For most, Lollapalooza is an escape. It’s a four-day summer camp for glittered suburbanites, a breezy weekend for wealthy one-percenters who prefer to watch things from cabanas, a detour from the Magnificent Mile for music-loving tourists, and an exercise in endurance for veteran fans, who mostly saunter around Grant Park wondering where they can find more alternative rock. More often than not, the whole thing is a total chore, but everyone goes through the motions because it feels like you’re part of a moment. For one weekend in August — or July, depending on when C3 secures the dates — Lollapalooza sells itself as the center of the musicverse, and they’re traditionally on point. However, something felt off for its 2017 incarnation.
Despite some behind-the-scenes hiccups with regards to booking — losing Kanye West and later The Weeknd; gaining a zombified Blink-182 and another predictable night with The Killers — the lineup managed to find some semblance of narrative for itself. Young and trending performers like Lorde, the XX, and Chance the Rapper would be able to shift to headliner status alongside past graduates like Muse, The Killers, and Arcade Fire. But that’s not exactly how things went down: Rain destroyed what would have been a heroic night for Lorde, and the XX were literally left in the dark alone as the majority of the festival squeezed into the southern portion of Grant Park to witness Chance the Rapper’s highly anticipated Saturday night homecoming.
What a sight to behold, though.
As the sun drifted behind Chicago’s iconic skyline, rich purples and dark blues glazed over a sea of people waiting anxiously to see the city’s prodigal son. Never in the 12 years that Lollapalooza has taken over Grant Park has a performer amassed such an expansive crowd. Less than a half-hour before the show was scheduled to begin — let’s just say, Chance was a little late (perhaps soaking it all in backstage?) — it was nearly impossible to get on the fields as festivalgoers claimed every inch of the area. There was nowhere to stand, not even off to the side or off to the back; all real estate was claimed. It was an unprecedented scene that elicited a range of emotions, from the good (wonder, inspiration, and pride) to the bad (claustrophobia, frustration, and exhaustion), but above all, it felt incredibly important. You felt like you needed to be there.
That wasn’t exactly the case for the rest of the weekend. With the exception of a few notable acts, all of which we’ve outlined ahead, the weekend felt mostly like a distant echo, and for all the obvious reasons. Yes, Arcade Fire delivered another sweeping closing set on Sunday night, but it was never going to reach the epic highs of their 2010 headlining performance, even if Everything Now was a better album. The same goes for The Killers, whose collection of inspired covers only cemented the idea that the set was designed to celebrate the past. And while, no, the festival can’t be held accountable for the horrific weather that plagued its opening-night ceremonies — though, they should maybe start preparing for these occasions by perhaps allotting time the next day for canceled headliners? — it did reveal the lineup’s lack of a bench.
Of course, that fourth day isn’t doing any favors for Lollapalooza. Look, it’s tough doing a four-day festival, and Perry Farrell’s tentpole fiesta is no exception. Much like last year, the talent spread over the weekend was quite thin, leaving major gaps where nothing particularly interesting (and certainly not revelatory) was going on. With so many festival leftovers forced to pick up the slack — here’s to you, Capital Cities, George Ezra, Vance Joy, and Wiz Khalifa — it was no wonder that most of the crowd appeared to be in a perpetual shuffle each day. Though, to be fair, they did have some new amenities to pass the time at, particularly a pop-up roller rink straight out of the ’70s. That was very cool.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about The Festival Bubble and whether or not it’s burst. Depending on where you stand, it either popped long ago or continues to expand. Walking through Lollapalooza this year, it was hard to find a proper vantage point for some clarity on the issue. On one hand, it’s still a thriving mini-metropolis teeming with youth. (At one point, a festivalgoer asked me, “Does this place always have so many 12-year-olds?” I could only shrug.) But on the other hand, it feels like something’s gotta give. Maybe it’s scaling back? Good luck with that hope. Or maybe it’s something more economical, like shortening sets for the majority of the acts? After all, not everyone needs an hour to deliver the goods. It might behoove all parties — the artists, the festivalgoers, the booking agents — for a less-is-more approach to the set times. Who knows.
What we do know is that Lollapalooza will remain a focal point of the summer. Maybe not for all of us, but for someone, and as long as that stays the same, so will everything else.
