Where has all the diversity gone at Lollapalooza?


July 17, 2005


Coming at the end of a week that brought Pink Floyd, the Eagles and a new Rolling Stones album, Lollapalooza has never seemed more vital.

The traveling daylong alternative music festival 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. But the energy of the performers onstage and that of the fans who filled the World Music Theatre could power the city of Chicago for a year.

That's what I wrote in the Sun-Times on July 17, 1994, reviewing the tour during its fourth and arguably best year.

Though I hold that nostalgia is the enemy of all great rock 'n' roll, and I see plenty of skepticism in my reports from the front while the original Lollapalooza was still a thriving concern, I have to admit that I feel a faint tinge of regret for the musical diversity, optimistic energy and boundless enthusiasm that the tour represented at its best.

As our Baby Boomer parents said of Woodstock, which was as much of a signature event for them as Lollapalooza was for those of us in Generation X: "You really had to be there." Alas, there is simply nothing like it for Generation Y, including the revitalized Lollapalooza that comes to Hutchinson Field in Grant Park next weekend.

At a press conference held to formally announce the lineup last April, event producer Charlie Jones said that the festival's new owners, Austin, Texas-based Capital Sports and Entertainment, had conducted three years of "brand analysis and marketing surveys" to determine that "not only does this brand still have merit, but Lollapalooza is the most recognized name in music today."

In other words, the phrase "Lollapalooza" sells concert tickets, hence the firm's decision to resurrect it from the dead, 14 years after it was first launched by former Jane's Addiction leader Perry Farrell (who is still on board as a creative consultant), eight years after it went on hiatus as alternative rock petered out in 1998, and two years after the first attempt to breathe new life into it fell flat in 2003.

Lollapalooza is now "a destination festival" -- which means promoters hope that people will travel to it, instead of it traveling to them -- and Capital Sports hopes that it will be an annual event and the highlight of Chicago's summer concert season. But is Lollapalooza really still Lollapalooza?

Farrell's original vision for the concert not only included a lot of bang for your concert-going buck and a bounty of diverse activities besides the music -- both elements that are still alive in Lollapalooza '05 -- but also an impressive and truly alternative diversity in the acts that took to its two stages.

The old Lollapalooza didn't always meet that goal, especially after the Hollywood-based William Morris Agency bought control. (It still maintains a stake along with Capital Sports' controlling interest.) But during its finest year in '94, you could catch psychedelic popsters the Flaming Lips on the second stage and run to hear funk legend George Clinton on the main stage, after starting your day with Japanese noise-rockers the Boredoms and ending it with the Beastie Boys' hip-hop bacchanal and the lush and moody rock of Chicago's Smashing Pumpkins.

The new Lollapalooza betters the original with five platforms scattered throughout Hutchinson Field: the Parkways Stage, SBC East, Budweiser Select, SBC West and Planet Stage. All of them boast main stage-quality acts at some point or another over the weekend.

Unfortunately, there is a disappointing similarity among the bookings. The lineup is heavy on reunited heroes from the '90s (Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Digable Planets) and new glam-rock revivalists (Louis XIV, Hard-Fi, Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian, the Killers), and woefully lacking in hip-hop (the aforementioned Digable Planets are about it).

However, there are several acts -- Widespread Panic, Billy Idol and Tegan and Sara among them -- that seem to have been added just to sell tickets to people from other demographic groups who might not otherwise have been attracted to the fest.

Is it working? A publicist for the event refused to say how many tickets have been sold so far. The promoters are hoping for attendance of 50,000 or more per day, and a large portion of the business at any festival always come via walk-up sales on the day of the show.

All quibbles aside, the new Lollapalooza certainly offers plenty of great music, and the idea of a diverse and world-class music festival in the heart of Chicago is a noble one. If the Grant Park event is as well-executed as Capital Sports' other major concert, the Austin City Limits Festival, we can only expect this fest to get bigger and better in the years to come.

Meanwhile, here is a look at Lollapalooza '05, its best and worst acts, as well as guide to all the rest, and a recap of Lollapaloozas past.



