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From Lollapalooza 2018: Quinn XCII Eulogizes the Heartland

I firmly believe that the greatest eulogies are love songs. Endings force reckonings—it is often when we put something to rest that we truly come to appreciate it. For Detroit-raised Quinn XCII, playing to a packed crowd in the heart of the Midwest at this inflection point in his career must have held a certain and special poignance. His Sunday evening set was a tribute to his roots, a send-off to the precipice of greater heights.

What we saw that evening was an adolescent dream actualized. As he wrapped up the gradual, undulating build that was opening number “Candle,” Quinn declared to the crowd that Lollapalooza was the only festival that he had wanted to perform at. As a long time festival-goer, he was now at Grant Park for the first time as a performer. It was particularly fitting, then, that his next song was “Full Circle.”

Watching this performance, one would have no idea it was his first gig at this festival. Quinn held tight control of the stage without relying on any stunts, instead opting for a humble, homey experience. He stayed close to his mic for the most part, though occasionally broke up the monotony by pacing around stage (exercise which elicited a confession that he should probably do more cardio). He allowed his vocals to carry the show, scream-singing in “Fake Denim” and engaging in a playful back-and-forth with the keyboard in “Worst.” As the show progressed, it became clear that Quinn was mature, self-aware, and introspective.

It is telling how, at this swift upswing in Quinn’s career, imagery of home still permeates his songs about love. Some of it is explicit: “Another Day In Paradise” grasps at carefree nighttime hijinks in one’s hometown, while “Kings of Summer” relies on a house porch as its central setting. Others, such as short descriptions of using his dad’s keys and wielding flare guns, sneak in less announced. These memories are rosy but fleeting, tinged with a fundamental bittersweetness.

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When I say that Quinn XCII’s set was the swan song of the heartland, I’m not just referring to the Midwest. Though he dedicated multiple tracks to the beloved flyover country, the heartland is a colloidal collection of driveways and cornfields and lake houses—images displayed on a reel behind the sound system—suspended in impetuosity and boundless imagination. When we leave our hometowns, we can always drive or fly back. What we cannot traverse, however, is the chasm created by time, by the feeling that we have grown beyond the worlds which once housed us. As I stood swaying to the music, a pack of fraternity members to my left and a couple of starry-eyed high school graduates to my right, I was struck by how quickly the places we frequent become foreign to us. After his performance, Lollapalooza-attendee-turned-performer Quinn XCII might’ve felt the same way.  

This feeling culminated in his closing number “Straightjacket,” a tune more morose than the typical concert ending. As Quinn sings to his Midwestern ex-girlfriend, “You won’t know me when the feeling’s all gone.” And what a fitting choice that was, ending a set plastered with memories of one’s hometown with a song about moving on from love. You’d be hard pressed to find a quainter ending to Quinn’s performance.

Like all great eulogies, Sunday night’s performance was a celebration and a farewell. Gathering together in the grassy backyard of American Eagle, listeners were struck by the knowledge that we might never see the singer so intimately, so fundamentally ours, again. As the set winded down, Quinn XCII set our paper lampion stage alight, a quintessentially Midwestern tradition, leaving us first burning, then flickering, with the ephemera of a single candlewick. When he was finished, he cast us adrift into the night.

—Staff writer Rick Li can be reached at rick.li@thecrimson.com.

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