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Your humble correspondent does realize that he has begun every Lollapalooza entry thus far with a weather report. With your indulgence, gentle reader, here comes the latest:
Saturday’s sunshine was a welcome transformation, and it made for a perfect music-watching day in Grant Park. It was apparently a big deal to the musicians, too. Most of them mentioned their gratitude for this particular form of climate change while on stage. The afternoon lineup proved (with minimal exception) that truly heartfelt music remains in abundance. In the meantime, the party crowd gathered in the south lawn, anticipating a headlining set by Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Photo by Connor Burgess
Dua Lipa tried to get the audience clapping during her single “Be the One,” but she found the response unsatisfying. “You guys are so f—-ing lazy,” said the young English singer to the thin crowd that had arrived in the early afternoon to support her. “It blows my mind.” Lipa’s “dark pop” and deflated run through single “Hotter Than Hell” did not accurately forecast the sonic delights that steadily followed.
The Joy Formidable
Photo by Connor Burgess
Welsh alt-rock trio the Joy Formidable had no such trouble with the daytime audience. Even if they had, such is their superheroic goodwill that they’d have turned it around. The band took the stage in high spirits, hip-checking each other and grinning at the crowd. In addition to a Friday night pre-show at Subterranean, the set marked the Welsh alt-rock trio’s return following their recent headlining set at the Double Door in April. The hardworking band is investing in its Chicago audience, and today’s strong should boost their local goodwill even higher.
The effervescent music was captivating from the start. The chorus of “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” soared into the heavens as the compact band created a spine-tingling wall of glorious noise.
Rhydian Dafydd ignited the cyber-shock assault of “Little Blimp” with fuzzed bass. “What a lovely day it’s turned into,” he said afterward. “How lucky we are.”
Matthew Thomas’ frenetic drumbeat began “I Don’t Want to See You Like This,” but there was a glitch and he stopped the tune just as frontwoman Ritzy Bryan lashed into the guitar and vocal. The stumble became a rallying moment, and displayed the band’s character. “You started a bar too late,” said Bryan with a smile to the bewildered but bemused Bryan. “Well, just catch up,” she replied, laughing. “I could have fallen in.” Then she added to the audience, “At least you know we’re not on USBs. F—- them USBs.” Everyone cheered.
The dynamic within the Joy Formidable was unusual in the best way. Many groups aspire to be bands of brothers and sisters, but these musicians clearly treat each other as family with the goal of pulling the very best from each other. After a spacious and ethereal introduction for the anthemic “This Ladder is Ours,” a grinning Dafydd crossed the stage to take a good-natured, brotherly jab at Thomas with the neck of his bass. Meanwhile, Bryan set her tongue determinedly into her check and set to work on a furious flurry of guitar.
“This is a song about self acceptance and feeling good about yourself, even if sometimes you’re an outsider,” said Bryan while introducing “Passerby,” a bonus track to this spring’s Hitch album. The song added taut blues rock snarl to the band’s signature space jam sound.
With Dafydd’s delicate piano intro, the trio shifted to an introspective vibe for the encouraging “Liana.” “This iis a song about learning to brave again,” said Bryan. “We all have our fears. Mine’s flying, which f—-ing sucks with this job.”
Thomas paused often to mug with the crowd before diving into a fill or outro. During an intense passage in “Cradle,” he mimed guitar and flute on his sticks while pummeling his kick drum beneath Bryan’s impassioned vocal.
Dafydd introduced “Radio of Lips.” “This comes from a Cuban phrase,” he said. “It’s a song about apathy,” he added, going on to bemoan the fallout of the recent Brexit vote. Bryan picked up the thread. “We’re f—-ing East Welshies,” she said. “Well never be able to tour again.” “Don’t let that f—-ing mophead into office,” continued Dafydd. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t change anything.” The band launched the song as a rallying cry. Bryan’s stratospheric bagpipe riff was reminiscent of Big Country at their visceral best.
“Thank you for a lovely afternoon,” said Bryan. “I hope you discover something new on this wonderfully eclectic bill.” The band lashed into an expansive version of set closer “Whirring,” peaking as Thomas bashed an enormous gong at his back. The diminutive Bryan struck suitably formidable poses, leaping onto the drum riser alongside Thomas. Dafydd fell to his knees to create sonic squall with his effects pedals, as Bryan bashed her guitar mercilessly onto the stage before heaving it into flight at Thomas’ gong. Leaving the stage alongside Bryan, Thomas threw his mallet for a final gong strike and scored a direct hit.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
Expectations for the next act were established immediately, as a bigger group assembled seven pieces to build its own formidably joyful sound. “Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to have your asses blown off and your faces melted by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats!” The band took the stage and proceeded to prove that the introduction was no hollow promise.
“I gotta say, there’s not a better town than Chicago,” said Rateliff as he walked on stage to the sound of a classic soul revue featuring swirling organ, saxophone and trumpet. The band’s sound on songs including “I Need Never Get Old” cherry picked from the best sounds of swamp, Gospel, Motown, Memphis soul and Chicago jump blues.
“It got gorgeous, didn’t it?” asked Rateliff before jumping into “Look It Here.” “Were gonna be sweating our asses off, but we got blessed with a beautiful day.”
A wicked sax lead and four-to-the-floor “Mustang Sally” beat followed, as Rateliff delivered a classic “baby, please” lyric. “Tell me that you want me,” he sang. “Tell me that you need me. Tell me that you love me.” The music and lyric were simple but supremely effective in getting the crowd to move, with more than a couple of boogaloos spotted in action around the Petrillo Bandshell.
