Welshly Arms Among the Highlights at This Year's Lollapalooza


  • Samantha Fryberger
Last year, local acts the Cloud Nothings and Machine Gun Kelly gave notable performances at Lollapalooza, the annual four-day festival that takes place at Grant Park in Chicago. This year, local rockers Welshly Arms [pictured] represented Cleveland, and the band’s rousing performance was one of many highlights at the festival that featured close to 200 bands. It concluded yesterday.

You can see a slideshow of photos from the event here.

Welshly Arms really benefited from having Bri Bryant and Jon Bryant on backing vocals. The husband and wife duo not only provided some great vocal harmonies, but they also danced in unison and provided a dynamic visual element as they smiled and laughed throughout the performance.

The group opened its hour-long set with the Black Keys-like “All the Way Up” and vigorously jammed on tunes such as “Love In a Minor Key” and “Indestructible,” the latter of which included a snippet of the Bob Marley classic “Get Up, Stand Up.” The group has really evolved and effectively drew from blues, gospel and soul.

One of the fest’s major draws, Bruno Mars didn’t disappoint. Much like Prince and/or Michael Jackson, Mars mixes rock, funk, soul and R&B. He’s a decent dancer, a solid guitarist and a terrific singer. And he knows how to put on a show. Mars doesn’t have the stage presence or gravitas of the aforementioned Prince and/or Jackson, yet he effortlessly shifted from shimmering pop tunes like “24K Magic” to funk workouts such as “Chunky” and R&B ballads like “When I Was Your Man.”

The set wasn’t without its missteps. An extended keyboard solo sucked the life out of the place, and Mars should’ve known better than to insert a snippet of a Prince guitar riff into the sappy “Marry You.” Fireworks shot off from behind the stage as Mars, who wore a vintage Bulls jersey, a red hat and matching red shorts, led the huge audience through a variety of cheers (at one point, he separated the left and right side of the crowd and pitted fans against one another).

A punk band out of the UK, Slaves were undeterred by the sparse crowd that showed up for their early afternoon set. Shirtless frontman Isaac Holman alternately spoke and sang while guitarist Laurie Vincent often turned his back to the crowd to face his amplifier as he let loose grunge-y blues guitar riffs.

Cuban-born singer Camila Cabello emphasized the Latin side of her sound in a heavily choreographed hour-long set that found her performing with dancers as she belted out hits such as “Bad Things” and “Never Be the Same.” She introduced a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Stop Falling in Love” by saying she was a “hopeless romantic,” but the set then hit a lull with the saccharine ballad “All These Years.” It would pick up the end as she played “Havana,” a tribute to her hometown.

Hot off last week’s sold out show at the Agora, the hard rock act Greta Van Fleet lived up to expectations with its anticipated performance on a side stage. Powerhouse singer Josh Kiszka, who evoked classic rock stars of yesteryear in his black leather pants and matching vest, led the band as it came out strong with “Highway Tune,” a track that featured a powerful song-closing jam. These guys rocked hard, and even the ballad “Flower Power” had a heaviness to it thanks to some ominous sounding organ.

While rapper Tyler, the Creator drew a large crowd, his set suffered from sameness thanks to the fact that he rapped over a backing track of beats and backing vocals. Wearing a bright orange and yellow shirt and bright orange shorts, Tyler, the Creator regularly pranced across the two-tiered stage as he encouraged fans to put their hands in the air. Tyler, the Creator performed with real intensity, but the songs didn’t resonate on an emotional level.

A number of British bands played the festival as well, and each delivered noteworthy sets. The Wombats had good energy as they got fans to sing along to tracks such as “Lemon to a Knife Fight,” a jittery pop tune that frontman Matthew Murphy said was about his “favorite fruit.” Playing in front of a large banner emblazoned with its name and some retro-looking stars, Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand also put on a terrific performance. Singer-guitarist Alex Kapranos capably led the group as it played hits such as the lurching, retro-leaning garage-pop number “Take Me Out.”

Led by diminutive singer Lauren Mayberry, who wore a white linen dress and black platform boots, Scotland’s CHVRCHES used an enormous bank of spotlights to bring it synth-pop songs to life. Playing on one of two main stages, Brit rockers Arctic Monkeys made the best of the festival’s terrific sound system and cranked up the guitars for an invigorating set that took place at the end of the festival’s first day. Even though Arctic singer-guitarist Alex Turner wasn’t as animated as he was when the band played Lollapalooza a few years ago, he still captivated the audience with his David Bowie-inspired vocals.

