Getting through any given day alive might seem easy, but if you consider how fraught the endeavor is with opportunities for failure, it can start to feel amazing that any of us are still here. You may already realize this. And if you do, you probably also realize that getting through the day outdoors at the height of summer while surrounded by tens of thousands of people—most of whom have been exposed to any number of intoxicants, including alternative rock music—poses its own particular set of challenges.
If you intend to survive your experience at Lollapalooza, you need to keep foremost in your mind several basic facts about the human body. For instance, the typical mortal vessel is poorly suited for hanging around in the sun for an entire day in temperatures above 90 degrees. Give your physiology a break occasionally with a trip to the shady groves at the center of Grant Park—or, if you’re the clever and ingratiating sort, try to weasel your way into one of the air-conditioned VIP areas, which always look so tempting and swank. Keep hydrated too. It’s a good idea to take a water bottle or CamelBak that you can fill at the hydration stations scattered around, and if you’re drinking alcohol, I highly recommend drinking a bottle of water for every alchoholic beverage or two. If you’re doing anything more serious than standing around and drinking, getting enough water is even more crucial. And if it’s 98 degrees out and you eat a huge slice of deep-dish pizza, you have no one but yourself to blame for what happens next.
Last year Lollapalooza expanded its grounds to 115 acres from a relatively modest 80, and this year’s festival, which runs Fri 8/5 through Sun 8/7, is the first to completely sell out at that size. (If you’re hoping to buy a ticket at the on-site box office, you’re out of luck.) This means 90,000 people a day filling the park. For the whole weekend that’s 270,000, or slightly more than the population of Fort Wayne—and way more than last year’s record-setting 240,000.
Given those numbers, there’s no way you’ll be able to keep to yourself and mind your own business, so a basic grasp of anthropology and/or zoology is vitally important. Get to know the various types of bro and their markings. A bro with solid red hide is obviously already wasted enough to fail to realize that he’s sunburned to a really dangerous degree, and he might be looking for a fight. One who’s solid red and bears any sort of emblem reading “Rage Against the Machine” is definitely looking for a fight. One who’s red on only one side just woke up from a pass-out and is probably harmless. A bro wearing face paint is on a bunch of ecstasy and is therefore a wild card, but if you’re brave enough to approach him and initiate a conversation about MGMT, you might find yourself rewarded with friendship, protection, or pills.
You’ll also need to know the rules of the realm, as it were. There are entrance gates at the north end of Grant Park on Monroe and west of Buckingham Fountain on Michigan. Folks with three-day passes will get wristbands that they’ll need to wear the entire three days, and if the wristband is stretched or otherwise damaged—perhaps in the process of moving it from one person’s wrist to another’s—it may be deemed invalid. Your bags will be searched upon entry for contraband, which in this case includes not just obvious stuff like weapons, illegal drugs, and alcohol but also outside food and drink (aside from one or two sealed bottles of water up to one liter), aerosol cans (including aerosol sunblock), and professional recording gear. All kosher in the park: blankets, soft-sided coolers, baby strollers, nonprofessional still and video cameras (that is, point-and-shoots and Flip-style camcorders), and empty CamelBaks.
Likewise essential is a working knowledge of Lollapalooza’s often harsh terrain. Given the size of the grounds, getting from one stage to another can involve a considerable hike. Some stages have been renamed or moved, so be sure to double-check the map online to get an idea of how much travel time to factor in when putting together a schedule—and you know you should be putting together a schedule in advance, correct?
There have been some changes to the festival’s layout this year to relieve congestion, but all the same you should try to avoid the reliably traffic-jammed Buckingham Fountain. Maybe take a route that goes through the aforementioned shady trees, or past any of the cooling stations. If you’re heading to the south end of the grounds, be forewarned that the baseball diamonds near the Sony stage and Music Unlimited stage have historically smelled like goose shit. And if you’re considering posting up at one spot for the whole day, the Perry’s tent is a good choice—Lollapalooza cofounder Perry Farrell tends to pack it with DJs and electronic acts that are on average a step above the rest of the weekend’s offerings in quality, and the vibe of the crowd is usually much better as well.