1. THE REDWALLS: Twentysomethings from suburban Deerfield celebrating their recent Capitol Records debut, the Redwalls brilliantly evoke the spirit of the Beatles when they were still a gritty, R&B-fueled bar band playing for drunken sailors in Hamburg. (Parkways, 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday)

2. THE WARLOCKS: These Velvet Underground-inflected garage-rockers are so wonderfully moody, you might finding yourself hoping for rain when they play: Bands this deliciously dark just weren't meant to be seen in the daylight. (Budweiser Select, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Saturday)

3. ... AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD: Progressive-rock invention meets punk-rock intensity courtesy of what may be the most consistently galvanizing live act on the Lollapalooza bill. (SBC East, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Saturday)

4. LIZ PHAIR: La Liz is gearing up to record the follow-up to her self-titled 2003 album. Recent tours have been even more disappointing than that glossy, soulless and all-too-Hollywood disc, but she earns a spot on this list because she is, after all, a Winnetka native, and she really was pretty great back before she decided to become Sheryl Crow. (SBC West, 2:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday)

5. BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE: Lollapalooza is perhaps unduly proud of booking this chaotic San Francisco noise-rock band, last seen self-destructing in the film "Dig!" (which also examined the non-career of the Dandy Warhols). But there is always a certain freak appeal in watching a train wreck or a car crash. (Parkways, 3:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday)

6. DIGABLE PLANETS: Now here's a reunion that might actually be worth the hype: The return of the genre-hopping early '90s alternative rap crew. Call it the rebirth of "The Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)." (Budweiser Select, 8:45-9:30 p.m. Saturday)

7. LOUIS XIV: The best of the many glam/garage-rock bands on the bill, this San Diego quartet also has the distinction of being the horniest group in rock today. (Budweiser Select, 2:30-3:30 p.m. Sunday)

8. THE ARCADE FIRE: This Canadian ork-pop band was snatched away from the Intonation Festival, which shed many a tear. Its 2004 debut "Funeral" was beloved by indie-rock fans, and it has a reputation as one of the best live groups in the current underground. (SBC East, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday)

9. SPOON: The Austin art-rockers are touring behind another solid album in "Gimme Fiction," though the recent set at the Vic was reportedly underwhelming. (Budweiser Select, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Sunday)

10. DERRICK CARTER: Rarely given the credit he deserves as one of the most influential DJs Chicago has produced, Carter was a pioneering force in ambient house music, recording as Symbols and Instruments before switching to the moniker Sound Patrol, and he remains one of the most in-demand club turntable artists in the world. (Planet Stage, 7-8:30 p.m. Sunday)



1. THE BRAVERY: More over-hyped, refried New Wave revivalism. Yawn. (Budweiser Select, 4:30-5:30 p.m. Saturday)

2. BILLY IDOL: Even for the irony-deprived God of Nostalgia, this is a sad and pathetic booking: With a rebel yell, we cried no more, no more, no more! (SBC East, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Saturday)

3. PRIMUS: These self-indulgent prog-rock noodlers were a drag at Lollapalooza 1993, and I don't expect them to have improved with age. Give me Rush any day. (SBC West, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday)

4. TEGAN AND SARA: This folk duo would have been a lame addition to Lilith Fair. Here it's just plain silly. (Parkways, 3:30-4:30 p.m. Sunday)

5. WIDESPREAD PANIC: The jam-crazed Georgia sextet certainly has its adherents -- it regularly sells out at venues such as the Vic -- but it hardly fits the Lollapalooza of the past, and was clearly added in an attempt to lure the lucrative Baby Dead crowd. (SBC West, 6:30-7:30 p.m. and 8:30-10 p.m. Sunday)

Jim DeRogatis



How does Lollapalooza 2005 compare to the vaunted lineups of the festival during the height of the alternative-rock era in the '90s? You decide: Here are the mainstage bills from the tour's original incarnation:

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

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

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

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.

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

1996: Metallica, the Ramones, Soundgarden, Rancid, the Screaming Trees and Psychotica; plus, on alternating dates, the Cocteau Twins, Waylon Jennings, Cheap Trick, the Violent Femmes, the Tea Party, Wu-Tang Clan, Rage Against the Machine, Steve Earle, Devo.

1997: Orbital, the Prodigy, the Orb, Tricky, Tool, Snoop Dogg.