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Lollapalooza 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Greatest Clusterfuck

Migos

Migos was always going to be an event at Lollapalooza: “Bad and Boujee” is the hottest song of the year, Culture was just certified Platinum, and the Georgia rappers are the most in-demand act in the industry right now. By scheduling them on the first day of the weekend, and at a time when generally nothing else was going on, C3 more or less ushered in The Moment in a neat little package. But, things didn’t go as planned, seeing how Migos delayed their set for nearly 40 minutes, turning a rising sea of people into a maddening ball of confusion. As the minutes inched past the 10-, 15-, and 20-minute marks, more and more fans began to get restless, moving in and out of the area in frustration. To make matters worse, thousands of curious festivalgoers from the south end of the park were migrating north following Liam Gallagher’s short-lived set, creating more of a traffic jam for the already agitated. One highlight was seeing two hunky bros straight out of a CW drama threatening to fight one another in a circle of rabid spectators. How cute.

So, when Migos finally did go on, all of those people who had already left came rushing back towards the stage. Seriously, it was like that stampede scene in The Lion King, only we were all little Simbas stumbling around, trying to find somewhere safe to stand. But, you know what? It was a brilliant move on Migos’ behalf. By then, the energy was unstoppable, and as the trio plowed through catchy tracks like “Get Right Witcha” and “Deadz”, you could feel the ground shaking below your feet. Mind you, this is Grant Park, not some weak venue floor, so the idea that the surrounding energy could cause minor tremors on the ground was a little awe-inspiring to say the least. Of course, chaos reigned supreme during their’ juggernaut closing medley of “T-Shirt”, “Bad and Boujee”, and “Handsome and Wealthy”, which saw everyone jumping up and down, likely crashing Instagram and Snapchat in the process. It was a perfect capper to an absolute clusterfuck of an hour, and the guys earned every second of it. –Michael Roffman
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Lord Have No Mercy

Lorde

What fucking timing. All Thursday, the weather had threatened Lollapalooza with grey skies and the occasional bursts of rain. Nothing too disconcerting, at least not enough to evacuate the premises like in previous years. But then, it happened, and only 20 minutes before Lorde was set to take the Bud Light stage and headline her first Lollapalooza. Lightning rippled across the Chicago skyline, igniting the field, where thousands of fans huddled together — some with ponchos, some by their lonesome — in hypnotic and hopeful anticipation. It was cold, it was confusing, and it was a little unnerving. Relief washed over everyone, however, when the lights came down, Kate Bush boomed over the PA, and the New Zealand star arrived and introduced herself: “My name is Lorde. I’m from New Zealand, and it is my great pleasure to be here.” As everyone welcomed her, the rain even appeared to subside, as if the Lord above was looking out for the Lorde below.

Not exactly.

After a spirited beginning, which saw her tease “Green Light” and revisit past favorites like “Tennis Court”, Disclosure’s “Magnets”, and “400 Lux”, Lorde’s set came to a depressing halt. It all happened like a movie, complete with a tantalizing stinger. “I want to do something I’ve never done before, Lollapalooza,” Lorde told her fans shortly after “400 Lux”. “I want to play you a song I’ve never played before!” Right on cue, her production manager signaled that the set was over, leaving everyone flummoxed — including Lorde herself. “The festival said the weather is too crazy for us to play right now,” Lorde announced, speaking for everyone when she screamed, “Fuck!” Hearts dropped, people booed, and she looked absolutely torn apart. This was her big moment and she did not want to leave, and it was quite apparent that she knew just as much as we all did how special this moment was for her career. But, there was nothing she could do.

