Lollapalooza 2012: M83, Passion Pit, Black Sabbath, & More
12:00 p.m. @ The Playstation Stage: First Aid Kit I eased into Lollapalooza’s chaos slowly, with an early set by First Aid Kit — two sisters, Klara and Johanna Soderberg, from Sweden, ages 18 and 20 — who play woodsy Americana-inspired ballads. They also brought a Swedish drummer along with them — a long-haired, bearded guy — who played a baby blue glock on some songs, and a heavy bass drum on others. “We are First Aid Kit, two Swedish sisters,” said Klara, the younger of the two. “And a Swedish drummer. From Sweden. It’s amazing to be back here, this amazing view, all of you, it’s fantastic.”
In folksy quilted dresses, the girls harmonized through songs from their most recent album, their second, The Lion’s Roar, plucking along to songs informed by classic ’60s American folk icons, lyrics that seem mature way beyond their years.
“This one was written by a Swedish friend of ours, The Knife, it’s called ‘When I Grow Up,” Klara said, before their rendition, which turned the ambient dark-pop synth song into a finger-picked ballad with some deep keys and cyclical drums, bringing the lyrics to center-stage with clear-spoken vocals.
Next was “Emmylou,” a single from the new album. “This song is a tribute to our favorite singers and songwriters: Johnny Cash, June Carter, Graham Parsons, Emmylou Harris,” she explained. (“I’ll be your Emmylou, and I’ll be your June,” the song goes, “If you’ll be my Johnny and my Graham too.”)
The set ended with an eruption of energy, Johanna (the older sister) playing her keyboard with her palms and her head, both girls swinging and flipping their long hair around. On the last jam, “The Lion’s Roar,” Johanna led a clap-along, put her palm to her chest, belting out the chorus: “And I’m a goddamn coward, but then again so are you/and the lion’s roar, the lion’s roar/has me evading and hollering for you.” The bass drum kicked in for one last foot-stomper “King Of The World,” where by the last line, they were both almost shrieking. Later in the day, I interviewed First Aid Kit, and tried to convince them that they should start a punk band.
Overhead in the crowd: “That bass drum kicks ass.”
Most unexpected item on stage: Smoke machine
12:45 p.m. random notebook scribble: This festival would run more smoothly if they sold about 10,000 fewer tickets. This year’s Lolla sold out 71 days in advance — the festival sells 100,000 tickets. From the first moments of this year’s festival, it feels like too much, especially in comparison to the other festivals I’ve attended this year — Primavera, Pitchfork, Newport — all festivals where there’s more space to breathe, and it doesn’t take 20 minutes to navigate through over-packed crowds getting from one stage to another.
12:55 p.m. first “WTF” moment of the day: Walking from the First Aid Kit set, across Grant Park toward the opposite end for Yellow Ostrich at 1:30, I spot a group of around 30 people waving around boards with QR codes on them, in front of a 20-foot screen, using QR codes to play virtual guitars. WTF?
1 p.m. first “F Yeah Lollapalooza” moment of the day: One of my favorite pastimes is criticizing huge corporate-sponsored mega-music-fests for the minor intricacies that make them unbearable, and one of those elements is usually food choices and prices. Lollapalooza is hard to hate on, though. There’s an entire farmer’s market zone with booths set up by local farmers and artisan foodies. I buy a vegan wrap, wheatgrass shot, and an apple for 7 bucks (a bargain as far as festivals go) and all the while, the lady I buy it from explains to me how she makes her sprouted wraps and chickpea hummus. A+. Also noteworthy: This is the first festival I’ve been to where composting bins are widely available and dozens of employees are dedicated to standing around, making sure everyone recycles properly.
1:10 p.m. @ the scary EDM tent: Still making my way across the fest, I hear someone doing karaoke, a version of “Losing my Religion” by R.E.M. Didn’t know Lollapalooza had a karaoke zone, but am not surprised. Then realize it’s actually some band called “White Panda” starting their set on the EDM stage, a/k/a a sea of fist pumping hands. I vow to avoid this stage at all costs this weekend.
1:15 p.m. @ the Red Bull stage: the Growlers I catch the tail-end of The Growlers. “Is there a screen next to us up here? Are you watching me on a TV? Because I’m watching that asshole down there,” says their punky teen singer, Brooks Neilsen. The band — six young white dudes — squeaks with twangy vox over an angry love song. “We’re on a good American tour right now. We’re not tired though, we’re excited,” he says, before playing a few more songs proving that — just like me — these guys grew up on the Strokes, too.
1:30 p.m. @ the Sony stage: Yellow Ostrich Yellow Ostrich played through a set mostly pulled from their 2012 record, Strange Land. “I am the elephant king but I am lonely,” sings frontman Alex Schaaf on “Elephant King,” backed by his 2-piece band. “I will talk to myself till I am alright.” On a festival stage, Yellow Otrisch is stripped of the artful spaciousness that makes their album so pleasant; in fact, the set sounds sort of more like an emo band in this setting. But dude makes up for it with his spiritedness — like he’s trying to compromise by shouting every line to reach the person 2,000 heads back. And every line seems to come from a genuine place.
