Anniversaries like Lollapalooza’s twenty-fifth seem tailor-made to make people like me feel old. Back in the summer of 1991, the traveling music tour/carnival freshly founded by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell set up at the outdoor venue Sandstone just outside Kansas City, and I was there. Since then I’ve learned festival-going tips like: don’t forget your hat, wear lots of sunscreen and pack more, time your waiting in line for bottled water so you don’t miss Ice-T’s set, or at least position yourself way up front so you can be soaked by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor throwing cups of water into the crowd. Of course, back in my day (the grizzled, ancient veteran grumbled), Lollapalooza was only one day; this year it’s four, giving new meaning to the term endurance contest (also: wear comfortable shoes). And every year there are more acts I haven’t heard of, and maybe you’re in the same boat. But if I was there (between blood pressure checks and colonoscopies), here is what I would want to see and hear.
The best debut record you’ve never heard was released by this Southern California band in 2004. It was produced by one of their early champions, T-Bone Burnett, who had signed them to his DMZ label, a short-lived offshoot of Columbia, a partnership with directors the Coen Brothers. But Burnett’s production background (Mellencamp, Merchant, Counting Crows) is not indicative of Autolux’s sound. It’s more helpful to know that their other champions include Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Portishead. And oh, yeah, one member of the trio is in another little Los Angeles band called Failure. From Autolux you should expect a chaotic, anarchic blend of post-rock, space pop and shoegaze squalls punctuated by Carla Azar’s expert drumming and softly cooing lead vocals, along with pummeling bass and soaring electric guitar parts. Given they’ve just released their third record since forming in 2001, “Pussy’s Dead,” and have historically not toured with great regularity, it would be a shame to sleep on this set.
New York’s Yeasayer has been around for ten years, but for some reason it took “Amen & Goodbye,” released April 1, to really gain traction for me. There were moments of greatness in their earlier music, but nothing that “stuck” in my head until I heard the lead single “I Am Chemistry.” The cut catalyzes chemical formulas into a sly but winning pop formula; it’s is one of my favorite rock tracks of the year so far, and everything else I’ve heard from the record is solid too. In addition, Yeasayer likes to undergird their compositions with a rhythmic intricacy that really hits my sweet spot, they are not afraid to play with fun vocal doo-wop tropes and fully embrace harmonies as a key ingredient to make their songs compelling. If you can imagine a lighter-stepping Franz Ferdinand, or The Fixx with a sense of humor, you might have an idea of what to expect from this trio.
Mexican-Japanese rapper Towkio hails from Chicago’s Northwest Side and is a member of the SaveMoney collective; founding member Vic Mensa is featured on his March single, “Gang With Me” and fellow member Joey Purp is featured on his new single “Playin’ Fair.” Towkio ain’t playing fair, judging how good the music is, and if his set comes close to recreating last year’s awesome “.WAV Theory” mixtape, this one is not to be skipped. Without having seen him live previously, it’s hard to know how Towkio can carry a stage on his own, especially given how ever-present his guests were on his last release. Conversely, given that Vic Mensa will also play Lollapalooza, and most members of the SaveMoney crew are Chicago-based, Towkio’s time might be a good time to spot numerous guests of greater renown.
In June 2009, George Reid, formerly of the British band Colour, met Aluna Francis when he was tasked with remixing a track by Francis’ band, My Toys Like Me. They combined first names and musical styles, and the electronic music duo released their first full-length in July 2013. Since then they’ve worked with Disclosure and signed to Interscope last year; their sophomore full-length is due this September. AlunaGeorge’s music is undergirded by Reid’s pulsating synthetic rhythms and laid over by Francis’ helium-high vocals and abstract yet personal songwriting. Their music allows the listener to groove or dance like crazy, so it offers dance-floor flexibility contingent on the mood and July temperature.
