If the first day of Lollapalooza was all about connecting past and future, and the second was a referendum on country in rock, the theme of Sunday was, “Man, there certainly was a lot of music this weekend.” Freed from the confines of a vague narrative (either constructed by the producers or grafted upon it by media types), the third and final day in Chicago’s Grant Park was simply about finding something to be passionate about and then leaving it all on the field.
A great deal of that passion was reserved for the Cure, who served up a lovely two hours of throwback sadness as one of Sunday night’s headliners. Though his band has already been alt royalty for decades, frontman Robert Smith still draws his charisma from outsider weirdness. And though the Cure’s setlist was aggressively familiar (if you can think of a Cure song right now, they probably played it), it still lent many of their jams some freshness—even Smith himself still seems alarmed at just how sinister the bassline is that lurks underneath “Lullaby.”
He’s charmingly expressive too—during “Friday I’m In Love,” he made a stink face every time the lyrics came around to “Thursday,” as though that part of the week committed some still-unforgivable sin. And though he himself is showing signs of age, his voice remains as powerfully delicate as it did back when he recorded “Boys Don’t Cry,” the band’s first hit and still their encore-closing number.
At the opposite end of the festival grounds, Phoenix provided a Euro alt-dance party for anybody who wasn’t an aging goth romantic.
Phoenix could probably make a living doing little more than headlining festivals – they provide everything anybody could want in an evening-ender: Sexy Hollywood style, big pop hooks, and tracks that are easy to dance to. They’ve replaced set-opener “Lisztomania” with the Bankrupt! single “Entertainment,” but it’s a pretty recognizable show no matter what the order of the songs. Their execution was impeccable, though they remain a tad predictable. And most of the newest songs—including the jittery “S.O.S. in Bel Air”—sounded right at home next to staples like “1901” and “Lasso.”
Palma Violets didn’t have any staples to lean on during their early afternoon performance on the same stage, so they went about it the old-fashioned way: By absolutely rocking faces right off. For anybody rocked to sleep by Mumford & Sons’ kinder, gentler indie rock on Saturday night, Palma Violets provided the wake-up call. The London-based quartet was fantastically sloppy, brilliantly chaotic, genuinely noisy and utterly compelling. Their co-frontmen play well off one other, with guitarist Samuel Fryer provided breezy sweetness while bassist Chilli Jesson runs roughshod, barking, diving, flailing, and generally providing an entire afternoon’s worth of entertainment in 45 too-short minutes.
Singles “Best of Friends” and “Step Up for the Cool Cats” are chart-toppers in an 900% more awesome alternate universe, and the set-closing “Brand New Song” allowed them to basically screw around for the final four minutes before taking a bow. These men were rock stars, and once everybody catches up to their greatness, they’re going to be dangerous.
Atlanta swamp-metallers Baroness know a thing or two about danger, both literal and metaphorical: Their songs are all about the dark side of the soul’s obsessions, and survived a harrowing tour bus accident last year that left the band shaken and ultimately splintered (bassist Matt Maggioni and drummer Allen Blickle quit following the crash).
The new rhythm section has clearly bonded nicely with bearded frontman John Baizley and shredding guitarist Peter Adams – Baroness’ afternoon set was a volcanic eruption of thick riffs, spry solos, and wicked vocal bellows. They opened with a titanic one-two punch of “Take My Bones Away” and “March to the Sea,” a pair of powerful, big-chorused, headbanger-friendly anthems, though they did take time to ease off the gas for a few instrumental explorations and some downright pretty interludes. Still, they went all in on set centerpiece “Cocanium,” which pounded and purred like a well-oiled jackhammer. There wasn’t much room for metal at this year’s Lollapalooza, but Baroness made their time in the spotlight count.
Others were not so lucky. Alex Clare confounded a main stage crowd expecting an hour of material as dance-ready as “Too Close” but got a lot of muddled British singer-songwriterisms and a deeply ill-advised cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” Many of those same people didn’t know what to make of upstart Jake Bugg either, though they walked away satisfied when he played his song in the Gatorade commercial.
But the afternoon was saved by the Vaccines, who used their jumpy proto-punk tunes as launch pads for frontman Justin Young’s winking come ons and bad-ladisms. The more time passes, the more their 2011 debut What Did You Expect From the Vaccines? sounds like a trenchant statement, and the songs from that album—especially the aggressively wry “Post Break-Up Sex”—came across as easy hits.
If there was one big takeaway from the weekend, it’s that now more than ever, it takes more than just great songs to get noticed. It requires a solid performance—and a bit of style—to elevate quality tunes into great material, especially in a festival context. All weekend long, there were killer songs everywhere, but it took a handful of rock stars to make this a Lollapalooza for the record books.