It’s been fun to watch Perry Farrell’s freak-friendly traveling experiment evolve over the years. In 1991, the main stage at Lollapalooza boasted performances by Ice-T & Body Count, Jane’s Addiction, the Butthole Surfers, Violent Femmes and Nine Inch Nails. It was the birth of the “alternative nation” -- mosh pits mingling with the nodding heads of hip-hop, grunge groups performing in between circus freak show side acts. If you went to Lollapalooza in the early ’90s, you probably still talk about it. We’d even bet your NIN shirt is probably still stained from the mud fight.
Compared to the early days, Lollapalooza today is a shiny, brand new luxury vehicle. By tossing out the traveling aspect, Farrell and his army of organizers eliminated the annoying logistics and focused on dominating downtown Chicago for a weekend. Hot damn, did it work! Sure, it would be nice to see a mud-soaked flannel here and there. But Lollapalooza is a whole other world now; one of the largest festivals in the country that has spun off a sister festival held in Chile.
This year, Lollapalooza is (technically) celebrating its 20th anniversary and people are paying attention -- a record-breaking crowd of 270,000 are set to attend over three days. Farrell will continue his festival’s legacy by stirring the genre pot in only a way he knows how. Superstar headliners like the Foo Fighters, Eminem, Muse and A Perfect Circle will take the main stage while a blur of up-and-coming acts like Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., the Smith Westerns, Foster The People and Pretty Lights along with Red Bull Music Academy alum like Jackmaster fill out the rest of the extensive roster.
If you can’t make it, you can always watch it live via Youtube. But for those who can, we’ll hold your hand through who, when and why you should check out.
Before we begin, remember these two helpful hints. The festival grounds are absolutely massive, so plan accordingly. If it’s on the complete opposite side of the festival, you won’t be “catching the last 20 minutes” of anyone’s set. Hit up the hammocks stationed smack dab in the middle to make a relaxing foot trip out of it. They’ll smell weird after day two, so take advantage.
If you can’t get your musical fix at Lollapalooza, check out the after parties. Some are well known and easy to spot. Some are very well hidden, exclusive type affairs (remember when Dave Grohl debuted These Crooked Vultures at the Congress Theatre? Yeah, we couldn’t get in either). Some are announced at the very last minute. Keep your eyes and your ears open, kids.
The Smith Westerns
Friday, August 5: 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. @ PlayStation stage
The Smith Westerns take that classic punk rock, power chord ethos and blend it with a since of nostalgia that draws all that way back to your grandma’s sock hops in the cafeteria. They are go-to opening act band as of late -- catch ’em this fall cracking it open for the Arctic Monkeys -- and they’ve certainly earned it. It doesn’t take much to do what they do, but when a band like the Smith Westerns does it right, you just can’t deny it.
Friday, August 5: 8:45 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. @ Google+ stage
Let’s be honest. You go to Lollapalooza for live music, right? Well, we can assure you that Ratatat brings one of the best live shows around. These Brooklyn dudes know their way around a laser light show (and around the studio, producing Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness”) and don’t really care what your dry cleaning costs are after they plaster you with glitter. It’s like an illegal rave of electronic melody. It’s, like, really good.
Fitz & the Tantrums
Saturday, August 6: 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. @ Music Unlimited stage
As members of humanity, we’ve got to come clean with our obsession with retrofitted, brass-fueled soul groups. Fitz & the Tantrums definitely fit into that category. They’ve gone from the club scene to the theatre scene to the big, huge festival stage scene pretty quickly without missing a beat. Let the funk flow!
The Black Lips
Saturday, August 6: 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. @ PlayStation stage
If you’re looking for Atlanta-style flower punk at Lollapalooza 2011, look no further. These southern foul mouths tend to explode off the stage, more concerned with giving the crowd a show rather than properly playing their instruments. The Black Lips are vulgar, loud and an absolute blast to watch self destruct on stage.
Saturday, August 6: 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. @ Perry’s stage
Speaking of obsessions, it’s endlessly cool to see DJ culture devour the United States. Europe has been hanging on to that racket for quite some time, but it looks like the North Americans are getting hip to it. Of course, it doesn’t take much to convert us. Plop Pretty Lights on the stage with, er, his array of pretty lights and his organic take on dubstep and we’ll adapt pretty quickly.
Saturday, August 6: 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. @ Music Unlimited
We know, we know -- you don’t normally need to be told to check out the headliners. But it should be noted that regardless of your feelings to this Detroit rapper who casually sold more albums last decade than any other artist, he is a lyrical maniac. Since his historic series of shows with Jay-Z, Eminem has been performing with a live band that blew away the crowd earlier this year at Bonnaroo. You might have your doubts about where part of Saturday night should be spent, but try and drag yourself here. You won’t regret it.
Saturday, August 6: 8:45 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. @ Google+ stage
If you simply can’t handle the hip-hop, make sure to check out the reigning indie king of the festival by the name of Beirut. Led by frontman Zach Condon, the group has managed to sprinkle Eastern European and gypsy carnival accents into a sort of indie soup. It’s led to some mainstream success, a super weird cult following in South America and a headlining gig at Lollapalooza 2011. Expect loads of new material from their upcoming release “The Rip Tide” (Aug. 30 via Pompeii Records).
Sunday, August 7: 12:45 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. @ Music Unlimited stage
By Sunday, you’ll be hung over and a bit beat up by the sun. If any one band can break through the early afternoon doldrums of the last day of Lollapalooza, it is the evolved punk fury of Titus Andronicus. It’s like Bruce Springsteen telling the story of the Civil War through distorted amps, big guitars and American flags. Don’t take their recorded material for granted. Titus Andronicus will wake you the fuck up.
Sunday, August 7: 7:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. @ Perry’s stage
These Berlin-based producers whip up some of the grimiest and dirtiest IDM and house music around. For good measure and texture, they’ll toss in a fair amount of break beat and glitch elements to keep you on your toes. To boot, their session at Red Bull Music Academy London last year was a fan favorite. Expect these guys to absolutely demolish the stage on Sunday night and send you home with your fair share of memories.
Sunday, August 7: 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. @ Music Unlimited stage
When you close, you have to close big. It doesn’t get much bigger than the Foo Fighters. We don’t know if you seen these guys before, but it’s a rock ‘n’ roll show. Yes, you’ll get the radio friendly singles. But you’ll also get Dave Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins pushing each other to the limit, improvising in front of 70,000 people. It’s the best perfect end to an action-packed festival.
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