15 minutes later, there wasn’t any music, only an angry George Lewis Jr. and a restless crowd. We’ll give you this, George: It certainly sucked that soundcheck was cut back. But, really, did you have to be a perfectionist and take an extra (and incredibly unnecessary) ten minutes to fiddle with the levels? Granted, the ensuing set sounded splendid–especially the hustling basslines in “Shooting Holes” and the glossy guitar riffs bookmarking “Five Seconds”–but it all ended before it ever really began. In hindsight, Lewis Jr. may have spent more time poking his fingers in the air at the sound guy than he did chiseling the fretboard of his guitar, and that’s just a major goddamn bummer. -Michael Roffman

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Red Bull Sound Stage - 9:00 p.m.

Neither rain nor mud nor alcohol poisoning could keep them away from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The crowd packed in literally as far as the eye could see. The set didn’t open so much as it exploded into a full-on rock show, complete with blaring lights and shaky, black-and-white “capital-R Rock”-style videos on the side screens (which were all most fans could see by that point). Classics like “Otherside” and “Snow” elicited a 50k-strong sing-along from the audience, Anthony Kiedis’s inimitable voice almost lost in the hum.

Actually, a lot of the Chili Peppers’ music seemed lost. Neither Chad Smith on drums nor Josh Klinghoffer on guitar made much of an impression, and Kiedis let his vocals wander in a way that might’ve been intended as improvisation, but read more as laziness. Though both Flea and Kiedis played shirtless and there was a lot of jumping around onstage, only Flea seemed to be really giving it his all. Those signature basslines jumped out with all the verve of years gone by, though he punctuated the songs with mushy comments like “I see goodness!” alternated with calling the crowd “motherfuckers.”

rhcp lolla 2012 kaplan 3 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Heather Kaplan

Those aforementioned motherfuckers seemed mostly interested in being able to say they’d seen the Peppers over any kind of legitimate musical experience; the audience was a sea of phones taking photos when the song was well known and shouted conversations when it wasn’t. Newer tracks like “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” and “Monarchy of Roses” were lost on all but the most ardent fans, although the band trucked right on, seemingly oblivious to what effect they might be having on the crowd. Long before the end, mud-caked fans removed themselves from the crowd, some tripping on each other or vomiting, quietly singing along with “Californication” as they dragged themselves home. -Megan Ritt

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Frank Ocean – Google Play - 9:45 p.m.

Even though Google Play was a smaller stage than I was expecting for Frank Ocean–especially since his contemporary The Weeknd took over the headlining Red Bull Stage just an hour earlier–the size gave the performance an intimate feel, as though Ocean were one of those undiscovered acts that only a few of us knew about. Below the too-perfect evening clouds drifting overhead, he opened his set by covering Sade’s “By Your Side” with just an acoustic guitar, the universal signal to turn off your cell phones and whip out those lighters, because you’re about to spend an evening with Frank Ocean.

He segued into another acoustic cut, “Summer Remains”, before pulling out a full backing band for “Thinkin’ Bout You”. “This will be familiar to those of you who know it. But only those who know it,” he said, before singing along with the audience and even withholding his striking falsetto so his fans could sing the chorus instead. Ocean sampled across his discography, from “Strawberry Swing” (“Anybody on mushrooms?”) to “Made in America” to “Novacane”. For the most part, the live drums and electric guitar solos fleshed out Ocean’s voice, except for the unnecessarily bombastic fills during the otherwise subdued “Crack Rock”. When I remembered that “Pyramids” was 10 minutes long and realized it would be the set closer, I also wished Ocean had been given more time for an album that well-deserves it. -Harley Brown

Sunday, August 5th

bowerbirds lollapalooza 2012 ritt 3 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Megan Ritt

Bowerbirds – Sony - 12:00 p.m.

Bowerbirds kicked off the final day of Lolla gently with their quiet brand of folk rock. Tracks like “Dark Horse” and “Stitch the Hem” shimmered under the clear blue sky on waves of dreamy guitar and synth lines. Hello, Sunday. -Megan Ritt

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Photo by Megan Ritt

Verve Pipe - Kidz - 12:30 p.m.

