Reports from Sunday, day four at Lollapalooza in Grant Park, from Greg Kot (GK), Kevin Williams (KM), Jessi Roti (JR) and Tracy Swartz (TS):
9:15 p.m.: Arcade Fire reprises the little ABBA “Dancing Queen” tribute near the top of its latest album, but quickly move on. One senses that the Montreal band realizes that “Everything Now” hasn’t quite connected as deeply with its fans as its earlier work, so it recharges many of its past triumphs. One new track, “Electric Blue,” floats beautifully on Regine Chassagne’s vocal. But otherwise the band sounds most locked in on older cuts such as “Rebellion (Lies),” “The Suburbs” and the string-band roar of “Keep the Car Running.” (GK)
9 p.m.: Serious overcrowding at this stage as well, worried safety personnel trying to calm things 10 minutes before set time. Awful sound, muddy beats drowning out rappers. Pepsi seems the wrong place for a set from performers who can draw a mainstage crowd. This was another cheerleading competition masquerading as a rap show. Fans left to sing on their own as unhappy looking kids left in droves from the maelstrom down in front. And for good reason. Bad sound and awful stage presence dragged down yet another alleged rap act. No flow, no rhythm, no nothing except the equivalent of a pair of jesters performing a medley. Girls bellow the lyrics to “Come Get Her” with a zeal that makes you wonder how carefully they’ve studied this song’s lyrics. If a show like this isn’t a concert then what is it? An appearance? Should venues just play the album really loudly while the artists run around? Because that, essentially, is what this set was. Art? Nope. A success? The kids loved it and at the end of it all, what else matters? (KM)
8:47 p.m.: For the second night in a row, the headliner on the Bud Light stage had a small, but dedicated crowd, the majority of the folks opting for mega-band Arcade Fire or top hip-hop group Rae Sremmurd. French electronic duo Justice brought funk-laced beats and choral, disco vocals to Grant Park to close out Lollapalooza 2017. Beams of white light shot out into the crowd, members Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé tinkering with their gear to find the perfect balance of a video game-like beeps, laser bolts and shooting synth sounds. Folks hopped toward the stage, the glitter on their faces catching just the right amount of dimmed light coming from Justice’s set design and the buildings in the city’s skyline. At moments the set became heavily industrial, the bottom of the bass dropping out to make room for snapping, almost spastic percussion. It felt like the nightclub the way you had always imagined it -kind of dark, entrancing, full of people but not too many so you had your own comfortable, dance bubble. It was at times ominous, almost too seamless as tracks faded into one another, but never cold in the way some electronic music can be. If it was a crowd-pleasing party — no matter the size of the crowd — Justice wanted, they did it well. (JR)
7:45 p.m.: “Text Joey,” and a phone number was screened across a banner at stage left. No, I didn’t, but for fans looking for a trip into the unknown and who could get a mobile signal, it’s a safe bet many of them did. This rapper’s best release, “All Amerikkkan Badass,” came out in April. DJ building anticipation with a medley that even included Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The crowd gleefully screamed along with a Chief Keef “Don’t Like” remix, finding sociopolitical liberation in mass immunity from the “a” vs “er” sematic complexity that is the line between term of familiarity and racial epithet. Even as you wonder how the artist feels about that, Badass grabbed the mic and started living up to his name. Beats and rhymes lies at the core of rap music, an artist spinning stories about his life. Joey Badass has about a metric ton of charisma, with a stentorian bellow sufficient to cut through any mix. “You can’t change the world unless you change yourself,” he rapped in “Land of the Free,” to a crowd uninterested in anything involving anything more than a great time. Joey Badass’ lyrics come ripping at you in tight, rapid-fire couplets, like he has more to say than the beats will allow. Yet flow is always maintained. The only down side was that a set of that quality didn’t need the incessant pleas for noise and hands up. The music was already making that happen. Just rap. (KM)
7:04 p.m.: “We’re allowed to have fun,” one of the Shins says. And so they do. Singer James Mercer was not known for his demonstrative nature on stage, but he throws himself into the songs with an almost giddy sense of purpose. And why not? In stringing together songs from across the Shins estimable career, the quality of the work can’t be denied. “Saint Simon” shimmers like a chamber pop jewel with violin and cascading harmonies, “The Rifle’s Spiral” blasts into darkness, the punky “Half a Million” gets the band jumping, and a big exuberant slice of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” contributes to a roaring finale. Fun with the Shins — who knew? (GK)
6:33 p.m.: Slow jams for this generation’s coolest from Sampha hypnotized the crowd. The London producer’s distinctive, middle-weight vocal at times battled the bass and accompanying key distortions, but the songs never lost their groove. A buzzing affect lingering in the background of almost every song, worming itself into your ears. Exuding an effortless cool, rocking his shoulders back and forth, his set feeling like a peek into a studio session, Sampha showed off a wholly different identity in contrast to the artists playing around him. The group, percussion jam session was organic, it felt fun. It sounded great against a marriage of samba and island beats. Halfway through, he stripped it down for “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.” It was a moving moment, if not for the endless jabbering that surrounded. Sometimes I wish I had one of those fantasy remotes that allow you to mute your surroundings. The crowd started clapping for a gripping piano solo, again I wished for that mute button. Sometimes, it’s more than OK to savor the quieter, more vulnerable moments real artists give you — just listen.
