All festivals come packaged with them the necessity of choice, but few festivals make those choices as difficult as Lollapalooza, once again anchored by Perry Farrell’s Jane’s Addiction. With eight stages full-up for 12 hours over three days, you may find yourself having to ask some pretty ridiculous questions, like “Lou Reed or Snoop Dogg?” “Andrew Bird or Of Montreal”? We’ve done our best to eliminate some of those dilemmas below, but for the headliners, even we’re not gonna make that call. Here’s our guide to risk-minimization at Perry’s big party.
11:15 a.m.-12:00 p.m. – April Smith
It’s possible you haven’t heard much about April Smith but all that is about to change. This Brooklyn singer-songwriter combines country and swing, making crackling songs that wink and smile and sway. She’s got a rich, plummy voice, and she lays it on thick over a taut guitar strum, making for music as long on charm as it is on melody.
12:00-12:30 p.m. – Other Lives
Moody, piano-based art rock isn’t always the best fit for a festival, but Other Lives make their haunting balladry so bewitching it’s hard to recommend seeing anyone else. Their debut album is full of strange, haunted songs, vocalist Jesse Tabish’s delicate tenor floating ghostlike above the arrangements. It’s difficult to believe the band isn’t from Britain, but … Oklahoma.
1:00-1:45 p.m. – The Knux
Lolla’s hip-hop offerings are slimmer than in previous years, but the Knux do a fine job of compensating for the oversight. Their rhymes are quick and adroit, and they’re delivered over the booming backbeats that have all the fury and potency of grimy rock & roll — a few songs are even built around grimy guitar lines. For a festival that specializes in searing riffage, the Knux are a natural fit.
2:00-3:00 p.m. – The Gaslight Anthem
A no-show at All Points West, expect Gaslight to compensate for the absence by bringing their blistering, unbeatable brand of heart-on-sleeve blue-collar rock to Chicago. Gaslight are everything you go to rock music for: steely determination, pie-eyed optimism, a sense of perseverence through endless defeat and a confidence and conviction that life can — and will — be better. The perfect band for such beleaguered times, don’t be surprised to find them fronting the big stage a few years from now.
3:00-4:00 p.m. – Bon Iver
Quiet often doesn’t play well at festival shows, but if there’s anyone who can pull it off, it’s Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver. Vernon’s songs are tiny and folky, but there’s something about his wavering croon that draws an audience in — like a wise, kind-eyed old wanderer gently beckoning you to follow him into his cave. Vernon’s songs are soothing and soleful, and might be just the thing to cool off a steamy afternoon.
4:15-5:00 p.m. – Eric Church
Church never quite topppled the mainstream the way fellow country stars Keith Urban and Brad Paisley did, which is a genuine shame. Church’s song’s have more rock bluster and raw nerve than both of those artists combined, and his canny knack for turning country tropes inside out, making a loving mockery of the music’s conventions, makes his albums endlessly rewarding. Live, Church is not-to-be-missed — a full-force rock show that comes out guns blazing and remains wild-eyed and fully-charged for the duration.
5:00-6:00 p.m. – Fleet Foxes
The new patron saints of indie folk, Fleet Foxes have effortlessly translated their pastoral songs to big stages. The trick is emphasizing those harmonies: eerie and almost monastic, they sound spectacular sweeping out over a large field, a little bit of Appalachia arriving in the middle of Illinois.
6:00-7:00 p.m. – The Decemberists
The Decemberists have the reputation for being overstudied eggheads, but ever since they discovered prog, their live shows have become engaging, jubilant affairs. Their music is complex to be sure — they’re fond of 6-plus-minute story songs with weird codas and bridges — but they deliver them with such determination it’s hard not to be won over. On top of that, they’ve become crack musicians, stitching up songs with nimble solos and favoring skilled instrumentation as much as razor-sharp writing.
7:00-8:00 p.m. – Of Montreal
Everyone wants a show to tell their friends about the next day — “You won’t believe what these guys did!” Of Montreal put on that kind of show. Kevin Barnes and Co. employ all manner of costume and prop to make for one of the weirdest, wildest, winningest shows in pop music, serving up bubbling and oddly-angular synth-pop with maximum flair and panache. Barnes is not averse to entering on horseback or wearing a prince’s 18th Century garb, so what kind of shenanigans they’ll pull in front of such a large audience is anybody’s guess.
