The perpetual low of getting stuck in Lollapalooza crowds hit rockbottom yesterday, when I found myself packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowd of fucked-up festival-heads, Red Hot Chili Peppers fans, and lost teens screaming into cellphones searching for their friends. The sky was growing dark, a massive storm was looming, as thousands and thousands of EDM-lovers inched toward the festival gates all at once. The swarm was growing tighter, closing in, but barely moving, while security staff and police officers yelled at us to evacuate faster. But there was seemingly nowhere to go. Was I standing in alt-bro hell?
No. I was just trying to exit Grant Park, after Lollapalooza authorities instructed all 70,000 of Saturday’s attendees to leave the festival grounds, due to dangerous weather conditions on their way.
“Fuck this! This is so dumb!” one angry Avicii fan in a headband yelled at his girlfriend, a skinny girl in a crop top, who rolled her eyes and continued to push toward the exit.
Once outside the gates, Lolla fans loitered, on limited time, as the projected thunder and lightning and hail seemed imminent.
“Where do we go, bro?” all were wondering.
The streets were eerily quiet.
It felt like Lollapocalypse.
12 p.m. @ The Google Play Stage: FIDLAR Earlier in the day, vibes were way higher. I started out Day 2 of Lollapalooza by checking out a young L.A. garage-punk four-piece, FIDLAR, a band I’d seen before in more punk rock environs, and generally associate with house shows. (One of their first shows was in 2010 on a FMLY ride in L.A., a massive collective bike ride where the group stops along the way for bands to play pop-up shows.) Even the most corporate of music festivals (like Lolla) couldn’t stop these dudes from turning the place into a party, or at least trying to.
That sort of ethos is refreshing here at Lollapalooza, where the line-up is mostly major-label bands and corporate indie-rock bands who operate far outside the world of DIY culture. FIDLAR — that stands for “Fuck it dog, life’s a risk,” a popular skater mantra — played fervently through a 45-minute set of youthful fuzz-punk. It wasn’t long before their early-afternoon crowd started a bit of a push pit, which security tried to calm down.
“Just do it anyway!” singer-guitarist Zac Carper said. “Two weeks ago we were playing a house party, and now we’re here,” he added, seeming genuinely in awe of the band’s landing on the Lolla lineup. “I still haven’t graduated high school.”
Many of their songs are about drugs. “This song’s about rehab,” said Carper, before one. “This song’s about acid,” he said, before another. And later? “This song’s called ’Cocaine’!”
Words written on FIDLAR’s equipment: “BONG RIPZ” is written across their bass drum, “WU-TANG” on one guitar, “BURRITO” on another guitar.
Stage banter: “I have Justin Bieber’s phone number written on my amp. Write it down. Call him.”
1:30 p.m. @ The Playstation Stage: JEFF the Brotherhood Whoever billed FIDLAR and JEFF the Brotherhood back-to-back knew what they were doing. The garage-punk ruckus continued a couple of stages away, with some added rock ’n’ roll energy, as Nashville’s favorite guitar-and-drums brothers-duo tore up a set of old and new jams.
“AMMURRIKAA, fuck yeah!” screamed a shirtless dude in a bandanna behind me, just as JEFF were starting.
The set began with “Country Life,” from their newest record Hypnotic Nights. From their 2011 LP We Are The Champions, they played “Shredder” and “Bummer.” Upon a fan’s request, they even played something from 2006′s Castle Storm, “Noo Sixties.”
“This is pretty weird for us, as you can imagine — it’s like 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” said singer-guitarist Jake Orall, with a laugh. “And there’s more of you than usual. Which we’re happy about.”
