Day two of Lollapalooza began with some heavy showers, offering momentary relief from a muggy Chicago morning. The rain didn’t dampen the spirit of the crowd—if you’ve ever been to a festival, you know that (for some reason) some people love to play in the mud.
The day started with an amazing performance by Phantogram, who have managed to build up a sizeable fan base through constant touring on their debut, Eyelid Movies. The band combines gigantic grooves with electro-pop and ties it all together with the smoky vocals of lead singer Sarah Barthel. Despite the rain, the crowd’s response to the band was remarkable—they were more into this show, an opening act, than most crowds were for some of the headliners.
A great advantage of festivals is the ability to check out bands you’ve heard of but haven’t had time to actually listen to. Such was the case with Massachusetts’ Dom, a three-piece led by a long-haired 22-year-old who sings songs about girls, heartache and, um, his cat. I’d heard a lot about them, but hadn’t yet listened to any of their music. Their performance was terrific—it sounded like warped ’60s pop-rock. It’s pretty similar to that slightly skewed throwback movement that’s defined by bands like Girls and Real Estate. Dom’s performance was at turns twee and heartfelt, and the audience loved it.
After that, I headed over to the main stage, following the savage sounds of Death from Above 1979. The band broke up in 2006, but have reunited for some festival dates, and brought their peculiar brand of near-thrash-metal to Lollapalooza. It was very loud. And kind of … monotonous. It’s not clear why the world needed a DFA1979 reunion, but here they are anyway.
Next, I went to see The Drums, a 2010 buzz-band who are just about to release their second album. I’d heard they weren’t a very good live band; unfortunately, those rumors proved to be true. Lead singer Jonathan Pierce has a fine voice on album, sort of a “Morrissey-meets-Joy-Division’s-Ian-Curtis” thing, but live, it comes across as a flimsy affectation rather than a strong artistic statement. Which was unfortunate, because the rest of the band was amazing, filling the stage with taut, precise rock.
Next was Local Natives, who had a huge crowd turnout for their set. They were good—but I got the sense they will be a much stronger festival act when they have a second album. All of their songs were varying levels of good or great, but they tended to blend together, and it was difficult to get into multiple songs played at mid-tempo. But the highlights were terrific, and the band’s harmonies carry over to the stage from the album with ease.
Across the field from Local Natives, Cee Lo Green was setting up for his set. I expected the “Crazy” and “F— You” singer (and, um, judge on The Voice) to deliver a funky set filled with horns and swagger, but instead, he walked out like a deranged member of KISS, dressed in a long black muumuu and football shoulder pads with giant spikes. He was backed up by several women dressed in some kind of dominatrix gear—it was as weird and gross as it sounds. Then they all started playing … and it was awful. It was lots of screeching hard rock, filled with random covers (Cee Lo covers Danzig? Really?) and bad sound. It was the first full train wreck of a performance I’d seen all weekend, and people began to leave in droves.
After that debacle, I made my way to Lykke Li, which turned out to be the highlight of the day. The diminutive Swede has a massive stage presence, dancing around and playing drums with an unrivaled energy. She worked in samples of Kanye West’s “Power” and The Knife’s “Silent Shout.” Which meant both general fans and super-hipsters were satisfied. She finished up the set with a killer one-two punch of “Youth Knows No Pain” and “Get Some,” and the crowd happily danced and sang along.
The final acts of the night were My Morning Jacket, Beirut and Eminem. I wanted to see a bit of all three, so I made one giant swing of the festival grounds (not a small prospect—the park is more than a mile long). My Morning Jacket have earned their reputation for being an amazing live band, mixing soaring vocals with insane guitar solos and jams. Basically, mash up Phish and Kings of Leon, cut out the worst parts of both, and you’re left with My Morning Jacket.
Beirut turned out to be an amazing live band, though lead singer Zach Condon wasn’t helped by the dual bass coming from My Morning Jacket and Eminem. They did their acoustic Balkan thing to rabid applause, but I got the sense they would be a much better club band than a festival closer playing opposite one of the biggest rappers in the world.
Eminem was pretty much exactly what you’d expect at this point. Somewhere along the line, he seems to have lost his ability to adopt different flows, so he only has two speeds now: slow and quiet or loud and angry. The latter works better, but also gets boring after more than one verse. Even "Stan" fell kind of flat, though it did remind me that Dido used to be popular. Also, Eminem had a "special guest" in Bruno Mars, who will always be "the guy who sings that terrible ‘Grenade’ song" to me.
Overall, it was a good second day of the festival—it didn’t live up to the lofty heights of day one, but there were some good acts.
Check back tomorrow for our wrap-up of day three.
Photo credits: Cee Lo Green and Phantogram by Dave Mead, Lykke Li by Jack Edinger,