This year, Lollapalooza celebrates its 25th anniversary as a music festival. It’s had some ups and downs, including a couple of years when it went away entirely, but since settling down in Chicago back in 2005 things have been smooth sailing. Things have expanded exponentially in the last decade alone, with more stages, more artists and now more days than ever before. Yes, for the first time ever (and in celebration of this milestone), we’ll have four full days of music and mayhem. If three days and 130 artists somehow wasn’t enough to make your head spin, four days and 170 artists practically crosses the line between enjoyment and punishment. I’ve nearly killed myself in the past attempting to cover every single day of this festival for the last 11 years, and in all honesty I’m quite concerned with how I’m going to survive year 12. Don’t overextend yourself, drink lots of water, and wear comfortable shoes are just a few pieces of advice I can offer and will be abiding by myself.
That said, with four days of music it gives you an even greater opportunity to enjoy some of your favorite bands and discover some great new ones. Instead of analyzing every artist on the lineup, or even taking an hour-by-hour look at the insane schedule, let’s try something a little more sensible and manageable for 2016. In honor of 25 years of Lollapalooza, I’m going to recommend 25 can’t-miss artists who will be performing at the festival this weekend. They’re broken down by day, and distributed evenly across the weekend with the exception of Sunday, which has one extra artist just to hit that magic number. The only downside in limiting this to recommending six (or seven) artists per day is that a few really cool acts inevitably get left out. If you’re going all four days it’ll be tough to catch everything worthwhile as it is. The way these picks are structured, there’s not a lot of time slot conflicts happening, so you could theoretically see just about all of these artists if you play your cards right.
Join me after the jump for the full list of 25, complete with multiple audio/video streams from each. Best of luck to you if you’ll be in Grant Park this weekend. I’ll see you on the battlefield. Follow my Twitter and Instagram feeds for live, on-the-ground reports all four days.
Pinegrove (Lakeshore, 12:15-1:00)
If there’s such a thing as alt-country for the pop-punk/emo crowd, then New Jersey’s Pinegrove define it. Their debut album Cardinal is one of 2016’s biggest and best surprises. Laid back and introspective, it’s reminiscent of bands like Wilco, Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley.
Lucy Dacus (BMI, 1:00-1:40)
Chief among Lucy Dacus’ many talents is her ability to write songs about bad situations or thing happening in her life from a perspective that’s equal parts analytical, comforting and funny. Yes, it’s essential to root out the source of any problem, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be some cold exercise in hopelessness. Her debut album No Burden quickly places her in the same league as Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten and Margaret Glaspy. You’ll get the feeling like you’ve heard these types of songs before, just never quite in this context.
I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore
Kehlani (Samsung, 2:30-3:30)
Fans of Tinashe and Zendaya might find plenty to like in the ’90s-style R&B/pop hybrid that is Kehlani, though she stands on her own as a songwriter and producer. Her debut album You Should Be Here earned her plenty of praise, filled with songs about maturity and inspiring others to become their best selves. It’s just the sort of pick up needed at the start of a long weekend.
The Way (ft. Chance the Rapper)
Danny Brown (Petrillo, 4:00-5:00)
Danny Brown is a unique voice in hip hop, and not just because you can instantly recognize his squawk whenever it appears on a track. He’s evolved as a human being from a playful jokester who can’t stop talking about sex to a more mature adult who reflects on past pain and addiction but through a funhouse EDM-styled mirror. His delivery is fast, furious and remarkably impressive.
When It Rain
Worth It (ft. Clams Casino)
Daughter (Lakeshore, 5:30-6:30)
In an ideal world, Daughter’s set would take place underneath a starry sky. Though it’ll be late afternoon when they take the stage, if the weather forecast is correct they might be performing in the rain, which is almost as good. The London trio make somber yet expansive music, often hitting the sweet spot between post-punk, shoegaze and post-rock with gorgeous and shimmering melodies. For a festival as massive as Lollapalooza, that should feel more than fitting.
Doing the Right Thing
Kurt Vile and the Violators (Petrillo, 6:00-7:00)
Kurt Vile is this generation’s Tom Petty. His records are always a steady blend of folk, alt-country and straight-up rock n’ roll. His guitar work is always exemplary, to the point where even if you don’t like his songs you can at least appreciate the complexity of the solos he dishes out.
Modern Baseball (Petrillo, 1:45-2:45)
Many bands can claim to be emo, but few can say they’ve actually LIVED it. After a couple of records about the perils of being young and socially awkward, Modern Baseball experienced a transformation when primary member Brendan Lukens wound up in rehab for depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and self-harm. It greatly informs the music on their recent album Holy Ghost as they seek to destigmatize mental illness by singing about it. Powerful and hard-hitting, you’ll be moved and then you’ll get addicted to the songs.
