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Lollapalooza 2013 Day One: Yup, It's Massive

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 3, 2013 5:15PM

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Lollapalooza is huge, and because of that it's incredibly difficult to cover unless you have a small army at your disposal. We don;' have an army but we do have a few hardy staff members who were willing to take up the challenge and deliver their impressions of the festival over the next few days. You have me, the industry veteran who has been attending Lollapalooza since 1991 and hasn't missed a year of it's Chicago-based destination incarnation. Michelle Meywes has attended it every year since 2005 and over the years has made the transition from the partying in the crowd to covering it behind the scenes. We have Jessica Mlinaric providing notes from the crowd as a fan. And we have Chuck Sudo, who is no stranger to huge fests but can provide a different perspective as someone who is newer to the experience Lollapalooza has grown into. - Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo of Icona Pop. Photo Credit: Getty Images
I got to Grant Park around 1 p.m. and was struck by how crowded the grounds already were. In all the years I've been there I've never seen it get that packed that soon. And as I rushed to the south side of the grounds to catch Icona Pop's set the crowd only got thicker. Usually when i cover bands I like to watch most of the sets from the crowd—because, duh, it's far more fun—but this was one time I was happy to be at the side of the stage because there was absolutely no room in the crowd. And, truth be told, while the Swedish electro-pop duo of Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo has tons of energy and can be fun to watch, the massive throng filling the field in front of them was having the time of their lives and were an absolute joy to watch. The stifling heat gave way to bursts of rain and it only seemed to turn up the energy and the crowds thirst for more. Despite the fact most folks are unfamiliar with Icona Pop outside the hit "I Love It," everyone around me was into the whole set. In fact, the only tune that didn't fully deliver was "I Love It," which has been re-worked for live performances to draw it out longer and deflate its impact when the charm of the song is its condensed pop-packed punch.

From there I made my way to the Grove stage to catch Atlas Genius—one of the other acts I was most looking forward to this weekend—and was met by another dense crowd dancing their collective ass of tho the group's ultra-catchy tunes. I stood at the back, peering around a tree for glimpses of the actual band here and there until finally just giving in and relaxing and simply listened to the group deliver a tight, incredibly well received set. - Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Well, this is Lollapalooza. Photo Credit: Getty Images

It was 2:25 p.m. when Perry’s Stage claimed its first victim, a kid who passed out 15 feet away from the Camelback water refilling station during Timeflies’ 2 p.m. set. Even though he tried to keep the party going as EMTs hauled him away, it was a fitting example of the lack of subtlety the programming at Perry’s Stage has become. The influence of the DJ and dance music-themed stage continues its ripple effect over Lollapalooza’s programming, just don’t mistake it for some sort of counterculture movement. It’s a brutal assault of pulsing beats, flashing lights and constant calls for the crowd to “make some fuckin’ noise” because “Chicago is fuckin’ hard.”

Papa Emeritus II of Ghost B.C. Photo Credit: Theo Wargo / Getty Images
The crowd—nearly all of them bros in throwback basketball jerseys or barely legal girls wearing high-waisted shorts leaving little to the imagination below—oblige, yet it isn’t enough and the calls for noise continue unabated. The audience’s rhythmic movements never change, whether they’re dancing to the rock-tinged dubstep of Modestep, the heavy bass of Flux Pavilion’s dubstep or Steve Aoki’s mélange of electronic and house music grooves.

It all makes for an impressive display and yet feels more like an unrelenting live-action American Apparel ad than a tent revival: the commoditization of dance music. I recognize I’m not in the target age demographic for Perry’s Stage (zygote-24) but the ambulances massed on Balbo at the far end of Perry’s Stage, their lights flashing in perfect rhythm with the bass, tells the more accurate story than any words of pictures can express. - Chuck Sudo

I attempted to decompress from my first dive into the scene at Perry’s Stage by heading over to the Bud Light stage to catch final third of Ghost B.C.’s cartoonish heavy metal. Visually and lyrically, the Swedish band takes direct cues from the legendary metal vocalist King Diamond, while their music incorporates elements of Blue Oyster Cult’s progressive metal and early Black Sabbath; you won’t find much in the way of Yngwie Malmsteen-style guitar acrobatics here. Unlike Diamond and his seminal efforts with Mercyful Fate and as a solo artist, however, there’s little sense of menace in Ghost B.C.’s music or stage show. Vocalist Pope Emeritus II has a nice enough voice and his stage garb—he dons skull makeup and dresses like a Satanic version of a Roman Catholic bishop—evoke more of a happy, cartoony Satan than the legitimate dread Diamond inspired in his prime. - Chuck Sudo

Jessie Ware. Photo Credit: Chuck Sudo / Chicagoist

Over at the Petrillo bandshell, Jessie Ware bounded the stage just as Ghost B.C.’s set ended dressed like a backup dancer in Soul II Soul, complete with a ponytail cinched near the top of her head, big hoop earrings, cropped-top tank top and a flowing silk blouse. Ware also fumbled with her in-ear monitors, resulting in some off-key singing on “Devotion” and “Night Light.” The tepid crowd did her no favors and applause throughout her set was light and polite. - Chuck Sudo

I didn’t get to the festival until about 5:30 p.m. Friday because I had to put the hours in at my day job, but I did get to watch a little of the webcast of Smith Westerns and Icona Pop. The webcast provided a different perspective from the stage, and I was surprised to see how large the crowd was at 2:30 p.m. It got me amped to get there. I got to see a couple of memorable moments, too, including Icona Pop encouraging the audience to make out with strangers. I’m paraphrasing here, but, according to Caroline Hjelt, you’re probably never going to see that person anyway, so go for it. - Michelle Meywes

