Lollapalooza 2021 reviews, Day 2: Tyler the Creator, Mick Jenkins, Polo G, Omar Apollo, tobi lou, Mothica, Black Pistol Fire, White Reaper

Tyler, the Creator closes out Day 2 of the music festival extravaganza with a powerful, art-driven set.

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Tyler, the Creator delivered a visionary, art-driven set that melded jazz, R&B, rap, trip hop, and darkcore to close out Day 2 of Lollapalooza on Friday night in Grant Park.

Tyler, the Creator delivered a visionary, art-driven set that melded jazz, R&B, rap, trip hop, and darkcore to close out Day 2 of Lollapalooza on Friday night in Grant Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

With Day 2 of Lollapalooza almost over, festival organizers on Friday had some big news regarding COVID safety protocols: starting Saturday, masks will be required at all indoor spaces on the festival grounds. The areas include the box office, merchandise shop, two hospitality lounges and wristband help tents.

The announcement was made via Lolla social media accounts and app. Festival-goers are also “encouraged” to bring along a mask for Saturday and Sunday.

Amid the evolving protocols, the music played on.

Here are reviews of some of the sets at Day 2 of Lollapalooza 2021 in Grant Park:

Tyler, the Creator

Tyler, the Creator was trending on social media ahead of his headlining set to close out Day 2 of Lollapalooza. Half of the people were upset the festival was not yet streaming his performance on Hulu and had chosen to broadcast Marshmello instead, and the other half were pleading with the universe to make his rumored appearance with his Odd Future cohort Frank Ocean happen (though that seemed like a tall order).

One was righted as the livestream picked up the performance a half-hour later, thankfully allowing a much larger crowd to pay witness to the visionary, art-driven set that melded jazz, R&B, rap, trip hop, and darkcore.

The Grammy Award winner astutely merged the worlds of live theater and concert in his hour-plus set, sparing no effort to bring his full production stage the “creator” part of him is known for, even as live touring just starts to make its comeback and while most sets this weekend have been understandably scaled back. This time, the theme was in alignment with his latest album “Call Me If You Get Lost” that came out on June 25. With a lush wilderness backdrop and camp sign bearing the album’s name, Tyler started the set dressed as a bellhop, quickly rifling through suitcases to find his eventual stage getup — a leopard print shirt that matched his colorful persona (he would also later don a Warhol-like green suit and blonde wig).

With a prop sea cruiser, Tyler quite literally rocked the boat as he nonchalantly moved through his bold set, not even refraining from addressing the controversy that swirled around his career in years past — his new song “Manifesto” addressing the maelstrom that his early lyrics caused, nearly canceling his career over claims of homophobia and misogyny. In the years since, Tyler has rebounded and commented on his 10 years since releasing his first solo album “Goblin” in 2011. “They told me I was too weird, too niche, it was shock value and I’d last 6 months. But here I am headlining Lollapalooza now,” he said to thunderous applause. “That pushed me; it may have taken 10 years but let me tell you no matter how long it takes, keep it running,” he advised the crowd.

Weird and niche as he may be, Tyler is also eccentric and eclectic and pushes the boundaries all true creators need to do to make art. — Selena Fragassi

Polo G

Polo G performs on day two of the Lollapalooza Music Festival at Grant Park.

Polo G performs on Day 2 of Lollapalooza at Grant Park.

Amy Harris/Invision/AP

In three short years, Chicago-born rapper Polo G has quickly risen to the ranks of the next level Kanye or Chance to come out of the city’s still-unstoppable hip-hop nexus. This summer, G’s latest album “Hall of Fame,” scored his first No. 1 on the Billboard charts following the success in April of his early top-of-the-charts single “Rapstar” that further cemented his reputation as one to watch.

So to say that his Lollapalooza set was anything less than anticipated would be an understatement. As the hype DJ got the crowd warmed up, the ground was quite literally shaking near the Petrillo Music Shell as throngs of the artist’s newest disciples jumped to the beats. But people didn’t stay long, departing in steady lines as the rapper came on stage a few minutes late and left 15 minutes early, and filled the remainder of the time with a lukewarm delivery of his varied material including “Black Hearted,” “Flex,” “Rapstar,” “Pop Out” and his earliest hit “Finer Things.”

While entertaining at its core, the performance was not on the same pedestal he is on at the moment and was void of suspected guest stars even though the night prior, ideas might have had the chance to hatch as Polo G, Vic Mensa, G Herbo and Cole Bennett met with city officials at The Robey for “a night of change” to discuss greater investment in inner city neighborhoods of Chicago with ideas for programs to combat lack of education and mental health as well as more crime prevention tactics.

Though Polo G no longer lives in Chicago, like his hip-hop brethren he has done many things to take up the crusade to make a better living environment for many of the city’s residents. And hopefully with a bit more time to germinate, his headlining festival sets will be just as impactful. — Selena Fragassi

Omar Apollo

If Omar Apollo was bothered by starting his 9 p.m. slot at the Grubhub Stage amid the thumping bass and fireworks from Marshmello at the Bud Light Stage while thousands flooded the T-Mobile stage to see Tyler, the Creator, you wouldn’t have known it. Not even a little bit.

