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Lollapalooza 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

on August 03, 2015, 2:00pm
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This Lollapalooza 2015 coverage is presented by the JVC XX Elation

JVCKenwood_Lolla XX v1It’s weird: Ten years ago, Lollapalooza found a new home in Chicago’s Grant Park, and the whole festival atmosphere felt so fresh and exciting. Now, it’s second nature. The pre-gaming starts Thursday night, the following three days whiz on by, the cleanup begins, next year’s dates are announced, speculation heats up, a headliner surfaces, those two-weekend rumors pop up again (only to be quickly squashed), another headliner leaks, and finally, the full lineup drops. No matter who’s on the poster — it could be The Cure or Kings of Leon or Lady Gaga or Paul McCartney, whatever — people moan and groan and smash their keys in anger. It’s all for naught, though, because the damn thing sells out in five minutes anyhow.

Times have certainly changed since those salad days of 2005. What was once Perry Farrell’s traveling festival of alternative oddities has now instead become a lucrative global brand, thanks to thriving installments firmly established in Santiago, Chile, and São Paulo, Brazil, with two more on the way for Berlin, Germany, and Bogotá, Colombia. And considering that Live Nation has a controlling interest in C3 Presents, this aggressive expansion should only continue, which means, hey, maybe we’ll finally get that oft-rumored Lollapalooza Toronto. Or Lollapalooza Israel. Wouldn’t that be wild? Roger Waters could headline!

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Jokes aside, there was something curiously nostalgic about this year’s Chicago installment. While it’s technically the 11th time Lollapalooza has taken over (and strangled) Grant Park, it’s actually been a clean 10 years since the fruitful partnership began. Walking around, I tried to remember that understated first year, back when only the south fields were in operation and acts like Weezer or Death Cab for Cutie could headline over Arcade Fire and The Killers. Late Saturday afternoon, I stood under the same friendly trees behind the Sprint stage, where I watched the madness ensue around me, recalling a time when there were four stages blasting music at hour-long intervals and the record heat was keeping everyone away from Ben Kweller.

Squint hard enough and you can still see fragments of that era in today’s festivities. It’s just bigger, louder, and overstuffed with younger audiences starved for every “button-pushing” act at that one-time little tent called Perry’s. Some might also argue there’s an assault of corporatization, and they’d be right, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Late Friday evening, Contributing Editor Philip Cosores remarked on how the glut of corporate sponsors wasn’t offensive enough to detract from the bolder and more useful amenities on site. The food’s more affordable and diverse than most destination festivals, the security’s startlingly efficient and effective, and there’s an arguably strong commitment to everyone from GA to VIP to Press.

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Photo by Philip Cosores

One of the reasons I’m always drawn to Lollapalooza is because it’s so synonymous with Consequence of Sound. This site wouldn’t exist without that make-it-or-break-it year in Grant Park. The brand’s Chicago resurrection came with a lively message board that connected me with my colleague and partner Alex Young, and the rest is as you see it today. And so, each passing year feels like a new step we’re also taking. But, let’s be real: We’ve also changed drastically. We work with more and more sponsors each month, and we’ve expanded and experienced a variety of face lifts, too. There are always going to be ugly factors with regards to change, but I’d like to believe that change only works if the positives outweigh the negatives.

Once again, Lollapalooza proved just that. Did the undercard suffer from having both Sir Paul McCartney and Metallica on the bill? Sure, but over 80,000 ecstatic fans walked out of the park singing “Hey Jude” or screaming “Master of Puppets” as they flooded the streets of downtown Chicago. Sure, that tense and unexpected evacuation was hardly ideal on Sunday afternoon, but somehow over 48,000 festival-goers and 4,000 staff, artists, and vendors were safely evacuated and then reentered into the park in under an hour. To their further credit, the organizers were even able to rearrange the splintered schedule and accommodate the early close in preparation for the next storm.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

There’s something remarkable about this 10-year-long winning streak of Lollapalooza, even to a cynical dickhead like myself. Forgive me for getting a tad sentimental about the proceedings, but as someone who’s only missed one year in Grant Park — the great lineup of 2007, all because of a negligent landlord (it’s a long story) — I feel comfortable in saying I’ve seen all the ups and downs of this polarizing franchise. I’ll agree the festival’s long been removed from its original roots and will also contend that there’s something depressing about this, but for all of its radical changes, whether it’s the cheap assault of EDM or the Live Nation takeover, the honest echoes are still vibrant enough to keep considering this a must-see event.

To paraphrase the weekend’s third headliner: “How Big, How Shrewd, How Beautiful.”

–Michael Roffman
Editor-in-Chief

Artist Who Benefitted Most From Their After-Show

ODESZA

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Photo by Philip Cosores

ODESZA’s set got off to a promising start when the duo emerged wearing matching Chicago Bulls jerseys and was followed by the team’s official drumline. It was a bold move that played to local sports sympathies, and it succeeded in working the sweltering crowd into a fervor. As soon as the drumline dispersed, however, reality set in. ODESZA really has no business on any Lollapalooza stage not named Perry’s, as their music is only a few shades removed from EDM, and none of those shades are particularly interesting. Their hour-long set seemed interminable, and it didn’t help that the oontz-oontz beats acted like a siren song to all the worst kinds of bro. The drumline came back out for a viscerally satisfying conclusion, but it all boiled down to two great moments sandwiching a thick slice of crap. –Collin Brennan

Most spontaneous on-stage marriage proposal

White Sea

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Okay, so no one actually got engaged on Saturday that I know of, but White Sea’s Morgan Kibby came close to wedding the BMI stage’s biggest hype man on the spot. “I’m so excited that you’re here,” said Kibby, and in response, a guy in matching Hawaiian shirt and cargo shirts nursing spiked Gatorade hollered back, “We’re so excited for you!”

“I will marry you later,” Kibby promised, and her number one fan agreed: “I will marry you!”

