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Beyond the Gates: Lollapalooza has changed a lot since its touring festival days, and even since its 2005 revival as a single-location Chicago festival. It’s the Midwest’s event of the season, and has consistently remained so, but the audiences and the artists alike have evolved considerably. Gone are the days when Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine reunited on the festival’s biggest stage; hello, Top 40 pop artists and A-list rappers.
However, despite the whinging of old fans about how “Lolla just isn’t the same anymore,” this isn’t an inherently bad thing. If anything, 2018 may well be remembered as the year when Lolla finally cracked the code on fusing the old-school alternative appeal of the fest with the hottest modern trends. Lolla lineups have diversified to the point where you can walk around and spend an entire day listening to artists of wildly different genres one after the next, and at least in this way, it’s returned to its roots as a place where you can see what’s coming next. Sure, “next” looks a hell of a lot different these days than it did when the Butthole Surfers were firing off shotguns onstage, but hey, times change.
As you’ll read on to find, rock isn’t dead at Lollapalooza, nor are some of the other old-school comforts. It just exists alongside packed fields yelling along to the “real trap shit” so many of them slurrily called for to their friends throughout the weekend. If anything, Lollapalooza has become a truer melting pot with time, a true mirror of its own era for better and worse alike. And if you still find yourself demanding the creature comforts of the old days, they’re not coming back. As we discovered this year, that might be fine, as long as the cream continues to rise to the top. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Best Bites: There were 36 different Chicago restaurants lining the Lollapalooza thoroughfare this year, with Revival Food Hall, Gideon Sweet, and local venue Beat Kitchen making their debuts. Still, the lineup, curated as always by celebrity chef Graham Elliot, lacks personality. There’s a reach toward gourmet on the myriad menus, but the terrifying demand ensures that the culinary innovation lies more in the buzzy names of the dishes than in the food itself. We tried the festival’s “signature” dish, a lobster corn dog from Elliot, and while it sufficiently satiates, the lobster lacks flavor, and the breading was just a hair away from soggy. That it goes for $10 is a travesty, but that goes for pretty much all the pricing at Lollapalooza.
We also tackled Revival Food Hall’s duck fat hot dog, which they prepared “Chicago-style” (mustard, pickle relish, dill pickle spear, sport peppers, poppy seed bun). The portion here was on point, and the duck fat gave the frank an inviting tenderness, but, ya know, it’s still just a larger-than-normal Chicago-style hot dog. While the booths always seemed to be bustling, a glance at the plates on the laps of those dead-eyed souls crashed along the thoroughfare indicate that most festivalgoers went for a bland, boilerplate slice of Connie’s Pizza, which you could order ahead via the Lollapalooza app. This isn’t a crowd wanting for fancy snacks. —Randall Colburn
Festival Fashionista: Let’s get one thing out of the way right away: this award will not be going to Post Malone, whose airbrushed get-up sported the same knock-off 8-balls, dice, and menacing serpents you might remember from such roles as “those old square mirrors you won for popping balloons at a mid-’90s carnival.” Instead, like any good homers, we latched onto the most Chicago-centric fashion trend of the weekend: the proliferation of Bulls jerseys, specifically as worn by the festival’s artists. While the latest shifts in hoopster trends are a long-recognized staple of festivalwear discussions (shout-outs to all the kids who’ve abandoned the Tune Squad for the Flint Tropics of Semi-Pro, as well as the one kid we spotted in a well-loved BYU-era Jimmer Fredette jersey), it’s rare to see so many performers incorporating the garment into their city shout-outs. It wasn’t just locals, either; in addition to Taylor Bennett and Femdot, we spotted everyone from Bruno Mars to Lil Pump to The Regrettes rocking the red and black. Not bad for a team that finished 32 games out of first place last season. –Tyler Clark
Make Like a Tree … and Get Down From There: Look, most music festivals are littered with trees — hey, they’re great for shade — but that doesn’t give you the right to climb them. Without sounding like Grandpa Jerkstore, one of the more obnoxious trends around Grant Park were all the morons who insisted on seeking higher ground by scaling nature’s treasures. Some succeeded, many failed, and all of them risked looking like idiots on Instagram. The worst of it was over by the American Eagle stage, where several festivalgoers tumbled off branches and onto the crowd below. Shot in the dark, but I’m pretty sure the human body is a little heavier than an inflatable ball, and those who fell didn’t exactly bounce off everyone. Dummies. Dummies. Dummies! –Michael Roffman
Don’t Believe the Hype: If hip-hop was the story of Lolla 2018, Post Malone was one of the biggest draws informing that narrative. The rap sensation/sentient pair of JNCO jeans has rocketed, in just a few short years, from the smallest side stage at Riot Fest a few miles west to the appropriately branded Bud Light stage, where Post drew one of the weekend’s biggest and most packed-in crowds. This was pure singalong stuff for the crowd, and there’s definitely something to be said for the way that some of his biggest hits, particularly “Go Flex” and “Congratulations”, are ready-made to be crooned soulfully by packed arenas/fields of fans.