The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach formed The Arcs last year and the new band’s debut, “Yours, Dreamily” dropped in September. That title nicely encapsulates the sound of The Arcs: freed from the electric blues constraints of his native duo, Auerbach is able to exhibit his talent for crafting lovely melodies from compositions as subtle as a summer breeze. Calling this Auerbach’s band could be giving short shrift to other members of the sextet: drummer Richard Swift is a producer, engineer and member of The Shins (and touring bassist for the Keys) and Nick Movshon has played bass with a wide range of talents including TV On The Radio, Charles Bradley and Wu Tang Clan, as well as Bruno Mars (and the Keys). Having said that, it’s Auerbach singing lead and writing the songs, and what he’s created are tracks like the muscular single “Outta My Mind,” which is a psych-rock milieu with a strong inflection of blue-eyed soul. The Arcs’ sound is more complex, better produced and can easily conquer arena-size spaces, but it is rooted in the garage rock ancestry of fuzzy guitar-driven pop via Lenny Kaye’s “Nuggets” series.
The Last Shadow Puppets
They might not be the Arctic Monkeys, but since they have the same leader, they come close. Alex Turner formed The Last Shadow Puppets with Miles Kane of the Rascals and James Ford from Simian Mobile Disco in 2007; they released their debut, “The Age of the Understatement” in 2008, and the follow-up, “Everything You’ve Come To Expect,” earlier this spring, now with Zach Dawes of Mini Mansions on bass. The supergroup of sorts embrace their penchant for rock, and I’m embracing one of my “Bad Habits” in the form of my leaning toward rockism. That’s assuming I wouldn’t get sucked in by J. Cole’s hip-hop renderings on the Samsung stage, following The Arcs at Lakeshore.
Assuming you’re not too groggy from night one of aftershows, if you can make it to HÆLOS, by all means, do so. The London trio are promoting their debut on Matador, “Full Circle,” a spooky rendition of twenty-first-century blues akin to a more upbeat Portishead, but might also be recommended if you like Chairlift, Metric, Chvrches, etc. “It’s the music you put on after the club,” HÆLOS’s Lotti Benardout says, so it’s anyone’s guess how that will translate to noon on a Friday; but it might be the perfect antidote to a post-hangover sun soaking. If you can make it, their set will be a laid-back, eerie way to kick off your Friday.
Founding member of Pivot Gang, Saba (a.k.a. Tahj Malik Chandler) was recently voted best new hip-hop artist by the Chicago Nightlife Awards, and he’s definitely deserving of that accolade. He was making beats at the age of nine, and he’s worked with a virtual “who’s who” of Chicago rap talents. But when his next record drops this fall, Saba is ready to stand on his own, and he’s definitely got the hip-hop chops, musical talent and creative rhymes to make it happen. Maybe in a few years he’ll be in a better time slot, but for this year, expect him to get the crowd energized, regardless if they’re loyalists or curious bystanders. If for no other reason, when his next record breaks him worldwide, you can say you saw Saba “back in the day.”
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
Frank Turner used to front punk band Million Dead, and apparently he used to drink a lot too. Now on his sixth solo album, Turner has been on a long road out of recovery, and his most recent album, although not as strong as his previous release, was still one of the most criminally ignored albums of 2015. Turner might be more at home on a Riot Fest stage (which is where I was first impressed by his live show a few years ago), and he may have sonically mellowed since his early days, but he’ll still bring a welcome injection of punk-rock authenticity in a Lollapalooza lineup sorely lacking otherwise.
I first saw Foals at Lollapalooza almost a decade ago, at a side stage under the trees, and although their sonic impact and aggressiveness has diminished over the last few records, I’m sure they’re still a great act to see live. The British band started as a unique hybrid of dance rock and indie pop, like a more danceable (but similarly dour) Franz Ferdinand or a fun rocking band like Kaiser Chiefs but without the sense of humor. The quartet offers something for rock and dance fans alike, and even if their recorded output has demonstrated the law of diminishing returns in recent years, they still craft compelling melodies and engaging polyrhythmic beats. Not having seen them since then, just after their game-changing debut, it would be cool to see how they’ve developed live and command a larger stage.
This Scottish band sings earnest lyrics over roaring guitar-driven rock, and their most recent record is their most earnest yet, thematically dealing with lead singer’s alcoholism. It’s also their most sophisticated record to date, perhaps necessarily so, and after having seen them live a few times in different festival settings, it will be interesting to see how the new, more intimate but dynamically differentiated material will translate live in 2016.
