The Afghan Whigs

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First Aid Kit
PlayStation stage
Klara and Johanna Söderberg, aka Swedish duo First Aid Kit, harmonize in a way that seems to require blood ties—think of all the great singing brothers, such as the Louvins, Delmores, and Everlys. On their second album, The Lion’s Roar (Wichita), recorded last year in Omaha, Nebraska, with producer Mike Mogis, they make a big leap from their rather one-dimensional debut: the arrangements are thicker and more dynamic, and soften the Söderbergs’ voices even as they give them more lift. Most of the songs have a lush, strummy folk-rock sound, but a few take scenic detours, including “Emmylou,” where Mogis adds pedal steel, and “Blue” (probably a Joni Mitchell nod), which has a poppy Laurel Canyon vibe. Also Wed 8/1 at Metro with headliners Alabama Shakes, sold out, 18+. Peter Margasak

O Rappa
Bud Light stage
Lollapalooza expanded into Chile in 2011—its first international adventure—and this spring launched yet another incarnation of the festival in Brazil. Perhaps as a way of acknowledging that fact, the organizers have booked a single Brazilian band for the U.S. edition. O Rappa formed nearly two decades ago in Rio de Janeiro and has since become one of the country’s most popular acts, mixing reggae, hip-hop, hard rock, dub, and samba with biting lyrics that often confront corruption, poverty, and crime. Peter Margasak

Michael Kiwanuka The London-born son of two Ugandan immigrants, Michael Kiwanuka has delivered one of the strongest debut albums of the year: Home Again (Cherrytree/Interscope) is a collection of beautiful, laid-back soul and folk that sounds like a throwback to the late 60s and early 70s. When I first heard the opening track, “Tell Me a Tale,” I immediately thought of Chicago guitarist and songwriter Terry Callier—Kiwanuka braids spiritual jazz and exploratory soul into arrangements that owe a debt to Charles Stepney, one of the masterminds behind the Rotary Connection and producer of several of Callier’s records. With his strong pop leanings, Kiwanuka isn’t as deep or intense as Callier (or other obvious forebears, such as Bill Withers and Van Morrison), but his extraordinary singing is powerfully beautiful. Also Thu 8/2 at Metro with headliner Band of Horses, 18+. Peter Margasak PlayStation stage

Black Angels
Bud Light stage
Austin psych-drudge rockers the Black Angels can make the most paranoid of highs work, even in a setting that’s oppressively crowded and glaringly bright. I missed their Lollapalooza set in 2007, so I can’t personally vouch for how well their sound translates at such an over-the-top extravaganza, but I did see them during SXSW that year, at a daytime show on the Red Eyed Fly’s open-air stage out back—and even taking into account the home-field advantage, their set was among the weekend’s most memorable. They have a way of owning the crowd, possessing everyone with their echoing yowls and hypnotic sway. Yes, the music is basically Spacemen 3 meets the 13th Floor Elevators meets the Velvet Underground, but what the Black Angels lack in originality they make up for with skill and cunning. Their third and most recent album, 2010’s Phosphene Dream (Blue Horizon), is a little more upbeat than the previous two, so their second Lolla show ought to be better than the first. Also Fri 8/3 at Subterranean, sold out, 21+. Mara Shalhoup

Sharon Van Etten
PlayStation stage
On her latest album, Tramp (Jagjaguwar), Sharon Van Etten continues to transform herself: once a folk-inspired wallflower, she’s now an emotional powerhouse with a sound too big for any one genre. Aaron Dessner of the National produced, enlisting a strong support cast that provides a sturdy armature for Van Etten’s emotional sinew, but that’s not to say Tramp has a big, confrontational sound—there are still plenty of delicate ballads, including the aching “Kevin” and the ethereal “Leonard.” Her voice brings solidity and grandeur to the lovely melodies, and her baroque embellishments never feel overdone. As effective as Dessner’s arrangements are, Van Etten does the heavy lifting, whether she’s anchoring “We Are Fine,” a kind of self-help song for anxiety sufferers, or injecting smoldering sensuality into the martial soul of “Magic Chords.” Peter Margasak

