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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

April 2010 Archives

Hole, "Nobody's Daughter" (Mercury) 1 star

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Love her or hate her, the one thing everyone could agree on about Courtney Love through the first third of her career was that she was never boring. Personally, I can defend the Babes in Toyland/Sonic Youth-like noise-rock of "Pretty on the Inside," the 1991 debut by her band Hole, as invigorating chaos (though the songs were best appreciated live), while "Live Through This" (1994), the album released just as the world was mourning the loss of her husband Kurt Cobain, remains hands-down one of the most powerful discs of the alternative-rock era.

But Courtney hasn't really been Courtney on record since. She experimented with lame California lite-rock fluff on "Celebrity Skin" (1998), slept-walk (or strolled while under the influence of Lord knows what) through "America's Sweetheart" (2004) and then spent the rest of the decade distracted by a never-ending series of controversies, lawsuits, stints in rehab and custody battles. As a result, there now exists an entire generation of rock fans who know her only as a train wreck and a punch line--rock's answer to Carol Burnett's gin-addled Miss Hannigan in "Annie."

Hosed down with a thoroughly generic hard-rock sheen and meticulously crafted with the help of hack songwriter for hire Linda Perry (a slightly hipper Kara Dioguardi) and former beau Billy Corgan, the 11 songs on her attempted comeback "Nobody's Daughter" not only lack the memorable melodies and potent drive of "Live Through This," but show little evidence of what was once a highly nuanced and strongly symbolic lyrical wit. (Cobain often has been credit for giving Love some of the best melodies on her classic album, but it's often glossed over that he himself said that his wife helped him hone and improve his own lyric writing.)

No, I am not expecting the now 45-year-old singer to crowd-surf or otherwise court death nightly on stage the way she once did. But certainly she could have mined the pain and drama of recent years to prompt something more than the depressing yawns and vitriol-laced but ultimately hollow bursts of bombast such as "Skinny Little Bitch," "Someone Else's Bed" and "How Dirty Gets Clean." Rather than reasserting herself as a force to be reckoned with, Love now just makes me yearn to hit eject and listen instead to the latest from the Vivian Girls or the Screaming Females, both of whom could eat this latest version of Hole for breakfast.

Roky Erickson, "True Love Cast Out All Evil" (Anti-) 3 stars

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For those familiar with Roky Erickson as the inimitable voice of psychedelic-rock pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators and a fantastically weird but wonderful solo artist through the '70s and into the early '80s, the initial impulse is to be overjoyed that this album even exists--it's his real attempt at new music since "All That May Do My Rhyme" in 1995, though some would say he really stopped creating in the mid-'80s. Second in infamy only to Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett as one of rock's saddest examples of a mental breakdown, Erickson spent nearly 20 years living in seclusion and poverty, battling schizophrenia and numerous other problems even as countless musicians continued to cite him as a towering inspiration.

Lovingly nursed back to health by his younger brother Sumner, Roky returned to live performance early in the new millennium, tentative at first, but gaining confidence with every show he did. Now comes his return to the recording studio, overseen with obvious devotion by Will Sheff of the Texas roots-rock band Okkervil River.

The emphasis here is on the more quiet and introspective Erickson--a strain of pretty if sometimes strange balladry that's run throughout his career--with the focus on his acoustic guitar and a voice that remains impressively vibrant, still evoking a mix of Buddy Holly and James Brown, as has often been said. In songs such as "Please Judge," "Bring Back the Past" and "Be and Bring Me Home," some actually years old, the artist longs for peace, but you can still sense the demons scratching at his door.

It's disappointing the monsters don't get to growl a bit more: Sheff hardly is Erickson's ideal collaborator; a much better choice would have been Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, who'd talked about wanting to repay a lifelong inspiration. Still, there are more than enough moments of gentle beauty to reward fans, even if new initiates would be much better off starting with one of several strong career retrospectives.

As in years past, and much to the chagrin of Austin, TX-based promoters C3 Presents, the names of the top six main-stage acts at Lollapalooza all leaked to the press over the last few months. But the full "quantity beats quality" list for Chicago's musical Walmart on the Lake finally was made official today as the complete roster of 122 acts was formally announced for when the fest rolls into Grant Park from Aug. 6 to 8.