As the evacuation signs flashed across the screens, Lorde turned to her fans and insisted, “I will be back for you. I promise!” She’s right. She will be back, next year, when she plays Allstate Arena in March. But come on, that’s a lifetime for any die-hard fan, no matter who the artist is, and she knew that. In fact, less than an hour later, she had tweeted that she was desperately trying to put together an intimate club gig somewhere, the likes of which sadly never came to fruition. No, this was highway robbery for the singer, who had previously shown she could easily headline the festival back in 2014, when she commanded one of the biggest crowds at literally the same stage. For that reason alone, fans should take solace in knowing that whenever she does return, Lorde will be bigger, better, and even stronger. Of course, it’ll be a year after Melodrama, and the moment will have changed considerably, but hey, all good things come with patience.

Having said that, her short performance proved two things for this writer: 1.) Had she been able to continue, there’s no doubt that she was going to win the weekend and 2.) Given that such an iconic performance was taken away from us, there must really be no god watching out for us above. –Michael Roffman
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Most Interested in VIP

Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara might be the very last band you’d be expecting to focus on the expensive “seats,” but there they were, dedicating a verse to the Lolla attendees who had forked over a little extra cash. “Sara is a people person who really loves the VIPs,” Tegan joked, as her sister eventually wandered over. The jokes kept coming when a plane flew overhead dragging a banner for Trojan. “I myself practice safe sex, and as a gay woman, I would like you all to wave to Trojan BareSkin,” Sara grinned.

But when they weren’t joking around about the very important people or condoms, Tegan and Sara delivered a stellar set that soared on the back of their remarkable voices. Heartthrob highlight “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend” and last year’s “Hang On to the Night” kept the crowd warm and bouncing even as the rain started to fall. Once the VIP jokes subsided, the classic tracks like “Nineteen” and “Living Room” showed just how much Tegan and Sara have been there for everyone, like intimate friends growing, learning, and sharing their deepest feelings. The many smiling and crying faces, kissing couples, and joyous sing-alongs show just how inclusive their love and sweetness is. –Lior Phillips
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Headliner By Default

Spoon

Spoon would never headline a festival as big as Lollapalooza, but that’s more or less what they got to do on Thursday night. Because the rain only began to fall in the second half of their set (“Rainy Taxi” was regrettably absent), they were able to play their entire show — a privilege not granted to the actual headliners of the evening — while also gaining some theatrical muscle to their performance. If the songs of Britt Daniel and co. are wiry and occasionally danceable on a normal day, they’re groovy yet foreboding — downright dramatic, even — in inclement weather. The thunder rolled in with “Got Nuffin”, “My Mathematical Mind” picked up even more slow-burning menace from the fog (some of it natural, some of it from a machine), and forks of lightning punctuated the bridge of “Anything You Want”, a song Daniel wrote just a few miles away in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood. –Dan Caffrey
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Saturday Morning Fever

Blossoms

You kind of knew Blossoms were going to have a good set when they walked out to Dre’s “What’s the Difference”. And to their credit, the UK indie pop outfit built upon those vibes, delivering an hour-long set filled with rock ‘n’ roll disco that had everyone forgetting it was Saturday afternoon. Try to imagine Phoenix obsessing over ABBA and Nile Rodgers, only in that neon dimension that The Strokes started operating in post-Room on Fire. It’s an excellent place to be, and lead singer Tom Ogden is a wonderful chaperone to have, a lanky cool kid that seemingly strut off the set of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. Behind a pair of Lennon shades, he exuded all the right level of chill, both behind and away from the guitar. His crowd work was A+ too, especially during “My Favourite Room”, when he asked if “anybody had been recently dumped.” Several hands went up, but it was a young woman named Sarah who came out on top and who he would serenade, throwing shade to her ex-boyfriend Kyle. It was only one of many awesome moments in Blossoms’ set, which is likely why Ogden told everyone, “it’s been one of our favorite festivals.” Rest assured, it won’t be the last. –Michael Roffman
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Most Reliable Headliner

Arcade Fire

Most of us can admit that Arcade Fire’s latest album, Everything Now, is a bit of a letdown. But every moment of that record still feels custom-built for a festival stage, from the ABBA-nodding disco of the title track to the mechanized romance of Régine Chassagne’s vocals on “Electric Blue”. Even on their weaker songs, Arcade Fire have always gone big, whether it be sonically, emotionally, or both. And that translates well to an event as epic in scope as Lollapalooza.

