Last year just before the end of Lollapalooza (QRO ’22 recap) Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the festival and the city had signed a new ten-year lease, ensuring the massive musical event’s continued future (not so much a future for the Lightfoot as mayor, however…). Coming out of COVID, there was naturally a question as to whether big music festivals still had, their very size working against them in terms of being able to pull it off again. Yet Lolla has not only survived but thrived, and returned to downtown Grant Park, Thursday-Sunday, August 3rd-6th.
Of course, in 2023 it did have to deal with the weather, in twin threats: heat on the weekdays, rain on the weekends. This first weekend in August was coming off the hottest July ever, the hottest month ever, at least in records, probably since the dawn of humanity. Yet it wasn’t the crushing heat that has ruined many a festival (and even spawned some post-failure documentaries…), and Lollapalooza was certainly prepared with more hydration than you could shake a firehose at, from hydration stations to fill up your water bottle for free to the classy Hendrick’s Gin Grand Garden Bar where you feel like you were in Bridgerton while fanning yourself with their branded hand fans.
Saturday did experience the rain, though never bad enough to cancel a set or force an evacuation (like had happened just two weekends ago in Chicago at Pitchfork Festival – QRO photos). The most notable effect was the mud, particularly on the slippery hillsides & steps near the T-Mobile & Bud Light Stages. So maybe your festival outfit was ruined (hip look this year for women seemed to be bikini/bra/etc. top, but baggy pants/shorts – you could handle the heat, bring the heat, yet still sit on the ground or even the L train…), but hardly crushing.
Lollapalooza has been criticized (usually by old fogies who still remember when it was a traveling festival) for hewing too much to the mainstream, focusing on the most popular styles to sell all those tickets. Yet Sudan Archives rocked her violin on the T-Mobile Stage, while there was actual punk from Japan’s Band-Maid on the Coinbase Stage. They and Ekkstacy at the Bud Light Stage gave punk a younger edge, showing that it’s not dead, while Sueco announced defiantly at his Bacardí Stage set, “Hold on a second! You thought you could go to a Sueco show and not get in the pit?!? Open that shit up, both sides!” (he later crowd-surfed on a board).
Since long before EDM was a thing, DJs were themselves criticized for just playing other people’s hits, but it might as well be Emo Nite “calling a cab” at Perry’s Tent. Though one wonders if any of Chicago’s finest there as extra security took note of the new, unintentional, subversive meaning The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” has taken on in recent years…
It’s 2023, so you knew there was gonna be some sad girl music at Lollapalooza! beabadoobee played her sad girl pop-rock for the happy ladies at Tito’s Bandshell (yes, there were also some XY, but yes, it was mostly XX…). At the small bonus set Toyota Den, Isabel Larosa celebrated playing her first huge festival with an excited crowd that knew all the young artist’s songs. Meanwhile, and the shady, smaller, hidden gem BMI Stage, Charlotte Sands had a rocking, enthusiastic emo-rock set that was as active as anything on one of the main stage. And Sabrina Carpenter had her own massive crowd at Coinbase Stage, where she advocated for all those who have been sued – and all the sluts out there. “How slutty is Chicago?” was asked to raucous cheers.
Sometimes DJs can light up at a non-exclusively-EDM festival, and sometimes not. You wanted to see Diesel, a.k.a. the Round Mound of Rebound Shaq, do a DJ set, but he was a little too removed from the crowd at Perry’s Tent, not able to full appreciate the signature personality (he did later get up close with the fans – and the Active Sign Language interpreter). And god bless Ninajirachi for doing the ‘last Tito’s Bandshell DJ slot’ – for some scheduling reason, every year, every day, that last performance before the nearby Bud Light Stage headliner is filled with a DJ, but she was doing her best. At least Subtronics were able to bring their big EDM show to headline Perry’s.
It’s easy & fun to make fun of Jared Leto. He seemingly takes himself so seriously that you can imagine it hurts, but he’s also so successful, attractive, and even a good actor that it can’t hurt that much. His faux-weird persona gives plenty of material to work with. He gave us “Morbin’ Time”. And his Thirty Seconds To Mars can seem like a celebrity vanity project, with the rest of the band in the shadow of his Jesus pose (“I’m the Jared Leto to you the rest of Thirty Seconds To Mars” Hollywood Jack once said to his Tenacious counterpart of lesser renown Rage Cage).
Yet the man knows how to put on a show. He invited fans up multiple times, including to intentionally dance badly, and demanded fans on shoulders. He even brought back photographers (usually actors-as-musicians are too scarred by paparazzi to be friendly to concert photogs) – and then invited them on stage! It all culminated in him crossing the mid-stage grounds divider and going all the way over to the soundboard at the other end of the crowd, and climbing the tent atop it (great work by the drone cameraman to boot). He even opened up his own pit. And his brother/drummer Shannon Leto made every Rage Cage proud. It was Morbin’ Time.
The headliners were interestingly divided: The pop-rock of The 1975 over at the Bud Light Stage, and Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar at T-Mobile. Instead of doing the big production that headline slots by massive stars at massive festivals are known for at this point, Lamar went more restrained, which only highlighted both his music and what production there was (such as dance crews playing out his verses of “Money Trees”).
Meanwhile, 1975 frontman Matt Healy has been getting more known for controversies than his band’s music this year, from his break-up with the last star anyone should ever break-up with, Taylor Swift, to getting called out by Noel Gallagher after Healy said the ever-feuding Gallagher brothers should get Oasis back together, not to mention the more serious issue of his anti-Asian micro-aggressions to causing a Malaysian music festival to be cancelled due to him kissing a male bandmate in protest at the country’s anti-LGTBQ laws (he’s since been sued by local acts who never got to play). Yet at Lollapalooza he was nothing but professional, his biggest emotion being his regular jump into the crowd that this time included a hug with blink-182’s Tom DeLonge. “We’re unified by the things we don’t like, and yet look, there’s hundreds of thousands of people unified by what they do like!”
-words: Ted Chase
-photos by Pooneh Ghana, Roger Ho, Miranda McDonald, Greg Noire, Ashley Osborn, Ismael Quintanilla III, Taylor Regulski, Dusana Risovic, and Nathan Zucker courtesy of Lollapalooza, save BMI photos by Erika Goldring courtesy of BMI, and Hendrick’s Gin courtesy of Hendrick’s Gin