Still Meant For The Weirdos: Lollapalooza’s Long, Strange Trip

LCD Soundsystem performing at Lollapalooza. Photo by David Brendan Hall

Normally, Bonnaroo is the only annual festival I attend that requires enduring four consecutive days of live music. And those are long – late night sets often run until 4 a.m. or later. But after so many years on the Farm, I’ve learned to mentally and physically prepare, so when Lollapalooza announced that it’s 25th anniversary (it’s 12th year running at Chicago’s Grant Park) would span an extra day, I thought, “Ain’t no thang.”

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Turns out that was a vast underestimation – it somehow kicked our ass harder than any Roo of the past decade. But that’ll happen when each day’s lineup is so incredibly stacked, almost unbelievably so. Lana Del Rey, J. Cole, the Last Shadow Puppets, the Arcs, the 1975 and Flosstradamus anchored Thursday; Radiohead, Major Lazer and Martin Garrix battled it out Friday; Disclosure, Vic Mensa, Hardwell and Red Hot Chili Peppers presented a tough choice Saturday; and Sunday didn’t let up in the slightest with Ellie Goulding, Die Antwoord, Zhu and LCD Soundsystem topping its list.

Those names – plus a roster stacked with countless acts that regularly headline sizable shows – represented the pinnacle of what Lolla has created consistently since its inception in 1991: a lineup merging the top artists of an era with an undercard whose finger is so consistently on the pulse of innovation that fans can potentially discover more bands than they might at SXSW these days.

That’s assuming you do it right: come all day, stay hydrated and eat regularly, sit down whenever you can and “don’t mix your drugs,” as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke implored Friday night. Just the idea of it can feel overwhelming – moving among 100,000 people per day is no cakewalk, but the scheduling to split crowds this year was more genius than ever. There’s very little crossover interest – especially in terms of generational tastes – between Radiohead and Major Lazer, Disclosure and the Chili Peppers, Ellie Goulding and LCD. Lolla has that shit mastered.

So, it was the sheer monolith of talent inhabiting this year’s fest that really made four days feel so tiring, but everything will be back to normal next year, right? Wrong. 2017’s dates are already online, and it’s set for four days (Aug. 3-6) once again. And why not? In the same way most peeps with prime taste in music fests want to attend Lolla, every artist wants to play it – one more day (clearly) makes a huge difference. With a quarter-century in the bag, Lollapalooza is already a longstanding pillar of American music history. And now, with its burgeoning blueprint, it’s bound to become the birthplace of innumerable more imminent epics.

Check out our exclusive live photos and artist portraits, and scroll down to see who made our Top 10 sets of the fest.

The Joy Formidable. Photo by David Brendan Hall
The Joy Formidable. Photo by David Brendan Hall

10. The Joy Formidable

If Lollapalooza is still meant for the weirdos – and I suspect Perry Farrell, despite the daily abundance of no-chill teens flooding the fest’s widespread EDM sets these days, would insist it is – Welsh rock trio the Joy Formidable were the ideal Saturday advocates.

“This is a new song about feeling good about yourself even if you’re an outsider,” harped guitar-wielding frontwoman Ritzy Bryan before launching into “Passerby,” where her innovative soloing echoed the sound of a distorted synth. “Sometimes it’s fucking cool to go against the grain.”

Throughout their 9-song run, they reiterated that point by thrashing about unapologetically through the crunchiest and catchiest of their catalogue (highlights: “Little Blimp,” “This Ladder is Ours” and “Liana”), and eventually landed on a timely political twist from Bryan: “Don’t have apathy … don’t let that muffhead come into power,” a not-so-subtle allusion to a certain politician’s toupée.

Yet, ultimately, it was the following message of universally applicable positivity to intro closing anthem “Whirring” – an idea far more important than the exhilaration felt from combining hard drugs with endless oontz-oontz – that bumped this set into the best-of-Lolla zone: “We can change things with the smallest thing that we do,” Bryan added. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently.”