6:10 p.m.: After the dance party thrown by Charli XCX and then Tove Lo on the south end of Grant Park, London Grammar provides the chill comedown. The core trip doesn’t really deliver songs so much as a sound. Hannah Reid’s voice drifts in lovely arabesques over undulating layers of keyboards. The vaporous arrangements make even a track called “Hell to the Liars” sound less like a curse than a prayer. (GK)
6 p.m.: Mob scene at Tito’s for a rapper whose singsong style has, for some unfathomable reason, grabbed him a massive following. Live, it’s little more than a scatological cheering session led by a man who must at least once a day wonder why young white kids want to rip down a fence to get closer to him. Such is the nature of fandom because critically, in the live setting this stuff is a mess to pull off. But as rap becomes fully assimilated into pop music, artists such as Lil Yachty are byproducts. All of the problems present in live rap were exacerbated here. Tunes that burble like shiny bits of pop music craft on recordings as they winnow their way into your brain, become song snippets live. Same song essentially, traplike screeds that at Tito’s almost all ended with gunshot-like audio. For Chicago, a city riven by gun violence, that’s a tone-deaf call. But the kids are happy because they get to scream a few choruses of songs they know, and the artist gets paid. And everybody’s happy. “One two three, GO!” (KM)
4:33 p.m.: Opening with the scene-setting “True Disaster,” Tove Lo made it clear this set was for “bad girls” — the ones that color outside the lines and have great stories to tell. She’s not afraid to tell that other side of that story either, the side that’s focuses more on survival than adventure, which while still shined up with synths and staccato, felt real. But halfway through I started thinking about another Swedish dance music maker — Robyn. With the exception of Robyn’s choreography prowess, Tove Lo struck many similarities — her R&B influences, her floaty, softly strained vocal against the gleam of electronic noise. But while she was celebrating her moment, I was wishing Robyn was playing.
3:40 p.m.: Every year at Lolla brings a surprise. This year it’s trumpeter Spencer Ludwig, a Cali dude who seems to have funk in his soul. He looks like an art kid, but don’t let that fool you. His songs shout out loud and strong to brass-tinged Philly soul, and the more danceable numbers veer directly into Prince territory. Backed by a pair of fantastic backup singers (one on violin), Ludwig tickled the ivories and broke out a convincing falsetto. His trumpet playing is also convincing, with none of that weak-lipped initial attack, a fat tone that cut through the mix. His solo on “Electify Me” ripped, a hook-rich jam that had folks’ hips rumbling. Set of the day for me so far. (KM)
3:31 p.m.: Red Solo cup in hand, Charli XCX, one of pop’s baddest took the stage … and sang along with a backing track. This set was going to focus on energy and attitude — and maybe it should’ve because it was nowhere near loud enough (the bass line to “Break the Rules” disappeared). The pop chameleon is trying on pop a là Rihanna, hip hop-tinged and shiny enough for the club, but it’s a much tougher sell. Her performance of “I Don’t Care,” made popular by Icona Pop, while written by Charli (she also provided back-up vocals), felt disingenuous. She performed new songs, only sprinkling in the aforementioned “Rules” and her biggest commercial hit “Boom Clap,” despite having a deep enough catalog. It seems like a waste of time to play someone else’s song. A redeeming performance of the Spice Girls’ classic “Wannabe” with fellow pop baddie Halsey and a set savior in the form of Chicago-native Cupcakke (during which the rapper stole the show) for the banging “Lipgloss” turned into her own “CPR” in its most confident, raunchiest truth. XCX should feel grateful she had two phemons to power through when she couldn’t. She’s way better than this. (JR)
