Lollapalooza 2021 review: Chicago festival makes its raucous return

July 29 – August 1, Grant Park: Megan Thee Stallion, Tyler, The Creator and Miley Cyrus all shine at the Chicago festival, against an uneasy backdrop

At the 30th anniversary of Lollapalooza – a Chicago mega-fest attended by 385,000 – the mood feels a little different. Perhaps it’s just proximity to Fred Durst’s new dad look, but returning to live music at full throttle after almost a year and a half away is sure to cause a shock to the system. Despite rising concerns around the fast-spreading Delta variant of COVID-19 in the US, the large-scale festival goes ahead, with no emergency brakes. While introducing Black Pumas on Thursday, Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot proudly proclaims that Lollapalooza is the largest music festival happening anywhere in the world this year. At times, the atmosphere feels slightly apocalyptic given the backdrop.

As a result, some bands listed on the bill seem simply willing to put their name to potential calamity. First and foremost, Limp Bizkit, who recently enjoyed their resurgence as villains in the recently released HBO documentary ‘Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage’. While Fred Durst declares on stage that Lollapalooza isn’t that festival, you’d be forgiven for feeling the same sense of foreboding. Journey, meanwhile, take the leap from their usual state fairs, and attempt to win over younger fans; squeezing ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ in right at the very end.

A lot of moments that should offer the long-awaited cathartic release of the last year are instead stolen. While the Foo Fighters reopening Madison Square Garden at full capacity in New York City heralded the return of live music with a monumental ‘Times Like These’, a reenactment at Grant Park jars with the feeling this might just mark the in-between times.

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Miley Cyrus performs on stage with Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J (credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for MC)

Kicking things off, the tassel-fringed masked country singer Orville Peck opens the festival on Wednesday night with a rowdy after-show at Thalia Hall, before taking to the main stage on Thursday to croon Western camp. And later on, Playboi Carti’s own main stage set is wonderfully incomprehensible. Glaring out from a red, white and grey balaclava, with sharpened manicured black nails, he exudes the uncertainty of the moment, never sure where he’s headed next and embodying a classic Lollapalooza rockstar energy. Throughout, he’s giving it all, even climbing up the scaffolding, and leaving nothing behind. The only focus of this set is going berserk and the Atlanta rapper succeeds in transforming a medium-sized sunset crowd into the wildest of the weekend.

Megan Thee Stallion performs at at Lollapalooza 2021 (Credit: Joshua Mellin)
Playboy Carti takes to the stage (Credit: Joshua Mellin)

Opening night headliner Miley Cyrus is joined by rock legend and 2005 Lollapalooza veteran Billy Idol for a couple of songs including ‘White Wedding’. Elsewhere, there’s a guest spot for local rapper G Herbo, who later gets to fill the gap left by DaBaby – removed from the bill following a series of homophobic remarks. Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J also make an appearance during Cyrus’ set, as well as Australian rapper The Kid LAROI, who appears for his single ‘Without Out’. Even the Chicago Bull’s mascot Benny the Bull joins the celebration during her covers-laden set. As well as taking on hits by Cher, Blondie and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden supergroup Temple of the Dog, and incorporating snippets of Pixies and Prince, the show opens with an exuberant ‘We Can’t Stop’ and closes with the presciently-named ‘Party In The USA’.

Tyler, The Creator performs at at Lollapalooza 2021
Tyler, The Creator performs at at Lollapalooza 2021 (Credit: Joshua Mellin)

The following day Boy Pablo laments not being able to secure visas for the rest of his band from Norway – but luckily frontman Nicolas Muñoz is easily able to overcome the challenge with a wistful afternoon set in the festival’s shaded Grove, since he writes, records, and produces all of the project’s lo-fi tunes – including their debut studio album ‘Wachito Rico‘.

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Friday night, meanwhile, belongs to Tyler, The Creator, who presents the newest iteration of his live performance, centred around his most recent album Call Me If You Get Lost’. It’s as imaginative as ever, and sees him change from bellhop to tourist. Clad in shorts and a leopard print Hawaiian shirt, he steers an actual boat around the stage.

And on Saturday night, Megan Thee Stallion trots out a full Body-ody-ody of a set – bringing her Cardi B collaboration ‘WAP’, the Grammy-winning ‘Savage (Remix)’ and new track ‘Thot Shit’ to Chicago, and showing off all her particular prowess to a rowdy crowd during a pink skied sunset.

JPEGMAFIA performs on Sunday at Lollapalooza 2021 (Credit: Joshua Mellin)

After staking their claim over 2019’s festival season, both JPEGMAFIA and Rico Nasty delight the faithful with levelled-up performances on the Grove stage; sets which promise they’ll be on mainstays in short order.

Of course other festivals are keeping a keen eye on Lollapalooza, especially after The Netherlands’ Verknipt festival was linked to 1,000 new infections in early July.  With Tennessee’s Bonnaroo hoping to mark the return of large scale camping festivals in less than a month, there’s also an avalanche of other rescheduled festivals including Governors Ball in New York, and Outside Lands in San Francisco that are fairly contingent on this weekend’s experiment at Lollapalooza going smoothly. Did it? Only time will tell.

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