Lollapalooza 2021 reviews, Day 4: Foo Fighters, Brittany Howard, Modest Mouse, Band of Horses, Radkey, Neal Francis

The headlining set’s somber opening lasts just a minute until Dave Grohl’s band pours on the power for a thunderous two-hour festival finale.

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Foo Fighters perform Sunday on the final day of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl sprints across the stage Sunday during the band’s festival-closing set at Lollapalooza.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

It really only made sense to book Foo Fighters as the headliner for the final night of Lollapalooza 2021. The venerable rock band has been steering the ship of welcoming back live music, playing the first shows at Madison Square Garden and L.A.’s The Forum — and this weekend helping to bring back live music to the largest festival in America.

The band began the set with the apropos “Times Like These,” with its refrain about learning to love again and learning to live again, making a comment on the motions we are all going through in, well, times like these. The somber moment, matched with a slower-tempo version of the song that gave pause to really ponder the weight of its message, only lasted for a minute before the rockers fired off their rock cannon.

They followed in procession with “The Pretender,” “Learn To Fly” and newer blues rock-driven tracks “No Son of Mine” and “The Sky Is a Neighborhood.” The latter song put the supporting line of backup singer, including frontman Dave Grohl’s daughter Violet, to good use. She would later join her dad for a cover of X’s “Nausea,” and it’s clear she shares her father’s talent.

Grohl tapped into his own youth, sharing his infamous story of his first concert ever: seeing Chicago punk rock legends Naked Raygun at Cubby Bear when he was just 13.

Ever the rock fans themselves, Grohl and the Foo Fighters fit well into the Lollapalooza nexus, especially in the fest’s 30th anniversary year, and drummer Taylor Hawkins gave a subtle nod to the occasion with a homemade Jane’s Addiction T-shirt.

Of course, the band came of age at the same time Lollapalooza did, born out of the ashes of Nirvana after the untimely death of Kurt Cobain and, in time, Foo Fighters have become perhaps even more of a cultural cornerstone — or at least one with staying power. And there’s good reason for it. They are the closest to arena rock we may have in this generation, with power-driven hooks, catchy earworm gold and a cast of charming motley fools who are as good as musicians as they are comedians.

For no reason at all, midway through their set, they offered up a cover from their bizarre but lovable Bee Gees side project the Dee Gees. Not that anyone was complaining.

Introducing their eternal hit “My Hero,” Grohl also paid reference to the storm that interrupted the group’s last time at Lollapalooza, which has become the stuff of legend. Though the weather played fair the entire weekend, Foo Fighters still brought the thunder and lightning in their two-hour set like the larger-than-life rock gods they continue to be.

Brittany Howard

Brittany Howard performs on day four of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Though we may be missing out on having the traditional Blues Fest in Chicago this year, those who saw Brittany Howard in her Lollapalooza set got a fill.

Playing on the Tito’s Stage, which is really just the Petrillo Music Shell — the hallowed hall of so many musical greats in the decades past — Howard came out Sunday in a blaze of glory, shuffling down the stage like she was Tina Turner and, in a mere flash, giving major Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples vibes if not also Sister Rosetta Tharpe as she wailed on both the microphone and her electric guitar.

Howard, also the accomplished frontwoman of rock-soul act Alabama Shakes, stuck close to the chest of her solo material in her midday set, delving into her hyperpersonal and eclectic 2019 debut “Jaime,” delivering the funk and Sunday gospel on earth-shaking tracks like “He Loves Me,” “Georgia” and “Stay High.” The only glitch was some mismanagement on the volume of her vocals, which desperately needed to be turned up to 11 to let her really belt it out.

Though her solo material shone brightly throughout her performance, it was two covers that had real blinding appeal: Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life” and a taste of the Beatles’ “Revolution.” Howard nearly closed out her set with her bold manifesto track “13th Century Metal” that may have one of the best monologues of any song in modern rock.

Modest Mouse

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Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse performs Sunday at Lollapalooza.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Modest Mouse was a colorful bunch, wearing a rainbow medley of coveralls rather symbolic of the workhorses they were in producing a nuanced set.