Kibby, who’s known for her vocal work with M83, strained a little sharp on her own songs’ high notes, but her anonymous fiancé cheered fiercely all the same. “Future baby daddy right here,” she said. I hope they’re very happy. –Sasha Geffen

Most Overcrowded and Underplanned Stage

Young Thug

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Photo by Philip Cosores

For some reason, Thugger landed on the BMI stage on Friday evening. This doesn’t make sense because Young Thug has a bunch of hits, and hits draw fans, and fans take up space. The BMI stage is a shady grove to the east of Grant Park by the lake, and when Young Thug took the stage, the whole area got clogged up with a whole lot of people smoking weed. It seems that more than a few people were there to see if he would even show up, given his recent run-ins with the law, but show up he did to rap through tracks like “Stoner” and “Danny Glover”. It was a fun enough set if personal space isn’t really your thing and you like your secondhand smoke fresh and bountiful. –Sasha Geffen

Cheapest Cover of Cheap Trick

The New Pacific

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

The early afternoon slot on Friday is not particularly enviable, but The New Pacific brought all the energy they could muster to the sparse crowd at BMI. The Los Angeles band walked out to the tune of Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba”, and lead singer Alec Strickland proceeded to punctuate every other verse with a cry of “Let’s go!” Sheer willpower, however, wasn’t enough to elevate an eight-song set of mostly ho-hum pop punk, and Strickland’s brief forays into the crowd were more clumsy than endearing. Ditto for the cover of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender”, which felt like a, well, cheap way to garner some Chicago-area good will. You can’t say anything bad about these guys’ gamesmanship, though. When Strickland broke a string mid-set, he had to duck behind the stage and grab his own backup while the rest of the band filled time. It was a nice reminder that not everyone playing at Lolla is a rock star, and some of these bands are still trying to make their own luck. –Collin Brennan

Worst Pairing of Band and Festival

Wet

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Brooklyn dream pop trio Wet didn’t bring super soakers like Mick Jenkins and his crew, but they still lived up to their name during a sleepy afternoon set. “Let me see you drink water,” singer Kelly Zutrau asked the crowd between songs, as underwater visuals played behind her band’s sparse setup. Wet’s version of R&B is a hypnotic one, highlighted by the interplay between Zutrau’s voice and Marty Sulkow’s slippery riffs. Everything’s drenched in reverb, as the genre’s rulebook dictates, and it makes for a contemplative listen that lends itself more to headphones than to a mid-day festival set. The Pepsi crowd was amped up after the back-to-back combo of Jenkins and human firework Raury, and Wet felt more like a wet blanket than a revelation. –Collin Brennan

Most accurate simulation of literal hell

Carnage

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Evangelists warned me of eternal damnation as I made my way back through the gates to Perry’s stage Saturday evening. I had no idea I would get a glimpse of it so soon. Peter Rosenberg introduced DJ Carnage, and then the man himself lorded over us like Lucifer over stacks of flame-red screens. Jets of fire launched into the air, while people screamed and bodies writhed against bodies. Every time the beat dropped, the whole crowd jumped until we all sank one level further into the unholy deep. –Sasha Geffen

Next on CBS: Big Stage, Small Band, Problematic Sound Guy

Glass Animals

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Photo by Philip Cosores

If this set was on the Pepsi stage, that would have been fine. Palladia? Overjoyed. But the Samsung Galaxy? Give me a break. Glass Animals has one album to date (see: 2014’s Zaba). And while they still managed to snag a fairly large crowd, the Oxford quartet was inevitably swallowed up by the amount of vacant space. Also, what the hell happened to the sound guy? Frontman Dave Bayley was hardly audible, and his lyrics came off as mostly gasps and moans, which is a damn shame given the guy’s vocal range. Still, their performance and cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” was as good, if not better, than their Triple J performance from last year. –Phillip Roffman

Worst Bass Mix

Charli XCX

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Technical difficulties are nothing new at music festivals, but no Lolla platform has shittier sound than the Sprint stage (or whatever corporate moniker it’s slapped with on a given year). Facing the Field Museum and the Samsung Galaxy headliner stage, Sprint keeps the volume of nearly every band in a perpetual state of flux, with everything fading in and out with the wind. Bass remains the one exception to this rule, somehow staying consistently cranked and swamping everything else in the mix. This became a huge problem in the middle of Charli XCX’s set, when, during “Doing It”, her bass player repeatedly hit the same sour note in the chorus.

It happens all the time — you think you’re playing the right note or chord, so you keep plunking away at it until it’s too late. But rarely is your mistake so loud that an entire baseball field can hear it. Outside of that, Charli XCX attacked her Sucker-heavy show with trademark club aggression, thrusting her hips, pumping her fists, and constantly working the crowd. But — and through no fault of her own, it’s worth noting — her charismatic showmanship ended up looking slight and silly when driven by such weak sonics, as if the whole thing was a static-barred TV show rather than an outdoor concert. –Dan Caffrey

Worst Band Name!

The War on Drugs

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Note: This entry was written by 56-year-old guest reporter, Gunther Guthrie.

Hey, hey, readers! It’s your old pal Gunther Guthrie, back on the music beat again after a successful first year of Lollapalooza coverage. Read about last year’s adventures here! First off, I want to thank Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman for letting an old warhorse like me give his perspective on things. He’s a gentleman and a scholar (and a gentleman again, for that matter!), and I couldn’t thank him enough. Love ya, Mike!

Alright, so first thing’s first. My bosses at Prudential wouldn’t let me leave work early, and I had to pick up my daughter Jordan from school so she could meet her friends at the festival (some stage called Perry’s — never heard of it!), so I didn’t get to Grant Park until pretty late. I knew from last year not to bring any suntan lotion, lest the gestapo that is Lollapalooza security make me unload my fanny pack, so I got in pretty quickly. But I still didn’t have any time to hit the media tent for a kobe slider or two. (The free food in the press area is the highlight of the festival, and I’m sad I wasn’t able to sample it on all three days. Oh well.)