Lollapalooza’s Chow Town was set up so that festival attendees could easily find something to eat or drink the main promenade set up along Columbus Parkway. Lines were long at the stands located to the north of the fest, by The Grove, Bud Light and Petrillo stages, while queues for Grahamwich’s lobster corn dogs stretched across Columbus. The spacing of the food vendors was perfect and anyone complaining of not being able to find a thing to eat wasn’t trying. Beer and wine tents were also plentiful, with the wine sales brisk, based on the number of sport bottles I saw. Those sport bottles were quickly repurposed at the Camelback filling stations located throughout Grant Park. The longest lines for water were, predictably, at Perry’s stage, the kiddies twerkin’ in line to the music, afraid to stop dancing. - Chuck Sudo

I've seen Crystal Castles a number of times over the years, from a packed and punk fury-ed show at Double Door years ago to playing Lollapalooza just three years ago, and the band's intensity hasn't lessened but they've certainly grown more pop. Singer Alice Glass is still full of swagger and menace onstage, unafraid to throw grand theatrical glowers to and fro, so the band's punk rock heart still beats, but Ethan Kath's beats and briefcase of sounds have grown more melodic and accessible which led to more of the crowd dancing than moshing, which was O.K. for an old dude like me. It was also during their set I found the absolute perfect place in the middle of the crowd to watch bands on the big stages at the south end of Grant park and no I'm not telling you where it is until after the weekend! As the band finished I made my way to the media area to collect some notes and passed Glass backstage and was struck by how friendly and open she was asking, posing with fans, seconds after a performance that portrayed her as one scary, sexy, bad motherfucker. - Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Frightened Rabbit at the Grove Stage. Photo Credit: Chuck Sudo / Chicagoist
Nostalgia is always going to be a factor at any massive music fest—even the indies like Pitchfork have that ingredient in their line-ups—and that's what drew me to watch New Order's set. The band took the stage and Bernard Sumner drew an immediate party foul for wearing a New Order t-shirt, but whatever, he's Bernard Sumner. The band played a reliable and solid set but mostly but it never truly caught fire. Those that wanted to hear all the classics got them and by midway through the set I was already making my way back up north to catch the tail end of a blistering set from Queens Of The Stone Age. - Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

The Grove stage seemed a fitting match for Frightened Rabbit’s folk-hued rock anthems and the band seemed content with finding their way in the early going. Midway through the set the band locked into a groove, built on that, and had the crowd into a lather by the end of their set. Singer Scott Hutchinson managed to walk a fine line between frontman and budding arena rocker as he urged the audience to sing along, but not in too polished a manner. Hutchinson also had some sound advice for festival attendees burning fat, cartoonish joints during the band’s “Late March, Death March”—”get home and sleep this off.” - Chuck Sudo

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Photo Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

I've seen Nine Inch Nails a number of times from their first appearance at Lollapalooza in 1991 when their set turned the lawn of the amphitheater in Tinly Park into a swirling, dancing mosh pit to the "farewell" show at Aragon a few years ago. So I've seen Trent Reznor grow from a whippet thin snarling ball of rage into a heavily muscled and massively ripped ball of rage. And usually I would make fun of a band reuniting after such a short retirement but the band's intense return to the stage just made me realize how fucking good it is to have the band back. Reznor and his crew kept the stage set to a bare minimum, and while the show was streamed online the screens to the sides of the stage remained blank forcing the crowd to focus their attention and the band and their music instead of watching them on a screen. I thought it was gutsy and in the end the right choice since at this point Reznor seems happier focusong on the emotion of the moment instead of the theatricality of a spectacle. - Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Those Oscar statues must be heavy because Trent Reznor has definitely been doing some heavy lifting. Photo Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Trent Reznor was channeling all kinds of '90s glory in a sleeveless tee, shorts and socks hiked up to his knees (all in black, of course), not that most in the crowd even noticed since they didn’t have the side video screens on. Shadow screens that moved around the stage and strobe lights made for an undistracted presentation. Once I finally moved to the far right of the crowd, I could see just fine, and I had plenty of room around me to enjoy the show. 16-year-old me was thrilled to hear a ton of "pig" selections from The Downward Spiral including some that I don’t think I’d heard since I was 16, and I’ll be honest, it felt weird but exhilarating. I know I wasn’t the only one remembering some old feelings—“So much angst up there!” a friend said while running by me to the bar. The set took a bit of a nosedive energy wise for a while as they played some down tempo, lower level tracks, but things picked right back up again with “The Hand That Feeds,” “Head Like A Hole” and the iconic “Hurt.” I would have preferred the two closing songs had been switched so that the set ended with a bang, but I really can’t complain about seeing an amazing set from the industrial legends, especially after seeing Reznor throw his mic stand across the stage. Now please excuse me while I go dust off my copies of The Downward Spiral and Broken. - Michelle Meywes

After the final strains of music faded and the crowd filed out I and made my way back to Ultra Lounge for the Brooklyn Vegan last-minute show featuring The Thermals. After a day of a sprawl with its own it was a sheer joy to see the Portland power-punk trio take a stage in a room the size of your parents' basement. It was so much fun I even dance. Me, a veteran of years of standing calmly in the back evaluating bands so I can write about them intelligently just lost it and jumped up and down like a giddy sixteen year old. It was an awesome way to close out a day that started well and steadily got better and better. - Jim Kopeny / Tankboy