In 2005, a couple years after Lollapalooza’s ill-fated attempt to revive itself as a package tour, like it was the 90s, the festival moved into Grant Park and gave up its roaming ways. Settling down has served it well. For the past two years it’s sold out, bringing in about 75,000 fans per day. The 2010 installment hosts the largest number of acts yet (between 125 and 130, depending on some last-minute schedule shuffling), and the festival’s grounds have expanded west past Columbus to cover about 35 more acres than last year.
As usual the roster runs the gamut from almost complete unknowns to acts that could fill the United Center. The three headliners on the Parkways Stage (at the south end of Grant Park) are all Lollapalooza veterans. Lady Gaga played a daytime set on a small side stage in 2007, when she was herself almost completely unknown (and a brunette); Green Day toured with the fest in 1994, long before they had their own Broadway musical; and Soundgarden, the event’s biggest reunion since Rage Against the Machine in 2008, has been on the bill twice before, in 1992 and then again in ’96.
The Budweiser Stage at the park’s north end is headlined by the Strokes, making their first Chicago appearance since ending a hiatus of several years; Phoenix, who have been slowly but steadily earning new fans in the pop mainstream with the expertly constructed disco-pop of 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (V2); and the Arcade Fire, whose third full-length, The Suburbs (Merge), drops just days before their performance here. Unlike their Madison Square Garden concert on August 5, this appearance won’t be accompanied by a webcast directed by Terry Gilliam.
The festival runs from 11 AM until 10 PM Friday, August 6, through Sunday, August 8. Single-day passes are $90 and three-day passes cost $215; VIP and travel packages are also available. Tickets can be bought at lollapalooza.com or at the festival box office near Michigan and Congress. The main entrance is on Congress just east of the railroad tracks, and re-entry is only allowed for fans with three-day passes. Blankets, strollers, soft-sided coolers, sealed or empty water bottles, and nonprofessional cameras and recording equipment are allowed on the premises; prohibited items include outside food and drink, tents, bikes, alcohol, pets, and professional recording gear. Children under ten are admitted free with an adult ticketholder.
The festival’s eight stages include Perry’s, which focuses on dance and hip-hop, and the family-friendly Kidzapalooza. Among the nonmusical attractions are a farmers’ market, an autograph tent, food courts, a video-game arcade, a booth where you can borrow a Sony Bloggie HD camera for free, an air-conditioned lounge equipped with phone chargers, and the always popular Q101 Hammock Haven. A recycling program offers the opportunity to trade certain recyclables for merchandise.
The profusion of Lollapalooza-sponsored shows elsewhere in Chicago (some of which are noted in the writeups below) includes several on Thursday, before the festival begins: Soundgarden at the Vic, Devo and Dirty Projectors at the Congress Theater, the Big Pink at Lincoln Hall with locals White Car and Night Gallery (see the List), Cymbals Eat Guitars at Schubas, Gaga’s tour DJ Lady Starlight at Berlin, and more.
Among the Friday shows are J. Cole (see the List) at Bottom Lounge with FreeSol, Vonnegutt, BBU, and Sulaiman; Cut Copy at Metro; Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Freelance Whales at Lincoln Hall; MGMT and the Ettes at House of Blues (in the main room and on the Back Porch Stage, respectively); Wild Beasts at the Empty Bottle; and Rogue Wave at Schubas.
Saturday’s offerings include Gogol Bordello at Subterranean, the Cribs at Cubby Bear, the National at the House of Blues, Minus the Bear at Double Door, the Soft Pack at Schubas, and Jukebox the Ghost at Bottom Lounge. Things quiet down a bit Sunday night, with Phoenix and Toro y Moi at House of Blues, a Digitalism DJ set at Lincoln Hall, and Chiddy Bang at Subterranean. For tickets and more info about official satellite shows, see do312.com/lollaaftershows.
If you’re going to Lollapalooza, you’ve probably already got opinions about the festival’s headliners. But the rest of the schedule is so vast it’s hard to feel confident you’re seeing the bands you’d enjoy the most. To give you a few good places to start, four Reader critics, myself included, looked over the lineup and picked out a few acts to highlight. —MR
12:15 PM Balkan Beat Box New York’s Balkan Beat Box, founded by Israeli expats Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan, have always mixed global sounds—especially from the band’s namesake region—into their hybrid of funk and hip-hop, and on BBB’s recent third album, Blue Eyed Black Boy (Nat Geo Music), a typically high-octane Balkan brass band called the Jovica Ajdarevic Orkestar beefs up many of the best tracks. But the music loses some of its bite when rapping front man Tomer Yosef—a serviceable dancehall vocalist—starts singing hippie-dippy one-world cliches, and he’s even less effective when he approximates the soulful rasp of Bob Marley to deliver lines like “I’m dancing in your garden / To ease up all that’s hardened / Plant a seed this morning / To see a flower bloom.” Fortunately those missteps mar only a handful of the album’s tunes, and Balkan Beat Box are such a great live band—they can maintain 100 percent energy for an entire set, all the while fluently handling snaking melodies whose roots are as distant from one another as Marrakech and Skopje—that by the end of one of their shows I’m willing to forgive an awful lot.
