Since launching in 1991, Lollapalooza has established itself as one of the preeminent music festivals in the world.

It was Perry Farrell, the Jane’s Addiction frontman and an influential leader in the alt rock movement, who envisioned an event where talented artists from “fringe” genres – alternative, rap, punk, industrial, electronic, pretty much anything except pop or country – could assemble and perform. Everyone would be welcomed – in fact, the more of a “weirdo” or “freak” you were, the more you would be embraced.

“I thought about all the amazing, wonderful people that I would bring together,” Farrell reflected decades later. “Not just the artists, but the people themselves. The patrons, the people that listened to it. The punk rockers or the post-punk rockers and the rappers, all these wild people.”

The concept was almost immediately embraced.

“[Lollapalooza] was the Declaration of Independence of the alternative nation,” Tom Morello explained in the trailer for the three-part documentary series Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza.

What started as a touring festival evolved over the years, even disappearing for some time before returning as a single-weekend event. Naturally, the Lollapalooza has changed with time as well. What started as decidedly anti-corporate now has a long list of major sponsors, while the lineups tend to skew more towards pop, hip-hop and EDM artists.

Still, Lollapalooza’s roots are – and always will be – in the rock world. And over more than 30 years, the festival has welcomed many of the greatest rock acts on the planet to its stage. We combed through the archives (and our own personal memory banks) to assemble our list of Lollapalooza's 20 Greatest Rock Performances.

20. Journey (2021)
When Lollapalooza announced its 2021 lineup, Journey stood out like a sore thumb. Obviously, the band’s resume is impressive, but stacked among acts like Post Malone, Miley Cyrus and Megan Thee Stallion, one couldn’t help but wonder if Neal Schon and company had been miscast. Then, the band took the stage on July 31, 2021 and completely blew everyone away. From emphatic opener “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” to triumphant closer “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Journey cranked out hit after hit from their remarkable catalog. Schon tore through several searing riffs throughout the gig, while frontman Arnel Pineda was pitch-perfect all night (even while showcasing some acrobatic dance moves). The band’s set was later released as a live album and DVD, Live in Concert at Lollapalooza.


19. Black Sabbath (2012)
There were many questions surrounding Black Sabbath’s headlining set at Lollapalooza 2012. Would the reunited metal icons be able to win over a crowd largely made up of millennials and gen-x-ers? Could the band’s members – all in their 60s at the time and suffering from various ailments – be able to handle the rigors of a two-hour headlining set? Black Sabbath answered these questions and others like them by delivering a pulverizing performance on Lollapalooza’s main stage. Was it perfect? Well, no. Despite showing plenty of energy, Ozzy Osbourne’s voice seemed to waiver at times, and there were a couple of minor technical issues that briefly slowed the performance’s momentum. Still, Tony Iommi was in especially fine form as the band blitzed through such classics as “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” “Sweet Leaf” and "Paranoid." Along the way, Black Sabbath taught a new generation of fans what made them heavy metal giants.


18. Pavement (1995)
Lollapalooza 1995 skewed in an indie direction, with Sonic Youth, the Jesus Lizard and Pavement leading the way. The latter group had scored their biggest hit with “Cut Your Hair” a year prior and were enjoying a period of critical acclaim. Still, audiences were used to more mainstream acts – such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins – and the Lollapalooza crowds were generally polarized by Pavement’s lo-fi style. One show in particular went down in infamy, as the crowd in Charles Town, W.V. pelted Pavement with mud until the band promptly cut their set short and exited with their middle fingers in the air. It’s a shame some of the crowds didn’t give Stephen Malkmus and company a chance, considering how good they actually sounded. Hindsight being 20/20, the band certainly deserved a better response.


