Metallica Returns To Chicago As Lollapalooza 2022 Kicks Off In Grant Park

Nothing puts a damper on a festival faster than a storm. But despite rain early Thursday in Chicago, Grant Park was in good shape and mostly dry as day one of Lollapalooza kicked off with headlining performances by Bay Area thrash metal legends Metallica, rapper Lil Baby, singer songwriter Caroline Polachek and electronic musician and producer Zhu.

Zhu, who performed Thursday night at Lollapalooza ahead of an aftershow scheduled Saturday evening at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom (capacity 5,000), has the rare luxury of staying in town and soaking in the atmosphere instead of shipping off immediately to the next tour stop.

“One of the things I like about festivals is the undiscovered acts and random things. So I’m gonna leave it up to chance,” said Zhu, who dropped a new mixtape this morning, of his weekend plan. “When I was kind of anonymous and shrouded – which I still love – there was this kind of feeling of intimacy. Now, I think that stages like this – with this many people – that’s a really tough challenge. But I still want that feeling to exist.”

Like fellow electronic artists deadmau5, Marshmello and Daft Punk, Zhu began his career behind a mask, opting for the anonymity it provided. With a continued goal of connecting people and emphasizing a spirit of togetherness, the unmasked challenge now lies in how recreating the spirit of a club in front of tens of thousands of fans in a field on the festival stage.

“It’s very different. I think that, deep in my heart, I would be anonymous 24/7 if I could. There’s something really nice about being able to be in the club, be a person in the crowd and also go up [and perform]. People didn’t even know who was walking behind them,” he explained. “I think if you’re always up there [on stage], you have a difficult time seeing what the floor is into, you know? I really care about the dance floor so I need to know what moves people.”

Liverpool indie rockers The Wombats performed in the early afternoon sun Thursday in Chicago, hitting upon their latest studio album Fix Yourself, Not the World during an hour long set on the Coinbase stage.

“It was hot! It was very hot. But we dealt with it well,” said singer and guitarist Matthew Murphy. “My wife is from here so I just know how friendly the Chicago people are and it’s always a pleasure coming back here. So it’s awesome.”

“This is our third time at Lollapalooza and I think it was the best so far,” concurred drummer Dan Haggis. “I think it was the first time we were here, we played the set – beautiful blue skies – and then there was a mad sort of storm. A lightning storm. And the whole site was evacuated,” he recalled. “We ended up going into a bar down the street and getting sh–faced with locals – shots of tequila. Then we went back and carried on in the festival. So that was a moment.”

Thursday’s Lollapalooza slate featured a slew of international rock acts. Irish rockers Inhaler performed for sixty minutes on the Bud Light Seltzer main stage on the festival’s north end following a Wednesday night aftershow.

“It’s kind of a bit of a fever dream for us. Because we used to watch some of our favorite bands on the livestream doing Chicago Lollapalooza. It was a really big deal. And now we’re here doing it which is kind of bizarre,” said vocalist/guitarist Eli Hewson, singling out previous Lolla performances by artists like Cage the Elephant and The Strokes. “People have been asking us recently what are kind of our goals? Well, this was one of them. And Glastonbury was one of them. So we’re gonna have to update it pretty soon.”

Eli Hewson is the son of Paul Hewson, better known as U2 frontman Bono, and Inhaler’s performance was available for streaming via Hulu’s Lollapalooza livestream, featuring two channels throughout the weekend.

In Grant Park early in the day ahead of their 3 PM performance, Inhaler took the opportunity to catch some other acts.

“Just today we got to listen to a bit of Sam Fender’s set from our dressing room,” said drummer Ryan McMahon. “What a great way to get pumped up for our gig, listening to some of his music. We’re huge fans.”

Lollapalooza has a nearly flawless track record of getting bands on stage on time free of issues. But things aren’t always perfect. Scheduled to perform for one hour Thursday on the Tito’s Handmade Vodka stage at Grant Park’s Petrillo Music Shell, Fender missed nearly half of it amidst technical problems. But the rising English rocker persevered, delivering a spirited set nonetheless in the time remaining.

