Twenty-six years ago, Jane’s Addiction created ‘Lollapalooza’ for what was billed as their final tour, recruiting acts that included outside of their alternative rock genre. The nineties ended and so did the tour, and a reboot tour in 2004 never happened, but the following year Lollapalooza returned to Chicago’s Grant Park. Last year, for its quarter century anniversary, the festival expanded to a fourth day, and has kept that in 2017, Thursday-Sunday, August 3rd-6th:
Opening up Lollapalooza ’17 was Declan McKenna at the Lake Shore Stage, and his nicely emotional rock was not a bad way to start the festival. Following up was White Reaper on the big Grant Park Stage. Maybe they’re not The World’s Best American Band (QRO review), but still pretty good.
On the other side was Hippo Campus at the Lake Shore Stage. The group had a pretty good-sized crowd for how early it was, but their pleading, emotional ‘pretty boy with his heart on his sleeve for every girl’ music was not that impressive (unless you’re said girl, or at least think you are). Similarly, some people have been impressed by England’s Temples, and some people haven’t (QRO album review). Their Grant Park Stage set wouldn’t change either group’s minds, with the band’s psych neo-Beatles.
Between the two main stages & their slightly smaller siblings, there are the stages set in the middle of Grant Park, nearer Buckingham Fountain (made famous in the opening credits for Married… With Children). Perry’s Stage is the home of EDM at Lollapalooza, while Kidsapalooza hosts children’s acts, and your correspondent avoided the kids at both for wildly different reasons. But there is also the Pepsi Stage, situated nicely under the trees, but still big enough for acts like The O’My’s. Just overlooking Lake Michigan is the small BMI Stage, which holds up-and-coming artists like Michael Blume in an intimate setting.
At the Lake Shore Stage, the crowd seemed to actually shrink from Hippo Campus’ to The Drums’, which was too bad. Singer Jonathan Pierce has an upbeat Morrissey sound/vibe (so not Moz’s self-righteous preachy side…), and a strong festival presence. At the other side of Grant Park, Capital Cities delivered relaxed, upbeat dance music of their own at Tito’s Stage. They were really nice for the late afternoon point in the day, just enough dance without being overboard & forced [cough-Perry’s Stage-cough].
Remember Oasis? Remember Liam Gallagher? Not, not Noel Gallagher (QRO live review), Liam Gallagher – the brother who was the singer, not the one who was the guitarist/wrote the songs. Well, Liam is back with his own solo career (after fronting his forgettable Beady Eye – QRO photos at a festival), and came to Lollapalooza for a set that was scheduled way earlier than Oasis ever was. A good percentage of the young crowd probably think that Oasis is ‘classic rock’ – to be fair, they do sound like actual seventies classic rock…
The self-described “rock and roll star” did do an Oasis classic, “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory” early in the set – and then walked off the stage after four songs. Liam said on Twitter later that his voice was messed up from his show the night before (where he didn’t do an encore), but certainly didn’t sound messed up live, nowhere near ‘walking off the stage’ worthy. Maybe it was all a publicity ploy, as it did make him a trending topic on Twitter. But someone should tell Liam that it’s 2017, not 1997 – and that he doesn’t have his brother to fill in on vocals while he carps from the balcony.
Meanwhile, Migos had a delayed start on the Bud Light Stage, but for the contrastingly completely reasonable reason that his flight to Chicago was delayed. Britain’s George Ezra came on time at Lake Shore Stage, kinda country, like mass appeal country, though done by an Englishman. So not that interesting…
Cage the Elephant have become known for their live shows, particularly at festivals. Even those who don’t know the band have been impressed by their festival performances, wild events that include singer Matthew Shultz doing something crazy, at least. Their set at Lollapalooza’s Grant Park Stage was that, suitably southern grit & wild. While they might not be the most inspired or original band (they did win a Grammy, but so did The B-Sharps…), they definitely do strong live shows, all wildness up there on stage like a band that sounds like them should be.
