Festival Review: Thursday & Friday at Lollapalooza – Grant Park, Chicago (28.07.16 & 29.07.16)

In 1991, Perry Farrell had an idea to create something no one had tried before. 25 years later, Lollapalooza has been perhaps one of the most influential things ever to happen to live music.

Over 160,000 people flock to Grant Park in Chicago to catch singers and bands from all over the world spanning every genre imaginable. Lollapalooza started as a touring festival that went from city to city in the early 90’s but found its stationary home in Chicago in 2005. The massive success has led to International versions of the festival in Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Germany.

To celebrate 25 years since its inception, Lollapalooza added a fourth day to its festival which is usually only three. The lineup this year may be the biggest one Lolla has ever had, with acts ranging from some of the most influential bands in music history to the biggest DJs, and rising superstars of today.

The first two days of the festival have provided many highlights and proof that Lolla is celebrating big time.

Radiohead (Photo: Cambria Harkey)
Radiohead (Photo: Cambria Harkey)

Full disclosure – I have never been a Radiohead fan. Their moody, emotional, brooding music has never struck a personal chord and for many years I have never really “got it.” For the first half of their marathon set, I had similar feelings.

Then Radiohead broke into my favorite song of theirs, “Idioteque”. What came of that was musical genius, the transition into the opening beat set off a chaotic light show and a musical breakdown that resembled something more like an EDM show than a rock show. In that moment, I finally “got” Radiohead.

Radiohead might be the most influential band of the past twenty years. Their staying power, musical diversity and pioneering has laid the ground work for so many bands that have followed.

Radiohead (Credit: Cambria Harkey)
Radiohead (Credit: Cambria Harkey)

On stage, it is clear that the chemistry of the band is unmatched by any other. Thom Yorke is a revelation on stage. There isn’t anyone like Thom Yorke on the microphone between songs. With a fake cockney accent, Yorke would address the crowd through mumbles and slurring words that were incomprehendible and muddled. Why? I have no idea. But it seemed to only further his stage presence and aura. As awkward as he is between songs, he is a pure joy to watch during. How he moves to his music brings another level to the sounds coming from stage.

The setlist was everything a true Radiohead fan could want, spanning 26 songs from eight albums, for over two hours. They started the set with their wonderful new single “Burn the Witch” and received huge crowd reactions with “Paranoid Android” and “Karma Police.”

I am really glad I can now scratch Radiohead of the list of bands I must see before I die. They did not disappoint and they proved all the people right who always judged me for not getting them.

Foals (Credit: Maclay Heriot)
Foals (Credit: Maclay Heriot)

When it came to Foals, this band is ready. After surprisingly high billing at Glastonbury earlier this summer, Foals took the stage in the mid-afternoon rain and announced to the crowds of Chicago why they are one of the best rock acts in the world. Shredding through their hit singles “My Number,” “Mountain at my Gates” and “Inhaler,” the English Indie rock band led by lead singer and guitarist Yannis Phillippakis showed why, in 2013, they were voted Best Live act at The Q Awards. Yannis may be one of the greatest guitarists alive today and his voice and interaction with the crowd are only helping this band reach greater and greater levels.

Speaking of interaction with the crowd, no band so far has done a better job than the English rock band The Struts. Reminiscent of The Darkness mixed with some Freddie Mercury, Luke Spiller (lead singer) is a powerhouse on stage.

Formed back in 2010, The Struts have exploded on the scene with their first two singles “Could Have Been Me” and “Kiss This.” In a curious move the band played these two songs in the first three of their set. What seemed strange at the time actually became a metaphor of their past year. They started their set with a bang to get there crowd in it and trusted the rest of their material and pure glam rock fun to keep the crowd from there. And that they did.

The Struts (Credit: Charles Reagan)
The Struts (Credit: Charles Reagan)

Spiller is incredible on stage and had the crowd wrapped around his finger. At one point, he had his entire crowd drop to their knees and stay for about a minute before jumping up and losing their minds. This was one of the greatest accomplishments I have ever seen at a festival due to the fact it was only the third set of the day just after noon.

Spiller and The Struts clearly enjoyed themselves especially when Spiller exclaimed ”Okay, this is officially the best show we have ever played.” Their timing couldn’t be any better.

Lewis Del Mar was one of my most anticipated acts of the fest. The group from New York City played an after show at the House of Blues Thursday night and kicked off Friday morning at one of the two headlining stages. They were ready for this moment and they pulled in a lot of unknowing fans.

Their sound is fascinating, blending styles of folk and pop with touches of experimental music and a sort of Caribbean groove, it is hard to find a band to compare them to. Imagine if Sublime, Citizen Cope and James Blake had a kid, that kid might sound like Lewis Del Mar.

For their live show, the two members (singer Danny Miller and drummer Max Harwood) become a five piece band and are a force. Their hit single “Loud(y)” is a perfect encapsulation of the band and their talent. The slow opening beat that you can’t help but groove to that slowly builds to the explosive chorus. All of their songs have this quality of something building and building to a satisfying and thrilling explosion. It is fascinating to watch and you can’t help but wonder if their career is about to do the same thing.



J. Cole

J. Cole took the stage in his throwback #45 Michael Jordan jersey and immediately had Chicago in the palm of his hand. Cole ripped through his old hits and plenty of fresh material from 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Cole was solid with his backing band and a huge crowd in front of him. Is he on the same level as Jay, Kanye, Eminem and Kendrick? Not quite yet, but maybe another album or two and some more headlining slots he could get there.


Lana Del Rey

There is no one like Lana. While she will never kill you with stage presence, in fact she might be the polar opposite of The Struts’ lead singer, she still somehow pulls you in. Her deep collection of songs of sadness, regret and heartache played beautifully with the Chicago nighttime skyline. She was a pleasant surprise and definitely validated her opening night headline slot.

MØ (Credit: Charles Reagan)
MØ (Credit: Charles Reagan)

This Norweigan songstress wooed me from across the festival. Her enchanting, pitch perfect voice caught my ear and I had to check it out. While there she crushed her set list, despite technical difficulties and closed with one of the biggest pops of the day as she went through her massive hit collaboration with DJ Snake and Major Lazer’s “Lean On.”

Alessia Cara (Photo: Daniel Boczarski)
Alessia Cara (Photo: Daniel Boczarski)

Alessia Cara

Alessia Cara is a star on the rise. The 20 year old Canadian was incredibly refreshing to watch on stage. Instead of going for pop-diva rock star, Cara relied on her incredible voice which brings to mind thought of Amy Winehouse and Billie Holliday. Add to that her messages of optimism, hope and pure sincerity and she can’t help but win you over. Big things seem on the horizon for her.

Saturday should provide just as much excitement and surprises, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Nothing But Thieves and more.


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