That said, by now you know exactly what you’re getting with Post Malone as a live performer: jovial mannerisms, Bud Light, the occasional bit of acoustic guitar fuckery, and a lot of rap game Joe Dirt ad-libbing over a backing track. What he delivered certainly seemed to please the throngs in attendance, but it wasn’t much of a performance, especially by the standards of his newfound A-list contemporaries. For now, playing the hits is all Post Malone needs, but that buzz won’t last forever. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Keep It in the Family: On a bill rife with buzzy rap acts and come-up newbies, two of the best performances came from artists who made a splash, at least initially, because of their family ties. (Insert your own “Alex P. Keaton!” Migos ad-lib here.)
Taylor Bennett might have arrived on the scene by virtue of being Chance the Rapper’s younger brother, but his early-day set at Perry’s on Friday suggested that it won’t be long at all until Bennett steps out of that sizable shadow and into his own well-deserved spotlight. While he decidedly shouldn’t have been performing on Lolla’s EDM stage, where his laid-back soul grooves sent the ravers out in droves after the first song or two, Bennett’s set radiated the kind of positivity that Chance has engendered in so much of the Chicago rap scene. Whether talking about his open bisexuality or the value of looking out for the people next to you, Bennett took a different approach to the set than the “LET’S FUCKING RAGE” ethos of so many others present on the same stage. He and his live band exuded joy, and eventually that joy was able to reach even some of the hardest-partying bass heads.
Elsewhere in the park, in one of the weekend’s biggest surprises, Jaden “How Can A Set Be Real If Our Eyes Aren’t Real” Smith put on a commanding performance for a capacity crowd at the closed-off American Eagle stage. Sure, it’s easy to come down on Smith: his parents are superstars, his rap career started on third base, and he’s still far more famous for his social media cult of personality than for his music. However, if his Lolla set is any indication, that balance might have a real chance of shifting before long at all. Where so many trap artists performing this year let the bass and the backing track do the talking for them, Smith delivered an all-in physical performance that took viral hits like “Batman” and “Icon” and brought an energy to them that even the recordings lacked. Jaden never looked more like his old man than when he was strutting across stage, getting an entire crowd to bounce with him, and if he can keep up that charisma, he might just become one of hip-hop’s unlikeliest success stories. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Fancy Crowdwork: Some bands get fans to clap, others get them to sing, Chromeo goes the extra mile. Halfway through their fourth Lollapalooza performance, Dave 1 explained that he cut a deal with security so that fans could hop on their mate’s shoulders as they performed, you guessed it, “Over Your Shoulder”. “This may be the only time we do this today,” he implored. “Gotta make it a special occasion.” Naturally, the crowd obliged, and dozens of human pillars danced before the Lake Shore stage to the Steely Dan-esque number. It was absolutely ridiculous, but being ridiculous has long been this band’s forte, and everyone deserved to be loopy for what was ultimately the penultimate set of a long weekend. –Michael Roffman
Right Time, Wrong Place: Maybe it’s a consequence of acts growing exponentially in between their booking and their performance, or maybe it’s the organizers just not understanding their demographics, but Lollapalooza has a stage problem. Of-the-moment artists like Lil Pump and Billie Eilish both played on the mid-tier Tito’s stage when their swarming crowds demanded the wide open offered by the Bud Light or Grant Park stages, resulting in bottlenecks and a shitload of squished superfans, not to mention several clogged walkways and thoroughfares. Similarly, Travis Scott played the Bud Light stage on Thursday night, drawing a gargantuan crowd that spilled past its borders, while, on the opposite end of the park, Arctic Monkeys played the larger Grant Park stage to a crowd that would have barely filled Tito’s. On Saturday, rising hip-hop artist Taylor Bennett took the EDM-laden Perry’s stage, where the Molly-addled teens expected beat drops, not downtempo soul. You have the space; use it wisely. –Randall Colburn
Rookie vs. MVP: On Saturday afternoon, the north field played host to a two-hour case study in good and bad hip-hop performances, as seen through two wildly different generations of the genre.
