Metallica's James Hetfield
“I just saw someone fall over — fucking amateur,” observed one photographer over the weekend at Lollapalooza, the annual destination festival that takes place at Chicago’s Grant Park. “I’ve been going to concerts for 41 years and I haven’t fallen over once. And I used to party pretty hard.”
The extreme heat contributed to dehydration but drug and alcohol abuse likely had to something to do with fans passing out and getting hauled away by medical personnel. The number of fans partying suggests the way in which Lollapalooza has become such a popular place to be; tickets sell out before the lineup is even announced. But that doesn’t mean that the music is an afterthought. You can see a slideshow of photos from the event here
Day One of this year’s installment was as strong as ever. Headliner Paul McCartney was clearly thrilled to be playing the festival, telling fans, “We were looking forward to coming here and we were right.” His two-hour set started strong with “Magical Mystery Tour” and included an acoustic segment that would have sounded better if the bass from Perry’s Stage, which was hosting the electronic act Kaskade, hadn’t interfered with McCartney’s performance. Still, McCartney soldiered on, joking that he intended to deliver a mash-up of “what I’m playing and whatever that shit is that they’re playing.” With the exception of a snippet of “FourFiveSeconds” that sounded a little off, McCartney delivered a sharp 30-song set that featured songs by both the Beatles and Wings. His stripped down rendition of “Eleanor Rigby” was simply beautiful as two of his bandmates stepped away from their instruments to accompany him on vocals. “Band on the Run” rocked hard and an acoustic rendition of “Blackbird” had a simmering intensity.
Another highlight came courtesy of the veteran metal act Metallica. “This music makes me feel good,” said Metallica singer-guitarist James Hetfield at the beginning of the band’s two-hour performance on day two of Lollapalooza. Hetfield’s goatee might’ve turned gray and hard-hitting drummer Lars Ulrich might be balding, but these guys proved they could still rock. At the set’s start, Hetfield, wearing a leather vest that made him look him a member of the fictional biker gang Sons of Anarchy, barked “gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire” as the band launched into the tune “Fuel.” It made for an apt opening to a great hits set. One particular highlight: the band introduced “King Nothing” with some squealing guitars before the plodding drums kicked in. Ulrich is still one of rock’s hardest hitting drummers and he anchored the band’s performance. The group hasn’t performed much this year so it drew an enormous crowd and clearly reveled in playing before it.
While McCartney and Metallica played to the biggest crowds, there were plenty of other performances of note. Cold War Kids delivered a solid set that started strong with one of their best songs, “Miracle Mile” and included the manic “Something is Not Right with Me.” Led by feisty singer Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes drew from soul, rock and gospel during a strong set that suggested the band is ready to make the transition from club act to a band that can play mid-sized venues. Blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. played to a much bigger crowd at his last Lollapalooza appearance and his low-key performance suggested he’s better suited to small clubs, even if his unbridled guitar playing suggests he has some of what Stevie Ray Vaughan had.
Singer Sam Smith showed off his soulful voice during a headlining slot. While he’s able to replicate the music on his 2014 debut In the Lonely Hour, he’s not a particularly dynamic personality on stage. At one point, he ripped into a cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” while backed by a cadre of singers. The song sounded sharp but Smith didn’t manage to take it higher as it then segued into a rote rendition of Chic’s 1978 disco hit “Le Freak.” Country singer Sturgill Simpson made his Lollapalooza debut. An old school country guy who even played a bit of bluegrass in his set, Simpson is a strange choice for the alt-rock festival, but Simpson, who doesn’t show much emotion while playing, fronted a terrific band that include guitarist Laur “Lil’ Joe” Joamets, a guy whose gritty guitar work gave the songs a real edge. Dressed casually in a blue button down shirt and black jeans, Simpson isn’t a flashy performer but he’s a terrific songwriter and singer. His set concluded with a vigorous jam that delved into garage rock territory. Australia’s Tame Impala emphasized texture in its hour-long set that included smoke and strobe lights as part of its stage show. While that part of the performance didn’t translate well during the day-time slot, the band still managed to create a big enough sound to captivate the enormous crowd that came to see it perform.
One of Sunday's highlights included self-described gypsy punks Gogol Bordello. Led by animated singer Eugene Hutz, the band is the ideal festival group. Hutz arrived on stage with an open bottle of wine, spit the cork into the crowd and immediately wound the fans up with his energy. He regularly hopped atop the monitor speakers and beckoned to the audience to raise fists in the air as he played songs like “Start Wearing Purple,” a signature tune that sounded like a mash-up between something from the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof and the Pogues.
And speaking of high-energy performances, we also liked Twin Peaks, a snooty, amateurish band out of Chicago that channeled the Replacements during its sloppy-but-likeable set. Strand of Oaks also impressed with a roots rock set that owed a musical debt to Neil Young, whom they evoked with their dirge-like songs that often featured long lead-ups and stellar, song-ending jams. Strokes’ guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. used his 30-minute set to showcase songs from his new album, Momentary Matters. He opened with “Out of Touch” and then played several songs from the disc. His band sounded sharp and the well-crafted songs featured some serious hooks, but he didn’t seem to have the vocal power to command the stage.
Some of the big-name performers disappointed. Marina and the Diamonds scored points for putting on a theatrical show — singer Marina Lambrini Diamandis wore a black sleeveless latex jumpsuit and had stage presence to spare, but her poppy songs failed to go beneath the surface. Singer-songwriter George Ezra showed off his beautiful baritone voice during an 30-minute set. But without any accompaniment, he struggled to bring big hits such as “Blame it On Me” and “Budapest” to life. His voice sounded terrific, but the songs didn’t have enough dynamics to them.
The event had a couple of glitches. DJ Travis Scott’s set was cancelled after he encouraged fans to jump barricades and storm the stage. A precautionary evacuation that took place on Sunday as a storm approached, but the show went after a bit of schedule juggling. “I guess it’s the mystery festival,” said one concert-goer who found it difficult to figure out which band was playing on what stage at what time after the fest resumed. But those were minor glitches. The mid-afternoon evacuation could have been much worse — a torrential downpour erupted at 11 p.m. on Sunday, just after Lollapalooza wrapped.