The 24-year-old indie/R&B artist was in his own world, where only he, his tight three-piece band and his devout fans existed. Easing through several slow jams, Apollo crooned, sauntered across the stage, thrust his hips, twirled and jumped — prompting frenzied screams from adoring fans. The result was an intimate nighttime performance, complete with ruby red curtains behind him and moody lighting shining down from above him.

When he wasn’t gripping the microphone and belting, he was soloing on a cream-colored Stratocaster, delivering a near-flawless set with his band.

The crowd was no doubt smaller than most sets so far this weekend, but it was arguably one of the most engaged. Hundreds of fans gathered at the front of the stage to passionately scream each time he danced, swaying to the beat and singing along with every word.

On the outskirts of the crowd, people relaxed, sitting in the grass or holding their own space to dance freely.

The atmosphere was a type of oasis, tucked back among some trees and away from the chaos of throngs of maskless festival-goers clashing in several different directions to get to another show.

A slow song can drop like a brick during most Lollapalooza sets, disengaging concertgoers as they turn to each other to talk or leave altogether. For Apollo, fans were completely enraptured and enthralled by every song, including the slowest, most sensual songs on his setlist, like the song “Want U Around, from his 2020 album “Apolonio.” It was one of those rare instances where an artist striving for sexy succeeds — and that’s because he was clearly having so much fun.

A highlight of the night was when Apollo broke into “Kamikaze,” which got the crowd moving even more, in a steady, joyful groove.

The set got even more intimate when he and his guitarist broke out acoustic guitars for a sultry performance of “Dos Uno Nueve,” an ode to his hometown of Hobart, Indiana.

Following chants of “We love you” from the crowd, Apollo prepared to deliver his last song of the night, “Go Away,” released earlier this month.

“It’s about to feel amazing,” he told the crowd, before gliding into the single. — Matt Moore

White Reaper

“This is the Louisville stage today,” declared White Reaper’s Ryan Hater during the band’s early evening set, right before fellow Kentuckian Jack Harlow took the Lakeshore Stage. And the buzzy quartet — looking like a gang out of the ‘80s movie “The Outsiders” who combine punk rock hooks with emo vibes and near pop choruses — clearly had friends in the crowd that either live in Chicago or made the six-hour drive to see the band get their moment at the big time that everyone has been preaching they deserve.

At one point they wished someone a happy birthday and at another point played matchmaker, telling a girl named Valerie that her ex-boyfriend missed her and wanted her back. Hopefully she got the memo.

The highlight of the set was predictably “Might Be Right,” the band’s come-hither hit that has earmarks of Weezer at their prime. White Reaper may have had one of the first tries at a circle pits this weekend, which was an oddity for their laidback sound, but at least everyone was having fun — most of all Hater who may be the most jovial keyboard player to grace a stage. — Selena Fragassi


Mothica performs her set at the BMI Stage at Lollapalooza on Friday.

Mothica performs her set at the BMI Stage at Lollapalooza on Friday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The BMI Stage is famously where many a star has been born — both Lady Gaga and Halsey once played on this more modest platform and all signs point to Mothica to being blessed with the same fate.

Even tastemaker Wayne Coyne, leader of The Flaming Lips, was spotted near the front of the stage snapping photos and videos during her set (though it certainly begs the question where he was during collaborator Miley Cyrus’ set last night).

A darker Lana Del Rey with a bit of a gothic Evanescence vibe, Mothica has been hailed as “the artist letting her inner demons out through pop music” by Teen Vogue and, in true form, she drew the audience into her real talk of mental health struggles and how she overcame them through music.

“Fifteen-year-old me tried to take her own life … and sometimes I remember that girl and how none of this would have been here … It took 10 years but I’m headlining a stage at Lollapalooza,” she said, getting emotional, as she launched into the heart-tugger “Upside.”

She also dedicated an earlier song to anyone that has been affected by sexual assault, encouraging people to “get angry” with her. It was just one of the emotions felt during this charged set that gave credence to the release and connection music offers to so many people. — Selena Fragassi

Mick Jenkins

Mick Jenkins performs on the second day of Lollapalooza at Grant Park, Friday afternoon, July 30, 2021.

Mick Jenkins performs on the second day of Lollapalooza at Grant Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Hip-hop has a strong presence at Lollapalooza this year, including its own class of Chicago talent.

South Sider Mick Jenkins kicked things off on Friday afternoon, warming up the Bud Light Seltzer Stage before fellow born-and-raised wordsmith Polo G came on. Bolstered by a live drummer and DJ, Jenkins gifted the crowd with several firsts in his set, including new tracks from his as-to-be-named upcoming album, none more so gripping than the soul-busting track “Things You Could Die For If Doing While Black.” The title says it all, his informed lyrics referencing innocent activities like going for a jog that led to the death of Ahmaud Arbery, and selling cigarettes that unfolded in the killing of Eric Garner. “I really just want respect,” Jenkins declared several times in the song.

