Nostalgia tried to crash the big weekend party in Grant Park. Five of the six headliners had played Lollapalooza before, and two of the most anticipated sets were by hip-hop artists — Eminem and OutKast — whose greatest hits are a decade old or more.
What was once cutting edge eventually becomes part of our sentimental past. But the newcomers kept showing up, and the talk of the weekend in which more than 130 artists performed on eight stages over three days was not a set by one of the veterans, but by a 17-year-old singer-songwriter out of New Zealand. Lorde proved she could rule a big stage in front of a huge audience with poise, command and, best of all, songs.
She shadowboxed and tossed her endless hair over clipped hip-hop beats and noisy outbursts Friday on a stark, black-and-white stage. It was a clean, clear presentation with Lorde's dynamic voice and smart, catchy songs at the center. She connected with the huge hit “Royals,” but also when she sat on the lip of the stage and shared her thoughts about growing up fast and realizing some of her dreams at such a young age. It's rare for a performer of any age to seem so at home in such a large setting, but Lorde pulled it off, suggesting her next appearance at this festival will be as a headliner.
Another upstart, Chance the Rapper, a 21-year-old MC from the South Side, went toe to toe with Sunday night headliners Kings of Leon and Skrillex.
“This is the coolest show I've ever done,” Chance said as he closed the festival. “This is what I worked for.”
Last year, he played a much smaller stage and drew a massive crowd at this festival. Now on the bigger Perry's stage, his ambition has grown to match his status. His band, Social Experiment, is a flexible unit, and the rapper played the role of bandleader and orchestrator as much as MC. The music jumped around, touching on Latin, jazz and reggae themes.
“Everybody's somebody's everything,” he sang, and his hometown fans eagerly joined in.
Lollapalooza celebrated its 10th year in Grant Park over the weekend, with a record-tying three-day attendance of 300,000. The festival itself traces its origins to 1991, when it presented an alternative to mainstream rock. Oddly enough, OutKast wasn't invited to that party when it emerged from Atlanta in the '90s and put the grime in the “Dirty South” hip-hop lexicon. Drawing a straight line back to the psychedelic funk of Parliament Funkadelic, the duo of Big Boi and Andre 3000 has reunited after a lengthy hiatus and came armed Saturday with now-classic hits that were sprinkled strategically throughout the set: “Hey Ya,” explosive opener “B.O.B.,” “The Way You Move,” and “Ms. Jackson,” which was accompanied by fireworks from a separate celebration south of the park, clearly visible in the summer sky.
Eminem too has become a classic-hits machine, and some of his fans are now parents — something that would've seemed unimaginable circa 2000. One mother and her children wore Eminem T-shirts to the gig.
In contrast to the engaged effort of OutKast's MCs, Eminem didn't do a lot of heavy lifting, often handing off lines to his sidekick and letting surprise guest Rihanna exude the star power during three tracks, including “Love the Way You Lie,” “Stan” and “Monster.” Once a magnet for controversy for his explicit, shock-tactic lyrics, the erstwhile outlaw has become a big business — one that is occasionally tone-deaf to reality. Several times during his set, fake gun shots rang out, only blocks away from streets where real guns are cutting down young people in their prime.
The strongest of the veteran acts was Nas, who took a deep dive into his 20-year-old masterpiece, “Illmatic.” He eschewed medleys or snippets, instead ranging across the album's vast emotional terrain — the poignancy of “One Love,” the hardness of “It Ain't Hard to Tell” — with a flow as stark and lean as his no-nonsense man-in-black persona.
As for the newcomers, the hype didn't always match the delivery. Australian MC Iggy Azalea, who owns the singles chart with her hit “Fancy” and her feature on Ariana Grande's “Problem,” reduced a larger-than-life personality down to a few chants and some synchronized aerobics-class dance moves. U.K. band Jungle focused on soul-funk signifiers — falsetto vocals, bubbling bass — but couldn't overcome an overly slick, manicured presentation.
Australian Courtney Barnett won new followers. She belied the low-fi charm of her recordings with a muscular trio, her catchy guitar riffs and fills underpinning deadpan vocals that spun out rhymes and stories about the wasteland between adolescence and adulthood. Lines such as “I sleep in late, another day/ Oh, what a wonder, oh, what a waste” were delivered without a hint of self-pity, but an air of dark, self-deprecating humor aided immensely by her corrosive guitar. Like Barnett, Los Angeles quartet Warpaint created its own world between splashes of rain Friday with hypnotic melodies that floated atop shimmying dance grooves.
Parquet Courts, a Brooklyn quartet, spun out a persuasive hourlong overview of its brief but already productive career. The band compressed the first one-third of its set into something of a concept album, smashing songs together as if they were one side-long suite. Then came a more discursive, open-ended portion, focused on longer, more expansive pieces. Finally, the set closed with a rush of venom and overdriven guitars, the band's mastery of dynamics complete.
Vic Mensa was briefly joined Saturday by high school friend Chance the Rapper, but had no trouble whipping the crowd — and himself — into a frenzy with a performance that exuded punk-rock energy as much as hip-hop skills. Mensa's music is all over the place, and so is his stage act, a frenzy of ideas crammed into a tight space.
Though the festival went off relatively hitch-free, a couple of incidents involving artists marred the festivities. Blood Orange's Dev Hynes posted several tweets after his set Friday saying he and his girlfriend had been assaulted by security guards. Police received a battery complaint of “an entertainer and a female friend” the next day involving private security staff. No one is in custody and no one was injured. A Chicago police spokesman said the security guards are not employed by Lollapalooza.
Separately, a woman was treated for injuries after being struck by a guitar hurled from the stage at the end of Benjamin Booker's set Saturday.
Amid the tumult and battle for attention that characterizes any big outdoor music event, a handful of artists showed a mix of veteran seasoning and freshness. Among them was Spoon, which has a long list of acclaimed albums on which to draw. After taking a break for a few years, the band sounded refreshed Saturday as it blended older material with stripped down yet melodic new songs such as “Inside Out.”
On Sunday, Troy Andrews — aka Trombone Shorty — split the difference between the street funk of his native New Orleans and rock, even riffing on Green Day's “Brain Stew” right after a horn-soaked high-stepper. Andrews also worked the stage as a more flamboyant front man and not just a band leader, demonstrating how he has adapted his show to playing in front of bigger audiences. He was followed by Run the Jewels, in which master MCs Killer Mike and El-P tag-teamed rhymes and celebrated old-school hip-hop virtues.
But the day's coolest look may have come from a sharply defined Colombian band, Bomba Estereo, led by blue-feathered singer Liliana Saumet. She led a band that rode a tidal wave of Latin polyrhythms and kept the party rolling on the lawn undaunted by the day's first rainstorm.
Though many fans and critics focus on headliners or buzz-worthy newbies, sometimes it's the middle-tier undercard that can offer some of the most sustained pleasure and accomplishment of a festival weekend.
Bob Gendron contributed.
Twitter @gregkotCopyright © 2015, CT Now