Closing out a festival is no easy task, and Thomas Mars knows it. “Usually on Sunday night people are really tired,” the Phoenix singer told the Lollapalooza crowd last night, kneeling into the front row of a sea of people gathered for the French band’s superb main stage set. “This,” he said to the thousands still hanging on his every word seconds before his band’s ear-candy intro to “1901” kicked in behind him, “is something different.”
By the time Mars and his band took the Bud Light stage around 8:30 p.m., Lollapalooza had oftered up nearly 150 sets over the preceding three days. Phoenix, though, delivered the best performance of the entire weekend. The seeming ease with which the band played their weekend-topping set proved them to be undeniably worthy of the massive stages – and dollars – they now command.
Over a blistering 75 minutes, the Parisian rockers – including guitarists Laurant Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai and bassist Deck d’Arcy – unleashed a jarring, career-spanning set heavy on material off this year’s Bankrupt!, (“The Real Thing,” “Entertainment”) and their breakout album, 2010’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (“Rome,” “Armistice”), while mixing in tunes from the band’s first three full-length releases. Mars reveled in the crowd’s palpable passion for his band: during a three-song encore, the mop-topped singer sprinted through the crowd; minutes later, he summoned the fans’ strength as he crowd-surfed his way back to the front.
In this instance, Phoenix’s best-known singles, particularly “Lisztomania” and “1901,” were overshadowed by the way they weaved songs together. One particular head trip of a combination found the band – aided all evening by two backing musicians – peeling off “Bankrupt!” and “Love Like a Sunset I and II,” (collectively known as “Sunskrupt!”) in rapid succession. Later Phoenix rewound time with a rapid-fire combo of “If I Ever Feel Better” and “Funky Squaredance,” off their debut album, 2000’s United.
On the opposite end of Grant Park, just shy of one mile from Phoenix’s raucous show, the mood was decidedly more subdued as the Cure played the Red Bull Sound Stage, and a peaceful gothic feeling washed over the audience as Robert Smith and Co. group rolled out one classic after another. The Cure charged out of the gate on Sunday, peppering the first 30 minutes of their set with some of their biggest hits, including “Plainsong” and alt-radio standard “Just Like Heaven.” Smith, a notoriously morose figure, was not entirely depressing: his happier self emerged – however briefly – during “Lullaby” and the ecstatic love song “High.”
In recent years, the Cure have stretched out in concert with a long-form songs, but the band opted for more succinct fare at Lollapalooza, including “Friday I’m in Love” and “The Lovecats.” During Sunday’s set, they also offered up some rather unexpected selections, particularly “Hungry Ghost,” “One Hundred Years” and “Trust.”
Vampire Weekend delivered a decidedly livelier performance earlier in the evening as the sun faded behind the Bud Light stage. The New York band had played in Chicago the previous year at the Pitchfork Music Festival, and frontman Ezra Koenig confessed to the main-stage crowd that he was far more excited this go-round. “Finally we get to play some of these songs in Chicago!” he said, referencing choice selections the band unveiled on Sunday off the foursome’s new album, Modern Vampires of the City.
Vampire Weekend were nothing if not perfectionists during their set; the band’s Lolla gig was a masterwork in technical musicianship. Drummer Chris Tomson landed one of the weekend’s most precise fills on Contra’s “Cousins,” while multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Rostam Batmanglij summoned sprightly synth magic on “Everlasting Arms.”
In addition to reeling out their early hits (“Oxford Comma,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “A-Punk”), the four-piece proved their new material translates superbly to the stage: standout “Ya Hey” stretched out for nearly five minutes, transitioning between movements like an orchestrated classical piece. The peppy “Diane Young” was easily the set’s most amped-up selection, with Baio unleashing his trademark foot-sliding shuffle.
One of the most anticipated sets of the day – maybe too anticipated, as it turned out – came courtesy of 2 Chainz at the Grove stage. The Atlanta rapper made sure his popoularity was known several times during his set: the artist formerly known as Tity Boi repeatedly informed the hyped-up crowd he is “the hottest artist in the game.” To his credit, though, he often backed it up with heaters like “Birthday Song,” “Own Drugs” and a high-impact rendition of Nicki Minaj’s “Beez in the Trap.”
The gruff-voiced MC offered palpable evidence of his growing fame when, two songs into the set, a female fan threw her bra onto the stage. Chainz enjoyed the gift (“Someone’s been very, very naughty”), but quickly grew annoyed when the stage became littered with audience-thrown goodies. “I don”t appreciate people throwing shit at me,” he warned. “It was cute the first time; stop that shit.”
Wavves weren’t festooned with bras tossed their way onstage, but singer Nathan Williams and his lo-fi rock cohorts were perfectly content serving up crunchy rockers, including “Beat Me Up” and “Paranoid,” from their recent new album Afraid of Heights. Williams and his bandmates prepped for the gig by smoking pot out of an apple. “It’s an everyday thing,” bassist Stephen Pope told Rolling Stone of his fruit-friendly paraphernalia preference. Williams, for his money, says he strongly prefers performing after blazing a bowl or two. Said the singer: “It’s just more fun to play music stoned.”
After playing the Osheaga Festival Friday night and an official Lollapalooza aftershow Saturday night at House of Blues, Two Door Cinema Club shook off any lingering weariness when they took the Bud Light stage at 4:30 on Sunday. Perhaps spurred on by the massive throngs of people gathered, the Northern Ireland band delivered a 14-song set of pure indie-pop pleasure that included “Sleep Alone” and up-tempo gems like “Eat That Up,” “I Can Talk” and “Cigarettes in the Theater.”
Things were hardly slowing down for them after their show: Two Door were set to DJ a private afterparty later that night. But as guitarist Sam Halliday told Rolling Stone pre-performance, the band is always amped to be as productive as possible when they come to the U.S. “If you’re here you might as well do as much as you can,” he offered.
Jake Bugg can relate. The 19-year-old U.K. singer-songwriter, whose debut album is one of the year’s best so far, arrived in Chicago early Sunday, got one hour of sleep and then played a stunning 45-minute early-afternoon set. The singer, clad in a leather jacket despite the midday heat, and supported by a bassist and drummer, performed a handful of new songs, including the bluesy “Slumville” and foot-stomping “You and Me,” complementing crisp takes on album standouts “Trouble Town,” “Lightning Bolt” and the genteel acoustic mediation “Broken.” An especially noteworthy moment came later in the set when Bugg put a fiery spin on the Neil Young classic “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”
“It’s tiring, man,” Bugg said backstage of his manic touring lifestyle as he dragged every so often on a cigarette. “But I’m living my dream. The least I can do, no matter how much sleep I’ve gotten, is play a few songs.”
Additional reporting by Steve Baltin