You weren’t here with me, unless you were. But either way, feel free to enjoy this Lolla experience from one man’s subjective point of view, which sometimes states objective facts.
11:15 am: The line today doesn’t even come close to yesterday’s length, probably because there hasn’t been a rain delay slapped on the gates-opening time. I step up to bag search and the twenty-something man in charge of the task finds my sunscreen.
“Sunscreen!” The guy shouts and removes it from my bag. My first fear is that, for some reason, aerosol cans aren’t allowed in the festival. But then I realize I had the same sunscreen yesterday, and it wasn’t a problem then. Now I’m wondering if this is some sort of alcohol test. Are some kids determined enough to get drunk that they’ll fill a can of sunscreen with vodka and squirt it in their mouth? Why would they want the taste of residual sunscreen? That sounds gross.
But after the bag checker sprays some of my sunscreen on his arm, the others all start yelling “sunscreen” and pass the bottle around amongst themselves. Hah, I realize. A tribute payment. That’s fair. They’re working hard. But they’d better leave some for me.
They do. I head to the press lounge to grab some water and prep for HAELOS.
12:00 pm: It sure sounds like HAELOS is beginning their set by playing an Alan Watts speech over the PA. The last time I heard the noted philosopher’s word incorporated into music was at the end of progressive metal band The Contortionist’s most recent album, which felt like an intergalactic voyage across the human mind. I steel myself for a similar spiritual experience.
12:12 pm: HAELOS is delivering said spiritual experience. Arthur Delaney and Lottie Benardout stand before their twin microphones and, surrounded by a cavalcade of synth blankets and emphatic percussion, deliver their vocals as if they’re oracles. Any emotion they’re expressing in songs like the anthemic “Pray” and “Separate Lives” feels channeled from a different plane of existence; the singers merely exist to convey it in a form that humans can understand. They remind me of Celeborn and Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings, with Benardout far more expressive than her fellow frontperson. By the time “Dust” rolls around and the crowd starts clapping, unprompted, along with the beat, I have fully bought into the performance; my physical body remains rooted to the concrete, but my spirit watches over the festival from a swirling tempest above.
12:36 pm: I face the first tough decision of the festival: do I leave HAELOS early or get to Day Wave late? Or not go to Day Wave at all and instead see Saba? You have to understand, Lollapalooza is a mile long. HAELOS and Day Wave are playing at opposite ends of the grounds. There’s going to be quite a bit of walking involved in going to see the latter, especially if I go to Modern Baseball (on the same stage as Haelos) immediately afterward as planned. Saba is supposed to be great, he’s significantly closer to me, and some of the local media I follow on Twitter is recommending him.
But a promise is a promise, even when it’s made to myself, and Paste itself has recommended Day Wave, as have some of my music savvy friends. I’ll thank myself for the exercise later. And setting a tone is more important than finishing out. I leave HAELOS a couple songs early and go to Day Wave.
12:42 pm: As I walk past the Lakeshore stage, Con Brio is finishing up with a flurry of drums, guitars, and horns. The singer does a backflip. I’ve got FOMO.
1:04 pm: Day Wave’s set is full of paradoxes. I’m getting the sad beach vibe I had come to expect from the band’s music, but the guys have been bouncing around on stage since the beginning of the set. There’s self-doubt in the lyrics, but when they sing a line like “Only a fool would want me” or “What am I good for” in unison, who’s the guy with low self esteem? Their music lifts themselves out of their own gutter, and lifts us out of our own gutters. Much like Death Cab for Cutie, there’s a certain pride the band takes in discussing their fuckups, but rather than smiling with a rent heart like Ben Gibbard and company, the Day Wave guys don’t seem to reflect all that much upon their melancholia.
1:33 pm: Day Wave wraps up a performance in which their relative novice festival status has been apparent—they haven’t looked like they know what to do with themselves on stage—but which has showcased their sad, summery jams. Meanwhile, Saint Motel begins with bombast as I walk past them on my way back to the park’s north side. Lots of brash horns and a tiger on stage. Again, I wish I had a time turner. Too bad the entire Ministry of Magic stock of them was smashed in the battle at the Department of Mysteries.
An important fact to note: I’m wearing a shirt with bananas all over it. I pass a dude in a UC Santa Cruz shirt and his friend says, “Bananas.” I retort with a delayed, awkward “Banana slugs!” I give myself a four out of ten for that comeback. Just keep walking and brush it off.
1:47 pm: Modern Baseball walks onto the Petrillo Bandshell stage and proclaims, “What’s up Bonnaroo,” to general laughs. They launch into a riotous rendition of “Broken Cash Machine” that instantly reveals a couple things about this set:
This band is the rightful heir to the pop punk throne. Not a shred of that mid-2000s whininess to be found…just sheer grit, muscular power chords, and a sense of effortless joy.