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

The band Michael had assigned me to was some group called The War on Drugs. I remember these guys being at the A.V. Fest/Hideout Block Party last year, but the only war I got to see was the one waged between my bowels and the port-o-john after eating one too many funnel cakes. They sounded pretty good, but it was also hard to hear them over the loud music coming out of my body, if you get my drift.

So yeah, I was excited to finally check these guys out.

My excitement soon disappeared.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

I actually liked the music — kind of like a trippier Dire Straits with Dylan singing — but I take huge issue with their band name. When I hear “The War on Drugs,” I think of an anti-drug band with a positive message for today’s youth. But the kids in the crowd were smoking up a storm. Seriously, it felt like a Cheech & Chong movie! I’m no square (remember, folks, my favorite band is Emerson, Lake & Palmer), but when you call your band The War on Drugs, you have an obligation to be a role model for your audience. And if The War on Drugs has such a message, it sure as heck isn’t getting through. The proof? Four boys in front of me who were no older than Jordan kept passing a joint back and forth and got really amped up during some song called “Red Eyes”?

“Red Eyes”??? Hmmm. I think I know why frontman Adam Granduciel has red eyes, and it’s not from staying up too late either! Also, he’s dating the woman who played Jane on Breaking Bad. She watched him from the side of the stage, and with her dark sunglasses on, let’s just say that I have a feeling life is imitating art. This couple is clearly talented, but I’m worried for their future. So if you’re reading this, guys, please get in touch with CoS so I can get you some counseling. I’ve seen too many of the greats taken away too soon, and I don’t want to see you go down the same path. Love, Gunther –Gunther Guthrie

Best Cover Band

Hippo Campus

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Photo by Philip Cosores

It’s funny that Hippo Campus comprises four youngsters from Minnesota. Their music couldn’t be further from the state’s trademark wintry confines. Welding together the sounds of Minus the Bear and Vampire Weekend, the outfit sounds like four laid-back bros from Key West, Florida, and they look like it, too. Early Saturday afternoon, over at the BMI stage, singer Jake Luppen bounced up and down from behind his microphone in an airy, flamboyant shirt. “We thought 10 people were gonna show up,” he admitted to the fairly large, energetic, and loving crowd, joking that he could see 11 fans out there. Hardly. No, they’re tapping into that mainstream indie audience that made Young the Giant such a novelty a couple years ago. They should do well for themselves in the months ahead — especially if “Suicide Saturday” takes off. –Michael Roffman

Scariest Projections!

A$AP Rocky

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Note: This entry was written by 56-year-old guest reporter, Gunther Guthrie.

Reader, I have a confession. I did a bad thing. A very bad thing.

On Sunday night, I needed to find my daughter Jordan, who spent all weekend at this place called Perry’s (for my first mention of Perry’s, see my writeup on the inappropriately named band The War on Drugs). I wish I could have let her stay later, but her aunt and uncle were in town, and my wife, Gilda, was making her world-famous pot roast. It’s a long drive back to Arlington Heights, and we couldn’t miss it.

So I finally found this place Perry’s, which was actually pretty easy to find because there is a big sign in front of it that says “Perry’s.” I walked in, and I gotta tell ya, it was something else. Think Sodom and Gomorrah but with more dust and half-naked teenagers. Basketball jerseys and Native-American halter tops and kids jiggling themselves everywhere. In other words, bad news.

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Two clean-cut gentleman on stage spun records and emitted a bunch of heavy bass and Robocop farts (Seriously, this was the opposite of Sam Smith. These guys were not performers, but button pushers), and the crowd went wild, crying and vomiting, often at the same time! Needless to say, it was impossible to find Jordan.

She’s a good kid, and I knew she’d make her way back home, but I was depressed. My little girl was growing up. I hung my head and walked out of Perry’s, when a nice young lad asked me if I’d like to buy a Tab.

“The soda?” I asked him.

“Yeah, sure, man,” he replied.

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Photo by Philip Cosores

It had been a while since I hit the press tent, so I was pretty thirsty. I happily paid him his $15, which seemed a little pricy for a soft drink, but oh well. But when I looked down at what the enterprising young man had placed in my hand, it wasn’t a soda at all, but a sticker. What the heck was going on here? He was gone in a flash before I could ask him. The sticker had a Smurf on it, and it looked a little wet. Maybe I had to lick it for hydration? So I did.

Now, I’ve listened to ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery almost nonstop as a teenager, but I have never experienced anything like this. Everyone soon looked like a paramecium (a globular-looking protozoa, for all you laymen aka parameciums out there ;), and when I made my way towards the park exit, it felt like I was ice-skating on Jell-O. I figured I should review one more act on my way out, and the act I caught was A$AP Rocky. Not sure why he has a dollar sign in his name, but okay.

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Reader, I’ve gotta be honest — I don’t remember much about the music. It was rap — I know that — and I didn’t really like the way he shouted and sang about violence and what not. What I do remember are the projections, a horror show of money falling in rainstorms and women bending over with their butts touching so they looked like demonic Rorschach inkblots. I screamed. When I looked down at my pants, I realized I had pissed myself.

I knew I was in no shape to drive, so I took an Uber home, which ended up being pricey since I live all the way out in Arlington Heights. Jordan, Gilda, and my in-laws were all already there, and they didn’t seem to notice anything strange as I quietly ate my pot roast.