At Lollapalooza ’17, Shultz wore a dress and fishnet stocking, later to take off the dress, and preached “One love, one race.” Of course he went into the photo pit, early & often, rocking out there & with fans at the barrier. He even thanked the people who put on festivals across the country, name-checking C3 Presents. Though one shouldn’t forget about how active the rest of the band is – they might be tied to their instruments, but rocking as hard as they can as well (like guitarist/older brother Brad Shultz playing while crowd-surfing early on).
Last weekend, Austin’s Spoon played an underwhelming set at Panorama Festival in New York (QRO recap). Their Lollapalooza performance at Lake Shore Stage was naturally quite similar (including “I Turn My Camera On” third, while the photographers were still in the pit…), but the un-tented stage and bigger crowd gave them more room to have fun, as opposed to just being cool. Also, for the established indie-rock band, this is a festival that they’ve done before (QRO photos at Lollapalooza ’14). Unfortunately, rain did come down during their set, and “The Underdog” still needs to be done with horns – and they were a little overshadowed by Cage’s wild set before, the rain during theirs, and Muse after them.
Even with the on/off, hard/none rain, Muse was of course epic in their rock. But the rain got harder & harder, and at 9:08 PM, singer/guitarist Matt Bellamy told the audience that the band was being told that they have to leave the stage, “Not sure why, but we’ll find out.” They even said that “Muse wants to play,” but no dice – not just Muse at the main Grant Park Stage, but all the artists, including Lorde at the other end Bud Light Stage, was forced to close. Not the first time weather has messed with Lollapalooza (QRO recap of the year with an evacuation), and unfortunately will not be the last.
After a storm forced the early closure the day before, the skies looked overcast & ominous on Friday, bordering on out-and-out cold. However, there was only a slight rain in the early evening, and the full day happened.
Opening the main Grant Park Stage were The Districts, who good emotional rock, though perhaps it was too early (and a little too cold) for the emotion. Opening the nearby Lake Shore Stage was lady soul from young lady Bibi Bourelly, who had been moved later thanks to The Pretty Reckless cancelling.
It was a ladies man, Jidenna, who took the Grant Park Stage, though a ladies man who also rocks. Always appreciate it when an R&B singer has a full backing band – and one that dances. Back over at the Lake Shore Stage were the also moved later Lemon Twigs. When keyboardist Danny Ayala couldn’t get his instrument to work, singer/guitarist Brian D’Addario covered for him by covering R. Stevie Moore solo. D’Addario made sure to cite Moore, and indeed generally seemed to introduce every sunny pop-rock song that the band did.
“This is when we start to fuck up your shit – in the nicest way possible…” Such was Phantogram on the Grant Park Stage. They delivered some strong emotional electronica, which they’ve been doing for longer than today’s newer hit acts. They mentioned it was their fourth Lollapalooza, most recently last year with Big Boi as Big Grams. More up-and-coming was Bishop Briggs on the Pepsi Stage, with her bordering-on-stealing-the-trademark-from-Björk hair in two tiny buns on the top of her head.
Also not playing their first Lollapalooza was Tegan & Sara, on the other main Bud Light Stage. One joked about the other passing out at their first Lollapalooza, making the news. Later Sara, “Being a gay woman,” recommended Trojan Bareskin condoms & safe sex in general, because all day a plane had been flying over the festival with a banner for the condom brand. Sara even imagined the pilot finding out that she’s gonna spend the day flying the Trojan flag – pointedly imagining the pilot not as “Bob,” but, “Fuck that, Jane.” When Tegan got confused, Sara jokingly accused her fellow feminist of not being able to imagine a female pilot.
But the real great banter from an act known for their great banter (like the prior night at their Lollapalooza after-show – QRO review) was Sara’s growing obsession with the VIP area in the crowd. Cordoned off from the rest of the audience right at the front of the stage, it was really obvious because it was not as crowded. Sara was trying to shout out to all the people on the GA side of the barrier, but instead focused on making sure that the “older” VIPs were putting their hands up with everybody else. Eventually Tegan challenged her sister to go down into the VIP, with which Sara did, and Tegan criticized as rewarding the big spenders, though Sara also high-fived some GA fans at the front (and remarked, upon coming back on stage, that the area smelt like “horseshit”).
