Last Friday, as I sat on a cold and dirty sidewalk and watched the sun rise over the beautiful Chicago skyline, as I was at the beautiful Grant Park. I found myself overcome with a mixture of nostalgia and intense déjà vu.
Nearly three years ago to the day, I had also been sitting on an uncomfortable sidewalk in Chicago in the early hours of the morning, ready to queue for hours for yet another British band who had inexplicably taken over my life… Funny how history sometimes repeats itself.
Things went less smoothly this time around than they did in 2011 but as it usually does, everything worked out in the end. After enduring major wristband drama and confusion over which entrance to wait at (because what’s a gig queue without a few minor heart attacks?) the magic hour finally arrived. As the first few dramatic notes of the Star Wars theme blared out over the festival loudspeakers, my friends and I raced through the gates, hearts pounding as we made our way toward the barrier. The day before, a few of us had infiltrated the park for a bit of espionage and it seems that our efforts paid off. We knew almost exactly where to go – which trees to cut through, which section of the barrier to aim for – getting our perfect spot was almost easy. In a flash, the most stressful part of the day was over and now all that was left was to wait.
Queuing for a festival is always a bit of a double-edged sword. You get dehydrated easily. Bathroom breaks are nearly impossible. You have to stand for hours on sore and sweaty feet.
The only thing keeping you going is that your day is punctuated by live performances that entertain you, excite you, and ideally help you forget about long wait.
First up was Temples, a GATR favorite who have been generating quite a bit of buzz despite the fact that they are very much still in their infancy as a band. Their psychedelic sound, quality performance, and fabulous style are not to be missed.
Next up was J. Roddy Walston and the Business – a band that I wasn’t too familiar with but seeing them on Friday with their incredible energy and stage presence.. It really grabs the audience. They have a cool, southern-rock sound. This is definitely a band I would recommend checking out.
Sadly, Interpol’s set hinders our review due to some unfortunate sound mixing. The bass drum was set so loud that every beat was literally painful and made it impossible to really listen to or enjoy the performance. Thankfully, the issue was more or less cleared up before Lorde took the stage.
I went in not knowing too much of Lorde other than her song Royals but I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by her set. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her energy, passion, and maturity far beyond her 17 years.
The day was almost over. We were hot, we were tired, and we were anxious.
Then finally as Lorde left the stage and the crew began setting up for AM, that all-too-familiar excitement started bubbling up inside of me, washing the impatience away. I was literally front-and-center about to see one the most buzzed about bands play their first headlining performance at a U.S. festival.
Perhaps not a very impressive feat, considering they’ve already headlined countless other festivals worldwide (including Glastonbury… twice) but considering that they finally broke out in America, it’s a big deal.
As darkness finally settled over the thousands of fans at Grant Park, those familiar thick clouds of smoke began flowing onto the stage and the crowd went wild. Then, moments later, as the soft, mellow sounds of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” filled the air, the boys took the stage and Arctic Monkeys began their first set as U.S. festival headliners.
Arctic Monkeys never disappoint with their live performances and Lolla was no exception. The guys were in top-form, looking fabulous and playing with so much energy and enthusiasm that it’s almost easy to forget that they’ve been touring almost non-stop for the past year.
The crowd was loving every minute of it and though the newer hits seemed to get the biggest reactions, I was pleased to hear the fans around me singing along to some of the older live staples as well, like I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, 505, and Teddy Picker. The Monkeys were incendiary, the sound mixing was perfect (something that was particularly noticeable during Crying Lightning, when the intricacies of the individual parts that the four of them are playing really shined through).
Of course, the performance was not without its faults. There was no War Pigs snippet in Arabella which they have been performing at every live show. The solo was played by touring mate, Tom Rowley (ex band, Dead Sons) rather than Alex. Not a gripe but it was strange not to hear the snippet.
There was a technical issue during the Teddy Picker solo; Alex’s voice was a little hoarse at times but with all the non-stop touring, it’s understandable.
Arctic Monkeys’ headlining debut at a major U.S. festival was a roaring success and they more than proved that they can hold their own in front of a massive U.S. crowd against the likes of Eminem, Outkast, or any of the weekend’s other headliners.