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Previewing Lollapalooza 2009: The best bets from a packed but sometimes underwhelming lineup

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Even before the Beastie Boys were forced to drop out as Adam Yauch battles cancer, the six headlining slots at Lollapalooza 2009 were overall the least impressive that the weekend-long musical smorgasbord has mustered during its five years as a reinvented "destination festival" based in Grant Park.

Ah, you say, but Lollapalooza isn't really about the big marquee bands; it's about the opportunity to sample a whole lot of music in the one of the most beautiful parks in America over the course of one very long weekend.

True enough. But even with 142 sets scattered over eight stages during 33 hours of music, my personal list of good-to-sure-bet highlights seems skimpier this summer than in years past--though I'm of course always open to pleasant surprises.

Here is a look at the acts I'm most eagerly anticipating, with the full schedule of all the rest available online at the festival's Web site www.lollapalooza.com. (More interesting reading online: Greg Kot of the Tribune talks with top execs from promoters C3 Presents and concludes that "the festival doesn't boost a particularly Chicago-centric vibe... For the most part, the Lollapalooza lineup is interchangeable with that of any other big festival in America.")

FRIDAY, AUG. 7

The Knux, 1 p.m., Balbo at Lake Shore Drive (Citi Stage)

After a very slow start on the main stages--with the generically emotive Manchester Orchestra in the north and Rockford's generically poppy Hey Champ in the south--the highlights at Lollapalooza 2009 kick off with this set in the middle of the park from brothers Kintrell "Krispy Kream" and Alvin "Rah Almillio" Lindsey. Forced by Katrina to relocate from New Orleans to Los Angeles, they released one of the most creative hip-hop albums of the decade with last year's "Remind Me in 3 Days," a mix of old-school rap with a love of sound for sound's sake that's almost psychedelic.

Bon Iver, 3 p.m., Butler Field South (PlayStation Stage)

Given Lollapalooza's notorious problems with sound bleed marring sets by quieter acts, I almost hesitated to recommend singer and songwriter Justin Vernon: He famously crafted the fragile but beautiful sounds of his much-buzzed debut "For Emma, Forever Ago" during a hermit-like sojourn at a remote cab in Wisconsin. He's certainly capable of conjuring that vibe on stage--providing we can hear him. If we can't, it'll worth hightailing it to Hutchinson Field to catch the considerably noisier and grungier Heartless Bastards in the same time slot.

Fleet Foxes, 5 p.m., Butler Field South

Following Vernon on the same stage are these psychedelic folk-rockers from Seattle. The stunning "baroque harmonic pop jams" on their self-titled Sub Pop debut made for one of the best albums of 2008, and they've already proven they can pull off those intricate harmonies live when they played Pitchfork Music Festival that same year, reducing the crowd to stunned silence as they rendered the a cappella passages of "Sun Giant." Here's hoping the words of that song ("What a life I lead in the summer/What a life I lead when the sun breaks free") are a portent for this weekend's weather.

The Decemberists, 6 p.m., Butler Field North (Budweiser Stage)

Staying in the north of the park, Portland's chamber-pop maestros will take an artistic chance in the festival setting by delivering the entirety of their brilliant recent rock opera, "The Hazards of Love." Fear not: Colin Meloy and his bandmates never skimp on the energy, the humor or the memorable melodies, no matter how complex the concepts or the arrangements, and the piece is some of their finest work.

Simian Mobile Disco (DJ Set), 7 p.m., Columbus Drive at Jackson (Perry's Stage)

Though I'm a fan of much of the psychedelic pop released under the moniker of the Elephant 6 collective, the overarching theatricality of Of Montreal always has left me cold, so I'm opting to catch the uber-hip and much in-demand British production/DJ duo of James Ford and James Anthony Shaw during this time slot. At least their brand of psychedelic noise is danceable.

As for Day One's headliners, I can't enthusiastically recommend either of them, though both have legions of fans. Kings of Leon are in the northern end of Butler Field, and though they've evolved considerably from the modern update of Southern rock in their early days, I've never been impressed by the group in concert. Meanwhile, in the strictly '80s nostalgia category, Depeche Mode will once again trot out their dusty, synth-heavy mope-rock at the southern end of Hutchinson Field. Better to rest up for the next two days, but enjoy, if either are your thing.

SATURDAY, AUG. 8

Ezra Furman & the Harpoons, 11:45 a.m., Butler Field South

This main-stage opening slot may be one of a handful of token gestures to local bands at this year's festival, but Furman is a smart and tuneful singer and songwriter worthy of the attention and deserving of your time even if his nasal vocals are a bit off-putting at first.

