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Lollapalooza 2016 day 1 pics/review (J Cole, Kurt Vile, Danny Brown, Pinegrove, Lucy Dacus & more)

photos by Brigid Gallagher

The 25th edition of Chicago’s Lollapalooza started off the weekend with an incredibly rainy set of shows, with only clearer days to come. The festival never buckled to the elements and everyone I caught hit their set times within a 30-minute gap. Bouncing between 90 degree heat and downpours, every performer I saw kept their heads up through the lackluster weather.

Despite the festival’s lengthy entrance line and entry time pushback, Montclair, NJ’s Pinegrove still gathered a significant crowd for their early 12:15 p.m. set at the Petrillo Bandshell, one of the many dates on their tour (which they’re documenting via a tour diary for us). Most of the setlist pulled heavily from the band’s Run For Cover debut Cardinal, but also threw in tracks from their early works as well. They closed with the uptempo positives of Cardinal finisher “New Friends” and wrapped up a stellar set with notes of possibility, plus a cartwheel from lead singer Evan Stephens Hall to cap everything off.

Toronto upstart rapper Jazz Cartier brought his signature energy to Chicago with an early set. Cartier executed on the excitement you pull from his voice on Hotel Paranoia to create an unforgettable rap show from an artist I had never paid attention to before. Thanks to the sea of bouncing arms that Cartier seemed to be able to summon at will, his earnest excitement and hops from crowd level back up to the stage entirely pulled me in. He’s earned many comparisons to his neighbor Drake, but watching him climb stories above the stage during “New Religion” thanks to the Pepsi Stage’s light rigging established the devil-may-care attitude that Jazz embodies throughout his live shows.

I only caught the very tail end of recent Matador signee Lucy Dacus’ set at the BMI Stage, but the sheer power of her voice combined with her earnest interactions with the crowd pulled me in instantly. The BMI Stage is built (and finally booked) for smaller artists — stumbling upon Dacus’ gorgeous voice felt like the sort of thing the stage was built for. It only took a couple of minutes to realize why she belongs on such a legendary label, but the explosive, all-shred finish to “Pillar of Truth” absolutely drove her placement home. Earlier years assigned this stage to already-explosive acts like Chance The Rapper and Young Thug, but Dacus felt like the embodiment of someone who has earned their spot on the stage without entirely outgrowing it.

3 o’clock rolled around and the clouds that had been lingering overhead finally opened up. I ran over to the Toyota Music Den to catch Pinegrove’s acoustic set. Without the “loudest-noise-I’ve-ever-made” drums and swelling keys of what is now full-band Pinegrove, the songs boiled down to their most important pieces. Evan frequently took the time between songs to appreciate the bands who played before them, his encounter with Danny Brown’s “crazy pants” and the buzz of all the festival’s stages mimicking the average hum of multiple songs in his head. His discomfort with their much-larger earlier stage entirely dissipated once they took the Toyota Music Den’s intimate setting in. BrooklynVegan is hosting that tent along with Stereogum, Vibe and Spin. Do stop by if you’re at the fest.

Detroit rapper Danny Brown gathered the largest crowd I had seen up to that point to lose their minds to his high-octane bangers. Before he launched into his mile-a-minute flow, Brown’s house DJ Skywlkr (who just dropped skywlkr joints) pumped out an incredibly solid set which existed purely to generate hype before the rapper took the stage. Despite a handful of groups walking past me during Skywlkr’s opening set, the crowd whipped into a fervor the moment Brown shouted his high-pitched excitement into the mic. Even with the imminent release of Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition the rapper only performed songs that had been revealed prior to his set, the most recent of which was “Let It Rain” which got a massive response from the crowd despite its lack of constant bass drops.

Chicago native rapper Towkio took the stage just as the afternoon’s worst downpour kicked in and provided energy if not shelter to the drenched crowd stacked in front of his stage. It wasn’t long before the Savemoney member brought up the fact that the group “used to sneak into this festival, now we all playing it.” In case you didn’t already know who made up the Savemoney crew, Towkio brought out new Chicago favorite Joey Purp as well as a massive swarm of Savemoney affiliates including Vic Mensa for his set closer. Chance The Rapper didn’t show up here, although he evidently came out during Flosstradamus’ set later that night.

Kurt Vile and the Violators brought their carefully-plucked guitar heroics to Lollapalooza after the rain let up, with their bright melodies amplifying the mood the crowd carried thanks to the sun’s reappearance. Kurt (who recently showed up on a Luke Roberts single) didn’t do anything too out of the ordinary, which served as a nice way to level out after the day’s wild mix of weather and disparate genres. I will say that over the course of his set I grew more and more empathetic with his guitar tech, who was swapping and adjusting instruments between every single song.

J. Cole closed the night out with a set that was totally competent if not mind blowing. The songs fit with Cole’s established boundaries, never exceeding the recorded versions despite this show being the only thing I heard other attendees talk about throughout the day. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was anticipating a guest appearance or two, and was slightly downtrodden once I realized none would be coming. Cole found his way to a handful of the hits you would expect, but spent an exhausting amount of the 90-minute set on the more cursory tracks of his back catalogue. It was a sadly underwhelming end to the first day of Lollapalooza, but there’s so much to look forward to from here.

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