The best of Lollapalooza: Our critic’s musical shopping list
By THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org August 1, 2012 6:40PM
Florence Welch and Florence + The Machine take the Bud Light stage from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. | Getty Images/Mark Metcalfe
FEATURING: Black Sabbath, the Black Keys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Avicii, Frank Ocean, Justice, Jack White and more
♦ Noon-10 p.m. Aug. 3-5
♦ Grant Park
♦ Sold out
♦ For complete schedules, maps and info visit lollapalooza.com
Updated: August 2, 2012 9:54PM
Lollapalooza — because of its typical smorgasbord, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink lineup — has been called “Wal-Mart on the lake.” But what about the “Wal-Mart in the desert” or the “Wal-Mart on the farm”?
Coachella (outside of Los Angeles) and Bonnaroo (in rural Tennessee) exist alongside Lollapalooza (in Chicago’s downtown Grant Park) as the nation’s big three annual summer music festivals. Despite Lollapalooza’s origins two decades ago as a curated, cutting-edge alt-rock festival, today all three fests serve up broadly programmed, wide-net lineups featuring every conceivable pop genre.
“Bonnaroo is based a little more on the hippie, jam-band thing. Coachella could be a little more edgy than we are,” says Charlie Jones, one of the partners in Texas-based C3 Presents, the producers behind Lollapalooza. “We want to keep as many genres of music as possible. Music trends change, so we can adapt. When we started this, electronic music was not as big; look at what Perry’s stage has become now. Who knows what will be five years from now? But we’ll have it.”
Jones is looking deep into the future because Lollapalooza just renegotiated its agreement with Chicago for its use of the city’s most prominent public park. The new deal grants Lollapalooza the space each August for the next 10 years.
But with only so many festival-level pop stars to go around each summer — this year, Lollapalooza headliners the Black Keys and the Red Hot Chili Peppers also previously played both Coachella and Bonnaroo, as have some smaller acts such as Childish Gambino and the Shins — how will Lollapalooza carve out its own identity over the next decade in Chicago?
“Naturally, we’re all going to have some of the same stuff, but when you get down deeper into the lineup I think you can see a different philosophy at Lollapalooza than the others,” Jones says.
“We have enough of an identity that Black Sabbath wanted to come play Lollapalooza. When you look at that booking, you might think Sabbath is a little bit — what’s the appropriate word? — maybe not right down the middle of the plate for us. But we’ve found since they were booked, looking at online talk and social networks, that people from 18 to 50 are excited about it. The fans that bought a ticket because of Perry’s stage or just to see Jack White are thinking, ‘When Sabbath goes on, I’ve got to check that out.’ ”
That is, you go to Wal-Mart to pick up some milk and eggs, but you get distracted by the display of vintage toys.
Here’s my suggested shopping list from this weekend’s annual pop-up pop music supercenter:
INDIE ROCK BLOCK
Lollapalooza 2012 opens with a promising block of indie-rock in the south, including Wisconsin native Alex Schaaf’s Yellow Ostrich (interesting stuff that mixes Daniel Johnston quirks with Andrew Bird’s organic scope), Dr. Dog (the East Coast’s funkier answer to Camper Van Beethoven psych-rock) and the dreamy ’60s soundscapes of Australia’s Tame Impala.
Yellow Ostrich: 1:30-2:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Sony stage
Dr. Dog: 2:15-3:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Red Bull Soundstage
Tame Impala: 3:15-4:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Sony stage
The second reunion of Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs comes at a moment when R&B has infiltrated pop to a much greater degree than when Greg Dulli and his muscled band were applying its forms to their ’90s alt-rock. (They covered Frank Ocean recently. Onstage special guest?!)