The Verve Pipe confused hipsters and delighted children with a family-friendly set completely lacking in “Freshman” malaise. Tracks about joining a band, writing songs, and the real ingredients in hot dogs had little folks jumping around and jamming on inflatable guitars. The band was totally invested in the set, which came complete with silly voices, sound effects, and good-as-ever guitar playing. -Megan Ritt

oberhofer lollapalooza 2012 ritt 1 Festival Review: CoS at Lollapalooza 2012

Photo by Megan Ritt

Oberhofer - Bud Light - 1:00 p.m.

Early sets are always tough for young bands to pull off at Lollapalooza, but New York basement rockers Oberhofer did more than a commendable job with their set. The band came running out on stage with a youthful power and energy that lasted the entire 45 minutes, and made it a joy to watch. Their lo-fi recordings were turned into lush, booming arena rockers, with track “Haus” getting a full distorted jam session that showcased that aforementioned energy and the band’s musical talent — especially drummer Pete Sustarsic’s. The crowd grew quickly as they played, and probably bore plenty new fans. -Nick Freed

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Polica - Sony - 1:30 p.m.

“I know we’re all burning together,” singer Channy Leaneagh (of Polica) acknowledged. “If you have darker skin, you’re probably having a better time.” Weird comments aside, the rhythm section that is the band guided Leaneagh’s deep alto through songs “Happy Be Fine” and “Form”, while her rhythmic-movement to each beat led many in the audience to do the same. However, after playing a number of samples during various songs, the lingering question was: Poliça opted for two drummers, but no keyboardist? -Justin Gerber

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

White Rabbits - Bud Light - 2:30 p.m.

A one-word review for White Rabbits’ set is: Pleasant. A nightmarish term for some, but it was good enough for this crowd. “It’s Temporary” brought out much of lead singer Stephen Patterson’s faux-Brit vocals as the band bounced around on various instruments throughout this and the remaining set, while lead guitarist Alex Even did his best Nels-Cline-guitar-exploration during a relentless “Lionesse”. -Justin Gerber

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

The Walkmen - Sony - 3:00 p.m.

The Walkmen‘s Hamilton Leithauser has never been anything but a proper, stoic frontman. Sporting a tight black suit and some aviators, the alpine vocalist returned to Lollapalooza once again fashionably but far more self-assured. “As Lady Gaga said the last time we were at Lollapalooza, ‘It’s hot as fuck up here,'” he exclaimed, yanking off his coat after coursing through breadwinner single “The Rat”. Past staples like “Canadian Girl” or “In the New Year” were well received, but felt out-shined by newer material like the ’50s swagger of “Heartbreaker” or the tasty, hook-heavy “Heaven”. And Leithauser’s self-effacing acoustic ballad, “We Can’t Be Beat”, could have gone wrong in so many ways — it was midday at a festival with everyone literally baking in the sun — but it whisked on by as one of the set’s extraordinary highlights. Yeah, they’re doing just fine these days. -Michael Roffman

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Dum Dum Girls - Google Play - 3:30 p.m.

It never ceases to amaze me how Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee and Jules manage to strum their guitars from side to side in perfect unison, even while wearing all black in terrific sunlight. Sporting a new bassist, Malia, the band pounded through a midday set of tighter, older cuts like “I Will Be” and “Jail La La” (“If you know this song, feel free to sing along”) while leaving room for Dee Dee to showcase her developing vocal chops on “Bedroom Eyes” and a new song, whose lyrics “I give up my voice/ Into the night/ I go without choice” only cemented Dee Dee’s status as a preeminent songwriter. -Harley Brown

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Photo by saspauld/Instagram

Jack White – Reckless Records on Milwaukee – 3:30 p.m.

As a warm up to Sunday’s main event, Jack White performed a surprise “b show” at Reckless Records (on Milwaukee) a little after 3:30 p.m.. (The b-show concept dates back to The White Stripes’ 2007 Canadian tour.) The show was announced via Twitter some 45 minutes prior, and Reckless was soon packed to the brim, resulting in a 20-degree temperature rise and CD racks being used as step stools by the time White came strolling through the front door. The setup was pretty expansive given the circumstances, with White and his band of fellas squeezed into a floor level stage at the back of the store. “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” kicked things off, followed by a pair of Blunderbuss tracks, “We’re Going to Be Friends”, and an extensive jam-out of The Ractoneurs’ “Top Yourself” to close things out. It proved your standard Jack White performance — a rock legend leading a band up to the task, guitar solos, crowd singalongs, and looks of awe, and for 25 minutes a record store some four miles from Grant Park was the envy of every wristband-wearing patron burning in the heat of Lollapalooza. -Alex Young

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Sigur Rós - Red Bull Soundstage - 4:15 p.m.