Always being epic also does make it harder to surprise the audience, but then again, does Arcade Fire really need to at this point? Is it ever not thrilling to see Will Butler pound on his marching drum like a revolutionary soldier during “Rebellion (Lies)” before running into the crowd? Is it ever not uplifting when thousands of people chant the “whoa-oh” intro of “Wake Up”? Is it ever not heartwarming to see Win Butler express gratitude to Chicago for reaffirming his faith in America during the biggest political nightmare of modern times, then launch into “Keep the Car Running”? Hell no. Arcade Fire knows this, and if you’re in the crowd, chances are, you do, too. That’s why you go and see them. Go big or go home. –Dan Caffrey
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Best Cameos

Whitney

Whitney’s biggest — and perhaps only — weakness is that the onstage smugness of frontman/drummer Julien Ehrlich clashes with the camaraderie found in the band’s music: both the spirited playing and the songs themselves. Simply put, the dude’s deadpan banter isn’t half as funny as he thinks it is (“What’s up with Blink-182?” he quipped at one point. “Nah, they’re chill.”), particularly when dispersed throughout a set of earnest country soul.

So it was a welcome surprise when Ehrlich announced that, because the band had some friends who were going to be taking the stage, he wouldn’t be talking as much as usual. As he stayed relegated to his falsetto singing voice, the constant stream of cameos proved that Whitney is that rare band that, like Broken Social Scene, gets better with every person added to the lineup. “Red Moon” evolved into an honest-to-God showstopper when fellow Chicagoan Joey Purp dropped a verse over the trumpet-laden instrumental. Later on, a small string section that included frequent Chance the Rapper backing vocalist Macie Stewart (also of Marrow and OHMME) gave other Light Upon the Lake cuts the same lushness that they have on record.

But the evening’s finest moment came with closer “Golden Days”, when Aaron Scott (most famous for his gospel remix of the Golden Girls theme) joined Whitney for the song’s final “na-nas”, his booming voice contrasting good-naturedly with Max Kakacek’s tasteful guitar lines. –Dan Caffrey
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Most Exclusive Aftershow

Arcade Fire

Arguably, the best tradition to come out of Lollapalooza over the years has been the exclusive aftershows at the Metro. The place only holds about 1,000 concertgoers, which is why seeing a juggernaut act like Arcade Fire becomes its own event altogether. As expected, that’s exactly what went down on Saturday night in Wrigleyville when Win Butler and the gang stopped by the iconic venue to shelve out 19 songs. For nearly two hours, the Canadian misfits unlocked a majority of their new album, Everything Now, and paraded through their critically-acclaimed catalog, even sprinkling a couple of surprises here and there in the form of a bizarre deep cut (a lyrical version of “Dimensions” off Her) and a meandering cover (John Lennon’s “Mind Games”, which featured snippets of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” and David Bowie’s “Oh You Pretty Things”).

Somewhere in there, Win Butler slummed it with the crowd, Régine Chassagne prompted everyone to turn on their cell phone lights, Tim Kingsbury remained Tim Kingsbury, and Will Butler couldn’t decide if he wanted to wear his jacket,.