Atmosphere, 2:30 p.m., Hutchinson Field South (Chicago 2016 Stage)

After the Knux, this Minneapolis collective is the second best hip-hop act on this year's bill (and no, I'm not even going to mention celebrity shill Snoop Dogg). Led by rapper Slug (Sean Daley) and featuring a revolving cast of guests from the Rhymesayers collective, Atmosphere is as creative musically as lyrically, pairing uniquely moody sonic backgrounds with personal and poetic lyrics that rarely resort to gangsta cliches.

Chairlift, 3:30 p.m., Balbo at Lake Shore Drive (Citi Stage)

This much-buzzed, Boulder-to-Brookyn-transplanted "indietronica" trio has enough of a way with wispy but winning melodies--and frontwoman Caroline Polachek is an enticing enough presence--to almost erase the bad taste in my mouth from their sale of the single "Bruises" to an annoyingly ubiquitous TV commercial. But if they don't deliver onstage, it won't be much of a loss, since I'll be heading north anyway for...

Arctic Monkeys, 4:30 p.m., Butler Field North

The hype has considerably lessened since this young and hyperactive British quartet debuted in 2006 with "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not." But the 2007 follow-up "Favourite Worst Nightmare" was just as frenetic and irresistible, and they should be the shot of adrenaline Day Two has needed so far.

TV on the Radio, 6:30 p.m., Butler Field North

After postmodern R&B songstress Santigold (Santi White) struts her stuff at the other end of the northern field--and either is hypnotizing or snooze-inducing; I've seen her be both--these genre-defying heroes of the underground should once again pick up the pace with their electrifying and unforgettably tuneful mix of noise- and dance-rock, world rhythms, experimental soundscapes and Tunde Adebimpe's unforgettable vocals.

Animal Collective, 7:30, Hutchinson Field North (Vitaminwater Stage)

If ever a group epitomized the new Lollapalooza's ideal demographic mix of jam band, electronic-dance and alternative rock, it's these Baltimore-to-Brooklyn transplants, who are riding high on the best and most focused of their nine albums, "Merriweather Post Pavilion." Even better, they brought a similarly welcome discipline to their live show at Metro earlier this year. In fact, after the Beastie Boys dropped out as one of two Saturday headliners, their slot easily could have gone to the fancifully pseudononymous Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist.

As it is, Saturday will close with dance-punks the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the northern end of Butler and prog-metal favorites Tool at the southern end of Hutchinson. Both acts have their merits, but neither is really headline-worthy for a world-class festival.

SUNDAY, AUG. 9

Bat for Lashes, 1:30 p.m., Hutchinson Field North

Once again, as with the rest of the weekend, the first few hours of Day Three are a wash, and things only really get cooking after lunch with this appearance by British singer and songwriter Natasha Khan, who creates a bewitching, vaguely Renaissance Faire-flavored stew of Steve Reich minimalism, Kate Bush, Bjork and Tori Amos.

The Airborne Toxic Event, 2:30 p.m., Hutchinson Field South

A vehicle for the novelistic lyrics of Mikel Jollett, this Los Angeles band has a rousing sound that easily could shake the festival crowd from its Sunday morning stupor and prove to be a high point of the weekend. It also could be pointlessly bombastic--not for nothing is the group a recent favorite of those masters of arena-rock, U2--but we'll find out soon enough.

Dan Deacon, 3:30 p.m., Hutchinson Field North

One of several acts Pitchfork promoters probably would have killed for, Baltimore's electronic maestro was last seen here playing the songs from his amazing recent album "Bromst" with a massive if ramshackle combo at Metro, where the great pulsating waves of sound were overwhelming in the best way. I'm hoping they'll be just as impressive in Grant Park.

Vampire Weekend, 4:30 p.m., Hutchinson Field South

All due respect to former home girl Neko Case, who's playing at the same time at the far end of the park, but her sounds are best appreciated in a theater setting, while those of these much-hyped preppy New Yorkers, which I've excoriated on album, absolutely burst to life thanks to those African polyrhythms when the band proved to be the most startling surprise at Pitchfork 2008. Besides, if the group starts to get a little annoying, that will provide the perfect excuse to begin the long trek north, with a stop en route for...

Passion Pit, 5 p.m. Balbo at Lake Shore Drive

Formed by Boston college student Michael Angelakos as a musical project to win the affections of a girl he was besotted with, the band's effervescent dance-pop failed at that but succeeds wonderfully on the recent album "Manners," and it should be am unrivaled good time in concert.