Full disclosure: I wasn’t particularly excited for Sigur Rós at Lollapalooza. Their early set time, which just so happened to strike around the time the sun was the strongest, didn’t exactly scream: Icelandic ambient post-rock. Yet when “Svefn-g-englar” swallowed the manure-smelling plains of Grant Park, everything became still. The serene, spacey track, outlined by Jónsi’s signature extraterrestrial vocals, whisked away the sun, the sky, the fans, and just, ugh, everything. Although “Varúð”, off this year’s Valtari, couldn’t quite compare, the following journey through “Saeglopur”, ”Olsen Olsen”, and “Hoppípolla” kept pushing the crowd further into a lucid dream that no act at Lollapalooza could come close to creating. However, reality plowed through during “Popplagið”, when the thunderous cracks of Jónsi’s orgy of distortion drew things to a incendiary finish. Collectively, the whole thing felt like that mindfuck of an ending for 2001: A Space Odyssey, only instead of dying in a bed and pointing at a monolith, we just walked away, stepped in gooey mud, and complained about it being only an hour. Once again, why weren’t they headliners? They sure as hell had the crowds to be one. -Michael Roffman

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

The Gaslight Anthem - Google Play - 4:45 p.m.

In light of their increasing success, it’s easy to forget the The Gaslight Anthem‘s punk roots, which they proudly displayed in a set packed with especially scrappy versions of fan favorites. “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” became a red-blooded testament to romance as frontman Brian Fallon did away with his guitar, clutched his chest, and howled at the sky. Melodramatic? Yes. Sincere? Unquestionably. A crowd that knew every last word was proof of the New Jersey act’s live power, and in a weekend filled with constant band tributes to the Windy City, Fallon and co. took the cake by inserting an a cappella verse of Ryan Adams’ “Dear Chicago” in the middle of “Old White Lincoln”. -Dan Caffrey

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

At The Drive-In - Red Bull Soundstage - 6:00 p.m.

Thousands of fans’ pent up nostalgia nearly burst in pieces to the strains of Danzig’s “Mother” at the Red Bull Soundstage. Minutes later, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, wearing a radiant pink Sears Tower shirt, strolled up to the mic and announced, “Good morning, we’re collectively known as Latin Danzig.” Good start, here’s an even better one: “Arcarsenal” into “Pattern Against User”, mirroring the tracklisting for the band’s breakthrough (and final) album, 2000’s Relationship of Command. With Bixler-Zavala climbing amps, throwing microphone stands, jumping from drum kits, and sprawling about the stage, the furious audience couldn’t help but mimic this energy.

Hands down, At The Drive-In delivered the most engaging rock ‘n’ roll experience all weekend. Even in the darkest hour of the set, that being a mild five minute break due to extreme technical difficulties, Bixler-Zavala, pocketing his once “fuck you” attitude, couldn’t help but play the role of Johnny Carson and get the audience involved in the matter. ”Paul [Hinojos] said it’ll be another hour before we start again,” he joked. “Lets have a Q&A.” Discussions involved chanklas (after someone tossed up a shoe earlier mid-song), changing his name to Cedric Lion (in reference to Snoop’s recent career misstep), and a check-in with the crew (“How ya doin’?” Bixler-Zavala asked, sitting down next to the exasperated technician in a buddy-buddy fashion).

