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Lollapalooza ends on a high note on day two

Greg Kot

6:59 AM CDT, August 4, 2013

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Day two of Lollapalooza started out with sunshine and a lineup shake-up.

Greg Kot (GK), Bob Gendron(BG) and Andy Downing(AD) give us the rundown of day two.

12:01 p.m.: Austin, Texas, quintet the Wheeler Brothers kick things off on Lollapalooza's second day with a honky-tonk-inflected “Sleep When I'm Dead,” a fitting anthem for the hundred or so early arrivers crowding the stage. “How many of you had to set an alarm to be here right now?” the group asks from the stage. The band of brothers — three of the five are related — plays with a precision that comes from a lifetime of making music together. Still, this type of music is best when it's at its most rough and tumble, and tunes like “Heather” and “Portraits” are almost too manicured, making it appear the crew would only play roadhouses with, like, the cleanest bathrooms. An ill-advised cover of the Jackson 5's “I Want You Back” does little to alter this perception, though with news of Death Grips' cancellation spreading it's refreshing to see a band approach its performance with a degree of professionalism. (AD)

12:11 p.m.: "Everybody that's singing along, that's [expletive] awesome," says Cherub's Jordan Kelley. Uh, who are you talking to, sir? Chalk it up to wishful thinking. A few hundred early birds watch the Tennessee duo but nobody in sight mouths any words. People are swaying their hips instead. The pair's hybrid of white-soul funk and silky electropop generates the intended between-the-sheets swagger while the come-hither lyrics seem repurposed for a PG-13 version of "Penthouse Forum." Cherub owes a considerable debt to early Prince and Zapp records. Songs such as "Heartbreaker" and "Jazzercise '95" reference sweat and encourage sexual get-togethers. Vocoders and talk boxes help heap on the risqué vibes but this is all targeted for the nighttime, not the hour when everyone is still just waking up. (BG)

1:05 p.m.: "Do you believe in love," asks Shovels & Rope singer/multi-instrumentalist Cary Ann Hearst. She gets an affirmative reply. A male fan gets on his knee and pops the question to his girlfriend. Stunned, the woman accepts, and the band gets right back to business. The feel-good moment isn't the only highlight of a gritty set during which the South Carolina couple plays as if it's got nothing to lose and everything to prove. The husband-and-wife tandem boasts a genuine rapport, leaning into each other as they delight in the carefree fun of hillbilly country, raw country and dust-blown folk. Hearst and Michael Tandem effortlessly switch instruments, tackling drums, tambourines, harmonica, keyboards and guitar. Adorned in a blue-and-white-checkered dress, Hearst looks ready for a barn-dance hoedown or dinner at a formal Southern diner. But the duo isn't afraid to dirty its appearance, delivering words at an auctioneer's pace and filtering chords through cheap distortion. The sandpaper finishes and washboard-rubbed grooves suit a batch of shuffles and boogies tailored for being performed on wooden crates and with pawn-shop gear. D.I.Y.'s spirit lives. (BG)

1:06 p.m. DJ Cole Plante dons a Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey for his afternoon set at Perry's stage, though at just 16 years old it's unlikely the Los Angeles native ever saw him play. The pint-sized Plante specializes in big-beat electronica, and his high-gloss set is heavy on flash, if not substance. Unlike some of Friday's better DJs (Monsta, Flux Pavilion), the youngster rarely varies the tempo, and his musical output is as uniformly outsized, shiny and characterless as a modern skyscraper. Though his music lacks texture, few DJs could match his energy. Plante climbs atop his rig, dances on the stage like a loose-limbed marionette and exults the crowd to “get your hands in the air!” Unfortunately his enthusiasm hasn't translated into actual ideas just yet, and he fills out a bulk of his hollow set spinning whole swaths of songs by Icona Pop, Zedd, Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx, among others. (AD)

1:26 p.m.: Brazilian band Planet Hemp bounces from surf to hardcore punk, psychedelia to heavy metal. It's basically a power trio with a versatile guitarist and two rapper-vocalists, but they sound like they're auditioning for a frat's 20-year reunion party. If you were jumping around in college bars to rap-rockers 311 in the '90s, this is your band, ganja presumably not included. (GK)