Lastly, you should always stay aware of your own state of mind and of the way the music around you is affecting it. If you feel suddenly filled with a hopeless malaise, you may have accidentally overheard some of Coldplay’s set. If you find yourself experience a vague feeling of rage toward snotty children of privilege, you may have wandered in front of the stage where Dom’s playing, and you should try to avoid millennials doing the 90s retro thing for at least an hour. Strangely nostalgic for Chile even though you’ve never been there? Perhaps you’re listening to one of the three acts—Chico Trujillo, Ana Tijoux, and Los Bunkers—that the fest’s organizers have booked as a nod to the new Lollapalooza Chile, which launched in Santiago this past April. Angry at the very concept of making music? Make sure you haven’t exposed yourself to Skylar Grey, OK Go, or Muse.
Most of these reactions are of course undesirable, so the Reader‘s music writers—myself included—have combed through the Lollapalooza schedule looking for bands we’re pretty sure are safe or even, you know, actually excellent. For our suggestions, just keep reading. —MR
NOON Wye Oak When I caught Wye Oak at the Hideout in 2008, the Baltimore indie duo were as twee as could be and amazingly appreciative of a crowd that numbered maybe 40 people—vocalist-guitarist Jenn Wasner wrapped up their set adorably, saying with a smile, “We don’t have anything else to play, guys. Those are all the songs we know.” The folks at Merge Records clearly knew what they had on their hands: Wasner and drummer-keyboardist Andy Stack have matured with every album, and they’re still with the label for their third, this winter’s beautifully impressive Civilian. Wasner’s sultry drawl leads Wye Oak’s dreamy, shape-shifting indie pop through its transformations—the music is pristine and minimal at heart, but often blossoms into something dissonant and noisy. Despite their atmospheric leanings, the duo can definitely fill up a stage, whether on tour with the Decemberists or at, yeah, Lolla-freakin’-palooza. —KW Sony stage
1 PM Ceci Bastida Tijuana singer Ceci Bastida got her start as a keyboardist with Mexican pop star Julieta Venegas, but with last year’s Veo la Marea (Agua Lava) she struck out on her own. Her effervescent, synth-dominated pop borrows heavily from early new wave, but she adds tweaks of her own to even the most explicitly retro moves—on her bilingual cover of the Go-Go’s tune “This Town,” for instance, she hijacks the arrangement with bright mariachi horns. She sings mostly in Spanish, but you hardly need to understand the lyrics to appreciate her electronic power ballads and fizzy dance workouts. —PM BMI stage
3:30 PM Le Butcherettes This LA trio plays hard-hitting postpunk with a heavy dose of early PJ Harvey on the recent Sin Sin Sin, released on Rodriguez Lopez Productions, the label owned by Omar Rodriguez Lopez of the Mars Volta (who produced and played bass). Le Butcherettes’ 21-year-old singer, Guadalajara expat Teri Gender Bender (born Teresa Suarez), has serious charisma—she can project in a major way, and in her highly charged live performances she might do anything from wear a blood-splattered apron to affect a hokey Russian accent (as she does on “The Actress That Ate Rousseau”). Her talents may be more theatrical than musical at present, but chops are easier to learn than presence. —PM Google+ stage
3:30 PM Smith Westerns After Smith Westerns‘ debut album racked up a massive amount of buzz and breathless endorsements from everyone from Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber to art star Ryan McGinley, a lot of Chicagoans with a weakness for schadenfreude really hoped that these youngsters would stumble on their second effort. No luck: Dye It Blonde (Fat Possum), released in January, is a truly impressive collection of giddy, glammy pop that expands the T. Rex-meets-Black Lips formula of their first record with some moves deftly lifted from Pulp and Blur. —MR PlayStation stage
4:30 PM Kills On the recent Blood Pressures (Domino) the Kills have widened their instrumental palette of their usual scuzzy, minimalist postpunk. The more sanguine tunes, like the torchy piano ballad “The Last Goodbye” and the plush, Blondie-like “Baby Says,” veer close to mainstream rock; the drums are bigger and more sonically complex, and Allison Mosshart’s voice has never sounded fuller, more controlled, or more dramatic. But Jamie Hince’s guitar remains gutbucket raw, and he uses it to create noise and texture far more than he does to carve out classic-rock riffs. The Kills aren’t reinventing the wheel (they’re not really even reinventing their own wheel), but that’s not the only way to make a good album. —PM Bud Light stage