4 PM New Pornographers Carl Newman, the primary songwriter for New Pornographers, has never downplayed his love of pop, but lately he’s tended to approach it rather obliquely, surrounding his sophisticated melodies with tricky, detailed arrangements that require careful listening to fully appreciate. On the band’s excellent new album, Together (Matador), a few songs return to the sugar-rush directness of the band’s debut, 2000’s Mass Romantic (none more spectacularly than “Crash Years,” where Neko Case’s plush vocals are at their most extroverted), but most force the audience to take the long route to reach pay dirt—and the results of Newman’s fussy, somewhat dispassionate craftsmanship are more thrilling than ever. The eight-member band is augmented by eight guest instrumentalists, including Annie Clark (St. Vincent) and Zach Condon (Beirut), and even on its own it has an orchestral depth. The arrangements consistently subvert the instruments’ usual roles—the fat opening riff of “Moves,” which you’d expect to hear rendered by a distorted guitar, is instead played by guest cellist Ben Kalb—and on passages like the labyrinthine intro to “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco” the various instrumental parts fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, rather than simply piling layers atop the main riff like so much meringue. Dan Bejar, who writes most of the songs Newman doesn’t, still rubs me the wrong way with his dandified singing, but when he’s generating material as good as “Silver Jenny Dollar” I have a hard time caring. Together is the band’s strongest, most complete effort, with everyone involved performing at his peak. Also at Metro on Thu 8/5 with openers the Dodos, 18+, sold out.
5 PM Fuck Buttons Right from “Surf Solar,” the opening (and best) track on Fuck Buttons‘ 2009 album Tarot Sport (ATP), it’s apparent that the Bristol duo of Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power are flirting with a chunky electro feel, foregrounding beats instead of submerging them beneath entrancing swells of distortion the way they did on their debut, Street Horrrsing. That album shook listeners back into consciousness with half-buried onslaughts of abrasive shrieking, but Tarot Sport relies on cleaner sounds—polished layers of synth and electronics that overlap to form an enmeshing matrix for the blips and beeps pinballing within each loop. Articulate and linear, the record climaxes with the outstanding “Flight of the Feathered Serpent,” where an ominous tiptoeing melody drags just behind a frenetic beat—it’s as unsettling as it is alluring.
5:30 PM Caspa Dance music exists primarily to elicit a bodily reaction from its listener, of course, but even in a field dedicated to physicality Caspa‘s dubstep stands out for its visceral impact. “The Terminator,” from last year’s full-length Everybody’s Talking, Nobody’s Listening! (Fabric), seems designed not so much to provoke headbanging as to snap necks, and his remix of Ludacris’s “How Low” belongs on the PA in the scariest, most intense strip club imaginable. Also tonight at Sound-Bar with headliners Chromeo, 21+.
6 PM Black Keys When the Black Keys started out almost ten years ago, their grimy blues-rock was frankly pretty undistinguished. But the Akron-bred duo have always been looking forward, not back, and with 2008’s Attack & Release, produced by Danger Mouse, they made a quantum leap. Its follow-up, the terrific new Brothers (Nonesuch), is likewise much more sophisticated than the group’s early albums, both in songwriting and production, with a wealth of soul feeling and some deft multitracking that adds extra guitar and the occasional organ part (reproduced live with extra musicians). The biggest change, though, is to the grooves. It used to be that the guitar was out front, but now the music’s all about Patrick Carney’s booming, rock-solid breakbeats, which leaves front man Dan Auerbach plenty of room to express his growing affection for 60s R & B—though his singing is merely serviceable, a bunch of the new songs seem tailor-made for Bobby “Blue” Bland during his Duke Records days. Auerbach’s guitar playing is mostly rhythmic, but the sharp production—raw, deep, and full—turns his economical framework of overdubbed riffs into an irresistible wave of gutbucket funk. Also at Metro on Sat 8/7 with openers the Morning Benders, 18+, sold out.
6:30 PM Jamie Lidell On his previous album, 2008’s Jim, laptop jockey turned singer Jamie Lidell seemed to have fallen for his own line—he apparently believed he’d graduated from cheeky attempts at soul and was finally doing the real thing. Thankfully he’s retreated quite a bit on the recent Compass (Warp), ditching the ersatz Stax and Motown backdrops—he’s not reviving the electronic grooves of Super Collider (his duo with Cristian Vogel) or his first solo album, but he does go for a more sprawling, less idiomatic sound. Lidell hasn’t backed off from his outgoing vocal delivery, full of playful come-ons and faux-Prince shouts, and his songwriting still has a strong R & B thrust, but because his music is no longer a straight genre exercise it’s regained some of its uncalculated, intuitive feel. Though a couple of his performances are half-baked, on Compass he does something that’s more important than nailing every note—he creates surprise.
