Twenty-five years ago, Perry Farrell wanted to make the farewell tour by his band Jane’s Addiction into a big event, so he turned it into a touring festival with a host of different acts, took a nineteenth century term from a Three Stooges film, and Lollapalooza was born. It became the definition of the alternative music wave the early nineties, but even seemed to witness the decline of Generation X’s music as it became more mainstream (and Farrell left the organization), then couldn’t find a headliner in 1998 and was cancelled.
Jane’s Addiction was revived in 2003, and Farrell scheduled a new Lollapalooza tour that sold poorly, and the 2004 edition was cancelled. But you can’t stop the music, so Farrell teamed up with the folks behind Austin City Limits Festival and others to make it a big event in Chicago’s Grant Park – where it has stayed and thrived. For this anniversary, the festival expanded to a fourth day, now Thursday-to-Sunday, July 28th to 31st.
The first thing anyone worries about with any outdoor festival is the weather, and there were overcast skies as Lollapalooza ’16 started – everyone could remember last year, when the final day saw the park evacuated for a storm that never came, and then the extension cancelled as the storm finally did. While there was some rain at a few points, it basically came and went, and caused only puddles of mud and a delayed start, thankfully not evacuations (or Puddle of Mudd…).
Being the new addition day, and a mid-week school night, Thursday was going to be the lightest of the festival. Early on some soulful songstresses in Bud Light Stage’s Frances and Melanie Martinez, plus Samsung Galaxy Stage’s Kehlani, who radiated positivity despite the rain during her set.
Special stand out on the first day was Yeasayer on the Lake Shore Stage. Singer Chris Keating joked that he was in love with Chicago’s own Michelle Obama, with whom he shares a birthday (also Chicago Bulls star Dwyane Wade – more on the local below), before being told that she’s already got a man (and that bassist Ira Wolf Tuton shares his birthday with Fabio), with which the group launched into “Silly Me”. It was great to see the group bring world music sounds to the kids, but in a decidedly modern alt-delivery. Keating also pleaded with the crowd to vote, not to sit out like a millennial, no ‘Bernie or Bust’, “I voted for Ralph Nader, and that didn’t work out so well. You may know some people who had to fight in some bullshit wars because I voted for Ralph Nader…” Keating added that if Trump gets elected, guitarist Anand Wilder (QRO interview) will get deported and Tuton won’t be able to get married (adding later that Tuton’s already married). They were in high spirits, such as Tuton hugging a camerawoman, Keating throwing a tambourine into the crowd, and more.
Outside of the two twin main stages, Wavves was suitably rocking. Nathan Williams seems to have outgrown his somewhat insufferable early days; recruiting the band from the late Jay Reatard definitely helped, as bassist Stephen Pope was a wild child on the Pepsi Stage. The actual Wild Child played the smaller BMI Stage, which faced Lake Michigan and thus left the band appearing as silhouettes – but when those silhouettes included trumpet, cello, and violin, it was something special from the charming young country-folk collective.
The other non-main stage, Perry’s Tent, is where the neon-clad youths go for their EDM. Music fans have debated its existence, as some can’t stand it or its fans (like when its sound bled into the headlining performance by Paul McCartney last year – QRO recap), but others attend the festival specifically for it, and having a genre-specific stage keeps the kids from wandering. Though they did wander over to the Samsung Galaxy Stage for B∆stille. Their wide sound encompassed everything from the world elements heard in Yeasayer to the EDM of Perry’s Tent.
Daughter’s more atmospheric electronics on the Lake Shore Stage unfortunately weren’t as interesting, but Kurt Vile & The Violators kept the wild rock up at the Petrillo Bandshell (Vile would be seen later that night, rocking out to Dinosaur Jr at an after-party – QRO recap).
