“Some of the things I’ve said in the past month have taken some fear away from myself,” says Frank Ocean timidly into the mic. “I’m grateful for that love.” The four-piece band eases in and Ocean starts: “Taxi driver/ be my shrink for the hour.” Two minutes into “Bad Religion,” Ocean’s R&B art confessional, I’m crying like an infant.
Stupid tears, really. Ocean ionized the air. As far as his voice could travel, the atmosphere reverberated, charging and connecting the entire space. The 24-year-old singer commanded his sound with the maturity of a legend—slipping in and out falsetto with emotion-laced ease. Less than four weeks after Ocean released his full-length debut, he will already be remembered as a musician who knows how to hold back as well as he knows give it all.
There was nothing grandiose about Ocean’s set. The relentless pounding of Avicii and rock firepower of the Chili Peppers were overshadowed by Ocean’s intimate, raw, and evocative show. The Google Play stage, surrounded by a ring of trees, is a small oasis within Grant Park. From the opening cover of Sade’s “By Your Side,” to the closing resonating tones of “Pyramids,” Ocean transformed the festival into a miniature and connected paradise.
He kept his stage presence close to his chest. Spacing out his songs with small comments on Chicago’s architecture and approval for mushrooms, he still focused on what he does best: singing his heart out beautifully. “Novacane” drew generator fuel from his band while his voice created value and depth. “American Wedding” funneled into a massive guitar solo proving the critics’ claims of his unique and astounding approach to rhythm and blues.
Over the 60-minute set in Frank’s magical garden, Ocean revealed how exceptionally human he is. Human in the best possible way. Human in our kind of way.
“Hey, do you have a cigarette?” asks a kid no older than thirteen. Before I can reply, the girl standing next to me yells, “Have you seen my teeth? Do I look like I smoke?” She had a point, her teeth were nearly perfect making the kind of smile you see hanging on the walls in the demtist’s office. I turn and smile at her. “You do have exceptional teeth,” I tell her. “Foolish question for him to ask.” The border-line tweenager is still staring around stupidly unsure of the connection between teeth hygiene and cigarette ownership. “No, we don’t have any,” I explain. Getting it, he turns back toward the stage. Bloc Party is on in fifteen minutes.
The sun is setting over the city behind us. The temperature is dropping but the crowd is getting more dense. We’re all bundled in each others warm company while cool wind tickles our faces. Some are visibly eager for the show. Others are just staring at the ground, worn out but fighting it. I ask the girl next to me where she’s from. She tells me she goes to Ohio State from Hinsdale. I can’t stop staring at her teeth.
The four-piece britpop Bloc Party walks on stage, the crowd cheers. Until seeing their name on the line-up, I assumed they were extinct. Kele Okereke hits the guitar; Kris gives me a massive smile; Girl With Pretty Teeth starts to dance.
Songs off Silent Alarm set the crowd in motion. “Banquet,” “So Here We Are,” and “This Modern Love” put the crowd into a sing-along frenzy. But it didn’t seem to matter what they were playing, we all couldn’t stop moving. Pretty Teeth keeps glancing at me, or maybe at Kris, or maybe at me, but probably at Kris. “Come on Lollapalooza. Don’t be a pussy show us what you’ve got,” yells Okereke before launching into some anticlimactic song off one of their newer albums. The audience doesn’t seem to mind so long as the beat is there. The crowd dances the sun across the horizon. People are here to move.