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Lollapalooza 2014 Review: Eminem, Chance the Rapper, Rudimental and others

This past weekend I was able to represent 88Nine at Lollapalooza. For those of you following this musical behemoth from the fringes- don’t worry- I’ll give you the rundown.

Walking into Grant Park early Friday morning, I began mentally preparing myself for the drunken mobs I have come to associate with festival life, but I was surprised to be funneled into a spacious plaza. At the center, the Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain shone impossibly. It was a stark contrast to the brackish water of Lake Michigan I have come to associate with Summerfest, Milwaukee’s summer festival.

It was only eleven o’clock so the grounds were still devoid of music. People milled about and chattered in the sunshine, and I had a momentary flashback to a day in Central Park. I calmly grabbed the nearest map and collected my bearings.

I noticed two things immediately when I glanced at the festival schedule. First, the way the shows were staggered among the various stages was a nice contrast to other festivals firmer time slot method. I found few true conflicts between shows I wanted to see. This became a bit more problematic later in the day when I discover how grueling the trek across the park actually was (The journey can’t possibly be shorter than a mile). Still, the overlap was helpful.

I also noticed that the lineup was much more well rounded than other festivals I have attended. Many of the acts I was most excited to see ( Phosphorescent, Courtney Barnett, Rudimental, Parquet Courts ect.) took place in the middle of the day.

I decided to start the day off with The So So Glows. I knew little about about the band, but they had recently played in Milwaukee so the name carried a certain resonance.Their twelve-thirty start time was pushed back by an unexpected rainstorm. I can easily say that this band set the tone for the rest of my Lollapalooza experience, one of pleasant surprise. Like anxious racehorses stuck in the gate, when the rain delay was lifted, they came out with oddly restrained vigor. Based on my knowledge of punk band opening acts, I expected their sound to be unpolished if not chaotic. Instead, their clear and vehement lyrics found a comfortable home in catchy, driving punk rhythms that got the whole crowd swaying.

After The So So Glows, I reached the stage where Temples was playing another opening set. Here was another well established band. Based on these two opening acts, I quickly deduced that Lollapalooza was not a place artists came to cut their teeth. I was momentarily stung by this realization. I have always loved catching promising young bands in their first bouts of touring. There is an excitement there that seasoned artists sometimes lack. Still, Lollapalooza provides the opportunity to see a wealth of talent in a short period of time.

Two acts from the opening day stand outing my memory. The first wasRudimental, a four piece electronic outfit from England. I was first introduced to the band last summer when I took a trip across the country. They originally reached prominence with their single “Feel the Love” feat. John Newman. Since that time, they have released a myriad of catchy hits featuring prominent soul singers.

I wanted to see the band for sentimental reasons, despite my somewhat skeptical attitude towards live electronic shows. It isn’t that I dislike electronic music. It’s just that I think a lot of the magic happens in the production side of things. I was even more wary because of the bands strong focus on bringing in outside artists for collaboration.

My apprehensions were utterly unfounded. When I arrived at The Grove a few songs into the set, there were no fewer than eight people on the stage .The band brought with them a handful sultry-soul singers to give life to the performance. When they weren’t singing, they were dancing. Forgoing the impulse to make the instrument an electronic loop, the band opted to incorporate a live trumpet player. The brassy intonations cut to the forefront and helped the genre-fusion run seamlessly. When “Waiting All Night” came on toward the end of the set I found myself truly inspired by the possibilities of electronic music. Instead of using electronic music to replace the music of the past, Rudimental uses it to enhance and reach further.

The Eminem show was the pinnacle of my weekend. Despite being an admitted fan, my enjoyment of the concert transcended my enjoyment of his music. Playing as many shows as he has, it’s hard to imagine not slipping into a catatonic, auto-pilot; yet, this felt like one of those rare moments when an artist was caught exposed. Normally, a renewed sense of energy in a performer can be traced back to the release of new material. It’s true that Eminem did release The Marshall Mathers LP 2 in 2013, but few of those songs were feature in the 90-minute set last Friday.

He came out with only the last verse of “Bad Guy,” from the latest album, before transitioning into “Square Dance,” from The Eminem Show. He then proceeded to rip through an eclectic smattering of his past work, from the original Slim Shady LP to the present. It wasn’t uncommon for the rapper to switch songs partly through. When he mashed together “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” with “Still Don’t Give a Fuck,” the songs that really started his rise to fame, it felt like a tip of the hat to the place he came from, more than a straightforward performance.

Continually throughout the show, Eminem seemed propelled by an intense energy that comes from a deep sense of seriousness. He didn’t shy away from his earlier and more offensive work, but took clear steps to distance himself. Before one particularly vulgar song he told that crowd that it came from a place where he was a little crazy. The spell was temporarily broken when Rihanna made a surprise cameo, but even then the concert took on a different kind of enjoyability. When “Not Afraid,” came on at the end of the set it seemed like the ending of a personal biography, rather than the mere end of a concert.

Eminem has certainly come a long way since that bleach-haired kid dissin’ pop stars on MTV. Part of that is likely the natural trajectory of age. Still, there seems to be a certain degree of fire in everything Eminem has done. At the very least, I walked away from that concert with a lingering desire to be a bit more.

Other notable acts of the weekend include; Benjamin Booker, who smashed his guitar at the end of his set and tossed it into the audience; Fitz & The Tantrums, who brought out an unlikely dance-party mob early in the day; and London Grammar, whose haunting vocals seemed the permeate the entirety of the festival grounds, giving license to the rain if only for a short while.

Sunday night rolled around and my festival experience came to an end at the stage of Chicago's home-town hero, Chance the Rapper. I had caught wind that Chance might not have the greatest live preformance. Regardless, I decided to try my chances at the Palladia stage, embracing the mud pit it had become.

The rougher edges of the performance were smoothed over by Chances’s clear excitement and charisma. He finally seemed at ease when things slowed down for the song “Acid Rain.” The performance took on a certain earnestness that was rushed past in the earlier part of the set. He seemed to lose himself in the music, just a little bit, as he intoned the pains of childhood lost. The moment was short lived. Before the song finished R- Kelly took the stage. After a karaoke-style rendition of “Ignition” , Chance segued into “Cocoa Butter Kisses.” This was my favorite track from the critically acclaimed mixtape, Acid Rap. Unfortunately, much of the charm was lost in the pop-rock rendition of the song. The gnashing electric guitars and long pauses where the crowd filled in the lyrics could easily have been foregone. Still, the overall performance was solid and infused with youthful excitement. Overall, it was a decent Lollapalooza preformance.

Photo credit: Alex Wroblewski

Director of Digital | Radio Milwaukee