Lollapalooza 2016: Our 10 Favorite Sets, From Red Hot Chili Peppers to Grimes & More
The 25th year of Lollapalooza is now one for the
history books Wikipedia pages. After four days, countless footsteps (unless you have a FitBit) and dozens of artists, we can say we came, we saw, we danced, and we're done.
As attendees bid farewell to the festival life and return to the regular world, we're thinking about our favorite performances of the July 28-31 Chicago festival. These were the 10 artists who stuck with us after the lights went down, from hometown heroes to reunited bands to surprise guest-filled sets.
10. Vic Mensa
The Chicago rapper's hometown set, a headlining time slot on one of the smaller stages, felt very much like a victory lap, but a reflective one. "I wanna tell my whole family I love them," Mensa said. "Not just my family but my Chicago family… Anyone who knows me knows that I almost died when I was 17 trying to sneak into Lolla. To be honest, it's not that accessible if you're from the south or west side. I wish it were free. But I know all things can't be like that." He also made a soft plea for anyone in his audience who might not be LGBTQ-friendly to reconsider before playing "Free Love": "As someone who wants other people to support my people, we need to support other people who struggle," he told the crowd. As he delivered that inclusive hip-hop anthem, a group of silent, immobile men in riot gear stood eerily behind him.
It's a joy seeing Disclosure live anyway, but something about seeing the Chicago house-indebted DJ duo at night with the Chi-town skyline glowing behind them felt especially satisfying and invigorating on the third day of Lolla. The connection wasn't lost on the brothers -- they've clearly done their homework. "It's special for us to come play house music where it was made. It really does mean a lot," they told the crowd during their funky, sinuous set. And as a sort of anti-festival programming, they brought out two surprise guests who weren't instantly recognizable names, but who nevertheless stunned -- Kwabs and powerhouse vocalist Brandon Riley.
Like Disclosure and Vic Mensa, the sister trio clearly treated Lolla like a special gig in a sea of 2016 festival runs. They shared how seeing Amy Winehouse at Lollapalooza 2007 was a pivotal moment for them personally, inspiring them to think they might be able to do music professionally in the first place, and setting them down a winding road to their near flawless 2013 debut. The follow-up is still in the works, but we got to hear two songs from it (one strongly Fleetwood Mac indebted, no big shock there), as well as their cover of Prince's "I Would Die 4 U," which they played and sang with the passion of true Purple disciples.
7. Alessia Cara
If you couldn't tell by her breakthrough hit "Here," Alessia Cara is a bit more thoughtful than your typical top 40 singer. Prior to "River of Tears," Cara gave a pump-up speech to anyone in the audience suffering from heartbreak. "You don't need anybody to be happy -- you're responsible for your own happiness," Cara said. "You think you'll never get over that person, you'll never be okay…. I want to remind each and every one of you that one day you wake up, and you are." When she wasn't offering up candid words of inspiration, Cara sang with an astonishing command. A lot of people with a voice like hers might feel the need to occupy the diva role (and there's nothing wrong with that), but Cara is intent on being a rare thing in the world of music: A human.
6. Lana Del Rey
On the other end of the spectrum is Lana Del Rey, someone who 100 percent puts on an affected persona, but does it so well that you can't help but fall victim to its retro fetishism charms. Especially now that Lana has mastered the art of her stage show -- every backdrop and movement subtly conveys the coquettish '50s/early '60s Americana her music is inspired by and drenched in.
With ruffled red drapes framing her video backdrop, Lana stood between two decorative trees on stage, frequently flanked by supporting dancers in white whose moves matched her own -- it almost gave the impression you were watching her in a Rat Pack-approved hotel lobby instead of downtown Chicago. The fluorescent lights beaming her surname, rendered in kitschy diner cursive, to her fans gave the stage an additional flavor of Googie architecture, emphasizing the old Hollywood/early Vegas imagery that's become her go-to.