That night when I went to bed, I kept seeing the money storms and Rorschach butts doing their monstrous dance on the ceiling. When I woke up the next morning, I had wet the bed. That’s two pants-pissings for all you keeping score at home. I am afraid for my well-being, and am never going to Lollapalooza again. –Gunther Guthrie

Best Intermission Chillwave

Toro y Moi

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Around 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, Charli XCX was wrapping up, and most of the sweaty, dehydrated, and danced-out Lollapalootians were headed to the shady areas surrounding Chow Town for some relaxation with a side of grub. Hundreds more were spread out on the lawn to drink in the chillwave of Chaz Bundick, aka Toro y Moi: vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, and adorable wearer of clear-framed specs. While his fifth studio album, What For?, is more slow-moving and introspective than the poppy dance music of previous LPs like Anything in Return, the ponderance hit at just the right time of day, when one could think about the weight of the universe while also tucking into the unfathomable goodness of a Graham Elliot lobster corndog. –Leah Pickett

Best Catwoman Suit

Marina and the Diamonds

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

I will give Marina Lambrini Diamandis this much: Her fans adore her. From the moment the striking Welsh singer-songwriter slunk on stage, donning a skintight ebony bodysuit, no less, shrieks that included “Marina, you’re fucking amazing!”, “I love you, Marina!”, and “Marina, notice me!” were deafening.

Diamandis, who goes by the stage name Marina and the Diamonds, also possessed a breezy knack for stage banter (among her gems: “Sorry, I have to stay hydrated, because if you haven’t noticed, I’m wearing plastic right now”), but her songs left much to be desired, and her voice, often straining to reach the loftier octaves, was underwhelming at best.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Still, she put on a fun and energetic show, from her sparkly ‘80s-inspired synths and aggressive shimmying to spice up the bland yet amusing bad-girl pop lyrics like “I’m gonna be your bubblegum bitch” and “Rule number one: you gotta have fun” to her largely captive audience scream-singing every word to cover her loss of breath on a couple of the choruses.

“Would you get down on your knees for me?” she purred on “Prima Donna Girl”. Eh. But I’m pretty sure that there are plenty in this massive screaming horde who would be happy to oblige. –Leah Pickett

Funniest Performer with Least Funny Banter

Father John Misty

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

This year’s I Love You, Honeybear relies on one helluva joke: the lothario who gets hitched and treats marriage with the same hedonism that he treated bachelorhood. There’s a second joke, too: the fact that J. Tillman actually did get married, and that, for all the detachment of his stage persona and Portnoy-told details of his narrative (“I wanna take you in the kitchen/ Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in”), much of the album deals with his actual feelings and reservations about commitment. That’s a rich, funny, and complex comedy routine in itself, one that only got enriched by the juxtaposed nature of Tillman’s live performance on Friday — the idea of crooning his confessions with gospel-like passion while keeping his body movement and facial expressions deadpan.

Unfortunately, his intriguing ambiguity got undercut by his lame stage banter, which usually took sarcastic aim at his corporate surroundings, from a plane flying a Trojan condoms banner to the Bud Light stage in front of him. The problem wasn’t his demeanor — the faux numbness was very much in line with the Father John Misty role he’s created — but the pacing. He often took a few beats too long to come up with a punchline, thus exposing the timid man behind the character and taking away from the slyness of the whole thing. And if you think I’m focusing too much on the talking and not enough on the songs, well, the guy talked a lot. Like any fledgling comedian, Tillman works best when he doesn’t try too hard to explain the joke. –Dan Caffrey

Closest approximation of LCD Soundsystem

Hot Chip

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

LCD Soundsystem is no more, and never will be again. But James Murphy wasn’t the only gentle-voiced dude to front a neo-disco outfit; in fact, he wasn’t even the first. Hot Chip has been cranking the 4/4 since 2000, and they even got a hand in releasing what might be their best album from DFA Records in 2006. The UK band is still going strong, and since their guitarist Al Doyle toured with Murphy toward the end of the LCD days, their show is the closest thing you’ll find to an encore of Shut Up and Play the Hits.

Hot Chip did play the hits Friday afternoon at the Bud Light stage — their own, and also a couple borrowed ones, namely Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” melded into “All My Friends”. The mashup was a sweet and understated way to close a sweet and understated set, one that reminded us just how warm electronic music can sound when played by a battalion of live instrumentalists. –Sasha Geffen

Best Birthday Celebration

Catfish and the Bottlemen

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

It’s likely that Van McCann, frontman of Catfish and the Bottlemen, got exactly what he wished for this year. He celebrated his 23rd birthday with a Lollapalooza debut on the main stage, and for an early afternoon set, the band was greeted with a larger-than-expected crowd. McCann shares his subpar and relatable life events through each song: “I remember when we/ Swapped names and I thought maybe/ You’d stay and try to out-drink me/ Your friends, all hated it,” he sang on “Cocoon”, bringing an air of boyish nostalgia to the set. From the start, McCann sounded winded, but his vocals found strength to sing the choruses with his grating growl. If any attendees were feeling sluggish on day two, this set surely woke them up. –Lyndsey Havens

Most Hypnotic Toilet-Paper Acrobatics

Gogol Bordello

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Despite being a political refugee from the Ukraine, Gogol Bordello ringmaster Eugene Hütz has always been more interested in uproarious positivity than politics, and isn’t that a strong political statement in itself? Maybe that’s why their Lolla set felt like a battlefield where everyone decided to put down their guns and party. The gypsy gang vocals on “Start Wearing Purple” (and just about every other song) were rallying cries, MC Pedro Erazo was a military drummer heralding the arrival of peaceful troops, and the several bottles of flung wine were non-lethal substitutes for Hütz’s blood. It’s no coincidence that out of all the Lolla sets, the most flags were waved in the audience during the Gogol show, their performance being both life-affirming and nationality-affirming, regardless of where you were from. And while it certainly wasn’t the only time the Palladia stage saw rolls of toilet paper tossed into the air, the TP took on a new sort of elegance, the fluttering white trails cresting upwards, then gracefully angling towards the ground like mortars that would never explode. –Dan Caffrey

Most Dylanesque Swede

The Tallest Man on Earth

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Kristian Matsson, better known as The Tallest Man on Earth, is a folk singer-songwriter with a voice that recalls a young Bob Dylan, despite the fact that Matsson is from Dalarna, Sweden, and draws as much from Nick Drake as he does the formative Americana of Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie. Fellow Swedes Klara and Johanna Söderberg of First Aid Kit, who played a rousing afternoon set on Friday, hail from Enskede; and while they share a shimmery, folk-laced vibe, Matsson has more twang and, let’s face it, more brood. With dark and incisive lyrics like “I’m racing through my pockets now/ Because I’m starting to believe/ That selling emptiness to strangers/ Is a little bit warmer than my dreams” weaving in and out of some impressive finger-plucking guitar, Matsson, although he looks more like The Fall’s Jamie Dornan, wore his nouveu-Dylan mantle well. –Leah Pickett

Friendliest Mosh Pit!

