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Lollapalooza 2016 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Perry Farrell's blockbuster festival celebrates 25 years with four days in Chicago

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    Twenty-five years of Lollapalooza.

    It’s hard to believe that a quarter century has gone by since Perry Farrell rolled out the blueprints for what was then simply a fun way to say goodbye to Jane’s Addiction. Since then, the blockbuster brand has seen its fair share of lineups, shakeups, and breakups. Now, it’s an annual Chicago tradition, one that C3 Presents hosts at Grant Park every summer.

    “The record industry loves success,” Farrell recently told Chicago Tribune hero Greg Kot. “They wait for something to hit, they go to the hilltops. They go right to next year — hey, the Red Hot Chili Peppers want to do it (in 1992). I didn’t have much else to do that year, I knew I was going to put Jane’s down for a time, and I figured why not? I was up for another party.”

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

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    He’s been up for one almost every year, and he went all out for 2016. The 25th anniversary celebration sucked the Day-Glo-colored marrow straight out of the “-palooza,” featuring veterans like Radiohead, Jane’s Addiction, and Red Hot Chili Peppers alongside young visionaries like Future, Lana Del Rey, and Vic Mensa. There’s something for everyone.

    Although the festival “started out as a scene for the alternative kids,” as Farrell also argued, it’s essentially become a beacon for all things pop culture. This past weekend alone saw Dwyane Wade welcomed back to the 312 during Flosstradamus’ set, Malia Obama floating about with her flanneled detail, and random pop-ups by that hunky boyfriend from Stranger Things.

    Still, Lollapalooza’s evolution into a four-day fiesta wasn’t without its fair share of growing pains. Thursday felt like a complete toss-up, headlined by two acts at the tail end of their press cycle and supported by a hodgepodge of genre-ruling talent that was spread too thin. Meanwhile, Perry’s Stage continued to bring out the worst in everyone by simply bringing out the worst people.

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    Case in point:

    Farrell arguably summed it up best with his rallying confession: “I hate EDM. I want to vomit it out of my nostrils. I can’t stand what it did to what I love, which is house music, which was meditative, psychedelic — it took you on a journey. I sometimes cringe at my own festival.” The feeling’s mutual, especially when you see hundreds of teens either fighting or puking on each other.

    One major win for the festival was avoiding another evacuation. They came close, admittedly, with several long stretches of garbage weather on Thursday and Friday, but the gates remained opened and nobody had to run into hotels or overpriced bars on the Michigan strip. Instead, most festivalgoers huddled under trees as their crisp Cavs gear turned soggy.

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    There’s been plenty of discussion as of late about the festival bubble bursting. Sagging sales have affected titans like Bonnaroo and promising rookies like New York City’s Panorama, urging analysts to reconsider the once booming business. Yet that isn’t a problem for Lollapalooza, which continues to sell out before the lineups even hit the newsstands.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Much of that has to do with the overall experience, how both Chicagoans and tourists can enjoy the Second City and escape into this insane metropolis-within-a-metropolis. Still, this lax accountability has in turn affected the curation of any given year’s lineup, which is why some of the bookings may feel either safe, predictable, or worse: dated.

    “When you book 170 acts per festival and don’t want to repeat yourself, you run out of greatness and you start compromising,” Lollapalooza co-founder Marc Geiger explained in the same interview. That “compromise” has been a nagging issue of the festival for years and with Thursday now in the mix it’s likely only going to get a lot worse.

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    Maybe not, though. One of the more inspiring facets of Lollapalooza is its graduation process, namely how the festival tends to invest on an act’s reputation, moving them up the ranks from the side stages to the main stages that anchor the opposing sides of Grant Park. This year alone saw several graduates pulling their own weight — it was inspiring, to say the least.

    Looking back, the term “moment” was thrown around a lot over the weekend. Chance the Rapper coming out for Future was a moment. Tom Morello and Jimmy Chamberlin assisting Jane’s Addiction was a moment. The whole D-Wade appearance was a moment. Are these calculated? Sure. Are they pedantic? Somewhat. Does anyone care? Absolutely.

    Because there’s really nothing more lucrative than a rare moment, especially in a world so hideously fascinated with bragging rights and personal narratives. Lollapalooza’s greatest strength is providing those opportunities, and while that’s a depressing departure from its halcyon days, it’s a smart business strategy, and one that will keep this afloat for some time.

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    Rest assured, there’s plenty of music to be had and we saw and heard more than anyone needs to see and hear in any given season. So, click on ahead to read about our thoughts on the best and worst of Lollapalooza, and if you’re still recovering, we recommend you drink plenty of water and eat the largest sandwich you can make before taking some Hibernol.

    –Michael Roffman
    Editor-in-Chief

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    Biggest Clusterfuck

    Major Lazer

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    While blowing the generator twice certainly didn’t help Major Lazer’s headlining set, what truly did them in was the general lack of direction. Being the esteemed producer and DJ that he is, Diplo is known for his fabulously curated set lists. Whether he’s blasting his latest Beyoncé cut or chopping and splicing mainstream’s meanest club jams, he always runs a tight show. Until this year, that is.

    After opening with early hit “Pon De Floor”, the set jumped everywhere. New Major Lazer stuff was followed by old Major Lazer stuff, which was mixed with a “Heads Will Roll” remix, which was interpolated by “Boom Boom Boom” by The Outhere Brothers. The set list was incoherent and exhausting. But hey, at least it matched the stage production. In case we weren’t stimulated enough, strobe lights, pyrotechnics, and voluptuous twerkers interjected at any and all times.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    When Major Lazer first blew up, the stage production served as a way to excite the crowd. These days, it’s meant to distract them from the set’s biggest problem: that Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire look totally exhausted up there. And let’s face it, they probably are. It’s no secret that Diplo spreads himself thin. Switching between three active side projects (Diplo, Major Lazer, and Jack Ü) and performing multiple shows per day would kill anyone’s spirit over time.

    As a longtime Major Lazer supporter, I truly had high hopes for this set. Of all Diplo’s side projects, Major Lazer has always been the most conceptual, exciting, and exotic. However, the show hasn’t changed much since I first saw it four years ago, and that was more noticeable than any of the spastic antics onstage. Major Lazer is by no means dead, but it’s about time they rest, regroup, and restructure. –Danielle Janota
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    Daughter Stormborn, Mother of Drizzle

    Daughter

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Let’s be clear: Daughter’s Thursday afternoon set sounded great. Elena Tonra’s voice was sumptuous and piercing, and the band’s ever-swelling orchestrations crested with power. But, man, they are really not suited to the devil-may-care milieu of an outdoor festival, even one splayed beneath storm clouds. “It looks like we brought the bad weather with us,” the London-based band joked as steady rain segued way into the hell that is a sunny, humid drizzle. In a way, it’s a complement: The band’s arrangements are tumultuous, starting slow before roaring like so many thunderclaps, and Tonra’s voice is as overcast as they come. But that voice is as sad as it is beautiful, and it seemed to carry a weight the damp audience simply didn’t want to bear. On record and onstage, Daughter’s music is rich with detail and emotion; those qualities, however, are better suited for the dim club than the open field. –Randall Colburn
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    Most Obvious Growing Pains

    Big Grams

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    Two of the best tracks on Big Boi’s second solo album, 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, were co-written with nocturnal electronica duo Phantogram, which eventually yielded a more long-term collaboration in Big Grams. But their afternoon Lolla set saw the newly formed trio working their way through a choppy-sounding mix and stage banter that hadn’t quite gelled yet: Repeated exclamations of “Oh shit, I love this song!” were about as funny and creative as Sarah Barthel and Big got. Whether it was the off-kilter levels or the lack of a nighttime environment that helped make their Bonnaroo appearance so successful, Big Grams struggled to find the crossroads where their two respective genres meet — something they seem to have no problem doing in the studio. –Dan Caffrey
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    Saddest Strip Club Confession

    Jane’s Addiction

    Kudos to frontman Perry Farrell for 25 years of Lollapalooza, and speaking his mind to Chicago Tribune veteran Greg Kot about the stupidity of his own stage and the disaster that EDM has become. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that his ’90s outfit Jane’s Addiction is about the closest approximation to a Guy Fieri installment at this festival. One gaudy pink suit, dangling Suicide Girls, shirtless Dave Navarro, guest appearances by Tom Morello and Jimmy Chamberlin, and all of Ritual de lo habitual  –“I think the folks are in a Flavortown food coma.”

    To be fair, it was everything anyone might expect (or want) from the Los Angeles sleazeballs, but it just felt inessential, dated, and overblown. One intriguing anecdote, however, was during a fiery performance of “Just Because”, when Farrell squeezed in an anecdote about his first trip to Chitown: “The first time I came here, I was so fucking cold. I was waiting for a ride and addicted to heroin.” Swiftly after, he dove straight back into the next verse, leaving the chilly memory behind him. It was a supremely human moment within a supremely inhuman set.

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    Needless to say, he’s come a long, long way. –Michael Roffman
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    Worst Picture Show!!

    Towkio

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Note: This entry was written by 57-year-old guest reporter Gunther Guthrie.

    “Guess who’s back/ back again/ Gunther’s back/ Tell a friend.”