4:15-5:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Red Bull Soundstage
A ROOTSY PAIR
Seattle’s the Head & the Heart brings an unusual injection of quality roots music to Lolla’s main stages. The sextet’s self-titled debut is rich and solid, speaking to lovers of the Jayhawks, Mumford & Sons or the Great Lake Swimmers. After that, perennially praised SoCal band Dawes returns to this festival after two acclaimed soft-rock albums and some gigs as Jackson Browne’s backing band.
The Head and the Heart: 5:15–6:15 p.m. Aug 3 on the Sony stage
Dawes: 7:15-8:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Google Play stage
The new album from Boston’s Passion Pit (Michael Angelakos and friends) is bouncy, sunny, positively jubilant — musically speaking. The shimmering synths, bubbly loops and bright beats will be excellent outdoor festival music. Just don’t listen to the sad, sad words.
6-7:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Bud Light stage
Anthony Gonzalez says he penned his stellar single “Midnight City” as a soundtrack to the little films in his head, and it’s a cinematic sensation: even in concert, where the touring band is energetic and spunky, at least for a bunch of knob-twiddlers. The band’s visual scope will soon shape the score to an upcoming Tom Cruise sci-fi film — news that’s either fist-pumping or shark-jumping, too soon to tell.
7:30-8:30 Friday on the Sony stage
BLACK KEYS VS. BLACK SABBATH
When the popular Black Keys — guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney — played United Center in March, they filled the space with their soulful jams and proved themselves arena-worthy despite their numbers. Friday night, they close Lollapalooza on its largest-capacity stage. Great as they are, it’s bewildering that their competition, deeply influential British hard-rock legends Black Sabbath, are in the north at the smaller main stage. Reunited (three of the four original members) after 15 years, Ozzy & Co. are even recording new music together. This is the only, repeat only, North American concert this year by the newly reconstituted band. So start with Sabbath, then drift toward the Keys if Ozzy’s completely out of it.
Black Keys: 8:30-10 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Red Bull Soundstage
Black Sabbath: 8:05-10 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Bud Light stage
PERRY’S STAGE PICK: Madeon
French dubstep DJ Hugo Leclercq’s viral video for his “Pop Culture” remix showcases a teen talent with a cutting-edge EDM tool. Sounds like Girl Talk, looks like less work.
4:30-5:30 p.m. Aug. 3 on Perry’s stage
A triple shot of excellent R&B: Chicago’s own JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, a masterful funky bunch and pros at crowd control, kicks things off with a kick. Stay nearby for Aloe Blacc (E. Nathaniel Dawkins), a sly soul singer who’ll surely perform his hit “I Need a Dollar.” Then head north for the justly ballyhooed Alabama Shakes, a fiery quintet playing country-soul that both Skynyrd and Otis could love.
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound: noon-12:45 p.m. Saturday on the Sony stage
Aloe Blacc: 2:15-3 p.m. Aug. 4 on the Red Bull Soundstage
Alabama Shakes: 4:15-5:15 p.m. Aug 4 on the Bud Light stage
One-hit wonder? Probably, but fun.’s theater show here in April was a spirited and lively set that didn’t merely kill time until the trio finally played their record-breaking No. 1 smash “We Are Young.” Regardless of what happens as they age, this band is definitely fun. Period.
4:45-5:30 p.m. Aug. 4 on the Google Play stage
One of the weekend’s most anticipated acts, mysterious singer-rapper Abel Tesfaye, a k a the Weeknd, arrives at Lollapalooza with Drake’s stamp of approval and three highly acclaimed mixtapes to his credit. The Toronto artist’s chilly, detached approach to R&B would be as at home among Pitchfork’s waves of chill as it will be amid Lolla’s sweaty house party.
6-7 p.m. Aug. 4 on the Red Bull Soundstage
Bobby Ray Simmons Jr. opened Lollapalooza 2010 in the broiling morning sun, but it was clear even then he was a triple threat: a rapper with flow, a capable singer and a pretty hot guitarist. Two years later, the only thing that’s changed is his stature. What he’s doing on the DJ stage, though, is anyone’s guess.