After a crowd pleaser, “The Shakedown,” singer tells Lolla that his friend has an “announcement” to make, and a guy comes out on stage with his girlfriend. “Steph, I met you three years ago at Lollapalooza,” the guy says. “Don’t say no because you’ll embarrass me,” he adds, getting on one knee, pulling out a ring, and proposing. With the emotional vibe of Yellow Ostrich’s lyrics and delivery — these songs are fit for romantic indie-flick soundtracks — the whole scenario seems too good to be true. “Congrats,” singer says after. “Thank God she said yes, because if she said no, that would be a downer. But it would probably be some kind of viral video and that would be good for us,” he adds, before ending the set with “Stay at Home” and “Mary”.
Number of horns on stage: 2
Most emo lyric: “To survive we must stay at home,” from “Stay At Home”
Number of people I meet during this set who have never heard of Stereogum: Three. Do they live in a cultural bubble, or do I?
2:00 p.m. @ the Google Play Stage: The War On Drugs: The last time I saw Adam Granduciel, the raspy singer and guitarist for Philadelphia neo-psych four-piece The War On Drugs, perform, he was playing guitar with Kurt Vile’s band. (Vile and Granduciel started the band together in 2005.) It was 2009, at the Woodsist/Captured Tracks festival in Brooklyn, at a tiny DIY parking lot space called “Brooklyn Backyard.” The War On Drugs have a similar vibe to Vile’s band — all noisy psychedelia and washes of feedback, over harmonica and twangy howls and high-energy Americana riffs. Granduciel’s voice is often compared to Dylan’s, and appropriately so, but with the added bonus of shoegazey noise floating around his folk rock vox. After an early afternoon of young pristine pop, something a bit more experimental felt refreshing; the dose of distortion felt grounding.
The band’s keyboard player, Robbie Bennett, pulls out an acoustic for some extra guitar layers on “Comin Through.” Toward the end of the set, they lock harmonica and drum and horn and keyboard noises, playing out washes of cyclical loops to riff over.
“This song’s for Perry Farrell,” frontman Adam Granduciel says before diving into “I Was There,” from their second album for Secretly Canadian, Slave Ambient, out last year. He could be joking about the dedication, it’s hard to tell. It’s the sole mention of any Jane’s Addiction I hear on a stage all day.
Best overheard War On Drugs crowd chatter ever: “It’s all Nancy Reagan’s fault!”
Number of people doing drugs: At least one, to my knowledge, probably many more.
3:15 p.m. @ the Playstation Stage: Sharon Van Etten: “My ’90s dreams are coming true today,” says Sharon van Etten, the Brooklyn songstress responsible for one of the year’s most beautiful records, Tramp. Her set is mostly drawn from that record, starting with “All I Can,” a slow-creeping strummy song that feels even smokier in the haze of the day’s pounding heat. The first few numbers are similarly slow and dreamy: “Save Yourself,” “Leonard,” “Kevin’s.” The latter she says is a song written for Sinead O’Connor to sing one day.
For a singer who writes mostly introspectively about relationships and feelings, Van Etten’s songs feel surprisingly perfect on a festival stage. “I wrote this song about moving to New York City and falling in love,” she says, before “Give Out.” “But it still sounds sad. Isn’t that the funny part?” It sounds sad, yes, but it also sounds huge and explosive. Every time I see this song performed live, I’m more convinced it’s one of the greatest tracks released this year.
She ends the set with a couple of songs on electric guitar, “Serpents” (“this is the first song I ever wrote on electric guitar”) and “I’m Wrong.” The whole set is backed by Doug Keith on drums, Heather Woods Broderick on keys, Zeke Hutchins on drums.
“It’s really cool to play Lollapalooza,” Van Etten says, before her last song. “When you’re in high school, it’s your dream. Then suddenly you’re in your 30s and it’s happening.”
Strangest string of heckling I hear all day: “You sound so much better live,” some dude, who clearly has not spent much time with Van Etten’s discography, says. “Put out a live record!” To which she responds, “Do you want to be my manager?” And some other bro shouts, “Do you want to be my wife?” Weird vibes.
Random notebook scribble:: Today, Van Etten is dressed in all white, and with her jet-black hair, almost looks like a real-life version of her high-contrast black-and-white album cover, one that she once told me is a tribute to John Cale’s 1975 album cover for Fear.
3:52 p.m. walking past the scary EDM stage: Dude runs out from the EDM area, hopping along through the street towards a strip of bars, where he will most probably buy an $8 16oz, when he inexplicably screams like there’s no tomorrow: “YYYYYOOOOOOLLLOOOOOOOO.”
5 p.m. @ the Google stage: SBTRKT I catch a glimpse of SBTRKT — a/k/a South London post-dubstep producer Aaron Jerome — playing to a sea of bobbing heads and hands in the air, using drums and samples, with his collaborator Sampha looping keys and vox. As per usual, both are wearing masks to hide their identities. Their sound is an electronic hybrid of two-step, UK funky, dubstep, but with a distinct ear for R&B and pop sensibilities. The crowd erupts when he plays his single “Wildfire,” sampling Drake’s verse that appears on the remix of the song. When the set ends, I quickly thank the Lollapalooza Gods that this band was not accidentally incorrectly billed on the EDM stage.