4:45 PM Cults The Manhattan indie-pop duo of Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin (yes, they were once NYU film students—how did you guess?) rocketed to hot-shit status after releasing a modest three-song EP on their Bandcamp page in early 2010. Fast-forward a year and the pair have signed to Columbia, released their self-titled debut full-length, and landed a slot at Lollapalooza. Not too shabby. The youthful glow of Cults‘ addictive music shines through strongest when the songs nod to 60s girl-group pop—the track “You Know What I Mean” is a bit slower (and a heavier jam) than the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go,” but it straight-up nicks bits of that classic tune’s vocal melody. Cults is wide-eyed, candy-coated, and kind of perfect, and Follin’s playful, airy voice wraps it up with a pretty bow—she sounds like she could probably put together a damn fine ice cream social. —KW Google+ stage
5:30 PM Mountain Goats It used to be a stretch to call the Mountain Goats a group. In the 90s and early aughts a typical show featured one or two guys onstage, and one of them—singer-guitarist John Darnielle—totally dominated the proceedings with his vivid narratives about people making bad decisions and his vulnerable between-song banter. But the idea of the Mountain Goats as a band isn’t a fiction anymore; current shows feature an energetic, stylistically flexible four-piece driven by Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, one of the funniest men in rock. And the baker’s dozen of well-wrought tales on their latest album, All Eternals Deck (Merge), prove that Darnielle is still the poet laureate of the self-deluded. —BM PlayStation stage
8:45 PM Girl Talk Girl Talk‘s over-the-top house party of a live show might seem like a gimmick—the toilet-paper cannons, the balloon drops, the mayhem—but it never quite becomes one. The DJ and producer otherwise known as Gregg Gillis keeps that from happening by constantly upping the ante with bigger production values, bigger sets, and more ridiculous antics. A source close to Gillis says he’s going all-out and doing something “very special” for his Lolla set, though it’s not clear how he can top his New Year’s 2010 show at the Congress, which involved building and furnishing half a house and playing in it onstage. A blimp? Hang gliding to the stage from Oprah’s balcony? You’ll just have to check it and see. —JH Perry’s tent
8:45 PM Ratatat Ratatat‘s live set, with its moody beats, dazzling light show, massive video screen, and mega fog machine, might as well be designed for a late summer evening at the city’s biggest music festival. The Brooklyn-based instrumental duo of Mike Stroud and Evan Mast is still trying to top the high-water mark it set with its killer sophomore album, 2006’s Classics, which fused the raw, funky electro-rock of the group’s self-titled debut with drugged-out, ethereal grooves. While LP3 was a bit of a misstep, Ratatat returned to form on last year’s LP4 (XL), shifting moods with confidence and panache from the eerie tension of “Bilar,” with its quasi-orchestral synths, to the eccentric exuberance of “Neckbrace,” a loopy frolic loaded with froggy croaks and gurgles. Evening at Lollapalooza inevitably takes on a sort of rave vibe, with glow sticks and necklaces everywhere, and it’ll be in full effect during Ratatat. —KW Google+ stage
12:45 PM Disappears Given that Disappears take after 70s visionaries like Suicide, Wire, and Neu!, with a sound that’s all about reducing things down and repeating them, the band may seem like an unlikely choice for lunchtime rocking in the sun. But if we get typical August weather, before the day’s out you’re going to feel lightheaded anyway, so that everything seems to shimmer—Disappears’ reverberant guitar licks, propulsive grooves, and carefully modulated dynamics will just get you there faster and more enjoyably. The four-piece has been touring this past month with its newest member, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, so its members should be particularly in tune with one another. —BM Bud Light stage
