Lollapalooza Day 1 reviews: Metallica makes both old fans and newbies feel welcome

Also check out our takes on Lil Baby, Lorna Shore, Jazmine Sullivan, Tove Lo, Still Woozy, Sam Fender, Sampa the Great.

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James Hetfield performs with headliner Metallica during the first day of Lollapalooza at Grant Park.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Before Thursday, the last time a rock or metal band graced the T-Mobile Stage at Lollapalooza was the 2021 closing set by the Foo Fighters, their last appearance in Chicago before the untimely passing of drummer Taylor Hawkins earlier this year. Though Hawkins wasn’t mentioned by name, the feeling of gratitude to still have behemoth rock stars alive and well and performing at their peak lingered in the air as Metallica took the stage.

It was a feeling not lost on James Hetfield himself as he expressed to the crowd how grateful the thrash metal titans were to be back at Lollapalooza (having last played in 2015).

“Forty-one years to still be up here kicking your asses and you still kicking ours … we were born to do this and we’re glad we’re still doing it,” Hetfield exclaimed, before asking the crowd how many first-timers were in the audience. A shocking number of hands flew into the air to which Hetfield jokingly asked, “Where have you been?”

Metallica has always somewhat been the Kleenex of metal — a brand name that has come to identify an idea for the most dedicated and even most passive fans. While their devoted “Metallica family” showed in droves, what was different this time were the newbies in the crowd. Chalk it up to “Stranger Things,” which — set in the ‘80s — has introduced classics to a new generation.

Hetfield took time to pander to the new kids while making them still feel welcome. The band blasted into its set with an arsenal of their biggest hits — after “Whiplash” came “Creeping Death” followed by “Enter Sandman,” “The Memory Remains,” “Wherever I May Roam” and “Nothing Else Matters.” By mid-set Hetfield joked he wasn’t sure what else the crowd wanted to hear as all the best stuff was done. Which of course wasn’t true: “Sad But True,” “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “Seek & Destroy” would soon come later. As would “Master of Puppets” (the song made re-famous by ‘Stranger Things”), which the band ended with, accompanied by fireworks, nearly 20 minutes late.

Though this set was maybe not as overtly special as the time Metallica played a rare club show at Metro last fall, it was still a showstopper with Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett proving their chemistry that was first groomed decades ago is still on point (and with longest-serving bassist Robert Trujillo a true match since joining in 2003). —Selena Fragassi

Lil Baby

Lil Baby performs on day one of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Lil Baby performs on day one of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

By the time Atlanta rapper Lil Baby started his set Thursday night, thousands of fans were still clamoring for a spot close to the Bud Light Seltzer stage, with many settling for a place behind the masses who had already been waiting — some since the gates opened nearly 10 hours earlier.

Fans jumped, danced, blew smoke and screamed each bar word-for-word back at Baby as he swaggered across the stage, jewelry glistening on his neck and wrists through fog and pyrotechnics. From there, Baby jumped right into a hit parade of some of his biggest tracks and features, knocking out verses for “Pure Cocaine,” “On Me,” “We Paid” and more. The steady stream of hits amounted to a lightning-fast recap of the Grammy Award-winning, platinum-selling artist’s meteoric rise in his mere five-year career.

Aside from backup dancers who periodically joined him onstage for a few songs, Baby appeared onstage before two large set pieces resembling storefronts in a neighborhood. He was also joined by his DJ — DJ Champ — who closely monitored Baby’s subtle signals and body language to determine the vibe of the next song, or when to drop a Kendrick Lamar or Meek Mill song to keep the crowd hyped so that the rapper could take a small break during his hour-plus-long set.

Other set highlights included “Drip Too Hard,” from his 2018 mixtape “Drip Harder” with fellow Georgia rapper Gunna. After finishing his verse, Baby continued to rap Gunna’s, which served as kind of homage to his friend, who is currently incarcerated and awaiting trial in January. Baby referenced Gunna, as well as Young Thug, who is also currently incarcerated, and asked the crowd to turn up for a moment, as his DJ dropped a few bars of “pushin P” — Gunna and Young Thug’s song with Future.