Liam Gallagher cut things short only four songs into his set, walking offstage without any explanation — basically, at this point, something that could be called pulling a Gallagher. Afterward, he tweeted an apology, explaining that he “had a difficult gig last night which fucked my voice. I’m gutted.” As someone who attended the previous night’s performance at the Park West, that explanation feels extra frustrating and perplexing. He and his band cranked every amp to 11, paused between songs only long enough to repeatedly say “nice one,” and then returned to shouting out the massive rock tunes — some of his own, with plenty of Oasis sprinkled in. It seemed easy, effortless, in the relatively small space full of zealous fans. In short, the show was fantastic, setting the bar high, and leading to even higher expectations for a mid-afternoon follow-up. At his official Lolla set, Liam got through classics “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Morning Glory”, as well as a pair of songs from his upcoming solo debut, As You Were, before shutting it down. Gutted. –Lior Phillips
Save Money, Go Clubbing
I get that a Lil Yachty show isn’t going to be about finesse. I get that it isn’t going to be about admiring his mic skills or hearing most (or even some) of the words. But his crowd at the Tito’s stage was so massive and his performance so sloppy, we may as well have been listening to his songs in a club. His DJ merely played the backing track while he and his crew hopped around and yelled — the lower vocals on “Wanna Be Us” and “All Night”, clashing with the words being shouted in real life. Lil Yachty has personality to go around, but being all bounce, all the time isn’t very interesting in a live setting. As Big Sean would prove just one hour later on the adjacent Bud Light stage, there can be levels to it, too. –Dan Caffrey
Most Hungover Set
Pup’s live shows usually have a feral quality that I’m sure was on display during their after-show at the Empty Bottle. I also wouldn’t be surprised if that show (or the after-party) maybe got a little too wild — at least to the point where the band was too tired to bring their A game to an early Lolla set. Even frontman Stefan Babcock climbing a stack of amps to summon a circle pit during “Sleep in the Heat” wasn’t enough to lock the crowd into apeshit-mode — the enthusiastic thrashing died down as soon as the song was over. The same could be said for him and his band mates, who hammered out the rest of their set with competency, but little enthusiasm. –Dan Caffrey
Lil Uzi Vert
Even the oldest, grouchiest, rap-is-just-noise music fan would have a hard time denying the combustible energy Lil Uzi Vert brings to the stage. Unfortunately, the unforgiving weather cut his set short — as in almost nonexistent. Of all the Thursday night headliners to get shafted by the rain, Lil Uzi arguably received the worst fate, as his DJ spent several minutes introducing him. That means most of his short-lived performance was occupied by an artist that wasn’t even him. If only he had crashed Migos’ set earlier in the day for his verse on “Bad and Boujee”. –Dan Caffrey
Most In Touch With “The Kids”
“Here’s a song about what you will experience today,” Kevin Devine chuckled, before leading his band into “Daydrunk”, off of his 2016 album. The wild and wobbly crowd surrounding the stage certainly appreciated the connection — at least the ones that weren’t too busy attempting to dig their flasks out of their boots or crying while being handcuffed and pulled away, both of which I observed before 3 p.m. on a Thursday. The solid “No History” and “Redbird” provided a powerful one-two punch at the set’s climax, the shot in the arm that the somehow already too tipsy afternoon needed. Devine’s songs are so powered by youthful energy and connection, and his love was absolutely contagious. “I love you, too, sir, single person,” he grinned after one fellow’s spontaneous combustion of adoration. “I’m sure I could love you if I got to know you. You seem fine.” –Lior Phillips
Lost to the Clouds
London Grammar may not be the most dynamic live act, but they’re certainly a dramatic one. Hannah Reid, Dan Rothman, and Dot Major plant themselves in a triangle, carefully calibrating movements as their bold, plaintive songs unfold like reams of billowing silk. And Reid’s rich vocals sounded heavenly as they sailed over Grant Park’s sunlit fields on Sunday afternoon, with the band oscillating between material from 2014’s If You Wait (“Hey Now”, “Wasting My Young Years”, “Metal and Dust”) and this year’s Truth Is a Beautiful Thing (“Oh Woman Oh Man”, “Who Am I”, “Big Picture”). But there’s a meditative quality to London Grammar’s music that doesn’t quite lend itself to festival culture, which more or less demands a banger for every ballad. Though the band had a few moments of head-turning catharsis — the climax of “Nightcall”, their exciting cover of Kavinsky’s modern classic, for example — but much of their 60-minute set found itself floating off into the clouds rather than rolling around in the grass with the sun-baked masses. –Randall Colburn
More Instruments, Plz
Mike Kerr running his bass through pedals until it sounds like lead a guitar is a good gimmick. Playing it like a lead guitar is an even better one. But they’re still gimmicks, and like all good gimmicks, the real question is whether or not it can sustain an entire set. I’m guessing the crowd at Royal Blood’s Saturday afternoon show would answer with a resounding “yes,” judging from their wobbly devil horns and mechanically pumped fists. Personally, few bands can pull off an effective robot-rock groove with just two members. It’s why Queens of the Stone Age has always rounded out their lineup with a loose, revolving-door policy. Although there are undoubtedly QOTSA fans who dig Royal Blood, the latter has neither the hooks nor the heft of the former — the entire set sounding like one big guitar solo. With some drums, of course. –Dan Caffrey
When Keeping It Chill Goes Wrong
Mood music isn’t always the worst thing at Lollapalooza. If it’s the middle of the day at the shaded Pepsi stage (formerly The Grove), for instance, it can be refreshing to tune out to a band that gets by on vibe alone. The problem with Warpaint is that they always tease moments where it seems like their iced-over dream pop is going to accelerate into something more lively and danceable, only to drift back into trance mode. And this made vocalist Emily Kokal’s request for the audience to dance on “Undertow” all the more redundant. –Dan Caffrey
Strong Start, Flat Finish
Cloud Nothings aren’t showmen, nor do they need to be. Their music — loud, melodic, and often vicious — usually compensates for Dylan Baldi’s distant presence and TJ Duke and Chris Brown’s workmanlike approach (drummer Jayson Gerycz exudes the most charisma of anyone onstage). Their Friday afternoon set started strong, with “Modern Act”, “Psychic Trauma”, and “Internal World” conjuring circle pits and impassioned shout-alongs. The set only faltered in its second half, when the band failed to congeal during an extended jam of routine closer “Wasted Days”, resulting in a set that petered out 10 minutes early, a space of time that could’ve easily accommodated two more songs. Cloud Nothings usually scorch a path to the finish line; here, they sorta fizzled out. –Randall Colburn
Welcome to Hell on Earth
Daggers. Jason masks. Tens of thousands of the most obnoxious Perry’s Stage regulars. You tell me if that sounds like a total fucking nightmare. If so, you probably would have hated 21 Savage’s set on Saturday evening. But for the ADHD crowd that couldn’t decide if they wanted to get closer or veer off to the side or stay back or “go find Jessica,” it was heaven. And by all accounts, it perfectly captured the post-apocalyptic excess of 21 Savage’s greatest anthems, from “Savage Mode” to “Mad High” to go-to summer anthem “Bank Account”. Abandon all hope ye who enter here. –Michael Roffman