8:00-10:00 p.m. – Depeche Mode vs. Kings of Leon
That Depeche Mode managed to transcend their of-the-moment status two decades ago to emerge as one of the most enduring and dependable stadium acts is one of pop music’s nicer surprises. Chalk most of that up to the charisma of David Gahan. He’s a wild, energizing frontman, and he hurls himself into his band’s dark, doomy songs with unparallelled conviction. You may think of them as an ’80s band, but five minutes of their live show will convince you that they are one for the ages.
Fittingly, they’re up against Kings of Leon. It’s doubtful there will be much of an audience split, but the Kings’ gradula transformation from gritty Southern rock to the kind of pealing anthems plied by U2 shows the same canniness Depeche Mode demonstrated around the time of Violator. Needless to say, the Kings are well-practiced in owning large audiences, and that their soaring songs should be the perfect close for Day One.
1:00-1:45 p.m. – Constantines
The Constantines have undergone a series of sonic transformations since their inception 10 years ago. They started out brutish and aggressive — Canada’s answer to Fugazi — but they’ve mellowed over time, and these days they ply a kind of arty, angular guitar pop, topping weird, bent-elbow riffing with hoarse, insistent vocals. A decade in the business has given them a powder-keg live show, and their day-starting set will be just the thing to revitalize after a long Friday in the sun.
2:15-3:00 p.m. – Ida Maria
Ida Maria didn’t quite take off the way she should have in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean her live shows are second rate. She is a human tornado, burning through her quirky, punky songs with nerve and gusto. Because her songs are so short, the set moves at light speed — before you know it, you’re sweat-drenched, and singing along to every word of the last song.
3:00-3:45 p.m. – Joe Pug
Pug is a Chicago native, steadily gaining attention through both relentless touring and spare, expert songcraft. His music is the type most people like to describe as “rootsy,” but don’t let that scare you off — Pug channels early Bob Dylan with his strangled yawp and tender strumming, and when he sings that he’s “come to test the timbre of his heart,” rest assured it will be found to be bell clear and true.
4:30-5:30 p.m. – Arctic Monkeys
Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys have come a long way since their heyday as impish cut-ups ogling ladies on British dancefloors. Their new work is dark and stormy, sounding like the hour when the party goes sour and someone gets hit over the head with a whiskey bottle. They’ve been foregrounding these stormy, minor-key songs in live shows lately, making their concerts surprisingly harrowing affairs. The Arctic Monkeys are slowly emerging as the bitter prophets of our new dark age, here to point out where all that partying got us.
5:30-6:30 p.m. – Santigold
The author of everyone’s favorite Bud Light Lime jingle, Santigold is a voracious hybridizer of a million different musical sounds. Her songs pull from rock and reggae and hip-hop and new wave equally, mashing them altogether to create something wholly new, wholly infectious. Her self-titled debut was the sound of summer, summarized, and live her art school charm and odd charisma never fail to captivate.
6:30-7:30 p.m. – TV on the Radio
Art rock for the arena set, TV on the Radio generally perform with a small brass section and a bevy of extra players, making their weird, warped sound that much tougher and tighter. Their sets build to frantic, dramatic conclusions, emphasizing their music’s underlying rhythm and throb. If you’re still holding that awkward Saturday Night Live performance against them, this is your chance to have your mind changed.
7:30-8:30 p.m. – Animal Collective
Strange, psychedelic, overpowering and all-encompassing, Animal Collective are this year’s big acid drop, spinning out hazy psych-pop anthems guaranteed to hypnotize. Animal Collective live shows are startling affairs, full of flashing-lights and strange, pealing shrieks. The songs change shape, becoming more droning and hypnotic, and the entire event feels more like a massive mind-control experiment than a rock concert.