They combined a range of percussion (the incredible Ben Massarella even utilizing buckets at one point), dynamic flourishes from banjos and horns, and kitschy vocal harmonies to layer each song. Early tracks like “Float On” and “Lampshades on Fire” and their latest single “We Are Between” were as animated and dimensional as the psychedelic flowing rainbow imagery behind them.

The Flaming Lips-esque graphics were befitting of their seemingly revamped, more off-center set and were in line with the iconography of their latest album “The Golden Casket” that came out in June. To help promote it, the band decked out a hearse parked by Buckingham Fountain where fans could sign up to win tickets to an upcoming show (perhaps as penance for having to cancel an anticipated in-store appearance at Reckless Records this weekend).

Though bands like Modest Mouse maybe lack the shock value of other big names on the prominent main stage, the menagerie of noises coming from their set were just as attention-grabbing. Though, they accidentally cut the performance short — as frontman Isaac Brock admitted, he has clock issues and didn’t realize there was time left. But after a brief pause, the band came out to play one more, feeling like the encore they deserved.

Band of Horses

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Band of Horses performs Sunday night at Lollapalooza.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Likewise indie stalwarts Band Of Horses gave another memorable rock set over at the Lakeshore Stage, before the event’s ultimate finale from Foo Fighters. Frontman Ben Bridwell took a moment to acknowledge Lollapalooza’s 30th anniversary and thanked Perry Farrell for keeping it going, noting the band has now played the event five times (including once in Brazil and once in Chile). Bridwell also told an anecdote of his first time attending the event as a fan, in 1994 in Raleigh, North Carolina, when the band’s bassist Matt Gentling had played on stage with his former band Archers of Loaf and had come full circle to this moment. The Seattle band’s effortless output began with the stoic “Annabelle” as Bridwell serenaded the crowd with his harmonica. Other highlights included “Is There a Ghost” and the beautiful “No One’s Gonna Love You” that showed a penchant for combining lush soundscapes with rootsy Americana.

Radkey

Dee Radke of Radkey performs on day four of Lollapalooza.

Singer-guitarist Dee Radke performs with Radkey at Lollapalooza on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Earlier, Lollapalooza ushered in a day of pure rock with brothers in punk music (and real life) Radkey opening things up on the Grubhub Stage.

Based on their explosive sound, catchy hooks and gritty vocals, you’d expect these three to have been around a few blocks and hailed from one of the two rock meccas: Detroit or New York City. But they’re barely out of their teens. And from Missouri.

The flannel-and-denim-clad brothers paid a nod to their ages with the bombastic “Rock & Roll Homeschool,” a tongue-in-cheek nod to The Ramones, of course. And that’s just one of their well-educated influences. Guitarist and vocalist Dee Radke (whose name clearly paved the way for destiny) is a dead ringer in vocal style for Glenn Danzig and there’s a bit of The Stooges percolating in their songwriting too.

The trio (also including the incredibly physical bass player Isaiah Radke and the solid Solomon Radke on drums) is currently doing some summer dates with Foo Fighters, and were a great warmup for that rock band Sunday as well. Advocating for “the future of rock ‘n’ roll” as they exited the stage, behind well-hewn numbers like “Dark Black Makeup” and “Seize,” they clearly fit the bill.

Neal Francis

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Neal Francis performs Sunday on day four of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

If you’re not discovering bands at Lollapalooza in addition to catching the acts you came for, it’s really a missed opportunity to get on the groundswell of some incredibly talented, dedicated musicians. Case in point: Neal Francis.

A well-rounded product of Chicago, Francis looked like something out of the ‘70s with his mop-top shag, aviators, and red velvet suit coat — and he sounded like it, too. There are hints of ’70s Brit Rock (including a very visceral touch of Elton John) as well as New Orleans jazz-funk, gospel soul, and some lighthearted Randy Newman — and the amalgamation felt like a time-stamped treasure.

According to his bio, Francis was a child piano prodigy who played with Muddy Waters’ son and other blues artists, and that pedigree comes out in his set, buoyed by an ensemble of well-oiled musicians that shows Chicago still rears the best of them. On songs like “Changes,” Francis plays well into the current revival movement for classic sounds at a time when many are rediscovering vinyl and is a great act to check out around town when he books more dates, hopefully soon.

Selena Fragassi is a Chicago freelance writer.

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