1:30 PM Chico Trujillo Chilean band Chico Trujillo has been tweaking cumbia for ten years or so, coloring the music’s shuffling, syncopated groove with fat horn arrangements, jaunty accordion, and generous flashes of surf guitar, skanking ska rhythms, and cocktail-lounge vibraphone. They’re a party band at heart, perfectly happy to piss off purists if it keeps the dance floor packed. —PM PlayStation stage
2:15 PM Friendly Fires Friendly Fires looked destined for greatness when they dropped their self-titled debut in ’08, seemingly out of nowhere (actually St. Albans, UK, not far from London); it’s a jubilant, uplifting album, and sounds like what might’ve happened if the Gibb brothers had collaborated with Gang of Four. Its follow-up, this year’s Pala (XL), doesn’t quite surpass the brilliance of the trio’s first release, but their funky, disco-laced spin on postpunk hasn’t lost a step—what the new record lacks in hooks and subtle emotional colors, it makes up for by capturing the thrilling energy of the group’s hip-shaking live shows. —LG Bud Light stage
3 PM Black Lips In the mid-aughts the Black Lips conquered a large swath of the underground rock scene with a very specific package of music and image, part of which was a gritty, treble-heavy recording aesthetic that might have rendered their songs unlistenable if it weren’t for the strength of the hooks lurking beneath all that hiss. So it raised more than a few eyebrows when the news went out that the self-described “flower punks” were recording with Mark Ronson—still best known for producing Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. Just as some fans had feared, the resulting album, Arabia Mountain (Vice), sounds pretty slick, at least by Black Lips standards—there’s even a horn section—but the cleaner, clearer production turns out to be a good fit for the group’s songwriting, which seems to get sharper with every passing year. —MR PlayStation stage
4 PM Death From Above 1979 If you need to believe that the early-90s alternative spirit of the original Lollapalooza hasn’t been totally lost in the current festival’s fog of corporate advertising and frat rock, here’s a fairly compelling piece of evidence: a short-lived, barely popular dance-punk duo with an abrasive streak a mile wide has reunited after five years of inactivity and nabbed a more-than-decent spot on this year’s schedule. Some of Death From Above 1979‘s crowd today will probably be folks who only know about the band because of the success bassist Jesse Keeler subsequently enjoyed with the dance-music project MSTRKRFT, and that ought to make the set even more interesting: the skull-rattling punk tunes that make up the bulk of DFA 1979’s sole proper album, 2004’s You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine (Vice), are in such stark contrast to the MSTRKRFT’s sleek, pop-friendly jams that I’m genuinely curious to see how people react. —LG Bud Light stage
4:30 PM Big Audio Dynamite Mick Jones has spent most of the past 30-odd years living in the shadow of his erstwhile bandmate Joe Strummer, and it’s about time the man got his due. Not only did he write more of the best Clash songs than a lot of people give him credit for, he proved himself a visionary with his follow-up band Big Audio Dynamite. He predicted an age when rock bands could play with samplers or drum machines and genre lines would become permeable enough that punk, pop, reggae, hip-hop, and dance music could coexist on the same album—and he did it a good two decades before those ideas caught on in the mainstream musical world. —MR Music Unlimited stage
5 PM Deftones Deftones might not have been the horse (or should I say pony) you would’ve bet on to outlast the nu-metal groups they used to get lumped in with, but by evolving creatively they’ve become that rare kind of rock band that enjoys a varied and successful career long after the trend that propelled them to popularity has died. On last year’s Diamond Eyes (Reprise/Warner Brothers) the Sacramento band molds an aggressive wall of sound into a set of uplifting, fist-pumping anthems—some are practically full-on ballads—and keeps listeners on their toes with disarmingly fearless experimentation. At the midway point of a three-day summer festival, Deftones ought to be more refreshing than a $6 bottle of water. —LG PlayStation stage