One criticism of Lollapalooza’s nineties era was that it missed out on the growing hip-hop phenomenon (sticking with lily-white alternative music), though it was one of the first to try to bring the scenes together. It’s a new millennium and all music seems to cross over will all other music, and Lollapalooza is no exception. Detroit’s own Danny Brown had a massive audience at the Petrillo Bandshell early in the day, refraining from playing from his about-to-drop Atrocity Exhibition, and instead giving his fans the songs they knew, like “Let It Rain”. G-Eazy had a big show with big rhymes on the Samsung Galaxy Stage (thirty minutes before, the stage announced asked the crowd to take three steps back to prevent a crush). Indeed, he sounded like he could have closed down the place. Special moments included remixing & playing YG’s oh-so-important “Fuck Donald Trump”, and name checking the local family that would put up the Cali natives whenever they would play Chicago, the Millers.
Closing out the Lake Shore Stage was the new band from Dan Auerbach, The Arcs. Auerbach’s Black Keys are the kind of act that regularly headlines huge festivals, but The Arcs are his new outfit. It’s always a little tricky judging a side-project, but it was hard not to feel like one was hearing not-as-impressive, even watered-down Black Keys (and there are those who say The Keys are already watered down from their early “Your Touch” days…). Auerbach is great guitarist, but it all came off almost like seeing The Black Keys only play new songs. Yes, The Arcs should be judged on their own merits, but it’s not like they got the big late slot based on just their own merits…
Admittedly J. Cole wasn’t as big a headliner on the Samsung Galaxy Stage as those who would headline the other three days of the festival, but only just. Again the crowd had to back up well before he started, and yet Cole still got the biggest roar of the day when he came on stage. The kind of artist who can manage to make a polo shirt look like edgy fashion, he killed it with the rhymes.
Another side-project closed out the Pepsi Stage, but this one was more of a super-group: The Last Shadow Puppets. Comprised of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, U.K. artist Miles Kane (QRO interview with both), Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, and Mini Mansions’ Zach Dawes, the group is more than just what Turner does on his off time from Arctic Monkeys (who headlined the Bud Light Stage two years ago – QRO photos). Coming to Chicago off of new album Everything You’ve Come To Expect (QRO review), they were still as sexy as they wanted to be, and a pretty great act to close out the side Pepsi Stage on Day One.
And whatever you might think about Perry’s Tent, it was great for it to close out with local DJ heroes Flosstradamus – who brought out the actual Dwyane Wade!
Rain again threatened on Day Two of Lollapalooza, but it only fell a bit. Indeed, there was a major storm front headed directly to Chicago that people were watching on their phones in trepidation – but thankfully it just missed Grant Park.
Despite, or perhaps because of the gloomy skies, ‘energetic’ was the word of the day early on Friday. Saint Motel was upbeat and energetic on the Lake Shore Stage, while Modern Baseball brought energetic pop-punk to the Petrillo Bandshell. The Struts were doing just that on the Samsung Galaxy Stage, a ‘70s throwback mugging for the crowds & the cameras. Back on the Lake Shore Stage, MØ brought energetic diva-electronica, even as it rained.
Foals called it “English weather,” and they were not wrong. However, they were energetic themselves on the Samsung Galaxy Stage, with a brighter uplift despite/because of the skies. While they hewed toward indie-rock, there were also some decidedly guitar-rock stadium moments on the main stage, as well as singer/guitarist Yannis Philippakis going into the photo pit for their closer.
From the land of even cloudier skies, Frightened Rabbit’s sound might go towards the tragic, but live the Scots introduce the tragedy, yet then carry the crowd into the uplift. They’re also very funny with their between-song banter, like many Scottish acts. After applauding the folks in the crowd holding pool noodles, singer Scott Hutchison was surprised when he drank what he thought was going to be beer, but turned out to be water (sponsor/water supplier Deja Blue had water in blue cans that looked a lot like Bud Light cans). He mentioned this to the crowd, with which a fan shouted that maybe he just drank Bud Light, and Hutchison agreed, except, “Maybe I shouldn’t piss on the sponsors… They don’t book this.” At least they were at the Lake Shore Stage, and not the Bud Light Stage…
After the British weather for those two artists, the sun came out for France’s M83. It was kind of perfect for the glowing experience of the electronica maven. Following him on the Lake Shore Stage was Miike Snow, whose uplifting disco also delivered well as the skies cleared and Sol shined.