    Yep! It’s me. Your friendly neighborhood (older!) rock critic. First off, an apology. As you probably know, last year, I had quite the hedonistic time at the musical monster that is Lollapalooza. This was not by design; let’s just say a young man at the Perry’s tent took advantage of my naivety, fooled me into thinking a tab of lysergic acid diethylamide was an offshoot of TaB® the soda, and gave me quite the fright at A$AP Rocky’s set. Two pants-pissings later, I swore to my wife, Gilda, and my daughter, Jordan, that I would never attend the festival again.

    And believe me, dear reader, that was very much my intent! But as an artist (yes, rock criticism IS an art form!!!), I don’t always get to decide where my path takes me. And after the enthusiastic response to my writing in the previous years, Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman (Hi, Mike!) thought it was important that my voice continued to be represented. The sad truth of the matter is that there just aren’t many middle-age music critics (make that UPPER-middle age, lol) out there. So I am their tongue. I am their bullhorn. I am their megaphone.

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    I’m also their stomach! One of the best things about music festivals is the media tent, where we journalists get rewarded with all manner of free exotic foods. My favorite will always be the kobe sliders (duh!), but this year, I sampled gourmet Oreos, tiny waffle cones filled with nacho toppings, and even gin popsicles! Be still, my tummy…

    But I’ll get to these gastronomic “misadventures” later. Right now, you’re here to read about the music, and that’s what I will give you, oh loyal reader. The first act I was assigned to cover was a local rapper called Towkio.

    towkio lolla thursday kaplan 2 Lollapalooza 2016 Festival Review: From Worst to BestWait a second. Towkio? You mean Tokyo. Surely you mean Tokyo. Right? Tokyo is the capital of Japan and is spelled T-O-K-Y-O. I should know; I once spent a few hours in their wondrous airport during a trip for Prudential (side note: thanks for giving me the Thursday AND Friday off this year for the festival, Rog!). So why is this guy spelling his name Towkio?

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    It’s indicative of a troubling pattern at Lollapalooza, where more and more musicians each year are adopting names of cities, then spelling those cities incorrectly. Apparently, another young act called PVRIS was playing the next day.

    Um, what? I’ve heard of Paris or even PARIS, but PVRIS? Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t I start a band and call it SHICAGO? I’m sure everyone will love that. Maybe I can even get myself a slot at Lollapalooza!

    As far as Towkio’s music goes, it has a lot of pep and I liked that he brought a lot of other performers (both dancers and rappers) out onstage with him. I’ll always prefer musicians playing INSTRUMENTS as opposed to just pushing BUTTONS (grrr), but I can usually get over that to enjoy a type of music that me, The Gunth, isn’t quite accustomed to.

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

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    But there was another problem, a problem shaped like a misused projection screen. A$AP Rocky used a projection screen last year, and although the images scared me, I appreciated that I could at least see them. But in the case of Tokyo (sorry, Towkio! Ugh), he blocked his screen with metal panels that kept me from seeing what movie was playing. It looked like he was playing a movie where he and all his friends were hanging out on the basketball court, but I can’t be sure. Maybe they had filmed a sequel to The Basketball Diaries? They’re the right age for it, and today’s youth can always benefit from a cautionary tale about drugs. Hell, today’s middle-aged folks like me can always benefit from a cautionary tale about drugs. Just look at what happened to me last year.

    But alas, I’ll never know what Towkio and his pals were warning us about on that basketball court, because I couldn’t see the picture show. Towkio, look: you’re clearly talented, and I admire that you’re a filmmaker as well as an enterprising rapper (my daughter Jordan likes your music quite a bit), but pleeeaaase take a few spelling lessons and maybe watch a couple of Marty Scorsese pictures, okay? Thanks, Towkio. –Gunther Guthrie
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    Worst Crowd

    Chris Stapleton

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Chris Stapleton is easy to love. He isn’t afraid to fortify his soulful country music with blasts of distortion or the dirty swagger of Southern Rock, nor does he shy away from vulnerability. His mass appeal was obvious during his Saturday evening set when the masses poured into and clogged the Petrillo Music Shell’s sloping concrete expanse. But though they seemed well-versed in Stapleton’s breakthrough album, Traveller — nearly everybody mouthed along to “Tennessee Whiskey” — they also seemed perpetually disengaged.

    A few rock horns and a smattering of fists rose from the diehards at the front of the crowd, but elsewhere the stoned, sunburnt audience seemed interested in everything that wasn’t happening onstage. Not that a festival crowd is expected to always pay rapt attention to the performers, but there was a palpable disconnect here, one that wasn’t helped by Stapleton’s tepid banter (which rarely extended beyond a “how y’all doin’” or “y’all got a drink in your hand?”). His hour-long set essentially embodied the worst part of festival culture: that the crowds like the idea of music more than the music itself. –Randall Colburn
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    Winnie the Pooh (And Stephan Jenkins, Too!)

    Third Eye Blind

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    Note: This entry was written by 57-year-old guest reporter Gunther Guthrie.

    A lot of people were introduced to Third Eye Blind through their hit “Semi-Charmed Life”, and so was I. But most of these folks remember hearing it for the first time on the radio. I remember hearing it somewhere else though: the trailer for The Tigger Movie, a 2000 animated film produced by DisneyToon Studios. You see, my daughter, Jordan, turned two that year, and it was the very first picture we took her to. So “Semi-Charmed Life” will always have a special place in my heart as a family-friendly song. And outside of the Kidzapalooza stage, where else can you hear a family-friendly song at Lollapalooza?

    Stephan Jenkins, the singer for Third Eye Blind (or 3eb, as their hardcore fans call them), seems very nice and is very concerned with people being kind to each other. During the breakdown of another hit of his, “Never Let You Go”, he told us all, “I’ve got this sense of aliveness in me and this sense of joy and this great big sense of I don’t give a fuuuck.”

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    This is very much in line with Tigger’s worldview of just bouncing around and having a good deal of fun, only with more swearing, which I didn’t mind. After all, this is a rock ‘n’ roll show! But if we’re speaking in Winnie the Pooh terms, the sound quality reminded me of the time Winnie got stuck in the honey tree. The bass and the drums were mixed so poorly that it was like our ears were all clogged with honey! It wasn’t the band’s fault, but the sound technicians’ fault. I glanced over at him, and one of them — the long-haired one — appeared to be falling asleep. Hey, buddy, how about actually giving a crap — no, giving a SHIT (if Stephan cursed, then so can I!) — about the music? Oh, bother! –Gunther Guthrie


    Most Likely to Give You a Black Eye

    A$AP Ferg

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    At this set, the term “mosh pit” was thrown around more times than “shabba.” Perhaps it was the mud, or the fact that most attendees were still high off Future’s set, but the general vibe at the Pepsi stage was war. A$AP Ferg tore through fan favorites like “Hungry Ham” and “New Level” while reaching new peaks of bro-iness with “Hella Hoes”. There wasn’t a single second of breathing room, which is why hyper-speed lyricist Twista made the perfect surprise guest.

    Twista managed to lift the mood of such a vicious set by coasting through “Overnight Celebrity” and showing off some of his signature chopper style rapping. All in all, though, he added little to such an inflated performance. Given Ferg’s widespread critical acclaim, it was pretty disappointing that he decided to satisfy the needs of turnt-up festivalgoers over those of longtime fans. At a different festival and set time, Ferg may have had more substance. For Lolla, though, he sufficed. –Danielle Janota


    Most Disappointing Lack of Original Material (and Chance the Rapper)

    Snakehips

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    “I just need to hear ‘All My Friends’,” the teen next to me earnestly proclaimed to her friends as we all waited for Snakehips. Perhaps that was a little uncharitable to the British DJ duo, who have produced more tracks than just the hit song featuring Tinashe and Chance the Rapper. Unfortunately, their set was curiously devoid of those original collaborations, despite names as familiar as Saturday performer Tory Lanez (“Dímelo”) and as big as Zayn Malik (“Cruel”). That’s not to say the crowd wasn’t hyped — Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” and recent viral sensation Rich Chigga’s “Dat $tick” were standout inclusions — but only “All My Friends” really set things off … at the end of their set, sans the ever-elusive Chano. –Karen Gwee
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    Please Dance…

    Baio

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

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    If a DJ makes dance music and nobody dances, did they make a sound? Baio’s Saturday set was fun, bolstered by pleasant temperatures and a warm breeze, but the audience simply swayed when they really needed to dance. The side project of Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio, Baio finds its namesake frontman crooning over sunny, sophisticated beats that he bolsters onstage with electric guitar. Baio himself is a charming frontman, cracking cheesy jokes in tones that’d befit a small-town Bingo caller as he shakes his hips like a vintage crooner. The vibe was right, the music was good, but something was missing. Music’s a two-way street, after all; artists need the crowd as much as the crowd needs them –Randall Colburn
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    Most in Need of a Second Chance

    Bryson Tiller

    Like Chance the Rapper in 2013, Bryson Tiller gained traction after he was booked for Lolla, consequently making his stage far too small for the crowd. Thousands of fans clawed their way through the triangular death trap that is the Petrillo Shell just to get a glimpse of their beloved crooner. Unfortunately for Tiller, this excitement was short-lived. Following the Louisville singer’s sultry rendition of “Exchange”, a large chunk of fans cleared out. Tiller, himself, performed beautifully.

