Lollapalooza started as a traveling “alternative” rock carnival, but today it’s a stationary event showcasing music that ranges from rock to hip-hop to pop to electronic. If that doesn’t seem like a tremendously wide range, it’s not just you. As Lollapalooza has evolved toward the mainstream, Riot Fest (based in Chicago, but now held around the country) has pulled away most of the possible punk edges, brought back some “legacy acts” with underground roots like No Doubt and Billy Idol and introduced actual carnival rides. Conversely, having recently completed its tenth rendition in Chicago’s Union Park, the Pitchfork Music Festival can’t be rivaled in terms of their indie cred, and they supplement their bread-and-butter indie rock with a fair amount of rap, electronic and even some retro-folk explorations too. Chicago is either blessed or cursed to host 300,000 Lollapalooza-goers the first weekend in August each year, depending on who you ask, but it’s still the granddaddy of all of these festival options, in terms of longevity, attendance and scope.
Compared to Pitchfork’s three color-named stages and fifty-odd acts, Lollapalooza boasts approximately 150 performances on six corporate-named stages, plus one for Kidzapalooza presented by Lifeway, and Perry’s—named for the founder, Perry Farrell (hopefully he didn’t have to pay himself anything for naming rights)—for DJs and dancing only. So how can you choose who to see and who to hear? Research and listen, and if it’s a tie, try to split the difference. Just try not to pass out when running between the stages in the hot, hot August heat.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Friday holds off on tough choices until the 2pm hour, when St. Paul & The Broken Bones has to compete with BadBadNotGood. If the latter had rapper Ghostface Killah in tow to perform numbers from their excellent collaboration, they would get the nod, but I’m afraid I’d rather hear some authentically-done soul singing as opposed to seventies-set experimental explorations. Since there’s bound to be an abundance of treacly, fake-soul offerings this weekend (I’m looking at you, Sam Smith), I’m going to have to give Paul Janeway and his Birmingham-bred brethren the edge here.
Father John Misty
Assuming you can pass on the pop-punk energy and off-kilter inventions of Cold War Kids, your best choice during the 4pm hour is Father John Misty. Formerly a member of Fleet Foxes, J. Tillman has been a solo artist for three years, and I’m intrigued enough by his echoey tenor vocals and his folksy, tuneful compositions to want to see his set, although admittedly his material might come across more naturally in a tiny Seattle café.
Since both MS MR and Hot Chip offer electro-pop of sorts, I guess I’ll go with the quintet over the duo since there’s safety in numbers or something. While it’s a shame to assume that MS MR will produce less sound (and possibly entirely wrongheaded), it will also be quite a sprint to the Sprint stage and back to the Palladia stage for the next act, so despite their disappointing “Why Make Sense?” record, the one to go all in on is Hot Chip.
The War On Drugs
Friday’s toughest choice is a real coin flip. Do you soak in the soulful Mussel Shoals sounds of Alabama Shakes and their powerful lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard, or allow yourself to be buried in the psychedelic sonic avalanche that is The War On Drugs? Both acts are critically acclaimed and have garnered significant airplay on some of the more adventurous radio stations. If you’ve never seen Howard parlay her passionate mezzo-alto into a groan and then a creaking screech before enunciating with a gut-wrenching wallop, all while guiding her bluesy guitar across powerful songs of love and loss while the rest of the band lurches back and forth like a steampunk stage coach, then go, and God bless. But I’ve seen them shred and sweat at Metro, and I’m confident they can’t top that set in this festival environment, no matter the strength of their latest release, “Sound & Color.” Although it began as a project that was all Adam Granduciel’s baby, these days The War On Drugs is a real band, and you can hear the passion the other players bring to the table in the swirling, poppy maelstrom that is their latest release, the perfectly titled “Lost In The Dream.”