Meanwhile, it was hip-hop that occupied other stages at Lollapalooza. Mac Miller put on rhymes at Lake Shore Stage, and Future was such at Bud Light Stage (including a guest appearance by Chance the Rapper), while A$AP Ferg repped the A$AP Mob on Pepsi Stage.
But you could argue that everything on Friday was just presaging the one, the only, the Radiohead. Of course there was an absolutely massive crowd, extending all the way from the Samsung Galaxy Stage back to the Lake Shore Stage opposite (even if some photographers only knew “Creep”…). They began with mostly new stuff from A Moon Shaped Pool (QRO review), but still had time early on for “My Iron Lung”, “No Surprises”, and “Pyramid Song”. They were actually a very appropriate act to headline the twenty-fifth anniversary of Lollapalooza, the biggest alternative music band in the world at the festival where ‘alternative music’ was coined. Of course, things are different these days, like Thom Yorke no longer looking like a geek uncomfortable in his own skin, but have been able to make it work. In addition to new material, there was also “Paranoid Android” (but no “Creep”), and the final encore return was “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” and “Karma Police”.
While Radiohead clearly dominated the night, one cannot forget Ghost terrifying audiences at the Pepsi Stage, just after doing the same in Middle America (QRO photos at 7 Flags in Iowa two days earlier).
Before heading to Lollapalooza on the weekend, your correspondent went to the ‘So Miami’ Lounge at Renaissance Hotel. While it was at capacity, after one snarky tweet from yours truly, they let suddenly let media in. The rooftop bar/lounge was beautiful (though hardly looked at capacity), with free mimosas and Bloody Marys. Unfortunately the hors d’oeuvres were all done, but your correspondent ate the fries left unattended by someone in the most Jim Gaffigan moment that one could have without a Hot Pocket.
After the cloudy skies the first two days, the very Miami sun came out, but with a breeze that kept Lollapalooza from its second great worry: unbearable heat. Though there were still massive crowds, particularly at the entrances on the higher-draw weekends, when the kids come out (reportedly including the Obama children – your correspondent did see some undercover FBI agents enter on Thursday…). The Joy Formidable were still able to rock the Bud Light Stage early on, as well as be their always-charming selves up there, but more importantly hung out with your reporter in the press tent, even seeming to out-and-out recognize him, after having done an interview with QRO at Riot Fest last fall (QRO interview).
When The Front Bottoms delivered in 2011 with their self-titled debut album (QRO review), they were definitely in the snotty punk side of things, but by the time they hit the Lake Shore Stage at Lolla ’16, a few more albums in have given them an indie edge (no doubt helped by having on bass & backing vocals Kevin Devine – QRO interview), though still with the conversational Hold Steady side of things.
When one heard that Big Boi and Phantogram were teaming up as ‘Big Grams’, it kind of seemed destined that they would end up playing the Samsung Galaxy Stage at Lollapalooza. A team-up that makes sense, as Big Boi knows about team-ups, being one-half of OutKast (who headlined that very stage two years ago – QRO photos), and hip-hop + electronica is a mash-up for two of today’s popular musical styles. It could feel a little ‘designed for commercial appeal’, but it’s certainly better than rap-rock or dub-metal…
The BMI Stage has a very different feel than the rest of Lollapalooza, being a much smaller stage in the shade, looking out on Lake Michigan. It also has smaller artists, but there’s usually a good chance that one of them will be playing a bigger Lollapalooza stage in the near future (Halsey did it from last year to this…). Nothing jokingly introduced themselves as Jane’s Addiction, and thanked the crowd for going to their festival for the last twenty-five years – but they also had songs about death that even the little kids could rock out to (though the kids seemed more engaged than the hipsters in the audience).