Chairlift. Photo by David Brendan Hall
Chairlift. Photo by David Brendan Hall

9. Chairlift

Quite a few peeps will try to chalk up Chairlift’s rising popularity to their collaboration with Beyoncé on 2013 song “No Angel,” but the Colorado-based outfit fronted by Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly has always performed enigmatically, and do even more so with the release of their outstanding third album Moth.

During their sunny Saturday set packed with those new tunes, which explore everything from 80s dance music (“Romeo”) to contemporary club-ready pop (“Moth to the Flame”), the duo (aided by a live saxophonist and extra guitarist/drummer) conjured an undeniable magnetism; like the title of the latter song insinuates, their masterful craft attracted all those in the vicinity looking to dance. I can’t wait to watch these guys conquer larger crowds – an inevitability at this rate, if you ask me.

The Arcs. Photo by David Brendan Hall

8. The Arcs

Though it rained on and off throughout Thursday’s fare, we lucked out with the absence of any threatening lightning. So it was especially ironic that a dangerous surge of electricity is what nearly killed the Arcs’ set before it really got going.

“I was getting shocked every time I sing,” said a visibly distressed Dan Auerbach after wrapping up groovy opener “Velvet Ditch.”

But the soundman quickly fixed the erratic mic with an insulated cover, and the Black Keys frontman was back to his smiling, wildly soloing self for the remainder of what culminated into one of the sharpest rock sets of the weekend. Gospel- and soul-drenched tunes off the band’s 2015 debut Yours Dreamily like “Put a Flower in Your Pocket,” “Chains of Love” and set closer “Outta My Mind” helped the sizable audience ignore gloomy skies and groove happily. But two mid-set covers, the Temptations’ “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and the Blue Rondos’ “Little Baby Blue,” garnered the loudest cheers. Special jams for a special fest – big ups to the Arcs setting the bar high on Day 1.

Silversun Pickups. Photo by David Brendan Hall
Silversun Pickups. Photo by David Brendan Hall

7. Silversun Pickups

Silversun Pickups is one of those bands that thrives at music festivals if all the necessary elements align. That was certainly the case for their Sunday set on the Lakeshore stage, which benefited from a rosy-golden glow cast by the sun beginning to set behind Chicago’s picturesque skyline, plus a massive throng that migrated their direction after getting hyped by pop upstart Halsey on the main stage directly across the field.

Bassist Nikki Monninger was all smiles, bouncing and head-banging as they ripped into “Cradle (Better Nature),” and frontman Brian Aubert spent at least a few moments of nearly every song that followed in the hits-heavy set at the edge of the stage, shredding and smiling at the hardcore, heartily singing fans. Those front-row faithfuls truly carried the show, but with the passing of each uplifting rock anthem, the ranks of ardently cheering attendees became steadily thicker. See SSPU under: How to Win at Fests.

Jane's Addiction. Photo by David Brendan Hall
Jane’s Addiction. Photo by David Brendan Hall

6. Jane’s Addiction

As founders of the 25-year-old fest, Jane’s Addiction could’ve headlined any of the four nights if they’d chosen to. Instead, they deferred those duties on Saturday to fellow Lolla vets Red Hot Chili Peppers and British superstar DJ duo Disclosure.

Still, Jane’s held back nothing during their runner-up, magic-hour spot on the Samsung stage: they opened by playing the entirety of 1990 sophomore album Ritual de lo Habitual, which saw frontman Perry Farrell grinning uncontrollably throughout, his youthful energy translating to animalistic yells and joyous jumps throughout those nine classic cuts. On top of raw rock, the seminal band delivered one of the most jaw-dropping spectacles of the weekend: two suspension dancers – with hooks holding them by the skin of their backs, not harnesses – flailing 10-20 feet up during (what else?) “Nothing’s Shocking.”

The quartet has long upheld high esteem in their hometown of Los Angeles, but by way of two intimate shows at the Metro earlier in the week, plus this epic display of showmanship at a culturally unifying event they’ve helped sustain for almost three decades, they ought to be recognized as honorary Chicago rock royalty as well.

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