First up was Lil Pump, the meme-iest of all of Lolla’s 2018 bookings. It was always a question of “when” over “if” when it came to Lollapalooza jumping on the Soundcloud rap train; as the demographics of the festival grow younger by the year, capturing the zeitgeist now means giving a plum midday side stage slot to the “Gucci Gang” dude.
That said, the CoS staff was highly intrigued by the potential upside of his set, and the even higher upside possibility that it could turn into a full-blown shitshow. That impression wasn’t helped by the overwhelmingly packed crowd at the perpetually too-small Tito’s stage, which was slamming vodka in the scorching late-summer sun like the world was about to end and recklessly scaling anything it could climb. After finally taking the stage after burning more than a third of his scheduled time on a flailing hype man, Pump barely got through three songs of word repetition before his mic was cut and the first wave of passed-out attendees had to be evacuated.
Pump jumped down to the rail to ask the crowd to step back and help, and they responded by shoving even harder forward, phones in hand, to get shots of Pump for the gram. Soon he was arguing with management onstage, security was taking the mic to demand crowd safety, and the kids began leaving in droves. By the time his DJ half-heartedly dropped about 30 seconds of “Gucci Gang” before having the sound cut off once again, much of the crowd had already left, having learned a valuable lesson in tempered expectations.
It wouldn’t have been hard for anyone to improve on what has to be one of the worst Chicagopalooza sets to date, if not the very worst. But just across the field, LL Cool J took the stage (with Z-Trip in tow) to stage a far more traditional kind of hip-hop performance. To his credit, Cool James was all business from the second he appeared onstage, iced out and ready to tear through the hits that made him a star long before the days of NCIS: Los Angeles.
The set was a pure medley, allowing LL to rip through dozens of classic hits from “Mama Said Knock You Out” to “Headsprung” to “Rock the Bells” with a stage full of B-boys and girls and the kind of boom-bap sound that built a genre. Sure, many of those Lil Pump fans might not have been as interested in his tributes to EPMD and Doug-E-Fresh as the crowd in attendance (which saw the median age go up a solid 20 years from the rest of the fest), but that’s their loss. LL Cool J may be a media mogul these days, but for an hour on Saturday, it was almost like he’d been here for years. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Rock’s Not Dead, It’s Getting Coffee: Not to beat a dead horse, but rock isn’t having a great time amid mainstream music festivals these days. Like Coachella this past April, those carrying six-strings had trouble rivaling the Top 40 heavies, looking like strangers in a once-familiar land. The National suffered the worst of ’em all against Bruno Mars, barely drawing crowds past the sound booth; Arctic Monkeys played a distant second fiddle to Travis Scott; Vampire Weekend attracted about a third of The Weeknd’s sea of fans; and Jack White, well, let’s just say he’s seen better days in Grant Park.
But not all hope is lost for the genre; instead, the weekend’s most popular rock shows were wedged into the earliest time slots and on the smallest stages. The Regrettes, Post Animal, Parquet Courts, The Vaccines, Pale Waves, Alex Lahey, and Bones (UK) all enjoyed thriving afternoon sets, nabbing dedicated crowds who were willing to brave the insufferable heat before lunch. So, yeah, things aren’t that dire; it’s just less about rock ‘n’ rolling all night and more about partying every day. Of course, none of this applies to Greta Van Fleet, who are on another level right now. –Michael Roffman
On Another Level Right Now: Given their rapid ascent, it’s difficult to think of Greta Van Fleet as newcomers, despite their debut EP, From the Fires, being under a year old. Nonetheless, they performed an explosive set to a large crowd at the American Eagle stage Friday afternoon. Though the quartet have spent a majority of the year performing live around the globe, their set was unwavering in gusto. Radiating raw power note after note, the band performed favorites off their EP (“Highway Tune”, “Edge of Darkness”) as well as their latest single, “When the Curtain Falls”. The latter incited a particularly overwhelming reaction from the crowd, many of whom were hearing the track live for the first time.
