Farrell remains committed to his festival


July 6, 2003

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic


"Coming at the end of a week that brought the return of Pink Floyd and the Eagles and the release of a thoroughly mediocre new Rolling Stones album ['Voodoo Lounge'], Lollapalooza has never seemed more vital."

That's how I began my review when I covered the 1994 edition of the traveling daylong alternative-music festival. The main stage for the concert's fourth year featured hometown heroes the Smashing Pumpkins, the Beastie Boys, George Clinton and the Breeders, among others.


When: Noon Saturday
Where: Tweeter Center, 19100 S. Ridgeland Ave., Tinley Park
Tickets: $59 (pit and pavilion), $49 (lawn)
Phone: (312) 559-1212

"Lollapalooza is no less of a big business than the corporations behind any of those cynical and graying rock giants; the $5 burritos and $25 T-shirts are testament to that," I continued. "But the energy of the performers onstage and that of the fans could power the city of Chicago for a year."

Though I hold that nostalgia is the enemy of all great rock 'n' roll--and I see plenty of skepticism as well as praise in the rest of that review, as well as my other accounts of the six original Lollapalooza concerts--I have to admit that I miss the musical diversity, optimistic energy and boundless enthusiasm of the festival during its very best years.

At its worst--like in 1993, the year Alice in Chains dominated, or the last tour in 1996 with headliners Metallica--Lollapalooza was just another loud, expensive, consumerist day of overhyped music in an unpleasant setting, as compromised and commodified as Ozz-fest or Woodstock '94.

The question that looms over the tour in 2003 is whether it will be able to conjure some semblance of the heady sense of community that existed when the fest bowed in 1991, or whether that spirit waned with the passing of the alternative-rock era, leaving just a valuable trademarked name and another multiband concert/marketing opportunity.

Not surprisingly, Perry Farrell, Lollapalooza's visionary founder and the leader of reunited headliners Jane's Addiction, is typically optimistic.

"I couldn't have asked for a better comeback for Lollapalooza than this lineup," Farrell said by phone from Los Angeles last week, as he geared up for the start of the tour outside Indianapolis this weekend. (The festival stops Saturday at the Tweeter Center in Tinley Park.) "I truly believe that night to night, I'll want to hang out and listen."

Maybe so. Though the revitalized festival's mainstage lineup is respectable (with Jane's Addiction, Incubus, Audioslave, Queens of the Stone Age, the Donnas and Jurassic 5), it isn't exactly the sort of stellar bill that fans saw in 1992 or 1994.

Launched in 1991, Lollapalooza was conceived as a mobile version of England's Reading Festival. Its success spawned a host of imitators, some of which have since fallen by the wayside (the jam-crazed H.O.R.D.E. Festival, the feminist Lilith Fair, the hip-hopping Smokin' Grooves Tour, and Moby's Area: One and Two), and some of which continue (Ozzfest, a celebration of mainstream metal, or the Vans Warped Tour, an annual overview of shopping-mall punk).

But none of these other festivals ever captured the celebratory spirit of Lollapalooza at its strongest, for several reasons.

Part of the original tour's success was the diversity of the bookings and the willingness of concertgoers and performers to expand their musical horizons.

Among the highlights that I recall from the original Lollapaloozas: Watching Sinead O'Connor cheer Courtney Love as she stage-dived into the crowd during a set by Hole; standing with Oklahoma's psychedelic popsters the Flaming Lips as they had their minds blown by Japanese noise-rockers the Boredoms (they paid homage to that group's Yoshimi Yokota in the title of their latest album, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots"), and grooving to George Clinton with a crowd of converts young enough to be his grandkids ("There ain't no party like a P-Funk party and the P-Funk party don't stop!").

Another source of Lollapalooza's strength was that Farrell never envisioned it as just a concert. The flurry of activity on the midway--the mist tents, the political action booths trumpeting voter registration, abortion rights and legalized pot, and the collection of vendors selling ethnic foods, smart drinks and hemp clothing--all combined to create an atmosphere that was like a hipster version of the state fair, or a psychedelic carnival.

