It's stiflingly hot outside the airport in West Palm Beach, Florida, and a guy clad all in khaki has just pulled up in a minivan to take you to the hotel. He looks like he should be riding an elephant, with a little native kid named Kiki at his side in a loincloth.
"So what are you in town for?" he croaks. "Vacation?"
"Not exactly. I'm here for Lollapalooza."
"No kidding? Is that today?" the driver says with dismay. "Man, I wanted to go to that. Where is it?"
Hmmm. Good question. You just sort of figured a concert like that would stand out, that you'd spot a kid with a nose ring and follow him. Out the minivan window, however, there's nothing but flat, dry wasteland, a Waffle House, and a gas station.
You admit to your guide that, in fact, you don't know where it is. He responds by grabbing a walkie-talkie off the dashboard and radioing HQ for help.
"Hotel. Hotel. This is transport. Come in. Hey Jimmy, you out there? Please come in."
[inaudible static garble].
"Yeah, uh, I got a guy here goin' to Lollapalooser. Uh, you know where Lollapalooser is?"
[inaudible static garble].
"'Uh, 10-4.' He says he doesn't know. You sure that's today? We'll find out for ya, don't worry. Damn. Lollapalooser. I wanted to go to that. Who's playin', anyway?"
It's a 20-minute taxi ride through the God-forsaken and gator-infested territory between the Holiday Inn and the Coral Sky Amphitheater, where the concert is taking place. On the way you pass a few elderly stiffs baking by the side of the road like Maine lobsters in a rapidly disappearing tidal pool. Why would Perry Farrell choose a place like this to kick off Lollapalooza '97? Maybe because it reminded him of Las Vegas. It's another spectacle in the desert with showgirls, singers and general mayhem--a sideshow circus, an illusion.
Or maybe because South Florida is a place where young people are most certainly starved for entertainment, thus guaranteeing a good turnout, whereas presales for the rest of the tour have reportedly gotten off to a slow start. Is there too much competition out there, or is Lollapalooza just passe?
This is the sixth year of Uncle Perry's twisted little brainchild. It began in 1991 as Jane's Addiction's last hurrah--back when alternative was still underground and something actually was still shocking--namely, thousands of unruly young people acting like primitive Dionysians, celebrating sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll at a time when it was unfashionable to do so. Piercing their this and that. Getting really freaky and--as came to be customary in the '90s--attaching a message of ecological awareness, voter registration, saving the rainforests, etc.
Farrell got the idea from European summer fests like the Reading Festival, but like most things in modern American culture, Lollapalooza was soon absorbed into the mainstream and turned into more of a media-music industry event than an avant garde free-for-all. So Farrell disowned his lovechild, claiming no further responsibility for its inevitable demise.
Now he's back. The question is, why? It's been six years since the first Lolla, and a lot has changed. Alternative music is as American as apple pie, Jane's Addiction is a distant memory, electronica has set up shop, and a whole new generation has come of age.
It is this new generation that, ironically, both brought Farrell back into the fold and made him obsolete at the same time. This new generation is Lollapalooza's future--it's their year...and it may well be the last.
If Lollapalooza '97 has a theme, it's "Zits and Braces," with an average age that seemed--in Florida at least--to hover around 15 to 18; those original alt-rockers with receding hairlines seemed sadly out of place. In the beginning, it was all lumped into one, but 'Palooza is now all about peacefully coexisting subdivisions--the goths, techno kids, alt-rockers, hip hoppers, normals, the old and the young.
Farrell has taken a very active role this year--at least he did in West Palm. He designed the layout, which includes the "Brainforest"--a Garden of Eden techno-tent where DJs spin nonstop--as well as the Temple, which features everything from internet and environmental issues to Allen Ginsberg's poetry.
More importantly, Farrell has made himself very accessible as a person. During Julian & Damian Marley's opening set, Farrell--dressed in a set of flowing white robes--sat casually among the regular audience, speaking to whoever came along. No matter how uninteresting they were, he smiled politely, like Hugh Hefner in a tunic.
Porno for Pyros then made an unannounced acoustic appearance in the Brainforest tent where Farrell, drenched in sweat, sang to an intimate crowd, nearly all of whom were within arm's length. Among the trees and plants, he looked like the living embodiment of Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream, prancing about and creating minor mischief. Shortly thereafter, Porno played another set on the second stage.
Farrell is a generous man who puts a lot of effort into "working for the kids," and it's obvious that he really does care about the world and--especially--young people. Oddly enough, however, a lot of them don't even know who he is anymore. They might've heard the name Jane's Addiction, but Porno for Pyros totally disinterests them--what they really came to see is bands like Korn, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Orbital.
That was obvious from the first moment Korn took the stage, cruising in on a pair of lowrider bicycles and sequined Adidas track suits, no less--much like the Beastie Boys. The sound, however, was all hardcore, Rage Against the Machine meets Metallica. It was received by the kids with near-riot enthusiasm; they tore out row after row of seating and began passing them overheard while security waged a hopeless battle to stop them.