As reported earlier, the headliners are the reunited Seattle grunge merchants Soundgarden; long-running Broadway-bound pop-punks Green Day; avant-garde dance-pop phenom Lady Gaga; Canada's orchestral-pop heroes the Arcade Fire; New York guitar-rockers the Strokes, performing their first show in four years, and French synth-pop act Phoenix.

Soundgarden performed as part of the original day-long touring Lollapalooza in 1992 and '96, but it has not performed live since '97 when it split up so singer Chris Cornell could pursue a decidedly lousy solo career. Green Day and the Arcade Fire also are Lollapalooza veterans, as is the most surprising of the top acts, Lady Gaga, who was an almost unknown up-and-comer performing on one of the smallest stages in 2007, before taking the pop world by storm in a gonzo assault unrivaled since the rise of Madonna in the '80s.

Once again, the rest of the lineup is completed by an Old Country Buffet-style smorgasbord of established indie-rock buzz bands (Grizzly Bear, Spoon, the New Pornographers, Yeasayer, MGMT), a few older musical legends (Devo, Jimmy Cliff), a smattering of hard rock (Wolfmother), R&B (Erykah Badu, Raphael Saadiq), hip-hop (Cypress Hill) and jam bands (Gogol Bordello, Blues Traveler) and an entirely too-small sampling of great Chicago artists.

The best of the latter on the 2010 bill: soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples, whose music remains vital, vibrant and timely enough to deserve a main-stage headlining platform, as evidenced by her last album, "Live: Hope at the Hideout" in 2008.

Within the concert industry, experts have been talking for several years about "festival glut" as Lollapalooza competes with other national destination festivals including California's Coachella, Washington state's Sasquatch, Tennessee's Bonnaroo and others. Aside from a few top headliners, the lineups of many of these fests are becoming increasingly similar and predictable, and the giant concerts are struggling to find new ways to distinguish themselves.

New additions to Lollapalooza this year are an expanded electronic and dance music stage named for festival founder and corporate figurehead Perry Farrell, who has struggled for several years to overcome city officials' wariness of anything resembling a rave, and a promised "new and tastier Chow Town" food component overseen by Chicago celebrity chef and hardcore rock fan Graham Elliot Bowles.

As with all musical endeavors, there is an art to booking an exciting festival lineup, and Lollapalooza promoters haven't always gotten it right. Here is a look at the Top 50 acts on the 2010 bill graded on the Sun-Times four-star scale.

No, we're not prejudging performances that won't happen for four more months. We're considering these bookings on the criteria of their uniqueness; their suitability for the festival setting; their recent work on stage and on album and their just plain overall grooviness. (The rest of the list follows after the Top 50.)

1. Soundgarden: Though the Seattle grunge band packed an undeniable wallop in its day, that day is 13 years past, and this reunion clearly is a cash-grab desperation move. Doubt it? Go listen again to singer Chris Cornell's last solo album, "Scream" (2009). 1 and a halfstars

2. Green Day: As the Bay Area pop-punks have traded their invigorating basement snarl for hollow arena-rock poses and Broadway bombast, they've become more Billy Joel than Screeching Weasel, and that is a very a sad thing indeed. 1 and a halfstars

3. Lady Gaga: Love her or hate her, no one can deny that the dance-pop diva of the moment delivers an unparalleled spectacle, and she's sure to do something special given this high-profile platform and welcome departure from Lollapalooza-as-usual bookings. 4 stars

4. Arcade Fire: The Pitchfork favorites knocked it out of the park at Lollapalooza 2005, and their big ork-pop sound is made for festival settings, though they're docked half a notch here for a predictable return and for having no new music at the moment. 3 and a half stars

5. The Strokes: The New York minimalist masters have sadly been missing in action for the past four years as they've all indulged in often less than stellar solo projects. Sources in the know doubt that they'll play much new music from their allegedly forthcoming fourth album, but it will be fun to have them back nonetheless. 3 and a half stars

6. Phoenix: The French dance-pop had one of the feel-good albums of the summer with "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix." Of course, that was the summer of 2009, and their last performance in Chicago garnered mixed reviews when their drummer called in sick. 3 stars

