Festival Review: Lollapalooza 2015 - Grant Park, Chicago (31.07.15 to 02.08.15)

Paul McCartney hits the stage to a mammoth crowd.

Lollapalooza 2015 was a grand and hugely successful event (sold out, after all) that offered the best of the best over its three day lifespan. Spreading out across the glorious Grant Park of Chicago with eight stages, over thirty food and drinks stalls, lines of stores and some one hundred thousand attendees, this is a festival that doesn’t do anything by halves. From scorching heat to storm scares that led to evacuations on the final day, Paul McCartney to Metallica, and many many more phenomenal acts both old and new, Lollapalooza 2015 was packed with a long list of incredible music moments.

The first day started off not with a whimper but a bang, closing things up with the biggest name of the festival: Sir Paul McCartney, who would understandably be the biggest drawcard of the weekend. But first, we needed to acquaint ourselves with our surroundings in what was our first visit to the iconic Chicago event. While the impeccably named Slaptop opened things up on Perry's stage (the event's always surprisingly overcrowded dance area), booming his tunes into the stratosphere, the first thing that hit you was the sheer size of the venue.

I was told that it was over 1.6 kilometres between the two main stages at opposite ends of Grant Park - and with the sold out crowds taking up the space between, as the day continued this was a walk that got more and more time consuming. Luckily there were plenty of stages en route as well as the event's famous Chow Town - an entire street filled with some of Chicago's best food. From Deep Dish Pizza to fried chicken sandwiches, mac and cheese, hot dogs, steamed Asian buns and tofu wraps (a rare healthier option), there was something for everyone, with almost all options under $10. It was a concept some may remember C3 (the event's promoter) briefly imported to Australia in Big Day Out's final years.

But let's get onto the music: Sydney quartet Spookyland - one of some ten Australian artists playing the festival - opened up the Sprint stage on the field where McCartney would later close the night. Having recently wrapped up recording new music at Conor Oberst's studio in Omaha, Nebraska, the group teased us with some new material alongside their already released jams - some of which had members of the crowd singing along! Nice to see they already have a following here. They ended with a smashing slow jam that led into a high energy number. It wasn't meant to be their last song, but it ended things on a fantastic note.

As the day continued, the leadup to McCartney was a glorious one. It was easily the strongest lineup of all three days - for my tastes at least. UK's Coasts were another early addition, performing tracks like "Modern Love" and the anthemic "Tonight". "Lions" was a highlight of the set. Though not entirely original, this is a band on the rise internationally before they've even released a debut album - though they plan to release that very soon - and that says a lot about their talent. One of our picks of the festival, Kyle Thornton and The Company, were an amazing brass led band, with Thornton's incredible vocals bringing us songs like "The A Team" and "Just The Two Of Us" - alongside original tunes - with some great soulful, big band New Orleans flair. A huge crowd, not far away, soon enjoyed James Bay - the suave looking British singer/songwriter looking determined to take over the world. "Craving" got a particularly great response.

As the day continued, MisterWives and MS MR (pictured above) got the crowds singing in style, while Canberra duo Peking Duk and Hot Chip got them dancing. Glass Animals sounded as amazing as ever, with highlights including "Toes", "Pools" and a cover of Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" (which they actually did on triple j's Like a Version) as lead singer Dave Bayley ran through the crowd. St Paul and the Broken Bones, was the easy highlight if the day behind McCartney. The one time preacher-to-be is a confident and powerful frontman, with tracks like "Make It Rain", "I'm Torn Up", "Broken Bones & Pocket Change" and a cover Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" ending the set (one of three covers from the set, they also threw in some Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke for good measure). They would prove a tough act to beat, and perhaps this was why Father John Misty's set that followed proved lacklustre.

