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Lollapalooza 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Chance the Rapper, The xx, and Arcade Fire warm up a soggy weekend

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    –Michael Roffman
    Editor-in-Chief


    Noasis

    Liam Gallagher

    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
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    Save Money, Go Clubbing

    Lil Yachty

    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
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    Most Hungover Set

    Pup

    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
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    Coldest Fire

    Lil Uzi Vert

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    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
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    Most In Touch With “The Kids”

    Kevin Devine

    “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
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    Lost to the Clouds

    London Grammar

    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
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    More Instruments, Plz

    Royal Blood

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    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
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    When Keeping It Chill Goes Wrong

    Warpaint

    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
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    Strong Start, Flat Finish

    Cloud Nothings

    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
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    Welcome to Hell on Earth

    21 Savage

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    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
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    Band Least Likely to be Confused for Phish

    Alvvays

    Halfway through its Saturday afternoon set, Canadian dream rockers Alvvays told a so-weird-it’s-gotta-be-true story about being mistaken for Phish, everyone’s second-favorite jam band. Not only does Molly Rankin look nothing like Trey Anastasio, but Phish makes noodly, improvisational epics where Alvvays makes tight, focused pop-rock that rarely surpasses four minutes. They proved as much during their 45-minute set, hitting all the right notes during charming renditions of “Adult Diversion”, “Party Police”, and “Atop a Cake”. We even got a taste of their forthcoming album, Antisocialites, which promises more of the same — “In Undertow”, “Dreams Tonite”, and the as-yet-unheard “Plimsoll Punks” are as bright and charming as everything we’ve come to expect from the band. All that said, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing what a drugged-out Alvvays jam session looks like. –Randall Colburn
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    Got The Whole Neighborhood Doing The Diddy Bop

    Noname

    While Chance and Vic may have been grabbing all the headlines, another young Chicago rapper more than justified the growing attention coming her way. Noname, also known as Fatimah Warner, spent time at YouMEDIA with Chance, and as such has a similar poetic bent. Noname, however, plays it from the pocket, her widescreen nostalgia, somber memories, and empowering lines coming in through a skewed, jazz- and blues-tinted lens. Her afternoon set hit an early groove with the stunning “Diddy Bop”, a track which will never lose its breezy charm and familiar impact. Later, she cleverly adapted from “fuck bitches, get money” to “love women, get money,” bringing the whole crowd along for the shift. Noname and guest Eryn Allen Kane kept the large crowd bobbing and weaving, catching onto all of the many emotions that come with a Chicago summer, from joy to fear, love to heartbreak. (We’d suggest sacking the sound guy; she deserved better). –Lior Phillips
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    Band That Most Resembles ’80s Movie Bullies

    The Drums

    Steady showers gave way to a miserable drizzle when Brooklyn’s The Drums took the stage on Thursday afternoon. It wasn’t the ideal setting for the band’s buoyant dance-pop, and frontman Jonny Pierce had the unenviable task of motivating a horde of wet, grumpy fans. It makes sense, then, that the band built their set mostly around cuts from its beloved first two albums, with songs like “Let’s Go Surfing” and “Days” igniting the crowd in the way one should be for a Drums show. New songs from this year’s solid Abysmal Thoughts also came off well — the delicious “Blood Under My Belt”, especially — but neither they, nor Pierce’s charming, off-the-cuff dance moves could summon the feel-good energy of their best shows. Pierce remains a charismatic frontman, however, if only because he so resembles Billy Zabka, ‘80s film bully extraordinaire. You can’t unsee it. —Randall Colburn
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    Only Good When You Were Young

    The Killers

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    A headlining set at any festival, particularly Lollapalooza, is one that is guaranteed to draw the largest crowds. Ideally, it’s also an act with some combination of a massive catalog of hits, something exciting to promote, a legendary cache, and an innovative live performance. Add to that the pressure of having to be the rock follow-up making up for the cancellation of Muse the previous night, and The Killers faced a tall task. Judging from the huge crowd attending their headlining set on Friday, you’d think the Las Vegas outfit had checked every one of those boxes. But at the end of the day, they had just enough memorable songs to sing along to and a few more recognizable covers, but still felt like they were grasping for something momentous and not quite reaching it.

    The band are gearing up for the release of their fifth studio album and only chose one song from the record for their set: the flaccid, new single “I’m the Man”. Covers of Joy Division and Smashing Pumpkins were engaging but felt calculated, the former a signifier of their influence (rubbery Peter Hook bass lines and cold cribs on new wave tones abounded) and the latter a touch of the festival’s locale. “We thought since you missed out on Muse yesterday, we could give you a little something,” frontman Brandon Flowers offered before launching into a take on “Starlight”. But his chuckling attempt to reach Matt Bellamy’s falsetto on the chorus were honest, but showed the band’s inability to hit the ecstatic highs of a more bombastic band.

    Their biggest successes were, undoubtedly, their long-established sing-along singles, primarily “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside”. And while The Killers’ oeuvre is tailor-made for sing-along choruses, there were few that were very memorable. They were, reportedly, a last-minute fill-in after The Weeknd dropped out, but performing next to no new material since their 2013 performance left things feeling retreaded and static. –Lior Phillips
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    Gone for Good? Gone for Great!

