Lollapalooza Day 3 (July 30) finally cooled down a bit, and for the first day this year, there wasn’t any rain. Plus, after three days, festival attendees had all figured out the lay of the land, so the experience of hopping between different stages was slightly less harried and frenetic.
But if the crowd was a little mellower and the weather breezier, several guitar-wielding performers brought the heat on stage.
From Vic Mensa’s reflective set to Grimes’ joyous performance to Red Hot Chili Peppers, here are the highlights of Saturday at Lollapalooza 2016.
Sure, Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell started Lollapalooza, but in many ways, Red Hot Chili Peppers are the perfect fit for the festival (now in its 25th year). While Radiohead attracted a similarly massive crowd the night before, RHCP pulled in an astonishingly huge audience that actually moved to the music. Although the crowd responded tepidly to the five-minute jam session that kicked off their set, every song after that had Lollapalooza bopping and shouting along to the lyrics.
Even though the Windy City is a far cry from the West Coast, when RHCP did “Californication,” the crowd sang it like it was their own anthem. On that song, and many others, the crowd’s singing actually drowned out Anthony Kiedis.
RHCP were also one of the few Lolla 2016 sets flush with crowd surfers. And man, were those kids happy. When one kid — who was easily younger than the band’s BloodSugarSexMagik album — got hoisted above the audience, he furiously pumped his fist into the air and sang his heart out for the duration of his crowd surf. Even if you’re not a Peppers fans, you gotta respect any band that can make a teen that happy.
Chicago’s own Vic Mensa had a difficult slot on Saturday night – he was programmed opposite RHCP, Dislclosure and Hardwell. But the fans that did turn up for his late night set (which was actually a substantial crowd for a smaller stage) clearly wouldn’t have been anywhere else. Mensa was alternately turnt and meditative during his set, pointing out that although he loved the fest and his Chicago family, he couldn’t help but realize Lolla isn’t exactly the most economically diverse crowd. “I almost died when I was 17 trying to sneak into Lolla,” he recalled at one point. “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.”
Mensa was also reflective before playing “Free Love,” telling the crowd that some family members coming out made him realize LGBT issues mattered even though he’s straight. “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.
The British brothers delivered a funky, sinuous set of their R&B and house-inspired dance music on Saturday night. The fact that they were playing house-indebted music in one of the two cities that spawned the globe-conquering genre was not lost on them, either: “It’s special for us to come play house music where it was made. It really does mean a lot,” they told the crowd. They also gamely saluted the audience (which was smaller than what RHCP drew, despite dance’s festival dominance this decade) for attending their set against heavy-hitting headliners. But they didn’t need to — when “Latch” finally dropped at the end of the night, the dancing in the crowd was more expressive and joyous than nearly any other Lolla audience of 2016.
In year where we might see the first female president, it seemed more than a tad outdated that Jane’s Addiction hit the stage while a trio of scantily-clad female dancers gyrated behind them. These women weren’t backup dancers — they were props, purely there to titillate while the men did the rockin’ and rollin’ (later in the set, one of the dancers stripped the other one while she simulated touching herself).
Using women as window dressing certainly would have ruffled plenty of Gen X feathers back when Lolla started, and in 2016, it seems downright antiquated.
One of the women did take front and center later in the set… when Farrell bent her over a speaker, her head flailing in faux ecstasy, while he simulated taking her from behind. One thing you can say about that bizarre Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke twerkfest at the VMAs: At least people knew who Miley was, giving her performance a sense of agency. Here, the woman was all-but-nameless eye candy, present onstage to prove to the audience that these middle-aged rockers are still animals with ladies half their age.
Aside from that, Farrell sounded great vocally, and Dave Navarro, as always, was a total pro on the guitar. Their slower, more musically daring moments sizzled with brooding intensity, and the familiar hits were met with roars of approval. And when Tom Morello — making his second guest appearance of the day — popped up for “Mountain Song” (which the younger members of the audience probably just know through Rock Band, tbh) it was genuinely exhilarating to hear Morello and Navarro together. It was just unfortunate they couldn’t have done without the benign sexism peppering their set.
2016 has been a busy year for Tom Morello. In addition to his scorching work with Prophets of Rage, he also teamed up with rock newcomers X Ambassadors for “Collider,” a bonus track on the deluxe edition of their debut album, VHS. And while it wasn’t technically a surprise — Morello actually announced it on Twitter a few days ago — he made a guest appearance during their 2016 Lolla set that the majority of the audience definitely wasn’t prepared for. The group and Morello ripped through their studio collab “Collider” after they introduced the guitar legend with this: “Rock n’ roll never dies.”
Like Jane’s Addiction (who wrapped just minutes before she took a stage across the way from theirs), Grimes hit the stage with three female dancers. Unlike the trio simulating sex during the alt-rock stalwarts’ set, Grimes’ dancers looked like individuals. They were dressed differently from each other, they looked like people you might see in real life, and they moved to the music with a sense of authenticity — they were dancing for themselves, not for others.
Grimes’ set was one of the best of Lollapalooza 2016. Musically, she hit every song hard, and despite two twisted ankles, she was more physically fluid than the majority of Lolla performers. Her between-song banter is refreshingly unscripted — instead of asking things like “How are you doing Chicago?” or “Let’s see if this is the loudest crowd,” she talks about her shoelaces coming undone or how much she loves to see the crowd dancing, even if “I hate pressuring people to dance — especially in the daylight.”
Much of her set was melodic, beat-based electronic pop peppered with the occasional scream, but on the appropriately named “Scream,” Grimes let loose with a hellish bellow that would have done Cookie Monster proud. Additional coolness: With “Scream” collaborator Aristophanes not present, she informed the crowd, “I can’t speak Mandarin so I’m going to rap it in Russian.”
The back-to-basics country singer-songwriter rocketed to fame based on the strength of his onstage abilities, and Stapleton didn’t disappoint at Lollapalooza. An antidote to the commercial-leaning radio country songs with big choruses and slick production, Stapleton harkens back to an era where country was a little rougher around the edges. And sure enough, he made his allegiance to the Outlaw Country mores of yore clear with this dedication to the Lolla crowd: “This one’s for all the prisoners in the audience. And those of you that will be going to jail later tonight.”
While Andre 3000 does Lord knows what wth his free time, Big Boi has kept very busy during OutKast’s indefinite hiatus (that festival reunion run certainly doesn’t seem to indicate they’ll ever hit the studio as OutKast again). In addition to his excellent solo albums, he teamed with electro duo Phantogram for a 2015 EP as Big Grams, and their Lolla set featured that and more. Aside from their original material, Big Grams wove segments of some of OutKast’s biggest hits (“Ms. Jackson,” “The Way You Move”) into Phantogram’s world of slinky synth pop. While those moments got the crowd turned up, the whole set was pretty chill — and there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, the main stage afternoon slot shouldn’t pack the same brain-bashing punch of the headliners: Sometimes you need those satisfying synths to relax to, especially on the third day of a four-day festival.
Saturday afternoon, a mom excitedly approach a group of teenage girls (presumably she was chaperoning them) to inform them that the festival’s most iconic moment had just occurred: “Girls, girls, girls,” she breathlessly said. “I just dabbed for the first time.” The teen girls, as is their wont, were unimpressed.
There are plenty of shirtless dudes at Lolla (or any fest for that matter), but one in particular stood out. An inventive man had a message painted across his back informing the rest of the fest that he’d lost his iPhone, and to call a particular number if you happened to stumble across it. We didn’t find the phone, but we were impressed by his creative efforts to get it back.