“Well, we had a f–ing nightmare. We had a nightmare,” said Fender, shaking his head over a cold beer following the set. “There was an issue with all of the gear. The crew couldn’t figure it out. But then we got on stage and it ended up being a f–ing great show – for what we got to play,” he said. “Before all the gear was working, I just went up solo and played and managed to squeeze out a song. The 25 minutes that we managed to pull out, however many songs we could get, that was incredible, you know?”

From his sophomore album of the same name, Fender’s “Seventeen Going Under” went viral on Tik Tok last year and has amassed nearly 110 million streams on Spotify, proving a viable revenue stream in an era where it’s otherwise proven difficult to monetize recorded music.

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“It’s bizarre. I remember the label telling us to get on Tik Tok and use it as a platform. And, at the time, I was like, ‘I’m 26. I feel a little old to be on Tik Tok. It’s such a young platform – it’s 14 year olds.’ So I was really hesitant. I didn’t want to do it,’” Fender admitted. “And then the single f–ing blew up from it. We got a top 3 single. For an indie band – a guitar band – to get in the singles charts, even in the top 20, in the U.K. that’s pretty impossible. The last time anybody got a top 10 single for a guitar band was 2013 and that was Arctic Monkeys. So that’s to put it in perspective of how crazy it was. It was special for me, you know?”

“26 years ago, in 1996, Perry Farrell took a chance on inviting Metallica to Lollapalooza for the first time – there was a bit of a s–t show that followed,” recalled Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich of the group’s placement on Lollapalooza 1996. “You know what, Chicago? Every time it gets better.”

In 1996, Lollapalooza was in its sixth year as a touring festival and alternative music taste maker and trendsetter. Metallica, already heavy metal icons, were a curious booking alongside the Seattle grunge of Soundgarden and punk rock legends The Ramones, a polarizing choice amongst some fans as the headlining act during the festival’s move into larger venues.

Standing today as one of America’s premiere rock acts, Metallica makes perfect sense as a headliner, returning to Grant Park for the first time since 2015.

“Lollapalooza!” screamed singer and guitarist James Hetfield as Metallica went back to their first album Kill ‘Em All almost 39 years later to the day following its release on July 25, 1983, kicking off their Chicago return with “Whiplash.”

“Good singing, y’all,” said Hetfield to the giant festival crowd following “Nothing Else Matters.” “Not me – you. I need all the help I can get.”

Thursday night’s set wasn’t perfect. And it belies the level of difficulty involved in recreating precise, intricate and passionate thrash metal masterpieces a once unthinkable 40 years after they were written and recorded by men now approaching the age of 60.

Thursday’s performance was warts and all, refreshing in a concert era dominated by backing tracks and other fibs. And it was great.

“We are very blessed after 41 years to still be up here kicking your ass and you kicking ours,” said Hetfield, who grew stronger in voice over the course of about two hours.

The group boasted one of the more unique stagings in recent Lollapalooza history, bringing its snakepit ramp, allowing the band to make its way into the crowd for a more intimate performance than is generally possible on a festival stage.

Guitarist Kirk Hammett, clad in glittery, sparkling black Chuck Taylors, stepped on an effects pedal as Hetfield surveyed the festival throng. “Are you alive?!” he asked rhetorically as the group tore through “Enter Sandman.”

Hetfield advocated for mental health awareness and a more open conversation about suicide as Metallica put forth “Fade to Black.” Bassist Robert Trujillo spun his guitar around as fireworks soared, “Battery” opening the encore.

Pyro exploded from the stage as Metallica headed for the finish line with “One” and “Master of Puppets,” the band returning to the stage well after the finish of the set, waving and speaking to an adoring crowd that simply refused to leave.

“Are you having fun? Is the Metallica family here?” joked Hetfield. “Just checking.”