Korn vocalist Jonathan Davis took the stage with a fury, pounding out tunes like the angst-anthem "No Place to Hide" from their latest release, Life is Peachy, and "Faget" from their debut, Korn. Davis then left and returned in a kilt, playing the bagpipes. Korn--after receiving little to no commercial radio airplay--relies on events like this to create an audience for their music. That audience is primarily young, disenchanted adolescents--approximately 15 years old--with high levels of hormones and frustration. It's the demographic of the new 'Palooza-goer.
Backstage, Davis was being mauled by reporters and fans. "Last year wasn't that good because Perry bailed out, and it wasn't a 'Palooza," Davis said of this year's tour. "But now it seems like there's such diverse music out here--there's somethin' for everybody, and it gives bands a chance for, like, kids who came to see Snoop to see Korn, and maybe they like us, and they get us in front of new crowds, so we can get even bigger. Shit, it's fuckin' cool! And to get the kind of reception we got today, holy shit!"
Out on the main stage, trip-hop culprit Tricky was just finishing up his set. Born of Brighton, England's Massive Attack, Tricky announced his solo status with 1994's Maxinquaye, casting out paranoid rhymes and beats for the future, yet his set seemed totally out of place at an upbeat outdoor event like Lollapalooza. It wasn't until Snoop Doggy Dogg took the stage that hip hop really moved the crowd. Snoop executed a top-notch set, delivering it "Doggy Style" all the way.
Acts on the second stage--which sat unprotected in the searing heat--included the Eels, Radish, and Summercamp; not surprisingly, for the most part they were poorly attended.
Backstage once again, MTV newsgirl Serena Altschul interviews Tricky as Farrell looks on. Asked if he is enjoying the day, Farrell immediately turns the question around on you. You respond that you are, in fact, having a good time--thanks very much--and note that the Brainforest, which includes a giant hamburger and graphic illustrations of cow and chicken slaughter, is surrounded by vendors selling kebabs and hot dogs.
"That's a very smart question," Farrell says, with a look that seems to speak of years of glue-sniffing. "Well, if I said 'no meat,' then I wouldn't have so many people coming and hearing about other things that are also important."
Asked what he thinks of this year's lineup, he again flips the question around. You respond that the lineup is good, and he smiles. "Good," he says. "Getting to see lots of things and use your mind? It's much more of a learning thing, isn't it? It's not like 'put your beers up in the air and wave 'em around like you just don't care.' It's a lot more like walkin' around and 'What's that? What's that?'"
"Actually, it's about that close [make the a little bit sign with fingers] to 'wave your beers in the air.'"
"You think? Hmmm."
Perry's got a lot of faith in young people, and perhaps he's being a bit naive in that department. He'd honestly like to think that kids are learning something here, but the parking-lot mentality reigns supreme.
Speaking to a couple of young girls sitting in the grass, you get an idea of the typical mindset. Asked what they've been up to today, Samantha from Boca Raton responds, "Sitting here smoking pot."
"Have you learned anything interesting?"
"Yeah. I like Snoop Doggy Dogg."
And what do you think of Perry Farrell?"
"Um, he's the person who started Lollapalooza. He used to sing for Jane's Addiction."
"Cool. When are they playing?"
"They're not. They broke up six years ago."
"I don't think a lot of people here know that."
At any rate, Tool took the stage and played what was undoubtedly the best show of Lollapalooza. Maynard James Keenan, Tool's androgynous lead singer, appeared in a white mask, his head shaved save for a long Chinese-style pigtail, and wearing a bustier with prosthetic breasts. Who says nothing's shocking? As dusk set in, the video screens around the stage ignited with amazing visuals. The sound was incredibly full, encompassing even the farthest reaches of the outdoor complex, while up front the intensity of Tool's lengthy, gut-wrenching songs from nima was nearly overwhelming.
At this point, the feeling begins to set in of having gorged yourself on an entertainment buffet to the point of bursting. "A wafer-thin mint? It's only a tiny little thin one." Absolute exhaustion comes along with a feeling of being totally wired--information overload--and there's another band yet to come.
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Just when you think Tool has drained every last drop of energy from your body, an angel appears on stage, topless, smoking a cigarette. She exhales, folds up her wings, and Orbital kicks in. Suddenly, almost a full 10 hours after your arrival, Lollapalooza magically transforms into the largest outdoor rave you've ever seen in your life. Kids who were grooving to Tool's sledgehammer energy just moments before are now dancing with abandon to techno music.
It's a sign of the times. The new generation is taking over, and anything goes. Some might say Lollapalooza is dead. And they may be right. Like Jane's Addiction, it was never meant to last forever. But there's a new generation out there, and like every generation before them, they'll find some way to congregate and go wild.
Lollapalooza or no Lollapalooza. With or without Perry Farrell. Whether or not they even remember him.
Lollapalooza comes to Dallas Saturday, August 2, at Starplex.