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Photos: Vic Mensa Gives A Show-Stopping Tribute To Laquan McDonald For Lolla Day 3

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 31, 2016 2:46PM

Additional reporting from Austin Brown and Michelle Kopeny.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers headlined the main stage in the south end of Grant Park last night, and drew the largest crowd we've seen in one place thus far this weekend.

The group's ability to draw such a crowd this many years on surprised us, so we spoke with people in the audience and discovered many of them had grown up on the band; to us, they're still hyper skater funksters from California; but to so many at Lollapalooza Saturday night, The Red Hot Chili Peppers are just part of the fabric of their upbringing. And the band still delivers an energetic live set, putting on just as frenetic a live show as when we saw them play Lollapalooza the first time in 1992. However, even though they were the largest draw of the evening, they weren't the most exciting final act of Saturday night. That honor belongs to Chicago's Vic Mensa.

Vic Mensa’s set on the Pepsi stage was one that could have easily filled one of the bigger headlining stages. The stage was filled with dancers clad in police riot gear looming over the hometown rapper in a powerful statement against the Chicago Police Department during “16 Shots.” The song is a very literal criticism of the police and the mayor’s handling of the shooting of Laquan McDonald.

The release of the video of his fatal shooting, and the subsequent news that the city sat on it for over a year, sparked large-scale protests around the city. The song counts out the 16 shots that were fired at McDonald after his back was turned and laying on the ground, and ends with a heart-stopping, detailed description of the event that was enacted on stage.

Mensa’s natural activism continued during his set with songs dedicated to a queer friend (“Free Love”) and the people of Flint, Michigan ("Shades of Blue"). He even regaled the audience with the story of him almost getting killed when he was 17 trying to sneak into this very festival. It’s not very accessible to the lower-income people of the South Side, he said, wishing that a festival of this level was free and open to all.

Lollapalooza founder and Jane's Addiction leader Perry Farrell has made it no secret that he's growing distant from the festival. So we wouldn't be surprised if Saturday's Jane's Addiction performance serves as their good bye to Lollapalooza. If that's the case, what a farewell it was. The band played the entirety of Ritual De lo Habitual from start to finish—which could have been a risky move given that albums slower, more complicated second half. But the actual result was nothing short of glorious. The band was in its best form we've seen them in since the late '80s, and Farrell's voice in particular showed no signs of age.

Once the album was complete, the band tacked a few additional songs onto the end of their set, including a guest appearance from Tom Morello on "Mountain Song" and Smashing Pumpkin Drummer on "Jane Says." But the moment they will probably keep people talking would be when during "Ted, JustAdmit It..." two women swung out over the audience suspended in the air with hooks pierced into their backs. "they dig it. Don't ask me why, they just do," said Farrell as the women were lowered back onto the stage.

Grimes has come a long way from hiding behind the pedestal years ago at Pitchfork. The singer/songwriter/producer is self-admittedly timid on stage, but you’d never know it seeing her evening set on the Lakeshore stage, outside of a little rambling stage banter between songs. Claire Boucher commanded the stage running back and forth between guitar, keys, her soundboard and dancing and thrashing (despite excusing two injured ankles). She brings the weird with screams, shrieks and growls, experimental music that’s about the closest some of us want to get to EDM, with a high pitched vocal that’s anything but mousy. The set was heavy with songs from her fourth and latest album, Art Angels—the one that’s put closest to mainstream, garnering her the #1 on Billboard's Alternative Albums chart. As the sun set over the field, she closed with racing hit track “Kill V. Maim.”

Photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Chicago invented house music, and every DJ who plays here will always bring that up. Disclosure were no exception, deferentially noting the city’s position as progenitors of the world-conquering thump. But that made it all the more apparent when many of the songs in Disclosure’s set—which leaned heavy on their second album—seemed something different than house. It’s not their fault, really. At the risk of sounding purist, we're still not used to the idea of having to look at the DJ the whole time while listening to music ostensibly about connecting people. Disclosure, from the looks of their live set, are trying on something new; the dance duo as stars, but also songwriters. But the fact remained that it was all the songs from the world-conquering Settle: “You & Me,” “When A Fire Starts to Burn,” and especially “White Noise”—that reshaped the festival grounds in their warehouse-addled image. The exceptions? No surprise here: both tracks featuring Sam Smith, disco diva in everything but name, brought the dance floor collectively to its knees.