First Aid Kit
Otherwise on Friday there’s something for everyone, but I wouldn’t miss Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit, whose latest release “Stay Gold” was partially inspired by poet Robert Frost. Their acoustic sound is thoroughly rooted in quiet folk, but their winning melodies and beautiful harmonies make them a sleeper that should not slumber in this lineup. In the unlikely event that Young Thug makes his appearance (last I heard he was named in an indictment for shooting up Lil Wayne’s tour bus), you’ll want to get up close to First Aid Kit’s stage so there’s no sound bleed from the alleged Blood performing on the next stage over.
These four Minnesota boys make boisterous, groovy pop with a punky edge, and their debut EP release last November was produced by fellow Minnesotan Alan Sparhawk of Low. If you’re out all night at aftershows, this might be a challenge, but if you can make it this early, they promise a solid set of loose enjoyment.
This quartet met each other at art school in Edinburgh, Scotland, named themselves after celebrated jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, and proceeded to produce some of the most bewildering, off-kilter pop I’ve ever heard. True, there’s a similar sense of humor to Friday’s alt-J, but it always seemed to me that Django Django had the chops and not just the one-dimensional, Zappaesque wackiness.
The purest pop for the nowest people will come in the form of London’s Charlotte Aitchison, and although it might be low on novelty and high in confectioner’s content, it would be worthwhile to cleanse one’s palette, so to speak, and groove to some high-octane modern pop under the Saturday summer sun. So dance until you sweat, but pound lots of water to the pounding beats too.
Death from Above 1979
DFA ’79 will undoubtedly melt any sugary glaze off their sector of Lollapalooza when they bring their sonic crunch and punk velocity to bear. You’ll have no memory of what pop music sounds like after they decimate everything within a hundred yards. Allegedly Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler literally bumped into each other at a Sonic Youth show in 2000, released one album, then reformed ten years later and have now released their sophomore record, “The Physical World.” If you can imagine At The Drive-In meets Local H meets Japandroids meets, oh, I don’t know—Nuclear Assault? That’s some idea of what you’re in for, but you’d be better off just letting the band do the talking with their music.
Perth, Australia’s Tame Impala have just released their third record, “Currents,” and the quintet—led by the auteur of modern-day psychedelia, Kevin Parker—does not disappoint. Could this Kevin be the next Kevin Shields, the man who played the same role in My Bloody Valentine? Well, I’m not sure if he’s as much of a perfectionist, but given that it took MBV over thirty years to release four records, and Tame Impala are on their third record full-length since 2010, he’s clearly got him beat in the volume— er, production—er, sheer amount of music released. Like its predecessors, “Currents” creates an echo-laden environment with soaring tenor vocals that seem to glide across electronic soundscapes like a gull harnessing thermals toward the stratosphere. But on the new record I’m hearing an even denser matrix of electronics that veers close to… gasp! Progressive rock. Yes. Hawkwind. Et cetera. Leave your predispositions and biases at home and embrace the bliss, that’s my advice.
In the choice between Sam Smith and Metallica, I’m choosing Alesso. Given the strides metal has made in the past thirty years, the inclusion of Metallica in the lineup just seems laughable. What was once an exciting mish-mosh pit of metal and tunecraft has melded into rehashed, dirge-ish balladry. It seems like the bell tolled ages ago for Metallica. Likewise, steer away from the middle of the road and avoid the lowest-common-denominator, faux-blue-eyed soul of Smith, and head to Perry’s for a dance party led by Swedish Grammy-nominated producer Alesso. Still in his mid-twenties, he’s already opened for Madonna on her MDNA tour and worked with OneRepublic, Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia, and his fans include Pete Tong and Avicii. His “Heroes” track is truly a revolutionary moment in electronic dance music, illustrating that his stated goal of injecting “emotion into dance music” is more than just immature bloviating.
