In its fifth year in Grant Park, with nine more years guaranteed to come thanks to the deal between city officials and Austin, TX-based promoters C3 Presents, Lollapalooza seems to have permanently changed the summer concert scene in Chicago.
Before the one-time traveling alternative-rock celebration was reinvented as a three-day "destination festival" trumpeting corporate synergy and the musical mainstream, Chicago's primary concert promoters, the local office of the national giant Live Nation and Chicago-based Jam Productions, consistently offered their busiest and most rewarding concert calendars of the year during the summer months.
Now, Lollapalooza buys up the Chicago-area date for many of the biggest and best summer tours, and Live Nation is left struggling to fill the major summer venues that it controls: the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre (FMBA) in Tinley Park, the Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island and the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisc. With a few notable exceptions (U2, one of two local Phish dates, No Doubt and Billy Joel and Elton John among them), the Live Nation venues have a rather sad schedule of increasingly hoary arena-rockers, borderline has-beens and state fair cast-offs (Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Styx and REO Speedwagon).
Meanwhile, with its proposed new outdoor amphitheater in Hoffman Estates delayed for yet another season, with a few notable exceptions (the other local Phish date chief among them), Jam's concert schedule is nearly empty between June and September at the major venues that it regularly books, and the theaters it programs are quiet, too. (Jam's venues include the Vic, the Riviera and the Aragon.) Smaller independent clubs have slowed down in a big way as well.
The result is not unlike having one gluttonous three-day feast but going hungry for the rest of June, July and August.
Nevertheless, if bingeing (and Lollapalooza) just aren't your thing, there still are some extraordinary musical experiences to be had in the steamy months to come. Here are my choices for the Ten Best Summer Concerts in 2009, listed in chronological order and followed by a look at the rest of the calendar.
Top 10 Concerts of Summer 2009
1. Nine Inch Nails, Northerly Island, 5/29.
With "Year Zero" (2007) standing as one of the best albums of his career, and a flurry of subsequent releases issued in an innovative way via the Web, Trent Reznor is experiencing an artistic resurgence that finds him every bit as vital, challenging and provocative today as he was during the height of the alternative rock era. Street Sweeper, yet another side project by hometown hero Tom Morello (this one with Boots Riley of the Coup) is the opening act. Alas, the show is sold-out.
2. PJ Harvey and John Parish, Riviera Theatre, 6/12.
Always a riveting live performer, Polly Jean Harvey seems to feel even freer to let herself go and channel disquieting, otherworldly voices when she's collaborating with her longtime musical partner John Parish: Witness their two stellar albums, "Dance Hall at Louse Point" (1996) and the recent "A Woman a Man Walked By." Tickets are $35 via www.ticketmaster.com or (312) 559-1212.
3. The Feelies at Millennium Park, 6/29.
Prior to a rapturous return to the stage in New York and New Jersey last summer, the Feelies, indie-rock's legendary masters of the crazy rhythms, had not been heard in concert since the early '90s. I caught one of those initial shows in the band's third go-round, and Chicago is in for an undeniable treat made all the more special by the exquisite setting and the fact that the show is free. (Thank you, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, for the "Downtown Sounds: New Music Mondays" series.) Icy Demons open at 7:30 p.m., but get there early.
4. Femi Kuti & the Positive Force and King Sunny Ade & his African Beats at the Ravinia Festival, 7/1.
This stellar double bill offers an evening of some of the most uplifting and influential music ever to emerge from the African continent, with Kuti, son of the Nigerian afrobeat pioneer Fela, and his fellow countryman and musical legend, the enduring King Sunny Ade, Be prepared for some of the most joyous music you will ever hear. Tickets are $40 reserved, $16 lawn or $21 day of show via www.ravinia.org or (847) 266-5100.
