Ah, Lollapalooza…the centerpiece of festival season, the apex of the hot, humid, nasty Chicago summer. The city’s department of transportation is probably already in combat mode. Northwestern Hospital is probably already preparing beds for legions of dehydrated, alcohol-poisoned teens. Coming just two weeks after a stellar Pitchfork Fest that much of the local press considered to be well-run and perfectly sized, Lollapalooza is going to look bloated as hell with its eight stages scattered around the square mile of Grant Park.
But that doesn’t mean it’s worth skipping Lolla, particularly if you’re within driving distance of Chicago and you weren’t one of the six people at Bonnaroo. This is the festival’s 25th anniversary, and to celebrate, founder Perry Farrell added a fourth day of music, pushing its start date forward to Thursday, July 28. That translates to 44 additional acts—the number of artists featured over the three-day entirety of Pitchfork. It’s overwhelming, to be sure, but luckily, we’re here to point out some of the must-see performances and make your Lollapalooza a little easier to handle.
We’re assuming that you’ve got the essential headliners—Radiohead, Grimes, LCD Soundsystem, The 1975, even the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose most recent album is surprisingly decent—in your sights. So we’ll be focusing on a few undercard acts from each day that you absolutely must fit into your schedule.
Thursday, July 28
It feels weird to describe a band as both emo and country, but somehow these Montclair, N.J. natives make it work. The group’s label debut, Cardinal, has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, ranking 12th on our list of 2016’s best albums so far. Evan Stephens Hall howls his poignant millennial anxiety over a rich bed of music that ranges from bluesy guitar riffs to soulful banjo picking. In the words of my colleague Mady Thuyien, “Pinegrove are the cartographers of our innermost anxieties and heartbreak—forcing us to orient ourselves with the latitude and longitude of our early lives in those moments when we feel completely lost.”
Another newcomer to make a big splash in 2016, Richmond native and recent Matador signee Lucy Dacus plays right after Pinegrove finishes up. She’ll be exactly the shot of optimism and unfettered will you’ll need, the rare indie rocker whose emotional thesis centers on the concrete beauty of the world instead of the melancholy that consumes too many of her peers. In terms of sound, think if Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath decided to emulate the Smashing Pumpkins’ more delicate moments.
One of the very best practitioners of the futurisric neo-soul movement that also includes acts like Kaytranada and The Internet, this Australian quartet quietly made one of 2015’s best albums, Choose Your Weapon. They’re more chill than trippy, singer/songwriter Nai Palm’s equal parts dusky and smooth voice flowing like molasses over shimmery, keys-driven music, reviving the best of late ‘90s golden age R&B and pairing it with earworm-y modern production. It’s hard to say how their set will feel, but we’d guess it’ll be an ideal mid-afternoon relaxation opportunity.
Friday, July 29
Recent Best of What’s Next featureé HÆLOS takes the template of a CHVRCHES or a Purity Ring and strips it down to a beautiful, minimalist skeleton more reminiscent of Massive Attack, relying on ethereal vocal layers that give the band’s otherwise ‘80s-influenced synth profile a primal, almost tribal undertone that resonates at the frequency of the universe. The British trio’s debut album, Full Circle, blew our reviewer John Brandon’s mind: “I wish more bands would create auditory revelations like this collection,” he wrote.
Another recent Best of What’s Next subject, Day Wave is the solo project of former Carousel member Jackson Phillips. His introspective debut EP, Hard to Read, feels like if Death Cab For Cutie had been raised in the endless sun of a California coastline instead of Seattle gloom. The record’s combination of warm, sandy guitar and synth tones, Brian Wilson-esque vocal melodies, and the surprisingly low lyrical self-esteem on songs like “Drag”—which caught Mark Hoppus’ attention—leaves you simultaneously aware of your flaws and your ability to fix them. It’s perversely uplifting.
These Philly-based rockers are bringing back no-holds-barred underground college rock, a la the pre-Nirvana scene, albeit with the emotional weight and empathy that befits the millennial generation. Their most recent LP, May’s Holy Ghost, gives you hope for the idea of pop-punk, its happy chord progressions supplemented by actual lyrical depth on songs like “The Wedding Singer” and “Breathing In Stereo.” It helps that Brendan Lukens makes a concerted effort not to sound like all the Yellowcard-clone singers that nearly drove this genre to death in the mid-2000.
