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Lollapalooza 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Band Least Likely to be Confused for Phish

Alvvays

Halfway through its Saturday afternoon set, Canadian dream rockers Alvvays told a so-weird-it’s-gotta-be-true story about being mistaken for Phish, everyone’s second-favorite jam band. Not only does Molly Rankin look nothing like Trey Anastasio, but Phish makes noodly, improvisational epics where Alvvays makes tight, focused pop-rock that rarely surpasses four minutes. They proved as much during their 45-minute set, hitting all the right notes during charming renditions of “Adult Diversion”, “Party Police”, and “Atop a Cake”. We even got a taste of their forthcoming album, Antisocialites, which promises more of the same — “In Undertow”, “Dreams Tonite”, and the as-yet-unheard “Plimsoll Punks” are as bright and charming as everything we’ve come to expect from the band. All that said, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing what a drugged-out Alvvays jam session looks like. –Randall Colburn
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Got The Whole Neighborhood Doing The Diddy Bop

Noname

While Chance and Vic may have been grabbing all the headlines, another young Chicago rapper more than justified the growing attention coming her way. Noname, also known as Fatimah Warner, spent time at YouMEDIA with Chance, and as such has a similar poetic bent. Noname, however, plays it from the pocket, her widescreen nostalgia, somber memories, and empowering lines coming in through a skewed, jazz- and blues-tinted lens. Her afternoon set hit an early groove with the stunning “Diddy Bop”, a track which will never lose its breezy charm and familiar impact. Later, she cleverly adapted from “fuck bitches, get money” to “love women, get money,” bringing the whole crowd along for the shift. Noname and guest Eryn Allen Kane kept the large crowd bobbing and weaving, catching onto all of the many emotions that come with a Chicago summer, from joy to fear, love to heartbreak. (We’d suggest sacking the sound guy; she deserved better). –Lior Phillips
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Band That Most Resembles ’80s Movie Bullies

The Drums

Steady showers gave way to a miserable drizzle when Brooklyn’s The Drums took the stage on Thursday afternoon. It wasn’t the ideal setting for the band’s buoyant dance-pop, and frontman Jonny Pierce had the unenviable task of motivating a horde of wet, grumpy fans. It makes sense, then, that the band built their set mostly around cuts from its beloved first two albums, with songs like “Let’s Go Surfing” and “Days” igniting the crowd in the way one should be for a Drums show. New songs from this year’s solid Abysmal Thoughts also came off well — the delicious “Blood Under My Belt”, especially — but neither they, nor Pierce’s charming, off-the-cuff dance moves could summon the feel-good energy of their best shows. Pierce remains a charismatic frontman, however, if only because he so resembles Billy Zabka, ‘80s film bully extraordinaire. You can’t unsee it. —Randall Colburn
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Only Good When You Were Young

The Killers

A headlining set at any festival, particularly Lollapalooza, is one that is guaranteed to draw the largest crowds. Ideally, it’s also an act with some combination of a massive catalog of hits, something exciting to promote, a legendary cache, and an innovative live performance. Add to that the pressure of having to be the rock follow-up making up for the cancellation of Muse the previous night, and The Killers faced a tall task. Judging from the huge crowd attending their headlining set on Friday, you’d think the Las Vegas outfit had checked every one of those boxes. But at the end of the day, they had just enough memorable songs to sing along to and a few more recognizable covers, but still felt like they were grasping for something momentous and not quite reaching it.

The band are gearing up for the release of their fifth studio album and only chose one song from the record for their set: the flaccid, new single “I’m the Man”. Covers of Joy Division and Smashing Pumpkins were engaging but felt calculated, the former a signifier of their influence (rubbery Peter Hook bass lines and cold cribs on new wave tones abounded) and the latter a touch of the festival’s locale. “We thought since you missed out on Muse yesterday, we could give you a little something,” frontman Brandon Flowers offered before launching into a take on “Starlight”. But his chuckling attempt to reach Matt Bellamy’s falsetto on the chorus were honest, but showed the band’s inability to hit the ecstatic highs of a more bombastic band.

Their biggest successes were, undoubtedly, their long-established sing-along singles, primarily “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside”. And while The Killers’ oeuvre is tailor-made for sing-along choruses, there were few that were very memorable. They were, reportedly, a last-minute fill-in after The Weeknd dropped out, but performing next to no new material since their 2013 performance left things feeling retreaded and static. –Lior Phillips
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Gone for Good? Gone for Great!