5. Taste of Chicago's Indie Label Celebrations, 6/27, 7/2 and 7/4, Taste Stage at Grant Park.
Very welcome additions to the generally moribund offerings at the Petrillo Bandshell as part of Taste of Chicago are this year's bookings at the smaller Taste Stage, which will be dedicated to celebrating some of the city's best indie labels during several days of the free food-and-music extravaganza. Saturday, June 27, is "Bloodshot Records Day," with Andre Williams, the Deadstring Brothers, Dollar Store, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir and the Waco Brothers taking the stage starting at noon. Thursday, July 2, is "Thrill Jockey Records Day" with Doug McCombs and David Daniell, Fred Anderson, Bobby Conn, Eleventh Dream Day and 8 Bold Souls, and, appropriately enough, Saturday, July 4, is an "Independence Celebration" organized by the Hideout and featuring Christian Kiefer and assorted indie-rock pals playing his 2008 album "Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs for 43 U.S. Presidencies" (now updated to 44 since the election of Barack Obama) as well as the Boy Named Crow, Big Sky Stringband and Lubriphonic.
6. The Chicago Folk & Roots Festival, 7/11-12.
In its 12th year in Welles Park at 4400 N. Lincoln, the Old Town School of Folk Music's big annual outdoor celebration remains the city's best music festival if you want to take the kids (or even if you don't). The gates open at noon each day and the music runs through 9:30 p.m. Unfortunately, contractual obligations prohibit the school from publicizing this year's acts until May 4, but judging by its past, expect a wide array of eclectic and celebratory sounds. Check www.chicagofolkandroots.org for more info.
7. The Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park, 7/17-19.
Hands-down the most exhilarating and inviting annual celebration of Chicago's independent music community, Pitchfork 2009 is offering a mix of venerated and/or reunited underground rock legends (Built to Spill, the Jesus Lizard, Yo La Tengo, Tortoise and the Flaming Lips), red-hot up-and-comers (the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Wavves, the Vivian Girls) and a few mind-blowing acts that are almost impossible to define (F---ed Up, the Black Lips). Tickets are $35 per day or $75 for a three-day pass via www.pitchforkmusicfestival.com.
8. The Warped Tour, FMBA, 8/1.
Overshadowed in these parts in recent years because it took place the same weekend as Lollapalooza, the long-running Warped Tour remains a relative bargain for the skateboard crowd and the punk-loving young at heart with more sweat-drenched beats per minute than any other show this summer. Some of the bigger names on this year's bill include Anti-Flag, Bad Religion, Less Than Jake, Senses Fail, TSOL and Underoath. Tickets are $34.25 in advance or $40 day of show via www.livenation.com or (877) 598-8730.
9. Red Red Meat at Millennium Park, 8/24.
The second guaranteed winner among this summer's free "Downtown Sounds: New Music Mondays" bookings is this reunion gig by Tim Rutili and his groundbreaking, reality-warping psychedelic roots/blues/art-punk band of the early '90s, which was every bit as good upon its recent return at South by Southwest as it was back in the day. Rural Alberta Advantage open at 6:30 p.m.; bring a picnic basket and a bottle of fine cough medicine.
10. U2 at Soldier Field, 9/12-13.
For the summer's big finale, it would be impossible to get more mega than this, the North American opening of U2's 360° Tour. In the early '90s, supporting "Achtung Baby," the champions of arena-rock flag-waving completely reinvented themselves and set a new and innovative standard for what a stadium show could be during the Zoo TV jaunt. The new album "No Line on the Horizon" contains the group's best and most challenging music since that era (thank you, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois); will the new concerts be just as exciting? Chicago fans will be the first to find out. The first show is sold-out, but some tickets remain for 9/13 at prices ranging from $32 to $252 via www.livenation.com, which promptly forwards you to Ticketmaster.
Now for the rest of the calendar: Here is a look at other summer shows that are on sale now or expected to be announced in the near future.
Music as a Weapon (Disturbed, Killswitch Engage, Lacuna Coil, Chimaira), Northerly Island, 5/16; Summer Camp 2009 (moe., Umphrey's McGee), Three Sisters Park, Chillicothe, IL, 5/22; George Strait with Blake Shelton, FMBA, 5/23; Third Eye Blind, Riviera Theatre, 5/29; Yanni Voices, Sears Centre, Hoffman Estates, 5/29; Doves, Vic Theatre, 5/29; Unwigged & Unplugged (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer), Chicago Theatre, 5/30.