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Soon enough, things were operational once more and they threw an aural molotov cocktail with “Enfilade”. From older cuts (“Chanbara”, “Napoleon Solo”) to favorites (“One Armed Scissor”, “Catacombs”), the setlist felt eerily natural, as if they were a band again and not some coin operated machine. Well, almost. While Bixler-Zavala, Jim Ward, Hinojos, and Tony Hajjar gave it their all, Omar Rodriquez-Lopez stuck out like a sore thumb — his posture, demeanor, stage position, and attitude screaming, “Why aren’t I in a studio recording another solo album?” — as he quietly strummed along to some of the hardest chord progressions of the past few decades. But, he played well, and it’s hard to fault him for not acting like a fucking lunatic or something of similar ilk. Now, it’s been said that At The Drive-In will never produce another album, which is admirable, but one hopes they keep performing like a band — especially if this performance wasn’t just some fluke thing. -Phillip Roffman 

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Florence + the Machine - Bud Light - 6:15 p.m.

Florence + the Machine wasn’t a headliner, but apparently nobody told the crowd that packed in from the Bud Light stage all the way back to the Playstation. Nobody told Florence Welch either, and she certainly acted like she’d been in the endzone before. She came gliding on stage like a goddess, her famous red hair piled high Ceremonials cover style, in a long flowing red and purple gown, and she held the audience in a turn of her graceful hand for the entire set.

While she sang the predictable tracks, like “Dog Days Are Over” and “Shake It Out”, Welch also took time to bask in the adoration of the screaming audience, lingering between tracks to encourage people to be good to one another. “More making out, more dancing, more girls on shoulders!” she implored, spinning majestically into statuesque poses. Though a little of her legendarily hearty voice was lost into the sky, Welch more than compensated with an energetic performance, literally running back and forth across the stage and once, up the photo pit and down the center aisle in the crowd—a body guard hard-pressed to keep up with her—and slapping hands with the audience, all while continuing to belt out “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”. -Megan Ritt

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Miike Snow - Sony - 7:15 p.m.

Miike Snow’s blip of Balearic pop might not have the heft of Jack White’s rock or Kaskade’s hammer drops, but it’s almost scientifically timed to pitch-perfection, especially live. Every time the Swedish outfit played the next song, they managed to up the ante: escalating the bass to ribcage-shifting levels on “Paddling Out”, starting “Black & Blue” with just Andrew Wyatt’s vocals and a piano before the beats kicked in, and riffing off “Silvia” to culminate in a climax that felt more organic than the desperate thumps I had heard all weekend at Perry’s. When Miike Snow introduced “‘Bavarian No. 1: Say You Will’– and we hope that you will,” it may have been a foregone conclusion, but it was still polite that they asked. And it’s that consideration for the audience that drives such careful attention to timing subtleties, which resulted in one of the weekend’s best sets. -Harley Brown

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Jack White - Red Bull Soundstage - 8:15 p.m.

Bathed in blue light, Jack White and his all-male backing band (The Buzzards) crashed cymbals, shred guitars, and bashed piano keys, all before the first song. Such organized chaos set the tone for the evening, as White played songs from every venture in his heralded career, many with a twist. “Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground” switched from guitar-driven to piano-commanded, while “Black Math” mutated mid-song into classic rock by way of Deep Purple. The material is boosted by the fact that White’s bands play it all: slide guitar, violin, bass, multiple pianos, drums, guitar, etc.; a far cry from the days of Jack/Meg/guitar/drums/piano. As for the newbies, Blunderbuss tracks “Freedom at 21” and “Sixteen Saltines” stack up incredibly well in a set filled with retrospection.

But wait, there’s more! During “Love Interruption” (fantastic duet with Ruby Amanfu intact), The Buzzards were replaced by the all-female Peacocks. While a bit more country for “Hotel Yorba” (now with violin solos!), that didn’t stop them from pummeling just as hard as their male-counterparts during “The Hardest Button to Button” and set closer “Seven Nation Army”. Whether playing with The Buzzards or The Peacocks, White seems happier than ever on stage. Encouraging audience participation by handclaps (“Missing Pieces”) and sing-a-longs (“Steady as She Goes”), the former White Stripe appears content at just being Jack White. The thousands upon thousands watching seemed to agree.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

And that 30-second break when White seemed to prepare both himself and the audience for what was to come with “Ball and Biscuit”? You just had to be there for those precious seconds. -Justin Gerber

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Childish Gambino - Google Play - 8:45 p.m.