7. Social Distortion: Here's a booking for everyone too old to go to the Warped Tour anymore but too young to really appreciate Bruce Springsteen. 2 and a half stars

8. MGMT: The Brooklyn electronic rockers have not been overly impressive on previous tours, but their forthcoming album "Congratulations" really kicks things up a notch, and we can hope the live show follows suit. 3 stars

9. Jimmy Cliff: Yes, he's a legend, without whom reggae as we know it would not exist. But like many legends, he can blow your mind in concert or barely rise to the level of phoning it in. Let's hope for the best. 2 and a half stars

10. Hot Chip: Pleasant enough on record, this English electro-pop band is underwhelming live. 2 and a half stars

11. The Black Keys: Fans worship this two-man Ohio blues-rock band, but there are easily half a dozen two-person combos on the current scene doing this sort of thing just as good or better. 2 stars

12. The National: Perfectly O.K. indie-rock from Brooklyn, ideally suited as background listening for a mid-afternoon corn dog. 2 and a half stars

13. Spoon: Always worth hearing on album, by this point, anyone who's loved any of those discs has seen Spoon be very, very good in concert or very, very mediocre. And the bigger setting, the worse the chance for an excellent gig. 2 and a half stars

14. Devo: Joining Cliff as this year's main-stage veteran legend act (the slot that's gone to Lou Reed and the Stooges in previous years) are the godfathers of synth-pop, whose appearance would be a lot more special if they hadn't already played in Chicago a couple of times over the last two years. 3 stars

15. Cypress Hill: Noticeably short on hip-hop in 2010, it's all the more surprising that the highest-placed act from that genre on the bill is one that was never very good in concert even when it was in its prime, and that prime is now a decade and a half in the past. 1 and a halfstars

16. Cut Copy: More synth-pop, this time from Australia, and with considerable buzz behind it as a live act. (Also playing a DJ set on Perry's Stage.) 3 and a half stars

17. The New Pornographers: You saw this Canadian pop supergroup at Lollapalooza 2006. You saw it at Pitchfork 2007. And now, um, you can see it again! 3 stars

18. Erykah Badu: Not only a welcome bid to diversify this year's R&B and hip-hop-shy lineup, Badu also is one of the most consistently rewarding live performers on this long, long list. 4 stars

19. Slightly Stoopid: Lame mid-tier ska-punk listed among the top 20 bands on the roster? Really? 1 star

20. Grizzly Bear: Occasionally sublime, more frequently monochromatic indie folk-rock that can be enchanting in a small club setting, but which seems destined to be lost to the wind off Lake Michigan and the chatter of the crowds in Grant Park. 2 and a half stars

21. Gogol Bordello: Lower East Side gypsy punk. "Eclectic" is not necessarily synonymous with "good." 1 star

22. Chromeo: Canadian electro-funk duo that makes much of it Arab/Jewish partnership. That is not necessarily synonymous with "good music," either. 1 star

23. Wolfmother: Stoner-rock crunch from Australia. Finally a reason for head-banging! 3 and a half stars

24. Yeasayer: The recent "Odd Blood" is one of the most impressive albums so far this year, and this psychedelic-pop combo is even better on concert, with the power to command a festival setting. 4 stars

25. X Japan: Extremely silly-looking Japanese metal with a sound that is only slightly less laughable. 1 and a halfstars

26. Mutemath: New Orleans Christian rockers who underscore why this should remain the Devil's Music. 1 and a halfstars

27. Metric: Toronto indie-pop band still riding high on last year's endearing "Fantasies." 3 and a half stars

28. Dirty Projectors: Much-loved genre-defying indie project for people who think the Fiery Furnaces are too linear and predictable. 1 star

29. AFI: Another nod to the Warped crowd. 1 and a halfstars

30. Mavis Staples: Chicago gospel/soul legend whose recent work is every bit as great as the music of her legendary past, and well-deserving of an even more high-profile slot than the one she's getting here. 4 stars

31. Matt & Kim: Hey, just for variety's sake, let's book another dance-pop band from Brooklyn that happens to be another duo! 1 and a halfstars