Proof the JEFF Bro’s are the most rock ’n’ roll band on this bill: Jake hopped down from the stage to play guitar in the crowd mid-song, toward the end of the set
Early afternoon random notebook scribble: The “Craft Beer Tent” at Lollapalooza is weird and funny. They’re selling Stella, Hoegaarden, and Beck’s for $8 each, trying to pass them off as “craft beers,” when they are all beers that are mass-produced and manufactured by the multi-billion-dollar company Anheuser-Bush, the largest brewer in the world, and owner of Budweiser, one of the festival’s major sponsors. In some ways this is sort of a fun microcosm of the festival as a whole, and the ways in which even some of the “indie”-sounding acts on this fest are actually products of big-name one-percenters.
3 p.m. @ The Sony Stage: Neon Indian Neon Indian is absolutely crushing it when halfway through their set, the first signs of Lollapocaplypse surface. “So apparently we have to walk off the stage in 10 minutes,” singer Alan Palomo tells the crowd. “If that’s all the time we have, let’s make it fucking count!”
“If this is your first time on psychedelics, in this extreme heat, drink plenty of water,” he adds. “It’s going to be okay.” They psych-out through one of their newer super-chill synth-pop songs for a couple of minutes, before it’s over. “OK, apparently we really have to stop right now,” Palomo says. “We will make it up to you very soon. We’ve been looking forward to this day for a very long time.”
3:30 p.m. @ The Sony Stage A Lollapalooza official in a red shirt takes the stage. “We have received a warning that a potentially dangerous storm is on its way to this area. We need to clear the whole park. Please follow the staff and police officers’ directions.” Soon, all screens are overtaken over by red backdrops reading “WEATHER EVACUATION: Please exit quickly and calmly.”
4:30 p.m. @ The Internet Unsure of whether the festival will resume, I tweet at Frank Ocean and ask him to please play a basement show in Chicago somewhere. No response. I try tweeting the same at FIDLAR instead. No response. Sigh.
5:30 p.m. @ The Internet Lollapalooza notifies media that the festival grounds will be re-opened at 6 p.m. with an adjusted lineup; most sets will start one hour later. The City of Chicago has given permission for noise to go one hour later than normal.
7:30 p.m. @ The Red Bull Stage A few thousand fans are braving pools of mud and rainwater to see 22-year-old Canadian R&B producer the Weeknd, who is playing an hour and a half after his initial start time. Still, hundreds hang back up by the streets and listen from afar, staying away from the messy fields.
8 p.m. @ The Google Play Stage: Washed Out Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, is backed by a three-piece band on the Google Stage, playing through a more sophisticated-sounding set than fans are expecting. The band has grown into more of a slowed-down, funky dream-pop sound since the days of their bedroom-pop chillwave hit, “Feel It All Around.” When he does play that hit, it sounds like an ultra-laid-back R&B ballad. Fans are blowing bubbles and the sun is setting, making for a laid-back recovery from the afternoon’s storms.
Number of synths on stage: 3
Number of iPads on stage: 1
8:45 p.m., overheard outside the Franz Ferdinand set: Girl in a Radiohead shirt: “What’s that big Franz Ferdinand song? That one song they had?” Guy in a Built To Spill shirt: “I dunno.”
9:20 p.m. @ The Google Play Stage: vibing with the Frank Ocean campers Every festival has its “campers” — the super-fans who, instead of hopping around from stage to stage, “camp out” at one stage for hours, anxiously sitting through sets they don’t give a shit about, all for the sole purpose of having an excellent spot in the crowd when their beloved headliners take the stage. I had the pleasure of vibing nearby a solid crew of Frank Ocean campers throughout Twin Shadow’s set: some Midwestern college-dude festival-frequenters, a couple of teen couples, and a slew of fans who bought Lollapalooza Saturday tickets just for this set. Best of all, I was standing right next to the ultimate superfans, two girls who couldn’t have been older than 17. When the group of guys nearby us speculated about the possibility of Earl Sweatshirt or Tyler, The Creator appearances, these girls were quick to shut them down.
Teen-girl super-fan: “That’s not happening. I’ve been following them on Instagram all day. They’re not in Chicago.”