Jenkins is an incredible mouthpiece for a conscious rap style. He leads the collective Free Nation “that promotes creative thought without accepting narrow views imposed by the powers that be,” according to his label, Cinematic Worldwide, and it’s a message seen in his thought-provoking tracks that spread both love and truth.

Free Nation crew member Stock Marley also got his time in the spotlight during Jenkins’ set — something he almost didn’t live to see.

“I almost died last year; doctors gave me a 33% chance to live,” the West Side rapper shared, noting it wasn’t due to COVID-19 and then giving a shout out to the Loyola medical team that helped him recover from his illness.

Offering two memorable numbers, Marley cut the background track to deliver his final few verses, hoping the crowd would pay attention to his words like the true poet he is.

“It’s only worth living for if you’ll die for it,” he gave as his final pearl. The only thing missing was the mic drop. — Selena Fragassi

Black Pistol Fire

Kevin McKeown of Black Fire Pistol performs on day two of the Lollapalooza music festival on Friday, July 30, 2021, at Grant Park in Chicago.

Kevin McKeown of Black Fire Pistol performs on day two of the Lollapalooza music festival on Friday in Grant Park.

AP Photos

Some might say rock ‘n’ roll is in a tough spot as younger music consumers flock to hip-hop pomp and pop star allure — but that was all thrown out the window watching Austin, Texas-based Black Pistol Fire bring the literal heat on Friday afternoon.

“There’s just two guys up there,” one younger fan exclaimed, awestruck as were many by the mini manpower that lit up the Lolla circuit grid as curious passersby stopped to see what all the fuss was about.

Shirtless drummer Eric Owen was the picture of primal energy as he beat his kit so furiously on tracks like the explosive opener “Pick Your Poison” that it might’ve broken some laws. He was well-paired by rhythmic ringleader and singer Kevin McKeown, whose guitar gymnastics on surf rock-leaning numbers like “Lost Cause” could be their own sport in Tokyo, while his trailing solos could match up with the best of them at Buddy Guy’s Legends across the street from the fest.

Black Pistol Fire are the type of band you want to see at a wayside hole-in-the-wall but they are also equally made for the primetime festival stage, gaining acclaim for previous sets at Riot Fest and Voodoo Fest — and certainly now at Lollapalooza.

Among all the loops and sampling and production that oftentimes drown out these festival grounds, this unassuming duo showed that flair only goes so far and sometimes the simpler, the better. As McKeown curled in furor on the stage floor, wielding his guitar like a sacrifice to the sky — and later crowdsurfed during a long jammy outro — there’s no doubt kids were already on their phones buying up new Gibsons. Rock and roll isn’t dead — it’s alive all well, it just needs bands like Black Pistol Fire to look up to and emulate. — Selena Fragassi

tobi lou

Tobi lou wows the crowd during his set Friday afternoon at Lollapalooza.

Tobi lou wows the crowd during his set Friday afternoon at Lollapalooza.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

When tobi lou took the Lake Shore Stage on Friday afternoon, he looked like a man with something to prove.

Clad in football pads, Oakleys and joggers, the rap and R&B artist tore into his song “Lingo Starr: RETURN OF THE DRAGON,” yelling each lyric while jumping and running across the stage.

Rap artists projecting their lyrics in a festival setting isn’t new, but it was a far cry from the usual laid-back, melodic delivery the Chicago-raised lou has become known for during his steady rise in popularity over the past few years.

The different approach took some getting used to at first, but his live vocals combined with the mellow production worked as a fresh take on his sound that still hyped up the crowd. And even though he was on home turf and faced with hundreds of fans shoulder-to-shoulder, lou acknowledged he may be unfamiliar to some festival-goers. So he worked liked an underdog athlete in a championship game, staying attentive to the crowd’s responses to his every move and putting his all into a performance to win them over — and it worked.

Lou eventually shed the shoulder pads and ran through crowd favorites like “Waterboy,” “Just Keep Going” and “Uncle Iroh” — all songs that have become staples on Spotify playlists, netting thousands of streams.

He also paid homage to Chicago’s Kanye West, rapping nearly 16 bars of West’s 2007 single “Flashing Lights” toward the end of his song “TROOP.”

“It feels so good to be home,” lou said. “Can I be super honest with y’all? This is my first time outside in almost two f------ years — and I’m here with y’all! I came home to do this s— with y’all!”

The homecoming feeling was present during the performance of “Buff Baby,” when he tenderly shouted out to his mother who was standing stage left, masked up and filming her son’s performance on her phone.

Lou wrapped up his set with one of his most popular songs, “I Was Sad Last Night I’m OK Now,” and the crowd yelled every word back at him. When the beat ended, a look of accomplishment grew on his face as he gazed into the crowd.

If anyone there didn’t know who he was, they did now. — Matt Moore

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