Every year, we write up a recap of the festival including an artist by artist breakdown. Typically this happens well in advance of Thanksgiving…like end of August. In 2015, it’s happening on the Monday of Thanksgiving week. Oh well.
Prelude to Lolla
Rising early with the morning sun, the Lolla crew piled into the Nagy-mobile to make the familiar road trip to Chicago. For some of us (Shawn, Mac), this would be the 5th Anniversary of attending the festival. Others (Jason, Sam) have been frequent attendees but have a missing year or two mixed into the equation. Kyle Ross is the only missing person for this year’s road trip portion of the festivities but he’ll enter the picture once we arrive at the hotel.
In anticipation of the road trip, everyone was tasked with compiling road trip playlists to make the ride that much more enjoyable. Of course, as always, multiple individuals failed to complete this task so we were left to rely on playlists created by reliable road trip participants and on the fly lists (a dangerous proposition when Sam is involved).
Highlights from this year’s road trip:
• The decision was made to forego the traditional stop at Taco John’s for breakfast. We went a completely different direction….Taco Bell. It was glorious.
• The traditional stop at a WI cheese shop was once again successfully orchestrated. Shawn needs his cheese curds.
• For the first time in basically the history of the Lolla road trip, there were no bouts of significant road construction near Chicago. What a difference that makes…
Another (somewhat) controversial decision was made in advance of the trip…a trip to Lou Malnati’s would NOT happen…at least not on the front end of the trip. We would instead venture outside of the Core 4 pizza joints in Chicago (Gino’s East, Uno’s, Lou’s, and Giordano’s) and sample the goods at Pequod’s. I can confidently say that, while Pequod’s delivers a high quality product, every time you do not eat at Lou’s is a missed opportunity. Nothing compares to the classic sausage pizza at Lou’s. Nothing.
Kicking off the evening in quite possibly the world’s smallest hotel room (made even smaller by housing 5 adult males), the crew eschewed the traditional shoe dice game instead focusing on heading out for a night in Chicago once again focused on the Wrigleyville area. Sheffield’s brought its usual strong beer list and good crowd to the table serving as a good starting point. From there, we moved on towards my cousin’s neighborhood and a really amazing dive bar. Essentially taking over the bar, we owned the jukebox singing from a wide ranging catalog of 80’s movie gems. Other patrons (including a large dog) were either impressed or disgusted…it was hard to tell by their faces…but odds are the former.
Day 1 – July 31, 2015
When you’ve been attending Lolla for as long as this crew, making your way through security is so ridiculously simple. Loaded up with all the essential elements (sunscreen, water bottles, sunglasses, schedules, etc.), we walked into the festival grounds like we owned the place.
The opening act of this year’s festival was a relative unknown, Spookyland. The Sprint stage (opposite the main stage) was the setting for their set. The band brought a folky rock vibe to the equation with some Delta Spirit-like vocals. Nothing amazing but a good early afternoon option with a sparse crowd to ease the crew into the weekend’s craziness.
Making our way all the way across the festival grounds (and making the first of many remarks about the age disparity between us and the rest of the concert attendees), we finally settled in to a comfortable viewing distance for Coasts. While the majority of songs coming from this band sounded very similar, it was an enjoyable set. They definitely produce a familiar sound aligned with many other bands currently operating at the top of the indie rock lists.
Up next was the first visit to the Grove stage to see a band called Jamestown Revival. It should be pointed out that this stage continues to be, year after year, the best stage to find relief from the sun. Love those trees that surround the area. The band failed to capture the imagination of the crew leaning a little too heavily on country roots. Average lyricism didn’t help the equation as the underwhelming performance lead the crew to move towards the Bud Light stage a little bit earlier than planned.
The next band up on the schedule was St. Paul and the Broken Bones and they delivered by far the best performance we’d seen all day. Bringing an infectious amount of energy and vocal chops to the stage, St. Paul seemed to embody the spirit and soul of the greats (Otis, Al Green, Marvin). The set was very similar to what we had seen earlier in the year at The Varsity Theater but it seemed fresher and livelier in the afternoon festival sun. One of my favorite sets of all time at Lolla.
Father John Misty fell victim to a scheduling conflict (and the fact we’d just seen him along with Alabama Shakes in Mpls) but I’m sure he put on a highly sarcastic and enjoyable performance for those who caught his set. We made our way back across the grounds to the main stage for Cold War Kids. The band continues to churn out quality albums over and over which makes seeing them live always a good option. They seem to be at Lolla almost every other year so we pretty much knew what to expect. They ran through a really good combination of old favorites and tracks from their latest release. Solid as always with a crowd that sang along to almost every song.