6 PM Ween The surprise success of 1992’s Pure Guava and its breakout single, “Push th’ Little Daisies,” transformed Ween almost overnight from a couple of basement-dwelling weirdos who claimed to be addicted to huffing Scotchgard into viable unit shifters, in the process apparently convincing Elektra to bankroll them through a series of strange experiments in prog rock, country, and being a jam band. Ween got quite a bit of traction in the latter arena, and even as they’ve continued their obscure stylistic wandering they’ve become a serious—albeit seriously odd—presence on the jam circuit. There’s no use trying to predict what their Lollapalooza set’s going to sound like, but if I were a gambling man I might put a couple bills on an extended rendition of the scatological epic “Poop Ship Destroyer.” —MR Bud Light stage
6:30 PM Cee Lo There’s something seriously wrong with you if you don’t have a soft spot for roly-poly southern hip-hop crooner Cee Lo Green. He’s constantly reinvented himself—from his Goodie Mob days to the Gnarls Barkley era to his newly reinvigorated solo career—while staying true to his quirky, authentic, edgy-but-accessible aesthetic. Plus, the man can sing. Green’s lyricism is infectious; he’s witty and ingratiating and knows how to cut to the chase. Case in point: Where else this weekend can you scream along (with glee!): “Fuck you, and fuck her too“? —MS Music Unlimited stage
7:15 PM Lykke Li For her fantastic second album, Wounded Rhymes (LL/Atlantic), Lykke Li worked again with producer Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn & John, trying on the Phil Spector wall-of-sound approach, albeit with much sparser instrumentation. Heavy quasi-tribal drums ring with miles of reverb, and old-school girl-group harmonies shadow Li’s sweet cry. Muffled organ chords, simple guitar patterns, and floor-rumbling bass tones fill out the sonic landscape, and while about half the tunes wed their booming beats to harmonically minimalist melodies where there’s hardly a chord change, the others borrow transparently from Brill Building pop, doo-wop, and 50s dream pop. The echo that swaddles everything mutes the ebullience of Li’s frothy melodies, an appropriate effect considering the content of her lyrics, written in solitude in Los Angeles after a painful breakup. —PM Google+ stage
8 PM My Morning Jacket My Morning Jacket, perhaps more than any other band with similarly humble alt-rock roots, have what it takes to become huge. They’ve adapted their sound as they’ve graduated from bars to festivals, making their intimate and delicate countrified ballads work in front of stadium-size crowds—and if that’s not your thing, they’ve got progressive-rock anthems that clock in around six minutes and rate around colossal. They’re the jam band for people with enough self-respect to not be into jam bands. —JH Bud Light stage
8:45 PM Beirut Zach Condon and his sextet Beirut are taking their first major national tour in four years—they’ll return to Chicago for a gig at the Congress on September 26—in advance of The Rip Tide (Pompeii), due out at the end of August. To my ears it’s the group’s best album: Condon seems to have finally curbed his dilettantism, reining in the usual stylistic globe-trotting to focus on actual songs, which are uniformly strong. You can still hear bits of the traditions that have captivated him—Romany music, chanson, Mexican bandas—but now he enlists them in service of something bigger than curiosity. —PM Google+ stage
12:45 PM Titus Andronicus When Titus Andronicus‘s second record, The Monitor (XL), came out early last year it seemed like a tough sell: a concept album loosely based on Civil War history where the songs frequently flirt with or exceed the eight-minute mark, performed by a band that seemed to want to sound like Black Flag covering Born to Run. But The Monitor has found firm footing in the indie-rock world, and the band has used its 15 minutes of blogosphere fame to frequently, loudly, and eloquently promote an ethos rooted in classic punk and indie ideals—which has further enhanced their standing with the people who think those values still have some use left in them. —MR Music Unlimited stage
2:30 PM Lia Ices On her second album, Grown Unknown (Jagjaguwar), Brooklyn singer Lia Ices balances the ethereal with the muscular, shaping elegant pop songs that both billow and throb. Her breathy quiver, wordless coos, and elongated aahs connect her to the unfortunate tradition of overwrought post-Sarah McLachlan indie pop, but she resuscitates those worn-out mannerisms by using them as emotional punctuation rather than empty ornamentation. Her strong songs, tinged with folky melancholy, tend to use complex episodic structures: “Daphne,” for instance, opens with simple acoustic guitar, elegant strings, and gossamer singing that sounds as much like Joan Baez as it does Feist, then grows in power and density by adding lush harmony vocals, martial piano, and propulsive drums in rapid succession. —PM BMI stage