    The Shins

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    The Shins released a new album this year, but James Mercer knows that Lollapalooza is no place for new songs. Sure, “Name for You” and “Half a Million” made an appearance, but the set itself was defined primarily by the pleasures of the band’s first three albums, all of which have cemented themselves in the minds of elder millennials. “Caring Is Creepy” opened the set, while “New Slang” helped usher it to its finale, and songs like “Saint Simon”, “Australia”, and “Mine’s Not a High Horse” served as its anchoring buoy. Perhaps most notable, however, is the band’s refined take on Chutes Too Narrow standout “Gone for Good” — while the emphatic, yearning acoustic version is a classic, its live version is even more powerful. Here, they slowed it down, amped up the melancholy, and brought the song’s pedal steel to the forefront, resulting in a new, freshly moving version of a song that anyone between the ages of 24 and 38 can recite by heart. –Randall Colburn
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    Ceaseless, Soulful, Sublime

    Sampha

    By this point, I’ve now listened to Sampha’s “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” about 7,000 times; during his Lolla set, at first I felt as if I was just waiting for the heartbreaking, soul-crushing song to arrive. But not long later I realized I was dancing along to every note, mesmerized by his angelic voice, the fractal arrangements, and the complex rhythms. Heck, I was standing two feet from Jack Garratt and didn’t even notice until I saw fans demanding selfies from him. Sampha’s a magnetic performer, a subtle yet powerful presence who makes even the smallest moments feel monumental. Songs like “Plastic 100°C” and “Under” showcased the strengths of debut album Process, its depth and emotional heft. But then the synth became a rich, resonant piano, and Sampha let furl the haunting, soulful notes of “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”, and the tears started falling. Sampha let shine his beautiful soul in all of its glory, and it soared through the park. –Lior Phillips
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    Most Convincing Argument for an Aftershow

    Ryan Adams

    Had I not already attended Ryan Adams’ aftershow, his midday set at Lolla may have felt more distinctive. But despite a crackling version of “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” and a warm synth drone added to “When the Stars Go Blue”, so much of what worked the night before failed to register here. The blue lights that hit the audience during the finale of the latter song didn’t exactly show up in the afternoon sunlight, nor did the accompanying visuals on several stacks of television screens. That raises the question: Why haul all the extra gear onstage if you can’t even use it properly? Somewhere, there’s a roadie seething with bitterness, not to mention a bad back. –Dan Caffrey
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    The Blow Your Fucking Ears Out Award

    CRX

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    The Strokes’ Nick Valensi formed CRX last year, releasing an album, New Skin, that sounded built from riffs deemed “too metal” by Julian Casablancas. CRX is loud; they might not resonate as such through a pair of $12 headphones, but live the band is a veritable wall of noise. Songs like “Broken Bones” and “Give It Up” positively thundered throughout the Pepsi stage’s shaded grove, where a small crowd blossomed into a robust one by set’s end. The bright, snaking riff that courses through “One Track Mind” was as electric live as it is on record, though the set’s true standout may have been the band’s cover of Devo’s “Girl U Want”, a song that no doubt had an influence on the sound Valensi was looking for when starting CRX. Expect big things. –Randall Colburn
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    Confidence Speaks Volumes

    Hippo Campus

    It takes backbone to open up with your biggest hit, but that’s exactly what Hippo Campus did when they arrived on the Lakeshore stage with “Way It Goes”. Maybe the calcium consumption is ridiculously high up in St. Paul, Minnesota? Or maybe they’re just super confident these days? Probably the latter. After all, these guys have played everywhere from Bonnaroo to Conan to Reading and Leeds, they’ve opened up for everyone from My Morning Jacket to Modest Mouse to Walk the Moon, and they took their sweet-ass time to drop their debut album by waiting until this past February to deliver Landmark. At this point, festivals are second nature to them, and that was quite obvious on Friday afternoon as they amiably sauntered through chummy indie slices like “Western Kids”, “Suicide Saturday”, “Boyish”, and closing jam “Violet”. In fact, singer Jake Luppen was so goddamn comfortable, he even took off his socks. Peak indie swagger. –Michael Roffman
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    Teenage Angst Has Paid Off Well

    Maggie Rogers

    The weird thing about seeing an artist at the beginning of their career is that they often don’t have enough material to fill up anything more than a half-hour set. Songwriter Maggie Rogers faced that dilemma when she was given an hour-long set at Lollapalooza based on the strength of her five-song EP, Now That the Light Is Fading, and she acknowledged as much during her Sunday afternoon set. In addition to mega-hit “Alaska”, new single “On + Off”, and the rest of the EP, we got to hear songs she penned as a teenager and college student. While a few certainly lacked the refinement of her latest work, others made a strong impression, especially when she strapped on a guitar to segue from the energetic dance pop that made her famous to more confessional ballads that highlighted the singer’s more tender side. Who knows whether they’ll have a place on any forthcoming releases, but hearing them felt special nevertheless. –Randall Colburn
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