Ten years after finding a permanent home in Chicago's Grant Park, Lollapalooza beat 2015's mid-summer heat with a lineup of artists that crossed genres and stretched across seven stages. Some 100,000 fans came out to party each of the three days, which culminated in sets by headliners Paul McCartney, Metallica and Florence and the Machine. When not basking in the music, attendees scrambled to find shade, sang along to "Hey Jude," sampled weird treats and evacuated for severe storms. These are the best things we saw, heard or tasted along the way.
Due to Sunday night's imminent storm, Florence and the Machine had to cut their scheduled 90-minute set down to a lean 60, but they did so exuberantly. Silken-suited frontwoman Florence Welch seemed to never touch the ground completely during the gutsy nine-song set. As lightning danced across the Chicago skyline, she was commanding, slicing the air with her tambourine and instructing the crowd to sing along with her for "Shake It Out." The whole field obliged. Even Welch could not hold back the elements, however. "We're so sorry but the storm has won, and we've been asked to leave the stage," Florence declared, before she and her band mustered one last stand. "Let's show this weather what we've got," she shouted to begin "Dog Days Are Over." And as the song reached its climactic end, she tore her translucent shirt off and ran down into the crowd.
You haven't lived until you've heard Paul McCartney shout "Lawlapal-oo-za." Or, even better, until you've heard Paul McCartney shout "Lawlapal-oo-za" then follow it with over two hours of Beatles classics, Wings hits and solo gems. The longest set of the festival included material from just about every non-Fireman phase of the musician's career. When he ended "Let Me Roll It" with a riff on "Foxy Lady," he recalled the time Hendrix asked Clapton to fix his guitar after throwing it out of tune debuting his take on "Sgt. Pepper's." A few songs later, he introduced "Here Today" with a brief tribute to his "friend John."
The heaviest moment came in the encore, when Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard tore through "Get Back" and the headliner followed with "Helter Skelter." The most tender moment — besides "Hey Jude," of course — came when he sat at the piano to sing "My Valentine" ("for my wife Nancy"), "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five" ("for Wings fans!") and "Maybe I'm Amazed" ("a song I wrote for Linda"). But the most McCartney moment was his segue from "FourFiveSeconds" — "If I go to jail tonight, promise you'll pay my bail" — into "We Can Work It Out." That's Paul, always waking up an optimist.
Mixing well-worn hits and fan favorites, Metallica were dialed in for Saturday's headlining slot — their first Lolla since their controversial 1996 appearance. Jovial master of ceremonies James Hetfield didn't let his good cheer get in the way of presenting the highlights of a 30-plus-year career of snarling menace. Based upon his early crowd straw poll, a mix of longtime Metallica family members and the soon-to-be-converted were present. Some of the former stood in a couple of rows actually on the performance stage behind the band.
They came out swinging with "Fuel" and gradually balanced the set with deeper, earlier road-rash like "Disposable Heroes" and intricate suites like "One." Hetfield, bassist Robert Trujillo and guitarist Kirk Hammett all displayed a well-rehearsed confidence that allowed them to independently hit their marks while spread wide across the stage. Ever-dark material was counteracted by the band's goofball mugging for the cameras — especially when drummer Lars Ulrich seemed to discover one pointed at him for the first time during live mainstay "Creeping Death." Hetfield even joked with the crowd to sing out on "Cyanide" with more resolve than what "This guy 'Sir Paul Something'" got the night before. Of course, the proceedings wrapped with "Enter Sandman": They took few chances in their 18-song set, but stuck the landing with solid execution throughout.
At 2:31 on Sunday afternoon, George Ezra was officially late, but the crowd wasn't looking for him. Everyone was too distracted by the dark clouds that approached suddenly from the west and the strong wind that blew sheets of dust away from the main stage. A voice soon came over loudspeakers instructing everybody to evacuate the park. Persistent fans refused to budge, sitting in their hill-side seats until the voice insisted. "Take this seriously," the man behind it said. "Please, your spots aren't that valuable." Everyone eventually walked out either into the city or into a parking garage, and some fans made the most of the delay by blasting EDM. The impromptu party didn't last long, but it was almost fun while it did. Almost.
