Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, LCD Soundsystem and more from the 25th anniversary bash in Chicago

By Kevin O'Donnell
Updated August 01, 2016 at 06:36 PM EDT
Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images; Barry Brecheisen/WireImage (2)

More than 100,000 music fans descended on Chicago daily from July 28-31 to catch more than 170 acts at this year’s annual Lollapalooza. In a year that has seen the concert market saturated with summer music festivals more than ever—not to mention line-ups that feel increasingly homogeneous—the organizers behind the event, C3 Presents, had their work cut out for them. So they went bigger than ever in 2016: twenty-five years after festival founder Perry Farrell helped establish modern American music festival culture with the first iteration in 1991, Lollapalooza toasted its legacy by expanding this year’s event to four days. Spread across eight stages in the Windy City’s gorgeous, 319-acre Grant Park, the line-up offered something for everyone, from hip-hop (Vic Mensa, Future) and pop (Halsey, Ellie Goulding) to old-school alternative rock (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Farrel’s band Jane’s Addiction) and EDM (Duke Dumont, Disclosure). The parties continued late into the night: dozens of acts like LCD Soundsystem and the 1975 hosted afterparties in the city’s more intimate venues after the fest’s 10 p.m. curfew.

EW was on the ground for three days to sample Lollapalooza’s eclectic offerings. Here are the best things we saw.

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Funkadelic Fete

The alt-rock veterans, who performed at the second-ever Lollapalooza in 1992, underscored the durability of radio staples like “Californication,” “Give It Away,” and “Under the Bridge” with a Saturday evening set that was, by far, the most attended of the weekend. RHCP don’t just appeal to Gen-Xers who may have attended Lollapalooza in its ’90s hey-day—millennials of all stripes turned out, too. And singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith, and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer turned the evening into a funked-up dance party on the field. There were sweet moments, too: during “Under the Bridge,” Kiedis performed alongside the festival’s sign-language interpreter at the lip of the stage. Throughout the hour-and-a-half set, their energy rarely wavered—Flea even returned to the stage for an encore by doing a handstand walk—and the boys seemed thrilled to be back. “Hey, this is f—ing fun!” Flea declared. “I’m having a good f—ing time up where! Wooooooooooo!”

Credit: Josh Brasted/FilmMagic

Foals’ Rain-Soaked Set

Since breaking out on the indie label Sub Pop in 2008, the British rockers have since moved on to major label Warner Bros. and their ascent has resulted in higher-profile festival slots. On Friday, the group took over one of Lollapalooza’s main stages during one of the weekend’s few rainy periods—”We’ve brought that English weather for you!” frontman Yannis Philippakis cracked—but the terrible conditions didn’t matter, and Foals’ killer set showed how the group has evolved their sound from knotted prog to full-blown stoner-rock that echoed Led Zep.

MØ’s Fearless Stage-Dive

The Danish pop star, who collaborated with Major Lazer on their massive anthem “Lean On,” fittingly closed out her Friday afternoon showcase with a faithful rendition of that smash. She also proved she wasn’t afraid to mix with the masses—and leapt out onto the crowd as the song came to a close. It was a neat way to pay tribute to a hallmark of many Lollapaloozas from the ’90s.

Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Radiohead’s Dark Lullabies

Thom Yorke and Co. closed out Friday with a career-spanning set that featured older cuts like “My Iron Lung,” “Everything in Its Right Place,” “Lucky” and more. But it was the seductive, quieter ballads from their new album A Moon Shaped Pool that resonated the most—especially when set against an eye-popping light show that served up major Matrix vibes. Yorke didn’t engage in too much banter with the crowd—at one point, he just mumbled gibberish—but he didn’t need to and when Radiohead returned for their second encore, featuring “Karma Police,” fans overwhelmed the band by turning the field into a massive singalong.

LCD Soundsystem’s Ferocious Afterparty

How did LCD Soundsystem become one of America’s greatest live bands—if not the best? By perfecting their irresistible blend of funk, disco and punk in the sweaty clubs of their native Brooklyn after forming in 2002. So while frontman James Murphy’s newly reunited collective closed out Lollapalooza on Sunday, they warmed up with two late-night shows at Chicago’s famed Metro club on Friday and Saturday. It was one of the weekend’s toughest tickets—the venue only holds around 1100 people—but for Saturday, those who got in were rewarded with 90 minutes of non-stop euphoria. LCD Soundsystem nailed all their most beloved anthems (“Losing My Edge,” “Someone Great”) with impossible cool. The show wrapped with a quickie encore—”We’re gonna pretend like we weren’t gonna play any more songs but we were so excited that we had to,” Murphy deadpanned—but it was a doozy: “All My Friends” turned Metro into such a raucous singalong, the place felt as if it was going to explode.

