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The Best and Worst of Lollapalooza 2016

The best: Vic Mensa, Save Money, actually some of the food (!). The worst: Four days nope nope nope nope.

Chicago’s Vic Mensa won the weekend.   Photo: Cousin Daniel

Lollapalooza’s 25th anniversary swung through Grant Park in a four-day blaze of mud, sweat, and music this weekend. The (long) weekend’s best and worst moments, below.

The Best

Vic Mensa

Mensa was hands-down the most interesting, compelling, and important performer of the weekend. Word spread quickly on Thursday and Friday that the Chicago-based rapper’s headlining performance on the Pepsi stage was one not to be missed—and Mensa delivered. More than a concert, his well-crafted stage show referenced topical concerns that hit home for Chicago fest-goers, addressing such issues as inequality, segregation, and police brutality. Dancers clad in riot police gear “wrestled” with Mensa, who served both as a source of fierce energy and emotional vulnerability as well as unique strength. The local star also invited guests such as fellow Save Money member Joey Purp to the stage, and even added a performance interlude during his new single “Free Love” that included Queen! host Lucy Stoole, who married two men on stage. All told, the set was a theatrical and political work of art and one that separates Mensa from the pack.

LCD Soundsystem

The disbanding of perennial New York dance rock band LCD Soundsystem was more like a brief hiatus, but that didn’t stop the group’s Sunday set from feeling like a warm wash of nostalgia.

Towkio & The Era

You could have easily mistaken this year’s festival for some kind of Save Money brag-off as each of the heavy hitters from the collective (which includes Chance the Rapper) offered their fans a little solo action. But crewmember Towkio took his rap set to new heights when he brought out local dance crew The Era to flaunt the dizzyingly fast footwork seen in the emcee’s video, “Clean Up.”

Momofuku Milk Bar’s Crack Pie

It fits in the palm of your hand, it’s packed with unhealthy amounts of sugar to give you the late-afternoon rush you’ll so desperately need, and it’s reasonably priced—what’s not to like? This little slice of heaven should be the standard at every music festival.

Tank Noodle

It may seem like a good idea to start with pizza and sausages on day one, but by day four, the Argyle restaurant’s comparatively light lemongrass beef noodles hit all the right notes.

Sunday morning’s lineup

After three days of sporadic rain, obnoxiously inebriated fest-goers, and endless walking, the Sunday morning lineup was the perfect pick-me-up: At noon, St. Louis native Smino gave the crowd a glimpse of hip-hop’s future, seamlessly knitting a tapestry of rap and song, all while backed by singers, dancers, and a full band. His 30-minute set flew by, but judging by the cheers, Sunday won’t be the last we see of him.

Next up was Sir the Baptist, who started his set by taking everyone to church: “Are you ready to be baptized?” the Chicago native asked. “Would you care if this was me?” he said, pointing at a prop casket and commanding the stage as any preacher would on Sunday. Later, he brought out gospel superstar Donald Lawrence and passed out hand fans; there was no mistake that church was in session.

Big Grams

Sara Barthel of Big Grams  Photo: Cousin Daniel

Two years ago, Big Boi reunited with Andre 3000 when Outkast headlined Lolla 2014. This year, the iconic rapper returned with Sara Barthel of Phantogram, under the stage name Big Grams, for one of the most fun sets of the weekend. Barthel and Big Boi’s stage chemistry was joyful, the duo danced and interacted together effortlessly, and Big Boi’s verses were amplified by Barthel’s cool, ethereal vocals. A rendition of “Ms. Jackson” was a wonderful surprise throwback and a great transition to “A Mouthful of Diamonds.”

Haim

Haim  Photo: Cousin Daniel

The Haim sisters continue to be some of the most badass ladies in rock music, and their set was a beautiful showcase of the group’s musicality and electric stage presence. A funky “I Would Die 4 U” tribute to Prince was surprising and perfect, and the sisters effortlessly transitioned to love songs “Forever” and “Honey and I” before the angry power rock anthem “My Song 5.” Highlights of the set also included a drum jam by the three sisters, sealing the case that Haim can and should headline Lolla next year.

Leon Bridges and Big Boi’s afterparty

Leon Bridges and Big Boi performed a surprise set on Friday night for Toyota’s “25th Hour” invite-only afterparty. A screenshot of a Snapchat geo-filter acted as fest-goers’ golden ticket into SIX10, a multipurpose upscale venue that looked like a New York art gallery. Big Boi kicked off the afterparty with a high-energy DJ set, then Leon Bridges took the stage and transported the party to another era with a mix of sweet, beautiful slow jams and upbeat doo-wop, channeling both Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke.

The weather, for once

The festival began ominously with a rain delay Thursday morning. By Thursday night though, the bad weather had passed and this year’s Lolla was one of the best, weather-wise, in years. No emergency evacuations, no giant swampy mud pits, and relatively low humidity plus comfortable temperatures made it a little easier to get through the four-day festival. Sunday could only be described as picturesque, with a stunning sunset at the beginning of LCD Soundsystem’s set.

Surprise guest appearances

Whether it was Chance, Dwyane Wade, and Michelle Williams showing up during Flosstradamus’ set on Thursday or Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine guitarist) shredding with the X Ambassadors on Saturday, Lolla artists kept fans on their toes by bringing out surprise guests each day.

The best surprise appearance of course was Malia Obama, with people searching for the First Daughter more fervently than Pokemon Go-ers looking for Pikachu. (Found her!)

The Worst

Lack of charging stations

It’s 2016. Finding multiple charging stations throughout the festival should not be so difficult, especially when battery-sucking apps like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat have become ubiquitous methods of sharing content. Attendees shouldn’t have to wade through sponsored “activations” to wait in line for one of four iPhone charging cords. Detroit’s Movement Electronic Music Festival provides charging stations where attendees can drop off their phones in mini rental slots that are monitored by festival workers. Something similar, near every major stage of Lollapalooza, makes perfect sense.

Boring sets

Yes, Future and Bryson Tiller are two of the most popular names in hip hop and (the millennial-made) trap soul genres right now. Yes, fans lost their minds when they found out Future and Bryson Tiller were on the bill. Unfortunately, anyone who heard their music for the first time at Lolla would find it extremely monotonous. Each is known for his unique sounds, but without a band or much of a stage presence, watching their performances felt forced.

Listening to a chorus of the n-word

It’s no secret that rap artists excessively use the n-word in their songs. It’s also no secret that many of these songs and artists are fan favorites and chart toppers. It becomes very awkward, though, standing in a predominantly white crowd and watching everyone recite the n-word as they sing along. There has to be a better way, people.

Four days

Never again.

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