Perry Farrell's Lollapalooza has transformed from a roaming freak show into one of the year's most reliable showcases of brilliant pop, rock and hip-hop acts. This year, Lady Gaga and Arcade Fire share top billing alongside Soundgarden, Green Day and the Strokes, and fans can jump from seeing stoner rapper B.o.B to lo-fi punks Wavves. If you're headed out to Chicago this weekend for three days of sun and music, here's the essential, hour-by-hour breakdown of what sets to catch. Stick with Rolling Stone for full reports from this year's fest, plus photos, video, interviews and more.
11:30 a.m.—12:15 p.m.: B.o.B
One of this year's many hip-hop success stories, B.o.B. sailed up the charts courtesy of the Hayley Williams-assisted "Airplanes," a song about, of all things, being tired of success. It's those kinds of paradoxes that propel B.o.B.'s music, melding melody with clean, nimble rapping, songs that have both bounce and heart.
12:15 p.m.—1:00 p.m.: Wavves
Nathan Williams was halfway to trainwreck when he released his first record, melting down at the Primavera Sound festival and getting into fights in Brooklyn bars. Somehow, he's righted the ship: nicking the late Jay Reatard's crackerjack rhythm section, he assembled the full-throttle-sunshine of King of the Beach, and turned a sloppy, disinterested live show into pure punk power.
1:00 p.m.—2:00 p.m.: The Walkmen
With each new record, Hamilton Leithauser & Co. seem to get more imposing and expansive. Their last outing, You & Me, found them blowing out their reverb-soaked noir-rock to full 70mm, and leaked tracks from the upcoming Lisbon promise even more: string sections, brass sections, bigger choruses, deeper yearning. Live, all of these elements seem more urgent and desperate. Leithauser twists and contorts his gangly frame as he bellows out lyrics about fading light and fading love. Mid-afternoon is the right time for this slow-building force of nature.
2:00 p.m.—3:00 p.m.: Mavis Staples
Any opportunity to witness a legend in action must be seized, but that goes five times over for Mavis Staples. At 71 years old, her voice has lost none of its rich, earthy tone or its singular spiritual power. As if that's not enough, she'll almost certainly be debuting songs from You Are Not Alone, her forthcoming collaboration with Jeff Tweedy which splits the difference between gospel and country, drawing out the best bits of both. Expect her to close with one of the best versions of "The Weight" you've ever heard.
3:00 p.m.—4:00 p.m.: Drive-By Truckers
Alt-country's resident hard-luck storyteller Patterson Hood has a snarl for every season. The group's latest, The Big To-Do, is stripped-back and simple, with prime focus on Hood's yowl and a steady chug of guitar. Onstage, the group is ferocious, tearing up the center of their catalog with reckless abandon and throwing their whole body weight into ragged pickup truck rockers. Scorched and perfectly ruined, the Drive-By Truckers are the grit between the gears.
4:00 p.m.—5:00 p.m.: Devo
Pioneering bizarro new wavers Devo's scathing Something for Everybody is less like a reunion and more like king cynics coming to reclaim their pylon-shaped crown. The album amps up the synth leanings of their later works, but the set's a must-see because of the band's flair for the visual and their perverse sense of humor.
5:00 p.m.—6:00 p.m.: Dirty Projectors
Beloved by everyone from bleeding-edge art students to Beyoncé's little sister, Brooklyn's Dirty Projectors are purveyors of the perfectly refracted pop song. They turn the essential elements inside out: weird, bent-metal guitars, arrhythmic percussion and unlikely melodic twists. But the songs still work: there are undeniable traces of R&B in the vocal delivery of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian, and the way their smooth tones contrast with the wildman yelping of singer Dave Longstreth helps give the Projectors their strange power.
6:00 p.m.—7:15 p.m.: The Black Keys
The gruff blues duo's latest, Brothers, nicks elements of soul and funk, and even a bit of glam rock in the T. Rex stomp of opener "Everlasting Light." Nine years on the road has turned them into a live powerhouse: Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney churn out a big noise, fierce and terrific, and one not to be missed as the sun sets on Chicago.
7:15 p.m.—8:30 p.m.: Jimmy Cliff
If his Bonnaroo set is any indication, Cliff's performance at Lollapalooza should find him in good spirits and outstanding voice. His song selection — "You Can Get it If You Really Try," "I Can See Clearly Now," "Many Rivers to Cross" — is exceptional. Cliff is exuberant onstage: running in place, laughing, egging on the crowd. If energy is flagging near the end of Day One, Jimmy Cliff is certainly the top choice to wake you up in time for the big show.
8:00 p.m.—10:00 p.m.: Lady Gaga
8:30 p.m.—10:00: The Strokes
This is festival programming genius at its finest: on one stage, the definition of opulence and spectacle — a mind-blowing, eye-widening panorama of sight and sound that, according to most estimates, cost upwards of a quarter of a million dollars. On the other stage, five guys who are the apotheosis of don't-give-a-shit minimalism. You'll be lucky if they even have a smoke machine. Look, let's be honest: no matter how fantastic it is that the Strokes are out of their temporary limbo, that they're working on a new album, and that recent show reports have been excellent, don't you kind of have to see Gaga? It's like being in the same room as a mermaid riding a unicorn through the aurora borealis and deciding instead to watch this really great Fellini movie on a TV. I mean, the Fellini movie is still great, but it's a mermaid riding a unicorn through the aurora borealis. Which, coincidentally enough, is actually a set piece in Lady Gaga's quarter-of-a-million-dollar Lollapalooza performance.
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