    The stage was rather bare, which allowed Tiller’s voice, alone, to paint the mood. However, with such a limited discography and vague personal brand, he wasn’t able to keep the crowd put. He admitted that this was the largest group he’d every played for and that he couldn’t believe how far he’d come in just a year. “Louisville is a hard city to break out of,” he lamented. With another year, another album, and a few more hits under his belt, Bryson Tiller will get the love he deserves. –Danielle Janota
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    The Most Unnecessary PSA

    Pinegrove

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    On record, Pinegrove embraces kindness and self-reflective humility, both of which are just as vital to their music as the hesitance of Evan Stephens Hall’s falsetto or the emo/country hybrid of Mark Levine’s guitar strings. But those same traits — admirable in the young Montclair, New Jersey, band as people — often result in a politeness that can make their live show feel a little rigid, despite them having one of the best records of the year. Even though their Lolla debut boasted an added guitarist and keyboardist that gave their set more texture than their performance at Lincoln Hall in April, there was still something stiff about them onstage, as if giving in completely to the joyous caffeine of tracks like “Then Again” would be rude.

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    The risk aversion extended to the stage banter, too. While it was nice for Hall to marvel at the size of the crowd, him repeatedly beseeching people to keep an eye out for rough behavior shortly before closer “New Friends” felt like overkill. How do you let loose at a Pinegrove show when they seem so afraid to let loose themselves? As their peers Modern Baseball proved the next day at the festival, it’s possible for a young band to exhibit both kindness and wildness at the same time. –Dan Caffrey
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    Lift Yr Skinny Drumsticks Like Antennas to Heaven

    PVRIS

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Here’s a fact: No one at this year’s Lollapalooza loves music more than the drummer for PVRIS. It’s not often a drummer can upstage the band he’s playing with, but Justin Nace pummels his kit with a loopy flair that’s downright inspiring. His arms move like they’re either dislocated or part octopus; he’s basically that wedding band drummer with toned arms and emo hair. PVRIS’ music is fine; it’s an arena-friendly blend of hardcore and EDM that feels focus-grouped to death. It plays infinitely better live than it does on record, however, and Nace wasn’t the only reason the band worked its passionate Friday afternoon crowd into an audience. But the dude certainly knows how to work a crowd — the countless times he’d signal a beat drop or forthcoming chorus by dramatically pointing a drumstick skyward evolved from a cheesy tic to a curiously charged rush of catharsis as the set went on. The power of live music, ladies and gents. –Randall Colburn
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    Vomiting? In Line?? No Thank You!!!

    Torey Lanez

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Note: This entry was written by 57-year-old guest reporter Gunther Guthrie.

    Ah, there’s nothing quite like a peaceful morning in Arlington Heights. Gilda and I often enjoy sitting on the front porch with our coffee, soaking in the picture-perfect view of our grand city’s water tower.

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    Wait, what’s this? A text? Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman — the Commissioner Gordon to my Batman — needs someone to cover rapper Tory Lanez? And he plays at 2:50 p.m.??? Start up the Metra, Robin. We’ve got to get to Grant Park, pronto!

    But lo and behold, even though I arrived 25 minutes before Mr. Lanez’s set, there was a huge line, bigger than the line I had to wait in to see Emerson, Lake & Palmer at the Dane County Coliseum back in 1977 (the Works Tour, for anyone keeping score at home). Even worse, they switched the expedited press entrance to the left instead of the right, a fact I didn’t realize until I was halfway through the line. So I was stuck among the riff-raff: a sea of gacked-to-the-gills, misguided youth, most of whom were also in line to see Mr. Lanez and some DJ whose talent lies solely in wearing a giant marshmallow on his head.

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    Seriously? A marshmallow? What is this, a cereal commercial? Oh, it is? Well, okay then! Just as long as you know.

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    One young man who looked like Jim Belushi wore a Hawaiian shirt, a CamelBak filled with what I HOPE was water (but let’s face it, it probably wasn’t), and a floppy safari hat, which seemed to be the trend among the fellas at this year’s Lollapalooza. After attempting to cut in line a few times, he stumbled around, as if he were Goliath just struck in the head by David’s slingshot. Or perhaps he was the wall of Jericho, about to tumble from the blast of divine ram’s horns. If you want additional biblical references, I’ve got them out the wazoo. I wasn’t an acolyte in my youth for nothing! To use a hip-hop turn of phrase, Saint Simon’s Episcopal Church for life.

    Anyway, this Belushi-looking guy clearly had taken too much of whatever he had been taking (NOT water; I can tell you that!).

    “I’m gonna…I’m gonna…”

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    And with that, he vomited on the pavement, parting the crowd like Moses parted the Red Sea. Instead of helping him, most attendees took advantage of the opportunity and rushed through the gap he had formed to move up in the line. Being a father, though, I couldn’t help but console him. But as I patted him on the back, he wretched again, this time all over my left Teva® sandal. I couldn’t even scream. I was too shocked.

    As the vomit baked in the afternoon sun and eventually encrusted on my Teva® sandal strap, I worriedly eyed my phone. There were only 10 minutes left in Mr. Lanez’s set. I was going to miss it! Some nearby teens shared my concern.

    “I’ll give a Tory Lanez concert right here!” slurred a shirtless lad trying to grow a tiny wisp of a mustache. With that, he rapped the lyrics of a Mr. Lanez song called “Say It.” It was pretty good!

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    By the time I got to the stage, Mr. Lanez was just finishing up, and the crowd was loving it. He had plunged into the audience and was rapping from the audience, which was neat.

    “We went from the front to the back!” he shouted. “I’m the new Toronto.” He said this because he was Canadian.

    From what I can tell, Tory Lanez has a lot of gusto and did a really good job. But as he finished, a colony of ants began forming on my Teva® sandal, undoubtedly gobbling up whatever remnants of foodstuff Jim Belushi, Jr. had expelled onto my shoe. They weren’t fire ants, so it didn’t hurt, but it didn’t exactly feel good either. I felt confused, lonely, and couldn’t wait to get to the press tent. Hey, Mr. Laaanez (imagine that in a Dennis the Menace voice)! How about an encore next time, hmmm? –Gunther Guthrie
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    Most Likely to Deliver Thesis Statements as Song Introductions

    Alessia Cara

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    Alessia Cara’s only 20 years old, but she seems to have life all worked out. The Canadian pop singer is a self-professed lover of “music with a message,” as she put it in her hit song “Here”, and during her set at the Pepsi stage, she took pains to make sure she was understood. “This is a song about refusing to conform to the standards of the world,” she said of “Wild Things”. “Every dream is valid,” she said before “Four Pink Walls”, a song about getting out of her hometown, “no matter if they are similar or dissimilar to mine.” These earnest introductions played like elevator pitches after a while, but they also showed how Cara has taken her responsibility to her young fanbase to heart. Even though she’s best known for “Here”, the sullen, anti-social anthem she closed out her set with, she’s certainly not that person any longer. –Karen Gwee
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    Earliest Available Turn Out

    Jazz Cartier

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Jazz Cartier provided an invaluable service with his 12:50 p.m. slot on Thursday afternoon: the earliest available turn out. As soon as he took the stage and the bass started slapping, teens sprinted towards the vibrations as if summoned by a pied piper with FruityLoops. Cartier ran through his discography like a seasoned vet, and dropped a few crowd work gems along the way. Most memorably, he asked his fans to start a circle pit towards the end of his show before launching into a mini-speech about the importance of keeping women safe in concert environments. Not too many renaissance men play early afternoon time slots; props to him for bringing it so hard right off the bat. –Pat Levy


    Stay Classy, Perry’s

    Lindsey Stirling

    Walk by Perry’s Stage at any given moment and you’re bound to see something out of Dante’s Inferno. Or maybe the closest the festival can get to a scene out of Saving Private Ryan. It’s a never-ending hell hole, chock-full of bad decisions, underaged drinking, and undiagnosed STDs. To be fair, though, there were some slight reprieves over the weekend — ahem, Joey Purp’s sick performance on Friday afternoon comes to mind — but few offered up as much class as Lindsey Stirling.