"I always remember the vibe at [San Francisco promoter] Bill Graham's shows," Farrell said. "He was my mentor, and he was always a kid at heart. He would have a lot of things that were fun at his shows, because he liked to interact with the people.

"Even though he was a mean, tough son of a gun when he had to be, he wanted to make sure that people took care of each other and that he took care of them. He also had a certain degree of preposterousness and youthfulness, even though he was probably old enough to be most of those people's dads. Here he was setting up a volleyball court or making people Thanksgiving dinner. I always try to keep that close to my heart in planning these things. It is not solely about the music."

But perhaps the biggest reason why Lollapalooza was such a hit was that it was the right idea executed in the right way at exactly the right time--at least at first.

The festival was launched the year Nirvana released its second album, "Nevermind," which eventually sold more than 8.5 million copies in the United States. Seemingly overnight, the new "modern rock" radio format appeared to service the new music and its fans, MTV jettisoned the hair bands and pop icons such as Michael Jackson (though gangsta rap continued to flourish) and concert promoters saw dollar signs as a new generation of artists emerged to replace the graying dinosaurs.

Though Farrell always retained an interest in Lollapalooza, Inc., by 1992, the festival was largely under the control of the Los Angeles-based William Morris Agency, one of the country's biggest talent bookers (and one with a typically mainstream roster ranging from Air Supply to Whitney Houston).

Not surprisingly, six of the nine bands on the mainstage at Lollapalooza '93 were William Morris acts. The middle years of the festival were subsequently criticized for a lack of independent artists and an inherent sexism in shunning female-fronted bands. Meanwhile, tour organizers began to view the "alternative" audience as willing dupes.

When tickets went on sale in Chicago for Lollapalooza '93, promoters treated the Windy City as an experiment: The bill was never announced, and many fans bought tickets (at the still-reasonable price of $35) believing the erroneous rumors that Nirvana would headline. Some 20,000 tickets sold in four hours.

Farrell admits that for a time, he lost control of the festival he created. "The honest to god truth is that I was a pretty sloppy drug addict," he confessed. Now 44 and relatively sober, he maintains that he played a much bigger role in bringing Lollapalooza back. "I was very involved in the booking, from the top all the way down," he said--and he and everyone else involved have learned from the mistakes of the past.

But does the audience still exist to support Lollapalooza? The initial ticket sales have been sluggish, and the scheduled tour opener in Ionia, Mich., was canceled only a few weeks before the July 3 date. (The official reason was "staging and technical difficulties.")

In retrospect, the alternative explosion represented a brief moment in the sun for what sociologists call Generation X--some 17 million young Americans who were sandwiched between the 76 million Baby Boomers and their 72 million offspring in Generation Y--and those days can't be recaptured or duplicated.

By 1996, when Lollapalooza ended, Gen X was on the way out in terms of its influence on popular culture and its desirability as a marketing demographic, and Gen Y was coming on strong. It had a very different set of values: Out went the Doc Martens and the political T-shirts, and in came the Abercrombie & Fitch.

As America grew comfortable and rich during the dot-com boom of the Clinton era, teenagers and twentysomethings cared less about political activism than they did about picking the right stocks. Instead of asserting their individuality, they strived to fit in. And as alternative-rock heroes such as Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and Hole self-destructed, disbanded or fell from the top of the charts, a new set of stars emerged, with testosterone-crazed rap-rockers such as Limp Bizkit and Eminem at one extreme and glossy pop products like Britney Spears and 'N Sync at the other.

Farrell insists that Lollapalooza 2003 will be more than just another day of mere entertainment. "It can mean more, but you have to put your time into it, and you have to put an effort, and you have to put money into it, and we've done that.

