In its third year as a reinvented destination festival in Grant Park, the
synergistic cross-promotional behemoth called Lollapalooza has a surprising
dearth of truly exciting music, despite its massive size, ubiquitous hype
and three-day roster of 130 bands.
Many of the best acts on this year's bill have either already played
their own shows at superior venues here or are secretly bemoaning the fact
Lolla prohibits that -- the fest bans any group taking its stage from
performing at any other venue in Chicago for 60 days before and 30 days
after, a draconian practice that has had a debilitating impact on the rest
of the city's summer concert season.
That policy, combined with all of the corporate shilling, the often dicey
sound from competing stages and the snotty "Us vs. Them" hierarchy created
by the exclusive VIP sections -- private cabanas with catered food and
lounge chairs are still available starting at $32,500 for a party of 30 --
belie the Texas promoters' claims that they're offering local concertgoers
the best musical experience and the biggest bargain of the year.
Nevertheless, I tried to look on the bright side as I scanned the
schedule to single out my top five highlights per day, listed in order of
appearance and at the geographic location of the stages (all of which Lolla
names after corporate sponsors).
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
1:30-2:30 p.m., Hutchinson Field North (MySpace Stage)
The music starts daily at 11:15 a.m., but this is today's first
don't-miss act. Always a rousing performer, Leo is still touring behind his
strong fifth album, "Living With the Living," which is full of gripping
political tracks such as "Fourth World War," "Army Bound," "C.I.A." and
"Bomb. Repeat. Bomb." Hopefully, their message will inject some measure of
meaning amid all the festival advertising.
The Polyphonic Spree
2:30-3:30, Butler Field North (Bud Light Stage)
The indie underground has soured on this Dallas band, writing off its
latest album, "The Fragile Army," for the inherent shtick of Tim DeLaughter
and his massive ork-pop collective. But the pop hooks are as strong as ever,
the arrangements are still inspired and the new black uniforms definitely
trump the old white robes.
3:30-4:30, Butler Field South/Petrillo Band Shell (adidas Stage)
I'm worried the achingly beautiful, heartfelt balladry of
singer-songwriter Mark Linkous will get lost in the sweeping expanse of the
park. But blessed with the proper amplification, a lack of bleed from other
stages and an attentive audience, the songs from "Dreamt for Light Years in
the Belly of a Mountain" could be magical.
7:30-8:30, Hutchinson Field North
8:30-10, Hutchinson Field South (AT&T Stage)
Simply put, LCD Soundsystem, the labor of love side project led by New
York producer James Murphy, and Daft Punk, the collaboration of Paris house
musicians Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, are two of the
most innovative, inspiring and energetic acts to ever fill a dance floor,
and their subsequent sets at opposite ends of Hutchinson are likely to be
the weekend's highlight. The only down side is that this double bill could
have played a better-sounding indoor venue; no matter how good they are at
Lolla, we'll always wonder if they would have been even better at the Aragon
Ballroom or the Congress Theater.
Tokyo Police Club
12:45-1:30 p.m., Hutchinson Field South
These ferocious Canadian garage-rockers have a sparse discography to
date, with only a pair of EPs since 2006. But they're best experienced live
anyway, and it's a good bet their full-on grunge assault will overwhelm any
distractions in their path.
3:30-4:30, Jackson and Columbus (PlayStation Stage)
Chicago rapper Rhymefest is one of the hardest-working men in show
business, throwing himself into live performances with a punk energy (think
Iggy Pop) rarely seen in hip-hop. He's playing one of Lolla's smallest
stages, but that shouldn't matter: He's got enough power to fill the park,
and he often spends much of his time in the crowd.
Roky Erickson and the Explosives
5-6, Jackson and Columbus
Taking the same small platform shortly after Rhymefest, the
psychedelic-rock pioneer and punk-rock hero will hopefully reprise the
stellar set he delivered at last year's Intonation Festival, which found him
looking happier and healthier and singing in better voice than he has at any
point since the mid-'70s. (Diehard fans love Roky enough to brave Lolla just
for his show, but they don't have to: He will also headline a festival after
party at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, starting at 10 tonight. Tickets are
$25 at the door; call 773-478-4408.)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
6:30-7:30, Hutchinson Field South
Led by the galvanizing singer Karen O, this New York trio brings the
spirit of Patti Smith into the present, with an energetic and inventive
sound uniquely their own. Catching this set is one way to assuage any qualms
about missing Smith herself when she performs opposite my next pick ...
7:30-8:30, Hutchinson Field North
Sure, the Austin art-punks can be hit or miss onstage. But I'm going with
Britt Daniel and his mates over Smith in this time slot because their
recently released sixth album, "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," is one of my favorites of
2007 -- and if they bring the horns that power some of their best new
tracks, they'll be unbeatable.
Closing out day two in the 8:30-10 p.m. headlining slots are shameless
Joy Division imitators Interpol and unjustifiably hyped English
posers Muse. You might consider going home early and resting up a bit
for the third and final day ...
2:15-3:15 p.m., Hutchinson Field South
The second major Chicago rapper on this year's bill, Lupe has been given
the fest's biggest stage, no doubt because of his hit "Kick Push." He may be
challenged by such a big platform, but he's still preferable to his
competition in this slot, the much-ballyhooed English R&B bad girl Amy
Winehouse, who'll be better appreciated at the Aragon on Sept. 29 (providing
she shows up and is sober at either gig).
Iggy and the Stooges
4:15-5:15, Butler Field North
At the Cincinnati Pop Festival in 1969, when these proto-punk gods were
touring behind "Funhouse," Iggy famously spent most of his performance atop
the raised arms of his fans, taking a jar of peanut butter from one of them
and gleefully smearing it all over himself.
Peter, Bjorn and John
5-6, Balbo and Columbus (CITI Stage)
The biggest booking mistake of the fest has these Swedish popsters, the
men behind the unforgettable single "Young Folks," playing another of the
microscopic secondary stages. It's especially sad because their sound is
much bigger live than on album, and even if you stake out a position early
on, the venue is likely to be mobbed.
6:15-7:15, Butler Field North
Isaac Brock and his current guitar foil Johnny Marr were underwhelming at
the Auditorium Theatre last April, but I'll be giving them a second chance
because "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank" is another of the best
albums of 2007.
TV on the Radio
7-8, Hutchinson Field North
While Lolla has booked seven acts that previously performed at the
Pitchfork Music Festival, this is the only band it got that Pitchfork really
wanted. Underground rock fans raved about the genre-blurring sounds of last
year's "Return to Cookie Mountain," but after the killer single "Wolf Like
Me," the disc didn't do it for me. I have yet to see the band live, though,
and that's where it's supposed to shine.
Closing out Lolla at the other end of Hutchinson immediately afterward
is, of course, festival headliner Pearl Jam. I won't grace the
venerated Seattle rockers with an official pick because I've seen them be
meandering and mediocre as often as I've seen them be truly riveting; I know
they'll never match the intensity of the shows they gave when they first
played Lollapalooza in 1992.
• 11:15 a.m.-10 p.m. today, Saturday and Sunday
• Grant Park, enter at Columbus and Congress
• Admission, $80 single day, $195 for a three-day pass.
• Concertgoers can bring blankets, hand-held umbrellas, baby strollers,
two factory-sealed 1-liter water bottles, binoculars, non-professional
cameras and soft-sided coolers. They cannot bring any other outside food or
drink (bring cash, because vendors are pricey), weapons, illegal substances,
large backpacks, tents or large umbrellas, bikes or skateboards, chairs,
hard coolers, video equipment, professional still cameras or audio recording
Post-Lolla club hopping
After usurping much of their summer concert calendar, Lollapalooza
promoters have attempted to assuage angry Chicago club owners by sponsoring
a number of after parties at local venues. (Any act that performs at Lolla
is contractually prohibited from playing another Chicago venue for 60 days
before and 30 days after the fest unless the promoters give them
permission.) Here is a look at these officially sanctioned events.
Roky Erickson and the Invisibles
10 p.m. at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace
The Texas psychedelic/punk-rock legend is sure to be more in his element
here than he will be late Saturday afternoon at one of Lolla's smallest
stages. Ace garage-rockers the Last Vegas open. Tickets, $20 in advance, $25
at the door. Call (773) 478-4408.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
10 p.m. at Metro, 3730 N. Clark
One of the best of the New Wave of New Wave bands, these New Yorkers have
the sound of "Talking Heads '77" down cold. Unfortunately, this show already
is sold out. Fellow Lolla acts Cold War Kids and Elvis Perkins in Dearland
open the show.
STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector 9)
11 p.m. at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn
Part hippie band, part electronic/psychedelic/space-funk collaborative,
the Bay Area quintet is known for stretching out at its groove-happy live
performances. Tickets, $28.50 in advance, $30 at the door. Call (312)
11:15 p.m. at the House of Blues, Back Porch Stage
This retro-minded R&B purist is out of place on the Lolla lineup, but he
should shine at HOB, a venue suited to the sounds of his inspirations: Otis
Redding, Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett. Tickets, $15.
11 p.m. at the Abbey Pub
This appearance by the cult-favorite electronic/psychedelic groove
merchants is billed as an official Lolla After Party, though oddly enough
Particle is not performing at the festival. 56 Hope Road opens. Tickets, $20
in advance, $25 at the door.
9 p.m. at Metro
One of the best bands from the thriving rock en espanol movement, and
always an inspiration in concert. Tickets, $40. Call (773) 549-0203.
10 p.m. at the House of Blues
Because maybe you won't have gotten enough of the harmonica-holster-wearin'
jam-band hambone at Lolla. Tickets, $16.