Lollapalooza reviews: J-Hope’s set proves he can command a stage without BTS

K-pop star demonstrates his own distinctive sound with help from Becky G and a live band.

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J-Hope performs on the Bud Light Seltzer Stage Sunday night on day four of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The BTS Army was ready on the frontlines to welcome J-Hope to Chicago for his solo debut at a U.S. festival. The anticipation had been growing so much throughout the day (since fans started lining up at 7 a.m.) that Lolla organizers bumped his set 10 minutes early to 8:50 p.m., allowing the South Korean star to greet anxious fans earlier and to have more time to perform.

There was a steady crowd on the other side of the park for Green Day’s finale too, helped by some buzz after the punk rockers wowed with a rare club show at Metro Friday night. Yet, the Bud Light Seltzer Stage was completely lit for J-Hope, quite literally as many fans (a lot of teens and kids with parents) brought custom light wands to add to the glow of the performance and also chanted his name like a true Sunday congregation.

A brief recorded monologue about Pandora opening her box and finding “hope” (a promotional concept behind his new solo album) was followed by a mock explosion as the star jumped on the stage to uproarious screams that could have woken those six feet under.

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Fans hold up lights and cheer as J-Hope performs on the Bud Light Seltzer Stage Sunday night on day four of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

J-Hope opened the set with his punchy new single “More,” which came out July 1 ahead of his brand-new album “Jack in the Box.” It’s also the first release from any of the members since BTS announced its break. The drill rap sound on that single and “Base Line” (from his previous solo mixtape “Hope World” in 2018) is a marked departure from BTS hits like “Dynamite” (though he performed that too, coupled with backup dancers). It’s also prime reason why the popular K-pop boy band is on hiatus at the moment as members like J-Hope extend their creative output and personas into other territories.

“I’m J-Hope from BTS,” he intro’ed himself. “You guys are f- - -ing crazy. I want to thank my fan army for coming tonight. A lot of you are maybe seeing me for first time today, and it’s great to be here.”

The star then noted he’d be playing tracks from “Jack in the Box” for first time at Lollapalooza—the record is in fact only two weeks old, making his performance a quasi record release party and a huge get for the event. Especially with the addition of guest star Becky G, who came out for her song with J-Hope, “Chicken Noodle Soup.” She ended the performance telling him, “I’m so proud of you.” After, J-Hope took a moment to talk to his fans at home in Korean before ending the 18-song set that also featured a live band.

“I pour my heart and soul into my music. I hope you like it,” J-Hope told the crowd early on. And he poured his heart into this performance too, commanding the stage and the audience with complete ownership in his trademark vocal delivery and choreography, even while lacking the support of his reliable BTS partners. With this career first, J-Hope has not only made history but also has shown he’s ready to look toward a bright new future for himself.

Måneskin

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Singer Damiano David performs with Måneskin on the T-Mobile stage Sunday afternoon on day four of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

If you haven’t heard the name Måneskin yet, you will now. The Italian glam rock band’s supercharged and beautifully explicit Lollapalooza set blew the nonexistent roof off Grant Park midday Sunday and will no doubt be seen as a game changer for the band in the American market in the months to come.

The four-piece already has a sizable international following, thanks to a substantial level-up as the winner of the Eurovision Songwriting Contest in 2021 for the single “Zitti e buoni,” which helped launched the former buskers from dim streetlights to the glowing spotlight.

Singer Damiano David (dressed in pearls and heavily tattooed) had moves like Jagger and Tyler and Iggy; guitarist Thomas Raggi was a machine on countless riffs and backbending solos; bassist Victoria De Angelis smoked out her instrument and kept her cool even with a wardrobe snafu, and drummer Ethan Torchio kept the whole thing pulsing with his steady, hard-handed beat. There was countless crowd interaction and mingling in the masses, high-fashion matching ensembles that paired with the model looks and so much songwriting swagger that all tied together in a “we’re not worthy” spectacle.

Though the band brings total modern rock-star aesthetic to its catalog, including hits “Beggin,”Supermodel” and “I Wanna Be Your Slave,” they also recall a golden age of rock five decades ago and it’s hard not to make that connection when the fierce attitude is not always present in the new class of bands. And there’s also the fact that Måneskin recently worked with Iggy Pop and covered the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” in a total showstopper moment at Lolla.

At one point David commented on a girl in the front row who had been sobbing and singing along to every word. “She’s a pro fan, everyone start crying right now,” he demanded. David also took a moment to declare the band’s stance on supporting Ukraine and calling Putin an “ugly piece of s- - -” before ripping into new song “We’re Gonna Dance on Gasoline,” inspired by the ongoing conflict.

By the set’s end the bandmates invited a gang of girls to dance on stage with them, many waving Italian flags that might as well have been staked in the ground to signify the band’s surefire takeover.

Beach Bunny

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Lili Trifilio of Beach Bunny performs on the Coinbase stage Sunday evening on day four of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Måneskin’s showdown was a hard act to follow, but leave it to a Chicago band to do so righteously. Beach Bunny took the adjoining Coinbase Stage right after the Italian rockers (and around the same time fellow locals Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa were crashing Peter Cottontale’s set at the BMI Stage). Singer Lili Trifilio shared that she had just been on 24-hour vocal rest after losing her voice this week, but you never would have known it as she belted out crowd favorites like “6 Weeks,” “Sports” and “Good Girls (Don’t Get Used).”