This might be the toughest choice of the weekend, but having found the new M83 release underwhelming, and having seen New York’s Sunflower Bean a few months ago in the more suitable environment of Schubas, I’ll have to give the edge to Wolf Alice for this time frame. The British band’s 2015 debut was a mindblower, a pop confection not afraid to explore the darkness. Musically their sound is like the best Swee lead vocalist leading glitchy, bouncing melodies with rhythms that are busy to a fault. Although it may not be the most original amalgam, the sound of Wolf Alice is still a winning hybrid of pure pop for now people and sly, knowing looks in high school hallways. If The Belltower and Visqueen were still going enterprises, I imagine this is what they’d sound like today.
Brooklyn synthpop duo Chairlift is one of those many bands I’ve always wanted to see live but haven’t, so this is who I would see. In terms of what they do, they might not be unique at this point, but over ten years since they formed with the goal of creating music for haunted houses, they were one of the originators of a sound you can also hear reflected in Metric, Chvrches, HÆLOS, Phantogram, etc. They can be distinguished from their peers by the pipes of lead singer Caroline Polachek and their jazzy, big band instincts. Chairlift is not afraid to experiment, either; they’ve collaborated with everyone from Beyoncé to Das Racist, and embraced remixing in both creative directions.
The Joy Formidable
Here’s yet another in a long line of bands that I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing live, but it’s not for lack of longing. The Joy Formidable produce a formidable sound, and their sonic blast might partially disguise the secret of their success: killer guitar hooks that propel indelible melodies. If you’re anywhere near the stage, you better have earplugs in place, or be prepared to have your audiologist on danger money, baby.
Yes, the union of Phantogram and Big Boi is tempting in the form of Big Grams on the Samsung stage, but Nothing’s “Tired of Tomorrow” is one of my favorites of the year so far, so it gets the edge in this choice. Whereas a band like Deafheaven builds metal castles with shoegaze rivets, Nothing wears its ‘gaze love on its sleeves and use its distorted-guitar walls of sound to build its melodies with a punk energy. Every release from Nothing garners astonishment and disbelief, like they couldn’t possibly top themselves, but they do nonetheless. Forty minutes of Nothing should almost be worth the price of admission.
Two Door Cinema Club
Judging from their new single, “Are We Ready? (Wreck),” the third album from Irish trio Two Door Cinema Club, titled “Gameshow” and due this fall, should be more of the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The band is a rock act through and through, yet integrates dance rhythms in a manner similar to Phoenix or Foals. For some reason, listening again to 2012’s “Beacon” brings to mind power-pop outfits like The Records and The Shoes, but their music also has a shiny, busy electronic sheen. I don’t know if Two Door Cinema Club have ever played Double Door, but if not, that seems like an opportunity lost. Happily, they bear little resemblance to either The Doors or Three Doors Down.
With his new EP, “There’s Alot Going On,” it’s become more clear than ever that Vic Mensa doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and you’d be a fool to pass up his headlining set on Saturday night. The founding member (along with Chance The Rapper) of the SaveMoney crew, from which many current Chicago rap luminaries are springing, Mensa’s passion and amazing rap flow are well displayed on the new EP. With tracks like “16 Shots” and “Shades of Blue” nailing current events, it’s hard to believe that it’s only a precursor to a forthcoming full-length album. There won’t be a hotter, more passionate spot to be in than at the Pepsi stage on this Saturday night.
Sir The Baptist
Chance the Rapper may have brought gospel to hip-hop on “Coloring Book,” but if you’re Sir The Baptist, the church goes wherever you do. Even though the artist born Sir William James Stokes is not an adherent to organized religion per se in his personal spiritual development, I’m pretty sure God would forgive you for skipping your Sunday church service and catching this early afternoon stop on his “Pilgrimage To Glory” tour. He’ll surely be running through numbers from his Atlantic debut, “PK: Preacher’s Kid,” which as you might imagine, from someone who calls what he does “church pub rap,” contains language you might not normally hear during church, including the single “Raise Hell.” Of all the hip-hop artists on the Lollapalooza lineup, this is the one who will offer the most unique take on this evolving art.
