I woke up at four o’clock in the morning to the crack of thunder and lightning. The rain that followed kept me awake, thinking about Saturday of Lollapalooza 2012, when Grant Park was evacuated due to an incredible thunderstorm. When I woke up for good I went immediately to Lollapalooza’s social media channels to find out about delays or cancellations. Fortunately, the storm would pass, and by the time the gates of Lollapalooza 2013 opened, the remaining clouds and breeze would prove welcoming. The weather would turn out to be perfect – a compliment to the excellent line-up offered on day one.
The Neighbourhood – Petrillo Stage 12 p.m.
I have never seen this particular corner of Grant Park so jam packed for the first band of the day before. The crowd spilled from the concrete incline onto the grass, and continued to grow as The Neighbourhood started the festival on Lollapalooza’s north side. The California based band brought the sun with them, fitting given its native state and sway worthy songs. By the time the band got halfway through its 45 minute set, the sun also came out to see the band, bringing the temperature from a cool 70 degrees to a sunblock slathering 85. Vocalist Jesse Rutherford not so subtlety addressed the crowd asking, “Does anybody else’s asshole need an icepack right now?” It still felt a little early to ask or answer such a personal question.
For the silliness of the stage banter, this band played serious music. The song “Let it Go” carried over field and brought more throngs of crop-top, high waist jean short wearing girls to the edge of the crowd. From my vantage point at the near back of the audience, the sound was mixed well but a little quiet.
IO Echo – Bud Light Stage 12:45 p.m.
I would never speak of quiet sound again, because the Bud Light stage made sure you could hear the concert at Wrigley Field, 7.5 miles north. The assault of sound to pour from these speakers throughout the day was deafening, but mixed perfectly. In fact, the north side would enjoy a flawless day of production (this would not be the fate for the south side of Grant Park, as I would later hear the power cut out completely during Imagine Dragons set). I was completely unfamiliar with IO Echo (not Ten Echo as I thought going into it). The band would set the tone for the intensity of rock bands to grace this stage. Vocalist Ionna Gika was in fine form, her high vocals blasting past the boundaries of the festival, and probably reaching Michigan listeners craning across the Lake. It is easy to see why Nine Inch Nails would select this band to open for them. The slow, perfectly distorted wall of guitars and programming hit like a punch to the chest; not enough to knock you out, but you had to catch your breath. The only downside of seeing a band like IO Echo without any prior knowledge is that the ambient vocals, bathed in reverb, made it hard to discern any lyrics or identify when songs had changed. Still, my interest was more than peaked and I vowed to do my homework when my ears start working again on Wednesday.
Deap Vally – Petrillo Stage 1:30 p.m.
I would have stayed longer for IO Echo if not for my need to get as close as possible for Los Angeles duo Deap Vally. The Friday line-up on the north side had no shortage of bands featuring programmers and electronic equipment, so it was a relief to see two ladies armed with just a guitar and drums. Either the shorter set of 45 minutes removed any chance of ballads, or Deap Vally hasn’t written any because they are useless when you have the potential to rock so hard.
Vocalist and guitarist Lindsay Troy and drummer Julie Edwards don’t even have enough songs to fill the entire set, but they made the most of it, pausing only for a little banter with the crowd. Edwards gave a shout out to her husband for his birthday. Troy glimpsed at an inflatable Stanley Cup and awkwardly asked “What is that, like, a trophy for football?” The two then went back and forth naming other sports (except for hockey) that the trophy could belong to. This led to the closest attempt at cricket-inducing silence the crowd would provide, minus the few hockey fans who booed. “Whatever, who gives a fuck,” she said before launching into another song off of Get Deap! the EP released earlier this year. Deap Vally is for fans of The Black Keys and The White Stripes, people who dig the minimalist side of hard, ballsy rock. Set closer “End of the World” was brash in tone, but sweet in nature, as Troy commanded the audience to “Listen Up.” “There’s no time like the present, to open up our hearts and let love shine in,” she sang, accenting the melody with short punches. This was not the lyrics of a sing song ballad (remember, they don’t write those) but the warning of “humans, get your shit together, because we’re all going down together.” Dig.
Ghost B.C. – Bud Light Stage 2:15 p.m.
Welcome to Lollapalooza’s first and defining “What the Fuck” moment. I listened to Ghost B.C. all week, and given that this festival has given more due to dance bands and indie bands in the last few years, I was excited to see a bit of metal that didn’t carry the weight of a name like Black Sabbath. I’m saying that I thought I did my research and was prepared for this band. Until the band members walked onto the stage dressed in all black robes with black, pointed masks. They cut into the instrumentation, fast heavy metal (just with a lot more synth and backing tracks than one typically hears). I thought one of the robed men would start singing, until a guy behind me said, “Here he comes.” “He” referred to the band’s singer Papa Emeritus II (the real names of the band members have never been revealed), and he walked onto stage in a green Papal gown, amazing skull make-up and a silver staff featuring the band’s logo, which looks a lot like an upside-down crucifix. Again I say, “What the fuck?”