3 PM Cool Kids This Chicago duo—MC Mikey Rocks and producer/MC Chuck Inglish—looked ready to be the next big thing in hip-hop when they released their 2008 debut EP, The Bake Sale, but contract disputes with their label at the time, Chocolate Industries, delayed their first full-length, When Fish Ride Bicycles, for years. Last month the Cool Kids finally released the album digitally via Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound, and though their signature style—sparse electro beats and nods to vintage rap acts like EPMD—isn’t as eye-opening as it was three years ago, there’s still a lot to love about the record. And after several years of heavy touring, the Cool Kids are reliable party starters, even in front of massive festival crowds. Also Fri 8/5 at Reggie’s Rock Club. —MR Perry’s tent
3 PM The Pains of Being Pure at Heart Over their past few releases—most notably the recent single “Belong“—Brooklyn’s Pains of Being Pure of Heart have grown up and grown loud. They’ve gone from being so twee they sounded a little scared of themselves to being a band in the tradition of the Smiths or Lush—fey vocals keeping up a thread of quiet sadness while big, growling guitars envelop the entire song. What was sweet and virginal about them before is now quick and carnal. They’re a real rock band, full of knowing and distortion pedals. —JH Sony stage
4:15 PM Flogging Molly This LA-based seven-piece went to Asheville, North Carolina, to record its fifth studio album, The Speed of Darkness (Borstal Beat), and came away with a smooth and expansive pint-hoisting sound that’s got more than a hint of country swing. Flogging Molly have never been the scrappiest of the Celtic punks (both the Tossers and the Dropkick Murphys sound like they could take ’em in a donnybrook), but their precision and polish serve them well when they power up their angry working-man anthems and sea chanteys with arena-rock flourishes—after all, to make a revolution, you need more people than can fit in a cozy pub. —MK Bud Light stage
5:45 PM Best Coast In case you haven’t noticed, Bethany Cosentino is really into cats. And weed. And boyfriends. Or at least would-be boyfriends. That makes her not terribly unlike most southern California songwriters of the female-beachy-hipster variety—except that her band is better than most of theirs. Best Coast sounds like perfect 60s-inspired surf rock that’s not trying too hard to sound like perfect 60s-inspired surf rock. Cosentino seems comfortable in her skin, the kind of person with whom you might spend an afternoon rolling spliffs and spilling secrets. I wish she were my girlfriend (platonically speaking). —MS Google+ stage
7 PM Explosions in the Sky As you might already know if you’ve seen Friday Night Lights (either the movie or the TV series), Austin’s Explosions in the Sky are in the business of scoring cathartic moments for burly dudes playing high school football. The instrumental postrock quartet has been hanging radiant, delay-heavy guitar lines over driving rhythms for a decade and counting—these guys understand their strengths, and they’ve got the collective resolve to stick with them. This spring’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Temporary Residence)—the band’s first album in four years—is as rock solid as ever, with quiet wisps of airy guitars ambling around till they meet up and head off to the races during one of EITS’s signature crescendo freak-outs. It’s a formula that will just always work. Hell, I’m getting inspired to go run an ultramarathon or some shit as I sit here writing this at 11 PM on a Thursday night in my miserably humid, unair-conditioned apartment. —KW Sony stage
7:15 PM Modeselektor Given how faddish the global dance-music scene can be, it’s impressive that Modeselektor have been able to stay popular for so long without sounding like they’re jumping on any bandwagons. You can often hear traces of trendy subgenres like bloghouse and UK funky in their DJ sets and original productions, but the duo always frame them within the aesthetic of Berlin techno, bending their influences to its clean lines and minimalist structures—and they’ve got just enough of a sense of humor to keep things from sounding oppressively stiff and Teutonic. —MR Perry’s tent