Festival Reviews

Lollapalooza 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Thursday Night Heroes

Ryan Adams and The Districts

It’s easy to crap on Lollapalooza, and so many of my colleagues often do. I’ll even do it myself if it’s the last day of the festival and things are getting rough. “It’s too big! It’s too dirty! It rains! There are too many teenagers!” All of this is true, but if you focus too much on the negatives, you overlook the fact that, at the end of the day, this is a festival that gathers so many incredible artists from all over the musical map into one place for a few days. While it does turn downtown Chicago into a circus, it also makes for some concert experiences you’ll never forget.

For me, one of those happened Thursday night at Ryan Adams and The Districts’ after-show at The Vic. The entire set lent extra momentum to songs from Prisoner and Adams’ self-titled album, but if I was going to distill the magic of the night into a single moment, it would be during “When the Stars Go Blue”. After his band switched out the acoustic guitar with a reflective synth line (the same great trick Adams pulled when covering Taylor Swift’s 1989, the blue stage lights took aim at the venue’s giant disco ball, bathing the entire theater in a midnight hue as the song picked up around the minute-and-a-half line.

Although the effect would get lost to the daylight (and absence of a disco ball) at Adams’ Lolla set the next day, here, one light and sound cue summed up the vulnerability that makes his music so great, even when it rubs up against the artist’s adolescent sense of humor (there were plenty of jokes about Star Wars and Slayer throughout the evening). When a stage manager from The Vic came on the PA to inform Adams that he had gone over curfew (probably thanks to an overlong jam on “Magnolia Mountain”), it didn’t matter; the crowd had already been part of something special. They would have gladly listened to more songs, but, at that point, they also didn’t need to.

The Districts struggled more than Adams, even while bringing their usual hypnotic abandon to their playing. Although this molds older, road-tested material like “Chlorine” and “4th & Roebling” into full-on sonic cannonballs, they could stand to take more time with their newer, more avant-garde songs from the upcoming Popular Manipulations. On record, the weird rock flourishes are refreshing (think Expo 86-era Wolf Parade), but the band’s reliance on effects pedals during “If Before I Wake” and “Ordinary Day” muddled the live performance to the point where it was hard to understand anything frontman Rob Grote was singing or even saying.

That’s okay, though. The young band has spirit and talent to spare. They also have plenty of future Lollapaloozas to create some unforgettable moments of their own. Getting to open for Ryan Adams is probably already one of them. –Dan Caffrey

Pure Fucking Romance

The XX

The xx had what may have been the most undesirable slot on this Lollapalooza’s schedule. The London trio may have been headlining on Saturday night, but they were headlining opposite Chance the Rapper, a hometown hero who drew one of the largest crowds in the festival’s history. As such, the band’s crowd was, by Lollapalooza headliner standards, shockingly small, especially when set against the sprawling, grassy expanse leading up to the Bud Light stage. But The xx is the kind of band people obsess over, so everyone who was there was there not because they’d just wandered over, but because they wanted to dance their way into the dreamy, melancholic spiral that consumes everyone it touches.

“Intro” and “Crystalised” set the tone straightaway, erecting a silver aura where heartbreak is as beautiful as it is destructive. But it was the sumptuous, starry-eyed splendor of “Say Something Loving” that really got our hearts fluttering. We know the xx are cool, but Christ, they’re also so completely, stupidly sexy. “All my hesitations are fading, fading,” they sing, and you feel it. “I can’t give it up,” Madley Croft purrs during “Infinity”, sexual yearning oozing through every echoing, escalating note. Her vulnerability was palpable (and painful) during “Brave for You”, and, later, during the ecstatic “On Hold”, there’s genuine love in lyrics like, “I don’t blame you, we got carried away.” The xx is every kiss you couldn’t control. And Madley Croft and Sim’s dual vocals are the conversation you need to have about them.

The band’s 75-minute set passed like a dream, but peaked with the their revamped rendition of “Shelter”. On album, “Shelter” is spare and desperate, but live it’s transformed into an unlikely banger by the club-ready dance track Jamie plants beneath it. Here, the song’s descending guitar line restrains itself, appearing only in its final moments to suck us back to reality like the midnight breeze beyond the club’s doors. The track’s central conflict is maintained, but its central plea to “make it better with the lights turned off” resonates as less desperate and more confident.

