It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
The fans of America's largest music festivals all have reasons for their loyalties, but the reason I'll take Lollapalooza over Coachella or Bonnaroo isn't the fact that it's closest to home. It isn't the fact that the stunning Chicago skyline backdrop makes Grant Park a perfect home for the festival. It's the fact that I - and, hopefully, most of the attendees - can take a shower and sleep in a warm bed after each of the fest's three days.
Even with the amenities of urban life, Lollapalooza is an exhausting affair. With about 10 hours of music a day on eight stages (over 130 acts total this year), it's sensory overload in every sense. Here's what stood out from a rain-and-bass-soaked weekend in Chicago.
Meg Myers' primal screams in the afternoon
I've been preaching the gospel of Meg Myers to my friends since I heard her single "Desire" in March (seriously, they want me to shut up about her already), and I was hoping her live show would live up to the intensity of her recordings. Well, during her set, I compared her performance style to Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Tool's Maynard Keenan. If you know me at all, there's not much higher praise I can offer. In a year or two, a lot of people are going to look back and kick themselves for missing her midday set at The Grove. Thankfully, I won't be one of them. (Look for more from me on Meg in the next day or two.)
The feminine side of Lolla
Meg was just one of a slate of female-led acts that stole the show from the bros. Obviously, half the park was trying to see Iggy Azalea at Perry's Stage on Friday (a fairly middling performance, from what little I caught). While there wasn't technically a female headliner (shame of you, Lolla), Lorde's Friday set was probably the biggest draw in the daylight, and CHVRCHES also filled the south lawn. My schedule included Likke Li (amazing), Phantogram, Courtney Barnett and Jenny Lewis. I rushed from Meg Myers to catch the last couple songs of the raucous pop party that was being hosted by Kate Nash. Oh, and the highlight of Eminem's Friday headlining set was easily the three-song slate where Rihanna joined him onstage (including handling the Dido vocals on "Stan"). You could carve out a hell of a festival without ever seeing a dude fronting the stage.
Run the Jewels saving my Sunday single handedly
The Sunday lineup was underwhelming to me, and a drenching rain and day-three fatigue had me in a funk. Run the Jewels - the unlikely-but-perfect collaboration of El-P and Killer Mike - was an energizing burst just when I needed it. The set was drum-tight, full of joy and my pick for the hip-hop set of the weekend, beating out a resurgent Nas (who could have/should have been on one of the main stages), headlining sets from Eminem and Outkast, and a solid midday set from NYC's Ratking. Worst set of the weekend goes to Rich Homie Quan. His DJ spent more time hyping a packed Grove crowd than Quan was actually on stage.
The bright side of fewer must-sees
This year's headliners were, frankly, underwhelming - the end-of-Sunday choice between Skrillex and Kings of Leon made a hot shower sound more appealing - but there was an upside to not feeling the need to crowd down front for any one act, and that was taking a buffet approach to the lineup and catching two or three songs before hoping stages. I also took a bit of a "grouchy old man" approach and passed on what I expected to be the largest crowds, such as skipping Lorde for a soothing set from Broken Bells, who were perfect for the setting (and unfortunately underattended).
I'm not going to get all hippy-dippy about the corporate sponsorships at Lolla - the big stages named after Bud Light and Samsung Galaxy don't really get me up in arms, even if I remember how much this flies in the face of the original touring Lollapalooza -but this year seemed to feature even more up-priced VIP viewing areas (including some prime spots down front at main stages that would traditionally go to anyone dedicated to stay in one place all day).
The party people have taken over
Three-day passes sold out in a flash this year - and that was before the music lineup had even been revealed. Lolla now firmly has a reputation as a can't-miss party, and much of that is driven by the kids that make the EDM-driven Perry's Stage a fascinating shitshow of packed crowds and endless bass drops. Maybe next year, I should go on a "Fear and Loathing"-style assignment where the old man takes all the molly and learns what all the fuss it, but between that and a bunch of bros-and-beer rock (the Sunday lineup on the south end of the park was a bit like a frat party iPod on shuffle), I wonder who's still in it for the music? Which is a shame, because there are some great artists there playing to undersized crowds because they don't bring as much party to the party.
Even with an underwhelming lineup at the top of the card, I still had too much fun this weekend. So much, in fact, that I checked out the Skrillex and Chance the Rapper sets watching the live Internet stream. In a bathrobe. After a hot shower. Ah, Lolla ...