For Lolla, though, Lana let the veneer crack twice -- during and after her set, she got down from the stage and posed for selfies with fans, allowing her typically stony expression to break into a smile for the front-row faithful at her show.
As Chicago locals, the DJ duo couldn't play any ole set at Lollapalooza and call it a day. So they brought out Michelle Williams to sing Destiny's Child's "Survivor" (!!!), and if that wasn't thrilling enough, Chance the Rapper for "Summer Friends." Chance also sounded great with Future doing "No Problem" the next day, but his first Lolla cameo thrilled the crowd the most. And to be honest, after two surprise Chance appearances in two days, you kept waiting for him to pop up throughout different sets over the next two days.
4. Red Hot Chili Peppers
What they had, they had to give it to your mama. What they had, they had they had to give it to your papa. What they had, they had to give it to your Lolla. The crowd did a little dance and then drank a little water. In a lot of ways, RHCP are the quintessential Lolla band, so it was fitting they would deliver one of the best, and best attended, sets as Lolla celebrated 25 years. Every song had the cross-generational crowd bopping and shouting along to the lyrics. Even those who thought they might just know a few Chili Peppers songs were surprised to realize, hey, I actually know every one of these jams. Truly, RHCP have delivered the Definitive California Songbook over the last few decades, and the fest's Midwestern crowd happily sang-shout the choruses at a volume that frequently drowned out frontman Anthony Kiedis. Watch RHCP do "Under the Bridge" below.
Radiohead have built up a reputation for their live prowess over the years, so any casual fans who showed up hoping to hear "Creep" (which they played a couple days ago despite swearing off the song years ago, but did not bring to Lolla) probably forgot about wanting to hear that particular '90s touchstone after the first thrilling 30 minutes. Like the Rolling Stones, Radiohead is a cohesive unit that locks into a holding pattern and absolutely destroys on stage, no matter how many years go by between albums, and no matter how stylistically disparate their material might be. No, they didn't have the crowd screaming every chorus like the Red Hot Chili Peppers would the next night on the same stage, but their razor-sharp playing and air-tight, generous set was easily one of the most fulfilling of all four days.
Who would have thought back in 2012, when Grimes was on her third album of esoteric, structurally uninhibited electronica, that she would return three years down the road as a major festival draw with pop hooks as beguiling as anything on top 40 radio? Of course, Grimes isn't played on top 40 radio, because even as she's become better acquainted with melody and song structure over the years, she's stayed true to the idiosyncratic artistic vision that gathered her a small, but enthusiastic, group of fans over the course of those first three albums. Now on her fourth, Grimes can attract a sizable crowd, and more importantly, have 90 percent of them moving fervently as she coos and screams over electronic beats and soundscapes more daring than any other electropop artist performing at her level.
Despite two twisted ankles, Grimes still moved about the stage like a force unleashed, and her between song banter is refreshingly unscripted -- she actually caveats herself while speaking, urging the crowd to dance at one point and then taking it back the next, explaining, "I hate when people tell you to dance, especially in the daylight, do what you're comfortable with."
After she left the stage at Lolla, you just felt lucky to live in the same world as her.
1. LCD Soundsystem
"I was just informed Lollapalooza is 25," James Murphy told the Sunday night crowd. "Happy birthday. That might be the average age of people here. What are you, 22-28, with outliers?" he asked the audience, adding with a smile, "We're outliers."
But age ain't nothing but a number, James, and when it comes to creating music that challenges and entertains in equal measure, it's hard to beat LCD Soundsystem. James Murphy's reunited outfit doesn't sound all that different now than when they called it quits five years ago -- but that's a good thing, because when they went out in 2011, they were one of the most impeccable live bands around. "Losing My Edge" had the crowd losing their shit, and "Someone Great" and "I Can Change," despite their less-frenetic pace, had the crowd grooving nearly as hard.
True, there were other acts who had the crowd dancing as much as LCD, but no other live band who moved the crowd to shake their stuff like LCD did -- and after four full days of festival, no less.