Old school hip-hop hero LL Cool J proved he still has some gas left in the tank. Prior to his arrival on stage, he sent DJ Z-Trip out to hype the crowd, and Z-Trip did just that, playing snippets of everything from Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and adding turntable scratches and hip-hop beats to the mix. When LL Cool J emerged, he appropriately started his set with “Mama Said Knock You Out.” “Don’t call it a comeback/I’ve been here for years,” he rapped at the song’s start as he slowly made his way down a set of stairs onto the stage. Wearing a black tank top, a black baseball cap he twisted sideways and his signature gold chain, the burly rapper possessed a real swagger. During “Jack the Ripper,” he regularly pointed to Z-Trip when he needed a beat, showing how working with a DJ who’s not just pressing play on his DAT machine can give a live hip-hop performance the same sense of drama that rock and pop acts bring the stage.

Logic provided the festival’s other notable hip-hop highlight. Playing the last date of an extensive tour in support of his latest album, Bobby Tarantino II, rapper Logic toasted the crowd at the end of his high-energy set that showed off his lyrical prowess and Eminem-like skills on the microphone. He closed with the exuberant anthem “Everyday.”

While he’s technically not a rapper, Canadian singer, songwriter and record producer the Weeknd draws from hip-hop, and his headlining set showed off his ability to both sing and rap. Early in the set, he delivered the eerie “Starboy” with all the intensity that comes across on the studio version of the song. Clearly enthused to be performing before such a huge crowd, he regularly praised the fans of Chicago and effectively used his live band to bring somber songs such as “Pray for Me” to life.

Having just opened a slew of dates for indie darlings Arcade Fire and played a few club dates of their own, Bomba Estereo, the Colombia duo of Liliana Saumet and Simon Mejia, fit the festival perfectly and has never sounded better. They wore bright outfits, and Saumet regularly encouraged fans to sing along to the band’s bouncy Latin rock and hip-hop tunes. Wearing a brilliant yellow dress and a festive flower crown, she easily shifted between rapping and singing, both of which she did in Spanish, her native language.

Singer Dua Lipa showed how much she’s evolved into a good live performer. Wearing a mid-riff baring halter top and sweat pants, she busted a move with her equally athletic dancers, delivering tunes such as “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” with plenty of gusto.

While his set packed a definite punch, by performing under dim blue lights, singer-guitarist Jack White made it so difficult to see him and his band that it proved to be a significant turn off. The audience filled only about half of the open field in front of the stage, and fans departed en masse as the show went on. White opened with the psychedelic rocker “Over & Over” which segued nicely into the Jon Spencer-like blue explosion of “Corporation.” Both tracks came from his latest album, Boarding House Reach.

At one point prior to playing the White Stripes tune “We’re Going to Be Friends,” White recalled how he was surprised he was invited back to Lolla after “destroying everything [he] could” in his hotel room prior to his last performance at the festival. But the story concluded with his remembering how his daughter gave him the guitar pick he used to play the tune. Wish we could describe the shows visuals in more details, but the poor lighting didn’t give us the opportunity to see things very well and detracted from the overall concert experience.

Odesza’s set was much more fan friendly. Formed six years ago by Western Washington University students Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, the band delivered an immersive live set that featured swirling lights and terrific graphics. A live horn section gave the music a real immediacy too.

Portugal. The Man also put on an impressive show. They opened their set with a funny Beavis & Butthead skit that found the two animated characters making fun of the group and calling it “pretentious” before deciding the group is the greatest band ever (“even better than Silverchair!”). It was a great way to open the set that had the whimsical feel of a Flaming Lips show. Backed by a string section and a couple of vocalists, the group unfortunately went out with a whimper as it ended its hour-long set with a rather perfunctory rendition of the hit “Feel It Still.”

All in the all, this year's lineup wasn't as strong as previous lineups, but the festival's many stages made it easy to find something worth checking out, even if it didn't appeal to the primary audience of hip-hop- and EDM-obsessed teens and twentysomethings.

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