This is the most passionate crowd I’ll see, perhaps all day. A quasi-mosh pit forms almost immediately, and large swaths of the assembled acolytes yell back every single word with emphatic thrusts of the fist into the sky.
2:03 pm: The band dedicates a song to Harambe the slain gorilla. This is the type of silliness that weaves itself into Modern Baseball’s performance, particularly in the dynamic between bassist Ian Farmer and guitarist-singer Jake Ewald. Among their interactions during the songs on which Brendan Lukens takes lead vocals: they pretend their instruments are laser guns and have a little shootout, Farmer tilts Ewalds hat to a jaunty angle; Farmer pushes Ewald’s glasses up on his nose because they’ve slid down a bit. They’re perhaps having more fun than their audience, which is pretty unbelievable given the energy I feel surrounding me.
2:34 pm: After a spectacular ending to the set that includes the crowd singing back the chorus of “Your Graduation”—”this is weird,” quips Lukens—and the searing philosophical musing of “Fine, Great,” Modern Baseball tells the crowd to “keep the scene alive, ask a punk for the address” and departs the stage. That dreaded decision seeps into my reality: where next?
2:46 pm: I decide on pop singer Kiiara over MO and Joey Purp mostly because she’s playing on the Pepsi stage, which is right next to Petrillo, and my feet hurt really badly. I’ve already walked about three miles, or more than the combined distance anyone walked at Pitchfork Fest.
2:55 pm: Kiiara’s set of dark electro pop begins with her in an army green long raincoat with the hood up. She struts around the stage nonchalantly, her presence not too shabby for a 21-year-old newcomer. But I’m not really feeling too much emotion from her music. Perhaps it’s that her voice is the type that sounds laboratory-made for EDM hooks; perhaps it’s that the bass is mixed really loud and I’m not supposed to think at all about what I’m hearing.
3:19 pm: She plays “Gold,” her current hit song in which the chorus is composed of incomprehensible vocal samples. It’s weirdly mesmerizing, but in my mind it encapsulates Kiiara’s essence: the lyrics take a back seat to the strange grooves and leave me confused about how to feel. Maybe if I were on drugs, this would’ve been the best performance of the day.
3:31 pm: How is Lou Malnati’s, selling $4 slices of the most popular deep dish pizza in town, not absolutely mobbed?
3:45 pm: And now, a Lollapalooza story: Bananas in the Rain.
I head to the Petrillo stage for Lettuce, because I feel like funking out and no music festival would be complete without a stop at a jam-type band’s set. It’s raining but not too heavily—for now.
In front of me stands a dude in a floral shirt and denim headband, alongside three girls in yellow ponchos. He hands out Bud Light Limes to all of them and, in the process, seems to notice that he’s passing the beers directly in front of my face. For some reason, he feels he’s upset me by leaving me out of the macro-brew party.
“To be fair, you’re bananas to be standing there,” he says. Nice pun, good sir, and a decent save. I respond that the three girls in their yellow ponchos look more like bananas than I do. For some reason, this whole interaction feels a lot more awkward than witty banter should. I think they think I’m in no mood to converse. They turn back around and begin enjoying their beer.
A short while later, Lettuce takes the stage and begins an almost uninterrupted hour of funk. The rain picks up, coming in from the northwest, and to most everyone in the crowd that’s an invitation to dance harder and more wildly. The water doesn’t appear to be extinguishing the flames of dozens of joints in my vicinity.
A shirtless guy with a rainbow lei is next to me. He keeps yelling, “Free the nipple.” His nipples are very free. Mine are not; in fact, the right side of my banana shirt is completely saturated with water and clinging to my skin. I wring out the sleeve and keep it on. Nothing will separate me from my calling card.
Back to the original protagonist of the story, though: the denim headband guy dances up a storm with a couple other stoned guys near him. Meanwhile, the three banana-poncho girls are growing visibly bored. Two leave. The third, presumably his girlfriend, stands there looking pissed. Slowly, as if realization falls upon him like a sunset, he notices her, tones down his dancing and ask her what’s wrong, if she wants to leave. I can’t make out her response, but she’s clearly unhappy with him. His dancing ceases entirely; the smile runs away from his face. They work out whatever it is that’s bothering her, but he never really regains his momentum and they leave after another five minutes. Such tragedy…or, as Donald Trump would say, sad!
4:39 pm: One of Lettuce’s keyboardists picks up the mic and launches into a soulful performance of “Do It Like You Do,” the only song thus far that has featured vocals. I feel like I’m in a club on Frenchman Street in New Orleans.
5:01 pm: I arrive at Frightened Rabbit during their first song, “Get Out.” They’re rocking hard.