Jane’s Addiction’s Acrobatic Saturday Spectacle

Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell may not be intimately involved with the inner-workings of Lollaplooza now that it’s run by promoters C3 Presents, but he occasionally returns to perform. And this year, Farrell looked delighted to serve as a ringmaster for the circus during Jane’s Addiction’s Saturday afternoon set. Musically, Jane’s sounded strong—the psychedelic monster “Three Days” and hits “Jane Says” and “Been Caught Stealing” slayed the crowd—and while Farrell’s voice may not be as strong these days, he threw one of the day’s best parties, complete with bikini-clad dancers who were attached to bungee cords and flung out over the crowd, blasts of pyro, and guest spots from Tom Morello and Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain (see below).

Credit: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage

The Surprise Guests

In a weekend that was light on surprise cameos, LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain stood out. The LCD singer-keyboardist joined synth-disco outfit Classixx for a sweaty, sun-soaked Sunday afternoon party. Morello, who happened to be in his Chicago hometown without his current band Prophets of Rage, did double duty: he joined New York rockers X Ambassadors for a live version of their tune “Collider” on Saturday and, later that day, teamed with Jane’s Addiction. Jimmy Chamberlain, who last performed at Lollapalooza with the Pumpkins in 1994, also joined the latter on drums for “Jane Says.”

M83’s Sax-Tastic Pop Party

Anthony Gonzalez’ synth-pop band has been a festival staple thanks to the success of terrific albums like 2008’s Saturdays=Youth and 2011’s Grammy-nominated Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Two things have changed in recent years: longtime singer (and secret weapon) Morgan Kibby has left the group and Gonzalez released his most challenging album, Junk, earlier this year. Those hiccups didn’t hurt M83’s excellent Friday set. Gonzalez has found a suitable replacement with singer Kaela Sinclair, who showed impressive versatility with mimicking both Kibby’s breathy vocals and the soulful, robust wail of Zola Jesus, who sings on the recorded version of “Intro,” which they performed here. M83’s nine-song set leaned heavily on Hurry Up numbers along with a few from Junk, which sounded ace ringing through the field. They were also perhaps the only Lollapalooza booking to bring major Kenny G vibes thanks to slick, groovy saxophone hooks on fan favorites like “Midnight City.”

Bro Safari’s Bonkers Friday Afternoon Rave

“All my scum bags front to back make some noise!” It was hilarious commands like that—along with thumping dubstep— which made Bro Safari’s crowd go apoplectic. And with a blindingly bright setup of neon lights, DJ-producer Nicholas Weiller unleashed so many out of control, serotonin-sapping beat drops, it was all the EDM you needed for the day.

Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Leon Bridges’ Throwback Soul

Not only was the Texas singer the best dressed at the fest—he sported a silk, red-and-white cowboy shirt and billowy blue suit pants—but he also served up the best antidote to Saturday’s oppressive heat: Bridges made the grounds feel like a ’60s Motown revue thanks to his seductive blend of gospel, rockabilly, and soul.

Grimes’ Fantastical One-Woman Show

Canadian art-pop producer Claire Boucher didn’t need a backing band to replicate her futuristic pop at Lollapalooza—save for a guitarist and troupe of dancers, she did it all virtually herself. On Saturday—weirdly sandwiched between Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers—she turned Lollapalooza into something resembling a fairyland. She shrieked and yelped and crooned, played keys, twiddled knobs, veered quickly from stage left to right, and flung herself on the stage—sometimes seemingly all at once. The coolest, most WTF moment: an inventive, art-damaged cover of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”

Oh Wonder’s Beyoncé Cover

The world’s most famous pop star may not have performed at Lolla, but Bey was there in spirit. London-based duo Oh Wonder, who treated a tiny Sunday afternoon crowd with woozy, R&B-inflected synth-pop, highlighted their set with a cool, downtempo cover of Beyoncé’s 2003 smash, “Crazy in Love.”

Halsey’s Victory Lap

Just last year, the breakout pop star played Lollapalooza’s BMI Stage—the fest’s tiny showcase for up-and-coming talent. But thanks to her overnight success with the surprise Soundcloud hit “Ghost,” she returned to Chicago to play one of the main stages on Sunday. There was no diva-tude either: Halsey’s set was a joyous dance party and celebration of girl-power—the pit was packed with adoring young fans—and she closed her performance by encouraging fans to embrace their individuality, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.