Lollapalooza 2022 kicked off on Thursday in Chicago’s Grant Park with headliners Metallica, Lil Baby, and Caroline Polachek. Like the variety offered at the topline of the fest, the day featured an eclectic mix of music. From TikTok stars to rock royalty and the return of the Kidzapalooza stage for the first time in three years, there was something for every age group on Day 1. And if there was an underlying theme beyond appealing to a wide swath of fans, a handful of artists with famous kinfolk are taking center stage throughout the four-day festival.
Inhaler’s Elijah Hewson Is His Father’s Son
Speaking of scions, Inhaler, the Irish four-piece fronted by Elijah Hewson, a.k.a. Bono’s son, kicked off the parade of kids following in their family members’ footsteps during Lolla. Live, it was clear Hewson inherited his dad’s gift for singing, and he and the band — Josh Jenkinson (guitar), Robert Keating (bass) and Ryan McMahon (drums) — had an easygoing camaraderie with one another. “How many of you are up for a bit of a party?” Hewson asked before launching into “Who’s Your Money On? (Plastic House),” a melodic beat-driven tune that got the audience jumping along. That and other upbeat songs, including new single “These Are the Days,” landed stronger with the festival crowd than Inhaler’s more reflective material.
Caroline Polachek: Hushed and Mesmerizing
With the deafening volume of Metallica to her right and Lil Baby to her left, there was no way Caroline Polachek could overpower her fellow headliners. So instead, she intentionally contradicted them. The alt-pop singer took a slower, more deliberate approach to her songs, performing Pang cuts “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” and “Door” with a mesmerizing tenderness. That relaxed demeanor extended on through two unreleased songs, “Sunset” and “Smoke,” which had the crowd in a trance. By leaning into the quiet, Polachek hooked listeners with her best asset: the flexibility and acrobatic tricks of her voice.
Embrace the Absurd With 100 Gecs
Considering that 100 Gecs’ music sounds like it was born from YouTube Poops and AI-generated keywords, it’s strangely reassuring to see their digital escapism translate well onstage. The St. Louis hyperpop duo of Dylan Brady and Laura Les embodied their brand of maximalism by dressing like burnout wizards and running around while flanked by giant speakers, lending the illusion that they had shrunken to one-fourth their size. Watching them perform 1000 Gecs hits like “Money Machine” and “Stupid Horse” or their latest nonsensical single, “Doritos & Fritos,” you’re confronted with a decision: waste time trying to decipher what it means, or embrace the absurdity and jump around.
Sampa the Great Makes History
This summer, Sampa the Great became the first-ever Zambian artist to perform at Coachella, Glastonbury, and, as of today, Lollapalooza, bringing a blend of hip-hop, R&B, and traditional African rhythms, all aimed at provoking dance. Unsurprisingly, Sampa’s celebratory energy was contagious. From the brassy anthem “Final Form” to the ominous woodwinds driving “OMG,” Sampa guided fans through highlights from The Return, her 2019 debut solo album, and new singles like “Never Forget,” which introduced radiant, propulsive music from her homeland. “I hope we all know there’s music in more languages than English,” she said with a coy grin. Later, before exiting the stage, she further drove that point home: “We may be the first Zambian band here, but we won’t be the last.”
Sam Fender Brings Boss Vibes
Even if he didn’t mention the influence directly, Fender might as well have a big sign that says “Springsteen” hanging around his neck. In fact, after losing precious minutes to a technical delay, Fender – already calling the set “the biggest shambles of my career” — eventually began with just a barely tuned guitar and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s self-deprecating and desperate “Dancing in the Dark.” But universal truths are, well, universal. Making the best of a bad situation, the British singer-songwriter showcased an unerring angst-to-anthem instinct that peaked with “Seventeen Going Under,” his catalog of teen transgressions and personal revelations that paints a particularly bleak portrait of life in a Northern town. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you root for his (and anyone anywhere in a similarly dead-end situation’s) escape.
Jesse Jo Stark Turns Back Time
If you’re the 31-year-old goddaughter of Cher, there’s bound to be pressure when you pursue a music career. Jesse Jo Stark has a handful of EPs and singles to her name, the majority of which sound like Lana Del Rey covering Cults. Live, Stark delivered those songs as Sixties oldies with a modern flair, but they paled in comparison to new material like “So Bad” and “Modern Love,” previews of her upcoming debut album. Those bolder tracks, which channel the black leather jacket aesthetic of Arctic Monkeys, had Stark brushing off any nerves and captivating the crowd — including Lenny Kravitz who was watching from side stage.