How do you get into all the Lollapalooza write-ups without actually performing? Get arrested. Travi$ Scott emerged on the Perry's stage 30 minutes late for his Saturday slot, and attributed his tardiness to doing an "ultimate amount of drugs." The Houston rapper known for his chaotic shows then urged the crowd to jump the barricade — and dozens took him up on the invitation. It didn't go well. The sound got cut, several fans tangled with security — including one young woman who was carried away literally kicking and screaming — and $cott's five minutes onstage never really materialized into a performance. He was reportedly later apprehended by Chicago Police.
Capping a hot, frenetic Friday heavy on rock and EDM, the Weeknd's 8:30 set morphed the Bud Light stage into a chilled-out nightclub once the sun went down. "I came all the way from Toronto to fuck shit up tonight," the enigmatic Edward Scissorhands of R&B proclaimed during his hour-long performance.
Aside from a few flourishes of pyro and a mini fireworks display after the MJ-on-lean highlight "Can't Feel My Face," Abel Tesfaye's key mood enhancers were his pipes. The crowd rewarded him by singing along as he leaned heavily into the boasts on "Often" — expected on his forthcoming second album, Beauty Behind the Madness — as well as a gender-bent cover of Beyoncé's "Drunk in Love," and the swerving falsetto on "Earned It."
With molten reds on the screens, strobe lights and a backing band adding punch, the iciness of Tesfaye's oft-sorrowful anthems melted into range of flowing emotion. "I gotta be honest, I never do encores, but you show me so much love," he said before closing with "Wicked Games" as the lighters popped up like fireflies.
Bassnectar opened his set with Beethoven's Fifth and a reading of Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," then followed with a 45-minute barrage of rap samples, rave beats and pummeling, modulating low-end. The rain delay had pushed him back until a second approaching storm bumped him up and cut him short, leaving the electronic musician five minutes for a closing argument. Rather than play a single song, he brilliantly cut between a few of the hardest tracks in his library, combining dubstep and metal before easing into "Riders on the Storm" to close out his set.
For once, Chicago's biggest summer concert wasn't Lollapalooza. On Fourth of July weekend, the Grateful Dead reunited (with Trey Anastasio playing frontman) for a final run of shows at nearby Soldier Field. This Friday, many of those who purchased shirts got to wear them proudly. Some were tie-dyed, most listed the dates or the venue and the most clever ones replaced the Bears' aggressive logo with the Dead's dancing one.
Saturday's fashion was dominated by Metallica shirts. Some were bright and brand new, some were held up in the air, some had the sleeves cut off, some were actually Kanye West Yeezus shirts that aped the classic lettering of the metal band's logo. All of them were eventually caked with dust from the ball fields. But some won more respect than others: the faded and already-battle-tested old-school tees, which separated the fans from the diehards.
Alabama Shakes were playing foot-on-the-gas rhythm and blues on Friday afternoon when, amid a powerful "Dunes" passage, frontwoman Brittany Howard swung her whole body into it — the flail knocked her sunglasses clear off — and suddenly there was silence. Riding on the intoxicating fumes of the moment, the band kept playing with no sound coming out of the speakers. Eventually they stopped and Howard called out, "We broke the fucking PA system." Well shit. During a few minutes of disarray, the crowd shuffled in their shoes. Then the raw opening riff of "Don't Wanna Fight" cut through the air followed by a throat-slicing scream from Howard. She was back to working herself to death, and the stall from moments ago was instantly forgotten.
No surprise, Lolla's EDM stage won the youngest crowds of the weekend, beating even "Kidzapalooza," where the presence of parents tipped the average. Alesso, himself just 24, met his fans on their own level, filling his Saturday night set with songs not just for youth but about it. The beats were loud and hard, and the lyrics — especially to original tracks like "Years" and "Sweet Escape" — were all about the spirit of possibility, of going out, of taking chances and flying as close to the sun as possible. When he dropped "Heroes (We Can Be)" — same deal — Tove Lo emerged to sing her verses wearing golden Icarus wings. The lighting was also spectacular: Smoke machines stationed on the side and rear blanketed the area with fog, allowing overhead lights to mimic the feeling of being inside a club.