Where some artists may be content to let the track play and shout the occasional word of their song, Baby was working hard to pronounce just about every rap over top of his recordings, pausing only periodically to catch his breath. His live mic bore a similar auto-tuned, pitch-corrected effect as his recordings, resulting in occasional moments of harmony, like on the ballad “Close Friends,” from 2018’s “Drip Harder” — which Baby performed from the top of one of the set pieces resembling a corner store.

Baby’s return to Lollapalooza — following his 2019 Grant Park debut — came on an off day amid a nearly 30-date U.S. tour with problematic pop star Chris Brown. Touring with an artist who has faced numerous accusations of domestic abuse over the years is a disappointing career move for Baby, whose popularity in the three years since he first played Lollapalooza skyrocketed. That was apparent Thursday night in the palpable excitement among the thousands of fans packed in to see him.

Through the music, stage effects and screaming fans, his talent on the mic was still the focal point of his set. Even if there aren’t too many variations in the dynamics of his discography alone, Baby stands out in the overall sonic landscape of hip hop and popular music. His signature raspy vocals — infused with a slight Southern accent — and the cadence of his rhymes set him apart from his peers.

Baby ended his set with “Freestyle” from his 2017 mixtape “Too Hard,” beginning the song a cappella. It’s a song that chronicles his rise to fame, and as each word echoed across the thousands gathered to see him, it was a fitting end to a set by an artist who’s come a long way and still rising.

Lorna Shore

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Lorna Shore performs during the first day of Lollapalooza at Grant Park.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The New Jersey deathcore band has been billing itself as one of the heaviest to ever grace a Lollapalooza stage — and judging by the sheer force of its output and the massive circle pit that grew like a cyclone in the middle of the park, the group can stand by those words. With fevered fans who looked more like they belonged at Kuma’s than Lolla, Lorna Shore owned the slot right before Metallica, though even vocalist Will Ramos admitted the band was a “little out of our element.”

It was a total left-field move by festival organizers to add the quintet to the BMI Stage, which has become known as a platform for discovering up-and-comers. Lorna Shore may already have outgrown that pigeonhole as its video for “To the Hellfire” has racked up 10 million views and tons of cred for the band that’s been building an empire for over a decade. Since taking the reins from CJ McCreery (fired after an accusation of sexual assault), Ramos has proven himself to be one of the most brutal vocalists in the genre. It’s been said that scientists have even studied his larynx to figure out how he’s able to emit the animalistic howls he unfurls from deep within.

When Ramos asked the crowd how many had heard of the band before, the response was almost unanimously affirmative by the show of hands in the air. “It’s crazy how many metalheads we got here,” he exclaimed, probably not even noticing how much it grew with each new song. With the overwhelming response, here’s to hoping Lolla organizers will be inviting more of the heavy acts in the future.—Selena Fragassi

Jazmine Sullivan

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Jazmine Sullivan performs on day one of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Before singer Jazmine Sullivan took the stage for her Thursday evening set, Mayor Lori Lightfoot came out from backstage to greet the crowd.

“Welcome to Chicago, the greatest music town in the world, and welcome to Lollapalooza, the best music festival ever!,” the mayor said to a mix of cheers and boos. “Folks I need you to be ready and show Jazmine Sullivan how we do it in Chicago.”

Flanked by a band featuring two keyboardists, a guitarist, a drummer and three backup singers, Sullivan moved right into a pleaser for the massive crowd beginning to assemble: 2008’s “Bust Your Windows.”

“Anybody ever bust some windows? Well, I did!” she said with a sly smile.

The Philadelphia-born superstar then continued on with a stellar set that wove in her latest releases, along with early-career fan favorites and a few covers. Complete with powerhouse vocal performances, skillful crowd participation, monologues and tasteful choreography, it was a consummate set from a true professional.

