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Lollapalooza: The Cure and Phoenix close out the fest

Greg Kot

10:49 PM CDT, August 4, 2013

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The lineup for day three of Lollapalooza starts off strong with Palma Violets, Guards and Wild Belle kicking things off.

Festival organizers are reporting an official attendance of 100,000 people each day of the 3-day festival.

Greg Kot (GK), Bob Gendron (BG), and Andy Downing (AD) give us the minute-by-minute rundown of the third and final day of Lollapalooza.

12:11 p.m.: Who needs coffee when Guards are around? The New York quintet jump-starts the day with buzzing, caffeinated power-pop that puts the guitar first. Front man Richie Follin does his finest impressions of Dinosaur Jr. leader J. Mascis, wielding the six-string instrument as a blaring sonic weedwacker that screeches, bites, churns and shrieks. He reveals the first-ever concert he attended was Lollapalooza--back in 1996. Follin's keenness for overloaded feedback, droning crescendos and crashing chords indicate he's a disciple of the rock artists that would've graced the then-touring festival stage almost two decades ago. Along with fellow Willowz member Loren Humphrey, he indulges in a handful of Krautrock passages and flips M.I.A.'s "Born Free" into a speed-freak anthem that Hawkwind would admire. Before they're finished, Guards hand out balloons, slow the pace down for a couples dance ("Not Supposed To") and discover what fun noises result when a guitar is rubbed over a ride cymbal. (BG)

12:15 p.m.: Action on Lollapalooza's north end begins, as many days do, with a Yawn. Despite playing to a relatively small crowd, the local art-rock quartet admits to a degree of unease, saying, “I don't know if it's the nerves or the DTs, but I'm [bleeping] shaking.” Instead of letting circumstances overwhelm, however, the band channels this energy into its songs, which are universally jittery and and unsettled and skittish. Tunes waver between percussive numbers (the clattering “Toys”) and more melodic guitar-based numbers (the propulsive “What's In the World”). One new song contains both poles, veering sharply from languid, synth-based passages to crunchy guitar outbursts, like a tranquil river suddenly giving way to choppy rapids. It's a nice Lolla debut for the youngsters, who thank the audience for turning out for the early time slot even though “you're boozed out and your liver's all hurtin' and you're dying.” Consider this the first step to recovery. (AD)

1:02 p.m.: If there was ever any doubt the guys in the Orwells are still teenagers, it's completely obliterated when 19 year old frontman Mario Cuomo strips off his black jeans to reveal his Batman boxer shorts. Despite the bandmates tender ages — no one in the Elmhurst-based crew is old enough to (legally) drink — the music is staggeringly mature, and the band ably shifts from controlled burners like the sludgy “Halloween All Year” to “Other Voices,” a garage-punk temper tantrum set to crunchy guitars. Though it's a sunny Sunday afternoon, both the lyrical content (songs are filled almost exclusively with tales of boozing and carousing) and the performance itself (wild, unhinged and with a welcome element of danger) evoke a late Saturday night, and it's thrilling to watch the performance unfold. Indeed, when the band returns to the stage for an encore cover of the Stooges' “I Wanna Be Your Dog” it feels well-deserved, serving as an exclamation point of sorts on the youngsters' riotous coming out party. (AD)

1:17 p.m.: The members of the Palma Violets strike a certain resemblance to Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane when the latter first entered the NHL. Traces of acne remain visible, and they look young enough to still be in their parents' basement learning how to form basic chords and execute a drum roll. Having kicked off with a ramshackle cover of "California Sun," Palma Violets retain a similarly crude vibe delightfully at odds with much of the lineup's professionally manicured acts. "Best of Friends" and "Step Up for the Cool Cats" project raw edges, gnawed-on fingernails and roadhouse whiskey shots. The quartet's organ-augmented and reverb-splotched melodies trace back to those preserved on the vital "Nuggets" garage-rock volumes. An inkling of the trademark British boredom occasionally creeps into the performance, but Palma Violets came to howl. They aren't so green that they fail to recognize the everlasting power of a solid beat and catchy, concise hooks. Hail hail, rock n' roll. (BG)

1:38 p.m.: Trip back to 1978. Wearing snazzy all-white suits, the members of Wild Belle look like the second coming of "Saturday Night Fever"-period Bee Gees or "Go to Heaven"-era Grateful Dead. Their keyboards boast golden brass covers. And the wood-paneled speakers and amplifiers are those any self-respecting audiophile would hope to find in a hi-fi store about the time Steely Dan's "Aja" ruled the charts. The Chicago-based brother-sister band's music isn't anywhere nearly as noteworthy. Every song sounds almost exactly the same as the one that preceded it. Singer Natalie Bergman's cutesy, retro-soul coo doubles as a doppleganger for that of Macy Gray. She croons over a laidback blend of reggae, funk and African-laced pop that encourages cloud-gazing and lying back on blankets spread-out for picnics. Wild Belle's saxophone appears to primarily exist as a prop; more brass is needed. So be it. Modern hippies, here's your hour to soak up the sun. (BG)

2:03 p.m.: Charlie Jones, one of three partners in Austin, Texas-based Lollapalooza promoters C3 Presents, sits down backstage to answer a few questions about his festival, now in its ninth year.

On Death Grips' still-unexplained no-show for their after-party concert Friday at the Bottom Lounge and the subsequent cancellation of their Saturday appearance at the festival: Jones says it was "unprecedented" in the festival's history to simply "not show up" for a performance. Asked about the potential consequences for the group and future festival appearances, he had no comment.

On record-setting attendance: "We've expanded as far as we can go." Three days sold out in advance, with 100,000 in attendance each day, making Lollapalooza one of the largest three-day rock festivals in North America, But is that a good thing? Jones said his team counted waiting times for bathrooms at the south end of the park as high as 11 minutes, which is "unacceptable." But there were open bathrooms less than a block north. "We are trying to do a better job of dispersing the crowd and keeping people informed," he says. "We put 60 to 70 percent of the people south of Buckingham Fountain because there is simply more real estate on the south end of the park," which is why the biggest audience magnets -- the big rock stage at the south end of Hutchinson Field and the Perry's DJ stage -- are located there. Another factor contributing to congestion is that artists are booked nearly a year in advance, and their appeal can grow considerably, so that the stage on which they are originally scheduled no longer suits the size of their audience. "Lana Del Rey could've done the main stage" this year, he says. Chance the Rapper is another artist this weekend whose following outgrew his smaller side stage booking in the last few months.

On who is attending the festival: "I'm guessing we had more people from out of town this year than ever before, which is why we sold out so fast," Jones says. He says the festival usually breaks down to 30 percent ticket buyers from the city, 20 percent from within a two-three hour drive of Chicago, and the rest from out of state and "30 to 40 foreign countries." He puts the median age for Lolla-goers at 24, about 10 years younger than the median at the annual C3-sponsored Austin City Limits Festival in Texas. That festival expanded this year to consecutive three-day weekends, and will sell out 225,000 tickets, Jones says. Similar expansion plans have not been discussed for Chicago. "I'm just focusing on this year right now, but afterward everything will be discussed with the city."

On the revenue stream for the city: Jones says Lollapalooza rents the park for $3 million and pays $1.5 million in amusement tax.

On fence-jumpers: "I'm not aware of any successful breaches by flash mobs" though "a few have been attempted." He says that since a sturdier fencing system and extra security were added a few years ago that it's tougher to crash the festival.

On repairing damage to the park: After a Friday morning downpour severely muddied Hutchinson Field, "I was crying," he says. But the mild weekend weather has minimized the damage. The festival has spent between $150,000 to $1 million to clean up the park since it arrived in Chicago in 2005, and expects a bill in the lower end of that range this year. The $1 million clean-up was in 2011, when severe weekend rain required a regrading and resodding of three major fields. "We basically had to redo the whole park," he says. "Each year we do a complete walk-through (with parks officials) before and after, and the idea is to leave things better than we found them. Some years are more expensive than others." (GK)

2:13 p.m.: Angel Haze hits the stage almost 15 minutes late due in part to a delayed flight and immediately sets to making up for lost time. An innately nimble MC, Haze rhymes as though she's being paid by the word, insights and boasts tumbling from her lips in a syncopated blur of syllables. Though physically diminutive, the rapper employs an array of massive beats. On “Gossip Folks,” she rhymes atop a stuttered groove jacked from Timbaland and Missy Elliott, while the skyscraper-sized “No [Bleeping] Bueno” hits like a stadium anthem in waiting. Haze also proves a stellar showman, at one point dropping flawless verses as she weaves her way through the appreciative Perry's crowd — a jaw-dropping display of vocal gymnastics that further affirms her one-to-watch status. (AD)

2:17 p.m.: Did tonight's headliners, the Cure, jump the gun and start early? No, but if he's not careful, Wild Nothing front man Jack Tatum might scare Cure icon Robert Smith out of his artist trailer and find him demanding royalties. He later acknowledges the British legends as one of his favorite bands. Tatum is almost obliged to do so. Watery keyboards pair with treble-drenched guitars to create new-wave and synth-pop that chimes as it mopes. Occasional plumes of dry-ice fog drift across the stage, suggesting the group prefers grey skies over bright sunshine. Tatum sings in a pretty, breathy tone one would employ when whispering sweet nothings to a newborn baby. For-eyed fare such as "Only Heather," "Paradise" and "Nocturne" double as cologne-scented letters to objets d'affection that were never sent. The only elements keeping it all from floating into the ether are heavy layers of reverb. Unfortunately they do little to stave off the temptation to snooze. (BG)

3:10 p.m.: Lianne La Havas takes a risk. She encourages a relatively small albeit captivated crowd to help sing "Forget" despite the fact that many aren't familiar with the tune. The British vocalist tells everyone to use their angriest voice even as the tone pouring from her mouth seems more angelic than devilish. Listen closer, however, and the Prince-championed artist understands the intricacies of phrasing, subtlety, metaphor and subtext. Graced with a potent falsetto, La Havas sounds at home whether strumming a spare guitar all by herself ("No Room for Doubt") or competing with a snapping hi-hat during a stutter-stepping R&B number ("Is Your Love Big Enough?"). She prizes the small gestures, embraces the sensuality afforded a smooth operator and works the crevasses that occupy the spaces between sharp, soul-folk and soothing, jazz-spiked fusion. Score a point for understatement at a festival that's not often kind to such savvy sophistication. (BG)

3:58 p.m.: For musical range this weekend, it'll be tough to top Savannah, Ga., quartet Baroness. The band has retooled in recent months, with a new rhythm section joining guitarists John Baizley and Peter Adams. But it sounds as muscular and agile as ever, blending three-part harmonies, progressive arrangements, twin-guitar interludes, hammer-of-the-gods metal and sweeping melodies. The audience is small but enthusiastic. -- despite the band's decade-long career of distinguished releases, it hasn't broken through. In heavy music currency, they're in a league with innovators such as Mastadon an Opeth. (GK) 

4:01 p.m.: In past years, Kidzapalooza has attracted an impressive string of guest performers ranging from Patti Smith, who sang of body parts strewn throughout city streets, to My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, who sounded appropriately Muppet-esque working his way through a lovely take on “The Rainbow Connection.” This year, the Kidzapalooza stage briefly transforms into perry's (with a small p) when electonic duo Brite Lite Brite stops by for a brief guest set following a Friday afternoon turn at Perry's (with an upper-case P). Unfortunately, the pair seems ill-suited to the surroundings — one parent quickly ushers her child away, saying, “It's too loud for him” — and a poor sound mix further bludgeons the music's impact. (AD)  

4:09 p.m.: "We're so excited to be wearing jackets up here!" exclaims Tegan Quin, referencing the enjoyable temperature as well as she and her twin sister Sara's appearance at Lollapalooza in 2005. Indeed, sweltering heat forced Sara offstage then, but today, she's in it for the long haul. Backed by auxiliary instrumentalists, the Canadian duo delivers like a veteran band should, with little fuss, cheerful banter and a string of energetic songs that journey through the past three decades of pop evolution. On the surface, Tegan and Sara deal in the debris of busted relationships and spurned love. They're now more punk in spirit than sound, with bubblegum refrains and synthesizer-spiked grooves bolstered by passionate vocals, muscular drums and strong-willed feminine determination. "Go, go, go if you want/I can't stop you," the pair cries, their voices cascading to symphonic effect. Underneath the tear-stained pain beats a bulletproof heart. Evidence arrives courtesy of hootenanny-igniting folk-pop and trampoline-ready dance beats that turn any hints of sadness into reasons for letting go of the past and starting anew. (BG)

4:47 p.m.: Machines are People Too cover Haddaway's 1993 hit "What is Love," a catchy 1993 hit that blends Eurodance pop with soul. The Nashville band never quite matches that peak during the rest of its performance, its tunes bubbling past agreeably but with little to distinguish them. One feature stands out: an over-reliance on wordless vocal harmonies. The quintet deserves an award for packing the most "Whoaahs" into a set. (GK)

4:48: p.m.: Wavves music has undoubtedly matured in recent years, even if frontman Nathan Williams still refuses to grow up. “Jesus loves you,” purrs the singer in the midst of the quartet's early evening performance. “No he doesn't!” Psyche! Even when Williams sings he does so with a noticeable sneer, delivering virtually every line as though it were a snotty aside. He must have been murder on his teachers growing up. Of course, Williams remains his own favorite target, and his songs tend to be so self-lacerating one almost wishes he'd adopt a Stuart Smalley-esque mantra to work through his self-esteem issues. “I still feel stupid,” he snarls on “Super Soaker.” “Stupid!” Musically, however, Williams and Co. display world-beating confidence, throwing themselves headlong into crashing surf-rock numbers (“King of the Beach”) and pop-punk rumblers that suggest Nirvana with a severe case of Peter Pan syndrome. (AD)