Our first visit to the (impossible to see the band) BMI stage and a set from Bear’s Den. This was a band I was especially excited to catch live based on high quality studio efforts. They lived up to my own internally generated hype working their way through a short but sweet set pulling from their debut album and subsequent EP. Sounding like a band that had played together for a really long time and sincerely enjoyed the large crowd that turned up, Bear’s Den will be a good one to watch for years to come.
The War on Drugs were the pick over Alabama Shakes (see note above on Father John Misty) and, unfortunately, drew the cement-laden stage in the middle of the afternoon. Taking in their live performance along with the guys from Bear’s Den, the crew was impressed by the professional sound of the band but underwhelmed by the energy demonstrated on stage. In addition, there seemed to be a tendency to allow for more jamming than necessary which, given the heat, was not really a welcome approach.
Turning around to make our way to the Bud Light stage, the entire crew was more than excited to catch Alt-J again in a Lolla setting. Working in tracks from both their debut and sophomore efforts, the band definitely demonstrated its significantly increased budget with enhanced lighting and visual elements than we saw a few years back. Unintelligible lyrics aside, it was a very solid set from the English band complete with the requisite secondhand inhalation of recreational drugs we’ve come to expect when at Lolla.
Wrapping up Day 1, the legend himself, Sir Paul McCartney took the main stage while the majority of the young Lolla-goers quickly disappeared to the Perry’s Tent (no longer a tent) or to a nearby downtown Chicago drinking establishment. I don’t want to disparage someone with such an extensive and impressive musical track record but Paul just doesn’t have the voice any longer. It sounded pretty much as we expected which means it wasn’t all that good. One of those concerts where you can lay claim to the fact you saw Paul McCartney live but that’s about it.
On the way out of the festival, we made a stop at the Perry’s Tent and saw Kaskade. There were lasers. There were local Chicago sports teams’ logos intermingled with Kaskade’s name. There were bass drops. There was terrible music.
Day 1 Highlights: St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Alt-J, Bear’s Den
Day 2 – August 1, 2015
The 2nd day of Lolla 2015 started out a little bit stronger than Day 1 with a British band going by the name Beat Connection. They brought an upbeat energy to the stage. Almost a blend of Two Door Cinema Club and a catchy 80’s like sound. Good way to start the day.
Leaving the cement stage, the crew moved all the way across the Lolla world to the main stage to take in a set from Catfish and the Bottlemen. With only a cursory knowledge of their music, the band seemingly knew there was an opportunity to steal a place atop the best new discovery of Lolla mantle. Running through a short set pulling from their debut album, it was a thoroughly solid performance…a performance that inspired at least one Lolla crew member to plan a purchase of their CD.
On our way over to the cement stage once again to catch the Givers, we managed to hear the last few tracks from the Hippo Campus set. It’s amazing the year the local band has put together from themselves. A large crowd packed the BMI stage and sang along at the top of their lungs to the band’s most energetic and popular tracks.
Unfortunately, the Givers were unable to sustain the buzz generated by the bands that preceded them on a warm and muggy Saturday. Bringing a low level of energy partially the result of the band’s collective heartbreak over a losing a close friend in a shooting in Louisiana, the band failed to capture the audience. In addition, it felt like the material from the latest release fell flat leading some to believe a severe sophomore slump was underway for the band.
With the sun beating down on the crew and everyone feeling the effects of sitting comfortably in our mid-30’s, we decided to take the most logical approach to ensure we would enjoy the rest of the day. We sat comfortably in the shade while listening to Sturgill Simpson. Even from a good distance away, his country twang just didn’t work at all. Maybe some people liked it but not this guy.
I’m honestly not sure if we made our way across the festival to see anything from Death From Above 1979. That’s probably not a good thing for the band. I’m going to assume they did not capture anyone’s fancy.
Next up on the Bud Light stage was The Tallest Man on Earth who, as any fan knows, believes in the art of false advertising. He is short. He ran through a solid and complete (for a change…rain shortened set last time) performance that drew material from each of his releases. He seemed much more comfortable on the stage than the last time around and the new material worked despite moving away from his singer-songwriter beginnings.
As we continued our afternoon of putting on many miles of walking, we moved back to the main stage and a festival performance from Tame Impala. We knew we would have to exit early to catch Chet Faker’s set so the collective hope was that the Australian psychedelic band would emphasize their hits at the onset of their show. Thankfully our wishes came true (for the most part) with the band dropping favorites before we departed the main stage area. Very enjoyable performance.
The Grove was the setting for Chet Faker and we were met with a larger than anticipated crowd. Chet Faker always toes the line between soul and (nearly) electronic and unfortunately seemed determined to emphasize the latter for this set. His very solid voice was not allowed to shine through which resulted in an underwhelming performance overall.