17. Tool (1997)
Gloomy theatrics? Check. A penchant for the unexpected? Check. Dynamic material and a rapidly growing fan base? Check and check once more. Tool really had all the right ingredients when they set out on Lollapalooza’s 1997 edition. The 33-date trek failed to deliver as much hype as its predecessors – other acts such as Snoop Dogg, Orbital and the Prodigy were met with mixed reactions at various stops. But Tool was the standout act, regularly stealing the spotlight from artists higher on the bill. Led by Maynard James Keenan’s brooding magnetism, the group tore through material from 1993’s Undertow and 1996’s Ænima (then their most recent release). It wouldn't be until 12 years later that they returned to the festival once more.


16. The Cure (2013)
Seeing the Cure at a massive summer festival is not ideal – the band’s material is made for darker, more intimate settings, and the summer heat has a tendency to make fans’ eyeliner run. And yet here was Robert Smith’s group in 2013, delivering a captivating headlining set on the Lollapalooza stage. The Cure stuck to the hits, of which they have many. “Pictures of You,” “Just Like Heaven,” “Friday I’m in Love” and Fascination Street” were among the many memorable tunes performed that night, yet the band never seemed to be going through the motions with their classic material, delivering the songs with energy and freshness.


15. Devo (1996)
Eccentric new wave is not typically the type of music you’d expect to captivate a festival crowd, but Devo is no typical act. The Akron, Ohio group made their Lollapalooza debut in 1996 and won over fans at every stop with their distinctive and engrossing live performances. Things went so well that they came back the following year and did it all again, then returned once more for the 2010 edition. Could anyone have predicted that these power dome-wearing ‘80s rockers would become Lollapalooza regulars? Not likely. Still, we’ve learned over the years that these guys should never be doubted. After all, they’re not men – they're Devo.


14. Queens of the Stone Age (2013)
Some acts look to impress with pyrotechnics or colorful light displays. Queens of the Stone Age have no interest in such things, and instead aim to overwhelm fans with their distinctive brand of rock. That’s exactly what Josh Homme and company did in 2013 when they took the stage at Lollapalooza. Then fresh off the release of their sixth studio album, …Like Clockwork, the group churned through captivating new material like “My God Is the Sun” and “I Sat by the Ocean,” while also mixing in plenty of their earlier hits, including “No One Knows” and “Little Sister.” Homme was in command throughout the set, fluctuating between aggressive and acerbic at various points in the performance. Those looking for bells and whistles likely headed towards the EDM stage, but for fans like us who bask in pure, unfiltered rock, there was no better place to be.


13. Ramones (1996)
After releasing their final album, 1995’s ¡Adios Amigos!, the Ramones accepted an offer to be part of the 1996 Lollapalooza lineup. For 22 dates, the band joined the touring fest, delivering their hyperactive tunes to audiences across America for the final time. The hugely influential punk group’s importance was not lost on attendees, as droves of fans turned out to mosh to “Blitzkrieg Bop” one last time. Lollapalooza served as a swan song for the Ramones, though they did play one final show after the festival ended – Aug. 6, 1996 at the Palace in Los Angeles.


12. Nine Inch Nails (1991)
Sure, the 1991 version of Nine Inch Nails that performed on the debut Lollapalooza was very different from the Nine Inch Nails that would come later. The Downward Spiral was still three years away and Trent Reznor had only shown flashes of the genius he would later consistently unleash. But what NIN lacked in experience they more than made up for in ferocity, as Reznor hit every Lollapalooza stage with a hunger unlike any other act. There were bumps along the way, including technical issues that resulted in Reznor trashing his equipment on more than one occasion. Still, the aggression on display was palpable and a sign of future things to come from Nine Inch Nails.


11. Arcade Fire (2005)
Lollapalooza went through some changes in the early 2000s. After briefly reviving the touring version in 2003, weak sales forced the cancellation of the 2004 edition. In 2005, Lollapalooza returned as a single weekend festival in Chicago, as it has remained ever since. At the time, no one knew if this version of the fest would falter just as the touring version had, so success was imperative for survival. The lineup included an impressive blend of well-established artist – including Billy Idol, Pixies and Weezer – with a new wave of up-and-coming acts, such as the Killers, the Black Keys and Arcade Fire. The latter band really made the most of their time in the spotlight, delivering a high-energy set of indie rock that left fans and critics alike raving. Though Arcade Fire only had one album of material at the time, the Canadian group wowed with a dazzling set full of raw emotion. It was a sign of things to come, and a springboard to their highly successful career.