And the pair also did songs. They dedicated “Nineteen” to the nineteen-year-olds out there, their “fellow nineteen-year-olds.” A group of girls younger than that next to your correspondent cheered, one shouting, “My ID says I’m 22!” Tegan & Sara got fans to get their hands up during “Hang Onto the Night” – that was when she called out VIP for not participating. Of course the last two songs were big hits “Boyfriend” and closer “Closer”.
Meanwhile, Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness was climbing on his own piano at the Lake Shore Stage – though didn’t match Sara Quin by going into the crowd, as he had the weekend prior at New York’s Panorama (QRO recap). And Ryan Adams was rocking at Tito’s Stage, even if the sometimes-prickly pear didn’t allow photographers, and his light and video screen show was marred by playing during the day – one does have the feeling that Adams thinks he should be an evening act, even headliner, like he was the day after in Iowa at Hinterland Music Festival (QRO photos).
For their opening music, Run the Jewels walked onto the Grant Park Stage to Queen’s “We Are the Champions”, and they really are. As good as the duo’s rhymes are, there are two other things that make them special. One is the rapport between Killer Mike and El-P, really good friends that enjoy playing off each other. Maybe someday they’ll get so big that they want to go solo, but they’re already big, and they already were solo (QRO live review of El-P album release party); indeed, it might be that they had solo careers before their much bigger success together, that they don’t take their partnership or success for the granted, and aren’t sick of each other (think of like every other famous musical duo ever…). The other great thing is that the pair really enjoy their success, and it can be seen.
A fan, Jacob Powell, had a sign asking to go onstage, “Let Me Rap ‘Legend Has It’.” And they did, inviting him (with a thirty second countdown), and Powell killed it, even impressing the duo (with Mike twirling him around). Run the Jewels are that kind of act, the kind who could invite a fan up to perform, but also to ask everyone to take a step back (more than once) after seeing fans up front getting crushed. They dedicated their final song, “Down”, to the just-passed Chester Bennington.
While they’re best known as a spooky act, on the Lake Shore Stage for this festival, Little Dragon was more dance than spook. Singer Yukimi Nagano was draped in white, which did reflect well under the evening festival lights.
Headlining Friday at Lollapalooza was a big, shiny rock band – The Killers. It’s actually still kind of surprising that they’re still at this headline-a-top-fest level (there were rumblings that they were fill-ins for a cancelled headliner like The Weeknd or even Kanye West). They were among many pseudo-alt rock bands that broke out in the first decade of the century/millennium, and so many of them have fallen by the wayside, or morphed into something else (usually frontman gone solo).
One might not think that The Killers are that inspired, a sort of of throwback to the big pop-rock bands of yore, the kind that dominated the radio when that’s what mattered. But perhaps for younger folks, they feel as important and alive as big pop-rock bands felt to you when you were young. Malia Obama certainly enjoyed them, rocking out so hard that she lost her iPhone in VIP.
The Killers covered Chicago locals Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm”, and paid tribute to the band that should have played in full on that stage the night before by also covering Muses’ “Starlight”. Their encore went past the curfew of 10:00 PM, with singer Brandon Flowers more than once asking the crowd if they should keep playing – but you knew they weren’t done until they played original breakthrough hit “Mr. Brightside”, which was the night’s closer.
But if you really wanted a throwback to when you were young, and a band that you’re surprised is still headlining the likes of Lollapalooza, there was Blink-182 at Bud Light Stage. The trio is a throwback to youth because their music was always pretty juvenile, if sometimes juvenile in the right ways, and there was that point a decade-plus ago when they seemed to dominate MTV (back when that mattered). Surprisingly headlining because it isn’t even really the Blink-182 of old, as singer/guitarist Tom DeLonge left the band to pursue investigating and revealing UFO conspiracies (seriously), replaced by Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio, who isn’t some no-name or no-talent replacement, but one can’t help but feel that bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker felt that they needed to keep a fame & financial lifeline going.
However, Blink-182 get major points for earlier this year pulling out of the debacle that was Fyre Festival early, before it was a debacle (if like a day before), and later calling out the plutocratic excess it aimed for.
Pepsi Stage had another blast from the past, albeit a very different sort of blast from a much more recent past, in Crystal Castles. Less than a decade ago they were the hottest act out there, singer Alice Glass rocking crowds as enthusiastically extreme as anyone. But then she and songwriter Ethan Kath split, and he hired a new singer in Edith Frances. There is still worthy chaos, but stands in the shadow of what came before (at least they aren’t photo-phobic anymore – perhaps that indicates that Kath isn’t as full of himself, or perhaps that he knows that his best days are behind him).
The weekend proper began on a sunny day that was thankfully not scorching hot. The start of the weekend (and the big name headliner) also brought out bigger early crowds for the likes of The Shelters on the Grant Park Stage, San Fermin on the Lake Shore Stage, and Aminé under the trees at the Pepsi Stage.
But for some acts, it was a little too early to fully appreciate them. The moody sounds of Warpaint on the Grant Park Stage were good in theory, if a little lacking in festival fact. Adding to them, however, was bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg, whose grooving to the music particularly added in the Lollapalooza setting. Meanwhile, there was then a big female crowd for Zara Larsson on the nearby Lake Shore Stage (including on carried out and attended to – a little early for that, as well). Larsson name-dropped working with big-name pop star Ed Sheeran on “Everybody Makes Mistakes” – just another ungainly Ed Sheeran moment…
For some reason, indie-rock outfit Alvvays ended early on the Bud Light Stage (not very polite of the Canadians…), leaving the crowd to meander over to the very different Highly Suspect at Tito’s Stage. While a rock outfit with guitars, Highly Suspect opened with a DJ/hype man and a crowd-surf by a member. Indeed, they felt like a modern-day version of bro-rock, which somehow hasn’t been swamped away EDM & bro-rap & all the jokes about Limp Bizkit.
Also feeling a little too ‘modern mainstream’ was Glass Animals on the Grant Park Stage. They’re the kind of band that would start with an opening screen that said simply, “‘Sup?” While they didn’t have the giant repeating screen visuals of Panorama the weekend prior (QRO recap), they are still basic electro-pop that is a hit with the masses. For a much more intimate feel, there was the BMI Stage and the likes of Colony House.
Even with all the electro at Lollapalooza, there is still a place for gritty rock like Royal Blood. That was on show at the Lake Shore Stage, though did feel a little ‘on show,’ ‘showy gritty,’ making sure everyone knew that they’re a gritty rock band, sort of a younger Black Keys in all that entails, good & bad. On the other hand, Perry’s Stage was wild in a very Perry’s Stage way (good & bad) for 21 Savage.
It’s more impressive that an act like alt-J is successful. Just a day after headlining even middler America at Iowa’s Hinterland Music Festival (QRO photos), they have such an unusual sound for such mainstream appeal. It was a big crowd, though the band acknowledged a major reason why, “Who’s excited for Chance the Rapper?”, next on the Grant Park Stage. Also, the group sounds pretty damn similar to on record, at least for their new one, RELAXER (QRO review).
It would be tough for anyone to play lead-in to Chance at the Lake Shore Stage, so near to Chance’s stage that many were probably thinking that they should just get a good spot for The Rapper and listen to Lake Shore’s Banks from afar. But then you would miss her well-crafted stage show, including dancers draped in see-through black sheets. And her enchanting soul music played well at that point, as the sun was dropping, dance enough for a festival, but also unique & interesting enough to stand out at a festival.
By now, you’ve likely already read about Chance the Rapper’s headline slot at Lollapalooza. Hell, articles were going up about it barely after it was done, even during. The biggest Chicago local made good since Kanye (or Obama…), in many ways Chance is Kanye’s successor, even replacement, with as good music, but without everything else that you don’t like about Mr. West (to start, no Kardashians…). Before the festival even started, it was clear that this year’s event was going to be known as ‘Chance the Rapper’s Lollapalooza.’
