Tyler Daswick: It was always about Paul. Sure, BadBadNotGood made a huge play for Friday’s most sneaky-great performance—the trio rocked themselves out of their seats in front of a crowd that grew as the set progressed—and Cold War Kids’ breezy indie rock played well to hazed-and-confused festgoers. But Paul McCartney’s pending performance cast a grand shadow over the day. Everything else was preliminary; all other options were time fillers. Even when you were singing along to Alt-J or dodging the crush of bodies in front of DJ Snake, there was no escaping it. The Beatle was coming.
When Sir Paul finally emerged, crisply dressed as ever in a black jacket and white shirt, the festival transformed. Gone were the annoyances and discomforts—all that remained was the crowd, the man, and the music that will never, ever grow old. McCartney’s set was bombastic and indulgent and the most energetic of day one. He rolled out his solo songs alongside his . . . well, they’re all classics, aren’t they? There were plenty of literal fireworks to accompany “Live and Let Die,” there were plenty of refrains of “Hey Jude,” and McCartney himself probably played ten different guitars. When people talk about Lollapalooza 2015, this is the set that’ll come up first. This one’s going to stick. It will always be about Paul.
Cassidy Ryan: After strolling into the fest around 2 PM, I enjoyed some soulful tunes by Alabama sextet St. Paul & the Broken Bones while waiting for Father John Misty. The former Fleet Foxes drummer launched right into the title track of his latest album, I Love You, Honeybear, and while his set was interspersed with dry, cynical stage banter (while singing “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,” he interjected to comment skeptically on a Trojan BareSkin condom ad he could see), his pessimism is not only endearing but a pivotal part of the Father John Misty persona. The War on Drugs and First Aid Kit provided the perfect late-afternoon chill vibes before I headed over to post up for Paul McCartney.
Paul McCartney, you guys. The guy is a legend. His performance perfectly captured the grandeur of his long and wildly successful career, and McCartney himself was perfectly gracious. There was something for everyone. He played a bit of his recent collab with Kanye West and Rihanna, “FourFiveSeconds,” and brought out Alabama Shakes front woman Brittany Howard for “Get Back.” There isn’t much to be said about Paul McCartney that hasn’t already been said, but one thing’s for certain—he still has it.
Evin Billington: Misterwives played one of the first sets of the day, and front woman Mandy Lee tried her best to raise the energy. The crowd wasn’t having it. She jumped and danced, but the audience looked at each other or at their phones. Already bored 15 minutes in, I grabbed a beer and came back to find that the crowd had doubled in numbers and actually seemed excited. I guess 1:30 PM was still too early for the half-dressed high schoolers who made up most of the Misterwives crowd, but by the time the group hit a groovy rendition of the popular “Not Your Way” late in their set, people were definitely feeling it—and giving much of Lee’s manic energy back to her. It felt like the festival weekend had finally kicked off.
Glass Animals took that energy and cooled it down, moving like molasses through most of their performance. They were so chill their set almost seemed to slip into a lull—at least until they played “Gooey,” which brought things back up. At this point it didn’t seem like Grant Park could possibly fit more people. Lines were long everywhere, including, to my dismay, at the water-refill stations. Because the humidity wasn’t bad, the heat wasn’t miserably sticky, but it was seriously sunny and temperatures reached the high 80s.
I was falling into a sort of dehydrated sleepiness, which, as it turns out, is the perfect mood for BadBadNotGood. They sampled some new material, notably a sort of funky psychedelic tune with a ton of rhythmic motion under a seemingly endless tenor-sax solo. I walked away from that set feeling a little less hot, a little calmer, and a little more excited for the rest of the weekend.
Emily Ornberg: Cold War Kids ignited the south end of Grant Park with a boisterous rendition of “Hang Me Up to Dry,” and drummer Joe Plummer dropped out for the last chorus to let front man Nathan Willett belt it out nearly a cappella.
Just across the field, the porta-potties shook as California ratchet king DJ Mustard blasted juicy remixes of the fantastically simple trap beats he’d made for 2 Chainz, YG, Rick Ross, and Wiz Khalifa. His bombastic Chicago tribute was the highlight of the late afternoon—he led the booty bounce through a Kanye West mix that seamlessly bled into “Don’t Like,” bringing back memories of Chief Keef delivering the same track on the same stage four years ago.
Much of the evening was gloriously predictable: Alabama Shakes brought such smoldering, irresistible soul that they “blew the fuckin’ PA system”—the first words of front woman Brittany Howard after festival staff got her mike working again. Young Thug shook his lanky limbs as he slurred through goofy hits such as “Lifestyle” and “Stoner”; Alt-J powered through a set of psychedelic whirrs and grooves; a bunch of kids got arrested.
As the sun set, Paul McCartney carried his delightful harmonies through a stuffed selection of Beatles milestones, at one point welcoming Brittany Howard back onstage to perform an unforgettable duet on “Get Back.” He scrunched his nose at the spillage of bass from Kaskade’s EDM party (“My song will be a mashup of this song, and whatever shit they’re playing over there,” he joked), but he didn’t let it slow him down. McCartney thoughtfully addressed America’s racial tensions with a chilling rendition of “Blackbird,” then orchestrated what easily could’ve been the world’s largest sing-along to “Hey Jude.”