10. Depeche Mode (2009)
A giant wall of white light engulfed the stage as Depeche Mode stepped out to perform their headlining set at Lollapalooza 2009. The legendary English act, who are no strangers to massive crowds, then proceeded to give a masterclass on how to dazzle a festival audience. Frontman Dave Gahan was in excellent form as he slinkily moved across the stage, dancing, gyrating and encouraging the crowd to sing along as he delivered many of Depeche Mode’s classic hits. Tunes like “Policy of Truth,” “Enjoy the Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again” clearly resonated with the audience, even if many fans in attendance weren’t even born when those songs were released.


9. Iggy & the Stooges (2007)
While the single-weekend format of Lollapalooza has delivered plenty of memorable moments, it has generally lacked some of the urgency and frenetic energy of the early years’ touring model. Thank god for bands like Iggy & the Stooges, who can show up and turn the entire festival on its head. Four years after they initially reunited, the proto-punk legends stormed into Chicago for 2007's fest. Their set was one of the most blissfully chaotic scenes in Lollapalooza history, with thousands of fans going wild. Things hit a frantic height when the crowd stormed the stage during a rendition of "No Fun." Iggy Pop, who gleefully lapped up the mayhem, helped restore just enough order to finish out the set.


8. Soundgarden + Temple of the Dog (1992)
This one is kind of cheating, but we can’t really help ourselves. Soundgarden were part of the 1992 Lollapalooza lineup, alongside acts such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry and – most importantly – Pearl Jam. Soundgarden had led the grunge charge, as the first of their sub-genre to sign a major label deal. With 1991’s Badmotorfinger, they officially hit the mainstream, earning a passionate fan base and even scoring a Grammy nomination. Soundgarden’s sets were exhilarating events, power by one of rock’s most dynamic voices. Chris Cornell’s band would have earned a spot on our list on their own, but that 1992 lineup gave them a chance to routinely team with friends Pearl Jam. Unsurprisingly, the bands occasionally morphed into Temple of the Dog, the grunge supergroup that scored a timeless hit with “Hunger Strike.” Considering how electrifying – and rare – a Temple of the Dog appearance proved to be over the years, we opted to let them share the No. 8 spot with Soundgarden.


7. Metallica (1996)
At the time of its announcement, Lollapalooza’s 1996 lineup was decried by many purists who felt the festival had somehow sullied its reputation by booking metal giants Metallica as the headliner. Then James Hetfield and company came out and absolutely obliterated all preconceived notions about the band. With power and fury, Metallica converted every non-believer, delivering such classic tunes as “One,” “Enter Sandman," “Nothing Else Matters” and “Master of Puppets.” The band also memorably welcomed Alice in ChainsJerry Cantrell onstage to join them on “For Whom the Bell Tolls” during the final two stops of the tour.


6. Foo Fighters (2011)
Dave Grohl was at the very first Lollapalooza, even though he didn’t play. The drummer was in Los Angeles with his new band at the time, Nirvana, as they worked on the album Nevermind. Intrigued by the inaugural festival’s lineup, the musicians decided to check it out. “Me and Kurt [Cobain] went down and we sat in the audience and we thought, ‘Oh my god. Music is fucking changing. There’s 20,000 people here. To see bands that are actually fucking cool! What the fuck? How did that happen?'” Grohl recalled decades later when his band, Foo Fighters, headlined the 2011 Lollapalooza in Chicago. That night, the Foos showcased everything that has made them their generation’s premier rock act, with thunderous tunes and unbridled energy. Even a torrential downpour couldn’t extinguish the band’s fire, as Foo Fighters just kept on playing. Instead of ruining the moment, the rain became another element of the performance, as thousands of soaked and muddied fans sang and cheered with every note.


