In 1991, Jane’s Addiction officially broke up. Drug abuse, disputes over songwriting, and a clash of egos all combined to cause an irreversible fracture in the legendary alternative metal band’s foundation. Lead singer Perry Ferrell, ever the consulate business, wondered if he could send the band off in style. That’s where the initial idea for Lollapalooza, the travelling festival, was born.
Precipitating the explosion of alternative music in the early 1990s, Lollapalooza quickly established itself as the go-to showcase of a number of breakout stars in the rock, punk, grunge, metal, and rap ecosystem. Also following the festival were a number of notable incidents, including disparaging remarks from legendary engineer Steve Albini in 1993, Smashing Pumpkins demanding Pavement be removed from the 1994 lineup due to perceived slight on the song ‘Range Life’, and an uproar over Metallica’s inclusion in 1996.
By the start of the new millennium, Farrell had turned his attention away from Lollapalooza and, after failing to find a suitable headliner for the 1998 lineup, the festival officially shut down. Apart from a one-off revival in 2003, the festival remained shuttered until a full-scale resuscitation in 2005. At this point, the event ceased touring and found a permanent home in Chicago, with various international editions popping up as well.
This week, the lollapalooza celebrates its 30th anniversary, and to commemorate three decades of killer live performances, we’ve assembled ten of the most essential, most exciting, and most meaningful Lollapalooza performances.
The 10 greatest lollapalooza performances:
1. Jane’s Addiction – 1991
The main purpose of the original Lollapalooza was as a Janes Addiction farewell tour. The band may have been personally shattered, but their onstage chemistry was still potent as one of the best live acts in the world.
Despite their animosity, and a fistfight between Farrell and Dave Navarro at the conclusion of the first date, the group still managed to get along for long enough to finish out the travelling summer festival and depart without any additional blowups. The band would reunite again in years to come, often acting as headliners for the festival that Farrell himself created, but their 1991 performance is the last time that Janes Addiction were able to conquer the world in their prime.
2. Pearl Jam – 1992
Pearl Jam had beaten most of the other bands of the grunge explosion to the punch when they released Ten on August 27, 1991, a full month before Nevermind. However, it took a full year for the band to gain worldwide success, largely due to the band bringing their music to the people.
A mainstay of the band’s performances during this period included Eddie Vedder’s penchant for climbing the scaffolding at venues and jumping from high perches into crowds during set closer ‘Porch’. The band’s August 9 performance at Jones Beach in New York during the Lollapalooza tour saw Vedder scale what was easily 100 feet of scaffolding, often dangling precariously from ropes or metal bars. The death-defying antics of the band helped sell them as more than just another Seattle rock band.
3. Rage Against the Machine – 1993
Rage Against the Machine was one of the most explosive bands in the world when they were part of the headlining acts of Lollapalooza ’93. Still touring behind their massive self-titled debut released the previous year, the band was bringing their militant blend of rock and hip hop directly to the people.
However, their most memorable concert during the tour didn’t involve any music at all. At the Philadelphia show, the band decided to protest the Parents Music Resource Center by walking on stage completely naked with only duct tape over their mouths, allowing their instruments to feedback for 15 minutes, before walking off without having played a single note. It was a risky protest, especially for an up and coming band like Rage, but their other performances prove that it was worth the brief interruption (the band would later perform a free show for fans a few months later).
4. Pavement – 1995
As my fellow Far Out writer Joe Taysom succinctly put it: Lollapalooza 1995 was a mess. More aggressive bands began filling the bill, and even more aggressive concert goes followed suit. Pavement, who were making a triumphant return to the festival after having been forced off by Billy Corgan the year prior, brought their loopy sensibilities along to a crowd who just wanted to mosh. This did not end well.
It all came to a head at the tour stop in Charles Town, West Virginia. Unappreciative concertgoers began throwing mud and small objects at the band, who in turn responded to the hostility of the crowd with more hostility. Guitarist Scott Kannberg famously began flipping off, then mooning, the audience when the flurry of mutual antagonism reached a boiling point. The gig would be the first illustration of Lollapalooza losing its utopian travelling circus ethos and instead simply becoming a sideshow.
5. Arcade Fire – 2005
The return of Lollapalooza in 2005 brought with it a whole new generation of young musicians who sought to establish themselves in the sweltering Chicago heat. Leaving the false start of 2003 firmly in the past, the 2005 Lollapalooza was one for the record books, with great sets from The Killers, Pixies, and Dinosaur Jr.
But it was Canadian collective Arcade Fire, less than a year removed from their debut LP Funeral‘s release, who made the biggest impression. Bringing roughly a million members and two million instruments to the stage, the band roared through their anthemic set and made true believers out of a number of concertgoers who were experiencing the band for the first time.
6. Daft Punk – 2007
The French electronic duo’s performance at Coachella a year earlier, their first U.S. show in nearly a decade, is the one that has gone down in the band’s history as their most triumphant festival appearance. But Daft Punk brought an equally electric energy to Chicago for their 2007 appearance at Lollapalooza, playing a nearly identical set with the same incredible light show and striking visual accompaniments.
Crafting their performance as one long greatest hits medley, funky and twitchy workouts like ‘Robot Rock’, ‘Da Funk’, and ‘One More Time’ come to life in the live setting, with the group not allowing a single second to catch your breath for fear of losing a single second of hard-earned momentum. Everywhere they went, Daft Punk turned empty fields into raves, but their Lollapalooza appearance was the peak of their resurgence.
8. Kanye West – 2008
Kanye West’s 2006 Lollapalooza performance was supposed a be a homecoming of sorts (sorry) for the native Chicago rapper, but his set was plagued with equipment malfunctions that put a damper on what otherwise would have been a triumphant homestead.
Two years later, West returned to Lollapalooza with a chip on his shoulder. Still reeling from his mother’s death last November, West had a single goal in mind for his return to Grant Park: catharsis. Armed with Graduation‘s biggest hits and even a surprise cover of ‘Don’t Stop Believin”, West stormed his hometown once again to bring his heightened emotions to the people.
9. Chance the Rapper – 2013
There’s something about hometown heroes that hits differently at Lollapalooza. Very few Coachella performers are actually from the desert, and Glastonbury has its own brand of welcoming to its native songs and daughters — but those performers who are native to Chicago feel a special responsibility to make their Lollapalooza shows major cultural events.
Fresh off the release of his masterpiece Acid Rap and at just 20-years-old, Chance the Rapper stormed Grant Park and turned his daytime set instantly into the can’t miss event of the entire three-day festival. His 2013 performance set a precedent: every year, Chance would return to try and top himself, but that transcendent first appearance would be essential in elevating him to becoming one of the hottest rappers on the planet.
10. Outkast – 2014
The Outkast reunion might still inspire ire in you, depending on what show you went to. During the beginning and tail end of their 2014 tour, including at their Coachella appearance that year, the duo seemed out of sorts and stilted, more awkward and contractually obligated than world-conquering and game-changing.
Thankfully, something changed during their performance at Lollapalooza. The pair’s chemistry reemerged, as did their loose sense of fun, pushing crowd-pleasing tracks like ‘B.O.B’ and ‘Ms. Jackson’ along with the combined voices of thousands of their fans. The good times wouldn’t last, but at the very least, Outkast were able to prove why they remain one of rap’s most essential artists.