“I’ve had a lot of shitty jobs,” said Rateliff. “This is the best one I’ve ever had. I want to make sure I’m doing it right.” He added that the band was used to playing in the dark, but were determined to make the best of the daylight. “Dance like we’re in a shitty barn in the dark in the middle of nowhere,” he said, introducing “Howling at Nothing.” The song was a Howling Wolf-styled blues retooled to be perfect for doing the stroll or dancing close.
The Night Sweats were a potent band at every position, from Rateliff’s grizzly bear grumble and old school soul shout to Patrick Meese’s reliable drumming. Meese uncorked a raucous hand jive beat for “I’ve Been Failing.” Rateliff introduced jubilant bassist Joseph Pope III, saying they’d been playing together for more than twenty years.
The band borrowed the descending riff from The Band’s “The Weight” for “Wasted Time,” featuring a careworn vocal from Rateliff and a gritty and soulful solo from guitarist Luke Mossman. Keyboardist Mark Shusterman set aside his church hall organ for a guiro that underscored the snaky groove of the lusty “Shake.”
Rateliff shimmied with a tambourine and snapped his fingers during “Out on the Weekend.” The song’s full-throated chorus and Rateliff’s onstage presence combined an air of restraint and unbridled soul. He made it clear, however, that despite how casual the band made it look, no one in the band was coasting at any given moment. “We’ve been working our asses off, and the reward has been so good,” said Rateliff. “We’re only here because all of you are here. Thank you so very much.”
“This next songs a new one,” said Rateliff when introducing “I Did It.” “We’re trying to get as much stuff out there as we can.” The song had an irresistible and bluesy dance beat, as Rateliff pleaded not to be done wrong in matters of the heart.
“This song is the first song I wrote for the Night Sweats, and I never thought I’d be here with all you guys,” said Rateliff when introducing the frustrated “Trying so Hard Not to Know.” Afterward, Rateliff sent his white Telecaster sailing through the air for a perfect catch halfway across the stage by his guitar tech. The guitar’s battered condition suggested that maybe such a catch had been missed sometime in the past.
As the end of the set approached, Rateliff addressed the crowd one more time. “Please sing along and clap with us,” he said. “Don’t throw your drinks at us. That’s called alcohol abuse. If you can’t finish it, give it to a friend,” he quipped. The crowd then joined the rowdy clapping and Southern hymnal hum of “S.O.B.,” singing boisterously along with a halfway-reluctant alcoholic’s pledge of allegiance to his vice.
Rising star Leon Bridges led with the body-moving, minimalist soul of “Smooth Sailin’,” and earned his applause with sweat for the ensuing hour. The singer arrived in classic style, with pleated pants, twin-tone shoes and a satin shirt soon to be soaked from perpetual dancing. Bridges loosed hot dance steps to drummer Joshua Block’s Bo Diddley beat while his long-time saxophonist Jeff Dazey uncorked a hot solo. During band introductions later, Bridges praised his saxman saying, “This cat’s been with me since I was doing open mics for ten people in the crowd.”
“I don’t know if I’m going to see it,” teased Bridges afterward. “I’m trying to see if Chicago got the juice tonight. I’m thirsty. Are y’all gonna give it to me?” Spoiler alert: Bridges did indeed receive the juice from his Chicago audience, following a classic left-side versus right-side battle – a festival-sized indulgence that Bridges clearly relished.“Pull Away” was a tear-soaked heartbreak ballad that got right to the point. “I thought that our love was true,” sang Bridges. “But all along, I was wrong.” He worked lovelorn territory on “Better Man.” “What can I do to get back to your heart,” he pleaded. “I’d swim the Mississippi river.”
“Lollapalooza, can I celebrate my brown skin girls on this next song please?” asked Bridges of his multi-ethnic crowd before beginning “Brown Skin Girl.”
Bridges had another tribute lined up next. “About four years ago, I wrote a song about a very special lady in my life,” he said. “I’m not talking about a girlfriend, I’m talking about my mother. She says hello to every single one of you.” The song “Lisa Sawyer” described a young woman of faith who never had much money, but was rich in love.
The song was punctuated by smoky, understated “bop bop” background vocals from Brittni Jessie. Later, Bridges would declare that Jessie should be made the lead singer so he could just stand back in awe and sing backup vocals himself.
“Do you want to hear some more true stories?” asked Bridges before singing “Twistin’ & Groovin’.” “I wrote this next song about how my grandparents met in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.” Bridges commanded the full width of the stage during the song, making lurching steps between his mic and Jessie’s.
“Ladies, if you wanna choose me, you can come on down to Texas and hop in my Ford Fusion and we can just cruise,” said Bridges comically before beginning “Texas Sun.” Bridges had more call-outs for his home state, even during songs named after others. “Let’s show these people how we do it down in Fort Worth, Texas,” he called to Dazey during “Mississippi Kisses.”
“In 2012, I wrote a song that changed my life forever,” said Bridges of his breakout single and title cut of his album. “It’s a little song called ‘Coming Home.’” As the band played a perfect mid-tempo stroll, Bridges put his trust in the Chicago crowd to sing the second verse for him.
“Were going to play one of my favorite songs,” said Bridges. “Y’all cool if we take you to 1996 real quick?” He then launched into a racy cover of “Pony,” to the delight of many whose musical memories traveled back twenty years. “I gotta thank Ginuwine for that one,” he said afterward.
Bridges closed with a stripped-down band, playing guitar on stage with Jessie for vocal support and his pianist during the repentant and thankful Gospel ballad “River.”
Be sure to visit Connor Burgess’ photo gallery for photos from more Lollapalooza Day 3 artists.