5:21 p.m.: Can you rock out to two tiny finger cymbals clicked together? Alt-J seems to believe so. Ditto the judges voting on the Mercury Prize, a prestigious British award recently bestowed on this English quartet. Of course, there's always the possibility voters gulped down sedatives before casting their ballot. Over-thought, over-convoluted and overly mechanical, Alt-J come across as an experimental art-rock project gone haywire. If the goal is to mimic the internal robotic processes of a mainframe computer (the band's name refers to a Macintosh command), the ensemble has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. Drowsy, tortoise-paced songs such as "Ms" are constructed of piecemeal fragments; stops and starts yield to pretentious acapella harmonizing. The ensuing dullness makes the light, dub hiccups during "Breezeblocks" feel like black metal in comparison. Time for a nap. (BG)  

5:42 p.m.: In “Ocean's Eleven,” George Clooney instructs Matt Damon on the art of the con, saying something to the effect that it's important to make an impression without being memorable. Clooney might as well have been talking about Canadian quartet Bear Mountain. The electro-funk band's early evening set is certainly pretty, packed with danceable drum grooves, shimmering synths and singer Ian Bevis' weightless falsetto, which skips along the surface of the music like a water bug. Unfortunately, an absence of hooks and a limited sonic range relegates much of the group's music to background status, and even a cover of Tears for Fears' “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” fails to rouse much of a pulse. This band is roughly the sonic equivalent of beige paint: pleasant enough to take in but nothing that leaves any sort of real impression. (AD)

6:12 p.m.: Give the drummer some love. Christopher Bear, manning percussion for Grizzly Bear, is given a shout-out by way of band mates that introduce him as a born-and-bred Chicagoan. He's the secret weapon behind the indie group's enigmatic ebb and flow. Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen trade off airy vocal highs and lows, giving the impression that half of the ensemble wants to go forward while the other half yearns to stay behind. The back-and-forth push-pull is the engine that drives cerebral, pensive material such as "The Knife." Chamber-pop nuances, Moog accents and obtuse angles remain in play, but they're beefier and bigger than on record. Last fall at the Riviera Theatre, Grizzly Bear asked the crowd for silence. No need here. Vibrations even punch fans in the chest. Witness the ringing, wind-up keyboard riff to "Two Weeks," which guides the band down a curvy, rickety path not unlike that traveled by thrill-seekers riding a wooden roller coaster. (BG)  

6:31 p.m.: While there's still a preciousness to Vampire Weekend that suggests the bandmates fetishize Wes Anderson films like “Rushmore” and “The Life Aquatic,” these days the New York-based band is finally learning how to loosen up. Singer Ezra Koenig even takes the Lollapalooza stage for the group's headlining performance wearing jeans. Jeans! Of course, the quartet hasn't quite abandoned its posh past. The roman pillars decorating the stage suggest the style of architecture typically associated with on-campus buildings at prestigious universities, and the songs are still dotted with references tailored to those with sizable expense accounts (Louis Vuitton, etc.). But even if Koenig and Co. haven't let their hair down completely just yet, it's significantly more tussled on new tunes like “Step,” a spiked ditty where the frontman throws down the gauntlet, singing, “The gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out.” A buzzing “Diane Young” explores similarly adult themes, Koenig singing about a girl “with the luck of a Kennedy” in a tale that plays like the inevitable flip-side to the Cape Cod good life. Even better are gorgeous new tunes like “Ya Hey,” “Unbelievers” and “Everlasting Arms,” a swooning, hymn-like song that momentarily turns the crowded park into a brilliant, blue-skied cathedral. (AD)

6:37 p.m.: Skrillex is the biggest name in EDM, so even one of his side projects draws a huge crowd to Perry's. The programmer's duo with fellow DJ Boys Noize is called Dog Blood, and it's designed to pummel. Even the video screens beneath the mixing board appear to wobble with each quaking bass line, as the two orchestrate burping beats, blaring car alarms, sing-song voices chirping in foreign languages, even sampled vocal snippets of rapper Kendrick Lamar. Everything is distorted and then bent, a symphony of noises toppling into each other and inducing a frenzy of dancing and pogoing in the audience. Skrillex and Boys Noize direct the crowd with waving arms as much as they hunch over the board. "Everybody set your asses down on the ground for us," Skrillex commands, and the fans dutifully comply. Then he builds them back up with a series of progammed voices: "Everybody get down low" and "Push 'em up, push 'em up, up." The sequence crashes into a series of rhythms that evoke a punk rock band busting through a static-riddled radio signal, a throwback to Skrillex's own days in California hardcore bands. It's an expertly sequenced set from a connoisseur of body music. (GK)

