By Kyle Anderson and Nolan Feeney
When the second day of Lollapalooza 2012 began on Saturday, it was just another ridiculously hot morning in Chicago—but by the time the final notes had been played in Grant Park, it had become historic.
For the first time ever, the entire festival was suspended due to inclement weather, and all of the festival’s attendees—the official number at the time of the storm was 60,000, plus 3,000 staff—were evacuated for two and a half hours while a vicious thunderstorm passed through.
At about three o’clock local time, word started spreading that a nasty storm front was headed in the direction of Grant Park, and that everybody should brace themselves for the worst. Only a few minutes later, the organizers of Lollapalooza did the bracing for everybody.
A number of bands, including Neon Indian, were forced to end their mid-afternoon sets early to make way for the announcement that everybody had to leave the grounds due to the oncoming weather. What at first seemed like an alarmist case of over-protection ended up being right on, as the wind and rain ripped through Downtown Chicago for a solid hour.
The festival attendees who didn’t fill the bars and restaurants surrounding Grant Park were lead to a trio of underground parking garages that served as shelters during the storm.
The gates were re-opened at around six o’clock, with a new schedule and a slightly extended curfew. Most everybody was allowed to go on later, with the headlining acts given the go-ahead to play until 10:45, just under the cutoff time for noise in Grant Park. In the end, only a handful of acts were cancelled outright, including Temper Trap, Alabama Shakes, Chairlift, the Dunwells, B.o.B., J.J. Grey and Mofro, and Paper Diamond.
By the time the music was back on, the crowd had thinned only a little; most people seemed to stick out the storm. Though the fields had deteriorated quite a bit — a number of people standing in front during the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ set were in ankle-deep water).
Still, the resilience of the crowd (and the cooler temperatures post-storm) definitely played into both of Saturday night’s headliners. Whether Frank Ocean’s rising star just got lucky, or whether there’s a cartel of music industry insiders we can thank for orchestrating the whole operation, Ocean’s chilled-out Saturday set showed that, at the end of a long day of emergency evacuations, all anybody needed was a little Frank.
And don’t think that Ocean lucked out on a headliner vacancy just because Lollapalooza organizer Perry Farrell is jamming four closing acts into the schedule every night. Ocean offered what few headliners in Grant Park could: intimacy.
After opening the show with an acoustic cover of Sade’s “By Your Side,” as he did late last month at his sold-out show in New York City, Ocean split his set between new cuts from Channel Orange and tracks from his mixtape, nostalgiaULTRA (he seemed especially impressed that people knew the words to the latter’s tunes). Ocean received the loudest cheers of support when he introduced “Bad Religion,” a taxi-cab confessional about unrequited love that he has acknowledged is about another man.
But Ocean didn’t win people over just because he sang about his personal life— he won them over because his musical high points came with such a heavy dose of charm. When he complimented Chicago on having the “flyest architecture,” he was a renaissance man. When he made audience members tap strangers on the shoulder to say, “I love you, neighbor,” he was a sweet romantic. When he snuck Dragonball Z references into his set, he showed off his sense of humor. And when he hit those high notes? He was just about golden.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the park, Red Hot Chili Peppers eschewed intimacy in favor of funky bombast. In the 21st century, their aural attack centers almost entirely around Flea’s singular technical expertise (the callouses on his hands must be epic). That certainly props up the best aspects of the Peppers’ approach, but it also provides their primary stumbling block. Flea is so forward in the mix that the songs that don’t necessarily rely on four-stringed theatrics tend to lose focus, and the constant noodling between songs grew a little bit tiring, especially considering what the crowd had been through that day.
Flea also handled the bulk of the between-song patter, which found him delivering a healthy philosoph: “Be kind. Be gentle. Be nice. F— s— up!”
Still, when they are locked in, the Peppers could be indestructible. Arm-swayers “Snow (Hey Oh)” and “Around the World” inspired full-throated accompaniment from the gathered masses, and the primal funk-rock of “Suck My Kiss” shone through. The Peppers are sometimes victims of their own wild success — while the songs from last year’s I’m With You aren’t bad by any means (show-opening “Monarchy of Roses” was particularly dynamic), they pale in comparison to the classics left off the set list, including “Scar Tissue,” “Soul to Squeeze,” “Dani California,” and “Higher Ground.” But by closing with the elastic funk of “Give It Away,” everybody walked away amped enough to forget they’d probably just ruined their shoes for good.
As for earlier in the day: before the storm rolled through, Saturday had gotten off to a promising enough start. Local hip-hop hero Chief Keef turned in a brilliantly chaotic set in the noon sun, welcoming a dozen of his cohorts onto the stage for a series of guttural shout-alongs. Keef obviously has to work on his presentation, but he has the sort of crackling charisma—and a bona fide street hit in “I Don’t Like”—that should keep him at the top of the hip-hop game well past his 17th birthday.
JEFF the Brotherhood also turned in a ragged set that lacked any self-consciousness whatsoever. Clad in a denim vest and extremely short shorts, frontman Jake Orrall burned through a batch of he and his brother’s heaviest, haziest jams. Their ability to create quite all that thump with just a three-stringed guitar and a drum kit never ceased to impress, especially when those elements were wrapped around chuggers like “Shredder,” which is still the best song Iron Butterfly never recorded.
After the storm, tUnE-yArDs was the perfect artist to help kick off the festival’s return, because if there were a soundtrack to jubilantly sloshing through mud puddles, multi-instrumentalist Merrill Garbus’s project would be it. There’s an earthy quality to her live blend of mixed percussion, saxophone, and amplified ukelele that made getting down and dirty (literally) with Mother Nature seriously tempting. But the coolest instrument in the tUnE-yArDs arsenal is Garbus’ distinct voice, which she contorted and layered into looped harmonies of bewitching gibberish.
With the delay, the Weeknd lucked into the sunset time slot, which he mostly worked to his advantage. His heady R&B-electro workouts tended to dissipate a bit in the crisp evening air—the jams that absolutely kill when given an appropriately claustrophobic setting like a club or small theater didn’t work quite that same magic on the grounds. Some of the punchier moments of his truncated set did connect,, including the contextually-appropriate “Life of the Party.”
Still, the whole thing felt a little anti-climatic, and you couldn’t help but think that the Toronto native’s veil of mystery had been downgraded by Frank Ocean’s naked confessionalism, as though people only have room for one ambient indie R&B wunderkind in their lives.
Holding down the EDM side of things Saturday night was Calvin Harris, the Scottish producer responsible for a notable string of high-caliber pop songs in the past year, including Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” Given Harris’ penchant for making euphoric club bangers, his post-stormapalooza set came with high expectations. But it turns out without the added charisma of someone like Rihanna, Harris is just another dude with a mixer—very adept at constructing huge walls of thumping sound, but also a little anonymous.
A lot of bands talk the talk when it comes to describing their sound as dance rock, but Franz Ferdinand actually walk the walk. For proof, look no further than the mass of festival-goers who spontaneously broke out into choreographed dance during the Glasgow band’s early evening set.
The infectious energy may have just been the product of an audience happy to see the sun again, but the band deserves the credit, too, because we don’t remember any borderline-flash mobs breaking out during last night’s headlining sets.
In addition to an unexpected cover of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” the other surprise from Franz Ferdinand was how fresh their breakthrough hit, “Take Me Out,” still sounds all these years later. Who knew revisiting 2004 could be so much fun?