Summer rock festivals are headlined by Metallica and Popper

By Chris Willman
July 19, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil is comparing notes on Kansas City’s finer hotels with a fellow traveler. ”Apparently we have some Christian convention at ours,” says the long-tressed guitarist, seeming to resign himself to a quiet night of room service on the eve of their tour kickoff.

Metallica singer James Hetfield…well, you know he’s got the cure for that. ”I don’t know if you’re into strip joints or not…”

History is being made! It’s the very first attempt at actual male bonding on Lollapalooza ’96 — already dubbed Testoster-palooza in the press by wags mindful of the lineup’s high molten-metal quotient and low ovum count — and you are there.

This isn’t your older brother’s Lollapalooza. Or Courtney Love’s. Even if all 28 dates on this sixth annual alterna-trek transpire without Hetfield’s sneaking any strippers back onto the grounds, you can bet there won’t be as many nannies with all-access laminates as last summer, when the key members of headlining bands Hole and Sonic Youth could be found either sniping at one another’s supposed PC transgressions online or admiring each other’s babies off stage. Of course, ’95 aside, Lollapalooza has almost always represented the macho side of alt-rock, with the likes of Primus and the Red Hot Chili Peppers socking it to ’em as past headliners. Nevertheless, picking as virile an act as Metallica as top dogs did seem to make a boys-are-back-in-town statement — one that organizers admit probably ”scared away” some of the women who were asked to join the show. Which has the effect of making this summer’s other ongoing package tour of note, the H.O.R.D.E. Festival — which annually revives the musical question What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding? — seem even kinder, gentler, and more female friendly. Each year the two fests are pitted against each other in a competition usually characterized as headbangers versus hippies. This time around, it might also be described as — to borrow the name of a Lollapalooza Second Stage band — Girls Against Boys.

Vive la difference? ”We got all the chicks,” brags Blues Traveler bassist Bob Sheehan, bluntly overstating the case.

Band mate John Popper is equally secure in believing the jam-oriented annual outing he founded will benefit from the gender gap. Or he will, anyway. ”You know, sometimes couples need to get away from each other,” muses America’s favorite mouth harpist. ”So the men can go to Lollapalooza, and we’ll take good care of their women.” Popper smiles. ”We promise.”

It’s June 27, opening day for Lollapalooza in Kansas City, and the 20,000-some representatives of the ”Show-Me State” appear destined to reinvent Missouri as the show-me-too-much-flesh state, with more frying skin in the 90-degree-plus heat and 80-percent-plus humidity than Colonel Sanders imagined in his wildest fantasies. Not nearly so much exposure is happening on stage, though, where slavery to fashion still rules. The main stage is inaugurated by shock-rockers Psychotica, whose outlandish singer Pat Briggs isn’t about to shed his Silver Surfer-style jumpsuit-cum-sauna. A fan might worry a bit more for fellow main stager Joey Ramone, who looks cadaverous in the best of circumstances, and whose attachment to his black leather jacket even at the peak of the late afternoon heat appears downright heroic, if not life threatening. (Guess we’re gonna have to tell ‘im/ That he’s got no cerebellum…?)