Brand New

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Note: This entry was written by 56-year-old guest reporter, Gunther Guthrie.

If Friday was a disappointment (see my writeup on the inappropriately named The War on Drugs), Saturday was what we like to call a “golden egg” down at the Prudential offices. I got there bright and early (Jordan was groggy and said she’d get a ride with her friends later. She must have had quite the night at Perry’s!), so I had plenty of time to hit the media tent before catching my first assignment of the day. Lunch wasn’t being served yet, but there were plenty of Kind bars. Good enough for me.

So the funny thing about the band I had to cover was that they were called Brand New, but they’ve actually been around for 15 years! I like that. It’s a clever joke, and a wholesome one that’s a lot better than The War on Drugs. But for wholesome guys, they sure do scream a lot. I couldn’t really understand what they were saying, but given their senses of humor, I’m sure it was kind, non-violent, and appreciative of life. Well done, boys.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

How do I know all this? Because I looked at the mosh pit. Everyone was helping each other up, with some people (usually young men) crying into each other’s shoulders. It was sweet to see the power of music affecting them in such an emotional way. It reminded me of a wedding, but with more guitars! I liked Brand New and recommend them to anyone looking for a good time. Now off to find some kobe sliders… 😉 –Gunther Guthrie

Best Voice

Alabama Shakes

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Photo by Philip Cosores

As an inflatable shark rose from the crowd to greet the mid-afternoon sun, Alabama Shakes took the stage to a roar of gratitude. “Technically, this is our first time playing Lollapalooza,” announced lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard, which is true; their 2012 set was cancelled by a rainstorm that led to an unforgettably zombie-apocalyptic evacuation of muddy festivalgoers down Michigan Avenue. And in spite of a pesky power outage halfway through the set (really, festival gods?), the Athens, Alabama-based quintet blazed through tracks from 2015’s Sound and Color (sorry, no “Hold On”) with precision and aplomb worthy of the big Samsung stage.

And although the band is deservedly praised for their soulful sound reminiscent of Muscle Shoals and, especially with their new album, a hint of shoegaze, it’s Howard’s singular voice — cooing sweet as honey one moment, ripping into a jagged, dynamite roar the next — that makes the jaws around me drop. “What a voice,” sighed the tank-topped bro to my left, following Howard’s divine opening yelp on “Don’t Want to Fight No More” and her sustained belts throughout the powerhouse closer, “Gimme Me All Your Love”. His friend agreed on the last song, “So rare, man. So rare.” Indeed, bros. Indeed. –Leah Pickett

Best Live Band Reincarnation

Skylar Spence

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Photo by Philip Cosores

This time last year, Skylar Spence went by Saint Pepsi, and he was a dude with a laptop cranking out fun, infectious singles like “Fiona Coyne” and “Fall Harder”. Now, Ryan DeRobertis has a full band, and together they make fleshed-out neo-disco that’s a far cry from the electronic collages he would put together before Carpark scooped him up. Skylar Spence made it to the BMI stage for a truncated set after the afternoon rainstorm (they were originally slated to play Pepsi, but that was too much irony for one day) and shared a joyful moment in the late afternoon sun. DeRobertis is now a singer and guitarist, not a knob-turner, but he pulled out a couple tracks from the Saint Pepsi days alongside previews of his upcoming debut album, Prom King. –Sasha Geffen

Nastiest Swig of Vodka

Twin Peaks

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Chicago’s own Twin Peaks turned the Sprint stage into their own raucous house party, complete with a couple swigs of warm Tito’s Vodka. The band built up their following with the same kind of garage punk that’s been dominating The Empty Bottle and other local venues for a while now, but they played a couple new ones that show their songwriting evolving by leaps and bounds. The vocal harmonies were especially on point as the boys howled, “I don’t wanna miss you!” in various octaves. Their energy was met by one of the best crowd moments of the whole weekend, when a group of girls started springboarding themselves into the air on a makeshift trampoline. The old man in me said, “Well, that’s a tailbone injury just waiting to happen,” but the young punk in me countered with “Shut up, old man.” –Collin Brennan

Best Non-Metallica Band for People Who Only Came to See Metallica

Death From Above 1979

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Photo by Philip Cosores

“It’s the perfect equation,” joked Death from Above 1979’s Sebastian Grainger about the Samsung Galaxy lineup. “DFA plus Tame Impala equals Metallica!” The reunited Canadian rock duo is indeed an odd fit for Lollapalooza, but that didn’t stop them from giving it their all during a punishing hour-long set. Grainger handles most of the vocals, leaving partner-in-crime Jesse Keeler free to do terrifying things to his transparent Dan Armstrong bass. Much of DFA’s live appeal lies in watching Keeler lay waste to the upper frets of his instrument, and he didn’t disappoint during a set heavy on cuts from last year’s The Physical World. The crowd seemed receptive, probably because it comprised hundreds of Metallica fans desperate to hear something heavy for a change. –Collin Brennan

Pinkest Rain

Zebra Katz

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Before the storms rolled in, Zebra Katz made it rain over the BMI stage during his early afternoon set. The Brooklyn rapper shook up a bottle of rosé for half a song, then deftly popped it at the track’s climax, spraying fizz all over the crowd. He finished off the bottle by pouring it directly into some bro’s mouth in the front row. Zebra’s performance was full of camp, from calls and responses to a slow striptease, but that moment might have been the strongest tether to the gay club that Lollapalooza has ever seen. –Sasha Geffen

