It’s been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time. Yes, it has.
The lyrics from this Led Zeppelin anthem aptly summarize how so many live music fans and the artists they love feel about years of forced separation due to Covid, uncertainty about Covid, and the challenges of an industry dealing with getting back on its feet again after the fatigue of cancelling, rescheduling and cancelling again.
Lollapalooza Paris 2022, after playing a painful 3-year waiting game, provided an antidote to this heartbreaking hiatus for over 130,000 attendees over two full days. There was joy. There was dancing. There were sing-alongs. There were mosh pits. There was scorching heat and sweaty artists risking dehydration and heatstroke to leave it all on the stage and reconnect with fans like they truly mean it. There were smiles on faces and hands in the air and lumps in throats because, as headliner Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds confided to an enormous crowd, “So much has happened. We’ve lost people…I promised myself I would never take this stage for granted.”
Hats off to the festival organizers for smart and smooth management of main stage programming and sequencing. Instead of a long down times between main stage acts, the festival opted to build two main stages, East and West, side by side at an angle so that as soon as one main stage set concluded, another commenced immediately. This allowed for festival goers to easily navigate from one set to the another, or to not move at all as the audio coverage was ample enough for an enjoyable experience from a distance.
Imagine Dragons were first up among the top of poster headliners on Saturday July 16th. Their Lollapalooza show concluded a successful European leg of the current world tour, set to continue in the United States in August. The set drew an all-ages crowd and drew from the breadth of the band’s catalogue, neatly bookended with hits from the band’s debut major label EP, It’s Time: the eponymous ‘It’s Time’ and ending with ‘Radioactive’. Having experienced the band with the original lineup and in front of much smaller audiences in Los Angeles about a decade ago, it was a thrill to see how far they’ve come. Songs were punctuated by literal sparks and bursts of confetti. This included every “Hey!” of Believer, a song with a whole lot of “heys”.
David Guetta ended the first night of the festival with a joyful and stylish set combining beautiful lighting effects, a blast of streamers, tasteful monochromatic video backgrounds, and occasional bursts of pyrotechnics. Guetta regulars have become accustomed to hearing the artist shout, “How is everybody doing tonight!?!” to international audiences on major EDM stages around the globe. Before a home crowd of mainly French speakers, Guetta leaned in slyly and queried the crowd with a charming, low key, “Alors, ça va?” (So how’s it going?). He proceeded to address the audience in a shared French mother tongue and the crowd sang their hearts out in slightly accented French, ever so proud of Guetta’s global staying power. Cherry on the cake (or cerise sur le gâteau if you prefer), French cohort DJ Snake made a short guest appearance. Guetta had done the same back in June for a DJ Snake stadium show in Paris. “Merci, merci, merci, merci – Paris je t’aime!” gushed Guetta as he bid concert-goers farewell. Nothing was lost in translation.
In 2015, Billboard magazine named A$AP Rocky’s performance as the best of Lollapalooza (Chicago edition) that year. Earlier this year, the Harlem native impressed at the Chile, Brazil and Argentina editions of the global Lollapalooza phenomenon. It was only fitting that he bring his act to Lolla Paris.
Rihanna watching sidestage was briefly acknowledged by a crowd chant. The artist got the crowd moving, moshing and waving hands in the air, punctuated with fireworks and f-bombs.
February 11, 1992 was the last time Pearl Jam had played in Paris at La Locomotive, a venue considerably smaller (capacity 1000), noted Eddie Vedder. The crowd, dotted with a decent collection of vintage Pearl Jam t-shirts was ready to rock and reconnect. “Merci de nous avoir invité à votre fête” (Thank you for inviting us to your party) said Vedder in carefully practiced French. The crowd roared back with cheers of delight as the lead singer took a swig from the large bottle of red wine he had brought with him on stage. Eddie Vedder evoked politics a few times in his set, lamenting the sorry state of America in the aftermath of Trump, the ongoing lies of politicians, and expressing support for Ukraine. The frontman put a stop to the set half way through to ensure that someone in distress in the crowd received proper assistance and remained communicative, thanking the crowd for their patience and for “taking care of one another”. Following that, the set roared on, 22 songs deep and wide.
In addition to fulfilling the promise of a good time, the top four lineup for the dusk to dark main stage slots ticked the boxes for eclecticism, representing pop, rock, electronic, and rap genres. One hopes that a future edition of Lolla Paris will see diversity in female form added to top line of the poster.