X Ambassadors rocked the south field in the afternoon heat, with lead singer Sam Harris’s strong deep vocals leading the charge. The alt rock band has several hits, Jeep ad “Renegades” included, but when they played “Unsteady”, fans came running like it was their siren song. Hometown hero Tom Morello, who ended up being a common sight at the festival, also guested with the band for “Collider.”

Drowners played the tiny BMI stage, but filled it with huge hooks based on taut '80s inspired pop. It was as if Echo and the Bunnymen had written twenty hits instead of just a few, and then injected every song with punk precision tempered by sweet melodies. Singer Matthew Hitt was all British charm spiked with a Brooklyn swagger, and the band was taut as a tightrope. The crowd danced throughout the entire set and we wouldn't be surprised to see Drowners graduate to on of the larger stages in the next couple years.

Chairlift shifted from Apple commercial pop to a more mature, interesting sound on their latest album, Moth. The perfect example came with “Polymorphing” near the beginning of their set, with Caroline Polachek’s haunting vocals twisting and turning to a place that you can’t help but follow. The synth-pop duo’s songs could hang heavy, but between song banter kept the mood light under the midday sun.

Two Door Cinema Club will never be a band that receives “critical acclaim.” And yet … there’s a reason that a band like this gets booked for high-up slots at festivals year after year, album after album. That's because Two Door Cinema club is the perfect festival band. With U2-derived arpeggiated guitar runs and a seemingly unending penchant for singalong choruses that hit home even when they don’t totally make sense, the band has songs that hit quick and dirty, like a sugar rush that nevertheless feels refreshing. This year was no exception, with standbys like “Something Good Can Work” and “Sun” settling comfortably in with new tracks like the funk-pop “Bad Decisions,” which featured a new falsetto from lead singer Alex Trimble. Their set brought a lackadaisical, even playful sensibility to the stage, even while the hyperactive drums kept things moving at a blitz.

Houndmouth, despite their more than solid chops and songwriting, had the unenviable task of following Chris Stapleton and Leon Bridges, whose work with bluesy riffs and subtle instrumental adornment on heartland rock are going to be the standards to beat this weekend. Matching them up to one another, one couldn’t help but feel that, for all the riffs and shredded vocals, there was something… lacking in the Houndmouth sound. That is, until the twin saxes came in.

Chris Stapleton’s on a roll right now, off his hit debut Traveller and its big wins at the Country Music Awards. But despite his songwriting bona-fides (having written for Kenny Chesney, George Strait and Darius Rucker) listening to him live, the reference points seemed less Nashville and more Muscle Shoals—taking the muscular, cow-punk sound of some of the best southern rock bands and grafting it to his own straight-shooting lyricism. The rhythm section, in particular, brought to mind Led Zeppelin, of all bands, and the vocal tone that emitted from Stapleton’s inscrutable tangle of a beard seemed somehow both yearning and solitary at the same time. But when you hear the words “I might as well get stoned” murmured over and over again, it all gets a lot clearer: Stapleton might be a loner, for sure. But more than that, he’s a slacker, a stoner, with a penchant for storytelling and yarn-spinning. Sure helps that he’s such a genius at it.

While Chicago might be the ground spring from which the blues itself emerged, it would’ve been hard to notice if not for Texas’s Leon Bridges tracing the connection right back, all the way through New Orleans, Mississippi, and many of his other lyrical locales. Much of the festival, up until now, has looked forward, with hip-hop and electronic music either dwelling on or pushing towards the future (not to mention the Future). But Bridges opted to look back instead, drawing on his potpourri of blues, soul and honky-tonk to offer the audience something entirely singular. In a welcome change of pace, digestible hooks were exchanged for more fluid vocal runs, which, once you got past the adjustment period, were just as rewarding (and even a little soul-stirring, especially in the case of set closer “River”). Of course, all this went out the window for Bridges’s cover of Ginuwine’s hit “Pony,” which, when inflected with Bridges’s southern flair, turned into a down-home slow jam even your (or my, at least) parents could love.

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