Summer in Chicago is almost always (safe for 2020 anyway) a uniquely celebratory time of year. The vibrancy and energy in the air are palpable, so after our notoriously long winters and stubbornly chilly/damp springs, the masses head outside in droves to soak in the balmy weather and all the beauty and liveliness the city has to offer.
And a big contributing factor to that exuberant vibe is all the numerous festivals that grace the city’s presence throughout the summer months. Be it the plethora of neighborhood street fests (that happen practically every weekend), or various music fests scattered throughout the season, it’s hard not to get caught up in the vivacity that epitomizes the city of Chicago in the summertime.
And every year around the end of July, that vivacity unquestionably hits its peak with the annual return of the OG of alternative music festivals to downtown Chicago: Lollapalooza. Nestled in expansive Grant Park (Lolla’s home base since relaunching in 2005), it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque urban setting, right next to the cool waters of Lake Michigan with Chicago’s impressive skyline as the majestic backdrop. The perfect place to host 100,000s of beautiful people for 4 days of live music, featuring over 170 bands across 9 stages, not to mention an overabundance of good food, compelling art, and fantastic amenities that are unique to Lollapalooza itself (more on that later).
But ultimately the main draw for Lolla is of course the music on display, and this year’s festival has no shortage of great headlining acts on the bill. A case in point was Thursday’s headliners, Metallica, who were making their first US Lollapalooza appearance (Lolla is worldwide you know) since their somewhat controversial 1996 headlining spot (an interesting time in their career and Lolla’s history, but I digress).
But before it was time for the main event, so to speak, there were plenty of other acts this reviewer was able to catch on a picture-perfect Thursday afternoon, so let us get on to the festivities, shall we? Here’s a recap of Day 1:
TSHA – Haven only been at the festival for about 30 minutes, this reviewer was already starting to get sick of all the Metallica t-shirts on display (and this is coming from a fairly ardent fan, mind you). So, stopping by Solana X Perry’s stage seemed like a good 1st move, being it has always been an electronica-centric stage that typically showcases a solid variety of up-and-coming DJs (as well as more established acts later in the day). TSHA fell more in the former category than the latter, but the pulsating mid-tempo thump of her set delivered all the standard fare dancey goods and seemed to send most of the Metallica fans scattering a bit (but not this one).
The Wombats – Taking a short walk from Perry’s stage, this reviewer stumbled upon T-Mobile Club Magenta (did I mention Lolla has some cool amenities?), which is an elevated open-air lounge that offers excellent views of the massive southern section of the festival. In addition to offering a posh space to chill and recharge (literally and figurately: they have phone charging stations of course), it’s those aforementioned views that are debatably the best perk of all, which afforded this reviewer the chance to catch some of The Wombat’s set from the Coinbase stage directly across the south lawn. Their quirky brand of English indie-rock served as the perfect mid-afternoon backdrop for folks settling into the festival, but taking it in from T-Mobile’s Club Magenta made it all seem that much more serene. Good vibes.
Pi’erre Bourne – After walking what felt like at least a nautical mile or two (or three) to the far north-end of the festival to checkout Tove Lo, who was kind of a bust (apt description being her performance was underwhelming and she was half-naked), this reviewer followed his ears to the throttling bass emulating from the Discord Stage. It was there I discovered Pi’erre Bourne, a producer/rapper who seemed to be clicking on all the autotune-afflicted cylinders. His beats stood out more than his rapping (pretty sure he repeated “wanna get drunk at night” at least 17 consecutive times at one point), but overall, this old-head was kind of digging his set (autotune be dammed)!
100 Gecs – Do any of you out there have small children? Do you know the feeling when you’re driving somewhere and your 5-year-old asks you to play “It’s Raining Tacos” or “Gummy Bear”, and then you put it on because you love them, but you’re basically dying inside because the music sounds like the aural equivalent of consuming the entire dessert menu at Chuck E Cheese with an extra cup of sugar and maybe a sprinkling of crack for good measure? That is, essentially, what 100 Gecs sounded like, as this reviewer got a crash course of the genre of so-called “hyperpop” with songs like “Stupid Horse” and “Doritos & Fritos”. It was definitely hyper AAF, and also kind of stupid (like the horse in their song), but at the end of the day, that apparently seemed to be the point and, ultimately, all in good fun. It was somewhere between entertaining and excruciating, but, admittedly hard to look away from (kind of like a car accident…moving on…)
Billy Strings – After all the autotune and hyperpop, this reviewer was starting to get more than a little desperate for some Metallica, or anything with live instrumentation really, but before the main event, was fortunate enough to catch most of Billy Strings’ set, who turned out to be a pleasant surprise. While this reviewer is not much a fan of bluegrass music, it was clear this cat was no ordinary bluegrass musician. In a nutshell, this is a guy who mostly lets his guitar do the talking, and holy shit, could this kid play! Most of his set was essentially an intricate, extended jam session that felt like a delightfully stoney hoedown, but with next-level guitar virtuosity that was truly impressive to behold at times. If you do not really consider yourself a fan of bluegrass music, give Billy Strings a chance and he might just convert you (he certainly did in the case of this reviewer). Awesome live performer!
Metallica – Being one of the most epic bands on the planet going on 4 decades now, it seems a little silly to say that Metallica has experienced a certain resurgence in popularity lately, but it’s kind of true. And for long-time fans like myself, it’s a beautiful thing really, as all the recent Stranger Things-fueled hype has exposed an entirely new generation to their awesomeness, creating many new fans in the process. Evidence of this was clearly on display Thursday night, as when Mr. Hetfield asked the crowd to indicate if it was their 1st Metallica show, at least half of the audience responded enthusiastically (to which he playfully replied “wow, where have you been?”). But as he immediately pointed out, the important thing was “you’re here now”, and those in attendance Thursday night were rightfully treated to a tour-de-force, career-spanning Metallica performance that touched on almost every album (safe for Death Magnetic and Load) in their impressive catalog.
Opening their set with “Whiplash” certainly kicked things off in an emphatic fashion, and following that up with “Creeping Death” and crowd favorite “Enter Sandman” helped keep the momentum and energy at fittingly high levels. From there, the band settled into more of a mid-tempo groove with some Black-album-era classics (“Wherever I May Roam”, “Nothing Else Matters”, “Sad But True”), and even dusted off a track from, wait for it…St. Anger! Indeed, even Mr. Hetfield was aware this was a bold move, imploring the crowd to “give it another chance” as he and the band ripped through “Dirty Window”, which kind of sounded like a clunky version of a Motorhead song in a live setting, so, not bad actually! But that song could not help but standout in contrast to all the other stellar material the band delivered that night, such as classics like the epic “From Whom The Bell Tolls”, the emotionally heavy “Fade to Black”, and the always fun “Seek and Destroy”. And hard to string together a better encore than “Battery”, “One”, and “Master of Puppets” (which included the Stranger Things scene as the backdrop) to close things out.
It is always truly a privilege to witness Metallica live, as their craft and skill as musicians is really second to none, and showed absolutely no signs of slowing down Thursday night. All the more impressive considering they have been at this heavy-metal thing for an astounding 40 years now. As the masses filed out into the night, it was cool to see the smiles on everyone’s faces, young and old, knowing they got to see a truly legendary band. Cheers to a new generation of fans, keeping that spirit alive, thanks to an epic performance from the mighty mighty Metallica!
Day 1 Tidbits:
Number of NBA jerseys spotted: 14,037 (approximately)
Favorite vintage NBA jersey spotted: Tim Hardaway (dude had a mean crossover)
Number of Metallica t-shirts spotted: 49,602 (approximately)
Favorite Metallica t-shirt spotted: Cliff Em All
Steps logged: 18,933
Billy Strings is the best band I’ve heard in the over the 300 plus concerts I’ve attended in my lifetime! He brings magic to the stage, leaving you with jaw dropping, mind blowing guitar playing! He is a must see!!❤️
Billy Strings is the best band I’ve heard in the over the 300 plus concerts I’ve attended in my lifetime! He brings magic to the stage, leaving you with jaw dropping, mind blowing guitar playing! He is a must see! Don’t miss this band!