"You can't just grab 12 bands that are on the radio and say, 'OK, everyone's heard of this guy, everyone's heard of that guy, so this is gonna fly.' In most cases, sad to say, it does fly, but it's kind of like a bag of potato chips: You eat it because you're hungry, and then you go, 'Man, I could have waited and had a better meal!'"

The first band that Farrell approached to perform at this year's Lollapalooza was Audioslave, a group comprised of alternative veterans from Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine. Guitarist and Libertyville native Tom Morello believes that the time is right for a festival that will galvanize a new, curious and much more activist audience.

"I think you're definitely gonna find that sense of community, and what's more, I think this is gonna be better than the previous tours," Morello said. "Perry and I had extensive discussions about this before we decided to do it, and it was important to us that it not be a rehash of past glories.

"It had to start with great music and a lineup that is gonna be diverse and challenging and that people will really be thrilled to go see. It has to be bands that are going to lay down the jams that are going to make it the best tour of the summer."

Morello pointed to the spirit of the anti-war movement during demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq and the growing influence of the anti-globalization forces as evidence that the cultural and political tides are turning.

"Lollapalooza was not just about great music--it was about great ideas, too, and I think that all of that is going to be back this year better than ever," he said. "There's a real atomization of youth culture. Everybody may be in front of their computer screens or PlayStation 2, but at the same time, there's a growing sense of community, whether they view it as an anti-war movement or things like Lollapalooza."

Morello made a promise about Lollapalooza 2003: "There's gonna be a lot of great music, and it's going to be a righteous afternoon in Chicago."

We'll know whether his and Farrell's optimistic views are justified a week from today. In the meantime, it's hard to deny that Lollapalooza has been missed, and even if it only captures a fraction of the energy that it represented in its heyday, it will be great to have it back.


Rolling through the '90s: Big hits and fazed cookies...

Ah, yes, the alternative '90s: Doesn't scanning the bills from the first six Lollapaloozas make you nostalgic for the smell of clove cigarettes, suntan oil and patchouli? OK, maybe not. But there were some great shows during the festival's initial run, as well as some clunkers:

Year 1, 1991: Jane's Addiction, Siouxsie and the Banshees*, Living Color, Nine Inch Nails*, Fishbone, the Violent Femmes, Ice-T and Body Count, the Butthole Surfers, the Rollins Band.

Year 2, 1992: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Pearl Jam, Lush, Temple of the Dog*.

Year 3, 1993: Primus, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr., Fishbone, Arrested Development, Front 242, Babes in Toyland*, Tool*, Rage Against the Machine.

Year 4, 1994: The Smashing Pumpkins, the Beastie Boys, George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars, the Breeders, A Tribe Called Quest, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds*, L7, the Boredoms*, Green Day*.

Year 5, 1995: Sonic Youth, Hole, Cypress Hill, Pavement, Sinead O'Connor*, Elastica*, Moby*, Superchunk*, Beck, the Jesus Lizard, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Year 6, 1996: Metallica, Soundgarden, the Cocteau Twins*, Waylon Jennings*, Cheap Trick*, the Violent Femmes*, the Tea Party*, the Wu-Tang Clan*, Rage Against the Machine*, Steve Earle*, Devo*, the Ramones, Rancid, the Screaming Trees, Psychotica.


This year's headliners Perry's kids: Audioslave, Incubus & other kings of the rock age

While there are no independent cutting-edge talents on the main stage at Lollapalooza 2003 and no surprise bookings from another generation, the bill does make a game attempt at musical diversity. The acts in order of appearance:

Jurassic 5: Based in Los Angeles (but with a standout member, MC Chali, who grew up on the South Side as one Charles Stewart), this sextet of four rappers and two nimble DJs is hip-hop's equivalent of back-to-basics garage rock. The group is dedicated to delivering old-school grooves, but with an up-to-the-minute energy and message. Get there early, and be sure not to miss it.

The Donnas: Though Farrell is trumpeting the inclusion of this West Coast quartet as evidence of Lollapalooza's feminist attitude, the Donnas' attempt to create a distaff Ramones (or at least a female Green Day) was seriously compromised by the band's glammed-up, glossed-up 2002 album, "Spend the Night." Their live show could be hit or miss.