7:07 p.m.: Rather than duplicate the crushing assault of Dog Blood on the Perry's stage, Major Lazer aims for a more syncopated space, channeling Caribbean and South American street music. The project, led by Diplo -- wearing a tie and white shirt for the occasion -- suggests a street carnival more than a typical club performance, a vibe enhanced by a half-dozen waving flags. (GK)

7:15 p.m.: C'mon, man, get up on your feet. Act like you care even if you're faking it. Beach House's Alex Scally is evidently so taxed by having to hold a guitar that he sits on a stool for the bulk of the Baltimore dream-pop band's performance. Such detached cool and reserved indifference might play in small clubs but the move smacks of amateurism and laziness at a large festival. Vocalist Victoria Legrand doesn't seem inclined to move, either. She stands behind a bank of keyboards and sings largely indecipherable words that are filtered through mazes of gauzy reverb. Beach House's inert charisma parallels the numbing one-dimensionality of its fluffy, headphone-tailored songs. Scally finally stands for a brief period midway through the set, and Legrand whips her mane of hair around during "Wishes." Woo, what enthusiasm. Then again, given the paltry crowd, the joke's on them. "This is our first time," Legrand says about the group's Lollapalooza appearance. "It may be our last time." Promise? (BG)

7:28 p.m.: While Vampire Weekend briefly transformed Lollapalooza into a house of worship, College Park, Georgia, rapper 2 Chainz does his part to turn his corner of the park into a jam-packed nightclub. Make that an exceptionally wild club. Early in the performance a gentleman in a wheelchair surfs on top of the crowd, and this is likely the first time the rapper has ever asked the people “hanging out in the trees” to make some noise. The lanky MC, a longtime supporting player on the hip-hop scene, has earned his star turn largely through the sheer force of his outsize personality, which remains on full display here. He's alternately goofy, sincere, hedonistic, charming and outright hilarious. He's also, to my knowledge, the only artist who thinks to acknowledge the community that exists outside Lolla's gated walls. “A lot of Chicago men are dying for no reason,” he says in heartfelt tribute to the victims of the city's ongoing epidemic of gun violence. Of course, he follows this by offering up an R.I.P. to the stage itself, because, in his words, “I'm killing this [bleep].” It's funny, of course, but it's also not wrong. (AD)

8:32 p.m.: If the Cure, playing across the park, are the depressive half in that classic depiction of the drama masks, Phoenix, a six-piece band from Versailles, France, exist as its grinning counterpart. The group kicks off its fest-closing set by blasting through a steady stream of upbeat rockers, including impossibly catchy, guitar-driven numbers like “Entertainment,” “Lasso” and “Lisztomania.” Of course, with most people off watching Robert Smith emote, a comparatively small crowd is left behind to witness the performance. Even so, the band plows ahead undeterred, transforming “Run Run Run” from a jangly rocker into spirited rager alive with spiraling riffs and turning in a new wave-ish “Trying to Be Cool” that sounds wholly effortless in spite of its title. (AD)

8:47 p.m.: Even Goth-rockers love singalongs. After the opening synth chords, the Cure's Robert Smith begins to belt out "Just Like Heaven" and is instantly joined by a Grant Park choir numbering in the tens of thousands. Smith and his bandmates sprinkle Cure classics such as "Pictures of You" and "Friday I'm in Love" through a set that continues the weekend's '80s nostalgia theme, begun by New Order and Nine Inch Nails. Smith is in fine voice, and he even pulls off a few interpretive dance moves -- a rare bout of friskiness from a singer who still sports frazzled hair, eye shadow and lipstick. It's become his trademark, and it's turned Smith somewhat timeless -- an ageless figure still singing about a type of loss, heartache and yearning that never dissipates. (GK)

 9:10 p.m.: "Make some noise!" Knife Party isn't very verbose, but the Australian electronic duo's specialty is volume, not words. A battering ram of ear-shredding decibels, flashing lights, smoke-emitting machines, manipulated frequencies and banging beats give an overflow crowd one last chance to dance, jump and let loose before Lollapalooza 2013 culminates. The disorienting array of moombahton, dubstep, drum n' bass and European-style disco comes on fast and furious. Toilet paper, inflatables and homemade signs stream overhead. If a $5-per-head house party could afford such a booming sound system and high-watt lighting rigs, this is what it would resemble. It's exactly what the ravers want: Nothing less, and, by all means, nothing more. (BG)