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That's obvious here. First up is Psychotica, a glammy, Bowie-influenced act led by a former drag queen (Pat Briggs) sporting a silver body suit, silver mohawk, and orange eye make-up. Carried on stage lying on a giant silver cross, Briggs offends a few young girls in the audience, one of whom calls him sacrilegious. "Hello, hillbillies!" he offers. "We're Psychotica, and our whole mission in life is to piss the Bible Belt off!" The crowd roars with pleasure, raising the two-fingered devil-salute with the same playful spirit that attends a KISS concert; Psychotica's making fun of metal, and it's clear that people get the joke. The Screaming Trees provide a counterpoint to Psychotica's outrageousness: Few musicians look more like their audience than the large, lumbering Trees, and their sound is equally unpretentious--a loud moan of anguish; a hard, lovely wail. Next come Rancid, the Ramones, Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, and Metallica.
Rancid's Armstrong blows into the tour bus about an hour later; he's just finished watching the Ramones, as he faithfully does every night. "There have been so many rock-star moments on this tour," he giggles. "We pulled up around 4 a.m., and me and some of the others went walking in the field where everyone is camping out, and you wouldn't believe it. They were blasting Ted Nugent!"
Rancid was nurtured at Gilman Street, a punk-rock mecca in Berkeley where da Nuge is banned for life, but Armstrong et al. have taken to the stadiums of America with the same poise as their pals in Green Day. Two years ago, at Woodstock '94 and Lollapalooza, Green Day used nudity and rudeness to capture the crowd; Rancid has been a bit more pragmatic, augmenting its natural energy with a horn section and keyboard player. "Everyone here is so cool," Armstrong insists. "The Ramones! Psychotica! Even Metallica; they've been so nice to us. Jason [Newsted] from Metallica--he's traveling in his own bus with a recording studio in it; the other day he recorded us with it at his hotel."
Newsted reportedly travels in an entire bus by himself because he wants to get to hang out and be "ordinary"; his band mates travel on a Lear jet rumored to have two stewardesses and a humidor full of $100 cigars. They use it to go see KISS in Charlotte after the Knoxville gig or to hop over to Las Vegas while the other bands are bouncing along the road between Dallas and Phoenix.
The Ramones, by contrast, are traveling by minivan--all except C.J., who rides his Harley, escorted by a couple of Hell's Angels buddies. Held up at the border, C.J. was almost late for the Toronto gig. "Everyone was all worried," Armstrong recalls. "And then he roared up the center of backstage on his Harley--just in time--and we're all cheering, 'Yeah, C.J.!' Another total rock 'n' roll moment."
Rancid is barely breaking even: Every band is taking a salary cut when ticket sales are slow. If nothing else, though, Rancid will profit on merchandise: The band's T-shirts--$12, half the cost of others--are selling like crazy. Their popularity underscores the irony: Although the least successful in ticket sales, this year's Lollapalooza was the tour's best in terms of value and artistry. Co-headliners Soundgarden and Metallica are superstars, and no one--not Rage Against the Machine, Steve Earle, or the Ramones--is less than acclaimed.
Call it your money's worth: For seven straight hours, each group is topped by a band even more adored, one reason this year's midway has been scaled down considerably. Gone are the peripheral (or is that "Perry Farrell"?) cyberspace displays and sideshows: This year's nonmusical fare consists only of a couple of "freak" displays, the Chill Room (full of activist literature and couches), and the mist tents.
The vibe is more musical. In New Orleans, Waylon Jennings shows up and goes over extremely well. In Des Moines, however, he's booed until Metallica's James Hetfield comes on stage and chews out the audience. In Ferris, rehabbed rebel country-rocker Steve Earle is pelted with plastic bottles; unimpressed, he reminds the audience that he plays places where the bottles are glass.
Meanwhile, the big joke backstage is Metallica's new look: neat jeans and muscle shirts, clipped facial hair, make-up and piercings. Despite the fact that one of Metallica's guitar techs carries a case plastered with pro-gun, anti-liberal, and anti-gay bumper stickers, several of the band members look just like the Castro Clones of 1978. The band's motto is "we don't give a shit"; after the third or fourth song, singer Hetfield habitually announces the same.
"We don't give a shit!" he yells, again.
"But what does he mean?" I wonder aloud. "He means that they don't give a shit that everyone thinks they're queer now," says a singer from another band; everybody cracks up.
Poor ticket sales and fashion sense notwithstanding, Metallica is not about to fade away: Its new album, Load, was No. 1 for three weeks. If Lollapalooza sends the record biz one message, it's that punk rock is able to assimilate the mainstream better than anyone thought. "There's a much healthier attitude in music right now," Joey Ramone insists. "Everything's a lot better, and I feel like rock 'n' roll's better because of the Ramones. I mean--I don't want to sound all full of myself--but I know how things were back in the dark ages...Everything's open for business now."