Greta’s set was a much-desired breath of fresh air for Lolla-goers who prefer guitars and drums to beats and bass drops. Amid a lineup that wasn’t rock-oriented by any means, they alone satisfied musical palettes for all who were likely left wondering if they should’ve saved their money and sprung for Riot Fest tickets instead. It’s safe to say that Greta Van Fleet were among the more authentic rock acts that Lollapalooza had to offer. Rock’s general absence on charts and airplay alike has been a tough blow to take, but the sheer magnitude of Greta Van Fleet’s set was enough to instill hope that the waning genre could be on the precipice of a deserved renaissance. –Lindsay Teske
The Kids Are Alright: Lollapalooza is as much a testing ground for rising acts as it is a stage for its hallowed headliners. You’ll find no shortage of duds on its myriad stages, but you’re also likely to see the seeds of what’s soon to become an honest-to-god sensation. Some of the most spastic, starry-eyed crowds this year weren’t found at The Weeknd, Travis Scott, or Jack White, but at the relatively smaller stages of artists who are just starting their careers. Billie Eilish, the 16-year-old pop singer behind viral hit “Ocean Eyes”, commanded the loudest, most vibrant crowd I saw all weekend, despite her having only an EP and a handful of collaborations to her name. Eilish is a dynamic performer with a striking aesthetic, and her wistful, bombastic pop exudes an infectious melancholy that still slams, especially with her rapt audience knowing every damn word. The arrival of special guest Khalid, who, at just 20 years old, is another rising wunderkind, prompted the kind of shrieks you see in old Beatles clips. The pair, who performed their crystalline collaboration, “Lovely”, have star power for days, and Khalid’s subsequent set that evening boasted a similarly exuberant crowd.
Another young act that overwhelmed the mid-tier American Eagle stage was Brockhampton, the hip-hop collective (and self-described “world’s greatest boy band”) that dropped an astounding three records last year. All in their early 20s, the seven-deep lineup scorched through cuts from all three Saturation LPs while bouncing around the stage with a manic intensity that, despite dissolving during a solo R&B jam, came roaring back during “Boogie”, the set’s thundering, cathartic finale. Less packed was Superorganism’s Sunday morning set, though the group’s delightfully weird noise pop sounded wonderful against the homespun theatricality of the group’s trio of backing vocalists. Singer Orono Noguchi, who just turned 18 this year, serves as the nucleus of this strange band, her charmingly laconic sense of cool grounding the group’s sonic experiments.
The kids, it’s safe to say, are doing alright. –Randall Colburn
Downtown Funk (You Know, Because of “Uptown Funk”): Those Metra trains to the Chicagoland suburbs must have been packed to the ceiling on Friday night, because everyone and their mother came out for Bruno Mars — literally. It was the most PG-13 crowd of the weekend as teens and parents sang, danced, and jumped around together. While this made it next to impossible to find some proper real estate around the Grant Park stage, it did make for some excellent people watching, particularly in the moments leading up to the show. “Don’t worry, Mom, he’s going to play ‘Uptown Funk’ for 90 straight minutes,” one fan teased his mother as she anxiously waited for the hitmaker.
Much to her chagrin, it took 10 extra minutes for Mars to hit the stage, but once he did, the whole scene exploded like the dance floor of a New England wedding with an open bar. When it wasn’t a bunch of families having a ball, it was one chummy couple after another, exchanging vows or singing their hearts out — at least during the hits. Any other moment spurred a melange of boozy conversations and restless jitters as everyone waited for the next noticeable anthem. To their credit, Mars didn’t exactly tailor his arena show to a festival setting, which is why he lost some of that “24K Magic” during these long instrumental jams clearly intended as sweat breaks for the singer.