8:30-10:00 p.m. – Tool vs. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Believe it or not, this pair of headliners are not all that different from one another. Both favor stunning visuals — for Tool, it’s the unsettling films of Adam Jones, for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it’s Karen O’s willfully outlandish, eye-catching outfits. Both of them are artistically minded — Tool create odd and often confounding seven-plus-minute prog-metal jams, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs turn punk and new wave inside-out for shrieking, ecstatic anthems. And both are known for dynamic, gripping live shows. So what we’re saying is, you really can’t lose here. The trick is whether or not you want moody and morose or wound-up and jubilant. Our advice? Split the difference. Start with Tool for a long plunge into the abyss, and then race over to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to get pulled back out. If you’re really feeling ambitious, you can repeat the process for the duration.
12:30-1:30 p.m. – Ra Ra Riot
Riot is right — this Syracuse group has earned a deserved reputation over the last few years for hyperkenetic live shows, the kind where the band members start moving with the first note and don’t stop till the show ends. What comes across more than anything else is their deep abiding love for what they’re doing. Few bands pour themselves into their music as willingly as Ra Ra Riot, and few live shows this weekend will yield such large dividends.
1:30-2:30 p.m. – Bat for Lashes
Natasha Khan is a dark angel — a purveyor of shadowy pop songs that court the night with the same bewitching power as Kate Bush. Her live shows are just as powerful — Khan has emerged as a frontwoman full of odd charisma, a strange sorceress fronting a brooding art-pop coven. If she can bring half of that darkness to the Lollapalooza stage, her set will be a little bit of darkness at the center of a steamy afternoon.
2:30-3:30 p.m. – Kaiser Chiefs
There’s nothing arty about Kaiser Chiefs — and that’s a good thing. The Leeds mod outfit specialize in tough, gutsy songs with jabbing chords and leering choruses. For them, consistency is a virtue: on a bill light on puncy guitar pop, the Kaiser Chiefs are prime excuse to let go and get loose.
3:30-4:30 p.m. – The Raveonettes
For those looking to be Drowned in Sound, the Raveonettes mid-afternoon set will provide the perfect opportunity. The duo blend the aural assault of My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain with Phil Spector melodies, making for a kind of industrial strength shoop-shoop. Their live set has improved over the years, and they project a kind of greaser cool, tough and indifferent, and more than willing to wage a full-on assault on your senses.
4:30-5:30 p.m. – Vampire Weekend
Ably working the festival circuit, Vampire Weekend proved the one bright spot on the rainy first day of All Points West — so imagine how they’ll play in good weather? Ezra Koening’s croon is lighter-than-air, and it floats happily atop his group’s jubilant, skipping guitar pop.
5:30-6:30 p.m. – Break for dinner. Or see Passion Pit
6:30-7:30 p.m. – Snoop Dogg
I mean, you have to go to this right? Why would you not? Expect Snoop to lazily pace the stage, delivering classically laid-back renditions of his timeless Compton classics, and expect your olfactory glands to be just as stimulated as your eardrums. Call it a hunch.
7:30-8:30 p.m. – Band of Horses
If Fleet Foxes take an angelic, monastic approach to country, Band of Horses opt for the gritty and traditional. Their MySpace page identifies their sound as “Healing & Easy Listening,” and that’s not too far off from the truth. Gently twinkling guitar pop is what they do best, and their yearning lullabies will be the perfect accompaniment to the Chicago sunset.
8:30-10:00 p.m. – Jane’s Addiction vs. The Killers
The Killers (along with maybe Kings of Leon) are among the last of the Great Young Rock Stars — bands getting by on sheer determination and willpower and belief in the power of their own music. The Killers have the personalities, the gusto, the chutzpah to think big, and because of that they bring a level of passion and dedication to their live show unparalleled by many of their lazier rivals — which may explain why they still command headlining slots in arenas and at music festivals. Anthems like “When You Were Young” and “Spaceman” were built for big crowds. And as for Jane’s — well, hey, they’re Jane’s. If you’ve never seen them before, this could be a chance to check that box off your list. Perry & Co. still excel at weirdo L.A. psych-surf, and there’s no way “Three Days” isn’t going to sound fantastic, even 20 years on.