1:38 p.m.: Little Green Cars push delicacy to the extremes. The Dublin collective threatens to put everyone to sleep with genteel harmonies and barely-there acoustic frameworks. Sound bleed bombards the performance from two separate stages. For a while, it seems the band missed the memo to play the Kid's stage during nap time. At its best, the group conjures the pleasantries associated with the burgeoning Americana revival. Its songs might be good for dozing off, ironing a shirt or listening to when shaving. Yet the mediocrity primarily serves as a reminder that, irritating as it may be, pedestrian fare is almost inevitable at fests as large as Lollapalooza. At least vocalist Faye O'Rourke gets a lead turn on "My Love Took Me Down To the River (To Silence Me)" to salvage the waning moments of a cloying set. "Everywhere we go I say that it's my favorite city, but here I really mean it," adds leader Steven Appleby. Sure, dude. Whatever. (BG)

2:05 p.m. Jordan Cook, the singer/guitarist driving Canada's Reignwolf, appears onstage dressed head-to-toe in black and with a stocking cap pulled low on his face, looking as though he's going to make away with the instruments onstage rather than play them. Instead, Cook opts to play all of them, both drumming and playing guitar before two bandmates join him onstage a song into the set. Though in fine spirits (between tunes he thanks the crowd and expresses his wonderment at the city surroundings), Cook's guitar sounds downright cranky on dingy, blues-influenced rockers like the thundering “Are You Satisfied?” He also plows through a primal cover of Fleetwood Mac's “The Chain,” punctuating each verse with gnarly guitar riffs that mimic a rusty motorcycle engine firing for the first time in decades. (AD)

2:15 p.m.: Wild Cub, a Nashville quintet, excels in congeniality and an unrelenting flow of pleasantness, with two keyboardists cushioning any hard falls. When several band members play percussion, the rhythms never quite qualify as funky or even propulsive. It's the sound of frothy waves on a yachting excursion, with only scratchy vocals that aim for grittiness, but don't quite get there, to disrupt the flow. (GK)

2:28 p.m.: "Keep your head up/Keep your heart strong," Ben Howard and company sing as they attempt to convert the refrain into a chant that sticks in people's heads for days. The sentiment jives with the English troubadour's gentle, tender fare. Howard, who often plays guitar with his hand above the fretboard rather than below, makes music for cozy campfires, days spent lounging at a beachfront vacation home and candlelit dinners. Occasionally, the tempos jog and Howard slaps at his six strings as if batting away a pesky fly. He recognizes his pastoral niche and doesn't stray, handling dynamic build-ups with the gracefulness of an altar boy and expressing the obvious messages of tunes like "Only Love" with fragile vulnerability. Howard isn't a pushover, however. With Little Green Cars cutting into his time slot, he takes the stage, allows the amplifiers to feed back and refuses to stand down until the opposing band vacated across the way. (BG)

3:08 p.m.: The last soul man standing? Charles Bradley has been grinding for decades on the sub-chitlin' circuit without record deals or high hopes, while enduring homelessness, poverty and his brother's murder. Now that he's in his sixties, he's finally got his chance and he wrings every drop of feeling from each note he sings. "Do you want to go to church?" he asks. "Raise your hand if you want to go to church. I'l take you there." He's a James Brown disciple, preacher and confessional singer-songwriter rolled into one. He's also got a flair for theater in the finest Soul Brother No. 1 tradition. "Brother, don't leave me alone," he cries, then drops to his knees, the microphone stand slung over his shoulder like a cross. "How long, how long?" he wails, shaking his fist at the heavens. The next minute, he rolls into some suave stepping moves, breaks into a shimmy, slide, pop-and-lock and jack-knifing knee drop that has the fans howling in appreciation. He's not just here to testify about the hard times, he wants to lift himself -- and the audience -- back up, too. (GK)

3:18 p.m.: The last time the Blisters, a Chicago quartet that features Jeff Tweedy's son Spencer on drums, played the Kidzapalooza stage they were actual kids. Now two of the four band members have full-on facial hair. The band's music has matured in a similar fashion, and rather than bashing through a handful of snotty punk covers, here the band eases into an assortment of winding originals that touch on weighty subjects like regret (“It's been so long since I touched your hair or did you wrong,” sings frontman Henry Mosher on a stately “One Day”), the anticipation of new love (“If I call you up would you break me down?” he sighs on another tune) and how to properly say “I'm sorry.” “Don't say it with flowers,” offers sweet-voiced guest vocalist Alaina Stacey on “Flowers.” Perhaps next time around the still-improving crew will even graduate to one of the fest's actual stages. (AD)  

