With Rage Against the Machine, Iggy Pop, Cypress Hill and others leading the way, there will be almost as many stars onstage at Vegoose as there is in the night sky above. But some of the best acts aren't household names. Yet. Don't sleep on these can't-miss performers:
1. M.I.A.: The latest disc from this relentlessly fidgety London-born MC, "Kala," is so breathless and diffuse, at times it sounds like three records spinning at once. Over a backdrop of frantic percussion, foreign-language film samples, chattering livestock and stream-of-consciousness rhymes that shoot off in every direction like verbal bottle rockets, M.I.A. (whose real name is Maya Arulpragasam) brings a welcome, pan-global perspective to hip-hop, enlivening the genre while simultaneously blowing it apart.
2. Mastodon: Last time he was in town for a performance, at this year's MTV Video Music Awards, Mastodon frontman Brent Hinds got his face smashed by System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian during a late-night altercation that left Hinds hospitalized with brain hemorrhaging. In a way, it was a taste of his own medicine: Seeing the progressive metallers live is kind of like swallowing a series of fists. Their tunes are lavish, labyrinthine and of anvil-density, a study in high-concept thrash from the heaviest band to hit Vegoose yet.
3. Ghostface Killah and the Rhythm Roots Allstars: Hip-hop's most inscrutable storyteller, Wu-Tang Clan leading light Ghostface Killah practically has his own lexicon of barbed street slang and bent metaphors. Last year's "Fishscale" was the best hip-hop disc of 2006, sweet and savage, dark and affecting all at once, awash in childhood dreams and grown-up nightmares. Over a bed of smoldering vintage soul samples and steel-wool beats, Ghostface goes for the heart and the jugular in the same breath.
4. Gogol Bordello: Their shows are unhinged, clamorous explosions of sound and energy that come on like a night of drunken ethnic dinner theater. Born in the Ukraine, frontman Eugene Hütz infuses Bordello's free-range, Eastern Bloc gypsy punk with accordion, fiddle and wild-eyed lyrical flights of fancy, all enshrouded in bright costumes and a ceaseless buoyancy that'll leave you grinnin' like happy hour.
5. Battles: You could call it math rock, but it's more like advanced calculus: Battles' incessantly busy, turn-on-a-dime repertoire is posited upon perpetual motion and instrumental exactitude. Consisting of current and former members of Helmet, Don Caballero and Lynx, these dudes are all monster players who sound as if they've spent a lifetime locked in their bedrooms practicing obscure scales until their fingers bleed. It's some pretty heady stuff, but even more impressive than Battles' rich musical pedigree is the band's ability to ground their playing in concise, melodically sharp tunes whose catchiness rivals their complexity.