Lollapalooza pulled out all the stops for its 10th year in Chicago’s Grant Park. More than 130 bands performed on the festivals eight stages over the course of the three-day extravaganza. You couldn’t see all of them if you wanted to, but we gave it a shot anyway. When all the dust settled at the end of Lollapalooza 2014, these were the 10 sets that mattered most.
Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett has an array of clever lyrics in her back pocket, but at Lollapalooza, the rising alt-rock artist demonstrated that she knows how to present those turns-of-phrase to maximum effect. Working with a two-piece backing band and on top of scuttling guitar licks, Barnett kept drawing-in curious passersby with each new song, and left plenty researching who she was after the set had ended. "The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas" helped Barnett make a unique mark within the blogosphere, and her Lollapalooza show had the same effect on a live audience.
9. Kings of Leon (Sunday, 8:30PM – Samsung Galaxy Stage)
Caleb Followill may not be the chattiest of frontmen, but he and the rest of the family knew how to let their songs do the talking while closing out Lollapalooza’s main stage on Sunday evening. Somewhat surprisingly, though, the band didn’t lean heavily on its most recent effort. They played only four cuts from 2013’s Mechanical Bull, but smartly saved the career-spanning highlights for the set’s final stages. “Use Somebody” arrived well over an hour into the performance and “Sex on Fire” closed out the festival in majestic fashion. And Kings of Leon’s next-to-last selection is likely to leave people talking as well; A guitar-centric cover of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” was woven effortlessly into the set of slow-burning rockers -- so seamlessly that many didn't recognize the song until its Girls-famous chorus.
8. DARKSIDE (Sunday, 8:30PM – Grove Stage)
While the masses rocked and raved to the big-stage spectacles of Kings of Leon and Skrillex, a few hundred ambitious listeners were getting their faces melted off by DARKSIDE, the psychedelic space-rock duo made up of Nicholas Jaar and Dave Harrington. Tucked into the trees at the shadowy Grove stage, the pair enraptured their audience with dense, post-rock, techno-tinged soundscapes that practically oozed from the speakers. It wasn’t the most well-attended set of the weekend, but it’s one that won’t be forgotten by those who bore witness.
The OutKast reunion shows were never bad, but they were never this good, either -- the sky-high expectations that hip-hop fans had going into the duo's string of festival dates are finally being met. The rapport between Andre 3000 and Big Boi was warm, the set list was a mash of stone-cold classics, and the crowd lapped up every second of the Mighty O's return to the Midwest. Big Boi repeatedly asked if the crowd was having a good time; the answer might have been "Sure" at previous OutKast shows, but at Lollpalooza, it was a resounding "Hell yeah!"
There was plenty of reason to hit the festival early on Saturday, as wise-cracking Brooklyn punks Parquet Courts took the Palladia Stage at 1:45 PM. Guitarist Austin Brown did have some sharp words for the late arrivers: “You can stay, but you have to watch your show with your eyes, off your cell phones… Sunglasses are okay, too.” The band rolled out a healthy supply of tracks from this year’s fantastic sophomore album Sunbathing Animal, and old favorites from their debut album like “Master of My Craft.” Just about the only complaint was that they neglected to play “Stoned and Starving,” a fan favorite from their debut album Light Up Gold. Here’s to sobriety and full stomachs!
5. Lorde (Friday, 6:45PM -- Bud Light Stage)
Towards the end of her Friday afternoon set, as the opening strains of “Ribs” floated over the crowd, Lorde sat down on the edge of the stage, and took it all in. “I’m at a loss for words,” she said. “And that doesn’t happen very often.” Once she did find words, Ella Yelich-O'Connor compared the crowd’s size (which would prove to be one of the largest of the weekend’s) to that of her entire New Zealand hometown and its members’ faces to her friends back home. Lorde may only be one album into her impressive career, but the 17-year-old commanded the crowd like a pro, bringing her moody and minimal pop hits — “Royals, “Team,” “Tennis Court” and almost all of Pure Heroine — to life in a dramatic, hair-whipping fashion that kept the north end of Grant Park in rapt attention for the entirety of her set.
4. Zedd (Friday, 8:30PM – Perry’s Stage)
With Eminem and the Arctic Monkeys playing concurrent sets, some of Zedd's usual festival supporters had been siphoned and redistributed to Friday's other headliners. No matter: the German producer was given the opportunity to play a mind-rattling set to a more intimate field of fans. Deftly bouncing between remixes of songs like MAGIC!'s "Rude," Bastille's "Pompeii" and Disclosure's "Latch," Zedd knew exactly when to switch up his game with a hard-knocking instrumental or a hit of his own, like "Clarity" or "Stay The Night." With other options to choose from, the EDM lovers who stuck it out for Zedd were generously rewarded.
3. Chance The Rapper (Sunday, 8:30PM – Perry’s Stage)
This year's festival featured several Chicago-based acts, but no artist made their performance feel like a true homecoming quite like Chance The Rapper, the whip-smart 21-year-old who broke out onto the national scene a little over a year ago. In between the multiple shout-outs to his parents, who were in the house, Chance brought out special guests R. Kelly and Vic Mensa, once again covered the "Arthur" theme song, and led the mud-stained crowd in a rendition of the cha-cha slide. The real highlight, however, was Chance's set-long energy: the MC thrashed across the stage and dared his audience to be louder, dance harder and smile more often. "Y'all are my family," Chance told everyone watching. "This shit means a lot to me."
2. Spoon (Saturday, 6:45PM – Bud Light Stage)
Spoon reminded us that Lollapalooza can still rock. Despite the fair amount of bros and their ladies waiting for the night's headliner, Calvin Harris, at the Bud Light stage, the Austin band's tunes -- from "Don't You Evah" to "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb" delighted the attendees -- even those who were unsure of the identities of the people on stage. Of course, it was "Underdog" that excited everyone the most. And a rendition of "The Way We Get By," pleased all of the fans. Through every guitar lick, Spoon -- who have been a band longer than some of the audience had been alive -- showed that rock and roll is still here to stay.
1. Eminem (Friday, Samsung Galaxy Stage – 8:30PM)
Eminem fired up the Lolla crowd with "Kill You," "White America," "The Way I am," and "Fast Lane" with Royce da 5'9". But it was the surprise appearance by his soon-to-be touring partner Rihanna that really flicked the switch. The sexy singer appeared for not two but three songs with the rapper. The pair knocked their hits "Love the Way You Lie" and "The Monster" out of Grant Park, but it was Rihanna's takeover of Dido's hook on "Stan" that elevated their performance. Em kept the party going with "Sing for the Moment" and favorited "My Name Is" and "The Real Slim Shady." He ended with "Not Afraid" but then appeased the Lolla gods with an encore of his Oscar-winning song "Lose Yourself," to make his return to the festival a memorable night.