32. The xx: Much- (much-, much-) buzzed English dream-pop band; the one booking this year guaranteed to have made the Pitchfork Music Festival envious. 3 and a half stars

33. Drive-By Truckers: Cornpone, for sure, but predictably raucous good-time country-punk. 3 stars

34. Blues Traveler: Really? Again? Why? (Oh, that's right: The band is managed by C3 Presents. Nepotism will get you everywhere.) (no stars)

35. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: Another indie-in-name-only offering from Vagrant Records. 2 stars

36. The Temper Trap: Say, there are quite a few Australian bands on this year's bill. Was there a sale in airline tickets, or is C3 branching out down under? 2 stars

37. Jamie Lidell: An English soul man who does the Jon Bryan tape-loop thing. 2 and a half stars

38. Frightened Rabbit: The Scottish indie-rock band certainly has its charms, singing winsomely of love lost, but its subtle songs are ill-suited for a festival, and would be best appreciated in a room no bigger than Schubas. 2 and a half stars

39. F**k Buttons: English electro-pop with a real edge on stage. 3 and a half stars

40. Deer Tick: Another in the series of indie-folk acts liable to be swallowed whole by Grant Park. 1 and a halfstars

41. Blitzen Trapper: Uneven indie-rock band from Portland. 2 stars

42. Stars: Alright! More unextraordinary indie-pop from Canada! 2 stars

43. Raphael Saadiq: Now here's a surprise, buried pretty far down the list and deserving of a much higher spot--a master of old-school R&B whose work is more timeless than retro. 4 stars

44. The Cribs: U.K. soccer-hooligan rock. 2 and a half stars

45. Minus the Bear: Cool Seattle experimental/ambient/indie-pop. 3 and a half stars

46. Switchfoot: Generic San Diego alt-rock. 1 and a halfstars

47. The Walkmen: Indie buzz band of the early 2000s quickly fading into irrelevance, as evidenced by their slot at No. 47. 2 stars

48. Mumford & Sons: Twee English indie-folk. 1 and a halfstars

49. Wild Beasts: Among the (much) lesser lights on the U.K.'s Domino Records label. 1 and a halfstars

50. Rogue Wave: Indie rockers who aren't nearly as smart or unique as they think they are. 1 and a halfstars

(Average star rating for the Top 50 acts: 2.3 STARS)


(Particularly worthy acts in the second and third tiers have been marked ***)

51. Los Amigos Invisibles

52. The Big Pink ***

53. The Dodos

54. Hockey

55. Cymbals Eat Guitars

56. B.o.B

57. Dawes

58. Warpaint

59. The Antlers

60. The Soft Pack

61. Rebelution

62. Balkan Beat Box

63. Wavves

64. American Bang

65. The Ike Reilly Assassination

66. Company of Thieves ***

67. Nneka

68. Harlem

69. The Constellations

70. Miniature Tigers

71. Mimicking Birds

72. The Kissaway Trail

73. Health

74. Javelin

75. The Morning Benders

76. Foxy Shazam

77. Violent Soho

78. Royal Bangs

79. Neon Trees

80. Freelance Whales

81. Semi Precious Weapons

82. Dan Black ***

83. The Band of Heathens

84. Dragonette

85. My Dear Disco

86. Shawn Fisher

87. Neon Hitch

88. Skybox

89. The Ettes

90. Jukebox the Ghost

91. These United States

92. MyNameIsJohnMichael


93. 2ManyDJs

94. Empire of the Sun

95. Digitalism

96. Perry Farrell

97. Tiga

98. Felix da Housecat ***

99. Rusko

100. Erol Alkan

101. Kaskade

102. Flosstradamus ***

103. Wolfgang Gartner

104. Joachim Garraud

105. Mexican Institute of Sound

106. Caspa

107. Peanut Butter Wolf

108. Dirty South

109. Nervo

110. Beats Antique ***

111. Steve Porter

112. Didi Gutman of Brazilian Girls ***

113. Ancient Astronauts

114. Ana Sia

115. Team Bayside High

116. Dani Deahl

117. FreeSol

118. DJ Mel

119. BBU

120. Vonnegutt

121. Only Children

122. Lance Herbstrong

Three-day passes are on sale now via for $215. Three-day VIP passes are $850.

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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