Father John Misty on stage at Lollapalooza

Missing the swagger and power that his recent tour and festival shows had become known for, Tillman's performance style today was something akin to the musical equivalent of Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh. Whether it was the heat, the odd energy from the crowd, or just exhaustion, Tillman just wasn't feeling it, and though sounding fantastic through tracks like "I Love You Honeybear", which opened things up, "True Affection", "I'm Writing a Novel", "Bored in the USA" and "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings", which closed things out, everything felt slowed down and without passion. It was disappointing, and Tillman apologised as he left the stage, but as a credit to the quality of his music, it was still wholly enjoyable.

Alabama Shakes (pictured above) and Gary Clark Jr. helped pump the crowd up for McCartney, both delivering rousing performances. Gary played plenty of favourites, including some new material, and Alabama Shakes delivered a stellar mix of both records. Highlights included "Always Alright", "Rise to the Sun" and "The Greatest". But it was Paul McCartney who we were all waiting for, and with a 2 hour 15 minute set in front of him, he hit the ground running, opening up with "Magical Mystery Tour" after a video took us down memory lane through the living legend's career, Sir Paul and his band barely stopped for a moment, focusing almost entirely on Beatles classics, with a few of his solo tracks ("Maybe I'm Amazed", which came out early and got us all emotional. Not going to lie, I cried.), some Wings favourites ("Band on The Run", "High High High" which opened the encore run and the explosive "Live and Let Die") and his verse from the Kanye and Rhianna track "FourFiveSeconds", which led into "We Can Work It Out ".

As someone who grew up on The Beatles, this couldn't have been a more fulfilling experience. The longest serving member on my musical bucket list has finally been ticked off, and it's all the more comforting knowing that he didn't disappoint. The highlights list is too long to name, but I'll select a few all the same: "Blackbird", which was performed solo and acoustic as the stage moved him higher, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", "Back in the U.S.S.R.", "Let It Be", "Can't Buy Me Love", "Helter Skelter" and "Get Back", for which he was accompanied by Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes. But it couldn't have been more perfect than to end the night with "Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End". The track that ended Abbey Road could not have been a more fitting way to close out the night.

Following the incredible high (and perhaps very best moment of the festival) that came with singing “Hey Jude” along with Sir Paul McCartney, Day Two had its own treats on offer. The line-up featured a more prominent emphasis upon various varieties of rock music, bringing out the likes of Metallica, Tame Impala, Death From Above 1979 and Delta Spirit. Australia’s own Tame Impala (pictured below) brought out favourites including “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “Alter Ego”, while Death From Above 1979 rocked out with 15 tracks, including "Turn It Out", "Romantic Rights", "The Physical World" and "You're a Woman, I'm a Machine".

Delta Spirit stood as sure favourites of the day for their vibrant and incredibly catchy alt country rock. From singer Matt Masquez crowd surfing to the group delivering an incredible cover of “Don’t Let Me Down”, these guys made what would have been an already solid set due to their backlog of tracks including “People C’Mon”, a truly memorable one. And, of course, Metallica kept fans old and new happy with exhilarating deliveries of songs from every one of their records, except for St. Anger, including "Nothing Else Matters", "Fade to Black", "Seek & Destroy", "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" and "Enter Sandman", which closed the night. Naturally.

Other highlights of Day Two included an energetic set from Django Django, which had an impressive quantity of their crowd dancing in spite of the sweltering heat. Bringing out the likes of “Default” and “Reflections”, the UK act sure is exciting to watch live with their innovative percussion accompanied by strong choral melodies. As her name continues to grow, it was also very much worth checking out LA indie pop rock singer Zella Day (pictured below). With her stunning emotive vocals, the songstress had us mesmerised with the likes of “Shadow Preachers” and “East of Eden”.

One of the festival's hidden gems was the Kidzapalooza Stage (which is exactly what the name suggests), following a rocking set by the incredible California tween alt-rock band The Helmets (who did a mean Led Zeppelin cover), it was hugely exciting to have Lollapalooza founder and Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Farrell and Metallica’s Robert Trujillo come to the stage. Accompanied by teen musicians, the pair delivered much loved Jane’s Addiction tracks "Ocean Size" and "Mountain Song", with Perry also thanking the kids and parents for coming along to the festival. The day before, The Jimmys infused child friendly songs into a punk tone on the same stage.

