BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL For the Sun-Times
The mandatory evacuation of the Lollapalooza grounds ahead of looming severe thunderstorms is the story of the day. But before the heavy weather hit, there was music, too.
Aloe Blacc was the last act to finish a set on the south end before music was suspended. Although one tune found him claiming to be “an old dog, but I’ve got some new tricks,” in reality the erstwhile rapper-turned-R&B frontman is a classicist in the Raphael Saadiq vein. He even urged any steppers in the crowd to form a “Soul Train” dance line.
Blacc came off a confident showman and smooth singer with a sharp soul band, but his incisive, witty and socially conscious lyrics really set him apart. An extended vamp on his hit “I Need a Dollar” sounded like a theme song for the 99 percent, with Blacc worrying over the phrase, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” More pointed was “Politician,” a takedown of “power-hungry money fiends, ruling the world behind the scenes.” And he parried or punctured every tired old ooh-baby come-on with a snappy tune about a head-turning woman whose attributes include a bookshelf filled with novels and a garden out back.
***Another forward-thinking throwback was Doomtree, the Minneapolis hip-hop collective. They’re a rainbow coalition but that doesn’t mean they’re soft: Their vibe is skate-punk and spoken word, not patchouli and dreads.
Here, two DJs programmed tracks and played drum pads while four MCs passed the mike a la Wu-Tang, swapping solo cuts and collaborations from last year’s disc “No Kings.” Each got their due, but Dessa Darling (pictured) stood out especially on “Dixon’s Girl,” a spellbinding character study she both sang and spit over a minimal piano line, and “Low Light Low Life,” about the disappearance of the American dream. “We’ve fallen out of favor, the era ended on us,” she intoned, “now the money’s just paper and the houses all haunted.”
***Chicago bands aren’t plentiful on this year’s bill, and Saturday one of them (Empires) saw its gig scrubbed by rain while two others opened the day in concurrent slots. The South Side’s rising teenage MC Chief Keef was a late addition to the festival who played the Perry’s stage at noon, while at the same time, soul man J.C. Brooks competed for attention with a “celebrity” kickball game that included greasy-spoon aficionado Guy Fieri on Hutchinson Field.
Brooks’ seven-piece band the Uptown Sound played a steady-rolling set heavy on its 2011 Bloodshot release “Want More.” The percussive, Curtis Mayfield-esque “Baaadnews” was my highlight, but predictably, the rock-fest crowd seemed to like his horn-fueled cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” best of all.