Seriously, you gotta drag yourself outta bed for Liverpool’s The Wombats, who I guarantee will get the day off to a rousing start. Years back I had the pleasure of seeing them at The Empty Bottle in Chicago, and you won’t find a more exuberant, funny trio anywhere, best exemplified by their early single “Let’s Dance To Joy Division” from their “Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation” album. Since then, the band’s sound and lyrics have matured, but their gift of tunecraft is still intact.
I like to tell the joke that one of Chicago’s best bands, Twin Peaks, were once asked why they named themselves after the David Lynch television series, to which they responded, “There was a TV series? We thought we named ourselves after a Surfer Blood song.” Seriously, though, their relative youth is an asset when they perform live, as they bring such energy to their show that they beg for a word bigger and better than dynamic. But if you live in the Chicago area, like I do, you may have plenty of chances to check them out. I’m intrigued by the echoey, Brit-pop melodies of DMA’s, a trio who hail from Sydney, Australia and whose single “Laced” was acclaimed by Blur’s Dave Rowntree as having “the swagger of Oasis and the musicality and inventiveness of Arctic Monkeys.”
The female/male duo Wild Belle create intoxicating tunes with electronic sounds and a noticeable reggae lilt, and I would definitely groove to them before heading to a much more intense set from Bully. Nashville Scene voted the foursome the best live band in town, but never fear, this isn’t some dastardly country act; Bully are punk-rock ferocity, riot girl attitude and confessional to a fault. Led by audio engineer and lightning rod Alicia Bognanno, the band is fresh off a stellar set at Pitchfork and will be back in Illinois in September for the Pygmalion Fest in Champaign. Have your earplugs ready and be prepared to pogo with passion.
Compared to Pitchfork and Riot Fest, Lollapalooza isn’t brimming over with hip-hop highlights this year, but A$AP Rocky should be a bright spot. While it’s a fair cop to claim that the quality of his set might be contingent on how many guest artists he can bring out, Rocky still has enough inventive wordplay and musical depth to make this a set to see on its own merits.
FKA Twigs’ set in Grant Park will follow shows in South Korea and Japan, and after her performance tonight she’ll be playing Montreal, L.A., Ireland and the Isle of Wight. That’s indicative of her global heritage and scope nowadays. Although Tahliah Debrett Barnett grew up in Gloucestershire, UK, her father was Jamaican and her mother was part Spanish, part English. She started as a backup dancer for the likes of Kylie Minogue, Ed Sheeran and Jessie J. While on the surface she could be pigeonholed as yet another electro-pop artist, her music has more in common with trip-hop artists (and fellow Brits) like Massive Attack, Morcheeba and Portishead. Her slow-burning torch songs will be the perfect change of pace between A$AP and Bassnectar.
Finish out the night by avoiding the talented but histrionic Florence + the Machine and instead drink not from the nectar of the gods, but the nectar of the bass! Not only does San Francisco’s Lorin Ashton have a reputation for his bass sound creating a “palpable frenzy” among the throngs, he travels with his own custom sound system and is well known for an amazing light show. This should be the way to milk the last drops of sweat from your aching body after a long weekend at Lollapalooza.
Craig Bechtel is a freelance writer and has also been a Senior Staff Writer for Pop’stache. He is also a DJ, volunteer and Assistant Music Director for CHIRP Radio, 107.1 FM, and contributes occasionally to the CHIRP blog. As DJ Craig Reptile, you can hear him play music on the FM dial or at www.chirpradio.org most Sunday nights from 6pm to 9pm. He previously worked in radio at KVOE AM and Fox 105 in Emporia, Kansas, and served as a DJ, music director and general manager for WVKC at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he also won the Davenport Prize for Poetry and earned a B.A. in English writing. Craig has been working in various capacities within the hotel and meetings industry for over twenty years, and presently works at a company that uses proprietary systems to develop proven data strategies that increase revenue, room nights and meeting attendance. In his spare time, he also fancies himself an armchair herpetologist, and thus in addition to a wife, son and cat, he has a day gecko and a veiled chameleon in his collection.