Saturday did have a variety of soulful sounds, from the neo-blues of Leon Bridges on the Bud Light Stage to country-folk Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats at Petrillo Bandshell, but maybe a more unique take was MUTEMATH at the Lake Shore Stage. The group sounded sweet on first listen, but there were also uncompromising math-rock elements lain underneath. And singer/keyboardist did a handstand on his broken keyboard, plus crowd-surfed on a LED mattress.
“Here we go!” With that ecstatic (if expected) start, Jane’s Addiction took the Samsung Galaxy Stage. Their farewell tour is what started Lollapalooza twenty-five years ago, and while Lollapalooza has adapted over the years more than the sporadically active Jane’s, they still knew how to put on a show. Indeed, by all rights they should be headlining, but playing the main stage before their Los Angeles contemporaries Red Hot Chili Peppers (see below) was apt. They didn’t just play the hits at their festival, and it’s remarkable that they’re all still healthy up there (Farrell even mentioned his first time in Chicago long ago, cold and on heroin). Perhaps they looked a little silly up there, dressed up like it’s L.A. in the eighties, complete with Farrell’s purple suit and Suicide Girl dancers, but so be it. And Farrell knows how to introduce guests, like Tom Morello (of nineties Lollapalooza act Rage Against the Machine, his own solo career, and soon his team-up with Public Enemy, Prophets of Rage) for “Mountain Song”, and on the “Jane Says” closer, while drummer Stephen Perkins joined Farrell & guitarist Dave Navarro at the front of the stage on Caribbean rhythm, none other than Jimmy Chamberlin (of another nineties Lollapalooza act, Smashing Pumpkins), took up the regular drum kit.
Closing the Lake Shore Stage was an artist who has skyrocketed in fame, Grimes. Once upon a time a strange Vancouver girl who sounded more like a Scandinavian songstress, she has since blown up, everywhere from last year’s hit Art Angels (QRO review) to being signed by Jay-Z’s management company (even hosted the MTV Video Music Awards red carpet coverage at some point…). Yet this was not some über-successful artiste phoning it in, but an electric artist who can still rock out on guitar. Yes, there were dancers, but she’s long had dancers on stage with her (QRO live review). The biggest response might have been for Art hit “Scream” (where she did a Russian version, because she doesn’t know the Mandarin done by Aristophanes on the original), but Claire Boucher still has the adorable ‘oh my gosh’ attitude to where she has gotten.
Red Hot Chili Peppers are a lot like Lollapalooza: have been around a long time, and straddle alternative & mainstream, plus just huge. There was wild, but much of it felt like ‘scheduled wild’ – kind of like the Chili Peppers in general. Yet there were still special moments, such as when singer Anthony Kiedis noticed the active deaf interpreter on the lowered stage portion (between him & a camera) during “Under the Bridge”, and he went down to sing directly to her (which made for some awesome big screen visuals). The group also hasn’t lost their energy despite the years; perhaps most recently thanks to new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer on their last two well regarded records, The Getaway (QRO review) and I’m With You (QRO review).
You could be forgiven for being a little run-down on Lollapalooza’s final day, with the sun now beating down and not a breeze in sight. Still, it was also the day to let whatever was left hang out.
Early on at the Samsung Galaxy Stage saw some soulful sounds from Marian Hill, but special mention must be made of her saxophonist, Steve Davit. During some technical difficulties, Davit filled the time with a killer sax solo, almost stealing the show. Oh, and it was his birthday!
Bright electronics and a positive sound came from Years & Years on the Lake Shore Stage – but did singer Olly Alexander need to wear a see-through muscle shirt? It wasn’t that hot… Meanwhile, Third Eye Blind somehow managed to draw a big crowd at the Petrillo Bandshell. Considered mediocre during Lollapalooza’s first nineties go-around, they’re still somehow living their “Semi-Charmed Life”…
One thing that Lollapalooza does well is see acts grow in each visit, but perhaps none has shot up as quickly in stage size as Halsey. Last year, she was playing the small BMI side stage – this year, the massive main Samsung Galaxy Stage. Her strong, soul-tronica really fits well into where music is these days (she also referenced doing a song with Justin Bieber, which is also where music is these days…). At one point she had the sound effects of a subway car (or the smoke monster from Lost), which was a little disconcerting if you weren’t paying attention. She also noted that Lollapalooza was a place for love, not fear, and to be proud of yourselves, your gender, your sexuality, even your race (though the last one is white for most Lolla attendees…).
