It just wouldn’t be Lollapalooza without rain.
The massive festival that takes over Chicago’s Grant Park for one rockin’ weekend each August has an infamous history of soggy weather, which showed up both Friday and Sunday this year.
But in the end, you can’t put a damper on good music … and 2014 proved to be no exception.
Arriving at Grant Park a little later than expected (thanks, traffic), the first sounds we heard were the bouncy, jittery tunes of Bombay Bicycle Club, dressed down in Oxford shirts with Stratocasters cranked.
The rain made its first appearance here, too, but the crowd stayed put, a testament to the band’s catchy beats.
A walk across the park got us to the far south stage in time for Interpol and a dose of ‘80s goodness, as the band cranked through an energetic setlist of their old hits, plus enthusiastic previews of tracks like “All the Rage…” from their upcoming new album.
A bit of a run this time as we crossed the park again to check out buzz band Chvrches, with singer Lauren Mayberry garbed in all black. A quick scuffle of shifting people during Chvrches’ set revealed one of the male contestants from “The Bachelorette” in the crowd, although only a minority seemed to care. The rest were busy listening to Chvrches’ striking electro-pop.
Grabbing dinner at the excellent Chow Town food court, we returned to the south end for most of Lorde’s much-anticipated early evening set. The singer took the stark stage wearing simple black overalls and her trademark mass of wavy locks, and seemed amazed at the “heat” even though it was only around 72, cool by Lolla standards.
Lorde spent most of her set by herself, with a drummer and synth player triggering samples and backing vocals and holding down the rhythm behind her, but hits like “Royals” and “Team” kept the crowd riveted.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to move, as Arctic Monkeys were up next on the same stage. In front of a flashing sine wave logo, they played several tracks from their latest album, “AM,” and added in plenty of hits. Frontman Alex Turner soldiered on even when his guitar died in the middle of a song, and by the end of their set the entire audience was dancing in place, even those squashed against the barriers.
Across the park, Eminem was on the other main stage, but we Monkeys fans didn’t budge as night one ended.
Day two of Lolla technically started at 11:30am, but fans were slow to trickle in to the park, the aftereffects of a rockin’ Friday.
Buzz and ukulele player Vance Joy was one of the first ones on the stages, the crowd singing along to the indie-folkster’s singular hit, “Riptide.”
Drifting one stage over were Parquet Courts, who were for some unknown reason besieged by a pack of cardboard Bill Murray heads in the audience, from all different Bill Murray movies.
There’s likely an inside joke there somewhere.
Kate Nash showed up next across the way in a red cape, bizarre dress, and toppling platform shoes, and dragged several fans up on stage to dance with her as her new band charged forward with a more punky sound.
Grouplove was one of the few disappointments of the weekend. They’ve appeared at Lolla before, but showed little improvement.
Most of their tunes sounded the same as the next, all one-trick-pony. They did attempt a cover of The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” but it just kind of fell flat.
No matter. One of our most-anticipated bands at this year’s Lolla, Foster the People, were heading for the Samsung stage, and they definitely lived up to expectations.
Garbed in a leather jacket, frontman Mark Foster led his crew through uber-catchy FTP songs like “Helena Beat” and new offerings from their latest album, with extended arrangements on several songs just for fun.
Much of the crowd was singing along to every track, with a massive volume increase in singalongability when FTP played their biggest hit, “Pumped Up Kicks.”
The Samsung stage was also the place to be for tonight’s headliner of choice, Outkast. (Calvin Harris is across the park at the other headline stage for the EDM fans.)
This was a big reunion for Outkast fans, with Andre 3000 and Big Boi back onstage together, celebrating their 20th year as a rap duo.
That didn’t limit them, though – it never has.
During their set, Outkast also filtered in plenty of soul, funk, and hip-hop as tunes like “Ms. Jackson” and giant hit “Hey Ya!” They dumped bubbly melodies and heavy beats across the endlessly dancing crowd, which could be heard singing Outkast tunes all the way out the gates as day two ended.
“You’re all Lollapawinners!” Andre 3000 yelled.
Sunday is traditionally Lolla’s quietest day, as folks suddenly realize they’re actually going to have to go back to work tomorrow.
Spirits were sunk even lower this year by that expected rain, which started early, dumped heavily and steadily, and turned the festival grounds into a mud pit. People dealt with this by either covering up in garbage bags and rain ponchos, or by simply throwing giant globs of mud at each other. Another side effect was that lots of abandoned fashion gear could be seen all over the park in the forms of broken sunglasses, ruined shoes, and worn out umbrellas.
In spite of the newly formed swamp, the music, of course, continued.
We arrived later in the day today, and started with a quick listen to newbies London Grammar on the Lake Shore stage; this proved to be a good choice, as we then had time to grab some chicken tamales and a cold-pressed green juice at Chow Town.
We returned to that same stage for a standout performance by Irish troubadour Glen Hansard, who was competing with popular draw Chromeo across the park.
Some of the stages unfortunately suffered from what we called “Storm Syndrome,” no matter who was performing. Trekking from one end of the park to the other suddenly became pretty unappealing thanks to the weather, so we (and plenty of others) tended to stick to one side.
This worked great on our account, as the acts we wanted to see were conveniently lined up on the north end stages anyway. The Avett Brothers and Young the Giant both put on solidly entertaining shows while we waited for Sunday headliner Kings of Leon to start at 8:15pm.
Opening with the ironic choice of “Supersoaker,” Kings of Leon caused the mud to churn as their fans jumped up and down, creating blobby islands in the middle of the muck.
They played their hit “The Bucket” early in the set, saving “Crawl,” “On Fire,” and a left-field Robyn cover for the end, when their solid modern rock really served as an anchor for a massive field of swamped, tired fans.
Once 10pm hit and the Kings wrapped up, no one was interested in sticking around in the mire, so the night ended fairly quickly. As 100,000 fans left Grant Park, the trails of mud led all the out way to Michigan Avenue, marking the path to Lolla’s return next year. We’ll be there.
To keep updated on all things Lolla, including announcements and info on next year’s fest, visit lollapalooza.com.