“We only got 60 minutes, so we gotta’ do all the hits,” Donald Glover told the audience before ripping through a whiplash collection of songs from his hip-hop moniker Childish Gambino. Although widely recognized for his humor, Glover’s conviction and energy was as as serious as a train wreck, despite a few jokes sprinkled throughout the set (the projection of the words “John Legend’s voice, keep clapping” during his remix of Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” was a highlight).

But despite the crowd’s enthusiasm and Glover’s uncanny ability to work them, one couldn’t help but wonder if he was being too serious. Everyone in his band, from the keyboardist to the multiple drummers and guitarists to the violinist, was blasted at full volume, the flashing lights never stopped, and Glover himself perpetually pounced around the stage in a caffeinated frenzy. The relentless visual and sonic overload became overwhelming, making it difficult to decipher his vocals and appreciate both the dramatic and comic lyrical nuggets found in standout tracks such as “Freaks and Geeks,” even though its words were displayed on the screen behind him. Charisma and showmanship aside, it would be nice to see Glover spit his songs with a touch of nuance. They certainly deserve it. -Dan Caffrey

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Justice - Bud Light - 8:30 p.m.

Two things struck me immediately about Justice’s set: the wall of glowing amps mirroring the Chicago skyline directly behind it and the elderly woman pushing her wheelchair out of the crowd, which can be attributed to aesthetics and Justice’s universal crowd appeal, obviously. Another, more indirect thought is that I had been deriding the DJs at Perry’s all weekend when the predecessor to their so-called EDM– a.k.a., kind of the same thing– was pulsing right in front of me, with the same kids wearing the same glowsticks. And it wasn’t all that bad.

Which is a way of saying that “Civiliation”’s lyrics “Beat it on a million drums/ Fire half a million guns” didn’t sound like an exaggeration when backed by those instantly recognizable, sludgy beats that sliced through the night like a laser beam from an extraterrestrial disco. “D.V.N.O.” and “D.A.N.C.E.”’s “four capital letters, all printed in gold” accomplished the same effect, bulldozing the way for a drink-and-you’ll-miss-it sample of Jay-Z’s “On to the Next One”. Other than that, Justice weren’t ones for subtlety, only taking a (long) break at one point for Xavier de Rosnay to descend from their podium, holding up his hand for the audience’s adulation. I suppose they deserved it, even if we were all impatiently “ready to ignite” already. -Harley Brown

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Divine Fits – Schubas – 12:00 a.m.

While Mr. White properly closed Lollapalooza, Britt Daniel (of Spoon) and Dan Boeckner (of The Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade) were tasked in tugging down the weekend’s proverbial curtains. As Divine Fits, their new supergroup featuring keyboardist Alex Fischel and drummer Sam Brown (of New Bomb Turks), the four holed up in Chicago’s always-intimate Schubas Tavern, where they previewed their forthcoming debut album, A Thing Called the Divine Fits.

With Daniel and Boeckner trading off vocal duties, the project sways between tracks that echo either of their respective outfits — but that’s strictly an echo. Opener “Flaggin a Ride” solders Daniel’s voice box vocals with a potent batter of Television and Kraftwerk, while the Boeckner-sung “Look at You Alone” speeds up old Violent Femmes stylings with shells of Wolf Parade. It’s altogether different, but it’s just similar enough to draw you in.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Some of it’s just a matter of quaint tinkering, like on “For Your Heart”, another Boeckner-led tune that wraps early U2 guitar lines (think: 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire) with Fischel’s sparkling synths shipped over from Madchester. Earlier on, Daniel also shined on “Like Ice Cream”, a Spoon song if only the Austin collective had formed in 1976 and were mentored by Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott. There’s even a little Petty in there, which makes sense given that they closed their set with a heroic cover of the songwriter’s classic FM staple, “You Got Lucky”. iTunes exclusive, guys? Please?

“This is the first place I ever set foot in Chicago,” Boeckner explained to their inordinately cordial crowd. “We’ve been doing these hometown shows and this is the first one where we’re not from and it feels good.” It was their fourth gig to date, and already they enjoyed the company of diehard fanatics, one who replied back: “You know, you’re always welcome in Chicago.” The four of them could hardly contain their smiles, but neither could the sold-out crowd. -Michael Roffman

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson


Photographer(s): Heather Kaplan, Jeremy D. Larson, and Megan Ritt

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