Lou Reed, 6:30 p.m., Butler Field North

With five decades of often extraordinary music behind him and an even better claim than Iggy Pop (who filled the "venerated oldie" slot last year) for being an artist without whom almost every other band on this bill would not have been possible, it's nothing short of a sin that the godfather of punk is being given a mere 60 minutes to cover a catalog that stretches from the primal explosions of the Velvet Underground to the sophisticated rock opera "Berlin," and from the unbridled sonic chaos of "Metal Machine Music" to the breathtaking beauty of "Magic and Loss." Ah, well: Anyone with any taste at all will savor every second.

And with that, Lollapalooza 2009 pretty much comes to an end. Never mind that nothing really can follow Uncle Lou; in their second reunion go-round, Lollapalooza figurehead Perry Farrell and Jane's Addiction have become even more of a nostalgia act than Depeche Mode--next stop, the state fair circuit--while the Las Vegas glam-pop band the Killers really aren't even that good, with their artsy pretensions sinking their minor melodic charms like a cinder block tossed into Lake Michigan. My advice: Skip the last two headliners and avoid the post-festival traffic until next year.

FACTS

Lollapalooza 2009

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Grant Park

Tickets $205 for a three-day pass or $80 per day

www.lollapalooza.com

CLUB-HOPPING: The Lollapalooza "After-Shows"

Once again, in an attempt to make peace with local club owners, whose schedules are otherwise gutted by the festival for much of the summer, Austin, TX-based promoters C3 Presents are sponsoring a number of Lollapalooza "after-shows"--though two of these, a sold-out appearance by the Decemberists and Heartless Bastards at Metro and Thievery Corporation at the House of Blues on Thursday, actually took place before the festivities in Grant Park even got underway.

The lineup tonight [Friday, Aug. 7] includes Arctic Monkeys and Modey Lemon at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 10 p.m. (sold out); Band of Horses and Cass McCombs at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, at 10 p.m.; TV on the Radio and Chairlift at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, (sold out); Crookers, Major Lazer, Simian Mobile Disco and others at the Congress Theatre, 2135 N. Milwaukee, at 8 p.m.; Delta Spirit and Other Lives at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, at 10 p.m.; Lykke Li appear at the Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, at 9 p.m., and Asher Roth and Hollywood Holt at Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison, at 10 p.m.

On Saturday [Aug. 8], the after-roster includes Fleet Foxes and Dungen at Metro, 10 p.m. (sold out); STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector 9) at House of Blues, 10:30 p.m. (sold out); Joe Pug with the Low Anthem at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, at 10 p.m.; Dan Auerbach with Cage the Elephant at Schubas, 10 p.m. (sold out); Kaskade at Smart Bar under Metro at 10 p.m.; the Raveonettes at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, at 10 p.m.; Ezra Furman & the Harpoons and Blind Pilot at the Back Porch stage at House of Blues, 10:30 p.m., and the Gaslight Anthem and the Constantines at Double Door, 10 p.m.

Finally, on Sunday [Aug. 9], if anyone has any energy or hearing left, the after-bills include Deerhunter, No Age and Dan Deacon at Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie, at 10 p.m., and MSTRKRFT with LA Riots and Dark Wave Disco at the Bottom Lounge, 9 p.m.

Tickets for all of these shows are being sold through www.lollapalooza.com.

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22 Comments

Y'know, even reading the acts for which you're enthusiastic, Jim, I still can't muster much caring for the Lolla lineup this year. Sure, it'd be nice to see Lou Reed in even an hour-long set, but frankly, who the frak cares at this point? The sound will probably be crap (which wouldn't necessarily matter if he dug really deep and played something like "The Murder Mystery" but would be irredeemable for quieter moments), and the crowds would be bored to tears or otherwise annoyed if there wasn't a "Walk on the Wild Side" moment (take as an example the idiots who dismissed Wilco's highlight "It's Just That Simple" as twangy country music). I know it's impolitic to rag on crowds at a rock show, since any popular act or festival has its share of hangers-on out exclusively for a party; but unlike fests like Pitchfork, which deal with their fair share of obnoxious hipsters and party-all-the-time teenage faux-hippies, Lolla seems to attract a very specific crowd of beer-swilling frat-boys who'd feel just as at home amongst crowds for Dave Matthews or Matchbox Twenty. And it doesn't help that the show is in Grant Park which, though beautiful, is incredibly big, making it pretty difficult to sample as many bands as one might want.

