Festival Reviews

Lollapalooza 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

The Sixth Spice Girl

Charli XCX

Four songs into Charli XCX’s Sunday afternoon set, I started feeling strong Spice Girls juju. She’d just finished roaring through takes on “I Love It” (a song she penned and Icona Pop made famous) and “Break the Rules”, boisterous songs performed by a star completely comfortable rebelling while remaining firmly in the pop mold. She felt at that moment, essentially, like Charli Spice. And, as if on cue, Charli followed that with a cover of the Girls’ “Wannabe”, bringing out fellow pop star Halsey. After that came recent viral smash “Boys”, which got the younger half of the crowd going — i.e., the half that, unlike myself, didn’t still know every single word of the Spice Girls tune. Rapper CupcakKe added some energy later in the set when it started to lag, and closer “Boom Clap” sealed things powerfully. Throughout, the backing track was almost too loud to hear Charli, though her writing always shone through even when her vocals didn’t — a good encapsulation of her career thus far. –Lior Phillips

Dad Rock: The Next Generation

Mondo Cozmo

Maybe it was the midday set, the shaded setting, or the fact that Blink-182 and The Killers were that day’s headliners, but Mondo Cozmo’s Friday set was filled with dads. Dads in hats. Dads with beers. Dads with babies. It makes sense, too, as Josh Ostrander and his band make bold, anthemic rock that layers a radio-pop sheen over songs channeling stadium rockers like Bruce Springsteen, U2, and John Mellencamp. As one might imagine, there weren’t many crop tops or jerseys on hand. As such, the vibe was unabashedly feel-good, with the crowd dancing in ways that would no doubt humiliate their children as Ostrander led his band through cuts from his solid debut album, Plastic Soul, which dropped that very day — “The best day of my life,” he proclaimed at one point. In between soaring renditions of “Shine”, “Higher”, and the title track, Ostrander name-checked his dog, checked a text from his mom, and led us all in a round of “hip-hip-hoorays!” Was it cool? No. Was it fun as hell? Absolutely. –Randall Colburn

Jain Says


French synth popster Jain was apologetic early in her Thursday afternoon set. She was worried that it might be too early for her modest crowd to jump, dance, and wave their arms with her. She was also concerned that her accent might be too thick to understand. But quickly both of these factors became an asset, her quaint speeches striking as endearing and her fans relishing in the space to stretch out and move on request. Musically, Jain’s melodies are instantaneously accessible, infusing the day with warmth that the humid afternoon hardly needed. But as early sets go, Jain’s personality sold the performance as much as her songwriting, providing Thursday with its first surprise. –Philip Cosores

Saxiest Sax Man

Car Seat Headrest

For being so lyrically cerebral, the music of Car Seat Headrest translates fairly well to the Bud Light stage at Lollapalooza, its big hooks and mid-’90s snarl a throwback to a time when Pavement would have played the same festival to a much less receptive crowd. But Sunday’s audience ate up “Vincent” and other smarter-than-they-sound cuts from last year’s knockout Teens of Denial. They indulged Toledo’s goofier side as well (a side of the frontman that, so far, seems to only rear its head at blockbuster summer music festivals), being game for a wonderfully square cover of James Brown’s “I Don’t Mind” and a guest saxophone player on “War Is Coming (If You Want It)”. In fact, the sax man was loved so much that Toledo kept him onstage for closer “1937 State Park”, asking him to replicate Death’s xylophone ribs with his beloved woodwind. –Dan Caffrey

You’re *Not* Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

White Reaper

“T-Rex doesn’t want to be fed. He wants to hunt,” Dr. Grant tells Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park. Sorry to go all Spielberg, but when it comes to White Reaper, those Kentucky boys need to prowl around their fans. So, it wasn’t the best decision to place them on the festival’s biggest stage (Grant Park) and at such an early time (12:45 p.m.). Anyone who’s ever seen the band knows they thrive on human connection, and being so high up and at least 10 feet removed from the crowd just isn’t their thing — the energy gets lost in translation. Aware of this, singer Tony Esposito humorously pleaded, “If you all go off on this one, I’ll tell you all the wi-fi passwords, but please wake up.”