Kiiara (Pepsi, 2:50-3:30)
This 21-year-old Illinois native was working in a hardware store when her first single “Gold” was released. Since then, the song has gone on to break into the Top 40 charts and is considered by many to be the “Song of the Summer” for 2016. With only an EP out, she’s already a star on the rise in a similar fashion to Lorde. Lollapalooza will be one of her first live shows, so catch her now before she’s headlining stadiums in like a year.
Foals (Samsung, 4:00-5:00)
The boys in Foals know how to put on a rock show. I’ve seen them a few times in recent years, and have always had a blast. It helps that they make exciting and playful music, which enables you to bang your head one minute and dance the next. Their latest single “Mountain at My Gates” peaked at #1 on the alternative rock charts. After nearly a decade of hard work, they’ve finally hit the big time. Lollapalooza is just one of the stops on their most important tour to date.
What Went Down
Mountain at My Gates
Alessia Cara (Pepsi, 5:15-6:00)
Alessia Cara is very talented. Her voice is built to belt out R&B and pop music in such a way that you can’t help but stop whatever you’re doing just to focus on it. She’s already had a hit song with “Here,” and while there are a few less effective moments on her debut album, it’s her live shows where she really shines. The studio polish gets stripped away and you’re left with a pure, powerful personality and a voice that’ll blow you away.
Wolf Alice (Pepsi, 6:30-7:15)
If you love ’90s rock music, particularly grunge, then Wolf Alice should make you very happy. Their debut full length My Love Is Cool was one of 2015’s finest, and had more than a few similarities to classic efforts from bands like Veruca Salt and Hole. Wolf Alice is also a seasoned live band who put on an exciting and energetic live show, so if you’re in the mood for some early evening jumping around and fist pumping, there are few other acts I’d recommend more highly.
Moaning Lisa Smile
Radiohead (Samsung, 8:00-10:00)
I’m sure some people would disagree with me, but in my opinion Radiohead are the best live band in the world right now. If you ever have the opportunity to see a Radiohead live show, you’d be an idiot to miss it. I’ve seen the band twice so far and have been blown away both times. Their catalog is unlike any other, and they’ve been trotting out some real classics on this new tour. While many of the songs on their latest effort A Moon Shaped Pool are slow and docile, part of their appeal as a band is how malleable their sound tends to be. You’ll experience a range of emotions over the course of two hours, and hopefully make memories that will last a lifetime.
Burn the Witch
Chairlift (Lakeshore, 1:30-2:15)
Chairlift make synth pop in a style that’s similar to artists like Chvrches and Phantogram, though they go a little less heavy on the dance angle compared to both those bands. Their writing and hooks are arguably better, though for one reason or another they’ve yet to achieve true mainstream success just yet. It’s probably safe to assume that they enjoy life on the fringes anyways, where someone like Caroline Polachek can sing an opera and nobody will blink an eye.
Potty Mouth (BMI, 2:10-2:50)
Sometimes you need a little feminist pop-punk in your life, which is why Potty Mouth are here to fill that void. The trio’s 2013 debut full-length Hell Bent was all about the perils of being young and making stupid choices with your friends and facing the frustrating consequences. It possesses a similar vibe to recent work from Speedy Ortiz and Bully, only a little faster and more abrasive (which is a good thing).
Big Grams (Samsung, 4:15-5:15)
The combination of Phantogram and Big Boi (of Outkast fame) in many ways feels like a match made in heaven. The former makes bass-heavy synth pop, while the latter can toss out quality rhymes over just about anything with a beat. What makes this project so interesting is how they interact with one another, because it’s not always what you’d expect. Sarah Barthel has a nearly equal vocal presence as Big Boi does, and it’s her hooks that really make the material shine. For his part, Big Boi does take advantage of the opportunity to try something a bit different from his normal routine and is better because of it. As a live unit, this promises to be a wildly fun set.
Drum Machine (ft. Skrillex)
Fell in the Sun
Nothing (Pepsi, 4:30-5:10)
“Sunny” is not a word commonly associated with the shoegaze style of music, primarily because it implies you’re staring at the ground the entire time. Yet despite the heavy, at times distorted guitars, Nothing make music that feels joyous and life-affirming. Higher keys and sweet vocal harmonies probably play a major role in that. But then you get to the lyrics, which place an emphasis on fear, anxiety, disease and death. So maybe not so upbeat after all. Still, the band makes great music that inspires as much as it tears down. No other band on the Lollapalooza lineup captures the connection between beauty and pain so well.
Eaten By Worms
Jack Garratt (Pepsi, 5:15-6:00)
Jack Garratt is a man of many talents. He’s a powerful singer and uses vocal loops liberally. He plays keyboard. He knows his way around drum pads and samplers. He’s also quite the good guitarist. When performing, he triggers all of these elements on his own to craft buoyant and exciting music that skirts the line between rock, pop and electronica. I saw him earlier this year and was completely blown away. I think you will be too.