Still, when he delivered the goods, the goods were great: the New jack swing of “Finesse” set the tone for the evening (still sounds like a Bobby Brown jam), “Treasure” was exactly that (hardy har har), “That’s What I Like” may be the next “Ignition (Remix)” given the epic sing-a-long (and probably a good thing given that R. Kelly’s a sexual predator), “Marry You” was cheesy in all the right ways (and also a reminder of how far Mars has come), while the two-hit punch of “Just the Way You Are” and “Uptown Funk” was the hug and kiss every mother wanted. So, despite the dips in energy, Mars proved to be this year’s populist pick, while also giving Lollapalooza an essential edge over its competition. Not bad. –Michael Roffman
Pop Positive, Two Ways: Carly Rae Jepsen and Lizzo both make buoyant, dance-forward pop, but their approaches rest on opposite ends of the spectrum. Jepsen, the singer who first made a name with the viral hit “Call Me Maybe”, sings about innocent encounters and the giddy joys of infatuation, while the Minneapolis-based Lizzo makes it clear she’s here to fuck and would prefer you not stick around come morning. Lizzo’s Friday evening set was horny as all hell — she heartily urged the audience to “take a picture of my ass” as her “big girls” (Lizzo’s words) provided “twerk tutorials” in between runs of “Fitness”, “Boys”, and “Batches and Cookies”. Jepsen’s Saturday set was decidedly more chaste, with the singer tossing off her heels while breezily soaring through bubbly cuts like “I Really Like You”, “Boy Problems”, and the transcendent “Let’s Get Lost”. What courses through both artists, though, is a relentless strain of positivity, as well as songs that stress independence, proactiveness, and possibility. At both sets, there wasn’t a frown to be found. –Randall Colburn
Astropalooza: When Travis Scott took the Bud Light stage on Thursday night, before a ridiculously packed crowd that was vocally ready to “turn the fuck up” long before the set started, it wasn’t exactly easy to predict where the set would go. After all, Scott’s meteoric rise to hip-hop stardom and tabloid ubiquity has happened so quickly that he’s still best known to many casual listeners for his prolific feature appearances. However, Scott’s been ready for a while; since his chaotic 2015 set, which saw him removed by security and arrested by Chicago police for inciting a borderline riot over on the Perry’s stage after just a few songs, he’s released hit record after hit single, building up to the release of Astroworld barely an hour after his set concluded.
Despite only playing an hour of his allotted 75 minutes, Scott tore through an assured headlining set full of his most recognizable features and singles, without bringing out a single guest. Given the star-studded assemblage of features on Astroworld, it was a pleasant surprise to see Scott take true center stage, but then, it’s his year and moment right now. Aside from a dual set of pendulum-style risers that elevated his backing performers high above the stage throughout the set (which invoked the imagery of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping more than anybody probably intended), this was Scott’s time to shine, and for the most part he did.
Aside from one ill-timed marriage proposal, which ate up a sizable chunk of time late in the set between “Antidote” and “Goosebumps,” Scott delivered the best hip-hop performance of the weekend in a year rife with them. His relentless energy never wavered, even when delivering slower and more vocoder-heavy cuts like “90210.” On the north field, as has happened several times in the past 13 years of Chicagopalooza, you could see another superstar artist claiming his spot, as though Scott’s own prophecy from 2013’s Owl Pharoah was finally realized: “We so fucking high/Upper echelon.” –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
The Saint Comes Marching In: In a year dominated by Top 40 artists, St. Vincent felt like a true outlier in all the right ways for Lollapalooza, and that’s a good thing. With her DayGlo wardrobe, crunchy guitar jams, and VH1-ready videos, Annie Clark’s alter ego came to spiritually represent the festival’s true roots at a time when they were unrecognizable. She didn’t attract a large crowd on Saturday evening at the Bud Light stage, at least by her standards, but that was part of the appeal. Her set, her tunes, and her aura hearkened back to a time when the tag Alternative actually made sense, a fringe sound that only came recommended by people much, much, much cooler than you.