I am a bit disappointed not to see Dan Deacon or Animal Collective, since their records this year are among the best I've heard. So too would it be sweet to see TV on the Radio again, especially since their '07 show was one of the highlights of that year's Lolla lineup. But an underwhelming bill, crappy sound, and irritating crowds make me wonder why a real music fan should even bother with this food court of music festivals.

I think Iggy was 2 years ago?

Pretty smug little article. I disagree with many of your assessments, but take particular umbrage with your description of Hey Champ, a relatively new band Chicago can rally around. They play a ton of local shows and treat everybody with respect. They play great live sets, and are pretty damn smooth DJs as well. That snarky little dig (which, by the way, is totally inaccurate - they have a fresh, vibrant sound and are extremely respected musicians, which you would know if you could play a note, or write with a hint of style). That, compared with your insufferable praise for The Knux - an average, if musically inarticulate scramble of words and sounds, makes you a joke. An aging hipster checking hype machine to forge some counterfeit sensibility. Your writing reveals somebody slightly out of the loop, although too 'generic' (to use your word) in his writing style and exposure to many of these bands to make any illuminating statement whatsoever. So, you are between a rock and a hard place - the judgemental critic, so desperate to be trendy and thoughtful, yet powerless to do anything other than take shots at hardworking acts, and saturate pithy bands with praise to satisfy your own self-idolization. I don't like you one bit.

TV on The Radio
Dan Deacon
Animal Collective
Vampire Weekend
Fleet Foxes

All these bands are reasons NOT to go to Lollapalooza this year. That animal collective (no caps out of disrespect) "album" if you want to call it that is the worst album of the year in terms of being reviewed for terms of relevancy. Admit it and get over it already.

I'm attending because of:

Depeche Mode
Ezra Furman
Santogold
Lou Reed
Friendly Fires
Crystal Castles
Bon Iver
Band of Horses
White Lies
Of Montreal
The Hood Internet
Ra Ra Riot
Bat For Lashes

@ Adam:
That animal collective (no caps out of disrespect) "album" if you want to call it that is the worst album of the year in terms of being reviewed for terms of relevancy. Admit it and get over it already.

I don't know what "being reviewed for terms of relevancy" means, but I presume it means "being reviewed for how relevant it's going to be to the mass culture." If that's your criteria for liking something, that's your call, but it doesn't really make much sense for that to be your criteria if you are "going to Lollapalooza" for of Montreal and Bat for Lashes. So far as Merriweather Post Pavilion goes, you're entitled to hate it -- believe me -- but I won't be admitting anything because I still can't get half the songs out of my head, and it works brilliantly as a full album.

So, yeah, you're entitled to your opinion, but for my money, it's one of the best things I've heard all year. But you can go enjoy Santigold (yep, she changed the spelling on ya) if that's your cup of tea, and I'll sit in front of my record player and listen to Merriweather on vinyl. We'll probably have about as good of a time.

Depeche Mode is hardly a legacy act. And, Tool's not 'world class'? Quit your day job already.

Shame on you for dropping the Tori Amos/Bjork/Kate Bush reference about Bat for Lashes. Is that the best you can do?

Please enlighten us Jim . . . please name 5 or 10 bands that should play Lollapallooza that would make it the festival you think it should be.

Jim, you should listen to this radio show called Sound Opinions. Its a pretty good show for the most part. There is this one guy, I forget his name, but I think he is from New Jersey. Anyway, over the last few years, he has given pretty big props to the following acts playing Lollapallooza this year, either through album reviews or buried treasure episodes: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Crystal Castles, Bat For Lashes, Animal Collective, Dan Deacon, Ida Maria, Tool, The Knux, Passion Pit, Peter Bjorn & John, Deerhunter, Fleet Foxes, Neko Case, The Decemberists, Arctic Monkeys, and of course, Lou Reed. According to this New Jersey Sound Opinions guy, it sounds like there will be some pretty good acts playing Lollapallooza this year.

Jim, it's painfully obvious that you hate Lollapallooza for reasons only known to yourself. You obviously have a favorable opinions on many of the artists playing this year. I don't know if Perry Ferrell pissed in your coffee in the early 90's or what but you need to get over it.

brendan,

Go to Pitchfork or go home!

I appreciate you telling me that it is Santigold now instead of Santogold. I knew that and don't really care. I have the Santogold album (bought it when it came out) and will be hearing songs off of that album. To assume that I don't know my sh*t is really ridiculous on your part.

