Here we are everybody: the 20th Anniversary of Lollapalooza. Today begins my coverage of the 3-day festival, set to take place in Grant Park this upcoming weekend August 5-7. Most assuredly, a fun time will be had by virtually all in attendance, and this year the whole thing is SOLD OUT. If you haven’t gotten tickets, well, find a scalper or simply don’t go. This year boasts headliners that are bigger than ever before, even if that doesn’t exactly mean better. I’ll argue this isn’t Lollapalooza’s best lineup by a long shot, but who am I to judge when tickets fly off the shelves like they did this year. There’s plenty to do and see all weekend long, so I’ve written up a small little guide to help you make some more interesting music choices this weekend. If you’re not fully educated on these artists I strongly encourage you to either look into them or just take a chance by going to see their live show without ever having heard a note before. Lollapalooza is a solid way to discover new music, and with so much to choose from, good luck trying to avoid hearing something fresh. I’ll be providing you with day-by-day recaps and an overall wrap up as things progress this weekend. Until then though, please enjoy this preview, and I hope it helps when making the tough decisions the schedule sometimes throws your way.
Wye Oak (12:00-12:45)
The Baltimore duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack put out their latest record “Civilian” earlier this year to strong reviews for their folk-tinged rock. The record may be great, but even greater is seeing them perform live. Wye Oak is one of the best-kept secrets in indie rock these days, but don’t expect them to remain that way.
Yet another male-female duo, Tennis hit the hype cycle nicely earlier this year with their debut album “Cape Dory”, a chronicle of a 7 month trip they took down the East Coast in a boat. The songs on that record are breezy and effortlessly catchy, thereby making them perfect for a summer day in the park.
Imagine Animal Collective reborn as a synth pop band (or crossed with MGMT), and you’ll gain some idea of what Reptar sounds like. They’ve only been around for a little over a year, and in that time have picked up a reputation for wildly fun live shows that are a mixture of upbeat pop songs and over-the-top jam sessions.
Smith Westerns (3:30-4:30)
Chicago’s own, The Smith Westerns moved from buzz band to legitimate phenomenon earlier this year with the release of their sophmore album “Dye It Blonde”. Scuzzy and catchy lo-fi melodies blended with youthful energy makes for one dangerously great combination, and it’s something these boys have in spades.
There are few bands on the entire Lollapalooza bill that have earned more hype than Cults have in the last year or so. To think that all that internet chatter was generated purely based on one single (“Go Outside”), and that they hadn’t put out a full length until a couple months ago. Good thing their debut record delivered on that initial promise. They’re set for big things.
The Mountain Goats (5:30-6:30)
John Darnielle is a world-class storyteller. His folk songs are rich in details and emotionally strident. One might suspect that they work better in a smaller club venue than an outdoor festival environment, but thanks to a couple of strong bandmates the whole thing should get hit with an extra dose of energy and exceptionalism.
Bright Eyes (6:30-7:30)
Bright Eyes is a great band on something of a bad streak. The early records were great, when it was just Conor Oberst and his guitar, but the more full band efforts have felt much more plain and uninspired. Still, they never fail to put on an engaging live show, and they do as much justice to their classics as they do the newer stuff. Their latest album, possibly their last, seems to suggest they just might be on the right path again.
Crystal Castles (7:15-8:15)
Anyone that’s ever seen Crystal Castles live before knows that the experience is always unique. Given their time slot, it’ll be interesting to see how they cope with anything less than total darkness. Prepare for strobe lights galore, Alice Glass going beyond nuts and potentially punching somebody out. The spectacle alone would be worth going to see, but the music is really damn good too.
If you want to know what musical excess looks like, watch Muse’s live set. They’ve gotten bigger and bigger around the world, and their pure stadium glory has followed directly in lockstep with that. I doubt Grant Park can contain the insanity they’d like to do. Also, this follows in an “anything but Coldplay” mentality. Muse is the better band anyways, despite their overblown spectacle of a show.
Here’s another secret band you’ll be rewarded with by showing up early on a Saturday. Grouplove is a band united by being world travelers, most of the members having met during a trip to Crete. But in essence they are American and make remarkably strong and pretty catchy indie rock. Their EP released last year was a great start, and their forthcoming full length hopefully holds that same strength.
An Horse (1:00-1:45)
Hopefully you like male-female duos, because here’s another solid one. An Horse are from Australia and are made up of Kate Cooper and Damon Cox. They’re sort of like a Matt & Kim but a little less smiley. They make bright, upbeat and energetic songs that can sometimes come off as formulaic but are still altogether a delight. And hey, Tegan & Sara recommend them too.
While you’re on that male-female duo kick, keep up the streak with Phantogram. Their music is much darker and more haunting compared to all their similar counterparts, but that darkness comes with a sheen of cool. It’s not exactly the best soundtrack for the middle of the afternoon, but the songs are no less engaging and will stick with you.
Friendly Fires (2:15-3:00)
This is exactly what a Saturday afternoon needs. Friendly Fires are on a streak of two great dance rock records in a row, both packed to the gills with super addictive songs that you can’t help but bust a move to. Seriously, if you go see these guys and don’t dance, there’s something wrong with you. Just bring plenty of water to help avoid overheating.
Black Lips (3:00-4:00)
Black Lips have played Lollapalooza before, and while they had earned a reputation for their crazy live sets prior to then, they were on relatively good behavior the last time they hit Grant Park. Still, expect lo-fi energy and plenty of spitting, potentially some inter-band guy-on-guy making out action, and a lot of songs off their excellent new record “Arabia Mountain”.