Standing mostly center stage in a highlighter-green outfit resembling the font color of “Tales,” Sullivan’s signature rasp, near-perfect pitch and innovative vocal runs were on full display during set highlights like “Put It Down” from last year’s Grammy-winning “Heaux Tales,” “Let it Burn,” from her 2015 album “Reality Show,” and last year’s single, “Tragic.” A rousing cover of Fuggees’ “Killing Me Softly” also sent the crowd into a full-throated singalong.

Sullivan ended her set with another “Tales” standout, “Pick Up Your Feelings, which kept the crowd moving and singing as the sun dipped behind the skyline. — Matt Moore

Tove Lo

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Tove Lo performs Thursday on day one of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Sweden has been known for its pop exports, but none really like Tove Lo. Sure she carries on the lineage of Abba and Ace of Base with some of her Euro-flair club hits. But she’s also got the ingenue factor of a Charlotte Gainsbourg and has her rebellious moments not unlike her early idol Courtney Love. Not least of which was taking off her bikini top and baring her breasts for the Lollapalooza crowd midway through her set at the Bud Light Seltzer Stage.

There have been many think pieces and interviews focused on Tove Lo’s feminist stance and the bold way she uses her femininity as her own personal instrument in performances. This time, she did so as a bargaining chip with the audience, a bit of “give and take” to get them to participate in a physical activity, getting the masses to get low to the floor and jump up in unison on “Talking Body.” And when they did, it was explosive, adding to an inexplicable nightclub feel in the middle of daylight at one of the biggest festivals in the country.

Tove Lo isn’t all party all the time, however. She’s also a genius writer of some great sad songs, seen in the pleading poetics of set standout “True Romance.” She also delivered her latest, “2 Die 4,” just released a few days ago from her upcoming October album “Dirt Femme.” That track too carries on the trajectory with the melodrama and pop bombast that inches her up further in the leagues of artists like Billie Eilish and Lolla’s Friday headliner Dua Lipa.

Tove Lo has already spent her time behind the major music leagues using her punchy songwriting to write bangers for Lorde and Ellie Goulding and also working with the likes of Nick Jonas, Coldplay and Charli XCX. Reflecting on paying her dues, Tove Lo also took a moment to pause on her slow grown hit “Habits(Stay High)” that introduced her as a serious pop contender 10 years ago, noting it “changed her life” and also thanking the ex who gave her the first inspiration to become a master crafter of heartbreak songs.—Selena Fragassi

Still Woozy

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Still Woozy performs Thursday on day one of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

For many bedroom indie pop artists, translating laid-back and intimate songs for a festival setting that demands high volume and even higher energy can prove to be challenging. But singer, songwriter and producer Still Woozy rose to the challenge — one mystifying booty shake at a time.

Accompanied by two bandmates — one on drums, the other switching between guitar and bass throughout the set — the Oakland, California, native glided through a set composed of breezy, R&B- and psychedelic-leaning indie pop songs from his debut album — last year’s “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is” — as well as a few breakthrough singles released just a few years prior.

When he wasn’t playing guitar and singing, the artist born Sven Eric Gamsky was running the length of the stage and down the catwalk, dramatically falling over, climbing and jumping on platforms and, bending over and shaking his backside — among other moves to get the crowd pumped.

The spirited moves and upbeat grooves sometimes contradicted Gamsky’s lyrics, which touch on themes like love, anxiety and loneliness. That dichotomy was apparent in songs like “Woopie,” where Gamsky cooed, “Why would you want me? Why would you care? Tell me you need it bad,” amid jaunty leaps and gyrations.

One of two particularly bizarre moments in his set came at about the halfway point, when the band broke into a track he described as a punk song Gamsky “wrote in his garage in five minutes.” He said it was something he wanted to do for the Metallica fans. It was a mess of a song — and Metallica fans in their black band T-shirts did not seem particularly excited.

