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.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Tickets $205 for a three-day pass or $80 per day
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.