6:00 p.m. @ the Bud Light stage: Passion Pit I arrive 25 minutes early to the Bud Light stage, hoping to get a decent place in the crowd for Passion Pit’s set — one of the few performances by the Brooklyn-via-Boston band, who after releasing their already-critically-acclaimed sophomore album a couple of weeks ago, Gossamer, subsequently canceled many of their late summer dates in order for frontman Michael Angelakos to take care of himself and his mental health issues. (Much of which were discussed in a lengthy Pitchfork feature last month, discussing the singer’s problems with bipolar disorder, substance abuse, several attempted suicides.)
Even 25 minutes early, thousands and thousands of fans are already camped out at the stage; the biggest stage at Lollapalooza.
At five minutes after 6 p.m., minimal, metallic entry music starts to hum, and the band walks out. Passion Pit opens with “Take A Walk,” Gossamer‘s first single, infectious synth-pop sang in falsetto about a family member’s economic difficulties. Angelakos doesn’t need to sing a word of the chorus; a sea of voices shout it back at him, pointing in the air, “Take a walk/take a walk/take a walk,” as the singer himself paces the stage. Angelakos wears a button-down, a tie, and has grown a beard since the last time I saw the band, which was 2009 at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston — a 1,000 capacity venue in the town where I live, and Passion Pit formed.
Continuing to pace the stage and clenching the mic cord, he sings “Moth’s Wings” next. His five piece backing band is a drummer, guitarist, bassist, synth dude, and one lady on keys and occasional backing vox.
Next is “The Reeling,” a single from the band’s 2009 album Manners. His backing band drops out on the first chorus: “Look at me, oh look at me, is this the way I’ll always be/oh no, oh no … Every day I lie awake and pray to God today’s the day/oh no, oh no.” After learning the story of his health and his songs, its impossible for me to watch this band in the same light, at least not yet. It’s unclear that most of this audience is in the same boat, though. Lollapalooza isn’t a festival for music geeks so much as casual fans.
“You’re gonna drive me crazy/you’re gonna drive me mad,” Angelakos sings on “Better Things,” from their 2008 Chunk Of Change EP, crowd screaming and jumping along. The frontman is very much into it. He paces, hunches over himself, punches over the ground, pulls back the mic from his mouth on the high notes, leads the crowd in clap-alongs. Air drums, stomps. The set proceeds with a mix of old and new, “Let Your Love Grow Tall,” “Sleepyhead,” and “Little Secrets,” from Manners, and from Gossamer, “Carried Away,” “It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy,” “Constant Conversations.”
“I’m sorry, sorry about that/sorry about the things that I’ve said,” he sings on “Carried,” crowd screaming along, swinging the mic at his side, dancing around. “Wake up in the morning, wake up in the evening/Wake up when you want to, cause no one’s really watching/wish you had something to say about it/but we all have problems.” He then picks up the mic, points it at the crowd. “We all have problems/we’re all having problems/and we all got something to say,” is shouted back at the singer by thousands and thousands.
The most epic sing-along of all though most definitely comes during the band’s performance of “I’ll Be Alright.” “Let me hear it Chicago!” Angelakos shrieks at the crowd, jumps down to the barricade, lifting the microphone and pointing it at the crowd, largely comprised of young people. He stomps along frantically, as thousands and thousands scream it back at him: “I’ll be alright/I’ll be alright/I’ll be alright.” The entire performance is excellent and energetic.
7:30 p.m. @ the Sony Stage: M83 When I arrive at M83’s set, the sun is setting, the lights on the stage are particularly bright, the band is playing through a crowd-pleasing set drawn from across their discography: “Teen Angst,” “Reunion,” “Sitting,” to start. Throughout their heavy set, I’m continuously taken by how perfectly the physicality of their music plays out in a festival setting. M83 has an intense hold over Lollapalooza; they’re a band whose melodies are so strong, they get festival crowds singing along to non-lyrics. Even on the more ambient, washed out tracks, the band pounds out their parts like a punk band, psyching out on the ground over their instruments.
“From here, it’s just beautiful, the city, and all of you,” says singer Anthony Gonzales, pointing out at the Chicago skyline. “This past year has been amazing for M83, and it’s because of you guys,” he adds, before their much-beloved single, “Midnight City.” When the set ends, and the stage goes white, he makes a heart shape from his hands before walking off stage.
9:00 p.m. @ the Bud Light stage: Black Sabbath Black Sabbath’s presence at Lollapalooza is one that could be felt all throughout the first day of the festival. You just know who the Sabbath fans are, man. Thousands of them traveled to Chicago for the band’s only North American performance of the year. Even in the back of the field, showing up halfway through their set, I was surrounded by them.
Ozzy Osbourne put on quite the show, talking to the crowd between nearly every song (or at least during the second half of the set that I caught). “I love you all!” he said, repeatedly. “Let me see you go crazy! Everybody go for it!”
Random notebook scribble: I am purposely standing next to the old dude air guitar-ing for “journalistic gold” purposes.
[Photos by Wilson Lee]