Live Reviews: Lollapalooza

by Mitch Goldman

LOLLAAPALOOZA, LAKEWOOD AMPITHEATRE, ATLANTA GA 8/5/95

Five years ago, Perry Farrell's traveling musical alterna-fest Lollapalooza was on the cutting edge of music and youth culture. Four festivals later, Lollapalooza is run like a well-oiled machine: all 8 bands on the main stage have specific, enforced start and end times (printed in the official program), the "sideshow" attractions are slick and well-produced, and the whole spectacle has been imprinted on the consciousness of America's youth like a corporate Woodstock. So for those of us who like shows that run promptly, Lollapalooza is a joy...for those who think this festival is truly an "alternative" to mainstream culture, Lollapalooza is a scam...albeit one filled with great music.

This year's acts are probably the *least* diverse of any lineup, but considering my own tastes, that's just fine. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Boston's punk/ska combo, got things off to a somewhat shrill though rocking start at two pm with a 35 minute set of upbeat hard rock laced with ska. The Bosstones are one of the few post-punk acts to artfully employ an entire horn section.

Things really got going later in the hour with the Jesus Lizard, Chicago's premiere pyscho guitar-noise combo. After four studio lps, one studio ep and one phenomenal live album, JL have attained a level of consistency that bodes well for fans of their music, while also begging the question "where do they go from here?". That question was nowhere in evidence during their Atlanta set, where the foursome pummelled through a 37 minute set that featured songs from all phases of their career. Lead singer/madman David Yow did his usual thing, screaming, cajoling, yelling, and climbing over the stage barricades to jump in the audience and mosh, mosh, mosh. Clean-cut guitarist Duane Dennison ripped through the tunes with his textural, incisive leads and chords, while the rhythm section of drummer Mac McNeely and bassist Wm David Sims held down the musical fort. Highlights included Dennison's slide turn on "Nub"; "Bloody Mary" from their debut ep; and more recent numbers like "Boilermaker" and the set ending "Gladiator". The JL also treated us to two brand new numbers, and the relatively obscure classic "Then Comes Dudley". It's weird seeing this club band play a huge stage at 3 in the afternoon, but it's the kind of juxtaposition that makes Lollapalooza so unique.

One-hit wonder Beck followed at 3:45. Beck has a full band backing him up, but his confused on-stage personna killed any momentum the material might otherwise have had. Most of the songs sounded like a cross between Pavement and Sonic Youth; only "Loser", Beck's huge hit, had any real distinct sound to it. And since Beck refused to sing the correct lyrics to his one hit (he repeated "I'm a broken record" in the "I'm a loser baby" slot), even that song failed to satisfy the audience. After 35 minutes, the confused singer and his band left the stage.

Chapel Hill rockers Superchunk were up next, pinch-hitting for Elastica who's prior commitment at another show prevented them from appearing at the Atlanta date (and Elastica themselves were a fill-in for the pregnant Sinead O'Connor). Superchunk definitely rock big time; their melodic-yet-blunt style echoes the mid 80's punk/pop scene, most notably bands like Husker Du and The Replacements.

Next up was Pavement, those referential art-rockers from Stockton California who masquerade as slackers. Anyone present at Pavement's shows last year saw a band barely in control of their playing or their material; none of the songs were transformed by the band onstage, and the band themselves radiated little personality or momentum. Things have changed drastically for the better this year, in the wake of their third incredible lp WOWIE ZOWIE. Less referential and more unique than their previous releases (SLANTED AND ENCHANTED, 1992, and CROOKED RAIN, CROOKED RAIN, 1994), WOWIE ZOWIE contains ballads, rockers, quirky Swell Maps-like fragments, and epic multi-part tunes like the album closer "Half a Canyon". Lead singer/guitarist Steve Malkmus has improved drastically as an instrumentalist, and after a slow start with WOWIE's "Grounded", their Lollapalooza set veered off into intense dynamics mixed with lush, melodic, quiet moments. Most of the set was taken from the new album, which, considering the high quality of the material, was a smart choice. Highlights included "AT&T", second guitarist Spiral Stairs' lead vocal on "Kennel District", a short but thrashy "Serpentine Pad" (SM: "It was short, but *I* got off!") and a lengthy-but-intense set closing "Half a Canyon". Pavement have clearly improved as a live act, bringing their studio tunes into sharp, lively relief on stage.

