Sounds of the season

May 11, 2008


 Summer doesn't officially start for six more weeks, but you'd never know that by scanning the number of shows already on sale or sold out during the busiest months of the rock fan's concert-going year. Still, it's not as busy as it once was, for several reasons.

One is that the massive Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park continues to dominate the calendar, arguably reducing the number of traditional outdoor amphitheater shows, as well as many of the bookings indoors at smaller theaters and clubs.

Also, there are only 16 shows for sale so far at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, the Tinley Park "shed" that promoters Live Nation are hoping to sell; that's fewer than half the shows the venue used to host during an average summer. And although there are a number of dates at its Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island, only a handful of those are very promising, with many of the others being state fair-worthy oldies acts.

Meanwhile, the other big local promoter, Jam Productions, is pretty much abandoning the idea of outdoor shows altogether, at least until construction is complete for its new Prairie Creek amphitheatre. The Hoffman Estates venue is expected to open next year.

In short, the big summer concert business remains in a state of flux as Live Nation and Jam compete with Lollapalooza promoters C3 Presents and the market continues its shift from the big amphitheatre shows of yore to massive festivals on the one hand and much smaller outdoor gigs on the other. But as always, the calendar offers plenty of rewards for adventurous music fans.

Turn the page for a look at my picks for the top 10 summer concerts, listed chronologically.

1. Kanye West, the Glow in the Dark Tour, United Center, May 23-24

With the big band positioned in an orchestra pit and our hometown hero seeming to perform while floating in the heavens, Kanye West's Glow in the Dark Tour is raising the bar once again for live hip-hop. Making things even better are stellar openers Rihanna, N.E.R.D. and another great Chicago rapper, Lupe Fisaco. Tickets for 5/23 are sold out; some remain for 5/24 through or (312) 559-1212.

2. Death Cab for Cutie, Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, June 3

The Washington state indie-pop band is expanding its sound away from what some would derisively call emo on its new album "Narrow Stairs," and Millennium Park should be the perfect setting for the group to show us everything it's got. Rouge Wave opens, and the show is sold out.

3. R.E.M. at the United Center, June 6

The peppy "Accelerate" is the best thing the favorite sons of Athens, Ga., have given us in quite some time, but the question remains: Will they be able to carry off an arena tour without resorting to the arena cliches and corporate chilliness? Modest Mouse and the National open, and tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster.

4. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Ravinia Festival, June 18

I'm not a huge fan of "Raising Sand," the disc that rock's golden god made with the bluegrass queen last year, but solo Plant is always better in concert than on album, and this is as close as we're going to get to Led Zeppelin this summer. Other pluses: You can bring a picnic basket, and producer T-Bone Burnett will join the duo on the road. Unfortunately, tickets instantly sold out to Ravinia subscribers.

5. Chaka Khan and Angie Stone, Taste of Chicago, June 27

Here's an inspired pairing of a soul powerhouse from the '70s, the still-vital Chaka, with one of her many spiritual daughters, a leading light in the natural R&B or neo-soul movement. And the price (free) and setting (Grant Park) can't be beat.

6. Stevie Wonder, Taste of Chicago, June 28

One of the most impressive Taste bookings in years brings the soul, pop and R&B legend to Grant Park for free. Why can't all of Taste's shows be this incredibly cool?

7. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, United Center, July 2

The long-running rocker never fails to deliver the goods in concert, and it's easy to forget just how many timeless tunes he's given us -- until he tears into them onstage, one after another after another. Steve Winwood opens, and tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster.

8. The Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park, July 18-20

In its fourth year, the annual shindig sponsored by the Chicago-based indie-rock Webzine continues to serve as a paradigm for how a great, inexpensive, independent and generally corporate-hype-minimal music fest can function in the heart of this city. Among this year's highlights: Public Enemy, Mission of Burma, Jay Reatard, Spiritualized and the Apples in Stereo. Tickets on sale at

9. Lollapalooza, Grant Park, Aug. 1-3

Also in its fourth year, the much bigger, more ballyhooed "logopalooza" is offering its strongest lineup yet, with choice headliners including Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Wilco, Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West and Gnarls Barkley and more lower-level picks including Battles, the Kills, the Go! Team, the Gutter Twins, Yeasayer, MGMT and the Ting Tings. Tickets on sale at

10. Judas Priest with Heaven and Hell and Motorhead, the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, Aug. 19

Ozzfest? We don't need no stinking Ozzfest, not when we have this old-school heavy-metal triple-header featuring Priest, the tag team of Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi and Lemmy and the mighty Motorhead. Also on the bill, kicking things off: Testament, a good excuse to take your time fighting the traffic down to Tinley Park. Tickets on sale through Ticketmaster.

As for promising shows that have yet to be announced or finalized, concertgoers should keep their eyes open for My Bloody Valentine this September, rumored Eddie Vedder solo dates and the possible return of Tom Waits