"Support live music! It's the best thing we've got!" – Flea's parting words at the end of Red Hot Chili Peppers' headlining set on Saturday
With a hundred thousand muddy festivalgoers on equal footing after the pummeling storms that caused a two-hour evacuation of Grant Park on Saturday, Lollapalooza has once again risen above the standard festival experience in gloriously filthy, passionate fashion. With immensely powerful sets from Doomtree, JEFF The Brotherhood, Bloc Party, Frank Ocean and more leading us into the night, it was was only the most committed who stuck around in ankle-deep mudwater on the main stage to catch the Red Hot Chili Peppers power their way through a set that started on shaky ground – but ended in the kind of high-reaching ebullience that made last year's soakfest with the Foo Fighters so incredible.
With weather warnings dancing in the mind, the masses made their eager way to the Lolla grounds early on Saturday to catch a spectacular set from Minneapolis rhyme crew Doomtree. Despite being one member short (Sims was away with his "other family," according to P.O.S.), the outfit set a shining example for other hip-hop collectives with a spitfire tag-team approach that spits in the face of convention and grabbed the 10,000-strong crowd by our collective throats.
With more than one member sporting jeans and denim vests, the standard uniform for Hip-Hop went out the window – as did the rules of convention – as they infused punk, R&B, rock and beyond with a career-spanning set that featured some of their strongest material. When you get goosebumps in hundred degree heat, you know you're at the right show.
With P.O.S. leading the charge through "Bolt Cutter" and a bass-crushing new solo jam called "Get Down," Dessa provided a melodic counterpoint with a volley between soulful crooning and a silken Ani-DiFranco-goes-Hip-Hop flow.
This was all before the exhilarating closer "Team The Best Team," which has more heart and authenticity than a thousand Maybach Music releases or stupid ass Drizzy/Breezy/Weezy/Skeezy gimmicks. It's a beautiful thing.
The sun was still dominating the day as Spinner's Dan Reilly and I, still flabbergasted from the incredible Doomtree set, made our way over to the Playstation stage for a bit of JEFF The Brotherhood's blues-grit three-string guitar power. Jake Orrall, frontman for the Nashville duo, engaged the crowd directly by climbing up on the railing to play face-to-face with the audience. The heat soon proved too much to handle, however, and we soon took refuge in the media tent.
It was there that we first caught word of incoming storms, which festival staff were frantically insisting were going to arrive in less than 90 minutes as they handed out gigantic plastic bags. Remembering last year's muddy euphoria, I opted to take the warnings as good news, having lost touch with the know-better common sense of my Midwestern upbringing. After all, storms in this part of the world can be absolutely brutal in ways that my fellow Los Angeles folk have only seen in cheesy sci-fi flicks.
Needless to say, those warnings were with good reason. The park was evacuated, torrential downpours ensued, and the weather-beaten masses returned less than two hours later with a weary determination to continue the party. And by the gods of Lolla, did it ever continue…
It was impossible to do anything but grin like an idiot at the free-flowing fun being had as far as the eye could see, as the universal concert culture equalizer – endless mud – brought everyone to the same level. No precious makeup princesses, no coiffed yacht-boys, just one sloppy mass of dirt and grime. As it should be.
With the revised schedule leaving a little mercy room for maneuvering, we caught a bit of Fun's jam-packed set before heading over to make some solid positioning moves for RHCP's headlining set on the Red Bull stage. This put us directly in the line of fire of Drake's sidekicking whiner The Weeknd, whose set began pleasantly enough with a high-decibel rendition of "High For This".
Abel Tesfaye's poor-man's Maxwell, fronting a bland backing band, proceeded to run through every R&B croon cliche in the book, with the stage screens inexplicably shut off. Was it an attempt to further some air of mystery around a guy who's clearly too far up his own ass for a genuine crowd-immersive moment? Possibly.
"That mother nature is a fucking bitch," he said with a laugh, before slipping hard on the "Thank you Coach… Lollapalooza!" Yeah, wrong festival there, buddy. Did all the palm trees and desert landscape confuse you?
Whatever the case, The Weeknd's set was merely an annoying soundtrack to the slow positioning mud-shuffle in preparation for Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Josh Klinghoffer and Chad Smith to take the stage in the 9pm hour, a full 60 minutes after the original pre-storm scheduled time.
You're going to see a lot of comments by publications large and small, lamenting that the Chili Peppers' set was a sign they need to give it up, throw in the towel and call it quits. Had you only stayed for the first three songs, you would likely agree. Between a clearly ill Kiedis and a recklessly off-point Klinghoffer, the band simply didn't gel in the onset of their performance. Opener "Monarchy of Roses" was passable but passionless (and Anthony, find the key please), and it wasn't until after a disastrous "Snow (Hey Oh)," when the band met center stage for a lecturefest/pow-wow/get-your-shit-together session, that a switch flipped. Whatever was said clearly had an impact on Josh, who stepped up his game in purely astonishing fashion to match Flea's intensity and improvisational prowess. Even the guy's vocal harmonies leapt up to near-Frusciante levels of excellence.
That sounds blasphemous, I know. I'm a massive fan of RHCP's departed virtuoso stringman, and thus far Klinghoffer's presence in the band has been little more than a kid-brother shade of what John Frusciante brought during his years with the band. But last night the replacement stepped into his own as if his job depended on it – and judging by the bitter dissatisfaction on Kiedis' face early on, that very well may have been the case.
Bursting through hits ranging from “Around the World,” "Suck My Kiss" and “The Otherside,” Flea was a thrashing live wire of improvisational excellence, often bridging gaps between songs with funk-beauty versatility and jaw-dropping jazz-fusion solos. By the halfway point, Klinghoffer was joining him regularly on the meanderings, and by show's end, the kid was wrestling the improv wheel away from the blue-haired low-ender.
It was hilarious and rather sad, in retrospect, to see the relentlessly bouncing crowd reduced to a standstill during tracks from the pre-Californication era, indicating a shortsightedness of music culture that goes right in tandem with the widespread acceptance of a genre that relies only on a play button, bright lights and bass drops. Thankfully, the EDM infection was relegated to the Perry stage throughout the fest, and while there is undoubtedly a world of fun to be had in that world, the artistry on display is scant at best in such a medium.
So about those negative reviews calling for RHCP's demise – not one of them is likely to mention the fact that the crowd for the Venice kings' headliner set was easily the biggest in Lolla history, stretching nuts-to-butts all the way to the hill in the back and beyond. Nor are they going to share the fact that not a single soul left until the very last note had been played – and even further, until Flea had finished a gushing monologue about standing up for and supporting live music, because in the fucked up climate of oppressive corporatist misrepresentation of humanity currently gobbling our nation, "it's the best thing we've got!"
Here's hoping the mud has dried a bit for Day 3… we've got a date with Jack White tonight, and we want to look our best.