5. Pearl Jam (1992)
When Pearl Jam was initially booked for Lollapalooza’s second year, the Seattle grunge group was still unknown to many music fans outside of the Pacific Northwest. Their debut album, Ten, had been released in ‘91, but sales were slow and the band’s first two singles – “Alive” and “Even Flow” – had only earned moderate radio airplay (a fact that seems shocking in hindsight). But by the time the summer of ‘92 rolled around, grunge’s mainstream invasion was in full effect. Ten had ascended to become one of the era’s biggest albums, and Pearl Jam was suddenly one of the hottest bands in the world. The group had an early time slot on Lollapalooza’s 1992 touring festival, but fans didn’t seem to mind, regularly turning out by the thousands to mosh and crowd surf to their newest rock icons. Meanwhile, Pearl Jam turned every set into a raucous affair, with Eddie Vedder regularly climbing high atop the stage scaffolding during their performances.


4. Paul McCartney (2015)
More than 50 years into his incredible career, Paul McCartney delivered a show-stopping headlining set at Lollapalooza 2015 that left fans – and fellow artists – in awe. Across 32 songs, Macca rocked through classic material from the Beatles, Wings and his solo catalog. Then 73 years old, the legendary musician showed no signs of his age, propelling the thousands in attendance to join him in one of the biggest sing-alongs in the festival’s history. A rousing duet with Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard on “Get Back” was icing on the cake, as McCartney cemented his place in Lollapalooza lore.


3. Rage Against the Machine (1993)
Rage Against the Machine made their Lollapalooza debut in 1992, appearing on the side stage. By the following year, the politically-charged rockers were a main stage act, and their fiery performances delivered some of the festival's most memorable moments. Then in the midst of their sudden rise to fame, Rage Against the Machine routinely whipped fans into a furry thanks to Tom Morello’s incendiary guitar, along with Zack de la Rocha’s impassioned vocals. Still, arguably their most legendary set featured no music at all. During a stop in Philadelphia, the band protested Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center – the censorship group responsible for the “Parental Advisory” stickers on CDs – by appearing onstage totally naked, with black duct tape over their mouths. A reunited Rage Against the Machine eventually returned to Lollapalooza in 2008, showing plenty of their trademark intensity (but much less nudity).


2. Jane’s Addiction (1991)
It’s impossible to discuss Lollapalooza without mentioning Jane’s Addiction. After all, the festival was the brainchild of frontman Perry Ferrell, and the whole thing wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been initially devised as a framework for Jane’s farewell tour in 1991. Of course, Lollapalooza turned into much more than that (and Jane’s Addiction didn’t stay away for long). Still, the inaugural year set the high standard by which all other Lolla’s would be judged, and Jane’s Addiction were the unquestioned kings of the touring event. Ferrell’s dynamic onstage presence was unlike anything seen before, while Dave Navarro delivered blistering riffs at every stop. The band was also prone to do the unexpected, like performing Sly and the Family Stone's "Don't Call Me N—a, Whitey” alongside Ice-T. Jane’s Addiction would return to Lollapalooza on several occasions, but year one remains the most important.


1. Radiohead (2008)
Less than a year after releasing their mesmerizing LP In Rainbows, Radiohead took the stage to headline Lollapalooza. Plenty of attention was given to their new material – and, given how incredible the songs were, it’s not like any fans complained. But the band also delved into their impressive back catalog, offering a variety of tunes from throughout their career. Across 24 songs, Radiohead showcased why they are considered among the greatest rock acts from the past 40 years. Adding a colorful backdrop to the scene, fireworks from nearby Soldier Field lit up the sky as the band played “Everything in Its Right Place” and “Fake Plastic Trees,” a spine-tingling moment for the thousands of fans on hand. This is the kind of set you tell your kids about, a once-in-a-lifetime performance well worthy of being No. 1 on our list.

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