5:09 pm: Scott Hutchinson starts “The Modern Leper” with the lyrics to “American Pie.” “I don’t know if that deserved a cheer,” he says, and he restarts the song to a much larger swell from the audience.
5:13 pm: A couple tells me my shirt is bananas—B-A-N-A-N-A-S. I complete the Gwen Stefani reference. The man takes a picture of me. I am mostly okay with this.
5:43 pm: Frightened Rabbit is flying through a set of beautiful songs, including the grand “I Wish I Was Sober” and the folksy “Old Old Fashioned.” Scott Hutchinson’s banter between songs is brutally Scottish. Among the highlights:
- He rips on some people holding pool noodles in the air, then is okay with it. “I admire your commitment to whatever your fucking cause is.”
- He takes a drink of canned water and gags. “I thought that was beer…it’s fucking water,” he remarks. “What a horrible surprise. Although I guess it could be a fucking Bud Light.”
- He openly mocks Mumford and Sons.
5:51 pm: “Keep Yourself Warm” builds up pretty intensely. But a part when Hutchinson has the crowd sing along shows that there really aren’t that many people here. Maybe everyone is already camped out for Radiohead.
6:00 pm: Frightened Rabbit ends with a magnificent jam on “The Loneliness and The Scream,” M83 starts up across the field, and I head to the press lounge for some food and a battery recharge.
6:38 pm: I walk past “Midnight City” on my way to Sunflower Bean, and from the rush of people toward M83’s stage, it seems this is the only song anyone really cared about hearing from them.
6:50 pm: Sunflower Bean starts on the BMI stage right as I get there. The mix is a little brutal and bass heavy to start, but by the end of “Human Ceremony,” things have improved. Bass player Julia Cumming chugs a beer in front of everyone and motions for encouragement, which the crowd is all too happy to provide.
6:57 pm: “Come On” ends with an extended, psych-rock jam that has me mesmerized. Nick Kivlen can shred on that guitar.
7:19 pm: I realize I haven’t taken any notes in twenty minutes. I don’t even write that thought down, because every fiber of my being is engrossed in Sunflower Bean’s mind-blowing set.
7:30 pm: My mind races as I depart Sunflower Bean’s performance—the best of the day, in my opinion. The tasteful variety of guitar tones, the psychedelic, Hendrixian solos, Cumming’s snarl, the band’s penchant for hitting light speed during their jams yet remaining tight…this was rock seduction at its finest. The performance felt intimate enough that I could have been sitting on a bedroom floor, watching these three rehearse, but it was also streamlined, very intentional, raucous rock. Look out for this band.
7:32 pm: Oh look, Chance the Rapper is here again, this time on stage with Future.
7:42 pm: I find some friends in the Radiohead crowd. The most interesting thing that happens to us is a moment when three obnoxious girls decide to stand right in the middle of our little group, looking for their friends, totally oblivious to their surroundings. They move before we can address them directly, but we get in a couple verbal parting shots. It feels satisfying, mostly.
8:01 pm: A huge cheer as Radiohead walks on stage. They start with an intense rendition of “Burn the Witch,” then they play “Daydreaming.”
8:32 pm: The thought crosses my mind that Radiohead’s rabid fandom is a bit of a miracle. The band is just about as anti-pop as any popular band has ever been. Hope at humanity’s appreciation for high art swells within my chest as the band soars through “No Surprises.”
9:10 pm: The set hits an emotional high as the assembled masses sing along to “Weird Fishes,” one of several selections from In Rainbows the band has decided to insert into tonight’s performance. One wonderful thing about seeing Radiohead live is the complete inability to predict what songs one might hear on any given night.
9:28 pm: Thom Yorke dances like a madman to “There There,” a performance so manic it might have found a home on the Perry’s EDM stage. Only Thom Yorke could make this combination of experimental electronic rock and ecstatic physicality work, I think.
9:29 pm: The band leaves the stage. They’re not fooling anybody: it’s 9:29 pm.
9:30 pm: Radiohead inevitably returns and muscles through a five-song encore that includes a crowd-thrilling performance of “Paranoid Android,” which unlocks the best of Jonny Greenwood’s insanity on guitar. He’s known for his on-stage intensity, but the solos here takes things to a level we rarely get to see in Radiohead’s music because it’s become so heavily electronic.
9:55 pm: The band leaves the stage a second time. Is this really it?
9:56 pm: Nope, they’re back. And after “Street Spirit,” Radiohead surprises everyone with “Karma Police.” Hearing everyone sing “I lost myself” repeatedly, literally losing themselves in the crowd in the process, raises every hair on my body.
10:10 pm: That’s a wrap. It takes me nearly an hour to get home because some people don’t know how to swipe a credit card correctly and hold up the ticket line at my L stop.