1. Death Grips
This year, Lolla looks softest in the middle. It was a struggle to come up with ten acts I'm itching to see on Saturday, a slate largely filled with genteel and folky acts. So what better way to fire-hose the patchouli off than with Death Grips, a hardcore hip-hop group anchored by bonkers drummer Zach Hill. MC Ride is one big muscle with electricity and adrenaline coursing through him. While their relationship with Sony Records was rather childish and by-the-dusty-book punk, we still appreciate the furor. Just try not to rip Lollapalooza while collecting a check, okay, guys? Grove stage, 7:15pm.
Foals were once a little too brainy for their own good. Then the British quintet got wise and lowered its IQ on Holy Fire, replacing proggy noodling with irresistible four-on-the-floor grooves (the storming “My Number”) and funky Afrobeat inflections. “Inhaler” even swings a big, dumb grunge riff like a cudgel. Both will be bacchanals. Petrillo stage, 5:45pm.
You know what nobody but Haim (no relation to Corey) realized? The world needed a new Heart, the next Bangles. The panting roller-rink imploring of “Don’t Save Me” is pure California highway pop. The three harmonizing sisters, Este, Danielle (who we caught backing Julian Casablancas) and Alana, mesh together in a way that only siblings who have been dreaming together of being stars since childhood can do. Grove stage, 3:30pm.
4. Unknown Mortal Orchestra
A coworker IMed me and asked, “I want something new to listen to. Something mellow and soulful and cool.” I immediately zipped up Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s II and shot it over. “This is perfect,” he said. New Zealanders Ruban Nielson and band take all the trappings of a ’60s obsession—vintage vibes, psych fuzz, etc.—and twist the ingredients into something new, like if Cream grew up on classic rap records. As faded and floaty as songs like “Monki” make me feel, they’re slyly funky, too, enough to base an entire Wu-Tang record upon. Grove stage, 5:45pm.
5. Ellie Goulding
We expect the 26-year-old to deservedly graduate from the shadier fringes of the festival, where she played a couple years ago, to the main stage. Her Lolla debut was just a joy, and while her sophomore album, Halcyon, was a darker affair, the trilling blond has had the deftest hand of all the pop stars blending dubstep with balladry. Also, Goulding knows how to work large crowds, especially after honing her skills on an arena tour with Bruno Mars. Bud Light stage, 4:45pm.
6. Kendrick Lamar
I agree that Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city was the best rap record of 2012. Yet the L.A. MC has never impressed me live. He pushes too hard, desperate to turn his chilled, introspective hip-hop into bangers to make the crowd jump, jump. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Swimming Pools” should not be delivered a la “Backstreet Freestyle.” It kind of kills the vibe. But contrary to stubborn conventional wisdom, I gobble up any hip-hop at outdoor festivals. I want to be impelled to move and shout favorite hooks. And the National ain’t doing it. Bud Light stage, 6:45pm.
Yes, I'm as sick of “Harlem Shuffle” as the rest of you are. However, it will still be a blast to see 40,000 people doing the dance at once (if you can overlook the other 40,000 jerkamos hastily recording it with their phones). Plus, we were fans of his butt-rumbling “Dum Dum” before that meme went epidemic. Pink a random name off the Mad Decent roster and you’re going to get an unbelievably bass-heavy global bounce to drive crowds batty. Harry Bauer Rodrigues just happens to be the hottest one right now. Well, besides Diplo, but we’ll get to him on Sunday. Perry's stage, 4:30pm.
8. Charles Bradley
If there's one act that can make an adult cry at Lolla, it's this late success story, a sexagenarian soul slayer with rough history and belated joy bubbling beneath every note. There's never enough R&B at this thing. Bud Light stage, 2:45pm.
9. The Postal Service
Real talk: I find Death Cab for Cutie and this spin-off to be as exciting as wet toast. The platinum-selling Give Up was the record that animated a million hipster knitting needles. That being said, the politely glitchy coffeehouse pop wielded far more power with a full band at Coachella. Also: Jenny Lewis singing is never a wrong thing, ever. She plays bass here, too! Bud Light stage, 8:45pm.
10. Local Natives
On their latest, Hummingbird, Local Natives proved themselves to be a poor man’s Grizzly Bear with busier rhythms. Nothing to get jazzed about, but no good reason to wander away. The harmonies and tight hustle of “Wooly Mammoth” and “Heavy Feet” should be, well, warm and gargantuan onstage. Red Bull Sound Select stage, 4pm.