Birthed as a reaction against Brooklyn’s noise rock-dominated scene in 2012, according to our Best of What’s Next feature on the band, Sunflower Bean offers something different to anyone who’ll listen to their impressive debut LP, Human Ceremony. Fans of Lucius-esque dream-pop-rock will gravitate to the standout single “Easier Said,” while anyone who’s hoping for a classic rock revival can find hope in the space-y title track or the ravaging “Come On.” The common elements tying together Sunflower Bean’s incredibly diverse sound are the spacey clean guitar tone of Nick Kivlen and the gentle vocals of Julia Cummings. Incredibly, Sunflower Bean comes on at 6:50 p.m. They should probably be your Radiohead pregame.
Saturday, July 30
It’s always nice to see a band that’s been toiling for years finally achieve a breakthrough, which is what happened for The Front Bottoms last September with the release of their fifth studio album, Back on Top. In many ways an older sibling of Modern Baseball, the New Jersey-based four-piece is among the bands leading the revival of meaningful emo/pop punk. Frontman Brian Sella uses his folksy twang to differentiate his outfit’s music from the crowd; not only does it lend authenticity to the band’s heartfelt, often sardonic lyrics, but it also enables them to explore the fringes of Americana, or whatever the poppier version of Americana is called nowadays.
The BBC Sound of 2016 winner, Garratt’s debut album Phase didn’t make quite as much noise, critically or commercially, as the industry hype would have had you believe. But Garratt’s solidly middle-of-the-road electro-pop (reminiscent of a happier, more mainstream James Blake) translates well to the stage, where he becomes a one-man whirlwind of keyboards, guitars, and a forest of midi pads. His best songs—“Worry” and “Weathered”—are emotionally driven enough that, combined with what should be frenetic showmanship, Garratt’s set should be worth catching.
Don’t call Potty Mouth a riot grrrl band. They’re all women, yes, but they’ve gone out of their way in the past to avoid the political connotations of their circumstances, instead churning out catchy, earnest punk music like the songs found on their standout 2013 LP Hell Bent. They’ve only released one EP since then, which suggests that there might be a hefty amount of new material in their mid-afternoon set.
Sunday, July 31
The latest bedroom studio wizard to gain traction on the electronic circuit, British singer/producer Låpsley embraces the ambient, stark aesthetic of the post-dubstep scene and fills the void with a heartbroken, ennui-laden, proudly accented voice that sounds very like a female James Blake. She did enough to impress the folks at this year’s SXSW to earn the festival’s prestigious Grülke Prize for Developing Non-U.S. Act, and she did enough to earn a Paste Best of What’s Next in February. If you’re nursing a strong hangover from Saturday night, Låpsley promises the type of chill set to gently nurse you back to life and prepare you for a raucous final day of Lolla.
Athens, Ga. has a surprisingly strong music scene, and Mothers is the most recent indie darling to emerge from its college rock cauldron. Kristine Leschper began making music in 2013 and, as her profile grew across Paste’s home state, she recruited a full band to create the downtrodden, achy songs that comprise Mothers’ February debut album, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, whose combination of earnest folk and howling riffs feels just about right for a lonesome night of drinking alone at the local dive. Expect a moving performance that would be right at home if Chicago decided to grant Lolla-goers some summer showers.
It wouldn’t be Lollapalooza without a bevy of summery-sounding synth-pop bands, right? Out of the various Walk the Moon-esque groups playing the festival, Brooklyn’s Panama Wedding might embrace the ‘80s most shamelessly, from their keyboard tone to the huge, reverberating snare to the staccato guitar licks straight out of a corny, dates porn soundtrack. It’s not music that’ll make you think too hard, but dammit if it isn’t fun when a band ramps the nostalgia factor all the way up to 11—and on a Sunday around lunchtime, no less. If you’re not in need of Låpsley to ease back into the festival, Panama Wedding will be there to catapult you immediately into party mode.
Third Eye Blind
Are they technically on the undercard? Debatable. But why on Earth would you miss a chance to belt out one of the best vocal hooks ever written with tens of thousands of other people? Last year at Summerfest, the band launched into “Semi-Charmed Life” just as Walk the Moon’s set ended, and you could feel a cyclone of excitement whip up from the stampede of people who raced over to sing along. You should at least be game for that, if not for the rest of Third Eye Blind’s set, which will hopefully feature lots of selections from their standout 1997 self-titled debut.
Zach Blumenfeld will be at Lollapalooza all damn weekend, dodging drunk kids and trying to stay hydrated in the sweltering Chicago heat. Follow his exploits on Twitter.