Tame Impala hit a wavy rainbow bull's eye on Saturday afternoon. Often drawing from this year's Currents, Kevin Parker and Co. smeared and squelched their wide range of psych-rock influences. A vocoder proved one of Parker's best friends, and the songs that let the band stretch out (and freak out) proved most rewarding.
Grant Park is the happy home to countless dragonflies, many of whom seemed particularly drawn to Lolla's diverse slate of live music. With all-access privileges that would rival a drone, they were free to mix and mingle everywhere during the fest. Their sprightly presence only added to the weekend's magic.
Pity the air around Charli XCX. During her blazing — both in intensity and in temperature — hour-long set, the English pop star had no reservations about punching and kicking the atmosphere surrounding her. Aided by an all-female band, and briefly by an inflatable guitar as big as a bicycle, the tough-as-nails singer kept her rep for equally gnashing and catchy songcraft intact.
Were Tove Lo not, you know, famous, she could easily have been mistaken for a general admission Lolla raver. Slightly sunburnt and dancing across the stage in bare feet, she sang songs with lyrics that would make for great poster copy or Instagram hashtags: "We are love," "High all the time" and even its inverse, "I'm not on drugs." The sound could have been louder and, as a result, the bass from the EDM stage bled into the ballad "This Time Around," but Tove answered with the strongest, clearest vocal performance of her 45-minute set.
"I feel like just having a big-ass party onstage," A$AP Rocky told the Sunday evening crowd, preparing to play his recent single "L$D." "I dedicate this song to all my trippy motherfuckers out there." The party then continued with a Chief Keef tribute ("I heard the police were hating on my nigga for trying to do something positive") and a Chicago guest: Vic Mensa, who performed "U Mad" and led the transition into a covers medley that included "Jump Around" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The first mosh pit formed by the end of the latter, and by the time Rocky reached "Wild for the Night," this writer was surrounded by at least three more.
"We're Twenty One Pilots, and so are you," frontman Tyler Joseph said at the conclusion of the duo's crowded Samsung stage set. And why not? The group has succeeded as much as any band in recent history when it comes to over-inclusion. By trying on nearly everything in the pop-music spectrum (as well as nearly every form of headgear), Joseph and Josh Dun yielded huge, if unlikely, success. They covered "No Woman No Cry," broke out a ukelele, dug into rap, hit upon a few EDM bass drops and settled upon a suite of Queen-like melodramas, including their smash hit "Tear in My Heart." There was something for everyone – at least everyone in the band's large crowd, which, according to Joseph, was made up of either old friends or new friends.
Back in 2008, when Noel Gallagher said it was wrong for a rapper to headline Glastonbury, Jay Z responded by singing "Wonderwall" on the festival's main stage. As the French say, plus ça change: Last month, the former Oasis member commented on "the bleak future" of live EDM, and Friday evening, DJ Snake had his own Hov moment, stopping his set to play — you guessed it — the first verse of "Wonderwall." The Parisian's following moves proved that he was more than just pushing play: He replaced the second verse with the a cappella from his Major Lazer collaboration "Lean On," then transitioned into a remix of "We Want Some Pussy" before finally reaching the point where he could release "Turn Down for What" on the ecstatic crowd.
Lollapalooza was a chance to see Young Thug on a warm summer afternoon, grooving on a lake in front of yachts and sailboats. The sun was setting behind the crowd and shade covered the stage, so the Atlanta rapper — out of jail on bond — performed in silhouette, twisting under what appeared to be a safari hat and baby dreads. When he performed "Danny Glover," leading a sing-along that would only be eclipsed by Rich Gang's "Lifestyle," he pulled a fan onstage and encouraged her to stage dive. Twenty minutes later, he finished by jumping down to sing his new "Pacifier" from crowd-level, dancing with fans while they repeated the hook.
Henna might finally have some serious competition in the temporary body art game. Glistening, metallic body accents were everywhere during Lolla weekend.
Fingers crossed that Father John Misty's sardonic wit never dulls. He announced early during Friday's performance that he was depressed. And the artful self-flagellation unfurled. "My voice is gone," he said, slouching and jamming his hands in the pockets of his snug-fitting suit. "I'm depressed. . . Then I look out and see the Bud Light sign, and I realize the show must go on. Sorry, you're all on ecstasy anyway, what does it matter?" His voice didn't sound that hampered, though. "I'm Writing a Novel" and "Bored in the USA" went over swimmingly in spite of his tongue-in-cheek moping and dejected punting of beach balls. "I can, like, hear the people watching the webcast switching to Pornhub," he said later. "I can also hear the sound of my festival guarantees going down."
