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).
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
10. Hot Chip: Pleasant enough on record, this English electro-pop band is underwhelming live.
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.
12. The National: Perfectly O.K. indie-rock from Brooklyn, ideally suited as background listening for a mid-afternoon corn dog.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
19. Slightly Stoopid: Lame mid-tier ska-punk listed among the top 20 bands on the roster? Really?
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.
21. Gogol Bordello: Lower East Side gypsy punk. "Eclectic" is not necessarily synonymous with "good."
22. Chromeo: Canadian electro-funk duo that makes much of it Arab/Jewish partnership. That is not necessarily synonymous with "good music," either.
23. Wolfmother: Stoner-rock crunch from Australia. Finally a reason for head-banging!
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.
25. X Japan: Extremely silly-looking Japanese metal with a sound that is only slightly less laughable.
26. Mutemath: New Orleans Christian rockers who underscore why this should remain the Devil's Music.
27. Metric: Toronto indie-pop band still riding high on last year's endearing "Fantasies."
28. Dirty Projectors: Much-loved genre-defying indie project for people who think the Fiery Furnaces are too linear and predictable.
29. AFI: Another nod to the Warped crowd.
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.
31. Matt & Kim: Hey, just for variety's sake, let's book another dance-pop band from Brooklyn that happens to be another duo!
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.
33. Drive-By Truckers: Cornpone, for sure, but predictably raucous good-time country-punk.
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.
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?
37. Jamie Lidell: An English soul man who does the Jon Bryan tape-loop thing.
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.
39. F**k Buttons: English electro-pop with a real edge on stage.
40. Deer Tick: Another in the series of indie-folk acts liable to be swallowed whole by Grant Park.
41. Blitzen Trapper: Uneven indie-rock band from Portland.
42. Stars: Alright! More unextraordinary indie-pop from Canada!
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.
44. The Cribs: U.K. soccer-hooligan rock.
45. Minus the Bear: Cool Seattle experimental/ambient/indie-pop.
46. Switchfoot: Generic San Diego alt-rock.
47. The Walkmen: Indie buzz band of the early 2000s quickly fading into irrelevance, as evidenced by their slot at No. 47.
48. Mumford & Sons: Twee English indie-folk.
49. Wild Beasts: Among the (much) lesser lights on the U.K.'s Domino Records label.
50. Rogue Wave: Indie rockers who aren't nearly as smart or unique as they think they are.
(Average star rating for the Top 50 acts: 2.3 STARS)
AND NOW FOR THE REST
(Particularly worthy acts in the second and third tiers have been marked ***)
51. Los Amigos Invisibles
52. The Big Pink ***
53. The Dodos
55. Cymbals Eat Guitars
59. The Antlers
60. The Soft Pack
62. Balkan Beat Box
64. American Bang
65. The Ike Reilly Assassination
66. Company of Thieves ***
69. The Constellations
70. Miniature Tigers
71. Mimicking Birds
72. The Kissaway Trail
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
85. My Dear Disco
86. Shawn Fisher
87. Neon Hitch
89. The Ettes
90. Jukebox the Ghost
91. These United States
AND, ON PERRY'S STAGE:
94. Empire of the Sun
96. Perry Farrell
98. Felix da Housecat ***
100. Erol Alkan
102. Flosstradamus ***
103. Wolfgang Gartner
104. Joachim Garraud
105. Mexican Institute of Sound
107. Peanut Butter Wolf
108. Dirty South
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
118. DJ Mel
121. Only Children
122. Lance Herbstrong
Three-day passes are on sale now via www.lollapalooza.com for $215. Three-day VIP passes are $850.