Wailing Alabama Shakes frontwoman delivers the funk and Sunday gospel.
Though we may be missing out on having the traditional Blues Fest in Chicago this year, those who saw Brittany Howard in her Lollapalooza set got a fill.
Playing on the Tito’s Stage, which is really just the Petrillo Music Shell — the hallowed hall of so many musical greats in the decades past — Howard came out in a blaze of glory, shuffling down the stage like she was Tina Turner and, in a mere flash, giving major Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples vibes if not also Sister Rosetta Tharpe as she wailed on both the microphone and her electric guitar.
Howard, also the accomplished frontwoman of rock-soul act Alabama Shakes, stuck close to the chest of her solo material in her midday set, delving into her hyperpersonal and eclectic 2019 debut “Jaime,” delivering the funk and Sunday gospel on earth-shaking tracks like “He Loves Me,” “Georgia” and “Stay High.” The only glitch was some mismanagement on the volume of her vocals, which desperately needed to be turned up to 11 to let her really belt it out.
Though her solo material shone brightly throughout her performance, it was two covers that had real blinding appeal: Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life” and a taste of the Beatles’ “Revolution.” Howard nearly closed out her set with her bold manifesto track “13th Century Metal” that may have one of the best monologues of any song in modern rock.
Earlier, Lollapalooza ushered in a day of pure rock with brothers in punk music (and real life) Radkey opening things up on the Grubhub Stage.
Based on their explosive sound, catchy hooks and gritty vocals, you’d expect these three to have been around a few blocks and hailed from one of the two rock meccas: Detroit or New York City. But they’re barely out of their teens. And from Missouri.
The flannel-and-denim-clad brothers paid a nod to their ages with the bombastic “Rock & Roll Homeschool,” a tongue-in-cheek nod to The Ramones, of course. And that’s just one of their well-educated influences. Guitarist and vocalist Dee Radke (whose name clearly paved the way for destiny) is a dead ringer in vocal style for Glenn Danzig and there’s a bit of The Stooges percolating in their songwriting too.
The trio (also including the incredibly physical bass player Isaiah Radke and the solid Solomon Radke on drums) is currently doing some summer dates with Foo Fighters, and were a great warmup for that rock band Sunday as well. Advocating for “the future of rock ‘n’ roll” as they exited the stage, behind well-hewn numbers like “Dark Black Makeup” and “Seize,” they clearly fit the bill.
If you’re not discovering bands at Lollapalooza in addition to catching the acts you came for, it’s really a missed opportunity to get on the groundswell of some incredibly talented, dedicated musicians. Case in point: Neal Francis.
A well-rounded product of Chicago, Francis looked like something out of the ‘70s with his mop-top shag, aviators, and red velvet suit coat — and he sounded like it, too. There are hints of ’70s Brit Rock (including a very visceral touch of Elton John) as well as New Orleans jazz-funk, gospel soul, and some lighthearted Randy Newman — and the amalgamation felt like a time-stamped treasure.
According to his bio, Francis was a child piano prodigy who played with Muddy Waters’ son and other blues artists, and that pedigree comes out in his set, buoyed by an ensemble of well-oiled musicians that shows Chicago still rears the best of them. On songs like “Changes,” Francis plays well into the current revival movement for classic sounds at a time when many are rediscovering vinyl and is a great act to check out around town when he books more dates, hopefully soon.
Selena Fragassi is a Chicago freelance writer.