Confidence is something The xx exude these days. They’ve come a long way since 2009, and it shows in both their advancement as artists and their presence onstage, which remains strikingly vulnerable and so, so graceful. Anybody who wasn’t yearning already that night was feeling it as the closing chorus of “Angels” signaled the end of their set. “Being as in love with you as I am/ Being as in love, love, love…”

For The xx, love isn’t something you trust. Not at first, at least. It’s something you savor. And we were all savoring it that night. –Randall Colburn

Got The City Doing Front Flips

Chance the Rapper

When not displaying the acts on the jumbo video screens, the Lollapalooza videographers have largely stuck to panning shots of giddy fans for ambiance — that is, except for Chance the Rapper. The hometown hip-hop hero’s set opened with a montage of press coverage, awards presentations, and celebrity recognition, from Kendrick Lamar to Michelle Obama. The video celebrated his million-dollar donation to Chicago Public Schools and his Grammys. And once he hit the stage, the cameras cut away to lingering, romantic shots of the Chicago skyline as much as the teeming masses. Chance certainly shared in the appreciation for his hometown; his first word upon taking the stage was a screamed “Chicago!” Later, he took time to note exactly what part of the city he was from, that he’d gone to high school just around the corner, and exactly how much he loved Chicago food.

But then the young rapper is already a Lolla veteran, now three editions in. Add to that his increasing fame, the critical and commercial good will, a spot on one of the biggest songs of the summer in addition to his own continuously trending Coloring Book jams, and one of the largest crowds in Lollapalooza history, and the stage was set for a sterling performance.

Granted, the set didn’t differ much from Chance’s other recent festival performances, but the differences were important. The fireworks were a nice touch, reminiscent of the ones that cap off night games for his beloved White Sox. While other performers might spray the crowd with water bottles, Chance opted for a full-on fire hose, with the help of two Chicago firemen. And while he didn’t bring out local collaborators like Noname, Saba, or Jamila Woods, one guest was more than a pleasant surprise. Chance’s longtime compatriot/sometime friendly rival Vic Mensa came out for two songs (Chance’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and his own “Didn’t I (Say I Didn’t)”), theoretically burying whatever hatchet had been rumored to be stuck between them. “Fame will take you a lot of places, but don’t let it take away your family,” Chance said, his arm wrapped around Vic.

Family, as always with Chance, was a running theme. In addition to Vic, Chance showed plenty of love to his Social Experiment band mates and sang songs full of love for his family (his grandma-indebted “Sunday Candy” is always a smash). The massive field united in sing-along, dance-along bliss to songs like “All Night”, “No Problem”, and “Friends” near the set’s end. Everything’s all about friends and family, Chance bringing the entire city together. –Lior Phillips

Meet Your New Headliners

Cage the Elephant

Is there any other modern band as consistent as Cage the Elephant? With every release, from their 2009 self-titled debut to 2011’s Thank You Happy Birthday to 2013’s Melophobia to 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty, the band have continually crafted infectious, emotional singles that can instantly pop an adoring audience. “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”, “Shake Me Down”, “Cigarette Daydreams”, “Telescope”, “Trouble” — they’ve got the hits to be headliners. And now, after what felt like a landmark set on Thursday night, the band has proven it has the talent and control to captivate an audience in the tens of thousands.

Frontman Matthew Shultz buzzsawed onstage with fishnets and a tiny, purple dress clinging to his wiry, muscular frame, quickly establishing himself as the feral offspring of Mick Jagger and David Bowie through explosive renditions of “Too Late to Say Goodbye”, “Punchin’ Bag”, “Mess Around”, and “Cold Cold Cold” that took on an added dimension through his crackling, electric passion, which pulsed atop pitch-perfect instrumentation. As Shultz caterwauled his way across the stage and, on multiple occasions, the photo pit, the band sang along, sometimes into mics and sometimes just into the audience, a testament to just how much this band thrives on the sounds of its own music. They’re still having fun, and that is so, so important.

Schultz finished the set by climbing the sound island’s scaffolding; so untethered was he during the set that everybody was prepared for him to leap off into the crowd. Wisely, he didn’t. Nobody needs an injured frontman when your band is about to be in demand at every festival across the country. — Randall Colburn