We gave it a B
About halfway through the July 18 kickoff show of Lollapalooza ’92, it was time for a cyberbuzz. The crunching drone of the Jesus and Mary Chain — the third of seven major acts on the touring alternative rock festival/carnival — had grown monotonous, and the glaring sun that baked the sold-out 20,000- seat Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif., only made the band’s dry-ice fog seem more absurd than usual. So I left my seat and, along with concertgoers who seemed to have stepped out of an MTV spring-break special, wandered onto the surrounding grounds. I walked past the booths offering temporary tattoos, handmade shoes, and Häagen-Dazs, ultimately settling for a heaping plastic cupful of Cranberry Blast — ”100 percent natural cyberbuzz,” but basically cranberry juice. On a smaller second stage, a brawny mutant inhaled a black condom up his nose and out through his mouth as part of a human freak show.
Offering plenty of unusual cultural choices is one of the many goals of Lollapalooza ’92. The first Lollapalooza, co-organized by Jane’s Addiction leader Perry Farrell last summer, was equally ambitious, featuring a slew of dissonant rock and rap acts including Jane’s Addiction, Ice-T, and Living Colour. To the music industry’s surprise, the tour was a hit, and a sequel was born. And like, say, Lethal Weapon 3, the idea is working; 22 shows on the 36-show tour, which ends Sept. 13, are already sold out.
Farrell and his defunct band aren’t here this year — though his new combo, Porno for Pyros, did make a surprise appearance on the second stage, which is featuring local up-and-comers throughout the tour. But the concept of Lollapalooza ’92 remains the same. Round up a batch of bands loosely defined as ”alternative” and surround the stage with a clogged crescent of activist booths (promoting voter registration, animal rights, and other causes), politically correct ethnic fast food, and vendors both grass-roots and corporate. (And, in doing so, generate charity dollars: Fifty cents of each ticket — $28 to $35 — will go to homeless organizations; proceeds from carnival games will benefit local AIDS research.) So if you grow bored with the bands appearing on the main stage — Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Lush, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and the headliners, the Red Hot Chili Peppers — you can revel in what amounts to a postmodern shopping mall. Lollapalooza ’92 is a pop festival for the attention span-impaired.
The music is, of course, the main draw, and, at about $2 a band (including a half dozen groups on the second stage), the 10-hour show is a bargain. For those still unclear about the meaning of the vague term alternative, Lollapalooza ’92 is a veritable Whitman’s Sampler of the genre. The tour offers up the raging Seattle sound via Soundgarden, whose primal wail shook the Shoreline thanks to guitarist Kim Thayil’s whomping riffs. The whooshing dream pop imported from Britain is represented by Lush, which perfectly duplicated its jet-stream aural massage. And there was a tough, no-nonsense set from rapper Ice Cube, who seemed a little out of place among the all-white bill but nonetheless had the surfer dudes in the audience pumping their fists and dancing along.
Lollapalooza ’92 also proves that alternative tag or not, boring music is boring music. Pearl Jam suffered from a muddy mix that reduced its sound to a dull thud — but then, its music is a dull thud. Ministry’s battering-ram mix of factory clatter and thrash sounds terrific on record, but live the group comes across as just another jaded rock band, albeit with a white lead singer-mastermind, Alain Jourgensen, sporting a mop of encrusted dreadlocks. And perhaps because of tour fatigue or the tentativeness of its new guitarist, the Red Hot Chili Peppers gave a perfunctory performance. Singer Anthony Kiedis flailed his hair in perfect time, but he and bassist Flea’s white-funk shenanigans were mannered, even predictable.
By and large, the performances were earnest and solemn and stuck precisely to their 45- to 60-minute lengths. A few musicians — Jourgensen and this show’s guest host, Ice-T, who was greeted like a conquering hero by the house- practically pleaded with fans to vote in the fall. Mostly, though, political messages were left to an LED banner above the stage that pumped out a barrage of tidbits (”Records don’t kill kids-bullets do,” ”Don’t pollute”) between sets. Referring to the charity proceeds during his appearance with Porno for Pyros (which, despite a god-awful name, plays intriguing art funk), Farrell announced, ”Today we fed more people than President Bush.” With few exceptions, though, you had to visit the second stage to hear those sorts of pronouncements.
In that sense, Lollapalooza ’92 may reveal more about alternative rock than it intends. Despite the music’s antiestablishment stance, pointed, even decipherable lyrics are not its primary concern; sound and fury are. Yet it’s often a blurry, unfocused fury. One of the ironies of this first show of the tour was that the strongest statements could be found not on the stage but on the front of fans’ T-shirts — ”F— Censorship” and ”I’m Tired of Bush” among them. With its calls to activism and involvement, Lollapalooza attempts to define — and give a loud, roaring voice to — the combination of confusion, ennui, and dissatisfaction of the post-baby-boom generation. Ultimately, the fact that alternative rock needs such a forum is less a dilemma for Lollapalooza than a failing of the music itself. B