There was something ruggedly old school about that feeling — and by proxy, her entire set — a feeling that truly coalesced hours later at the Chicago Athletic Association, where she DJ’d for an hour or so in between Tank and the Bangas and Japanese Breakfast. Dressed like a character in Dark City, Clark matched that post-modern aesthetic with a medley of Alternative favorites, from Nine Inch Nails to Talking Heads to The Knife, in a set that one could argue was a tad self aware. It wasn’t. That’s just her. She’s Alternative’s present. The current chapter. A descendent of Lollapalooza’s past. So, if you were there, you were there; if you weren’t, well, you will be one day. –Michael Roffman
That One Performance: After the loss of founding member Rostam and four years spent off the radar, Vampire Weekend made their comeback last June in Ojai, where they played their 2008 debut album in its entirety. That album was well represented on Saturday night as well, with the band opening its headlining set — its first US festival performance since 2014 — with not one, not two, but three runs of fan favorite “A-Punk”. In addition to being entirely welcome — they could’ve played it 10 more times, and that opening riff would’ve still gotten cheers — the stunt served to remind audiences that, despite the loss of Rostam, this is still the Vampire Weekend we know and love. Throughout the 90-minute set, the band brought all the early hits, from “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” to “Walcott” to the sublime “Oxford Comma”, with numerous cuts from 2010’s Contra (“Horchata”, “White Sky”, “Holiday”, “Cousins”) and 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City (“Step”, “Diane Young”, “Worship You”, “Ya Hey”) peppered in between.
Frontman Ezra Koenig, hilariously clad in a System of a Down top, revealed the band’s long-awaited fourth LP is finished, but, cheekily, chose not to premiere any of the new songs. But, in honoring the breadth of their catalog, founding members Koenig, drummer Chris Thompson, and bassist Chris Baio also shone a spotlight on the band’s new members, who are each injecting their own flavor into the time-tested Vampire Weekend sound. Greta Morgan, who you might know from Springtime Carnivore, lent some lovely, golden harmonies to “Obvious Bicycle” and “Hannah Hunt”, while Human Natural’s Brian Robert Jones took center stage on a number of songs, unleashing several scorching, funk-rock solos. The show often had the feel of an improvisatory riff session, with “Horchata” slowly evolving into the band’s SBTRKT cover of “New Dorp. New York” and an extended jam that highlighted not only Jones, but also new keyboardist Will Canzoneri and percussionist Garrett Ray.
Coinciding with that jammier sound was the seamless incorporation of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” (and, if you’re keeping count, Baio’s go at the Seinfeld theme), which didn’t stand on their own so much as they were woven into the texture of the performance. It’s not a huge departure for the band, but it does help solidify their identity post-Rostam while also hinting at just how this lineup change will impact the direction of their sound.
“We’ll be back soon,” Koenig told the crowd. We’ll be waiting. –Randall Colburn
Coming Home: It’s time for Lollapalooza to figure itself out. When there were only a handful of festivals, Perry Farrell’s brainchild could get away with being a one-stop shop for music, a place where rock, rap, pop, electronica, soul, and country could play side by side. The eclecticism was part of the package. Now, however, there are multiple festivals in every major city, not to mention a slew of hyper-localized ones that have proven surprisingly adept at booking major names. People want specificity; they want festivals that speak directly to their interests, not the wide breadth of popular art and culture. Lollapalooza will always have the resources to book the biggest and brightest from any genre, but, as the last few years — this year, in particular — have made clear, the festival is attracting a particular breed of fan, one that couldn’t care less about Arctic Monkeys.
Lollapalooza booked a handful of great rock acts for this weekend — St. Vincent, Vampire Weekend, The National, Jack White — and while their sets drew plenty of ears, they were dwarfed by the waves of fans crashing toward hip-hop and pop stars like Bruno Mars, Travis Scott, The Weeknd, Kali Uchis, and Logic, who had one of the most terrifyingly rabid crowds I saw all weekend. Once upon a time, acts like St. Vincent and The National would’ve pulled in rock-minded fans, but, these days, with Riot Fest and Pitchfork serving as local alternatives, nobody’s coming to Lolla for the six-stringers. They’ll catch them at an after-show (there’s always an after-show) or wait until they play a cheaper, more on-brand festival.
Festivals need a brand now. Specificity and locality is the name of the game, and it’s well past due for Lollapalooza to complete its transformation into being the definitive Top 40 festival. They’ll sell a helluva lot more tickets. That’s for sure. –Randall Colburn