Lollapalooza 2012 Recap
With more than 100 bands on eight stages (well, seven if you discount the Kidz stage, which often features songs about barnyard animals), Lollapalooza is expected to be exhausting and overwhelming. The point is to see as many bands as possible, because you paid for a ticket and dammit you’re going to make that 3-day wristband worth it.
At least, that was my Year 1 strategy. Year 2 was a little more laid back; I even took a night off, missing a few bands I would have liked to see in the name of sleep and sunburn recovery.
Then I got involved with Lolla as a volunteer, and this year I worked all three days, 12 hours a day, as a Team Lead for the Greeters & Box Office volunteers. A hundred volunteers a day stood outside Lolla to greet festivalgoers, and hundreds more volunteers worked inside the festival at water stations, recycling centers, lost & found, information booths, and disability access platforms.
Since I was working all day, I didn’t sit down and watch many bands, but I did do some drive-bys and I also got up close to a few of my must-sees — but of course, Mother Nature had alternate plans for my dream chance encounter with Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes…
Lolla started off great, with happy crowds and positive reviews of the Friday bands, including Metric, Passion Pit, the Head and the Heart, NERO, and M83. My first band of the fest was Tame Impala, whose dreamy psych rock put a haze over the likely half-heatstroked crowd on the hill east of the Sony stage at 3:15 in the afternoon.
“You guys are fuckin’ soldiers,” Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker said to the assembled.
That night, the Black Keys put on a performance so perfect, it could have simply been the album originals playing over the speakers, but for the occasional riffs and playful explorations by guitarist Dan Auerbach. Auerbach, for his part, is indelably entertaining to watch as he jumps around the stage and waggles his head at drummer Pat Carney.
On the other side of the park, Ozzy Osbourne struggled to keep up with the rest of Black Sabbath, especially the energetic and well-intentioned young drummer filling in for Bill Ward. I warn you, it’s a sad sight to see. Ozzy sways like an old man and his chops just aren’t quite there. It’s good to see he’s alive and kicking, though!
Festivalgoers looked perky as they arrived on Day 2, though there was a noticeable lag of patrons to see the first two hours’ worth of music. By the time Delta Spirit took the Bud Light stage — a headliner stage! — at 2:15, the crowd was swelling and amping up for a beautiful Saturday of music. Delta Spirit’s sadly honest but happy-beat “California” made my day in the way that seeing a song you love live for the first time can make you feel.
So I was in a considerably happy mood when I got the news that Grant Park would be evacuating for an oncoming severe storm. The music would go on later that evening, we were told, but some acts may be canceled while we wait out the storm. My volunteers outside the park turned into an exit team, and we answered questions while ushering people off the grounds and toward parking garages just north of Grant Park. People didn’t seem to believe that bad weather was coming — “Are you serious?” they asked, glancing up at barely-clouded skies — but the decision had been made, and 60,000 people filed out of the park in one of the strangest and most memorable events in recent music festival history.
And then, the rains came. It came down sideways, and the skies went black. Anyone who had been hanging around out front of Lolla, in Columbus Circle, scrambled for cover. The bars got very crowded. A Starbucks kicked everyone out. I sought shelter in a beauty salon, and then an acquaintance’s apartment. We played a round of Scattergories and grew sad as we realized that some of the bands would be canceled, though Lolla would be extended past curfew to 10:45 p.m. (Thanks, Rahm!)
The evacuation did displace a few of this year’s Saturday line-up, including the Dunwells, Paper Diamond, B.o.B., Neon Indian, The Temper Trap, and — sob! — Alabama Shakes. But the shows of fun., the Tallest Man on Earth, and tUnE-yArDs brought the festival back to life at 6:30 p.m., and it quickly became clear a number of festivalgoers spent the break either napping or drinking, as the rain hadn’t drowned any of the crowd’s enthusiasm. This was especially true of the crowd at tUnE-yArDs, which was tickled that Merill Garbus’s set had been spared.
Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean performed to screams, Avicii turned the Bud Light stage into a Swedish rave, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers proved they can still inject energy and passion into their live show. Seriously, how does Flea move his fingers that fast?
Sunday saw an even drowsier start but lots of one-day wristbands, there to see Florence + the Machine — the most-packed show of the daytime on all three days — as well as Justice, Kaskade, and Jack White.
Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine was as charmingly, weirdly British as we could have hoped. She demanded that people kiss each other and raise each other onto their shoulders, her red dress billowing in the wind as she worked the stage like a drama teacher instructing students on how to strike a pose. Unfortunately, Lolla hasn’t posted any videos of Flo on their official Lollapalooza YouTube channel, so you’ll have to recreate the show with this signature image:
I capped off Lolla with my most anticipated act: Jack White, who I’d never seen live. He was fucking brilliant. I don’t understand how his voice is so controlled, but even the scary, almost frantic harmonies in “Take Me With You When You Go” are entrancing.
I love the official Lolla videos because they’re beautifully shot, given all the angles — the best one is taken on the Red Bull Stage (Jack White, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Black Keys), looking north to the Chicago skyline with the band in the foreground in silhouette. Jack White happened to play my favorite song off his 2012 debut solo album Blunderbuss just as the sun was setting over the Chicago skyline. My mom was there with me, and we hopped around in the mud pit created by the rainstorm, enjoying the best festival in the world.
And did you hear? In addition to locations in Chili and Brazil, 2013 will see a Lollapalooza in Israel. Lolla shall conquer the earth!