4:30-5:30 p.m. Aug. 4 on Perry’s Stage
It’s not as if Ernest Greene’s electronic pop project Washed Out does anything that unusual, but it’s a fresh and invigorating combination of drowsy synths, indistinct vocals and truly washed-out sounds.
6-6:45 p.m. Aug 4 on the Google Play Stage
FRANK OCEAN VS. AVICII VS. RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
Saturday’s final acts couldn’t be more clearly delineated — all depending on how you like to dance. No dancing skills? Head south and nod your head to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose players can still lay down some seriously funky rock jams. A dreamy nightclub twirler? Follow the thunk-thunk north for Swedish house DJ Avicii (Tim Berg). At Lolla with a date? Get close with Frank Ocean who, aside from causing a stir with his recent coming-out letter, is reinventing R&B with style and smarts and is the sharpest act on stage tonight.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: 8-10 p.m. Aug. 4 on the Red Bull Soundstage
Avicii: 8:30-10 p.m. Aug. 4 on the Bud Light Stage
Frank Ocean: 8:45-9:45 p.m. Aug. 4 on the Google Play Stage
PERRY’S STAGE PICK: Skream & Benga
The British dubstep legends join forces again for a set of bass beats that builds tension but rarely breaks all the way through. This set will be tightly wound.
5:45-6:45 p.m. Aug. 4 on Perry’s Stage
Sunday’s headline — though not a headliner — is the presence of this revered Icelandic enigma, on the road for the first time since 2008. The band, led by singer-guitarist Jonsi Birgisson, has survived its hurricane of hipster hype by delivering powerful, versatile, mysterious music for nearly 20 years.
4-5 p.m. Aug. 5 on the Red Bull Soundstage
AMADOU & MARIAM
This couple from Mali (both blind) plays some of the most vibrant, compelling pop on the globe. They played Lolla in 2008, and their new album features players from TV on the Radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
5:15-6:15 p.m. Aug. 5 on the PlayStation Stage
Part of this year’s Swedish invasion, this trio of pop producers (two of them helmed Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and won a Grammy for it) creates warm, good-natured synth-pop with focused beats and broad appeal.
7:15-8:15 p.m. Aug. 5 on the Sony Stage
FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE
A Kate Bush for the millennials, Florence Mary Leontine Welch and her musical machine have garnered wide acclaim with sweeping, ornate pop singles like “Dog Days Are Over.” Welch suffered a vocal injury two weeks ago, but the band’s tour started on schedule.
6:15-7:30 Aug. 5 on the Bud Light Stage
JUSTICE VS. CHILDISH GAMBINO VS. JACK WHITE
Another clear choice tonight, starting with another act, the Paris dance duo Justice, escaped from the Perry’s stage lineup for another north field rave. Meanwhile, sitcom star Donald Glover (“Community”) continues convincing us that his hip-hop alter-ego, Childish Gambino, is serious business. But the action is with Jack White, a dependable performer whose solo debut, “Blunderbuss,” earlier this year proved that traditional rock tropes can still foster immense creative potential.
Jack White: 8:15-10 p.m. Aug. 5 on the Red Bull Soundstage
Justice: 8:30-10 p.m. Aug. 5 on the Bud Light Stage
Childish Gambino: 8:45-9:45 p.m. Aug. 5 on the Google Play Stage
PERRY’S STAGE PICK: Little Dragon
This Swedish quartet should confound the ravers at Perry’s — but in a good way. Together for more than 15 years, Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano has applied her cool, detached voice to the dance mixes of other artists from DJ Shadow to the upcoming next Big Boi album. Returning to Chicago after a set at last year’s North Coast festival, this band’s deeply soulful minimalism has enough bleeps and beats to hold down the tent but also a sense of live cool that stage doesn’t get much of and should thoroughly enjoy.
3:15-4:15 Aug. 5 at Perry’s Stage