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    Wielding a violin and signature dance moves, Stirling added a decadent touch to the area with her dramatic compositions, exhaustively pouncing and prowling about the stage as she wittled away. Her performance of “Something Wild” off Disney’s forthcoming Pete’s Dragon reboot felt a tad too commercial, no thanks to the promotional footage playing on all screens, but it was a minor distraction from her rare talents. If only more folks at Perry’s offered bold left turns like this. –Michael Roffman
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    Best Midday Raindance Sesh

    Bob Moses

    Severe weather threats are never really a surprise at any music festival. So there was some concern over at the Pepsi stage — formerly The Grove (the name changes confuse me every year — prior to Bob Moses. Would we have to evacuate? No one really knew. Nevertheless, the crowd was half full at the tree-sheltered stage, erupting when Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance hit the stage. “I wanna see everybody’s best rain dances,” Howie screamed, prompting a sea of vibrant plastic raincoats and umbrellas to flood the patchy grass. The duo’s upbeat energy and rocktronica sound admittedly deserved to thrive at a later slot, but when everyone’s clapping and jumping around despite getting completely soaked … that’s a big win. –Sonia Vavra
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    Rock n’ Roll’s Not Dead, Just Incentivized

    Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    It’s not uncommon for musicians to pit sides of the crowd against each other, but Frank Turner upped the stakes with a signed drumskin for the winning side. Perhaps the Englishman felt he needed to give Lollapalooza, sorely lacking in good ol’ rock n’ roll, a jolt. He needn’t have — the crowd sang along enthusiastically to songs like “Recovery” and “Get Better”, and roiling but convivial moshpits ignited during “Out of Breath”. It was show number 1,935 for Turner, a workhorse musician given to punishing tour schedules. He looked pretty ragged, even at the start of his set, but certainly didn’t lack the energy to sincerely exhort his American audience not to vote for “the racist with the bad haircut.” –Karen Gwee


    Punks in a Sea of Hunks

    Nothing

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    I saw several acts this weekend that never quite connected with their crowd, but none of them acknowledged it except for Nothing, a band of Philly-based punks that released one of this year’s most quietly powerful records with Tired of Tomorrow. Their sound is heavy, sure, but it’s definitely not alienating (I’d even call it inviting), so it’s a wonder that their small Saturday afternoon audience was so silent. The band, amused and self-aware, seemed to understand that this wasn’t the best setting for their brand of shoegazey, ‘90s-style alt-rock, and filled the awkward space in between songs with sarcastic jokes (“We’re Jane’s Addiction”) and intros informing listeners that “this song’s about kidnapping” and “this song’s about death.” Nothing’s casual disdain may not have won them any fans, but it certainly provided a refreshing break from the fest’s relentless flashiness. –Randall Colburn


    Turn Off the Bright Lights

    M83

    After several dreary hours of gray skies and London rain, the asshole sun decided to finally come around and do its job. By then, though, it was too late and somewhat intrusive — actually, it was very intrusive. Especially since M83 were minutes away from taking the Samsung stage, where they’d warm the floorboards up for Radiohead. Similar to Sigur Rós’ afternoon set a few years back — on the very same stage, in fact — the whole thing felt hideously out of place. Hell, who wants to hear “Midnight City” six hours before midnight? Or dance their socks off to “Couleurs” when the lights are bleached out from the daylight? It’s just not very sexy, and that’s always been Anthony Gonzalez’s forte. “But…?” But, they played their hearts out, and even the junk off their new album sounded okay. The real highlight, however, was seeing Jordan Lawlor lose his fucking shit on “Sitting”, a stellar deep cut that goes way, way back to 2001’s self-titled debut. Please come back, folks, and preferably indoors. –Michael Roffman
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    An Exercise in Patience for Rap Bros

    Mothers

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    God bless Mothers for enduring what must have been a humiliating last show of their tour, facing a crowd of bros who wanted nothing more than for the band’s set to end so they could wild out to Flatbush Zombies. Mothers played expertly to the utterly uninterested crowd, nailing atypical time signatures and nimble guitarwork on tracks like “Fat Chance” and “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t”. Frontwoman Kristine Leschper’s vocals have more personality than some entire bands in indie rock today, and it was frustrating when the crowd drowned her out with cheers upon spotting members of Flatbush Zombies backstage. “You have not been listening,” she sang during their last song, “No Crying in Baseball”, and it felt like a fitting admonishment. –Karen Gwee
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    Best Preview of New Material

    Lucy Dacus

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    On Lucy Dacus’ debut, No Burden, the burgeoning singer-songwriter dresses up her confessionals in two different styles: delicate and mighty. At Lollapalooza, she wisely favored the latter, opening her set with a beefed-up version of “Troublemaker, Doppelgänger” that probably shook more than a few of the branches that canopied the BMI stage. Likewise, the quiet military drumming of “Map on a Wall”‘s intro eventually gave way to its more explosive finale that felt right at home at the behemoth music festival. But the highlight of the set was an unnamed new song that stayed rooted in the bluesy groove of her harder material. It’s too early to say whether her next record will lean towards heavy, soft, or both, but as her rock-solid performance at Lolla proved, we’re anxious to hear more. –Dan Caffrey
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    Most Bro Tanks/Ray-Bans/Snapback Combos

    Two Door Cinema Club

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    The sun was beginning to set as Two Door Cinema Club took the stage Saturday night. The crowd waited with anticipation for the Irish indie rockers to emerge, as fans held up record sleeves, shirts, and even scarves with their emblems. After several moments, the band and later lead singer Alex Trimble emerged, introducing themselves. “We are Two Door Cinema Club, and we are so fucking excited to be here,” Trimble exclaimed. “Let’s make this a good time.”

    The attendees of the show were ready to make that a reality, and the band returned the favor by pulling economically from their three albums, opening with “Cigarettes in the Theatre”, transitioning into “Undercover Martyn”, before introducing upcoming single, “Bad Decision”. Concluding with hit single “What You Want”, Two Door Cinema Club became a magnet for passersby, which coupled with the die-hard fans, turned the Bud Light stage into a field-sized dance party.

    “Have a great night, great weekend, great festival, great fucking life,” Trimble concluded. –Sonia Vavra
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    (Annual?!!) Case of Indigestion

    Red Hot Chili Peppers

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    Note: This entry was written by 57-year-old guest reporter Gunther Guthrie.

    Anyone who reads my concert reviews knows that I suffer from chronic indigestion. It’s just something I deal with, and I try not to let it ruin my good time at a music festival. More importantly, I NEVER let it dictate what I eat. If concertgoers who don’t suffer from indigestion can eat anything they want, why shouldn’t I?

    It’s led me to some … let’s just call them “interesting” concert reviews, to say the least. By that, I mean I once reviewed the METERS from inside a port-o-john. Many of you ridiculed me for it. You called me weak. You called me disgusting. You called me a hack writer. You said you only wanted to hear about the music and not my gastrointestinal problems. Well, I hate to be rude, but…

    Fuck. OFF.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    That’s right! It’s gonzo journalism, baby. Every heard of it? It’s only been practiced by … oh, I don’t know, a little writer named HUNTER. S. THOMPSON. Ever heard of HIM??? To write about a festival is to write about the experience: how the entire day shaped you as a human being and informed your opinion of the music.

    So how did my eating habits inform my experience of watching the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Pull up a toadstool, and I’ll tell you. Upon arriving at the press tent earlier that day, Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman (Hi, Mike!) and I noticed they were serving gourmet Oreos® with tiny glasses of milk. Now, these weren’t regular Oreos®, mind you, but soft, deliciously mushy Oreos®. Almost like whoopie pies made by the Lilliputians. Oh, you don’t know what Lilliputians are? Try reading a book sometime. Oh, you don’t like reading? Don’t worry, they made a movie of it, too! Cretin.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    After scarfing down about eight of these cute little desserts (with milk!) apiece, Michael and I played a few rounds of ping-pong in the media tent. It was fun, but after a while, I felt a rumbly in my tumbly, just like Pooh Bear before me (see my entry on Third Eye Blind, or, as their hardcore fans like to call them, 3eb).

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    Right as I was about to use the bathroom, though (the press area has very nice air-conditioned facilities), I heard the sweet, sweet sounds of the Peps echoing from the Samsung stage. I was about to miss their set! Most people are surprised I like the Red Hot Chili Peppers (or, as their hardcore fans like to call them, RHCP), but the band actually have some proggier inclinations once they start to jam out, just with a little more sex talk. Their sex talk doesn’t bother me that much, though, because they use clever metaphors about finger-painting and pastries and what not, instead of just being flat-out filthy.

    Anyway, I was excited to see them, so I mentally pictured my fecal matter getting pushed back up into my body, converting itself into golden sparks, and rushing out of my mouth in a majestic cloud. That usually does the trick to keep my BMs at bay.

    And I was able to do just that for a few songs. I got to enjoy the RHCP deep cut “Can’t Stop”, as well as their little-heard Tom Petty collaboration “Dani California”. I always felt bad that Sam Smith got sued by Mr. Petty for unknowingly stealing from him. I guess he should have just teamed up with everyone’s favorite Rebel Without a Clue like the Chilis did. Then everyone could have made like Blockbuster Video® and gone home happy. Oh well.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    But back to my tale. It was “Dark Necessities” that did me in. Every time Anthony Kiedis sang those two words, it made me think of the pitch-black color of the Oreos®. Suddenly, they didn’t seem so golden anymore. The mind-sparks melted back into feces and sent me running to the nearest port-o-john. Some of the port-o-johns this year were made by Honey Bucket®, which made me think of Winnie the Pooh again (see my entry on Third Eye Blind, or, as their hardcore fans like to call them, 3eb), and that softened up my bowels a little bit in a good way.

