You will have serious difficulty finding a Lollapalooza 2012 review that doesn’t comment on the number of people. And they’d be wrong not to. I honestly didn’t witness any sets that were bad, but they all suffered from the sheer size of the event – some more than others.
The park was divided in two, with three stages at the south end, and four stages at the north end. To have seven stages is overwhelming, and even if it perhaps gave concertgoers more breathing room, the acoustics were often competing. And as the north and south ends were nearly a mile apart, I learned pretty early that I had to plan to see shows at one end of the park for a chunk of time before I’d move to the other end.
It seemed the general consensus was that this year, Lolla did too much. They overbooked artists and oversold tickets. In my mind, though, none of this mattered after Frank Ocean’s performance on Saturday night. But I digress.
For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to comment on the acts I really enjoyed. We begin Friday. The weekend started off on a great foot, thanks to Scandinavian folksters First Aid Kit. They put on a magnificent, upbeat show. Late afternoon, Tame Impala had one of my favorite acts of the weekend; they were psychedelic and gauzy and really made the live experience enjoyable. In the evening, Passion Pit played a show that was hit or miss, but mostly hit. Some songs sounded great (Take A Walk, Moth’s Wings) while some were off. But they especially suffered from Lollapalooza’s size. As did the ever-brilliant M83. The audience was loud and moving constantly, so it was hard to enjoy these sets.
Saturday was the most popular day, hands down. But in a twist of events, it was also the most disastrous – literally! Three songs into Neon Indian’s (mediocre) set, we were informed that the park had to be evacuated in anticipation of a terrible storm. At the time, the sky was slightly overcast, and so as thousands upon thousands of people were released unto the streets of Chicago, everyone complained. But we’d spoken too soon. Within 45 minutes, a massive storm began – huge rainfall, powerful gusts of wind, thunder, and lightning. No matter, the park reopened at 6, and acts were pushed back and shortened to make up for lost time. The Weeknd played a sexy show, especially considering the decidedly unsexy field of mud surrounding the stage. Twin Shadow performed to a packed field of tired concertgoers, and though it was short, the show was exactly as great as I’d hoped it would be.
Frank Ocean was unquestionably the act of the weekend. I really can’t even put into words how incredible he was. It is amazing that someone can be both charming and commanding at the same time, but he was both. The audience was captivated. We sang along with every word to “Thinking About You” and “Novacane.” He also managed to slip in the chorus to “Made in America,” from Watch the Throne. Before “Bad Religion,” he told the audience that he was about to sing a song that was relevant to the events of the last month, presumably the letter he released about his first true love, a man. The moment was beautiful. Without prompting, everyone applauded in support. And the show ended with all nine minutes of the brilliant “Pyramids.” Audience members around me shook their heads in stunned disbelief once Frank had left the stage. “That just changed my life right there,” said the guy behind me. And he was right.
Sadly, Frank Ocean’s performance made all of Sunday’s acts pale in comparison! Macklemore did a good job feeding off of the crowd’s energy. He also notably referenced the 1980’s film The Labyrinth, and sampled The Killers. The Walkmen were really fantastic, as they always are, but they had a pretty low turnout. It always frustrates me that they aren’t as big as they deserve to be! Neon Indian played a subpar set to an obscene amount of people on the same stage, yet The Walkmen were awkwardly not a popular show. Sigur Ros was my favorite act of the day, but this is not a shocker. All shows from (lead singer) Jonsi feel transcendent, and this was no exception. At mid-afternoon, with blue skies and a perfect temperature (thanks to the previous day’s storms), Icelandic music seemed the perfect soundtrack.
Overall, a really solid set of performers. And with such a packed roster, how could it have not been? Perhaps future Lollapaloozas (they have a 9-year contract with the city of Chicago) will consider downsizing slightly, but based on the amount of corporate sponsorship saturating the entire festival, I doubt this will be the case. And that’s okay, because tens of thousands of people will continue to buy tickets and keep this mega-fest thriving! After performances like that of Frank Ocean and Sigur Ros, this is a mega-fest that deserves to stick around.