Day three was yet another scorcher, leaving those of us who were in it from start to finish a little worse for wear. Punters could be spotted sleeping under the shade of trees across the site, resting up after trekking across the long distances between stages for the last few days. Yet despite a rather evident slowness amongst the crowd on the Sunday, the numbers and line up was as strong as ever. The day started off with acts including Brisbane's Sheppard, who had the crowd dancing and singing early with their popular catalogue including "Let Me Down Easy" and "Geronimo". New York based rocker Atarah Valentine brought a unique flavour to the BMI stage, telling the crowd that this was his "childhood dream come true" (a fact for many performing at the festival, no doubt), and impressed with a high energy set that closed with a ballad in the form of "Memories" - a stand out moment of the set.

British stars The Wombats and Circa Waves both killed it, rocking out for their all-too-short sets, while Marina and the Diamonds got fans singing along from start to finish. Back on the BMI stage, Zebra Katz delivered an unforgettable performance - without question standing as one of the most memorable performers the whole weekend (you can read more about that set HERE).

These guys were followed by a charismatic set by Austin based singer songwriter Shakey Graves, aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia. Bringing out tracks from his latest record And The War Came, including “The Perfect Parts” and “Pansy Waltz”, Shakey Graves showed off his incredible guitar work and husky, soaring vocals. Just upon the close of this set, the music came to a halt with the evacuation of all punters in anticipation of a gathering storm – leading to a very well planned mass exodus from the festival. A little under an hour later, we were all back in and listening to artists with adjusted schedules, being well informed about the changes through social media and notifications through the Lolla app. Upon our return, the lovely UK singer songwriter George Ezra made his way back onto the stage to wow a strong number of listeners with his soulful vocals and sweet, catchy songs. In honour of the weather, Ezra delivered a stunning performance of “Did You Hear The Rain”, and closed with the much loved "Budapest".

Following this the performances stayed as solid as ever, with the likes of Marina and the Diamonds wowing the crowd with her quirky pop flavoured tracks including "I Am Not a Robot", and Albert Hammond Jr (also of The Strokes) playing quality indie rock built upon sharp guitar riffs. Wild Belle (pictured above) was one of my favourite discoveries of the day for their stormy soulful sound, fronted by gorgeous frontwoman Natalie Bergman and supported by her brother Elliot (look back at our 2012 interview with the band HERE). Bringing out catchy upbeat tracks including the brand new "I'm Gonna Make You Mine", to be featured on their upcoming album and performed live for the very first time, the soul funk number previously recorded with Major Laaer “Be Together”, and the incredible "Mississippi River" (which has "hit" written all over it), this is certainly a band worth checking out. And then there was Twenty One Pilots, who surprisingly saw one of the biggest crowds and most rousing receptions of any bands the entire weekend.

TV on the Radio naturally played an energy packed set, delivering favourites including “Golden Age” and “Wolf Like Me”, while FKA Twigs (pictured above) had her crowd spellbound with her sultry dancing and invigorating setlist that included her best known “Two Weeks”. And, to close the three day festival on the Bud Light Stage with an extraordinary show were Florence and the Machine (pictured below). As always, the UK act put on a powerful, moving show which made for an emotional end for the event. From the slower "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" to the wonderful "Cosmic Love" dedicated to the oncoming storm that we could see approaching, Florence had her loving crowd captivated from start to finish - which, unfortunately, only lasted nine songs. "What Kind of Man" was another favourite, while the band ended the set sooner than expected with their much loved "Dog Days Are Over", closing with Florence ripping off her shirt and running into the crowds.

Review by Lucy Inglis and Larry Heath. Photos by Daniel Boczarski. For more of our Lollapalooza content, visit our Lolla hub HERE.