    Once I found a suitable throne, I expelled myself almost as soon as my jockey shorts were down around my ankles. The funny thing about Oreos® is that they more or less convert your excrement into black powder, so it actually doesn’t hurt that much when they start coming out of you. Powder … powder … Looking down at what had just escaped my body, I was suddenly reminded of black cocaine. Seriously, that’s what my stool looked like! I don’t know if there is such a thing as black cocaine, but if there is, the Peppies undoubtedly know a thing or two about it. By that, I mean they’ve done a lot of drugs in their time, and I’m so happy they came out on the other side. That’s the thought that went through my head when they started playing “Otherside”, showing me that we’re all connected: me, the Peps (more like Pepto-Bismol®!), and my own bodily functions.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Oh, you think I’m getting too weird? Too hacky? Too REAL??!! Then I guess you just don’t understand music journalism. The best rock critics know that all the disparate parts of the world are connected through the power of music. Why shouldn’t we be able to string together, RHCP, Honey Bucket, and me for a review? These are my crazy thoughts, ladies and germs. I don’t think ’em, I just deliver ’em. I am the vehicle. That’s it. Period. If you can’t handle my wild imagination, then find another festival. This is just another day in the life of The Gunth, baby! –Gunther Guthrie
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    Born to be a Balladeer

    Lapsley

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Låpsley is an English singer with a rich, robust voice and a backing band that looks plucked out of a Sprockets sketch. That aside, their arrangements rang with clarity and grace across the sun-baked audience on Sunday when Låpsley serenaded a rapt early afternoon audience through tracks from this year’s solid Long Way Home. She’s mostly known for upbeat bangers like “Operator” and “Love Is Blind”, but both onstage and on record it’s her ballads that truly resonate. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when she sat down at a piano to pound out the gorgeous “Painter” and album closer “Seven Months”. For some, sadness comes easy. –Randall Colburn
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    Brilliant Boogie Breakdown Bonanza

    Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats filled a very necessary spot in the Lollapalooza tradition: the midday, sweat-drenched soul-funk-folk-blues boogie bonanza. Usually Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, and Lee Fields take turns driving that car, but this year Rateliff took the wheel and absolutely floored the crowd. Onstage, Rateliff inhabits an almost Jekyll-and-Hyde-type frontman persona, where his former folk self acts as the more subdued version that only comes out occasionally while the wild-man, musical, whirling dervish runs things for the majority of the set. While his lower-key songs have their place, Lollapalooza was the perfect stage to unleash the beast on a sweaty Saturday afternoon, and that’s exactly what Rateliff and the Night Sweats did. –Pat Levy
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    Most Unrealistic Expectations of a Festival Crowd

    Kehlani

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    Sure, Lollapalooza might be the festival of Chicago, where Chance the Rapper holds court. But it was still a mistake for Kehlani to expect the early afternoon crowd at the Samsung stage — which diminished as the rain rolled in — to rap Chance’s verse on You Should Be Here cut “The Way” with any finesse. Some lifers tried, but as the rising R&B singer cheekily noted, Lolla summarily butchered it. Kehlani was far better when flexing on her own, such as on recently released anthem “CRZY” or the vulnerable “Tore Up”, which saw her dropping the dance moves to knock out run after vocal run. –Karen Gwee
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    New Hunk on the Block

    Day Wave

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Day Wave is the work of Jackson Phillips, a Berklee whiz kid who logged time in synth pop outfit Carousel before setting off on his own. I was surprised to learn that Phillips was the driving force behind Day Wave, as his backing band not only sounded crisp and practiced, but also provided rich, resonant harmonies throughout. New Order is an obvious influence (they even covered “Ceremony” near the end of their set), but their sound is also redolent of the recent output of Turnover and The Sidekicks, who Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen brilliantly described as “suburban operatic, a small voice for big spaces.” You could also apply that phrase to Day Wave, who lace simple, repetitive melodies with a sense of awestruck wonder. It’s a blissed-out sound, fuzzy and enveloping; it’s music you swim through. During their early afternoon set on Friday, the band’s trim catalog sounded better live than it does on record (and it sounds great on record, FYI). Expect big things. –Randall Colburn


    Craziest Crowd Surfing

    Mutemath

    At a festival where sitting on someone else’s shoulders earns you a swift reprimand from security, you have to admire Mutemath’s commitment to safe and effective crowdsurfing. The electro-rock band hauled out a mattress with goofy blinking LEDs along its sides for vocalist/keyboardist Paul Meany to perch on, allowing him to triumphantly coast atop the Lakeshore crowd. Mutemath were a presence alright, buoyed by Meany’s theatrics (he did a handstand on his broken keyboard) and Darren King’s no-holds-barred drumming (he used duct tape to keep his headphones on his head, and it still wasn’t enough — he had to redo it mid-set). They lit up a set filled mainly with peppy and crowd-pleasing, but ultimately unremarkable alternative rock, excepting newer, liquidy song “Changes” and “Reset”, an old but thrilling track that made a solid case for more instrumental rock at Lollapalooza. –Karen Gwee


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    Most Likely to Open for Beyoncé

    AlunaGeorge

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    “Ladies, who’s in control?!” Aluna demanded before launching into 2016’s tropical banger “I’m in Control”. Armed with confidence, feminist banter, and beats that shook the crowd to its lowest vertebrae, AlunaGeorge conducted the classiest dance party of the weekend. While the British band is technically a duo — Aluna managing vocals and George in charge of instrumentation — the former drew the most attention. Mixing Jackson-esque pelvic thrusts with awkward dance moves reserved for one’s bedroom mirror, Aluna proved to be the set’s North Star, guiding her fellow band member and audience into electronic bliss. Unlike the previous set by Towkio, which was defined by moshing and masculine energy, AlunaGeorge created a more welcoming atmosphere. There were beats, but no drops. There was dancing, but no pushing. Amid a lineup full of battle-ready hip-hop and electronic acts, this feel-good set was exactly what Lolla needed. –Danielle Janota


    Strong Intro to the Festival Circuit

    Potty Mouth

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    The BMI stage is such a pleasant respite from the mania that strangleholds Grant Park during Lollapalooza, nestled away in a shady grove where things are a little more subdued. Subdued is how someone who knows what Potty Mouth is capable of might describe their early Saturday afternoon set, which was thoroughly entertaining to be sure but seemed a bit restrained. It’s difficult to fault the Western Massachusetts three-piece for that, as they announced the show was their first big festival gig in their five-plus years as a group. Playing a more by-the-numbers version of their live show is certainly a better way to ingratiate new fans, and watching the crowd grow more than double in size during Potty Mouth’s set, it was easy to see they’re leaving Lollapalooza with a bigger fan base than they showed up with. –Pat Levy
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    Major Upgrade, Minor Surprises

    Disclosure

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    On Saturday night, Disclosure’s Guy and Howard Lawrence brought their talents to the Bud Light stage, unpacking a volley of hits from their two albums: 2013’s Settle and last year’s Caracal. The two brothers are one of a half-dozen examples of Lollapalooza graduates this year, having performed at the festival only two years prior at one of the side stages. Although they brought one dizzying light show, they must have either forgotten to call their friends or must have hit a lot of voicemails.

    Sure, Kwabs came out to perform “Willing and Able” and Brandon Riley strolled over to sing “Moving Mountains”, but Sam Smith, The Weeknd, Lorde, and even fellow Lollapalooza performers AlunaGeorge were all missing. Granted, the latter had an excuse, as they were set to perform in Las Vegas that night, but what about the others? While Disclosure has an exciting set, they toe the line of being too heavily reliant on guest vocals, which is why the expectations are always so high. –Sonia Vavra
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    Most Mom-Friendly Set

    D.R.A.M.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    “Who loves their mama?” D.R.A.M. repeatedly asked the mid-sized crowd at the Pepsi stage. Apparently, a lot of festivalgoers do — the more the Virginia rapper/crooner brought up the subject of maternal love, the more energized the young audience became, as if his words were rays of cartoon sunshine with the ability to expand everyone’s collective heart. This, along with home movies of D.R.A.M.’s family projected in the background, gave extra warmth to already fuzzy tracks like his Coloring Book interlude, “D.R.A.M. Sings Special”. The question became almost comical, however, when blurted out right after a brief, appropriately chilly cover of Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” (“I wish I could’ve seen those motherfuckers!” he exclaimed) and right before the Super Mario World-sampling closer, “Cha Cha”. Fair enough. Moms can be funny, too! –Dan Caffrey
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    Same Bros, New Pros

    Wavves

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    Wavves looked like old pros on Thursday afternoon, ripping through a brisk, raucous set that balanced the hits (“King of the Beach”, “My Head Hurts”) with surprising deep cuts (“Dog”, “Tarantula”, “Post-Acid”) and a roaring rendition of “No Life for Me”, the title track from the band’s 2015 collaborative LP with Cloud Nothings. It’s exactly the kind of set you’d want at a festival: tight, high-energy, and solid as a rock. But what really struck me was how surprising this was, Wavves being a sturdy hand in the mid-card. When Williams first reared his head in 2008, his infectious lo-fi punk was overshadowed by sloppiness and a detached, smart-ass attitude — it had all the markings of a flame out. So there’s something gratifying about the band’s continued growth and resilience; Williams’ passion and professionalism shone through every riff, every squeal of distortion and, of course, every cloud of weed smoke. Hey, some things never change. –Randall Colburn
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    Most Underrated in the Undercard