It was exactly what you’d want from them, even if you don’t actually like their new album. They’re unbelievable live performers, and although songs like “Electric Blue”, “Chemistry”, and “Signs of Life” are pretty, pretty … pretty rough, it doesn’t matter. At any given moment, the band can turn to their dozen proven anthems and conjure up some sort of religious experience, no matter the venue. But let’s be real, seeing them play gargantuan favorites like “Rebellion (Lies)” or “Afterlife” or “Wake Up” at a place like the Metro felt out of this world, and it also brought them back down to Earth. Ever since they won the Grammy for The Suburbs, they’ve felt untouchable, some enigmatic force that’s been above it all. Not so on Saturday. Once again, they were the super weird art punks that we all fell in love with on Funeral, and that was incredibly reassuring. –Michael Roffman
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Bass So Loud It Rattles Your Goddamn Nosehairs

Big Sean

Hip-hop shows are notoriously hard to review, often more about the energy of the crowd than the actual performance. How do you marry these two seemingly disparate elements? How do you satisfy those who came to see impeccable showmanship and those who just want to go hog wild?

It’s simple, really: Crank the bass to 11,000, cut down on the hype men and backing tracks, and, you know, play whole songs instead of snippets cut short by a gunshot. All of these simple yet effective moves are what made Big Sean’s Sunday evening set such a juggernaut. While he embraced spectacle by using projections, well-timed fireballs, and performing on the steps of a temple facade, he also embraced craftsmanship by restricting the stage to just him and his band. This allowed him to nail every syllable on the fast-paced “Sacrifices” — a feat that would have been much harder with Migos onstage for their guest verses.

The absence of a posse also gave him a direct line to the audience, who exploded into dance at Big Sean’s behest on the G.O.O.D. Music version of “Don’t Like”, then stood at rapt attention just one song later for the ballad “One Man Can Change the World”. Sean’s motivational speech during the verses was brief, heartfelt, and humble, thanking fans and urging them to follow their own dreams like he did. As cheesy as that sounds on paper, the sincerity was effective — a testament that, as a performer, the mid-career rapper knows how to work the crowd in ways that go beyond just pumping everybody up. Any idiot with a microphone can do that.

And that’s the secret to Big Sean’s Lolla set. There’s no disputing how popular he is (one only needed to look at his crowd), but he doesn’t have the critical respectability of Chance, the ego and personality of his mentor Kanye West, or the ubiquity of Drake. In other words, he has more to prove. And on Sunday night, he proved it, bass and all. –Dan Caffrey
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Legend Has It…

Run the Jewels

At a festival as massive as Lollapalooza, at a set with a crowd as amped as this one, for a duo as huge as Run the Jewels, Killer Mike and El-P could have easily coasted on their excellent songs — hell, there were other acts doing so without half the catalog. But then Run the Jewels are too concerned about the well-being of the world, from the fans at the front of their stage to the people around the globe. When the kids at the very front of the stage looked like they were getting crushed, Mike called for everyone to take a few steps back. Later, they addressed the rise of sexual assault at festivals: “If you came here looking for love, part of that process is probably not you sticking your dick on the back of some chick’s leg,” El-P said to the crowd, with Mike then chiming in, “Don’t violate people, or we will punch you in the motherfucking face.” They even addressed the recent suicide of Chester Bennington, urging attendees to not succumb to negative feelings. “I’m here to fucking tell you that if you stick around, that shit will change,” El-P said. “We need you to stick around. We need you here.”

When one eager fan held up a sign offering to rap “Legend Has It”, they could’ve just ignored it, but instead they offered him 30 seconds to make it to the stage (“Crowdsurf if you motherfucking have to!”). It only took half that time, and when he did, the result was nothing short of magic. The spindly, unassuming young guy proceeded to give a spot-on rendition of the opening of “Legend Has It”, leading to Mike picking him up and spinning him around — without the young rapper missing a beat. But Mike and El were the rappers that the masses had come to see, and they topped even that high. “Panther Like a Panther”, “Lie, Cheat, Steal”, and “Stay Gold” were highlights, but there truly wasn’t a track that didn’t result in raised firsts, massive applause, and head-banging intensity. “This is a very fucking surreal and very fucking amazing moment,” El said. “Thank you so much for spending time with us. We never thought this would get this fucking big.” But it certainly was big, and Run the Jewels show signs of getting even bigger as they reach out and make an impression, one set at a time. –Lior Phillips
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