Shortest Attempt to Play a Whole Set Barefoot

Tove Lo

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Swedish pop singer Tove Lo began her set with two drummers and no shoes. The drummers stuck around, but the bare feet didn’t last long; after shimmying her way through “My Gun”, she yelled, “I’m fucking burning my feet off!” and scampered off stage to fetch a pair of Birkenstocks. This moment gets close to the heart of Tove Lo’s appeal. She’s an internationally renowned star with two bona fide hits to her name (“Habits (Stay High)” and “Talking Body”), but nothing about her seems canned. This doesn’t lend itself to spotless, theatrical performances a la Taylor Swift, but it does inject her music with a refreshing sort of pathos. On “Habits”, she sings about eating her dinner in the bathtub and generally being a fuckup; as if to underline that point, she slipped slightly off time when performing the song live. Earlier in the set, she introduced “Moments” by saying, “This song’s about not being perfect,” and that holds true in Tove’s persona as well as in her lyrics. This is dance pop that’s all the better for its slightly rough edges. –Collin Brennan

Most Incendiary Blues

Gary Clark, Jr.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Blues rock and R&B musician Gary Clark, Jr. drew a smaller throng of beach ball-bouncing fans at the Sprint stage, what with Paul McCartney diehards already jostling for prime positions across the field and the inexplicably popular Alt-J simultaneously playing on the other side of the park. But for the lucky crowd that lingered, the Austin, Texas-born and bred musician, looking cool as hell in his signature hat and shades, knew how to work it.

Opening with the electric “Bright Lights” (“You’re gonna know by name by the end of the night,” he crooned with sultry panache), Clark held the audience in the palm of his guitar-slinging hand. On songs like “When My Train Pulls In” and “Don’t Owe You a Thang” from his Bright Lights EP, Clark’s perfectly calibrated wails and licks, often spinning into fuzzy, frenetic meltdowns while still keeping the sturdy backbone of his rhythm intact, were a thrill to behold. Factoring in his effortlessly seductive vocals and devil-may-care confidence at center stage, it was easy to see why Clark is poised on the precipice of a breakout. –Leah Pickett

Best Musical Message

Mick Jenkins

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Photo by Philip Cosores

“Drink more water.” Mick Jenkins had a surprisingly large late-morning crowd repeating these three words throughout his powerful Pepsi stage set. And while the idea has its merits on a warm Chicago afternoon, the message goes much deeper, with water standing as a metaphor for anything nourishing that his fans can consume, namely of the intellectual variety. Near the end of his set, Jenkins spoke of a murderer that when interviewed about the crimes he committed, quoted Lil Wayne to reporters, using the tale as a foil for how music can inspire for good and for evil. Performing in front of his hometown fans, Jenkins continues to try, and succeed, at doing the former. –Philip Cosores

Most Groovy

Tame Impala

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

When Australian multi-instrumentalist and Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker said, “It’s a fucking pleasure to be back in Chicago,” his sincerity was believable, and not just because of his attractive accent and curiously darling summer scarf. He sprinkled feel-good nuggets of banter throughout the Saturday evening set, like how it was such a beautiful day, and wasn’t it nice to be basking in the sun with such beautiful people? So when he launched into arguably the band’s strongest album to date, last month’s mesmerizing Currents, his audience swayed into the beats as he does, with genuine passion and an upward spiral of sun-drenched verve.

Psychedelic visuals siphoned in and out on the screens behind Parker and his crew as they engaged in equally trippy riffs, zags, and bends, from the cerebral electro-pop of “Let It Happen” to the languid, progressive fever-dream of “Eventually”. The band also made sure to include the hits from 2012’s Lonerism, indulging in crowd-pleasers “Elephant” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” before closing on a literal high note with the keyboard-driven “Apocalypse Dreams”, as Parker’s swoony falsetto soared over Grant Park. –Leah Pickett

Best Homecoming (That’s Not Really a Homecoming)

Bully

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Bully is the perfect name for this Nashville four-piece, whose live show crackles with all the energy of a schoolyard fight. If their evening set at BMI felt something like a homecoming, that’s because it was; vocalist-guitarist Alicia Bognanno interned at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio once upon a time, and she even name-drops Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood in the first verse of “Milkman”. That being said, Bully is Nashville through-and-through. The city’s intimidating music scene has pushed them to be better and more interesting than your average punk band, which is how they’ve ended up with power-pop gems like “Trying” and “I Remember”. It doesn’t hurt that Bognanno has one of the most enthralling voices in rock music. It’s one thing to hear it on record, but the real thing sounds like Kathleen Hanna gargling gravel. That’s a compliment, I swear. –Collin Brennan

Good Morning, Lollapalooza

SZA

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Leave it to Top Dawg Entertainment’s CoSign’d gem to be the first performer of the weekend on the colossal Samsung Galaxy stage. Awful scheduling aside, SZA treated her swift 45-minute set like a swanky evening performance, making sure everyone who missed out felt awfully guilty hours later when word-of-mouth would get around. And rest assured, it did. After all, there isn’t a better way to start your morning, early afternoon, what have you, than by listening to Marvin Gaye’s sweet sounds of “Mandota” reverberating into SZA’s own “Sweet November”. (The fact that she nabbed approval for the sample by the late crooner’s estate says a lot. Take that, Robin Thicke.) Additionally, I learned that Macca fans are crazy enough to spend seven hours of their lives hugging a guard rail. I am amazed. –Phillip Roffman

Best Use of Keytar

Raury

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Like most 19-year-olds, Raury has an inflated idea of his place in the world. Unlike most 19-year-olds, however, he’s got the talent and the sheer audacity to make you believe in all his messianic posturing. The Georgia artist’s message is overwhelmingly positive, and on Saturday afternoon he delivered it in a genre-spanning set that touched on everything from folk to electro-funk. “If you’re a person in this world who wants to evolve, you came to the right fucking place!” he shouted out to his noticeably young crowd, which met his enthusiasm during back-to-back standouts “Superfly” and “Devil’s Whisper”. You’ve got to hand it to the kid: He treated an afternoon set at Lollapalooza like a Sunday morning sermon. The fact that he was backed up by a keytar (!) only made his quasi-religious fervor that much easier to swallow. –Collin Brennan

Another Shot, Barkeep!