Noting it was probably their biggest show ever, Trifilio and drummer Jon Alvarado, guitarist Matt Henkels and bassist Anthony Vaccaro said hello to the friends and family milling about in the crowd. Trifilio also brought her brother Steve on stage to play two songs on guitar, sharing it was his second show ever, and showing there’s some real talent in that family’s DNA.

Beach Bunny’s languid summertime tunes were just what the park needed for a cool-off, coupled with a ’90s bent that brought back memories of the Chicago rock scene in a bygone era. It’s rewarding to still see homegrown acts going strong in the new millennium, especially this one who have enjoyed the success of viral hits and a signing to lusted-after indie label Mom + Pop Music. “This is the second time we’re playing Lolla, but the first time on this [bigger] stage,” said Trifilio. “It’s really special.”

Porno for Pyros

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Lead vocalist Perry Farrell of Porno For Pyros performs on the T-Mobile Stage on day four of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Billy Corgan was the surprise guest in the already surprising Porno for Pyros reunion (a last-minute replacement for Jane’s Addiction at the fest, reportedly due to Dave Navarro’s long-haul COVID). The Smashing Pumpkins leader showed up on stage towards the end of the set to jam out with Perry Farrell and company on a trippy take of Led Zeppelin classic “When the Levee Breaks,” notably chosen for the Chicago reference in the lyrics.

The two ’90s alt-rock dynamos not only have an upcoming tour featuring the Pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction, but they’ve been helping each other out with do-good favors this week. Before this set, Farrell was one of the stars in Corgan’s livestream to benefit the victims of the Highland Park mass shooting on July 4.

Porno for Pyros’ set (similar to what they performed at the Metro aftershow last night) was a great example of the full talent of the Oz behind the curtains of Lollapalooza — more than just a savvy businessman, he’s also a great artist. Songs “Pets” and “Tahitian Moon” are reminders of his songwriting prowess.Seeing drummer Stephen Perkins, guitarists Peter DiStefano and Mike Watt and bassist Martyn LeNoble together again was a huge boon for the festival, even if a large part of the crowd had already begun staking over at the north end of the park for J-Hope.

Farrell also took a moment to comment on being on stage again at his home away from home. “We love coming every year and partying with all of you. … It’s a great friendship.”

Buffalo Nichols

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Buffalo Nichols performs on the BMI stage Sunday afternoon on day four of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Fresh off an appearance at Buddy Guy’s Legends Thursday night, roots and blues artist Buffalo Nichols gained a reputation as a true star-in-the-making on the BMI Stage on Sunday. That stage is a beacon for up-and-comers, having been an early playground for Halsey and Lady Gaga, and it appears its curators have put their tastemaker skills to the test again with Buffalo Nichols.

His name alone conjures the type of sound he makes, some classic dirty blues mixed with a bit of country drawl and even a tinge of spirited gospel (he’s the first solo blues signing to the beloved Fat Possum label in nearly 20 years) and with his gravely voice and deep pensive writing, like the song “Another Man,” he could be poised to be our next Gary Clark Jr.

Nichols encouraged newcomers to follow him on socials: “It doesn’t cost you anything and it will make my mother proud of me.” Just as he said it, people could be seen reaching for their phones. Genius move.

Raised in Milwaukee, Nichols doesn’t hail too far from the blues mecca of Chicago and his family followed him for this important career-defining moment, including his sister, who was hollering up front. It was a bit of humility that further made Nichols come off as authentic and creating music from the heart. Whether it was his fingers moving furiously over his fret board, or the feet stomping to the beat of “Living Hell,” he got every body moving and every head nodding in approval.

Blackstarkids

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TyFaizon of the Blackstarkids performs on the Discord stage Sunday afternoon on day four of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

In Sunday’s opening set from Blackstarkids, onlookers were informed several times that it was drummer Jack Dolan’s birthday, turning the pep-rally feel of the set into even more of a celebration. Dolan was said to have marked his 21-year milestone, about the median age of this young exuberant collective whose endless energy could just as well have pumped up the young ones at Kidzapalooza.

The five-piece from Kansas City features focal members TheBabeGabe, TyFaizon, and Deiondre, who bring a humble mix of hip-hop, R&B, pop and indie rock with an experimental boundary-less style that harkens a bit back to Chicago’s game changers Kids These Days.

They’re also a nostalgic bunch of pop culture consumers who make music through the looking glass of ’90s icons. Their finale song, “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun” name-drops P. Diddy and Biggie in the same rhyme, while an intro to another track samples the “Oh My God Becky” monologue from Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

Previously releasing on their own label, Bedroom Records, Blackstarkids are now signed to Dirty Hits (the same as The 1975 and Wolf Alice), which links them up with a partner that will only further support their out-of-the-box creativity. During their Lolla set, the band rolled out an unreleased song, “New York,” that was a great example of their versatility with its jazzy pop infusion that took on the vibe of its namesake title. “We didn’t know what to expect coming here,” said TyFaizon, “but this has been a great time.”

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