7:15 PM Jimmy Cliff With a career pushing five decades long, Jimmy Cliff is a national treasure in Jamaica, but he’d be beloved worldwide even if he hadn’t done a thing since the 1972 film The Harder They Come, where he played the starring role and anchored the soundtrack—a near-perfect compilation of turn-of-the-70s reggae—with four of his songs. He broke from reggae with his previous album, 2004’s techno-heavy Black Magic, which was littered with world-music signifiers and big-name guest stars, but the tracks that have leaked so far from his upcoming Existence suggest it’s a return to form—and he’ll be playing plenty of that material here.
1 PM Harlem Pretty much everything I read about this Austin-based trio suggests that the heartbreakers in Harlem are difficult boys. But difficult personalities make the best rock ‘n’ roll, and Harlem’s take on the immortal formula of young dudes strumming twangy guitars and being cute about it has a great mix of flavors: sorta Motown, sorta sock hop, and sorta burnout. I wouldn’t be surprised if their stage patter consists mostly of sneering at their own involvement in Lollapalooza and berating you for liking it, but it can be fun to stand up to that kind of confrontational attitude and
not get down about it—in fact, loving it is pretty punk. So liking Harlem makes you punk? Sure, what the hell. Also at the Empty Bottle tonight with headliners Wavves and openers Ferguson & Geronimo, 21+.
1:15 PM Wild Beasts It’s easy to dismiss Wild Beasts as overdramatic Morrissey enthusiasts, trying and failing to wed theatrical vocals to minimalist indie pop the way Antony & the Johnsons can. Last year’s Two Dancers (Domino) gathered dust on my desk for months before I felt prepared to brave the falsetto of singer Hayden Thorpe, who handles a bit more than half of the lead vocals. The band’s debonair English swagger eventually won me over—maybe Thorpe’s fascinating, meandering singing somehow burrowed into my subconscious and flipped a switch. Brooding and dark, Two Dancers creates a strangely seductive pull: the most dynamic song, “All the King’s Men,” juxtaposes ominous chants with shrill yelps, and the tenor vocals of Tom Fleming have an undercurrent of hothouse salaciousness a la Nick Cave. Also at the Empty Bottle on Fri 8/6 with openers the Kissaway Trail and Lone Wolf, 21+.
2:15 PM Warpaint This all-female quartet from LA have earned a lot of Cat Power comparisons, in large part because their debut EP, Exquisite Corpse (Manimal), is full of pretty, bummed-out-sounding vocal lines indebted to vintage girl-group R & B. A better reference point might be early Cure—both bands play moody and dark but with a precision and heft befitting a tightly wound funk outfit. With a batch of gorgeous songs that have “romantic ache” as their default setting, Warpaint is ready to play one of the few Lollapalooza sets where people swoon for reasons other than sunstroke. Also at Double Door on Fri 8/6 with headliners the Walkmen, 21+, sold out.
7:30 PM Rusko Leeds-born producer Rusko makes dubstep, but he’s got no time for the sinister moods most of the style’s practitioners favor. His debut album, O.M.G.! (Mad Decent), comes on like an raver on two hits of E crashing a goth party, waving around glow sticks and wrecking the perfectly calibrated gloom. With his pop-flavored cheeriness, his taste for retro-fashionable trance synths, and his high-profile collaborations—he’s worked with M.I.A. and will allegedly contribute to the next Britney Spears album—he’s got the potential to take the stubbornly underground genre mainstream.
11:30 AM Health Everyone seems to want to remix LA smooth-horror dance-noise quartet Health, and past a certain point, who can tell if that’s actually a compliment—such a state of affairs creates a sort of chicken-and-egg conundrum, where it’s hard to say who’s influencing whom. But it doesn’t matter which way you slice ’em—slap-bass exercise-video squeeze cheese, twitchy chopped-down house, grimy alien-autopsy dubstep—Health’s stomping synth drama, angel-boy vocals, machinelike drumming, and sharp, reverberant guitar (which always sounds like it’s trembling with cold, even bundled up in plenty of effects) make for some serious dance-floor fist pumping. Also at Reggie’s Rock Club tonight with openers Chandeliers and Red Electric Rainbow, 17+.
2 PM Blitzen Trapper The title track and opening cut of this Portland outfit’s new Destroyer of the Void (Sub Pop) is a multipart six-minute opus that cradles rich vocal harmonies with spacey synth lines, twinned guitar leads, ballad-style piano, and tempo-shifting grooves—elaborate and proggy, it’s as worthy of Queen as it is of the Band, the most obvious previous influence on Blitzen Trapper‘s rustic but cleanly executed folk rock. Nothing else on the record matches its ambition, but all the songs (written almost entirely by front man Eric Earley) tend toward the episodic and cover a wide dynamic range; the group is pushing itself throughout, though occasionally at the expense of the lean, tight focus of its previous releases. Also at Lincoln Hall on Sat 8/7 with openers Avi Buffalo, 18+.