There were two primary headliners on Saturday night…Sam Smith and Metallica…neither one scoring high enough marks in the pre-festival rankings to fall into the must see category. This meant the crew could hit both shows and, hopefully, hear some of the best songs from each artist. Metallica was up first and there was a collective sentiment that the old dudes could still bring it in a live setting. Many of the songs were familiar once the guitar riffs and lyrics blasted into our ears. The slightly older crowd was super jacked up and, as we left to catch headliner #2, we were impressed by the energy throughout the main stage area.
Sam Smith was already well into his set when we arrived at the Bud Light stage and his crooning could be heard for a significant distance as we walked by the landmark fountain. The crowd was, predictably, younger and more female (not a bad thing). The singer belted through his collection of ballads with a slightly more showman like lean than expected. We missed his biggest hits exiting the festival early but you could tell the ladies loved him.
Day 2 Highlights: Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Tallest Man on Earth, Metallica
Day 3 – August 2, 2015
The final day of the festival began with what has become an annual tradition of Lolla…the threat of inclement weather. As the day progressed, the weather became more and more of a factor even resulting in the 2nd weather related evacuation in the last 3 years.
The Wombats took the stage opposite of the main stage and ran through a large portion of their 3 album catalog. Much of their music sounds pretty much the same and features what can only be described as a whiny British vocal. The crew left the stage after they wrapped up their set feeling like the live environment didn’t do much to enhance interest in the band.
Next stop was the cement stage for an abbreviated set from Sheppard. The band from Australia were definitely excited to play in front of a larger crowd than normal and really tried to get the crowd involved. Sounding a little bit like Delta Rae or a very poor man’s Fleetwood Mac (very poor man’s…to reiterate) they failed to earn a planned CD purchase from the crew.
Night Terrors of 1927 were up next on the Bud Light stage. Ugh. Not good at all. Nice chance to catch some shade though…
With the threat of bad weather continuing to loom over the festival crowd, we moved over to the cement stage to see Shakey Graves. Expectations were sky high for this one and, unfortunately, the band could not quite live up to them. Between dialogue that was difficult to understand and a tendency to extend songs a little longer than they needed to be, the band ran through a raucous but uneven performance. Plenty of energy but not enough emphasis on the strength of Shakey’s vocals.
As the set neared its conclusion, a Lolla official took the stage to inform they crowd that the festival was going to be evacuated immediately with the storm predicted to come in very soon and with the potential to do some significant damage. Of course, as we made our way back to the hotel, it had already started to clear up. Better safe than sorry seems to be the mantra of Lolla.
Back in the festival grounds about an hour or so later, the revised schedule started making its way from iPhone to Samsung Galaxy phone. We made the decision to catch an abbreviated set from George Ezra. Given the shortened set, he decided to play solo and the crew was impressed by the natural talent and performance ability coming from the young man from England. The biggest song, “Budapest”, sounded great live and the crowd seemingly knew every single word.
Strand of Oaks received quite a bit of buzz going into the festival so the crew decided to see them perform a shortened set at the Grove. Nothing memorable from their performance. A band that probably would have been viewed more positively if the crew hadn’t been annoyed with the earlier weather evacuation.
Lord Huron has always been a favorite of the Lolla crew so seeing them come up on the schedule late on a Sunday was a welcome sight. They were one of the original Lolla favorites and returned to the stage where it all began. Melding a blend of songs from their debut and sophomore albums, the band sounded like they had been playing together for a long time. Professional and energetic. Really good stuff.
With Of Monsters and Men performing in the background, the crew elected to stay at the Sprint stage in advance of TV on the Radio. The crew continues to be confused as to why Of Monsters of Men are so popular…nothing unique in their sound whatsoever.
TV on the Radio were on the list of bands that many people in the Lolla crew had never caught live so there was a really good buzz before the NY based band took the stage. They more than exceeded expectations working through all of their biggest hits and an eclectic sound that really translated well in the festival atmosphere. An electric sky behind them only enhanced the experience. The crew came away very impressed.
Wrapping up Lolla 2015, Florence and the Machine took the main stage for yet another abbreviated Sunday set. Florence and her band were forced to compete with an incredible display of lightning that looked spectacular against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline. As always, Florence brought a ton of emotion to the stage frequently leaping down of the stage and into the crowd. She seemed to feed off the energy of the weather and put on a live performance that literally left her breathless. Unfortunately, the lack of air also took its toll on her voice as she frequently let her backup singers as well as the crowd sing on her behalf. It was a good, not great performance overall. I’ll remember the lightning more than Florence.
Day 3 Highlights: TV on the Radio, George Ezra, Lord Huron