3:19 p.m.: Court Yard Hounds stomp and step during the retribution tale "Phoebe," yet little about the soft-peddled performance hints at the requisite vengeance needed to pull such a song off. Comprised of sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, better known as two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks, the group brings a polished Nashville country-pop feel to easygoing back-porch cuts such as "I Miss You" and "Amelita." Perhaps it's the remarkably small crowd or the sun-baked mid-day slot, but laziness and formula pervade. Faded bluegrass-tinged elements that emerge via banjos and Maguire's bittersweet fiddle aren't enough to compensate for the fact that the singers miss Dixie Chick Natalie Maines' sass and spunk. Robison even forgets the words to a song. And the 5-piece backing band never gets an opportunity to engage in jamboree mode. If Court Yard Hounds want to be considered more than a side project, they need to up their level of investment. (BG)

3:48 p.m.: If the uber-peppy cheerleaders Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri portrayed on “Saturday Night Live” opted to form a drum-and-synth duo, there's a good chance they would sound something like Brooklyn-based Matt & Kim. The pair, making its third appearance at Lollapalooza, is relentlessly, almost annoyingly upbeat, and watching the two musicians interact on stage it's easy to imagine they're the type of people who tend to use too many exclamation points in their emails. The music is equally over-caffeinated, drawing on hip-hop (the musicians even work in a snippet of Salt-N-Pepa's “Push It” for good measure), synth-pop and electronica. Of course, the crowd, among the largest gathered up to this point, eats it up. Credit the duo with knowing its audience, which goes wild when the two play snippets of Will Ferrell movies (“No one knows what it means, but it's provocative!”) and offer up their hopes for how the evening will unfold for the gathered masses. “I want everyone in here,” says drummer Kim Schifino channeling her inner Rodney Dangerfield, “to get laid tonight!” (AD)

4:15 p.m.: Local Natives salute the Talking Heads with a cover of "Warning Sign" and, thankfully, avoid any temptation to emulate David Byrne's unique vocals. The Los Angeles band's off-kilter grooves and suddenly shifting time signatures stem from New York's late 70s art-rock movement, yet the addition of acapella breaks and boomeranging beats lend its material a modern edge. An elusiveness in which anything can change in an instant contributes to the sense that the quintet is playing games of aural hopscotch. In spite of cramming multiple ideas into each piece, Local Natives resist any urge to do too much at once. Pauses that precede wordless harmonies and woozy atmospherics maintain balance. Songs get frisky and jittery, but always land on two proverbial feet. (BG)

4:45 p.m.: Ellie Goulding, decked out in a shirt that, from a distance at least, appears to be made of bubble wrap, straddles the line between soul and electronica, delivering her words atop an array of computerized beats and looped vocal samples. On “Starry Eyed” the British singer, whose voice has an appealing, slightly smoky quality, steps daintily amongst skittish drums. Then on “Burn” she lets it rip while riding a surge of electronic noise. At times, Goulding relies too heavily on prerecorded backing vocals, and the live band sharing the stage with the singer might as well be props. In spite of the sometimes robotic backdrop, however, the music itself still feels somehow human, particularly on a cathartic “Anything Can Happen.” Think of the performance as the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz,” with Goulding as the beating heart at the center of the mechanical mass. (AD)

4:59 p.m.: Unknown Mortal Orchestra conjures surf music for an imaginary sci-fi movie. Based on this performance, that movie would kill at the Cannes Film Festival next year. The drums-guitar-bass trio lines up next to one another across the stage, and it's as if a starter's gun goes off at the onset of each song with each musician flying to the front. Solos aren't so much about individual grandstanding as they are battles for space, with each instrumentalist taking a turn in the lead while the other two snap at his heels. It's a thrilling, acrobatic display, but it's also grounded in hooks and songs, with melodies weaving through the death-ray guitar noises, bobbing bass and rampaging percussion. (GK)

4:55 p.m.: Boom! Baauer tucks "Harlem Shake," the viral hit of the century, into the middle of his set. Fans run like lemmings toward the stage, limbs flailing as smartphones capture video of friends doing the dance that prompted countless YouTube versions. It's all over in about two minutes. The Brooklyn producer proves more than a one-hit wonder, however. Unlike many of his electronic contemporaries, his tracks keep people guessing where the tempos, beats and samples will go next. Variety and flexibility govern an undulating mixtape of electro-trap, hip-hop, crunk and funk. Baauer's creativity extends to visuals that encompass images ranging from an off-guard President Obama to the darting eye of a Blue Man Group member. Arms outstretched over his decks, the Brooklyn artist strikes a triumphant pose, the overseer of a throng enraptured by window-rattling bass and repeat chances to get crazy without worry of any consequences. (BG)