Thanks poser,

Adam

@ Adam:

1) How 'bout we try to keep the tone of our discussions a little more civil? I might've been sarcastic, but I didn't succumb to namecalling. We can disagree without that, can't we?

2) I did go to Pitchfork, and then I went home. It's a nice little system I've got.

3) I never presumed that you "don't know [your] sh*t." I was being sarcastic -- which is very different from being insulting.

4) If you're going to post something, you open yourself up to criticism. No need to get defensive. You like Santigold? Fine. Good for you. Enjoy yourself. My main point in posting was to counter a claim that I didn't really understand, and which you still haven't explained. You called Merriweather Post Pavilion "the worst album of the year in terms of being reviewed for terms of relevancy." What does that mean? If you don't like the album, that's fine, but what exactly is that phrase criticizing?

brendan,

Thanks for taking my comments so seriously, I wasn't sure if you'd pick up on the tone.

The album isn't new, it isn't fresh. It's noise. It has no inviting quality to it whatsoever. I listening to things with an unbiased approach and there is really nothing to "get" from this album in my opinion.

It's noise-rock at best... stop pretending that something that AWFUL is some redefining and revolutionary album. It is just not that.

I'd really like to hear what you think is a song from MWPP that you "can't get out of your head"... because that would really be something... considering they're not songs.

Keep defending what all of the "indie" blogs tell you to listen to, I'm sure it's doing you well out there.

I retract my statement about you being a poser, I should have said hipster... my apologies.

;-)

Adam

How are Tool not world class headliners? I wont be seeing them but saying that is beyond dumb.

And you must never have seen a Killers or Jane's Addiction show with the way you discredit them too. Both are amazing live. So we should all go to Lolla, yet skip all the headliners. Makes no sense. You really should find a new job if this is your version of journalism.

There seem to be a lot of negative comments here. I just wanted to say that I appreciated the article as it will help me judge which acts to attend. The final decision is mine of course, but it's good to have insight from a frequent concert attender. However, I'm a sucker for the killers' sound, no matter how egotistical Brandon Flowers is and how out- of- their- league their art direction is. Also, give Jim a little break, guys.

Brendan and Adam, what happened? You guys used to be best friends and now this? Why don't we all sit down over a few beers and talk through our differences. I think we'll all realize we're really not that different.

Justin,

You're right. I shouldn't have turned to namecalling when brendan of the Music Police Force acted stupidly. Make mine a Red Stripe!

Adam

Gawd.....you suck.

As someone mentioned above, your articles are always smug and as usual exceptionally off base.


More praise the artists, bash the festival banter from Jimmy Boy.

Hey Jim, save us some snacks backstage this year.

Tool not being a world-class headliner.

that is by far one of the dumbest comments i have read from a journalist in a long time and there are a lot of dumb, pompous music journalists out there. whether your are a fan of tool or not, that simply is a very incorrect statement.

the rest of your article is also incredibly laughable. don't see how it makes much sense to go to lollapalooza and not see the headliners. if you're that disappointed, don't go. and see some of these great mid-tier and smaller bands at better venues or the after shows.

almost all the bands you named on this list are playing small venues in or around chicago this summer, where the experience will be much better than a festival and will probably save you a bunch of cash/time/headaches.

i'm sick of music journalists that push their opinions so much to the point that what they say just simply does not make sense or spreads false information and bad advice.

report the news to me, and if you have an opinion to share don't bash bands and a festival for the wrong reasons, and certainly don't show up to lollapalooza. You're time will be much better spent elsewhere.

Wow, what a terrible article. Hey Champ kicks ass and Jim DeRogatis is an idiot. Someone fire this guy already?

Wow, what a terrible article. Hey Champ rules and your assessment of them is without a doubt unwarranted. The odds of you having heard anything besides Cold Dust Girl, not to mention even having the opportunity to see them live, are slim to nill. The fact that you could even publish something so off-base is worrysome.

Someone fire Jim DeRogatis? That, or crucify him for his horrible sins!

C'mon Jimbo, Ezra Furman & the Harpoons is reason enough to arrive early? Really? If this past fall's set at Schuba's is any indication of Saturday's opener, concertgoers are better off sleeping in, missing the faux angst and mediocre talent of EF & H, and saving their energy for the long hot day of performances by the likes of Gomez, Glasvegas and Lykke Li. Or better yet wait until Sunday to hear the early sets of road-tested veterans like Kaiser Chiefs, the Raveonettes, Dan Auerbach and Deerhunter.

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