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    What a joy to be greeted with such enthusiasm on a rainy Friday afternoon. The Danish crooner began slowly, but powerfully with a triumphant rendition of pivotal track “Don’t Wanna Dance”. She surprised everyone with her gusto and voice, which carried well into the neighboring Samsung stage. The crowd, particularly full of cornrows and Camelbaks, perked up more for her radio hits than those from No Mythologies to Follow. In fact, I’ve never seen phones shoot up faster than they did during “Kamikaze” and “Final Song”. Despite festivalgoers’ biased excitement, she maintained consistent ferocity through and through. While is applauded most for her carefully produced club tracks, the high point of her set came with an acoustic version of Diplo-and-Bieber-accompanied song “Cold Water.” Like this freshly minted jam, MØ proved to be upbeat, bold, and almost too trendy for her own good. –Danielle Janota
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    Biggest Crew

    Joey Purp

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    The Perry’s stage usually siphons its power from thundering bass rather than sonic warmth, so it was expected that Joey Purp’s beats wouldn’t exhibit the same nuance as they do on this year’s breakthrough mixtape, iiiDrops. Anyone yearning to clearly hear the horns on “Morning Sex” or “Cornerstore” were destined for disappointment. Then again, does anyone at Perry’s actually want to hear vintage-sounding brass? At Lolla’s most hyperactive venue, it’s more about the chemical-induced energy than the audiophilia, a hard truth Purp must have known when replacing Skepta at the 11th hour due to the latter’s ongoing visa issues. As such, he kept his set loaded with epileptic projections and guest stars, from Mick Jenkins popping up for his verse on “Money & Bitches” to several members of Purp’s Save Money collective storming the stage for the closing reprise of “GWM”. Chance the Rapper was noticeably absent for his guest verse on “Girls @”, but with that many personalities to rile up the crowd, did it really matter? –Dan Caffrey
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    Outta Place Yet Outta Mind

    Kurt Vile and the Violators

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

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    Philadelphia’s shaggy-haired singer-songwriter didn’t belong at Lollapalooza, at least not on Thursday. When Pinegrove and Hiatus Kaiyote tipped off the festivities at the Petrillo stage, there was reason to believe that Kurt Vile and the Violators might have a place some six hours later — nope. From there, the North fields were bombarded by electropop (Melanie Martinez), hip-hop (Danny Brown), and grungy mediocrity (City and Colour), which didn’t exactly set the table for the crooner. “What’s there to feel but totally whacked,” Vile sang on set opener “Dust Bunnies”, summing up the scene. When the sun peaked through the overcast amid “Gold Tone”, the mood shifted considerably, a moment Vile capitalized on with a string of fevered stunners: “Wakin on a Pretty Day”, “Pretty Pimpin”, KV Crimes”, and “Freak Train”. The devoted, as they say, were “feeling it.” –Michael Roffman


    Chicago’s Next Up

    Saba

    Saba has bright things coming his way, and his Friday afternoon set was a surefire indication that he’s at the front of the line to be Chicago’s next big thing. Backed by a full band, the West Side rapper made damn sure that anyone who didn’t know who he was when they showed up knew what he was about when they left. His newest single, “Symmetry”, sounded great live and is hopefully a taste of what’s to come from his upcoming album, BucketList. If you care about having your fingers on the pulse of Chicago’s rap scene, keep a close eye on this dude. –Pat Levy
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    Worst Jokes

    Modern Baseball

    It’s a good thing Modern Baseball is such a great band, because their comedy game is whack. To be fair, it’s self-consciously so; Jake Ewald’s set-opening cry of “Hello Bonnaroo!” is, like many of their lyrics, delivered with a touch of self-aware deprecation. “Do you guys have memes around here?” Ewald asked a few songs later before dedicating “Tears Over Beers” to Harambe, the Cincinnati ape who, by virtue of being emblazoned across countless “ironic” shirts at this festival, is now dead in more ways than one. Thankfully, the set itself was on point, with the band playing the majority of this year’s excellent Holy Ghost along with excellent tracks from 2014’s You’re Gonna Miss It All (“Rock Bottom”, “Fine, Great”, “Timmy Bowers”) and their 2012 debut, Sports (“Re-Done”, “The Weekend”). RIP Harambe. Long live Modern Baseball. –Randall Colburn


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    We Need a Bigger Stage

    Sunflower Bean

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    “We weren’t sure how this was going to go,” said Sunflower Bean guitarist Nick Kivlen as their set neared its close, gratefully embarrassed by the small but enthusiastic crowd that turned out for them. After their exhilarating evening set at the BMI stage, bigger stages are surely in the NYC psych rock band’s future. They drew out songs from their debut album, Human Ceremony, and 2015 EP Show Me Your Seven Secrets into tight, scorching jams that were long but hardly self-indulgent. “I Was Home”, an ode to staying indoors and unquestionable album standout, turned particularly fantastic. Performing live, Sunflower Bean lose the cloudy shimmer that can sometimes blunt their presence on record, gaining instead grit and rawness, often thanks to bassist Julia Cumming’s voice, which at times took on an abraded quality reminiscent of Courtney Love and Brody Dalle. –Karen Gwee


    The “Not Enough of the New Album” Show

    Danny Brown

    Danny Brown isn’t quite an A-list rapper just yet, but for someone who hasn’t crossed that precipice, his live shows are a straight-up barrage of confirmed hits. Watching him bounce around the stage with his trademark infinity x 1000 energy, I couldn’t help but think about how great it will be when some oddball rapper influenced by Brown will perform an “I Will” cover at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The only slight I’d sling at this show was the lack of material from his upcoming album, Atrocity Exhibition, but hearing the Danny Brown Giggle™ more than made up for any issues. –Pat Levy


    Second Best Guitar Politicking

    Local Natives

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    The presidential election has loomed over everything in the USA over these two years, music festivals included, no matter how escapist they might be. Local Natives joined the number of musicians at Lolla who firmly addressed the skulking shadow of Donald Trump. After a call for renewed optimism and idealism, guitarist and vocalist Taylor Rice unveiled a guitar emblazoned with the duct tape message “Make America Afraid Again” for new track “Fountain of Youth”.

    Unfortunately, the best guitar election messaging of the festival was still Tom Morello’s, and although “Fountain of Youth” was received well enough, the crowd wasn’t at Local Natives for politics. Hardly. They were there for the gorgeous vocal harmonies Local Natives delivered in spades and particularly perfectly on “You & I” and “Airplanes”, and they were there for the triumphant crests of emotion embodied in “Past Lives” and closer “Sun Hands”. –Karen Gwee
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    Best (and Only!) Jeff Lynne Doppelgänger!

    Yeasayer

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Note: This entry was written by 57-year-old guest reporter Gunther Guthrie.

    Anyone who knows me knows that I love prog rock. But what they might not know is that the Electronic Light Orchestra (or, as their hardcore fans like to call them, ELO) started off as a prog-rock act. You can leave that bubblegum shit like “Mr. Blue Sky” at home. Give me On the Third Day over Out of the Blue any day!

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    So, why I am I bringing up Electronic Light Orchestra (or, as their hardcore fans like to call them, ELO) in my review of Yeasayer? I’ll tell you why. Because onstage, Yeasayer had these cardboard cutouts of famous people that lit up in sync with their instruments. That’s a very prog move, and it was made even more prog by the fact that one of these cutouts looked an awful lot like Electronic Light Orchestra (or, as their hardcore fans like to call them, ELO) mastermind Jeff Lynne. Was it him? I don’t know, but it was pretty neat to look at.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Also, Yeasayer is a really good band. They’re kind of proggy but also kind of mathy, which I guess are maybe the same things? They also played this song called “2080” that sounds like it could have been on a Rush album, both for its title and because of the way it sounds.

    Finally, their set was on Thursday, so I hadn’t yet received a full-scale assault on my stomach (see my entry for Red Hot Chili Peppers, or, as their hardcore fans like to call them, RHCP). That meant I could enjoy their set more. Yeasayer really knows how to groove, plus they’re smart and remind me of my favorite prog-rock bands. They’re the real deal, and I think everyone should listen to them. –Gunther Guthrie


    Most Glaring Omission

    Bloc Party

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    Guys, Bloc Party is really good. Did we forget how good they are? ‘Cause their Sunday evening set was goddamned electric. Also, they’re jacked as hell. When did that happen? Did we forget that, too?

    The only thing more muscular than frontman Kele Okereke’s arms were the talents of new members Justin Harris and Louise Bartle, who sound right at home with Okereke and bassist/saxophonist Russell Lissack. The hour-long set was heavy on songs from this year’s so-so Hymns (it sounds better live), as well as vintage burners like “Banquet”, “Two More Years”, and, obviously, the live wire “Helicopter”.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    What’s that, you ask? Where’s “This Modern Love”? Good question. It’s one of the greatest songs to come out of the mid-aughts, and depriving fans a sing-along that could’ve possibly rivaled “All My Friends” as the night’s greatest moment of catharsis is a travesty. Regardless, the set reestablished Bloc Party as a tour de force live act; I swear there was barely a moment to breathe. –Randall Colburn


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    Not Everything You’ve Come To Expect

    The Last Shadow Puppets

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Truth be told, The Last Shadow Puppets’ Thursday night headlining slot was more than a little puzzling. The baroque rock duo and Arctic Monkeys side project were due to round off a day at the Pepsi stage dominated by hip-hop and dance music, and there were at least three other acts on Thursday who could’ve laid claim to that same slot (The 1975 come to mind).