One good thing about the rain delay? It pushed Twigs' set to just after nightfall, allowing smoke to obscure the singer and strobes to flash against an otherwise dark stage. It was hard to imagine it any other way. Twigs' dancing was as powerful as her vocals, and her jagged, snaking moves seemed to complete the crisp-yet-airy beats, creating a sultry sense of drama that would have been diluted by daylight.
With an Americana sound as well-traveled as a Wilbury, the Tallest Man on Earth provided a relaxing late-afternoon option on Saturday. Dipping significantly into this year's Dead Oceans LP Dark Bird Is Home, Sweden's Kristian Matsson brought out a mandolin-esque sound from his beautiful 12-string hollowbody electric, and sang about a passport's worth of faraway places. Whether with his band of Midwestern virtuosos or solo, Matsson never shied from his mix of tenderness and intensity.
"You have all chosen to forsake McCartney," said Sylvan Esso beat deliveryman Nicholas Sanborn, while looking out onto a packed Pepsi stage crowd tucked into the woods. "Gee whiz," vocalist Amelia Meath added, showing an equal mix of bemusement and pleasure. The duo from Durham, North Carolina, rewarded their head-bobbing, arm-waving observers with a bass-and-skewered-bicycle-bell-beats party at sunset. Before unveiling a brand-new track, Meath remarked, "This rules." On the nose.
How odd it must be for Sturgill Simpson to tour summer festivals: At Governors Ball and Lollapalooza, the hard-country throwback plays massive stages, but at actual country fests like Farmborough, he's cast off to a tent on the far side of the grounds. Whatever works. Playing the second largest stage, Simpson and his band let loose on an hour of songs from his two solo albums and his former band Sunday Valley. There was both slow and square dancing, and the biggest cheers came when he charged into solos either at the end of his songs (as with "Long White Line") or somewhere in the middle (as with "Sometimes Wine").
Mad culinary genius Graham Elliot, we salute you. The lobster corndog possesses all of the pleasure of everyone's favorite crustacean with none of the dreary cracking of exoskeletons.
Puffs of doom! Picture a Cantonese pork bun made from croissant bread and filled not with pork but with combinations like jalapeño chicken, black bean cilantro and banana coco-nutella. Now take that picture and imagine eating it: delicious. By Saturday afternoon, Puff connoisseurs had already figured out the best way to consume Lolla's best snack: Buy two — one savory and one sweet — then eat them in the shade of the nearby Abraham Lincoln statute.
There wasn't much dancing at Toro y Moi's Saturday set, but the amount of puffing seemed unmatched, even at the EDM stage. The former chillwaver came out rocking, but the crowd didn't bounce until he retreated to the synth for his groove-heavy electronic tracks — the more bass the better. Midway through his set, though, Toro began to play the humid "Rose Quartz," and people started to move as a new scent rose into the air. It was 4:20 p.m.
Animated videos didn't just play behind the DJs, they played above, below, around and in front of them. No one utilized video better than Boys Noize, the Berliner whose visuals included flames, static, the Windows XP desktop, rave-style pre-emoji smileys and the word "BANG," written in capital letters and flashing during Bjarki's "I Wanna Go Bang." In other cases, the text didn't necessarily match the music: "Acid" flashed early, even though he didn't play any until 20 minutes later. By this point the screens were asking "Where's your head at?"
DJ Mustard not only created the festival's first mosh pit, he did so within 15 minutes of taking the stage. The L.A. producer started with Kid Ink's "Be Real," and the song's EDM swoops got the crowd moving. He kept the action going with "Back That Azz Up," playing only the Lil Wayne verse (possibly a first) and cycling through a handful of beats — "Goodies," "Work It," even some moombahton — while the crowd sang along to the "Salt Shaker" a cappella. Fatman Scoop's "Be Faithful" followed, then "The Choice Is Yours," then "Get Low" and few more originals. By the time he cut 2 Chainz's "I'm Different" into Young Jeezy's "R.I.P.," bodies were flying into each other.