5:12 p.m.: Four years ago at Lollapalooza, Eric Church played a small stage during the opening hours of the festival. Today, the North Carolinian commands one of the four main stages and returns the favor with arena-scaled production and a muscular sound. The outspoken singer flies the redneck and rebel flags with pride, his chewing-tobacco-stained voice lacing songs like "Springsteen," "Creepin'" and "How 'Bout You" with backwoods tones. His eyes shielded by pilot sunglasses and a baseball cap, Church relays an experience to which many people at the fest no doubt relate. Having performed at Metro the night before, he confesses he's hungover, that his butt got kicked by his favorite whiskey. Of course, he still sips it onstage, and doesn't shy away from any of his other vices. Rambunctiousness and walk-it-like-he-talks-it honesty are largely responsible for his successful straddling of the country and rock markets. Hence, the banjo-assisted "Smoke a Little Smoke" and "I'm Gettin' Stoned," which Church sends up with a heavy metal crunch and type of hard-living attitude that elevated him to superstar status. (BG)

6:05 p.m. Austin-by-way-of-Cincinnati quartet Heartless Bastards opts to cleave its set in two. The band opens with an assortment of sturdy, bar-rock crowd pleasers (“Only For You” and a primordial “Skin and Bone” that comes across like a modern update on the Pretenders' “My City Was Gone”) before making a sharp left into more experimental and ultimately more fulfilling territory. “Marathon” stretches out just as its title suggests, frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom howling and moaning atop slow-burning guitars that conjure images of the wide-open Texas landscape. “The Arrow Killed the Beast” exhibits similar patience, and the crew takes its time to explore the musical byways like a tourist content to lose his or herself in a new city. (AD)

6:25 p.m.: British quintet Foals ranges from keyboard fragility to funnel-cloud guitar rave-ups in a set that builds like a big wave. The Morse-code guitars suggest Eastern sitars one minute, Mississippi Delta blues slide the next. The epic closer, "Two Steps, Twice" sets a trance-like mood and then escalates from there, inspiring outbreaks of dancing, before crashing to a close. (GK)

6:44 p.m.: For a band that sings songs about coming apart, the National sounds remarkably together. Usually, the group's dynamic nuances get devoured on bigger stages. Not here. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Ohio quintet may have peaked on record, but it's currently giving notice that live, it strings along tension and takes beautiful, slow-burn arrangements to full-bore fruition with the mastery, sophistication and focused theater of a veteran jazz outfit. Two brassy horns supplement foundations held down by drummer Bryan Devendorf, whose advanced signatures and nimble textures complement vocalist Matt Berninger's channeling of disturbed protagonists. Characters in the National's narratives walk tightropes of indecision, uncertainty, mistrust, obsessiveness and sorrow. Berninger brings them to life with tortured physical movements and confessional outpourings that should concern any competent psychiatrist. Ditto the brief moments he can't control his inner demons, leading to frightening fits where his soul-probing baritone rises to a throaty roar, melancholy turns to anger and murder seems imminent. Carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, the vocalist's admissions double as cautionary statements: "You should know me better than that"; "I can hardly stand up right"; "If I stay here trouble will find me"; "I wish I didn't sleep so late"; "My mind's not right"; "It's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders." Dourness has rarely sounded so cathartic. (BG)

6:48 p.m. When last seen, at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park last year, Kendrick Lamar was still a relative unknown except to hip-hop connoisseurs. His set came off as hazy and introspective, with a curious Lady Gaga hanging on every word from the wings. But now he emerges with newfound swagger -- even without Gaga in the house -- smoke machines at his feet and a full band at his back. His 2012 album, "good kid, m.A.A.d. city," puts a new and brilliantly introspective take on West Coast gangsta rap, a look at its tropes and pressures from the inside out. So even as he leads the crowd in some explicit choruses, he throws out questions and lays out his conflicts in the verses. "This will be on the Internet," he announces. Ya think? The audience cheers him like a rock star, even when he stands on stage with arms folded. But he doesn't just bask in the glow. He tries to put it in context, much in the way his rhymes try to make sense of hip-hop and the culture that birthed it. "You can't classify what we got going on," he says to the fans. "This is life." (GK)

7:28 p.m.: Prepare for a mass sing-a-long. The Lumineers instruct a sea of fans to help with their ubiquitous hit "Hey Ho." Fans abide, but what should be a communal memory feels anticlimactic. Forget about the broken guitar string. The Denver ensemble's stripped-down roots folk is simply mismatched to the setting. Alas, the David-versus-Goliath juxtaposition isn't the Lumineers fault, even if the decision to perform two songs off-stage to be nearer to the crowd should've been reconsidered. Toy pianos, small xylophones, cellos and acoustic guitars can't stand up against constant chatter and an overwhelming amount of people. Still, the band tries. A scampering cover of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" jumps with pep and "Dead Sea" rolls along with traditional sea-chantey charm. When pressed, Wesley Schultz' voice contains signs of last-call hoarseness. "Stubborn Love" triggers another sing-a-long. Yet it's almost all for not. The Lumineers' faint, in-miniature rusticism demands a smaller, quieter environment. And that's certainly not here. (BG)