It was very nice that Silversun Pickups played Lollapalooza, at the Lake Shore Stage. It can feel at times that the festival has forgotten its indie-rock origins, and just goes for the flavor-of-the-minute. Even the alternative acts can sometimes seem to be booked because they are hot right now, as opposed to longevity (save for long-in-the-tooth legacy artists). But Silversun Pickups are years removed from breaking out Silver Lake, still playing strong music – and still playing the likes of Lollapalooza. Though they also still played breakthrough single “Lazy Eye” to close.
The same could be said for the act that followed them on the Lake Shore Stage, Bloc Party. Coming off of new album Hymns (QRO review), their best since their own breakthrough of a decade ago, Silent Alarm, they mixed and matched from all of their records, but consistently did their most wide-appeal songs (though no “This Modern Love”?…). But when did singer Kele Okereke and bassist Justin Harris become all beefy? In their tank tops, they looked like they could have been the older bro-creeps in the crowd at Perry’s Tent. Bloc Party are a rare rock act where the drummer is the least macho-looking one (to be fair, Louise Bartle is a girl…).
Between those two on the Samsung Galaxy Stage was Flume. The giant songstress electronica is already playing big stages, as she includes rhymes. At Lollapalooza ’16, she was joined on stage (separately) by Vic Mensa and Vince Staples.
Some have argued that LCD Soundsystem’s fame is mostly an NYC thing, and more about who they’ve influenced and introduced rather than their own music. But those people should have seen the reunited dance-punk innovators close out Lolla 2016. It wasn’t the size of the crowd (which was less than for prior days’ headliners Radiohead or Red Hot Chili Peppers), but that everyone was dancing, from the barely-dressed jailbait to the barely-dressed parents (neither should have let the other leave the house looking like that).
Of course, there might not be an easier act to dance to than LCD Soundsystem, who have just the right level of beats: danceable, without being pummeling. The group also know how to let their beats go on – instead of feeling extended or repetitive, the songs just built & built & built. It doesn’t hurt when you’ve got tracks like “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” (which not only introduced that French act to a wider American audience, but also birthed the classic ‘What time does Daft Punk go on?’ meme), “Yeah”, “Us v Them”, “I Can Change”, and more. It’s surprising that the Lollapalooza ’16 headliner who is a reunion actually felt like the most vital and relevant. “Losing My Edge” was appropriate, but not just for the obvious reasons (even if the references were a little dated, though respect to the Suicide shout-out – RIP Alan Vega), but because it addressed the issues they & a lot of us aging hipsters face. When told that Lollapalooza is 25, main man James Murphy said that might be the average age of the crowd – with a lot of outliers, like LCD. Oh, and they even did “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” in Chicago, and closed the festival with “Something Great”.
Lollapalooza celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary (interesting, it’s MTV’s thirty-fifth – indeed, the day after Lolla ’16 ended, VH1 Classic became ‘MTV Classic’) by expanding to a fourth day, but other than the special addition of founders Jane’s Addiction, it basically stayed the same in terms of delivering multiple stages of multiple acts across multiple genres. Naturally, that can be a little hit-or-miss, but also means that there will definitely be artists that you want to see. Especially important, the festival itself went off without a hitch, with the cloudy skies of the first two days not causing a repeat of last year’s evacuation, and the cloudless skies of the last two days not causing heat exhaustion.
With the music industry forever in flux, it’s really nice that something as big as Lollapalooza can still manage to consistently deliver. Hopefully the fourth day will continue on as we head towards the fiftieth Lolla.