Head-to-headliners: The battle for Lollapalooza attention spans
Two will play. Only one will matter.
With 144 acts on the docket, Lollapalooza’s schedule is so daunting that picks should really be left to the professionals—especially when it comes to settling on one headliner to watch each night. Worry not! The A.V. Club has made all the tough choices already, so all Lolla-goers will need to worry about now is how to avoid those Porta-Potties. Go forth and use sunscreen.
Friday: The Strokes v. Lady Gaga
The Strokes, 8:30pm, Budweiser Stage
The secret of The Strokes has always been that, however big their albums have grown, they’re 10 times better live. Onstage, frontman Julian Casablancas truly projects, his voice taking on rough properties that tend to go flat beneath all the megaphone distance he favors on studio albums like 2001's Is This It and 2006's First Impressions Of Earth, as the rest of the band rocks with confident force. It at least partially justifies the credit The Strokes once got for reviving the snotty garage-rock and heady post-punk of New York City's past.
Lady Gaga, 8pm, Parkways Stage:
It’s been pretty tough to ignore Lady Gaga for the past couple of years, and that’s exactly how she wants it. Regardless of what you think of her pop-tart-meets-performance-art shtick—which cherry-picks from forbears like Madonna, Blondie, Bowie, and even artists like Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman—it’s undeniable that 24-year-old Stefani Germanotta is adept at turning heads. But there’s more to Gaga’s fame than dresses made out of Kermit dolls and habitual pantslessness: Her 2008 debut, The Fame, went platinum, and 2009's The Fame Monster boasted the mega-hit “Bad Romance” and the follow-ups “Telephone” and “Alejandro.” This cultural juggernaut’s here to stay.
Winner: Lady Gaga. She not only wants your love (something The Strokes could probably care less about), but also your disease.
Saturday: Phoenix v. Green Day
Phoenix, 8:30pm, Budweiser Stage
The boyishly tussled members of Phoenix have had quite a run in the last year. The band’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix stands as one of 2009’s most universally beloved albums, helping easily danceable pop float off from a crotch-thrusting stalemate into flexible, bubbly warmth. Phoenix's spirit onstage—somewhere between a dreamboat rock band and a bunch of teenage friends getting high and fantasizing in their parents’ ’70s rec-room—keeps getting warmer the bigger it gets.
Green Day, 7:45pm, Parkways Stage
Green Day broke through in 1994 with snarling pop-punk that wore its slacker lethargy like a badge of honor. Credit the maturity that comes with age for 2004’s angsty political rock opera American Idiot, which sold millions and made Green Day newly relevant. The band stayed ambitious for 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown, a similarly despairing look at the aftermath of Bush era. Easily their most unexpected departure, though, arrived this year with the debut of a preciously earnest stage adaptation of American Idiot on Broadway.
Winner: Phoenix. Thanks to the horrifying possibility of Green Day busting out something from the cringe-worthy musical in theatrical style, Phoenix wins this one hands-down.
Sunday: Arcade Fire v. Soundgarden
Arcade Fire, 8:30pm, Budweiser Stage
Arcade Fire quickly became a cause célèbre upon the release of its 2004 debut, Funeral, which raised expectations to nearly insurmountable heights for 2007’s Neon Bible, but the band met them with a dense, bleak, occasionally ponderous album that reaffirmed Arcade Fire as the most exciting band in the indie universe. Three long years have passed again before the release of The Suburbs, a sprawling new album (16 tracks in 60 minutes) reportedly inspired by frontman Win Butler’s childhood in suburban Houston. As bloated as the concept and track listing sound, The Suburbs may be Arcade Fire’s most straightforward, rocking album yet, and should hit especially hard live.
Soundgarden, 8pm, Parkways Stage
Alongside Alice In Chains, Soundgarden assured a place for the genuinely downtuned and dejected in the music industry's fevered raid upon "grunge" in the early '90s. The band decided to reunite for Lollapalooza, 13 years after breaking up due to industry pressure and creative conflicts after 1996's somewhat muddled and atypically muted Down On The Upside. Members have kept busy in acts like singer Chris Cornell's Audioslave and drummer Matt Cameron's steady employer, Pearl Jam, though Soundgarden's most sonically adventurous member, guitarist Kim Thayil, has stayed out of the spotlight entirely.
Winner: Arcade Fire. Who—including Chris Cornell—honestly gives two shits about Soundgarden anymore? This reunion reeks of nostalgic cashing-in.