Lollapalooza Day One: Alt-J, The Weeknd start off the fest just right

SHARE Lollapalooza Day One: Alt-J, The Weeknd start off the fest just right
SHARE Lollapalooza Day One: Alt-J, The Weeknd start off the fest just right

BY SELENA FRAGASSI | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

Lollapalooza returned to Grant Park for a record 11th year on Friday, and it was a packed affair with crowds building almost from the times that gates opened. Almost as quickly a clear divide started to form between young and old (were you going to see The Weeknd or McCartney … “who is that again?” asked one kid about the legendary Beatle) and north and south sides of the park where music manifested as either respective chill pop or rock zones. But one thing everyone could agree on — it’s just the start of one incredible weekend.

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On ThursdayMS MR was playing a house party in Lakeview;on Fridayit was a main stage at Lollapalooza — and singer Lizzy Plapinger was dressed up for the premier event in black-and-white Go-go boots that she committed to, with no pussyfooting around powerhouse pop songs like “Criminals” and, later, “Dark Doo Wop,” a good way to describe the catchy New York-based synth duo — even if they say so themselves.

Lizzy Plapinger of the group MS MR performs at the Lollapalooza Music Festival in Grant Park on Friday, July 31, 2015, in Chicago. (Photo by Steve C. Mitchell/Invision/AP)

Lizzy Plapinger of the group MS MR performs at the Lollapalooza Music Festival in Grant Park on Friday, July 31, 2015, in Chicago. (Photo by Steve C. Mitchell/Invision/AP)

“We are so grateful so many of you are here. Two years ago we were playing a side stage — this is a lot more people,” admitted Plapinger to the monstrous crowd that has continually clung to her and producer partner Max Hershenow since their 2013 single “Hurricane” swept through Top 40 radio. The lounge chill vibe they offered was a match for other similar acts of the day Misterwives, Tove Lo and Broods, but there was a formality to MS MR’s performance that gave them that respect of authority.

The War On Drugs has always been an artist’s artist. Even today Silversun Pickups frontman Brian Aubert was spotted in the crowd equally mesmerized by singer Adam Granduciel and company’s effortless cool that harkens back to a time of American rock bookended by the greats like Springsteen and Petty and Young. Though the music has modern indie touches, Granduciel is very much a student of the rambling of The Allman Brothers and the punctuation of Bob Dylan.

An ambient smoke machine set the mood early while Granduciel’s drawn-out solo work (both guitar and harmonica) accompanied by layers of saxophone and keyboards from the equally excellent five-piece band provided the real sensory details in a nearly perfect set. It probably should have ended on recent hit “Under The Pressure,” that culminated in a huge drum gong and pedals set a-blazing, but the band had one more in them with “In Reverse” that accentuated their keen ability for mastering the build-up.

Alt-J (as seen on the giant screen in Grant Park) performs at Lollapalooza on Friday, July 31, 2015. | PHOTO BY SELENA FRAGASSI/FOR THE SUN-TIMES

Alt-J (as seen on the giant screen in Grant Park) performs at Lollapalooza on Friday, July 31, 2015. | PHOTO BY SELENA FRAGASSI/FOR THE SUN-TIMES

As Alt-J warbled on through an eclectic set touching on nearly every genre in the history of music, a screen manipulated images of the live feed into plumes of smoke that mirrored the look of Rorschach Tests, fitting since it’s anyone’s interpretation of who and what exactly the Leeds band is.

The set started with “Hunger of the Pine,” a downtempo pop song that samples Miley Cyrus while the brooding “Fitzpleasure,” inspired by the doomed Hubert Selby Jr. character Tralala, has a thick industrial beat that brought it to the edge of noir. “Something Good” and single “Left Hand Free” were more lighthearted imbuing styles of folk, alt rock, free form jazz, dubstep and Afrobeat. Featuring two dueling singers and a duo of drummers (one on an electronic kit), Alt-J easily manipulated their songs, metamorphosing often mid-song with completely clean cuts that makes that continues their reputation as one of the new generation’s master class

The best part of Sylvan Esso’s set was undoubtedly the “brand-new,” mystery-titled song they unveiled towards the end. More aggressive than the heady electro folk that the North Carolina duo produces (think Regina Spector working with Calvin Harris), it was not short on sentiment either (being “slaves to the radio” and “sucking American…” well you know were on repeat).

“We really appreciate you being here; we know you have other options,” said producer half Nick Sanborn, alluding to the anticipated performance from The Weeknd ahead of them and the vibrations of the dance-fueled Perry’s Stage behind them. But perhaps Sylvan Esso did good to combine both aspects of their Friday night competition — and certainly the crowd agreed mimicking his and Amelia Meath’s awkward dance moves to “Hey Mami” and “Play It Right.” The stage was completely bare-boned besides the two of them and an electronic rig, but if they were self-conscious about it, it never showed.

The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye) has often been hyperbolized as the pop star of his generation — and it looks like he at least got the diva part of it down by starting his 90-minute headlining set almost 20 minutes late. But what a set it was.

The comparisons of high register to stars like Michael Jackson and Maxwell is not for naught as he crooned over “What You Need” and a very NSFW “Often” — much to the delight of the majority 25-and-under crowd who gave new meaning to the term “bedroom R&B” throughout the punctuated performance that featured Tesfaye on his own under a glow of red lights and strobes while his band was set way apart on risers.

Tesafye has always been an experimenter, but if this performance (hinting at new material from August’s “Beauty Behind The Madness” release) was any indication, he is quickly moving beyond the confines of his brand of alterna R&B into a world of more pure pop, and a huge crowd is sure to follow him.

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.

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