His set on the Grant Park Stage opened with a montage of clips of television people citing him, including Chi-Town’s own Michelle Obama, and ended with him being an answer in the form of a question on Jeopardy, “Who is Chance the Rapper?” The crowd was reportedly the biggest ever at Lollapalooza, stretching all the way back to the Lake Shore Stage and beyond, spilling up the hill.
In terms of set list, Chance’s Lolla performance actually didn’t differ much from other festival headline slots (QRO recap of 2017 festival headlined by Chance), but this was about more than ‘just’ the songs. This was about Chance celebrating “Chicago!” as he exclaimed upon coming onto stage. He talked about his native city, going to school around the corner, and more. There were multiple rounds of fireworks from atop the Grant Park Stage, and a fire hose brought out to gush on the crowd (that’s why fire department officers were seen earlier in the day, not because they were gonna shut things down like people feared…). Oh, and on-and-off friend/enemy contemporary/rival Vic Mensa came on, hopefully making that finally just ‘friend.’ It was as massive, and as personal, as was expected & needed to be.
In the unluckiest headline slot in the world was The xx, up against Chance on the other side of Grant Park at the Bud Light Stage. But in some ways, this played into the band’s strengths. Their dark, moody-but-romantic music has always been an odd fit at usually exuberant festivals, despite the group’s success. Their live shows are always a bit unusual, as their recorded music is better fit for sitting in the dark (alone or with a special someone).
But at least Lollapalooza had the dark down, with the slot meaning that they were playing in the evening, not daylight. Of course, there was still ample stage lighting for the crowd to see – and that crowd, while not as large as might have been had the group been up against someone else (they would otherwise have been an easy pick for Lollapalooza attendees to ‘check out that band people have been talking about for a few years now’), meant that those there were loyalists, devoted to The xx, closely following every note and beat.
The final day of Lollapalooza ’17 started with the likes of Xavier Omär at the Pepsi Stage, Barns Courtney at Bud Light Stage, and the expectedly machine gun fire rapping of Lake Shore Stage’s Machine Gun Kelly.
Also expected was the soulful singing of Maggie Rogers at the big Grant Park Stage; not expected was her great spangly outfit. She joked that the thing about only having an EP out was that it’s really not enough for an hour set, so she pulled out some new pieces to go with her hit “Alaska” that got her on the big stage.
With more than one hit was Charli XCX at the Lake Shore Stage. Yes, she did “I Love It”, the piece she co-wrote made into a hit by Icona Pop (QRO spotlight on), as well as her own hit “Break the Rules”, getting many girls in the crowd onto shoulders for that song. But the really special moment was when Charli, after talking about girl power, covered the one-and-only Spice Girls’ one-and-only “Wannabe” with her own Girl, Halsey. The crowd went nuts – even though a good percentage of the young audience hadn’t even been born when “gotta get with my friends” came out twenty years ago. And Charli followed that by thanking the boys with her latest hit, “Boys”.
Keeping the girl power pop-dance going was Tove Lo over on the Grant Park Stage. Tove talked about playing Lollapalooza for the first time two years ago (QRO photos), and went into the extended photo pit to embrace fans. Shifting lady Lolla to getting a little older was the beauty from London Grammar at the Lake Shore Stage, though couldn’t be as engaging as the young Charli & Tove.
While Lil Yachty delivered a somewhat sonically muddled, if still enjoyed by his large legion of loyalists, set at Tito’s Stage, it was time for The Shins on the big Grant Park Stage. James Mercer’s band has always had a reputation for sensitive boy emotion ever since the Garden State-assisted breakout, but they actually have a lot of upbeat, life-affirming songs – and at a festival, those are the ones that shine. Mercer seemed in particularly good spirits, remarking joyously, “We’re allowed to have fun!”, as well as checking to see how much of their crew is from Chicago (then asking the crowd.