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Northerly Island, 6/4; Gipsy Kings, Ravinia, 6/6; "special headliner" and Allá,, Millennium Park, 6/8; Aerosmith, Alpine Valley, 6/13; BoDeans, Ravinia, 6/13; B96 Summer Bash (acts to be announced), Toyota Park, 6/13; 311 and Ziggy Marley, Northerly Island, 6/14; Guitars & Saxes (Euge Groove, Jeff Lorber, Jeff Golub and Jessy J Jessy), Skyline Stage at Navy Pier, 6/15; Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, United Center, 6/17; O.A.R., Northerly Island, 6/18-19; Taste of Randolph (Dr. Dog, Tinted Windows, the Hold Steady), 6/19-21; Offspring with the Dropkick Murphys, Northerly Island, 6/20; Phish, Alpine Valley, 6/20-21; the Sea and Cake and Dirty Projectors, Millennium Park, 6/22; New Kids on the Block, Northerly Island, 6/26; Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band and Cameo, Taste of Chicago, 6/26; Indigo Girls, Ravinia, 6/26; Diana Krall, Ravinia, 6/27; Counting Crows, Taste of Chicago, 6/27; the Fray, Northerly Island, 6/28; Joe Cocker, Ravinia, 6/28; the Wallflowers and Lovehammers, Taste of Chicago, 6/28; the Music of ABBA, Ravinia, 6/30; the Barenaked Ladies, Taste of Chicago, 6/30.
Buddy Guy, Taste of Chicago, 7/4; Mitchell Musso and Jordan Pruitt, Taste of Chicago, 7/5; Can't Stop Rockin' (Styx, REO Speedwagon, .38 Special), Northerly Island, 7/10; Jonas Brothers, Allstate Arena, 7/10-11; No Doubt, FMBA, 7/11; Tom Jones, Ravinia, 7/11; Def Leppard with Poison and Cheap Trick, FMBA, 7/17; Beyonce, United Center, 7/12; Kid Rock with Lynyrd Skynyrd, FMBA, 7/12; the Beach Boys, Ravinia, 7/14; Billy Joel and Elton John, Wrigley Field, 7/16 and 7/21; Steve Miller Band, Ravinia, 7/17; Rascal Flatts with Darius Rucker, Wrigley Field, 7/18; Dave Matthews Band with Umphrey's McGee, Alpine Valley, 7/18-19; Judas Priest, Northerly Island, 7/19; John Legend, Ravinia, 7/21; Incubus, Northerly Island, 7/21; Lyle Lovett, Ravinia, 7/22; Motley Crue and Godsmack, FMBA, 7/22; the O'Jays, Northerly Island, 7/24; Coldplay, Alpine Valley, 7/25; Marilyn Manson and Slayer, FMBA, 7/26; Jackson Browne, Ravinia, 7/30.
Doobie Brothers, Ravinia, 8/3; Brad Paisley, FMBA, 8/7; Four Tops and the Temptations, Ravinia, 8/7; Lollapalooza (Depeche Mode, Tool, the Killers, Jane's Addiction, Kings of Leon, the Beastie Boys and more), Grant Park, 8/7-9; Jimmy Buffett, Toyota Park, 8/8; Peter, Paul & Mary, Ravinia, 8/10; Rokia Traoré and Shearwater, Millennium Park, 8/10; Phish, Toyota Park, 8/11; Jimmy Buffett, Toyota Park, 8/15; Pat Benatar and Blondie, Ravinia, 8/17; Otto and NOMO, Millennium Park, 8/17; George Thorogood and the Destroyers and Jonny Lang, Ravinia, 8/20; Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal, Ravinia, 8/21-22; Nickelback, FMBA, 8/21; Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes, Ravinia, 8/26; G. Love & Special Sauce and Michael Franti & Spearhead, Ravinia, 8/27; Tony Bennett, Ravinia, 8/28-29; Aerosmith, FMBA, 8/28; Jimmy Buffett, Alpine Valley, 8/29; Carrie Underwood, Ravinia, 8/30-31.
Allman Brothers Band with Widespread Panic, Northerly Island, 9/2-3; Loggins & Messina, Ravinia, 9/3; Toby Keith, FMBA, 9/19; Dave Matthews Band with Willie Nelson, FMBA, 9/26.
Also coming this summer (details to be announced): Green Day; Steve Earle; Jim James of My Morning Jacket (solo); Sonic Youth (expect two nights at the Vic Theatre in June); Pearl Jam (August date at the United Center), and a return visit by AC/DC.