Daytime and Secondary Stage Highlights
Vive le Punk: Fever 333 and Turnstile Defeat the Heatwave
Two of the most thrilling bands at Lolla Paris this year also deserve an award for giving it their all despite intense, record-breaking heat. On day 1 of the festival, Fever 333 took to the stage in the middle of the day in direct sunlight and performed as if they were on a quest to beat heat with heat. Fever 333 hails from Inglewood, California, a town adjacent to LAX airport which may have something to do with the band’s energy capable of overpowering the roar of a jet engine. The repertoire borrows musical elements from both punk and hip-hop while raising the social consciousness flag of both genres, in particular, congratulating this year’s festival organizers for creating more space for people of color. The crowd absorbed and restituted the energy of the band, willingly helping frontman Jason Aalon Butler crowd surf, accompanied by the massive trash bin that he had first launched into the crowd. Butler commenced the set in a long sleeve black jumpsuit and ended wearing merely an impressive collection of tattoos and a pair of briefs, no doubt a few liters of sweat lighter and with a fan base weighing in with several more hundred aficionados.
Turnstile, hailing from Baltimore on the opposite coast of the US, also represented American punk with brio. Already a dozen years into their career, the band’s most recent release, Glow On, as well as spectacular live sets, and earning an opening slot with My Chemical Romance have recently ramped up the band’s visibility. Turnstile began with an acknowledgement of the searing temperature with bass player “Freaky” Franz Lyons gently tossing every small water bottle on the rider into the crowd. Singer Brendan Yates, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Thank You” seized the mic and launched into a performance that was as much a superhuman physical workout as a gig. The shirt would be cast aside a few songs later as the wiry and athletic Yates jumped, spun, squatted and shimmied here, there and everywhere across the wide Main Stage East. The thermometer read 33° C yet the crowd had no choice but to get caught up in the wild display of physicality with headbanging, jumping and mosh pits forming spontaneously. It was hot, sweaty, dirty, dusty and magnificent.
Genre Meshing Dance Music
In 2021, in her early 20s, Pink Pantheress took to TikTok with her self-produced songs ultimately leading to a record deal and a place in the charts for her debut mixtape To Hell With It. At Lolla Paris, during a Main Stage East daytime slot, she demonstrated that her ability to entertain and engage with genre-meshing tracks was not limited to social media platforms. Is it pop, dance, alt-pop, drum and bass, rap? A little of all of that with vocals that are sometimes sweet, sometimes wistful.
The Perry Stage was the furthest from the main stages and thus frequented by festival goers highly motivated to see artists playing there. Surprisingly, this out of the way location, combined with an early timeslot conflicting with the very popular Pink Pantheress, did not seem to deter from crowd size and enthusiasm surrounding Sullivan King. Having caught the first half of Pink Pantheress, I made a mad dash to satisfy my curiosity about the question “can EDM and metal coexist”? In a world according to Sullivan King, the answer is assuredly “why the hell not?!” Combine this genre mashup with intense stage charisma and an ability to churn a crowd into a gigantic mosh pit and you’ve got an artist on a surefire journey to main stage bookings.
Phoebe Bridgers ‘Bummerpalooza’
Multiple Grammy-nominated songstress Phoebe Bridgers delivered a pitch perfect cross section of her angsty repertoire in what she called “a sleepytime bummer of a set”. The Los Angeles singer-songwriter played an early set Main Stage West with a full band wearing the now familiar skeleton costumes. Bridgers wore an elegant beaded top reminiscent of a rib cage to complete the quirky picture. Bridger’s backing band shined in musicianship, including some lovely horn parts. Bridger’s vocals were emotionally raw yet powerful, with a few very welcome notes held long and loud which stood apart from the songs as we know them in their recorded versions. The sound and mix were excellent, preserving the vital intelligibility of songcraft highly reliant upon lyrics and storytelling. At one point in the set Bridgers ran down the stairs to high five members of the crowd, holding out her mic for a fan to chime in. “That was so much fun!” she quipped upon returning center stage. The calm nature of songs in the setlist got a wake up call with the final number “The End is Near”. After a gentle beginning, the musical plot unravels into mayhem, a scream, and chaos, further underscored by an apocalyptic background graphic. Bridgers’ “bummer” set was nothing but. Comments from audience members around me, primarily young women, including a few same sex couples, suggested that a Phoebe Bridgers gig is a place where they feel understood and welcome. Any artist who achieves this is doing something worthwhile.
Showmanship and a Smile with The Struts
In the spirit of a happy, feel-good ending to this Lolla Paris highlights recap, a shoutout is reserved for the fun and festive vibe created by The Struts. This Alternative Stage set exemplified the joyful relationship which forms between an artist and the crowd. Ten or so years into their career, the British indie pop glam-rock ensemble knows how to involve and entertain, generating irresistible ear-to-ear smiles. Lead vocalist Luke Spiller wore hot pink & black, silk, lycra and leather while playing in direct sunlight and acting as if it weren’t even unbearable. That alone demonstrated an admirable level of professionalism, but the showmanship and stagecraft didn’t end there. Spiller manages to make every person in the audience feel as though they are receiving direct eye contact. He is a charming collective puppet master when it comes to getting everyone clapping, clapping double time, or swaying arms side to side collectively. “Is this Paris? Scream like it fucking is!” And so we screamed, and danced, felt alive and soared in the way that only live music can lift our spirits.
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