CHICAGO — On day one, Lollapalooza sweltered . On day two, it got soaked. But after Saturday’s three-hour rain delay (and some on-the-fly reshuffling of its schedule) the fest was back up and running by early evening, culminating in headlining sets from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Avicii, and standout performance from Frank Ocean that seemed to suggest he’d be joining the big boys any day now.
Thanks to the severe weather that shut Lolla down earlier in the day, Ocean’s set was pushed to 9:45 p.m., meaning he’d go head-to-head with two of the hugest acts on the planet. Though if he was feeling the pressure, you wouldn’t have known it, as he delivered a performance that was emotive, evocative and edgy. He might not have had the technological firepower that the Peppers or Avicii possessed, but that didn’t take away from his performance in the least. If anything, it added to it.
Because Ocean’s set was an intimate affair, the kind of thing you never see at massive fests like Lolla. From the moment he opened things off with a cover of Sade’s “By Your Side” (backed by a pair of acoustic guitars) to his final, frail vocoded trails on the night-capping “Pyramids,” the entire thing felt like a club date. Ocean didn’t say much — topics covered included the architecture of Chicago, loving thy neighbor and mushrooms — and his stage presence consisted mainly of him pacing back and forth, but he captivated the audience nonetheless.
Part of that was due to the (relatively) small stage he performed on, but give credit where credit is due, Ocean knows how to play to his strengths: namely, his cracking live band and the fact that he can sing the bejeezus out of anything. He flexed his lithe falsetto on “Thinking About You” and nailed the chorus on a swooning, shattering version of “Bad Religion,” and his band added muscle to songs like “Summer Remains” and a head-bobbing “Swim Good.”
And when both sides came together, look out. “Novacane” rushed and crashed, with Ocean’s voice providing the depth, “American Wedding” was a dramatic multi-part affair that culminated in a thunderous guitar solo, and “Crack Rock” saw Ocean delivering lines while crouched at the lip of the stage, as hands clapped and drums snapped.
And though he was jovial throughout, Ocean wasn’t afraid to get emotional, either. He introduced “Bad Religion” by telling the audience that the song was “important … for all the things I’ve said in the past month ,” and added “I’m just taking some freedom for myself,” before singing the song with his eyes shut tight.
It was unquestionably one of the highlights of the weekend, a genuine goosebump moment, and the kind of raw emotion that goes unnoticed on a Lollapalooza mega-stage. Ocean may have only been a de facto headliner on Saturday night, but he proved he belongs at the top of the bill. And soon enough, he probably will be.
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