Warning: Excessive Ass-Shaking by Tove Lo
Displaying the kind of body positivity that demands a healthy application of sunblock, Tove Lo approached her set with a puckish sense of mischief, prancing across the stage with a huge grin as she offered up moody synth-pop that was equal amounts swagger and vulnerable confession. By the halfway mark she had flashed the crowd and hopped down off the stage to get up close and personal with some fans, but songs such as “Talking Body,” “How Long,” and “Habits (Stay High)” kept the audience as entranced as her compulsive ass-shaking.
Lolla Vets Manchester Orchestra Just Keeping Getting Better
This year marked the seventh time Manchester Orchestra played Lollapalooza, and it was apparent in their mastery of showmanship. The Atlanta band was a tour-de-force of rock, making heavy sludge riffs (“Pride,” “Shake It Out”) sound right at home beside chipper radio hits with stunning vocal harmonies (“The Gold”). At one point, frontperson Andy Hull was so in the zone that when a guitar string snapped, he powered through, unfazed, before his bandmate’s gear also malfunctioned. Manchester Orchestra have been honing their live show for years now and it just keeps getting better. Then again, if you get seven rounds to practice, you might as well perfect the art.
Billy Strings Shreds, Sets the Table for Metallica
For a festival that celebrates musical diversity, Lollapalooza could use a few more unexpected choices like Billy Strings. A bluegrass ace in a — literal — field of electro-pop, hip-hop, and rock acts, Strings (born William Lee Apostol) showcased a virtuoso strain of traditional music heavy enough to catch the ear of any Metallica fans snagging an early spot by the main stage. Strings himself seemed more than a little bemused to even be there, but the fleet-fingered picking of the band won over the uninitiated, helped by some extended fuzzed-out solos that would have made Bill Monroe raise an eyebrow. As the lead-in for Metallica, Strings made perfect sense.
Jazmine Sullivan Takes What’s Hers
When Jazmine Sullivan pulls back the curtain on what women really want, you better take notes. Her performance of “BPW,” a not-so-subtle abbreviation for “best pussy in the world,” emphasized the thread running through her work. For Sullivan, music is a space to vent and a way to rejoice, yes, but it’s also a way to remind listeners, especially Black women, of their worth. From “Bust Your Windows” to “Pick Up Your Feelings” and every interpretive dance to Heaux Tales vignettes in between, Sullivan’s set was a broader statement on the necessity of reclamation as growth, be it in regards to one’s desires, sexuality, or independence writ large.
Ashnikko Leaves Nothing to the Imagination
The TikTok-propped and propelled Ashnikko is a technicolor pop pixie with a potty mouth and plenty of skittering trap beats to keep the crowd moving. As a performer, she was a little too prone to letting her punk attitude do most of the heavy lifting, scoring easy points with the broadly confrontational gender politics of songs like “Working Bitch” and “Tantrum.” With so much of her audience already on board with her rebellious act, though, she managed to get by on sheer energy alone. Still, adding a touch of subtlety might have more successfully magnified her subversive streak.
Maxo Kream’s Loss Is Lolla’s Catharsis
Discord is something with which Maxo Kream is quite familiar. The Houston rapper has grappled with family conflict, criminality, and navigates his brother’s death on his latest aptly titled album Weight of the World. While his adept storytelling is as heavy as the album’s title implies, his performance on Lolla’s Discord stage showcased resilience amid fiery a cappellas and confessionals (“Greener Knots”). He paid homage and dug in on personal loss, leading the exuberant crowd through R.I.P. chants for the brother he lost, and also highlighted other’s work, bringing out PGF Nuk for “Waddup.”
Lil Baby’s Chill Command
Atlanta rapper Lil Baby made his return to the Lollapalooza stage on Thursday following his first appearance in 2019 and he took his time to savor it, or at least not rush through things. A few verses were piped in before Lil Baby took the stage, occasionally backed by dancers. His relaxed entrance belied his commanding, yet laidback presence — whether he was onstage or dipped out for a break midset, the crowd clung and sung along to every word in a set that spanned his five-year rise from “All In” and “Southside” through new song “In a Minute.”
Metallica Smash, Thrash the Hits
Metallica have been superstars as long as Lollapalooza has even been a thing, so 41 years into an epic career, the group could be forgiven for playing it relatively safe. Flying out of the gate with “Whiplash,” the band eventually settled into a groove, focusing largely on its blockbuster Nineties material before shifting back to primal thrash mainstays like “Seek & Destroy,” “Battery,” and “One.” Ironically, thanks to Stranger Things, the band’s formative pre-breakthrough years are currently higher profile than ever. Watching a multi-generational crowd spanning young families to Metallica lifers shout and fist-pump along with “Master of Puppets” proved that, given the right boost, even an old setlist staple can still sear and sting like a fresh paper cut.