Death From Above 1979 (4:00-5:00)
With this comes the toughest match-up of the entire festival. Death From Above 1979, reuniting for who knows how long, playing songs from their one and only album. But it was a really damn good album and exceptionally fun to dance and/or mosh to. There have been near riots at some of their shows already this year, with people getting too wild in a confined space. Expect a more organized chaos in Grant Park, but anticipate having a gloriously great time as well.
Big Audio Dynamite (4:30-5:30)
Facing off against DFA1979 is Big Audio Dynamite, and they’re freshly reunited as well but after a long and storied career. This is Mick Jones’ band created after The Clash, and despite multiple lineup changes through the years, it remains one of the more vital bands to come out of the 80s. They were ahead of their time in a lot of ways, and though they’re essentially senior citizens, they still know how to rock harder and better than the majority of bands on the festival bill.
Local Natives (5:30-6:30)
Local Natives are just a whole lot of fun. Their debut record “Gorilla Manor” earned tons of praise and wound up on so many “best of” lists last year. They’ve been touring like crazy, and if you’ve not seen them yet, the vocal harmonies alone are enough to sway you into it. That they’re also super catchy, that’s a bonus.
Lykke Li (7:15-8:15)
Oh my how this Swedish songstress has grown. Lykke Li played Lollapalooza two years ago and had a mid-afternoon slot along with an aftershow at the relatively small Bottom Lounge. Now here she is on her second album and in a pre-headliner spot along with an aftershow at the much larger House of Blues. Her songs are great, she dances on stage and it’s a blast to watch. If only she’d cheer up a bit.
It’s one of hip hop’s best vs. the jam band circus in the most fascinating headliner showdown of the weekend. My Morning Jacket is great, and they deliver one of the better live shows around, but they’ve headlined Lollapalooza multiple times the last few years, were just in Chicago this past June, and will likely be back again within 5 months. Eminem is on the comeback trail. His “Recovery” album has made him a vital voice in hip hop once more after dealing with some bad addiction problems. He doesn’t tour often either, so this is a somewhat rare treat. Don’t miss it if you can stand the guy.
Gold Motel (12:15-1:00)
Chicago’s own, making us proud each and every day. They make fun and catchy indie pop songs, and they’re aided by the fact that none of the other acts (save for Lord Huron) playing in their time slot are very good. Gold Motel just have that “it” factor where you know they’re going to be big, hopefully sooner rather than later.
The Joy Formidable (1:00-1:45)
All love to Titus Andronicus, who are also playing pretty much in this same time slot, but The Joy Formidable win this match-up by a hair. Besides having a very compelling frontwoman in Ritzy Bryan, the band’s debut record “The Big Roar” is very much as the title describes. This trio is quickly building buzz and a fan base as well, so hop on their fast-moving train while you still can.
Rival Schools (1:45-2:30)
It’s fair to call Rival Schools a post-punk or maybe even an alternative rock band. They originally formed more than 10 years ago as a supergroup of sorts, featuring members of bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today. They broke up awhile back, but got back together a couple years ago. They just put out their first album of new material in about 8 years, and they haven’t lost a thing.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (3:00-4:00)
It was easy to call The Pains of Being Pure at Heart a “flash in the pan” band that was more likely to get swallowed up in its own hype before establishing a solid career on it. But then came “Belong”, their second album earlier this year, and it’s no slump. Their sugary sweet lo-fi pop melodies are here to stay, and these kids are a joy to watch bring them to life on stage.
Of all the choices to be making here, going to see Lissie is probably the least popular one. She’s up against the dynamic and exceptionally fun Flogging Molly on one side, and a reunited-and-almost-as-good-as-they-once-were version of The Cars. Lissie is the least known and least compelling of those three. So why does she get this nod? If you know the other two bands, you already know what you’re getting into. If you’re looking for an alternative and want to see and up-and-coming female singer-songwriter with plenty of moxie, Lissie’s your girl.
Portugal. The Man (5:00-6:00)
Really it comes down to recommending these guys or Cage the Elephant, who are playing Lollapalooza for what I believe is the 3rd year in a row. I touted 3 years ago how Cage the Elephant was going to be the “next big thing”, and now that they are, it’s somebody else’s turn. Portugal. The Man are a great band and their live show is effortlessly solid. Avoid the overcrowding at the Cage the Elephant stage.
Best Coast (5:45-6:30)
Yay for Bethany Cosentino. She’s nothing short of a delight, and her sunny melodies on her “Crazy For You” debut album are well worth your time. Not only is the music great, but she’s got some killer stage banter as well. If you happen to have a joint on you, she’ll gladly take if off your hands as well (not to condone the use of…illicit substances).
Explosions in the Sky (7:00-8:00)
These Texas boys have played Lollapalooza before, and do exceptionally well with their instrumental post-rock as the sun begins to set. It’s sort of the perfect way to prepare for the rock and roll onslaught that is to come with a Foo Fighters finale. Wouldn’t you know it, the two stages are right by one another.
Foo Fighters (8:00-10:00)
If electronica’s your thing, Deadmau5 has a whole other side of the park to himself. For the rock fans though, Foo Fighters are a great way to close out a great weekend. Dave Grohl is one of the most enigmatic frontmen around, and the band is coming off of what’s likely their best album in over 10 years. If you’re ever going to see them, now’s the time.