The next generation?

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.

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Richard Baimbridge

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