This band, for all of its terror inducing, was a ton of fun. Even though the singer barely moved, aside from gesturing and conducting the bands proceedings, he had an outstanding presence, almost hypnotizing. His clean vocals sat comfortably on top of the mix. Three quarters through the set, he even started making jokes at the audience, which half loved, while the other half missed that he was joking. “Chicago, is it hot enough for you?” This seems an odd question from a man in a giant robe at the start of August. When the crowd didn’t respond much, he replied, “Are you saying I’m not hot?” Later, when he would ask the crowd to help him sing a chorus, he wagged his hand and gave us a nasally “Mehhh” to judge our performance. The break in demonic character was hilarious and welcome, as I was almost afraid to cheer before. Ghost B.C. is as catchy as they are kitschy, taking the metal genre’s fascination with Satan and doom and turning it on its head to the point of satire (I hope), otherwise … “What the fuck?”
Band Of Horses – Bud Light Stage 4:15
I’m ashamed to say that I don’t know this band well. I know the name, but not one song. That being said, I know an amazing set when I see one. Band of Horses played an amazing set, the kind that turns heads and guarantees that when you return to a festival, your band is playing much later in the day, like when the sun goes down.
I was certainly one of the only ones in the audience less-aware of this band, since the crowd was starting to amass to near headliner size. There were plenty of moments of ascending song structures and high energy choruses to get people dancing, but the most powerful moments came from songs like “No One’s Gonna Love You,” “The Funeral” and “Is There a Ghost.” These are the band’s biggest hits I reckon, and were melancholy standouts in an otherwise very “up” set. All of the young girls around me were singing along. Later, singer and guitarist Ben Bridwell charmingly shouted out to his kids watching from simulcast at home. His voice was spot on the whole time – raw when he needed it to be and soothing otherwise. It’s almost embarrassing that I didn’t know this band outside of it’s name [Editor’s jab: Yes, this is embarrassing, but P’s still loves you.], and I’m calling it my favorite discovery of the day, though I’m clearly the last one to the party.
Queens of the Stone Age – Bud Light Stage – 6:15
If you are keeping track of the stages, you’ll notice that I didn’t stray far from Lollapalooza’s most northern stage the whole day. I’m a rock guy, so there wasn’t much reason to explore the grounds. Every anticipated act would be within a 100 pace for the day, and from Band of Horses on, I planted my feet at the crest of the hill, giving me a great view of the stage and positioning near the sound board.
Queens of the Stone Age, led by Josh Homme, is appearing at Lollapalooza in the midst of a huge worldwide tour, on the broad shoulders of the band’s first number one record, Like Clockwork. The band would have over an hour to introduce this record to the crowd, plus tear through its other hits. Homme is capable of some of the most punishing hard rock out there, but less the giant man ever get too macho (the band name was chosen to highlight the less macho side of his ego) there are quieter moments in front of pianos and falsetto’s in lieu of full voice.
Queens of the Stone Age delivered an incredible set. Highlights included staples “No One Knows,” “Little Sister,” “Sick, Sick, Sick,” “Go With The Flow” and the unrelenting climax of “A Song for the Dead.” Newcomers “My God is the Sun” and “If I Had a Tail” will soon be QOTSA classics, and those familiar moved to these tracks with just as much fervor. The new songs were given the backdrop of the music videos released before the record, chilling cartoons featuring skulls, glowing-eyed crows, fast driving through fiery explosions, and the apocalyptic end to us all.
Nine Inch Nails – Bud Light Stage – 7:30
There were a lot of references to the end of the world today. Queens of the Stone Age showed a video where a thousand foot skull blasts the earth a new one, Ghost B.C. accentuated that the end is nigh, and Deap Vally quite literally said “It’s the end of the world.” This is all OK, because if the world were to end Saturday, we all still got to see Nine Inch Nails close out on Friday night.
Trent Reznor and whatever company he keeps are no strangers to the Lolla stage. They played five years ago. They played 20 years ago, and in this time have built the reputation as one of the best live acts to ever play the festival. It was impossible to look away. Reznor was in fine form, vocally and physically, his arms bulging through a tight black sleeveless muscle shirt. The light show progressed perfectly, saving the blinding brights for when the sun disappeared completely behind Chicago’s magnificent skyline. Shadowplay dominated the first few songs, as the band became much larger than life, projected onto a white backdrop.
By the time Nine Inch Nails tore into “Closer,” the big guns came out and blinding strobes exploded from every corner of the stage. The bands intensity only increased for the first hour and fifteen minutes, until the band took the level down to give the crowd’s ears and eyes a break (if only to make the finale that much larger). Nine Inch Nails ended the night with a 1-2-3 punch of “Wish,”“Head Like a Hole” and a stunning encore of “Hurt.” “Hurt” was minimalist for 99% of the song, with dissonant melodies plucked on a mariachi guitar under Reznor’s intentionally strained vocals. Only in the last second did the electricity go into overdrive and punctuate the ever loving shit out of the set, as Reznor waved, said thank you, and left the stage.
Day one in the books. See you tomorrow.