FKA twigs

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Upcoming artists at music festivals are typically hit or miss. Most of the time they’re an immediate sound you recognize — a cocktail of other artists you’ve already heard. FKA twigs, on the other hand, was whiskey on the rocks. All senses were enticed. Whether it was her soft and angelic whisper when she sang, or the way her body shifted with beats of eclectic loops and bass, you were lured into a show completely unexpected. As an experienced quadruple threat (singer, dancer, producer, choreographer), it was mesmerizing to see an artist display all areas of her talent in a 45-minute show. Even with a dancer or two on stage! There’s a reason she was our rookie of the year for 2014: Twigs, you killed it. –Kaela Chancey

Proudest father/son moment

Pell

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Pell is from New Orleans, not Chicago, but he still seemed to have plenty of family to cheer him on from the VIP section of the BMI stage. Far away the young rapper’s biggest fan of the day was his own father, who jammed out by the photo pit for the whole set, beaming. Pell showed off a lot of hometown pride on Saturday, fitting in tracks by fellow NOLA artists Lil Wayne and Juvenile between his own songs. One fan stage-dived during Juvenile’s “Slow Motion”, something that had apparently never happened at a Pell show before: “There’s a first time for everything,” he said. Mr. Pellerin loved it; even when the audience went wild when G-Eazy came out for “Got It Like That”, Dad was the happiest dude in the crowd. –Sasha Geffen

Most Reckless Stage Dives

Black Pistol Fire

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Black Pistol Fire is not an easy band to recommend to a skeptic. On paper, the Canadian-born, Austin-based duo bears an uncomfortable resemblance to The Black Keys, from their blues-rock leanings right down to their name. But sleep on these guys at your own risk, because what they did to BMI on Friday afternoon was unholy. Guitarist and vocalist Kevin McKeown prowled across the stage with all the patience of a toddler on timeout, leaving a trail of scorched earth and melted minds in his wake. After flirting with the idea for the first two songs, he finally dove straight into the crowd while pounding out the riff of “Hipster Shakes”. A brief but inspired cover of Nirvana’s “School” arrived shortly thereafter, cementing these guys as the cream of the BMI crop for the day (and probably the whole damn weekend). –Collin Brennan

Okay, Another Artist Who Benefitted Most From Their After-Show

Strand of Oaks

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Poor Timothy Showalter. After Lollapalooza instated a mandatory evacuation for a storm that never fully touched down, he was one of the first acts to play when the festival picked up again. Of course, this meant that most people were still reentering during his set, which made for a much smaller crowd than his emotionally raw anthems deserved. Luckily, most of his hardcore fans at the festival got to see him at the Empty Bottle the night before, where he added an extra guitarist in place of his touring keyboardist, Eliza Hardy Jones. Among the highlights of the beefed-up axe-power were more shredding, more stomping, and a doom-metal intro to the title track of last year’s knockout, HEAL. There were more intimate moments as well, including a solo rendition of “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins, who got referenced in song a few tunes before in “Goshen ’97”. Strand of Oaks always kills it live, but it feels much more punishing in a tiny, packed club than a sleepy grove where everyone’s regaining their festival spirit. –Dan Caffrey

Nicest Fella and a Performer

Sam Smith

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Note: This entry was written by 56-year-old guest reporter, Gunther Guthrie.

I’d heard all sorts of things about this guy Sam Smith, and I had a feeling he wouldn’t disappoint. After all, he won a Grammy! So did he disappoint? Reader, I’ve gotta tell ya, he did not disappoint.

First off, Sam Smith has class. With his sleek pompadour and buttoned-down floral-print shirt, he gave off the impression of someone who takes his job seriously, not like the rest of these yahoos at the festival. Seriously, can we talk about that for a second? All weekend, I saw teenager after teenager wearing basketball jerseys like they were at gym class or something. Even worse, they were always for the wrong team! Um, reality check, guys. We’re in Chicago, not San Antonio. Show some respect and throw that Spurs jersey in the trash!

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

But back to Smith. He did not disappoint. His backing band was great, and the pipes on this guy are something else. Despite being on the big Bud Light stage, you could hear every note, plus he writes his own songs. He was so nice to his fans and wished his sister a happy birthday, which made me forgive him for the Amy Winehouse cover later (she was a tremendous performer, but her drug use was a bad influence on today’s youth imo). He also covered Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, and I started wondering if this guy could be the next Elvis. Like The King, he croons, he works the crowd, and he’s a hit with the ladies. And maybe he’s actually better than Elvis because he writes his own songs.

Simply put, this guy is a performer, one who is actually talented and creates real music with instruments instead of just pushing a button. I love Sam Smith. He did not disappoint. Gunther Guthrie

Biggest Big-Boy Chair

Tyler, The Creator

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Even in the early stages of Odd Future, Tyler, The Creator never bothered me because I never took him seriously. He always seemed more like a nerdy cartoon character than a sociopath, one who never had the conviction or amorality to act out his sick, often misogynistic fantasies. That’s not to say the wrong person couldn’t get the wrong message from his music. It’s just that once you see a guy portray a Prince Valiant-haired centaur sucking up cocaine like a tornado, it’s hard to view him as a threat. His Saturday-afternoon set played into this idea of a kid pretending, with an oversized bed in the center and an equally exaggerated chair and dresser on either side of it. This gave Tyler plenty of room to bounce, jump, dangle his legs, and collapse as he worked through the multiple personas of his darkened play-land. Such theatricality (not to mention an endearing confession of stage fright) softened the more feather-ruffling side of his lyrics — even as he flailed about like a maniac, he always looked like an elementary-schooler in over his head. –Dan Caffrey

Most Brazen Violation of Grant Park’s Curfew

Metallica

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Photo by Philip Cosores

We don’t often think of musicians the same way we think of professional athletes, but few bands play music as physically demanding as Metallica’s. James Hetfield downstrokes on practically all of his rhythm parts, and all those drums in Lars Ulrich’s oversized kit aren’t going to hit themselves. This is all to say that we should cut Metallica some slack for slowing down with age. Their concerts no longer demand the same level of endurance as a triathlon, and some of the cuts they once played at blistering speeds have now settled into mid-tempo chugfests.