Queens of the Stone Age: Unrelentingly powerful but always tuneful onstage and on album, guitarist-vocalist Josh Homme, bassist Nick Oliveri and whatever sidemen they've corralled in their current incarnation are certain to be a hard-rocking highlight of the day. And "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" (which features a catchy chorus of "nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, Ecstasy and alcohol!") remains a great summertime anthem.

Audioslave: The reigning post-alternative supergroup (which finds former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell fronting the musical trio from Rage Against the Machine) was underwhelming on its self-titled debut and during a two-night stand at the Riviera Theatre earlier this year. But with so much talent on board, there's still the possibility for greatness--especially with guitarist Tom Morello performing for a hometown crowd.

Incubus: The most melodic, most inventive and most psychedelic of any of the nu-metal bands, this California quintet is always a gripping act in concert, and Brandon Boyd is the second most charismatic frontman on the bill, after the festival's founder.

Which brings us to the headliners...

Jane's Addiction: Here's one of the key bands that paved the way for the alternative revolution. I've seen the reconfigured Jane's (current bassist Chris Chaney joins original members Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins) three times since they reunited in 1997, and they were all great shows. Now the group is touring behind its first new studio album since 1990's classic "Ritual de lo Habitual." Typically spacy and sensual, "Strays" is a collection of strong psychedelic grooves, which promise to grow even more intense in live performance, especially when you consider that Farrell once again has something to prove with both his band and his festival.

The second stage: There's less to get excited about here, unfortunately--at least once you get past the Bellydance Superstars, which Farrell describes as "a dozen international bellydancing stars who look like they're straight from a beauty pageant, but they're really cool and down to earth."

The Distillers are a female-fronted gutter-punk trio with more attitude than ability; Steve-O of MTV's "Jackass" fame is an annoying and self-destructive idiot; Boston's Cave In is yet another major-label offering somewhere between emo and pop-punk; Rooney is a quintet of Weezer-inspired, Los Angeles-based new wave revivalists that has scored a pleasant hit single with "Blueside," and MC Supernatural is a deft rapper, who originally hails from Marion, Ind. But at least the people-watching will be fun.

Jim DeRogatis


Lollapalooza's extramusical highlights

Do fries go with that shake? A rundown of the day's menu:

As everyone involved with Lollapalooza emphasizes, the festival is not just about music. So what else do concertgoers get for their $49 or $59 tickets? (Those prices rise to $59.80 or $69.80, with Ticketmaster service fees, by the way.)

The Mindfield is billed as "Lollapalooza's interactive playing field, where you use your mind and your mobile phone (if you have one) and score a chance to hang out backstage, win VIP passes, autographed CDs, posters, T-shirts and more." Apparently, it's a sort of trivia contest where participants compete via text messages on their cell phones (Verizon is a sponsor).

GameRiot is a video-game pavilion of sorts (games include non-alternative, shoot-and-slash titles such as "America's Army," "Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II" and "Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus"). Again, this component is no surprise, since Microsoft's Xbox is another of the tour's sponsors.

Fans don't have to miss the music while they're playing these games: The LollaTrons--giant plasma video screens--will broadcast the music into the midway throughout the day.

Finally, there's Just BeCauses, Lollapalooza's political-action arena featuring information booths hosted by typically left-leaning groups such as Axis of Justice (Tom Morello's activist group), PETA, Amnesty International, Rock the Vote, AIDS activists Lifebeat, Environmental Defense and something called Beaver Power! (a group dedicated to "making electricity in harmony with nature," though what this has to do with the toothy dam-building rodents, I'm not sure).

Information on all of the above and more is available online at www.lollapalooza.com. The Web site is also encouraging festival attendees to submit digital photographs chronicling their day of fun in the sun, and these will be posted as part of an online gallery.

Jim DeRogatis