College-dude: “Oh. Hey look, they’re bringing a carpet out onstage.”
Teen-girl super-fan: “Frank always plays with a carpet on stage. These are things you should pay attention to.”
College-dude: “Well, I’ve only seen him once.”
Teen-girl super-fan: “That’s not really something you should admit.”
As early as 20 minutes before Frank Ocean took the stage, fans were squeezing forward and inching up as close as they could to the stage. “This is just like The Weeknd all over again,” one girl sighs. “If I start to cry, just leave me be.”
9:45 p.m. @ The Google Play Stage: Frank Ocean From the second Frank Ocean walks out on stage, the lights go out, and to get a glimpse of the guy I have to tilt my head through a swarm of hands holding Instagram-ready iPhones. “Hello, hello, hello,” Frank says, met with shrieks, before sitting down and starting his set with a slowed-down “By Your Side,” backed only by two guys on acoustic guitar. “I see we got a little rain today,” he says. “I’m glad you all came back. I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he adds, before a similarly soft “Summer Remains.”
“Sing this one with me if you know it,” he says to introduce “Thinkin’ Bout You,” during which the rest of his four-piece band takes the stage, jumping in as the song progresses, big drums crashing as Ocean sings, “Do you not think so far ahead? ’Cause I’ve been thinkin ’bout forever.” He lets the crowd finish it, pointing the mic at them, smiling and shaking his head along.
Ocean knows how to please the crowd, picking the perfect moments to point at the girls in the front row as he sings through “Novacane.” “A few of these songs are from a project I did called nostalgia, ULTRA,” he says. “How many of you have heard it? Oh, that brings a smile to my face.”
Ocean vibes with the crowd with utmost sincerity, talking about his music, the festival, the city. “I know y’all aren’t the builders or anything, but on my way over, I saw some of the flyest architecture I’ve ever seen,” he says about Chicago. It’s my first time seeing him perform, and it doesn’t take long to understand why his fans are so dedicated.
“Y’all sound so good,” he jokes, with the crowd, who sing along to every song almost as loudly as he does on “Swim Good.” “We’re going to start the Lollapalooza Mass Choir tonight. Get your harmonies together.”
“Strawberry Swing” is met with similar enthusiasm. “Oh shit, I’m gonna cry,” says someone nearby me. Ocean holds his fist out, sings with his face to the sky. As he belts out the lyrics, I’m literally surrounding by teenagers who are making out, and one who is sobbing.
“Y’all are beautiful,” Ocean tells everyone. “Are we spreading the love tonight? Turn to your neighbor and say, ’I love you.’”
On “American Wedding,” a song that plays with the lyrics of the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” Ocean stands still, center stage, shrugging his shoulders earnestly, backed only by electric guitar. Next, “Voodoo” is slow and bass-heavy.
“Now I wanna segue into another era, if you will,” Ocean says. “I just put out a record called Channel Orange. How many of you copped it? I don’t wanna know how many copped it illegally. But, if that’s the real shit … I’m just glad it’s a part of your life.”
“I love you!” responds the crowd.
“I love you back, I swear to God I do,” he says.
With that, Ocean plays through “Monks,” then “Crack Rock.” On the latter, he crouches on the ground for the verses, backed by only keys. The choruses are more explosive, but the highest point is the last verse. “Fucking pig get shot, three hundred men will search for me,” he croons, shaking his finger and shaking his head. “My brother get popped, and don’t no one hear the sound … don’t no one hear a sound.”
The set ends with two more from Channel, “Bad Religion” and “Pyramids.”
“This next song is pretty important for me, because of some of the things I’ve said in the last month,” he says to introduce “Bad.” “I’m taking some freedom for myself, you know?”
It’s a beautiful rendition, as expected. Ocean sings mostly with his eyes closed, mostly stands still, raising an occasional hand on a high note. It’s one of the best songs of 2012, for sure.
[Photos by Wilson Lee]