Regulars at the massive, annual party in Grant Park are used to the storms and forced evacuations by now. This year’s inevitable exodus though was especially cruel, the bad weather rolling through the festival just as Thursday night’s headliners — including Lorde, Muse and Lil Uzi Vert — were just warming up, forcing an abrupt end on Night One.
But then two days later, the weather was sublime, a perfect setting for Chicago artist done great, Chance the Rapper, to command the peak headlining slot in front of what was likely the largest assembled audience in the festival’s history.
Best set: Chance the Rapper couldn’t have possibly topped his entrance, a collection of inspiring clips that included a video message from Michelle Obama, followed by a staged motorbike crash. Nevertheless, he owned this moment, destined to be a milestone for his career, Chicago music, and the festival’s history, zigging and zagging from fiery performances (including the use of a Chicago Fire Department’s fire hose) to spiritually soaring renditions of Blessings and Sunday Candy.
Best set that never was: You knew from the moment Lorde launched into Tennis Courts with unstoppable confidence and those jittery dance breaks that this was going to be a best of the fest contender. Until it wasn’t, when Lorde’s set ended just three songs in because of that weather. Based on what we saw, Lorde’s North American “Melodrama” tour, kicking off in Milwaukee March 1, is going to be a must-see.
Worst set: Can you even call what Liam Gallagher did a set? He looked sour from the start, and his dour attitude rubbed off on a quickly disinterested audience, which he abandoned after abruptly fleeing the stage just a few songs in. Was an alleged voice issue from a rough gig the night before really to blame, as Gallagher later suggested? Or was he miffed by a fan in the crowd trolling him with an “I Love Noel” sign, a reference to Gallagher’s estranged brother and fellow former Oasis band member.
Scariest moment: Hip-hop is the hottest genre right now, especially among the Lolla demo, and Lil Yachty is one of the hottest new stars. He needed to be on the large Grant Park, Bud Light or Perry’s stages, not at Tito’s (Grant Park’s small Petrillo Band Shell) with its narrow viewing area. Anyone could have predicted it’d be mobbed, but it was bad: Kids were climbing fences and security nervously keeping fans off the stage and holding up a wobbly fence by the VIP section. They did an incredible job, given the circumstances, but Lolla’s organizers should have never put them in this position.
Best new addition: Lolla added a retro roller rink, giving millennials a chance to be nostalgic for something many of them probably never actually experienced growing up. Regardless, it was a fun addition. Think we can have some punk bands can play there next year?
Most promising newcomer: Global-music-splicing French pop artist Jain was a joy, at one point controlling the pitch of the crowd’s collective cheer with a circular wave of her arm. Icelandic blues rock band Kaleo was also more rugged and powerful than its polished recordings would suggest. But ultimately, it was British producer Mura Masa who made the mightiest impression among the newcomers, armed with live percussion and twisting, turning samples and rhythms, and blessed with a force of a frontwoman, Fliss.
Best surprise appearance: It was already cool when Charli XCX launched into an unexpected, absolutely welcome cover of the Spice Girls Wannabe. Then Halsey unexpectedly showed up to sing and strut by her side, a peak moment during an empowering, dance-ready Sunday afternoon with budding pop stars Tove Lo and Maggie Rogers.
Best cover: Arcade Fire ended its Sunday set with an inspired blend of John Lennon’s Mind Games, Radiohead’s Karma Police and David Bowie’s Oh You Pretty Things, but we’ve still got to give this one to the Killers, who quickly prepped, and slayed, a cover of Muse’s Starlight after that band’s set was abruptly canceled by the storms the night before.
Greatest fan moment: In a sea of people gathered for Run the Jewels, a sign stood out. “Let me rap ‘Legend Has It,’ ” it read. The hip-hop duo granted fan Jacob Powell’s wish, inviting him on stage to rap with them a cappella. And Powell absolutely crushed it, with Killer Mike hoisting him up on his shoulder and spinning him around for the grand finale.