Alternative fest: frats outnumber freaks


July 14, 2003

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic


At its best in the early '90s, Lollapalooza represented a generation celebrating its individuality. How-ever illusory, for one day, the outcasts took over. Musically, politically and socially, the traveling daylong alternative music festival was like the revenge of the nerds.

When the multiband tour returned to the Tweeter Center on Saturday for the first time in five years, the fraternity and sorority types far outnumbered the freaks, everything was a heck of a lot more expensive and the vibe was more consumerist than community-oriented (though the political action displays did do a booming business).

More random observations from Lollapalooza 2003

Best T-shirt slogans: "I Have Determined That My Sole Purpose in Life Is To Serve as a Bad Example"; "I Hooked Up With Your Girlfriend and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt," and "Crap" (just "Crap").

Quote of the day: "Hugs! Hugs and drugs make for one good, rockin' day!"--Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme, admonishing some fans in the mosh pit to stop fighting.

Most incongruous booth on the midway: The U.S. Army recruiting station.

Most entertaining booth: The karaoke display, where random fans singing Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" or AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" were often more entertaining than the acts on the second stage.

Most ubiquitous act of the day: The International Bellydance Superstars, who performed three times (but weren't nearly as exciting as you might think).

Ticket price for Lollapalooza '93: $35 (before Ticketmaster service fees; two shows sold out).

Ticket price for Lollapalooza '03: $59 (before Ticketmaster service fees; one show barely three-quarters full, with much of the lawn empty).

In many ways, Lollapalooza had become just another long concert experience with a lot of extra distractions, a la H.O.R.D.E., the Van's Warped Tour, Ozzfest or the many radio-station festivals that sprang up to imitate its success.

But in the area where it mattered most--the music--tour organizer Perry Farrell proved that he can still throw a better party than almost anyone else.

The main stage highlights were plentiful, starting in reverse order with Farrell's revitalized Jane's Addiction. Augmented by a mostly hidden keyboardist and a trio of very visible go-go dancers, the headlining quartet ended the 11-hour day with a set of psychedelic and sensual art-rock fueled by Stephen Perkins' rolling polyrhythms, Dave Navarro's searing guitar and its latex-clad frontman's undeniable star power.

One of the pioneering bands of the alternative era, the now clean and sober Jane's Addiction was a stronger and better group than it had been on its earlier reunion tours, or arguably than it was in its late-'80s heyday. The only disappointment was that it pandered to nostalgia with a set that it could have performed but for a handful of exceptions in 1991, when it bid farewell by launching the tour that was Farrell's brainchild.

In favoring classics such as "Three Days," "Oceansize," "Summertime Rolls," "Been Caught Stealing" and "The Mountain Song" (which featured guest guitarist Mike Einziger of Incubus sitting in) over material from its potent new album "Strays," the group indicated that it is still looking backward, when the Jane's Addiction and the Lollapalooza of yore were always about turning toward the future.

As the penultimate act, Audioslave was also a nod to the past: The supergroup is comprised of alternative veterans from Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden. Though its set was a lot more inspired than its last local performance at the Riviera Theatre (thanks to a much more animated Chris Cornell on vocals, as well as the always-astounding fireworks of Tom Morello on guitar), the band still suffered from two major problems.

For one, its members never seemed to be playing together (a point underscored by the fact that drummer Brad Wilk set up his drums with his back to the crowd; he never looked at the audience, much less his bandmates). For another, the group has too few memorable songs--the best tune of its set was a propulsive cover of "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes (who would have been a fine addition to the bill).

The main stage's middle triptych provided the day's best music by far. As always, the rolling rhythms, hippiesh melodies and space-rock vibes of Incubus were a trippy delight. The Queens of the Stone Age rocked with unparalleled fury, delivering hypnotic drones that never skimped on the hooks, especially when guest vocalist Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees joined the group. And the old-school jams of West Coast hip-hoppers Jurassic 5 (led by South Side native MC Chali, a k a Charles Stewart) turned the vast and impersonal Tweeter Center into an intimate and wildly celebratory house party.

Kicking things off were two bands that were charmingly energetic but annoyingly unoriginal. Pop-punks the Donnas were eager to sell out with their glammed-up image and their musical mix of the Ramones meet the Runaways, but they were redeemed somewhat by the unrelenting fury of drummer Donna C. (known to her mom as Torry Castellano). Meanwhile, the Los Angeles quintet Rooney took almost all of its cues from Weezer, but it did deliver a few memorable tunes, including the hit single "Blueside" and a cool cover of "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" by the Ramones.

Much less impressive were the offerings on the second stage. In the past, Lollapalooza used this venue to showcase edgier acts from the indie underground. In 2003, it was essentially dedicated to C-list major-label wannabes such as Fingertight (which veered from generic nu-metal to generic hardcore), Cave In (accomplished but unimpressive Boston punk), the Distillers (spirited gutter-punk with more attitude than ability) and locals Swizzle Tree (the pointlessly noisy, nu-metal sister band of Lucky Boys Confusion).

The nadir, though, was Steve-O of the MTV series "Jackass," who "entertained" the second stage's largest crowd of the day by breaking light bulbs over his head, snorting table salt and making himself vomit again and again. He then stormed over to the main stage in his bloody T-shirt and tried to distract the Queens of the Stone Age, who gave him all of the attention he deserved: absolutely none.

That the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow has given way to Steve-O could say something about how Lollapalooza has changed since the early '90s, becoming cruder, less intelligent and less meaningful. Or it could simply illustrate once again that bad taste is timeless, inescapable and an alternative to absolutely nothing.