Always having fun on stage is Grouplove. Earlier this year the young act had to cancel some shows because of vocal issues from just-had-a-baby singer/keyboardist Hannah Hooper (QRO interview), but that didn’t show at the Lake Shore Stage. While they might not win any indie-cred awards (purists will of course poo-poo their covers of Beastie Boys classic “Sabotage” & David Bowie classic “Space Oddity”, two songs that have been covered a lot in the last few years), Grouplove are the kind of band that you can bring your kids to see. They found time to do a brand new song, but of course still closed with their breakthrough “Colours”. It is impressive that they’ve moved up this far, this fast, on the festival track.
‘This far’ because they served as opener for the last big headliner of Lolla ’17, Arcade Fire. No alternative band since Radiohead has gotten this big (who headlined last year), turning their new releases into Kanye-sized events. But the hipsters who fell in love with breakthrough Funeral will feel that they’ve gotten too big, and that it’s all gone to their heads. That’s particularly the case with new record Everything Now (QRO review), which doubles down on the disco they didn’t need to introduce on prior album, Reflektor (QRO review). It can come up self-indulgent on their part – but they also aren’t owned by their past.
And it should be said that the new songs did well live (helped by not playing Everything’s weakest two, the band’s weakest two, “Chemistry” and “Peter Pan”). Their dance element definitely lends itself to the live setting, but of course they pale in comparison with the old material (but what wouldn’t?). “Rebellion (Lies)”, for instance, is so awesome to see in the epic Lollapalooza setting, whereas new pieces like “Signs of Life” can just feel like any other big dance-rock band. One can even feel that what’s important to them is that they’re having fun, not necessarily the crowd – but then Will Butler will go into said crowd for “Rebellion”.
And they definitely still enjoy playing the old stuff. Régine Chassagne’s “The Sprawl” had them get the crowd to hold their phones up, and that wasn’t the only time that Arcade Fire gave their songs the epic giant stage that they deserve. Indeed, their Lollapalooza set didn’t give the indication that they’ve gotten too big, as they closed with a combo cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games” and Radiohead’s “Karma Police”.
When your aging hipster correspondent was looking forward to seeing Arcade Fire for the umpteenth time as he took the Red Line down to Lollapalooza earlier in the day, the high school/college kids around him were going to the festival for Justice. Like The xx up against Chance the Rapper the night before, it was a good pick to have a very different artist up against Arcade Fire, with the famed French DJs on the Bud Light Stage.
After going big last year, into four days, for the twenty-fifth anniversary, Lollapalooza could have returned to the ‘status quo’ of three in 2017, but chose to stay big. Some may argue that this created a slight thinning of the talent, like an expansion of a baseball league, with more downtime, and correspondingly more pressure on the headliners to deliver. And admittedly, it would have been nice if the festival could have used the space that four days brings to find room for rained-out headliners, particularly when those headliners were forced off stage on the first day.
But four days also brings/forces more diversity (outside of the take-as-you-will Perry’s Stage), and more of a chance/push to see acts that you otherwise wouldn’t, as opposed to just sticking with the ones that you already know [even if you’re a jaded music correspondent…]. There were also some really neat extras, like a straight-out-of-the-seventies pop-up roller rink to LCD Soundsystem ice cream truck, plus after-shows. And there’s nowhere to people watch quite like Lolla, from t-shirts with slogans like “Whiskey Helps”, “I Listen To Bands That Don’t Even Exist Yet”, and “I’m Old, But That Means I Saw the Good Bands”, to seeing one barely-dressed barely-legal girl complain about another young lady whose, “butt’s falling out.”
And for a festival its mammoth size, Lollapalooza is a lot easier than others. Chicago locals may complain about the traffic downtown and all the suburban kids coming into town, but the L Train serves the festival well. Indeed, one of the main reasons that there are so many kids at Lolla is because it handles itself so well, no camping or EDM overdoses, ease of access and early curfew. In the music festival bubble that has certainly ballooned in the last few years, all of this should not be forgotten or dismissed – there is far more to a festival than the line-up poster, even when it’s a great line-up.
So let the indie-celebrities have Coachella, the well-heeled campers Bonnaroo, and the British Glastonbury. We’ll all always have Lollapalooza.
-words: Ted Chase
-photos: Ryan Vestil