Evidence suggests that this is now A Thing. A few favorites, in no particular order: #LollaMinion, young Nicolas Cage (unrelated to old Nicolas Cage), #MiniCooper (Mini-Me plus Bradley Cooper) and the guy who carried around his own baby picture.
Even if Metallica had attempted a rendition of something from their heavy-metal forefathers' catalog during Lolla, they would have had nothing on the formidable Söderberg sisters in this category. Hopefully, Klara and Johanna never give up affecting folk-country rock — replete with smiles and star-shaped tambourines — but their wide-mouthed, headbang-heavy "War Pigs" cover proved they've got options.
Full statistics are not yet available, but as best we could tell, the most-played song on the EDM stage wasn't even an EDM song. On Friday alone, three DJ's — Destructo, DJ Snake and DJ Mustard — dropped A$AP Ferg's posse cut "Work (Remix)," and Saturday afternoon, on Perry's Stage, Travis Scott's DJ did the same. Each time, the crowd went wild.
It's one thing to do pushups onstage, but quite another to simultaneously deliver a truth bomb into a microphone. "Did you ever feel that society's standards for women – and for men – are complete and utter bullshit?" asked Misterwives' frontwoman Mandy Lee, flexing her mental and physical muscles. The group then proceeded to inspire its sizable, youthful Sprint stage crowd to burn off its own calories with a body-moving mix of slick pop hits, mid-Nineties ska with No Doubt vibes and even a cover of Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk."
The Kidzapalooza concept returned with all-ages distractions that parents could build into a day of entertainment. The dedicated stage area featured a graffiti wall and dance parties, and the entertainment ranged from the squeaky clean rap of Q Brothers to synth-styled fun from the Pop Ups.
"I wanna waste your time," sang Shakey Graves, while obviously doing just the opposite. Playing a suitcase-housed kick drum with one foot and a tambourine with the other, the scruffy-voiced Graves explored the origins of the blues while injecting the music with some modern-day kick. Along with his multi-limb attack, he had the art of the dramatic pause mastered during his Palladia Stage set in the hot sun: Each time he let up for an extra split second, it pulled the crowd closer and hung them on his words of weathered heartache.
Lolla's three-day weekend was filled with Chicago shout-outs, but few were as appropriate — or as subtle — as SZA's. Opening the main stage on Friday afternoon, the singer danced out to the skittish footwork of DJ Spinn and Taso's "Burn That Kush," letting the title phrase repeat itself before jumping into her own "Warm Winds." For fans of local dance music, it was an exciting homage to a genre that otherwise didn't make it past the gates.
Excuse me, Zebra fucking Katz, as the Brooklyn MC insisted he be called. Katz was wearing a bathrobe during soundcheck, but he arrived on the shaded BMI stage wearing a jumpsuit and an eye-patch, placing rosé on the DJ table and moving with a confidence that suggested the entire festival had been booked around him. He reeled in the crowd with a Trading Spouses–sampling introduction and quickly locked them in by removing his all-white jumpsuit to a reveal all-white overalls. The audience immediately doubled, so he won over the new batch with "Red River," an ode to champagne that culminated with the aforementioned rosé spraying over the photo pit. The excitement drew even more people, and they too became Zebra Katz fans when he taught them to chant along with his biggest record, bass-and-kick club hit "Ima Read."
Raury arrived a few minutes late to his Saturday afternoon set — but what an arrival. As the band — bass, drums and keytar — finished revving up, the 19-year-old sprinted in from stage left and launched into a flying jump kick. He landed in the middle and skidded past his mark, then found the right spot and began pointing every which way, moving with bursts of energy. The music was loud and the crowd instantly belonged to him. "I came here for one reason and one reason only: to take y'all higher," he said to introduce himself. Then later: "If you a millennial make some noise!"
The oldest member of Hippo Campus is only 21, but the Twin Cities foursome has grown quickly, as has their following. The forested BMI stage enjoyed an overflowing turnout during the band's afternoon set of blissful indie rock with a dash of afro-pop. The crowd drank up "Suicide Saturday" and "South," the latter of which the group dedicated to the day's headliners: "This next song goes out to Metallica."