Ready for some scuzzy, breathless punk rock? FIDLAR (which stands for either “Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk” or “Forget It Dad, Life’s All Right,” depending on which story you believe) are an L.A. foursome that formed in 2009. Their raucous guitar attack is barely tempered by the semi-screamo lead vocals and a gift for rapid fire hooks that competitive fishermen would envy. Last year’s “Too” found the band embracing a newfound lyrical maturity on tracks like “West Coast,” “Why Generation,” “Sober” and “Overdose,” which may relate to their experiences struggling with drug addiction, but the songs don’t rock any less. Don’t be surprised if you hear some surf-punk and skate-punk influences in their music; vocalist and rhythm guitarist Zac Carper is the son of famed surfboard designer John Carper, whereas Elvis (vocals, lead guitar) and Max (drums) Kuehn are sons of Greg Kuehn, keyboardist for famed SoCal skate-punk outfit active in the eighties, T.S.O.L.
Lead singer and guitarist Brian Aubert met bassist and singer Nikki Monninger on a flight from L.A. to London in 1994 when he noticed her stealing liquor from a flight attendant’s cart. It turned out they were both in the same music exchange program. They played in a few bands in the Silverlake scene in Los Angeles (which also included indie-pop outfit Rilo Kiley), and formed Silversun Pickups in 2000. Their name was inspired by a liquor store across the street from Silverlake Lounge, which they played frequently. Beginning with their first EP “Pikul” in 2005 through their breakthrough, sophomore album, “Swoon” in 2009, they sounded like a poor man’s Smashing Pumpkins, back when Billy Corgan was still crafting blistering guitar solos. But here and there over the course of three albums, the quartet has distinguished themselves from SP also-rans, and their music is characterized by driving bass lines from Monninger and Aubert’s androgynous tenor lead vocals. While their most recent outing, last fall’s “Better Nature,” was hit and miss, the “hits” for Silversun Pickups are always solid, and with winning singles like “Lazy Eye,” “Panic Switch,” and “There’s No Secrets This Year” you could do worse than rock out to their set.
Sure, it would be cool to see Bloc Party (Lakeshore), and if you’re more of a rock fan than a rap fan, by all means, go for it. But based on last year’s “Summertime ’06” record, I’d rather check out Vince Staples, Long Beach, California’s most talented rapper (sorry, Snoop). At first it might seem audacious for Staples to make his full-length debut a double album, and it’s rare for a rapper to sustain a concept across four sides, but when you realize he’s been featured on such high-concept records as Dilated Peoples’ “Directors of Photography” and Common’s “Nobody’s Smiling,” it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. On the chorus of the breakout single “Norf Norf,” Staples raps that “I ain’t never run from nothing but the police,” and that seems to sum up his courageous attitude. He’s not afraid to tackle the taboo, including the irony of the hip-hop fan base: “all these white folks chanting when I ask them where my niggas at.” Vince Staples refuses the right to be silent—as he says, “I just live it up, can a motherfucker breathe, life ain’t always what it seems, so lift me up.” Lift him up, for sure.
I scratched this NYC ensemble led by James Murphy off my bucket list when I saw them on their farewell tour playing at Pitchfork. Just like the Ghostbusters, they’re back, and assuming they haven’t, ahem, “lost their edge,” this will be the set to see on this night. If you’re a rock fan or a dance fan, if you’re not completely ignorant of modern music or not too much of an elitist (or a firmly entrenched gutter-punk), I can’t imagine not enjoying closing the night with LCD Soundsystem. They embrace compelling grooves accentuated with aggressive polyrhythms, and if you’re too exhausted to cut any more ruts in a Grant Park field, feel free to just lie down in the grass and chill. Murphy and company won’t judge you, and neither should their fans. But after four days of raising your hands in the air (and possibly waving them like you just don’t care), if you can still keep a beat and are able to smuggle a cowbell into the fest, this is your chance to make some instant friends (and/or enemies). Why not make a little of your own history?
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.