Grimes (Lakeshore, 7:30-8:30)
Grimes is the best, largely because she refuses to compromise. All of her songs are meticulously constructed and pull from a wide variety of influences, including J-pop, hip hop and heavy metal. Her album Art Angels was one of 2015’s finest, filled with strange and experimental pop music that’s also tremendously catchy. She’s also a dynamic live performer, who manages to dance, scream and generally engage with the audience while also pressing all the right buttons/twisting all the right knobs to make each song special.
Kill V. Maim
Flesh Without Blood / Life in the Vivid Dream
Lapsley (Samsung, 12:45-1:30)
Lapsley makes subtle, yet beautiful pop music. There’s a certain amount of intimacy and longing on the surface of many songs on her debut album Long Way Home, but the closer you listen the more expansive and gorgeous it becomes. While it might not always feel like the highest energy music (though she does have a few legitimate bangers), the passion and the innovation contained within her tracks will make you sit up and take notice. Also, it’s the perfect vibe for an early Sunday afternoon, pleasant enough to enjoy from a nearby spot on the grass.
Love Is Blind
Classixx (Lakeshore, 1:45-2:45)
The L.A.-based tropical-house duo of Tyler Blake and Michael David have managed to impress in recent years with two albums that showcase their unique production and remarkably strong songwriting abilities. Their breezy melodies often have an oddly familiar feel to them, which is sharply contrasted by generally melancholy lyrics. The implication is that you can dance your troubles away, which is certainly a lovely idea to buy into for an hour on a Sunday afternoon. Expect a couple guest appearances during their Lolla set, perhaps most notably from LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang, who handles vocals on the song “All You’re Waiting For”.
Just Let Go (ft. How to Dress Well)
I Feel Numb (ft. Alex Frankel)
FIDLAR (Bud Light, 2:45-3:45)
Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk is the meaning behind the FIDLAR name, and it suits them well. They are a quintessential party band, with wildly energetic punk rock that creates armies of mosh pits and body surfers. The last time I saw FIDLAR live, I wound up covered in liquid – some of it was beer, some of it was water, and some of it was sweat. If you’ve already endured three days of Lolla you might not be feeling up for their particular brand of insanity, but it also might just snap you out of that hangover/tired feeling and provide motivation for the rest of the day.
Louis the Child (Pepsi, 4:00-4:45)
Chicago’s own Louis the Child are an electronica duo on the rise. Their success seems to be following a similar path to that of Disclosure’s, in which they gain attention for the myriad of remixes they produce as well as the original tracks with moderately famous guest vocalists. Credit goes to their exceptional ability to create highly memorable, beat-intensive dance tracks and have fun while doing it. Their Lollapalooza set should be a homecoming celebration of the highest order, so if you love to dance but have a general dislike for the EDM-dominant Perry’s stage, don’t miss this!
It’s Strange (ft. K.Flay)
Weekend (ft. Icona Pop)
AURORA (Pepsi, 5:15-6:00)
Norwegian singer-songwriter AURORA has made a solid impact on the music world since her debut album was released this past spring. It’s filled to the brim with the sort of catchy pop tunes you’ll be humming for weeks. Her song “Conqueror” has scored some crossover appeal with both alternative and pop audiences, earning her some radio airplay and a sharp boost in popularity here in the States. She was sick and on vocal rest the last time she performed in Chicago, but still managed to deliver an energetic and impressive performance. Hopefully she’ll be even better this time.
HAIM (Bud Light, 6:45-7:45)
The three Haim sisters are all tremendous talents. Taylor Swift certainly knows this, as she took them out on tour last summer. Danielle is the de facto leader, playing guitar and singing lead on a majority of the songs. Este handles bass and is absolutely hilarious. Alana brings charm and youthful energy to her keyboard playing. Their debut album Days Are Gone was one of 2013’s best, filled with addictive soft rock songs that somehow avoided the cheese/camp factor so often associated with the genre. Credit that to their earnestness. They’ve been busy recording a follow-up, and if we’re lucky a new song or two might be included in their set list.
LCD Soundsystem (Samsung, 8:25-10:00)
When James Murphy “retired” LCD Soundsystem back in 2011, they were at the height of their powers. Not only had they released three impossibly great albums of dance music, but their live shows had become huge, celebratory parties that placed them among the best performers in recent memory. I’ve never seen a bad LCD Soundsystem show, and in an ideal world I never will. While I can’t say their rapid return five years later didn’t upset me just a bit (they could tarnish their perfect legacy), the thought of seeing them on stage again playing those great songs sends shivers of joy down my spine. If you’ve seen them before, you understand. If not, you will.
Daft Punk is Playing at My House