None of this seemed to matter to the thousands of metalheads who watched the band carry on for nearly three hours Saturday night, storming past the curfew like demons through the gates of Hell. Kirk Hammett was especially on point, taking the spotlight for two lightning-fast solos as the rest of the band regrouped backstage. Metallica has always been good to its fans, and they gave one lucky group the chance to join them on stage for the entirety of the set. This led to a few awkward moments (put your damn smartphones away, idiots), but the best part of the night was Hetfield letting a small kid hammer away on his axe.

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Rest assured, old guys: Heavy metal is in good hands. –Collin Brennan

Most Interdimensional Shapeshifting Wizard

Flying Lotus

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Steven Ellison is a genius, but more than that, he’s a showman. He stands inside a scrim shaped like a hypercube when he performs, but it’s not a barrier; it’s a tool for distorting the space of the stage, for letting the world of Flying Lotus bleed out to the people there to receive it. FlyLo has toured his You’re Dead! show for months now, but he seemed especially grateful to return to Chicago for the last hour of Friday’s Lollapalooza on the Pepsi stage. “I always appreciate coming out to Chicago,” he said. “And not on no dumb shit — seriously, you guys are the biggest music fans in the world, and I’ve been around.”

The yellow, glowing eyes of his skull mask moved between the two layers of projections; later, Ellison would drop the mask to become Captain Murphy and rap bare-faced at the lip of the stage. He dropped a Chance the Rapper verse and a DJ Rashad track into his set for the occasion, and Kendrick Lamar’s “Wesley’s Theory”, and then a remix of Drake’s “Know Yourself” with the vocals pitched up, just for fun. No solo artist works as hard on presence as Flying Lotus, and for an hour, the skyscrapers of Chicago felt like a distant dream. –Sasha Geffen

Christiest Christ Pose

Florence and the Machine

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Florence Welch isn’t the first musician to indulge in the Christ pose, and she definitely won’t be the last. But out of all the performers to throw back their heads and extend their arms like the messiah, she seemed the most unsure of the gesture during the Machine’s rain-threatened headlining set on Sunday night.

You could see wheels turning in Welch’s head whenever she finished running the length of the stage or executed a wonderfully clumsy — and thus human — dance move. “Shit. What now?” Then she would scan the horizon for some nonexistent force, pretend she saw something, reach out her hand with a pained look as if grasping for the moon, then snap into the JC position.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

There’s no denying the poignancy of the Machine’s music — quibbles aside, Welch’s aura and voice more than earn the old music-journalism cliches of “ethereal” and “powerhouse,” respectively — but I’ve always found some of her theatrics to be insincere and overblown. Her hesitant Christ pose felt like the British equivalent to Springsteen shadowboxing whenever he performs “The Wrestler”, the image of an artist buying into their own hippy-dippy myth.

Fortunately, Welch ended the night with a move that was so powerful and sincere because there was no way she could have predicted it. As the rumored storm finally descended upon Grant Park and she was forced to cut her set short (the final song was the aptly titled “Dog Days Are Over”), she ripped off her blouse and dashed into the crowd in her bra. Lightning crackled overhead, and just like that, Florence and the Machine had played a Lolla set for the history books. And all Welch had to do was be herself. –Dan Caffrey

The Religious Experience

Paul McCartney

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

No rock star is beyond criticism — even a legend in his 70s — and Paul McCartney’s headlining set on Friday night took a while to get going. There were the hacky projections (many pulled straight from Beatles Rock Band), the synthesized horns on opener “Magical Mystery Tour”, and Macca’s voice, which, while in decent shape considering his age and very full life, sounded soft and a little hoarse for the first seven songs.

But by the time he got to “Maybe I’m Amazed”, he was in full-on yowl mode, his gruffness returned as if boosted by some sort of throat steroid. He pounded his baby grand piano with fervor, and his remembrance of Linda felt tender and real. So did his made-up conversation with John Lennon on “Here Today”, his sassy duet with Brittany Howard on “Get Back”, and his ukulele rendition of George Harrison’s “Something”, despite the gentle plucks being nearly drowned out by Kaskade’s bass over at the Perry’s. The same thing happened during “Blackbird”, which inspired some of the best comedy of the night: “It’s like a mashup between me and whatever shit they’re playing,” the former Beatle quipped.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Funny as it was, it’s also important to remember that, at this point, this kind of casual conversation with his fans is second-nature to McCartney, as is the ukulele, the storytelling, and even the jolting fireworks display during “Live and Let Die”. His Lolla set wasn’t exactly special when stacked against his other concerts.

Except that it was. I don’t believe in deifying musicians, but I do believe in deifying the feelings inspired by their music, and McCartney conducting the whole audience through the climax of “Hey Jude” was as close to a religious experience as I’m ever likely to have. Has he done it with hundreds of other audiences? Of course. But singing one of the best songs of all time with that many people will always feel good, no matter how often it’s happened in the past.

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Photo by Philip Cosores

And McCartney’s Lolla set was special because it happened with that specific audience on that specific night in that specific city. It didn’t matter that he’s getting older. It didn’t matter that his backdrop came from a video game. It didn’t matter that he didn’t hire an actual horn section, even though he totally could have. Because for one all-too-short evening in August, some of the most powerful rock music on the planet belonged to a single city. Paul McCartney belonged to Chicago. –Dan Caffrey

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Photographer(s): Philip Cosores, Heather Kaplan