7:45 p.m.: Chicago's Supreme Cuts, an electronic crew anchored by DJs Austin Keultjes and Mike Perry, becomes the latest Lollapalooza casualty when technical difficulties cause the group to abort its performance before it even takes root. “Our computer's breaking now,” they say, “So we're gonna figure out what we're gonna do.” After a fitful ten minutes spent tinkering with equipment, the set finally evolves into a performance from the group's five-person R&B side project Jody. The backing tracks themselves aren't far removed from Supreme Cuts musical output, and the airy grooves favor creeping atmosphere over sheer physicality. In terms of the subject matter, the songs appear to be largely about smoking weed and getting laid — often at the same time. But the group's enthusiasm, and its ability to spin lemons from lemonade, is worthy of applause. (AD)

8:30 p.m.: Standing on the north end of Grant Park it's easy to imagine how Cillian Murphy felt when he woke up in “28 Days Later” and humanity had disappeared entirely from the planet. Ok, so that's certainly an exaggeration, but as the Postal Service kicks off its headlining set it's clear a bulk of the audience has chosen to take in Mumford & Sons across the park. This despite the fact that earlier in the day frontman Ben Gibbard took to Twitter to announce Saturday's Lollapalooza performance and Sunday's show at Metro would be the band's last. With the city skyline as a striking visual backdrop, the quartet delves into majestic versions of songs like “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and “Nothing Better,” a heartbroken number bathed in percolating synthesizers. The set draws heavily from the group's sole album, “Give Up,” which was first released in 2003 and recently received the deluxe reissue treatment to mark its 10th anniversary. While the record certainly has its charms, the songs themselves sound more muscular and dynamic here in the live setting due at least in part to the edition of Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis, who chips in on backing vocals and guitar. Gibbard also appears to be enjoying himself immensely, taking up the drums on “We Will Become Silhouettes” and harmonizing with Lewis on a thumping “Clark Gable.” Darker shades do emerge on a downbeat “This Place Is a Prison,” but it's a brief negative blip for a band that continually seeks out optimism amongst the ruins. Assuming the Postal Service holds to its word, this is not a bad way to go out. (AD)  

8:58 p.m.: Initiation? Annoying Bad Things front man Davis LeDuke smears red lipstick across guitarist Shaun White's face during "Anybody" then tosses the makeup into the sparse crowd. About 200 curious onlookers watch the replacements for Death Grips, with others stopping by just to get a glimpse at White, who for the time being has traded his snowboard and surfboard in for a lead guitar. As celebrity musicians go, he's passable, almost anonymous in an all-black outfit. But he's also second fiddle to the group's synth-heavy sound: prim, proper and well-rehearsed. Yes, fame pays. Bad Things is signed to Warner Bros., which will probably seek out (and secure) commercial airplay with a big-budget marketing campaign. At least White remains largely inconspicuous and doesn't call attention to himself. Then again, perhaps he should. However spotless, Bad Things' vanilla synth-rock could use jolts of boldness and originality. Besides, the Killers already played last night. No wonder fans late to hear about the Death Grips' cancellation storm off in a huff. (BG)

9:08 p.m.: Mumford & Sons draws a huge crowd in Hutchinson Field, rivaling the attendance of any Lollapalooza headliner in past years, but dissipates all that good will. After performing the hit "Lover of the Light" and a coincidental fireworks display in the southern sky, the pacing slows, and the band's sleepy dynamics coupled with sound bleed from the nearby Perry's DJ stage disrupts the momentum. About two-thirds through the set, the fans are leaving in droves and the field is less than half full. When the U.K. quartet first appeared at Lollapalooza in 2010, they played a brisk, bracing, relatively brief afternoon set that stamped them as rising stars. But they haven't grown into the role of headliners thrust upon them by two straight multimillion-selling albums. A few musical elements distinguish them: a cappella harmonies, the folk-on-steroids choruses, the gimmick-free presentation. But their songs fall into two general categories: gentle hyms and arena-folk anthems that start at a near-whisper and finish on the "bombastic" setting. The lack of tonal and melodic variety becomes apparent over the long haul of a two-hour show. (GK)