Few music festivals create conversation the way Lollapalooza does – regardless of where you are in the world or the company you are with, just a casual mention of its name will inevitably result in an onslaught of joyous remembrances, interested queries and the requisite story about a friend of a friend’s hilarious albeit regrettable actions. For the past 21 years, Lollapalooza has dominated the American music festival scene, paving the way for the dozens of festivals that we all know and love today. For the last eight years, Lollapalooza has called Grant Park and Chicago its home, becoming a major part of the city’s cultural identity. With both three-day and single-day passes selling out long before the festival opened its gates, by the time August rolled around the buzz surrounding the festival was unprecedented in size.
All the necessary components for an idyllic weekend were in place – hugely popular headliners (The Black Keys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White), plenty of hyped up acts (The Weeknd, Florence + the Machine, Frank Ocean, M83) and more EDM performers than ever (Kaskade, Justice, Avicii, Nero). While in past years the more commercial lineups left many disappointed that Lollapalooza had lost its soul, 2012’s diverse collection of bands, DJs and rappers proved that the festival was still capable of choosing talent over easy profits. As a five-year Lolla veteran, I was about as jaded as it gets – what more could this festival show me that I hadn’t seen before? But, like wine, art and George Clooney, some things really do get better with age, and after spending three blissful days immersed in a world of captivating music, I can now count Lollapalooza among these illustrious ranks. Although nearly every performance I saw was worthy of mention, for brevity’s sake here is my favorite act from every day.
Although Bassnectar was a guaranteed banger and I may have loved The Black Keys for longer, no performance from Friday stood out more in my mind than that of UK producer SBTRKT. Known as Aaron Jerome when he isn’t performing, SBTRKT took to the Google Play stage fresh off the plane from his native London, trademark mask and all. Showing not even the slightest hint of jetlag, SBTRKT’s musical prowess was a sight to behold, at times playing the drums and working his mixing desk simultaneously. Accompanying him on the keyboard was his collaborator Sampha, who also provides the duo’s soulful vocals. Melding R&B and dubstep into a hybrid where genre no longer seems to apply, from the xylophone loops of “Hold On” to spaced out synthesizers of “Sanctuary,” SBTRKT creates music that is all his own. The crowd erupted for the popular single “Wildfire,” though sadly the track’s contributors, Swedish group Little Dragon, were not in attendance. During the set’s entire length, SBTRKT caressed the audience with tales of loves lost and revelations found, proving that headliners aren’t the only ones who can blow a crowd away.
Saturday: Frank Ocean
If it were possible to declare someone King of 2012, Frank Ocean certainly has my vote. Whether it was releasing his debut studio album, Channel Orange, to both critical and commercial success, or coming out of the closet in a poignant Tumblr post that took the hip-hop and R&B worlds by storm, if one thing is clear it is that Ocean does things on his own terms, and we can all be thankful for that. Although Avicii and the Red Hot Chili Peppers may have drawn larger crowds during their Saturday-closing sets, none were more intimate or more touchingly beautiful than the one Frank Ocean performed. Opening with a cover of Sade’s “By Your Side,” Ocean took full command of the stage, backing the song with just an acoustic guitar. Navigating between tracks off his new album and those from his earlier works, Ocean’s pitch-perfect renditions of “Thinkin’ Bout You,” “Novacane” and “Strawberry Swing” had everyone passionately singing along, all a part of what Ocean affectionately dubbed as the “Lollapalooza Mass Choir.” Ocean accomplished something with his performance that is so difficult to come by in the entertainment industry today – every song, every lyric, every interlude was undoubtedly sincere. Smiling to himself in his own quiet way, Ocean declared “I fuck with Chicago right now.” Don’t worry, Frank, we most definitely fuck with you too.
Sunday: Jack White
Although the days of true, unabashedly wild rock-and-roll may long be over, guitar god Jack White is every inch a rockstar. First earning the world’s adoration as the frontman of The White Stripes, White went on to lend his talents to the bands Raconteurs and Dead Weather before releasing his first solo album, Blunderbuss, this year. With a crowd so massive that it seemed to span the entire southern half of Grant Park, the applause could be heard for miles as White took to the stage in head-to-toe black. White performed the first hour of his set with male backing band, Los Buzzardos, and the second with female backing band, The Peacocks. Each half provided such intensity that many didn’t even realize that a switch had been made. Playing songs from each phase of his celebrated career, new works like “Sixteen Saltines” and “Freedom at 21” blended nicely into classics such as “Hotel Yorba” and “The Hardest Button to Button.” Tracks such as “Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground” benefitted from the full band’s violins and multiple pianos, a far cry from when Meg White was his only accompaniment on stage. With thousands upon thousands lending their voices for “Seven Nation Army”, White closed out his set, and the entire Lollapalooza weekend, the way every fan wished he would.