Afghan Whigs
Red Bull Soundstage
Musicians have been comparing, contrasting, and conflating love, sex, and drugs for ages, but few have done it as well as Cincinnati band the Afghan Whigs. Their 1993 masterpiece Gentlemen is the feel-bad album of the century, a monumental tribute to the prodigious unhealthy appetites of front man Greg Dulli, built on a sui generis sound that infused soul music with the fuzz-box muscularity of alternative rock and saturated the entire thing with a virulent desire for self-negation that remains unmatched in pop history. It may sound like torture, but Dulli has an other­worldly knack for making his internal conflicts compelling and fun to sing along to. Late last year the Whigs announced they were reuniting after a ten-year hiatus, and the stunning cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes” they recently leaked proves that the break has done nothing to dull their fearsome edge. Also Sat 8/4 at Metro, sold out, 18+. Miles Raymer

Credit: Roger Ballen

Die Antwoord
PlayStation stage
In one of the greatest media pranks of the LOLcats era, South African rap/EDM/art group Die Antwoord—vocalist Yolandi Vi$$er, producer DJ Hi-Tek, and front man and conceptual mastermind Ninja—used their intensely strange “zef” image (think ghetto-fabulous white trash, to use two horribly loaded terms) to attain quasi-ironic Internet memedom and land a million-dollar deal with Interscope, then used a creative-control clause in their contract to abscond with Ten$ion, an album that Interscope had paid for, and release it on their own label. What Interscope thought they were doing messing with such profanely hilarious, eminently club-worthy future pop in the first place remains a mystery. Also Fri 8/3 at Congress Theater with headliners Nero (DJ set), 18+.Miles Raymer

Red Bull Soundstage
In the five years since the Shins‘ previous album, founder James Mercer has dismissed his bandmates, signed with a major label, and collaborated with Dangermouse as Broken Bells, so it’s hardly a surprise that the new Shins record, Port of Morrow (Columbia), departs from the group’s established sound. The soaring “Simple Song” bubbles with warm, familiar hooks, sung in Mercer’s distinctive upper register, but the old folk-pop simplicity has been replaced by big beats and lots of electronic textures, making for a much more aggressive and commercial sound. Beneath the surface, though, not too much has changed: Mercer remains a meticulous craftsman who’s curious about all kinds of music, and these songs are as sturdy and memorable as anything he’s done, whether they’re dabbling in samba rhythms or 70s AM radio pop. Peter Margasak

Perry’s stage
London EDM group Nero made an impression on the dance-music world in the mid- to late aughts with a series of highly listenable singles, first at the forefront of a drum ‘n’ bass revival and then in the shadowy depths of the UK dubstep scene. After dubstep got a neon-streaked makeover and blew up in America, the group (producers Joe Ray and Dan Stephens and vocalist Alana Watson) upped the commercial ante by adding unabashed pop melodies to the equation. The race is on to be the first dubstep act to achieve the kind of mainstream success enjoyed by club-pop genius Dr. Luke, and Nero sounds way ahead of the pack. Also Fri 8/3 at Congress Theater (DJ set) with openers Die Antwoord, 18+. Miles Raymer

Black Sabbath
Bud Light stage
Twenty years ago, no one would’ve thought of Black Sabbath as the kind of band to play Lollapalooza, and they still aren’t—the fest has never been known for its stellar metal bookings. But their appearance here is remarkable for more reasons than that. This is Sabbath’s only scheduled U.S. concert for 2012, and given that guitarist Tony Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma in January, who knows what the odds are of more next year (or ever again). His illness is especially wrenching news after the death of on-again, off-again Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio from stomach cancer in 2010; the one Heaven & Hell album they made together, 2009’s The Devil You Know, was so surprisingly, tragically good. The original Sabbath lineup had planned to tour this year, but it was not to be, and not even primarily because of Iommi’s health: a contract dispute with founding drummer Bill Ward put the kibosh on that, and the lineup here will be only three-quarters original, with Iommi, front man Ozzy Osbourne, and bassist Geezer Butler joined by drummer-for-hire Tommy Clufetos. As disappointing as Ward’s absence is, reports from Sabbath’s hometown Birmingham concert in May suggest they’re giving it their all and digging deep in their catalog—and there’s a new album in the works. Monica Kendrick

Next: Saturday brings Tune-yards, Frank Ocean, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers