Time in a bottleneck

August 1, 2008


Lollapalooza's promoters are fond of the mantra that the giant music festival, which has descended upon Grant Park for its fourth year today through Sunday, is a tremendous bargain: "130 bands -- a dollar a band," they chant for anyone who'll listen.

In fact, those numbers are a little squirrelly.

This year, there are 139 scheduled performances on eight stages, but if you eliminate the acts that are playing more than once, there really are only 124 bands. With the early-bird, special-price tickets long since sold out, the cost is now $205 for a three-day pass -- more like $1.65 per band. But the new math doesn't stop there.

The schedule at the fest and the geography of Chicago's gorgeous lakefront park are such that you can only realistically see about seven to 10 bands a day -- unless you think that catching a mere 10 or 15 minutes of a 45-minute set qualifies as "seeing" the band, and you don't mind spending most of the day running back and forth along the 9/10ths of a mile from one end of the park to the other.

At a generous 10 bands a day, Lollapalooza's ticket price is more like $6.83 per act -- which is still a heck of a bargain in these ever-tightening times; you can't see "The Dark Knight" for that price, much less buy popcorn. But the key to really getting your money's worth at the festival -- not to mention fending off heatstroke and exhaustion while trying to see everything and winding up seeing hardly anything -- is to study the schedule and the map in advance and head to the park with a solid plan.

Oh, about that map: As in the past, Austin, Texas-based Promoters C3 Presents have sold corporate naming rights to just about every square inch of Grant Park. They may dismiss the good, old-fashioned Chicago street map, but it remains the most sensible guide, so I've listed the locations of the stages geographically from north to south as follows: Butler Field North at East Monroe (the Bud Light Stage); the Petrillo Music Shell in Butler Field South (the PlayStation 3 Stage); East Jackson at Lake Shore Drive (Lollapalooza figurehead Perry Farrell's stage); Lake Shore Drive north of Buckingham Fountain (the BMI Stage); Lake Shore Drive south of Buckingham Fountain (the Kidzapalooza stage); East Balbo at Lake Shore Drive (the Citi Stage); Hutchinson Field North at East Balbo (the MySpace Stage) and Hutchinson Field South at East Roosevelt (the AT&T Stage).

My must-sees for the weekend and my own plan for making the most of Lollapalooza 2008 follow, but I'd love to read alternate suggestions in the comments section of my Sun-Times blog at blogs.suntimes.com/derogatis. Once the fest is under way, I'll be posting there live from Grant Park as often as possible.


BLACK LIPS -- Butler Field North, 12:15-1:15 p.m.

With their self-titled debut on Bomp! Records (2003) and their 2007 album, "Good Bad Not Evil," on New York's hipster Vice label, the Black Lips have emerged as proud inheritors of the raucous garage-rock sound pioneered by the Seeds, the band that gave us the immortal "Pushin' Too Hard." At the same time, the Georgia quartet's relentlessly high-energy gigs -- which have been known to include vomiting, urination, spontaneous nudity, fireworks and other forms of drunken debauchery -- have marked it as a band that has to be seen to be believed.

THE GO! TEAM -- Butler Field North, 2:15-3:15 p.m.

YEASAYER -- Hutchinson Field South, 2:15-3:15 p.m.

Here's the first tough choice of the weekend: England's high-energy indie-pop heroes the Go! Team are still legendary in Chicago for their performance at Union Park a few years ago, and the group released a strong second album last year with "Proof of Youth." Meanwhile, though I'm not a huge fan of Brooklyn shoegazers Yeasayer's "All Hour Cymbals" (2007), the group did wow me with its set at the South by Southwest Music Festival last March, playing a swirling, melodic and hypnotizing brand of psychedelic rock liberally laced with exotic world rhythms. With luck -- and a long walk in between -- I should be able to catch a third of each set.

GOGOL BORDELLO -- Hutchinson Field South, 4:15-5:15 p.m.

This afternoon offers slim pickings across the board, except for this genre-defying, formerly Ukraine-, now New York-based punk/gypsy/cabaret act, justifiably renowned for its over-the-top stage shows. This is exactly the sort of act that would have been at home at the old traveling Lollapalooza in the '90s, and Farrell wishes he was still as cool as frontman Eugene Hutz.

THE RACONTEURS -- Butler Field North, 6:15-7:45 p.m.

A huge fan of "Broken Boy Soldiers," the 2006 debut by the moonlighting Jack White's supergroup with power-pop hero Brendan Benson, I was seriously disappointed by this year's follow-up, "Consolers of the Lonely." I'm hoping the band redeems itself in concert -- and leaves the classic-rock bombast and pointless art-rock decoration at home.

THE COOL KIDS -- Lake Shore Drive north of the fountain, 7-8 p.m.

If the Raconteurs let me down, the best motivation for beginning the hike south toward the evening's headliners will be a stop in the center of the park to see this unapologetically old-school, much-buzzed Chicago hip-hop duo.

RADIOHEAD -- Hutchinson Field South, 8-10 p.m.

The long-running British art-rockers are finally playing Chicago for the first time in support of their seventh album, "In Rainbows" (2007), which was as notable for some of the band's most soulful yet innovative sounds as it was for its revolutionary "pay what you think it's worth" digital download release. The biggest irony here: The outspokenly leftist musicians, dedicated opponents of globalization and advocates of Net neutrality, are performing on the stage sponsored by the telecom giant that censored Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder during its Blue Room broadcast when he spoke out against President Bush last year. (The Blue Room is once again streaming much of Lollapalooza live.) It will be interesting to hear what, if anything, Thom Yorke has to say about all of this.


THE TING TINGS -- Hutchinson Field South, 12:45-1:30 p.m.

This extremely danceable indie-pop band from Manchester scored a big hit with its first single, last year's "That's Not My Name," and it finally released its first full album, "We Started Nothing," last spring. The group should provide a sugary, high-energy kick to start off Day 2 right.

THE GUTTER TWINS -- Hutchinson Field South, 2:30-3:30 p.m.

There's something wrong about seeing Mark Lanegan, formerly the vocalist of the Screaming Trees, and Greg Dulli, formerly the vocalist of the Afghan Whigs, performing together in the full light of day: These are two of alternative rock's most legendary denizens of the dark side. But it would be even more wrong to think of missing them.

MGMT -- Hutchinson Field North, 3:30-4:30 p.m.

Though I'm dubious of the hype -- reviews of the group's performance at SXSW were mixed -- the buzz continues on Ben Goldwasser and Andrew Van Wyngarden's fizzy electro-pop, and Lollapalooza has given them a prime showcase to strut their stuff.

SPANK ROCK -- East Balbo at Lake Shore Drive, 5-6 p.m.

Heroes in the red-hot Baltimore club scene, MC Naeem Juwan and producer XXXchange should keep the beats and your blood pumping hard through another otherwise sleepy late-afternoon stretch.

LUPE FIASCO -- Hutchinson Field South, 6:30-7:30 p.m.

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE -- Butler Field North, 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Difficult decision No. 2: Whether to support hometown hero Lupe, who hasn't really played the high-profile show warranted by his stellar second album, "The Cool," or indulge in the powerful pop charms of Toronto's Broken Social Scene. With luck -- and another 15-minute walk -- it ought to be possible to catch the first third of the former and the last third of the latter, then be in position for my choice of Day 2's headliners.

WILCO -- Butler Field North, 8:30-10 p.m.

As powerful as Rage Against the Machine's once unique rap-rock was in the '90s, and as inspiring as Libertyville's Tom Morello will always be as a guitarist and activist, the reunited group is essentially a nostalgia act in 2008, while Wilco continues to be one of the most vital rock bands in the United States today, always rising to the challenge of such a high-profile gig -- and, if the rumors can be believed, quite possibly bringing Sen. Barack Obama onstage to address the crowd. That's newsworthy enough to make me skip Rage (performing at exactly the same time at the other end of the park) -- though it's sad to think that a contender for president of the United States might appear on a platform named for a light beer soon to be owned by a company from Belgium.


KID SISTER -- Hutchinson Field South, 12:15-1:15 p.m.

Chicago's Melissa Young is, plain and simple, magnetic on the mike, and her forthcoming Downtown Records debut is one of the most anticipated hip-hop releases of 2008. See her here and you'll be able to say you saw her when.

BLACK KIDS -- East Balbo at Lake Shore Drive, 3:30-4:30 p.m.

Though their new album, "Partie Tramatic," has just been dissed in a big way by their former champions at the Pitchfork Webzine, which bestowed a coveted 8.4 on the 2007 EP "Wizard of Ahhhs," that only makes me want to see the Jacksonville, Fla., indie-pop band more -- well, that and the fact that Lollapalooza is once again suffering a serious mid-afternoon lull. (Do the promoters just assume everyone drops off for a siesta? Wouldn't it have been nice to spread out some of those competing headliners during these off hours?)

SAUL WILLIAMS -- East Balbo at Lake Shore Drive, 5-6 p.m.

Absolutely incendiary onstage, poet, rapper and activist Saul Williams deserves a much larger audience for his brilliant concept album "The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!" -- and it's just possible that his friend and producer Trent Reznor will show up during this set to help make that happen. If he does, that will make missing Nine Inch Nails' set later on a little easier to take.

GNARLS BARKLEY -- Hutchinson Field South, 6:15-7:15 p.m.

Having proven their collaboration is much more than a crazy one-hit wonder, thanks to their strong second album, "The Odd Couple," DJ Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green are sure to attempt to raise the ante from their last memorable Lollapalooza appearance, which means wilder, crazier costumes, stronger hooks and even more irresistible grooves.

MARK RONSON -- Hutchinson Field North, 7:15-8:30 p.m.

After Danger Mouse, this English turntablist is one of the most innovative and diverse producers on the current music scene, with a resume that ranges from Nas and Chicago's Rhymefest to Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. He should be the perfect warm-up act for ...

KANYE WEST -- Hutchinson Field South, 8:30-10 p.m.

He may be unceasingly egotistical and occasionally annoying, but Chicago's own hip-hop superstar raised the bar to a new level for live hip-hop with his Glow in the Dark Tour, which I was sorry to miss thanks to the distraction of the R. Kelly child pornography trial. Because of that, I've gotta go with Kanye over Nine Inch Nails, headlining at the other end of the park at Butler Field North at almost exactly the same time (8:15-10), even though Reznor always delivers an intense live experience and he's in the midst of the most fruitful period of his recording career since "The Downward Spiral."