They did, and the vibe eventually turned into something great, especially as they stormed through favorites like “Make Me Wanna Die” and “Half Bad” or the sweeping arena rock of their latest effort, The World’s Best American Band. Bassist Sam Wilkerson swept in for the big assist, too. “This is the part of the set where my brother Nick will take his pants off if you chant loud enough,” he teased. Naturally, their fans obliged, Nick went pantless (and shirtless), Sam applauded their efforts by crowd surfing over them, and White Reaper flipped the switch on yet another one of Lollapalooza’s miserable wake-up slots. In other words, um, “Life found a way.” –Michael Roffman

The Strongest Cover Game

The Lemon Twigs

The music of Lemon Twigs is amusing and likable enough on its own — a curious hybrid of psychedelic mischief and classic-rock glam that hits harder than it has any right to (no wonder Tim Heidecker is a fan). But Long Island’s D’Addario brothers stood out on Friday for their playful yet still powerful covers from the late ’70s and early ’80s. Kudos to them for further exposing the world to the tragic wonder that is Roky Erickson with “I Walked with a Zombie” and slathering John Prine’s “Fish and Whistle” with — what else? — some extra tin whistle. Shining a headlamp on these kind of odd gems is always refreshing at Lollapalooza, a festival where FIDLAR opened their set with a blistering cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” in 2016, only to see Grouplove perform a much shittier version of it just one year later. –Dan Caffrey

Dancing Under The Glow

Sylvan Esso

“Are you ready to get it? We got 45 minutes, let’s do it!” smiled Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath. From many points around the Pepsi stage, a glowing red clock showed the time, giving an extra sense of urgency to performances, like a ticking time bomb. Considering their set fell just before a massive headliner like Chance the Rapper, the pressure of the clock felt even stronger for the Durham, North Carolina, electropop duo. But Sylvan Esso made the most of every minute, jamming as many tunes into their set as possible and making sure every dynamic moment hit home — and hit home they did. There was an audible sigh of ecstasy when the duo shot into “Hey Mami”, a roar of amazement when Meath growled out the climax of “Dreamy Bruises”, the pitter patter of dancing feet as Nick Sanborn spun the groove for “Coffee”. Tracks from their recently released What Now proved just as successful, the large crowd grooving and dancing as much as any electronic act at the festival. Sylvan Esso’s songs seem to come from an internal memory of happiness, a groove from the heart that can’t be contained. “That was fun,” Meath smiled as the set neared its end. It’s that kind of simple, understated, yet ultimately true statement that powers the duo’s emotionally powerful dance. –Lior Phillips

Most Demonic Entrance


Banks’ signature brand of R&B and pop is laced with a scrim of darkness, but the opening of her Saturday evening set was downright demonic. Harsh, red lights welcomed the black-clad singer onstage, where she was backed by dancers adorned in constricting tulle shrouds. Severe, distorted barks served as a prelude to Banks’ ghostly, vulnerable vocals, as did uncanny dance moves that evoke Aaliyah by way of J-horror. As she cycled through cuts old and new — “Waiting Game”, “Fuck with Myself”, “Drowning” — Banks and her dancers cut blunt, emphatic movements — swinging heads, jerking arms, robotic waists — that worked to emphasize the psychological over the emotional and corporeal. It’s Banks’ focus on the internal, after all, that makes her special in the realm of pop. –Randall Colburn

Nostalgia Overload


Here’s something no one expected to see in 2017: A packed set from a recently reunited Live at one of the country’s foremost music festivals. But Lollapalooza’s roots reside in ‘90s alt-rock, so there’s typically a spot or two on the lineup saved for 120 Minutes alumni. Last year it was Third Eye Blind, and this year it was Live, with frontman Ed Kowalczyk back in his rightful place after a split that lasted seven years. The good news is that he still sounds great, as do the band’s litany of hits, all of which were on display during the band’s Saturday evening performance. “All Over You” kicked off the proceedings, with “Selling the Drama”, “The Dolphin’s Cry”, and “I Alone” ushering us towards the glorious climax that is “Lightning Crashes”.

The good vibes and clear sense that Kowalczyk and his colleagues were legit stoked to be back together helped compensate for the set’s more unfortunate qualities, including a weird, unnecessary alt-rock cover of “I Walk the Line” and a well-meaning, but ultimately forgettable, tribute to Chris Cornell in Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway”. The weirdest thing, though? During the band’s fiery, pitch-perfect performance of “Lakini’s Juice”, Kowalczyk bizarrely kept miming the revving of a motorcycle during the song’s epic chorus. Am I crazy or was this song not about sex and actually about motorcycles? Look, it rules regardless, but I sure as hell hope not. –Randall Colburn

Most Innovative Groove


Electronic music’s foothold in Lollapalooza has grown ever more massive, the orbit around the Perry’s stage heavier with each year. While he might not have been spinning from that spot or using the bombastic tropes of those that were, Kaytranada certainly brought a unique wrinkle to electronic music that drew in dedicated fans of the genre and curious listeners alike. His remix of Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” was mesmerizing, slippery and cool yet retaining all the power of the original. His production on hometown hero Chance the Rapper’s “All Night”, though, may have received an even bigger response. “You all tired?” he asked, halfway through his set. Considering the heart-thumping beats, incredibly fluid production, and masterful control, Kaytranada’s mystic set left people feeling more alive than ever. –Lior Phillips