Opening a festival like Lollapalooza is no easy task. Some performers rely on the tried-and-true, letting their discography and loyal fanbase do the talking. Others feed off of the crowd’s unique energy, egging impassioned listeners on and tossing in quips between songs. Perhaps the most ambitious musicians are the ones who, faced with rigid timeslots and vagabond audiences, decide to try their hand at storytelling. Nestled in the shaded isolation of the American Eagle stage, indie pop musician Allie X ushered in this year’s festival with a performance that was equal parts perplexing and captivating.
Sporting a costume resting somewhere between kitsch and fashion, Allie X transfixed viewers the moment she stepped onto the stage. Her face replaced by a grotesquely designed veil-mask—complete with wide eyes, parted lips, and clenched teeth—the musician stoked a sort of disconnect with her audience right from the beginning. Whereas other performers might introduce themselves before moving forward, she offered no explanation for her unconventional appearance. Launching directly into her set by vocally punching out the notes of her opening number “Bitch,” Allie X set the tone for what would be an incredibly theatrical, albeit unorthodox show. Gingerly tiptoeing around in the summer heat, the artist appeared not unlike a marionette, compelled by forces unrevealed to the viewer.
The payoff for this non-sequitur-turned-entrance was rewarding as the confusion of the first few songs gave rise to more comprehensible imagery soon after. The interspersing of newer songs such as “Science” among her well-known earlier pieces—“Paper Love” and the particularly danceable “Casanova” elicited a buzz of excitement among those gathered to listen. As if unleashed, with an increased mobility mirroring the energy of these uptempo hits, the artist began to move more readily along the stage. Her wind-up toy-like movements were supplanted by fluid and repeated twirls, much to the delight of her audience. She began to intimately engage with the crowd, at one point even dedicating a song to those enjoying her set.
Quite miraculously, the copious theatrical elements during the show never took away from the music. Allie X, though no stranger to heavy production, absolutely holds her own vocally. The high notes of her songs’ bridges were deftly executed, confidently belted rather than breathy. One gets the sense that, had she stripped away all of the extraneous elements on a whim, Allie X could have delivered a perfectly respectable acoustic version of her set.
That said, far from being distracting gimmicks, the additions helped elevate the performance. Her image was instantaneously striking, a fitting counterpart to her crisp and at times haunting instrumentals. Her shifting stage persona, intriguing yet unpredictable, seemed to invite spectators to remain vigilant and keep them at rapt attention. It was fitting that the screen behind her projected her live video rather than visuals, as though it beseeched its viewers to focus their attentions onstage.
Tucked away among the trees of American Eagle, Allie X kicked off the festival’s first day with a performance in the purest sense of the word. Bulwarked by her beautiful timbre, the artist made a conscious effort to create an engrossing experience for festivalgoers, and it paid off. Listeners looking for an immersive pop experience should keep their eyes out for Allie X: There’s no telling what her next set might look like, but there’s no doubt it’ll be worth your while.
—Staff writer Rick Li can be reached at email@example.com.