    But none of those same acts would’ve been quite so entertaining as Miles Kane and Alex Turner, who luxuriated in their playboy personalities to the audience’s glee. Besotted with attention, the Puppets crooked their fingers at the cameras and made eyes at the live stream. Turner oscillated between corny and titillating, flailing his arms at one point and lying down on the stage a la one of your French girls at another. Ridiculous? Definitely, but also refreshingly unpredictable.

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

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    Another unexpected but delightful move by the Puppets was their campy opening cover of “Moonage Daydream”. Perhaps the only Bowie tribute we’ll see all festival, it was a joyful but also sobering reminder that in the delirium of summer festival season, we can so easily forget the legends lost this year. Much of the heft of the Puppets’ set came from their accompanying string quartet and their decision to fill their setlist with material from Everything You’ve Come to Expect. Eight-year-old cuts from The Age of the Understatement went over well enough, but felt more like ill-fitting suits on the Puppets who’ve now grown into full-blown rock stars. –Karen Gwee


    Most Disproportionate Woke Performer to UnWoke Crowd Ratio

    Vic Mensa

    Vic Mensa put on a really great show Saturday night, drawing a very respectably-sized crowd opposite Red Hot Chili Peppers and Disclosure. Still, things felt off. Something about watching white teenagers in mid-2000s NBA jerseys grinding up on each other to Mensa’s Laquan MacDonald song “16 Shots” and Flint, Michigan, song “Shades of Blue” was extremely jarring.

    The disparity between how important these issues are to the artist and how important they were to the people in Mensa’s crowd was especially evident when Vic digressed on how inaccessible Lollapalooza has been for the majority of Chicago youths from the South and West sides of the city.

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    “I wish it [Lollapalooza] was free,” he said to rapturous applause and cheers, before polling the audience moments later on where they were from and finding about 80-90% of the crowd was suburban. From where I was standing, it felt like none of the socially aware content of Mensa’s music seemed to be sticking, despite his powerful performance.

    Judging from the online reaction, however, I must have been in the unWoke zone of kids talking through the entire set (at least until “U Mad”), and that’s a damn shame because Vic had a lot to say Saturday night. Therein lies the danger of being political while occasionally dropping huge hits. You run the risk of not being taken as seriously as you deserve to be. Make no mistake, Vic Mensa deserves everyone’s full attention. –Pat Levy


    Never Double-Dare Them to Keep a Secret

    Chairlift

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Never trust an indie band that talks onstage. Despite being sworn to secrecy about the name of his unborn niece, it took hardly anything at all for multi-instrumentalist and one half of Chairlift Patrick Wimberly to spill the beans and dedicate their set to Cecilia. With such a beautiful set, though, Wimberly’s brother probably couldn’t have complained. Caroline Polachek was resplendent — dancing with no inhibitions, she would sink to her knees before her band members as if to bask in their musical skill, then spring back up, her arms outstretched. Her performance was a feat, what with the blazing sun and the vocal gymnastics Chairlift songs demand, such as the delicate “Polymorphing” and “Show U Off” (and yes, she hit that note perfectly). Polachek thanked the audience profusely for their love, but with the joy she was radiating onstage, it wasn’t difficult to reflect that energy right back at her. –Karen Gwee
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    Act Most Enjoyed by a Member of Third Eye Blind

    Flume

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    Since Consequence of Sound was in the middle of a live Facebook chat with Stephan Jenkins at 6:45 p.m., neither he nor I got to see the first half of Flume’s set from the massive crowd. No matter. The Australian DJ’s beats still found that sweet spot between liqueur-smooth electropop and the more abrasive elements of EDM: lucid enough to float along a summer breeze, yet heavy enough that the music reached the press tent with little volume lost. When rapper Vic Mensa came out to add extra muscle to “Lose It”, Jenkins had no problem doing that very thing despite having no visuals in front of him, getting goofy with his dance moves while he answered questions from our readers. That made the interview a lot less awkward than that last one we did with him. –Dan Caffrey
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    Discomfiting Sing-alongs in the Madding Crowd

    Vince Staples

    Majority white audiences for black rap acts are par for the course at Lollapalooza, but it still wasn’t any less weird to hear “I ain’t never run from nothing but the police” yelled back to Vince Staples by a crowd full of people privileged enough to wholeheartedly trust law enforcement. That said, the thunderous crowd couldn’t care less about how strange Staples’ lines sounded coming out of their mouths. After all, they were just doing their darndest to achieve the goal he had set for them at the beginning of the set: “going motherfucking crazy.”

    The crowd lurched and surged, working itself into an absolute frenzy during Summertime ‘06 singles “Senorita” and “Norf Norf”. Staples was stunningly dynamic, foregoing lines to leap around the stage one moment and sitting on an amp to single-mindedly spit a whole verse the next. The set also elegantly showcased the rapper’s range, incorporating recent collaborations with Flume (who had finished his Samsung set shortly before Staples took the stage at Pepsi) and Clams Casino and tracks from his 2014 EP Hell Can Wait, like explosive closer “Blue Suede”. –Karen Gwee
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    The Strongest Draw at the BMI Stage

    Flatbush Zombies

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Flatbush Zombies took the BMI stage by storm Sunday afternoon with the biggest crowd the stage had seen all weekend, and the three Brooklyn rappers showed up for the people who came to see what they’re all about. Watching Flatbush Zombies operate onstage is like watching a perfectly executed three-man weave in basketball. It’s preternatural the way these guys know how to play off each other, and an outdoor venue suits their unhinged style really well. Set closer “Palm Trees” was a highlight, with the crowd matching the onstage energy and entirely losing their shit. This is what rap shows look like when it’s pure, unbridled fun. –Pat Levy


    Jukebox Underdogs

    Drowners

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    The BMI stage tends to be a hit-or-miss affair at Lollapalooza, but man, when they strike gold, it’s a total rush. Drowners were one such winner on Saturday afternoon as the New York City hunktet brought an ample crowd to Manchester, England, circa 1983. No kidding: Similar to The Strokes, the band exists in this blurry, vintage universe, somewhere between the ’70s and 80’s, sounding like a forgotten cassette tape your older cousin made for a relationship that never came to fruition.

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    “Fuck yeah, you’re looking real good right now,” singer and guitarist Matthew Hitt observed behind a pair of Ray-Bans. The Welsh-born frontman kept mum for the most part, letting his sharp looks do all the talking — although, watching him finish off a Budweiser and chuck the can into the photo pit was a delight. Instead, he sang his heart out on driving would-be hits like “Human Remains”, “A Button on Your Blouse”, “Pick Up the Pace”, “Long Hair”, and “Another Go”.

    On record, they sound similar to, say, The Arctic Monkeys, but live, they get the most out of their reverb and conjure up all the gooey feelings anyone has upon first hearing Modern English, The Church, Movement-era New Order, The Cure, The Smiths, et al. But this isn’t a pandering “covers band”; in fact, their newer material off this year’s On Desire find them taking their influences from their sleeves and placing them in their shirt pockets — right next to their hearts.

    Fuck, I wish I was in this band. –Michael Roffman
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    Rock Isn’t Dead

    FIDLAR

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    After Jane’s Addiction’s Hindenburg crash of a set on Saturday, I spent the rest of the weekend thinking about who Perry Farrell could hand the keys to Lollapalooza to that could carry things forward for the next 25 years. SoCal pizza crust punks FIDLAR might be too drunk to drive the ship, but they sure as hell can point it in the right direction. These guys know how to embrace the mayhem of a live performance without letting the music suffer for it at all.

    Look at how frontman Zac Carper flails around the stage, falling to the ground a half-dozen times throughout the show but never in a way that fucks up the song. People who say rock ‘n’ roll’s best days are behind the genre and then go for nostalgia trips to see bands like Jane’s Addiction putz around on stage need to wake up and smell the weed smoke, because thanks to bands like FIDLAR, rock is thriving. On a side note: That cover of “Sabotage” was so on-point. –Pat Levy
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    Fortune and Glory

    Lana Del Rey

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    The excitement for Lana Del Rey couldn’t be contained. The crowd gathering around the Bud Light stage cheered long and loud before the lights went off. They marveled at the billowing curtains and neon “del Rey” sign that adorned the backdrop for the Honeymoon singer. As green-tinted fog spread across the scene, she appeared, dazzling in a white, long-sleeved babydoll dress with flowers and white doves in her hair.

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    “We’ve been waiting a long time to get here,” Del Rey confessed, before opening with “Cruel World”. If you recall, she last performed at Lollapalooza in 2013, back when The Killers and Nine Inch Nails took over the main stages. So, for her, performing her most favorite songs to date at one of the two biggest stages of the weekend was quite an accomplishment and further evidence of how far she’s come as an artist.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    While Del Rey often sings about love, she also shows that same love for her devoted fans. During her performance of “Born to Die”, she descended down a staircase to the barrier below where fans awaited her, signing photos, accepting kisses or gifts, and taking pictures with them. Midway through, Navy Pier’s infamous fireworks could be seen in the distance, but not even that spectacle proved to be a distraction from her performance.

