There’s an image that tickled the back of my brain as I watched Woodstock ’94, the official nearly three-hour-long video of this summer’s three-day musical mudfest. I kept envisioning a sensible baby boomer — the kind that never made it to the first Woodstock but still holds it dear as an emblem of the guttering flame of the ’60s — sitting down to watch this tape with an open mind and a cup of decaf latte. He wants to bond with the kids. He wants to get down with the music of today. Then the redneck metal stylings of Jackyl come on, and he flips back over the sofa clutching his heart.
The recently released audio CD captures only the music, but Woodstock ’94 the video captures the music and everything else — weather, squalor, euphoria. It’s the far more valuable document, especially if you hook your stereo speakers to the VCR. The crisp video images carry greater punch than the grainy film footage and murky sound of the original Woodstock movie. In fact, this tape makes brutally clear that Woodstock ’94 had little in common with the legendary concert that preceded it by 25 years. Sure, Joe Cocker,CS&N, and Traffic showed up, but they come off as nostalgic inevitables (Dylan’s in the same boat, but at least he tries, kicking valiantly against the monolith of ”Highway 61”). The old hippie bromides flowed from the organizers, but the hard fact of the matter was in the churning mosh pit; in the happy, selfish, brain-dead smiles of concertgoers; and in the raging noise on stage. The music may have been wearing, but the lack of illusions was refreshing.
Twenty-eight acts (out of approximately 50) are represented with one song each on this compilation, and the quality, like the crowd itself, is remarkably high. Blues Traveler starts things off with a blast of virtuoso guitar and harmonica (and John Popper’s acid warning to the audience to watch out for the ”Brown Pepsi” is perhaps the concert’s funniest moment). Other highlights include the Cranberries keening power pop; Henry Rollins coming on like the Incredible Hulk of postpunk (I guess Kyle MacLachlan would have to play Dr. David Bruce Banner); Melissa Etheridge happily pumping out ”I’m the Only One”; Nine Inch Nails squalling into the midnight wind like hell’s bar band; Green Day tauntingly dodging clods of mud; and Dylan, oracular no longer but happy to be there.
And the losers? That would be those in the audience or watching at home who expected some kind of gentle Birkenstock bonhomie. Most of the concertgoers seem too young and impatient for that (and too male; the cameras pounce on the few women like freshmen at a frat mixer). The pouring rains, the insistent mud, and the fetid human gridlock serve as a messy metaphor for a generation’s cynicism. The music responds in kind, and if that displeases you, maybe you haven’t been paying attention for the last 25 years. B+