But Still Woozy rescued the vibe soon after by bringing out fellow California artist Remi Wolf to perform their chilled-out indie ballad from earlier this year, “Pool.” It was a special moment that they followed up with the set’s second bizarre moment: a rough cover of Drake’s “One Dance,” which Wolf stayed onstage to lead. It was a strange cover that, along with the heat, plateaued the energy of the crowd a bit.

One of Still Woozy’s greatest strengths is Gamsky’s knack for taking a relatively straightforward song and submerging it in interesting, complex, and at times, evocative production — all while providing the kind of catchy hooks that stay with you. Aside from the occasional out-of-tune guitar or bum note sung, that was not lost in translating his material to Thursday’s festival setting. Gamsky and co. were mostly tight, lining up their live instruments just about perfectly with backing tracks that featured harmonies, samples, synths and more.— Matt Moore

Sam Fender

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Sam Fender performs solo while bandmates and equipment managers attempt to fix their gear Thursday at Lollapalooza.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times, Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

If there is a good-sport trophy to be handed out this weekend it goes to Sam Fender. The buzzy British singer-songwriter (just recently nominated for the UK’s holy grail Mercury Prize and adored by Adele and Elton) was cheated out of nearly 30 minutes of his set due to massive technical difficulties that could have put “]Spinal Tap to shame. Seething with understandable frustration and calling his set “the biggest shamble,” Fender still powered through, offering a solid if off-kilter set as the crew tried to come up with a workaround solution.

Fender started off solo, with just his electric guitar and emotive voice, offering a memorable version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” somehow turning it into a haunting slow-dance ballad. It was a bold move as Fender not only has gushed about Springsteen being a major influence, but the rising star has also been racking up accolades with many comparing his working-class narratives to the American rock staple.

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Sam Fender nervously bites his nails as bandmates and equipment managers attempt to fix technical difficulties that delayed his set Thursday at Lollapalooza at Grant Park,

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The full band did join Fender eventually on “Getting Started” from his acclaimed “coming of age” album, “Seventeen Going Under,” that was released last November. They also pulled from his just as beautiful debut, 2019’s “Hypersonic Missiles,” which he previously delivered at his first Lollapalooza appearance in 2019 without issue. The addition of live horns was a welcome component, giving off a War On Drugs vibe and offering a tempting taste of what Fender can bring live when all systems are go.

He’ll be back in Chicago Sept. 7, opening for Florence and the Machine at Huntington Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island. Though, if any venues are listening and have an opening for an after show this weekend, he really deserves that second chance. —Selena Fragassi

Sampa the Great

Sampa the Great performs on day one of Lollapalooza in Grant Park, Thursday afternoon, July 28, 2022.

Sampa the Great performs Thursday on day one of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

As festivalgoers slowly streamed into Lollapalooza on Thursday afternoon, rapper Sampa the Great stepped onto the Coinbase Stage with a burst of energy. The Zambia-born, Melbourne, Australia-based artist took her early — and arguably unenviable — timeslot in stride, electing to blaze through her opening number, “Energy,” with her band helping her set a high-energy tone for the weekend ahead.

On her recordings, Sampa is known for her unwavering and steady voice as she deftly delivers bars and occasionally sings over instrumentals driven by crisp beats and samples of horns and harmonies — all working to emphasize her conscious, evocative lyrics.

But in her Lollapalooza debut, Sampa and her band, all clad in matching white outfits, worked as a tight unit emanating electricity as they jammed through a setlist that spanned her nearly seven-year career. The rapper commanded the stage, often putting the mic on its stand to use both of her hands for extra emphasis, making the spoken-word nature of some of her verses hit even harder.

In a break between songs, Sampa expressed how proud she was to be there with her band, explaining they were the first Zambian act to play Coachella, Glastonbury, the Sydney Opera House and now Lollapalooza.

“It feels good to share our music and have it connect with all of you like this,” she said.— Matt Moore

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