    While the night cooled down from the humid, rainy day, Del Rey could be seen trying to stay hydrated. “It’s hot up here,” she admitted, reaching out to her fans for a request: “Will you sing ‘Video Games’ with me?” Naturally, the audience accepted with the utmost enthusiasm, but that was hardly the end. To top things off, Del Rey capped her set with a devoted performance of “Off to the Races”, leaving a lasting impression for fans new and old. –Sonia Vavra
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    Lollapalooza Valedictorians

    HAIM

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    Hindsight is a lovely candy. Three years ago, Danielle, Este, and Alana Haim were just three California rookies without a record at Lollapalooza, owning a rainy Grove stage with a 10-song set that hinted at golden roads, greener pastures, positive things. It was the calm before the storm: Days Are Gone was still two months away, Saturday Night Live wouldn’t call until December, and they weren’t yet regulars on Taylor Swift’s Instagram. These were innocent times — their salad days, if you will.

    Today, HAIM is one of the most popular rock bands in the Western hemisphere. But when it comes to their ties to Lollapalooza, it’s funny to pinpoint the similarities between now and then. On Sunday evening, they once again arrived with a stellar 10-song set and once more were without a new record. It’s another weather pocket in their ensuing career, only this time they’re bigger, better, and braver, at least enough to be one of the last acts of the weekend to grace the Bud Light stage.

    “This is a very special moment for us — to be on this stage right now,” Este Haim confessed toward the end of their set. The ever-personable bassist regaled her thousands of fans with a story about how she and Danielle first came to the festival way back in 2007, when the two caught a rare performance of the late Amy Winehouse on the same stage. For them, it was an inspirational moment, one that urged them to keep playing music, to reach their dreams, and to tour the world.

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    In her trademark way, Este even pointed out where they were standing. (Unfortunately, Alana was much too young to attend, which elicited plenty of laughs.) From there, the trio surged into an incendiary closing performance of “Falling”, melting the entire spectacle into an Off-Off-Broadway performance of Stomp, as all three sisters beat the shit out of various drums. But really, it was the song’s last lines that were meant to hit the hardest: “never look back, never give up.”

    Few graduation speeches are ever that inspiring. –Michael Roffman
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    All You Need Is Love

    LCD Soundsystem

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    Photo by Tasos Katopodis

    Joy was rampant at LCD Soundsystem’s headlining set Sunday evening. The crowd might not have been as big as Radiohead’s or the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s, but every single soul that came out for James Murphy and co. had a smile plastered on their face from the opening drum kicks of “Us v Them” to the final flicker of the stage lights at the end of “All My Friends”.

    It’s difficult to quantify what it’s like seeing your favorite band at long last. To exist purely in the moment was naturally the goal, but to be so connected to the people dancing around you was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever had. Shaking off the dust is something any reunion act has to wrestle with, but I’d argue there wasn’t a single particle that needed to be swept away.

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    Between staying active with other projects since the “breakup” and the eternal timeliness of every single song they’ve ever recorded, this band is built to last whether they like it or not. All we can do is thank our lucky stars they decided to call it quits on calling it quits so soon after calling it quits. This world needs LCD Soundsystem. –Pat Levy
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    Most Fulfilling Set

    Grimes

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    It’s hard to think of another undercard at Lolla with more pressure than Grimes. Following the critical success of 2015’s Art Angels, Claire Boucher had a large stage and high expectations to fill. Much to our delight, everything one might hope and expect from Grimes rang true. The set was totally transparent. She told us when she felt awkward, what songs she hated, and why she had to end the set early. Her onstage banter was awkward, while her presence was anything but. Before diving wholeheartedly into “Venus Fly”, she charmingly suggested, “So while I’m up here tying my shoe, why don’t we talk a little about Janelle Monáe?”

    As the set progressed, her mood intensified. She writhed and screamed. She head-banged rabidly in solidarity with her fans. Her attentiveness to the audience made it clear she had the utmost respect for them. And because of this, they returned that respect. I heard more exclamations of “I love her so much” at Grimes than any other performance this weekend. Young, old, male, female, in the front row, or on the hilltop — everyone within earshot was enthralled. While several other hard-hitting producers landed on the bill, Grimes shone the brightest. –Danielle Janota
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    Too Cool for this Festival

    Future

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    Future did a version of “My Savages” over the piano part of the “Honest” beat, and I was bludgeoned with a moment of clarity like one of those people getting hit in the head with apples in the Redd’s Cider commercials. Future is too good for Lollapalooza. That’s not to say Lollapalooza is bad and undeserving of booking the hottest rappers in the game. That’s to say that Future is a damn shooting star that this entire planet hardly deserves to witness.

    The artistry behind mainstream rap is rarely difficult to comprehend, but Future is so far out in front of everyone else going that it’s Bobby Fischer playing chess against MIT computers-level shit. A special appearance by Chance garnered the loudest reaction of the set, and it was great to see Future paying homage and showing respect to Chicago’s current crown prince.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Maybe one day I’ll fully comprehend Future’s Friday evening set, but right now, it’s like I spent an hour staring at an eclipse: Who fucking knows what I saw, but it was special. –Pat Levy
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    The Most Inconsequential Absence of Guest Stars

    Chance the Rapper

    Photo by Carlo Cavaluzzi

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    FullSizeRenderSo many of the featured artists on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book played Lollapalooza this weekend, including D.R.A.M. (who did indeed sing “Special” in his set), Saba, Towkio, and Future, who Chano joined onstage for “No Problem” on Friday. Even some of the guest musicians not playing Lolla were popping up around town, most notably Kanye West and his show-stopping cameo at Drake’s local stop on the Summer Sixteen Tour.

    It would have made sense for any or all of them to perform at Chance’s (not-so) secret show at The Metro late Sunday night. Hell, it would have brought the house down. But it also would have undermined the intention behind the last-minute concert: to give local fans an affordable, super-charged, yet down-home preview of the Magnificent Coloring World Tour. This wasn’t about the cameos and other star-making bells and whistles that made his 2014 set at Lolla so memorable. This was about hometown scrappiness, a rare night where he got to play an intimate venue he hadn’t headlined since 2013.

    As such, there was a rehearsal vibe to the evening that was absolutely intentional. Backed by the mighty Social Experiment and a trio of vocalists that included Macie Stewart (Marrow, Kids These Days, Whitney), Chance encouraged improvisation on “Sunday Candy”. He encouraged fans to sing along to every last word to every last song (not that they needed prompting), from the rapid-fire bursts of “Pusha Man” to the slow-burn worship of “Blessings”. He encouraged the them to shake the foundations of the building on a stomp-heavy version of “Cocoa Butter Kisses”.

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    No, Vic Mensa and Twista didn’t come out for their verses, nor did Saba appear for the chorus of “Angels”, even though he very well may have been in the building. Instead, Chance turned the spotlight on the audience, confirming that they were vital in making sure the Coloring Book songs (many of which had never been played live) were as celebratory in person as they are on record.

    “I talk about my city all the time,” he said, soaking in the camaraderie of the room. “And this is the only true representation of it.” Not the celebrities. Not the projections. Just the sacred, simple bond between performer and audience. In Chano’s world, the road test is just as effective than the spectacle, if not more so. –Dan Caffrey


    Lollapalooza in its Right Place

    Radiohead

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Seeing Radiohead live can be a highly loaded experience. So beloved are the band that hopes and expectations can overwhelm, especially given how finicky they used to be about their setlists and especially during a festival where people freely engage in trivial aggravations like selfies and talking. It can all be very stressful.

    Photo by Heather Kaplan

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    radiohead lolla friday kaplan 21 Lollapalooza 2016 Festival Review: From Worst to BestBut it can also be absolutely joyous, as it was for me on Friday night. Every single song Radiohead played felt like individual, celebratory events, the stage going dark and resetting each time one ended. “2+2=5”, “My Iron Lung”, and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” felt like gifts, Thom Yorke’s falsetto tremulous and timeless. They pulled plenty from A Moon Shaped Pool, though as triumphant a return as that album is for Radiohead, it still hasn’t quite sublimated into the music world’s collective consciousness yet. On the other hand, the response to cuts off Hail to the Thief and OK Computer were particularly rapturous. The crowd sing-along to “Karma Police”, the final song, will not be easily forgotten.

    And for those more unfamiliar with Radiohead, the light show was probably experience enough. The flashing colours and patterns evoked urban anxiety and urgency: malfunctioning televisions, the spread of contagion, frantic emergency vehicles, information speeding through systems. The numerous screens captured the band at oblique angles in different shades, shots layered with double or triple exposures. There were no roving, stage crew-operated cameras to magnify bodies and faces for those in the back, to make the band and the show more conveniently consumable. You had to take it all in on Radiohead’s terms, and their terms alone. –Karen Gwee

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Click ahead for our complete gallery from Lollapalooza 2016.
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