The Shins

The Shins released a new album this year, but James Mercer knows that Lollapalooza is no place for new songs. Sure, “Name for You” and “Half a Million” made an appearance, but the set itself was defined primarily by the pleasures of the band’s first three albums, all of which have cemented themselves in the minds of elder millennials. “Caring Is Creepy” opened the set, while “New Slang” helped usher it to its finale, and songs like “Saint Simon”, “Australia”, and “Mine’s Not a High Horse” served as its anchoring buoy. Perhaps most notable, however, is the band’s refined take on Chutes Too Narrow standout “Gone for Good” — while the emphatic, yearning acoustic version is a classic, its live version is even more powerful. Here, they slowed it down, amped up the melancholy, and brought the song’s pedal steel to the forefront, resulting in a new, freshly moving version of a song that anyone between the ages of 24 and 38 can recite by heart. –Randall Colburn
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Ceaseless, Soulful, Sublime

Sampha

By this point, I’ve now listened to Sampha’s “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” about 7,000 times; during his Lolla set, at first I felt as if I was just waiting for the heartbreaking, soul-crushing song to arrive. But not long later I realized I was dancing along to every note, mesmerized by his angelic voice, the fractal arrangements, and the complex rhythms. Heck, I was standing two feet from Jack Garratt and didn’t even notice until I saw fans demanding selfies from him. Sampha’s a magnetic performer, a subtle yet powerful presence who makes even the smallest moments feel monumental. Songs like “Plastic 100°C” and “Under” showcased the strengths of debut album Process, its depth and emotional heft. But then the synth became a rich, resonant piano, and Sampha let furl the haunting, soulful notes of “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”, and the tears started falling. Sampha let shine his beautiful soul in all of its glory, and it soared through the park. –Lior Phillips
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Most Convincing Argument for an Aftershow

Ryan Adams

Had I not already attended Ryan Adams’ aftershow, his midday set at Lolla may have felt more distinctive. But despite a crackling version of “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” and a warm synth drone added to “When the Stars Go Blue”, so much of what worked the night before failed to register here. The blue lights that hit the audience during the finale of the latter song didn’t exactly show up in the afternoon sunlight, nor did the accompanying visuals on several stacks of television screens. That raises the question: Why haul all the extra gear onstage if you can’t even use it properly? Somewhere, there’s a roadie seething with bitterness, not to mention a bad back. –Dan Caffrey
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The Blow Your Fucking Ears Out Award

CRX

The Strokes’ Nick Valensi formed CRX last year, releasing an album, New Skin, that sounded built from riffs deemed “too metal” by Julian Casablancas. CRX is loud; they might not resonate as such through a pair of $12 headphones, but live the band is a veritable wall of noise. Songs like “Broken Bones” and “Give It Up” positively thundered throughout the Pepsi stage’s shaded grove, where a small crowd blossomed into a robust one by set’s end. The bright, snaking riff that courses through “One Track Mind” was as electric live as it is on record, though the set’s true standout may have been the band’s cover of Devo’s “Girl U Want”, a song that no doubt had an influence on the sound Valensi was looking for when starting CRX. Expect big things. –Randall Colburn
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Confidence Speaks Volumes

Hippo Campus

It takes backbone to open up with your biggest hit, but that’s exactly what Hippo Campus did when they arrived on the Lakeshore stage with “Way It Goes”. Maybe the calcium consumption is ridiculously high up in St. Paul, Minnesota? Or maybe they’re just super confident these days? Probably the latter. After all, these guys have played everywhere from Bonnaroo to Conan to Reading and Leeds, they’ve opened up for everyone from My Morning Jacket to Modest Mouse to Walk the Moon, and they took their sweet-ass time to drop their debut album by waiting until this past February to deliver Landmark. At this point, festivals are second nature to them, and that was quite obvious on Friday afternoon as they amiably sauntered through chummy indie slices like “Western Kids”, “Suicide Saturday”, “Boyish”, and closing jam “Violet”. In fact, singer Jake Luppen was so goddamn comfortable, he even took off his socks. Peak indie swagger. –Michael Roffman
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Teenage Angst Has Paid Off Well

Maggie Rogers

The weird thing about seeing an artist at the beginning of their career is that they often don’t have enough material to fill up anything more than a half-hour set. Songwriter Maggie Rogers faced that dilemma when she was given an hour-long set at Lollapalooza based on the strength of her five-song EP, Now That the Light Is Fading, and she acknowledged as much during her Sunday afternoon set. In addition to mega-hit “Alaska”, new single “On + Off”, and the rest of the EP, we got to hear songs she penned as a teenager and college student. While a few certainly lacked the refinement of her latest work, others made a strong impression, especially when she strapped on a guitar to segue from the energetic dance pop that made her famous to more confessional ballads that highlighted the singer’s more tender side. Who knows whether they’ll have a place on any forthcoming releases, but hearing them felt special nevertheless. –Randall Colburn
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