3:04 p.m.: Noname, aka Fatimah Warner, is a skilled crafter of rhymes, a wordsmith who invites close inspection of every line. “I used to dream in parables,” she raps, and her songs feel at once conversational and philosophical, the stuff of long, intimate conversations with a close friend. How would this translate to the stage? In recent months, Noname has answered that question. Her strong performances at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, a few months ago are topped in this midafternoon set. Songs such as “Yesterday” gain new life on stage, flexible enough to bend to the musicianship of a four-piece band, the dexterity of two backing singers and Noname herself. The jazz-like arrangements serve Noname’s deceptively off-handed tone, as if she were thinking out loud, the keyboards of her coproducer Phoelix shadowing her every move. There have been few calls for an encore this weekend more boisterous than the one issued by Noname’s fans, but alas there’s a schedule to keep and the roadies move in to make way for the next act. (GK)
3 p.m.: When last we saw Car Seat Headrest, it was at the former Samsung stage, with delightful power pop ringing clear as a bell. T’was a delightful set. This year at Bud Light, volume makes the songcraft a deadened smear. Not sure if they decided to hit it harder and louder at Lolla, but the attack has done the songcraft a diservice at the stage with (this year) the most consistently bad sound at Lollapalooza. Will Toledo’s project is on recording, the most elegant argument for power pop you will hear these days. At Bud Light, just a high-volume, lifeless call for help. Or at least a better sound engineer. “I don’t know what you’re saying, but thanks,” Toledo said to a fan screaming love at him. Right back at ya, Will. The usually pretty, plaintive “Maud Gone” was stripped of fire and emotion, a lifeless wall of sound. Style points for the maple neck Tele, though.
1:21 p.m.: The Walters are the instant black coffee Lolla day four needs. The Chicago quintet blends the spastic energy of singer Luke Olson with gawky songs of fast-fading innocence and Walter Kosner’s fluid guitar leads. As Olson channels the authority figures in his life berating him for his waywardness — “What’s your Plan B, Luke?” — he tosses off his T-shirt and spazzes out on stage. In lieu of a sedative, he pours himself into the music like a man with no other options. Are we not entertained? (GK)
1:11 p.m.: Who provided a rollicking good time on the final day of Lollapalooza from a hospital bed, in a hospital gown, with a broken foot? Barns Courtney, that’s who. Rolled back and forth across the stage by “Nurse Kimberly” — who was also on guitar pedal duty and providing Courtney with his crutches (eye roll and heavy sigh) — the Brit made the most out of his situation, his anthemic, hooky roots-pop blaring across the north side of Grant Park. Spinning himself around on one leg, whipping his head around like a madman, it was clear nothing was going to overshadow his set. “I can’t believe I got away with this idea,” he laughed. “This is ridiculous.” On a stripped, piano ballad version of “The Attractions of Youth” and a soaring rendition of his latest single “Golden Dandelions,” Courtney showcased his arena ambitions. He has big songs and a big personality, his bluesy numbers like “Hell Fire” and “Glitter and Gold” simmer with dark truths and clever commentary, yet are so damn catchy they’ll be stuck in your head for hours before you even realize it. (JR)
1:00 p.m.: Four arrests were made, 10 citations were given and 57 festivalgoers were taken to local hospitals on Saturday, the third day of Lollapalooza, according to figures from the city. Police reported nabbing a cell phone thief by Perry’s stage and recovering 60 stolen phones Saturday after festivalgoers pointed out the suspect. Other arrests were made for battery and trespassing, according to the city Office of Emergency Management and Communications. The citations were mostly for fence jumping. Ten festivalgoers were treated in the Rush University Medical Center emergency department for alcohol-related ailments. Lurie Children’s Hospital reported treating six people from Lollapalooza on Saturday. Five were discharged and one was admitted. Most of the patients suffered alcohol intoxication. Three arrests were made, seven citations were given and 56 people were taken to local hospitals on the third day of Lollapalooza last year. (TS)
Written by Greg Kot, Kevin Williams, Jessi Roti and Tracy Swartz of the Chicago Tribune