Pot-smoking rappers Cypress Hill took the stage at 7:05, and suffice it to say that after two or three songs, their rap-songs-about-pot shtick grows really thin. CH have two kinds of tunes...traditional hip-hop, and reggae-tinged hip hop. The only interesting thing about their set was their exhorting the crowd into throwing debris everywhere for fifteen minutes. The most pot-soaked brain could find only fleeting amusement from these novelty rappers.

Courtney Love and Hole came onstage at 8:30, and played an hour of competent, if somewhat pedestrian, alterna-rock. Courtney's between song comments to the audience and other band members grew a little tiresome eventually, but her songs were all well played and sung. The live versions of the tunes, unfortunately, did not explode or take on much of a life of their own. "Doll Parts" was a highlight, as was a solo version of the Nirvana tune "Pennyroyal Tea". During this spooky rendition, the ghost of alternative rock god Kurt Cobain seemed to hover over the crowd.

Eight hours after the start of the show, headliners and main attraction Sonic Youth hit the stage. After nearly three years of not seeing them live (no tours due to Kim Gordon's pregnancy), I was chomping at the bit for live SY. And America's most inventive guitar band did not disappoint. It's been a long road for SY since their debut ep in 1982; through four different drummers (though current drummer Steve Shelley has been with SY since their EVOL lp in '86), over a dozen records and constant changes in music trends, SY have stuck with their original vision...odd tunings, pop songs disguised as experimental jazz/core/noise/punk, and lyrics reflective of the fragmentation of modern society. SY played tunes off their upcoming LP WASHING MACHINE that seem to harken back to their watershed opus from '88, DAYDREAM NATION: long, operatic tunes with modular sections that, for lesser bands, would be considered entire songs, rather than parts of a longer work.

Opening with "Tom Violence" from EVOL, SY's power was apparent...guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo remain the most interesting guitar duo in rock (they go through 18 different guitars in the course of a show, ALL tuned differently), and bassist Kim Gordon, at center stage, held down the low end with her throbbing bass lines. Kim especially seemed to be having a great time at the Atlanta show, jumping all over the stage, seemingly un-slowed by her recent pregnancy and motherhood. The new tunes were staggering...Kim's "Washing Machine" clocked in at 8 minutes and sounded like three different songs cobbled together, and the 13 minute set closer "The Diamond Sea" may be one of the bands greatest achievements ever...stretching from noise pop to out of control feedback, back to the pop riffs, and finally ending on a quiet, sweet, almost breathless note. Other set highlights included the rarely-played "Silver Rocket" from DAYDREAM NATION, with Beck on keyboards (Thurston: "Hey Beck, just jump in whenever you're ready...we're gonna start without you") and Lee's beautiful new tune "Saucer Like". Recent tunes from last year's lp EXPERIMENTAL JET SET, TRASH AND NO STAR included Kim's "Bull in the Heather" and Thurston's brief but brilliant "Starfield Road". Overall, SY's set contained staggering power, brilliant dynamics, and great song selection...both the band and the audience fed off each other in finest "Grateful Dead" style, and, unlike most American bands, Sonic Youth have continued to improve both as songwriters and performers. One of the most stunning, impressive shows I've seen by one of America's best bands. A fitting, apocalyptic end to a long, satisfying day of music. Where Farrell takes Lollapalooza next year remains to be seen, but it's unlikely that any headliner will match the emotional power of Sonic Youth.

SHOW RUNDOWN:

THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES: 2:00-2:35

THE JESUS LIZARD: 2:50-3:27:

Seasick
Destroy Before Reading
Puss
Nub
Bloody Mary
Lee Wants to Know
Glamorous
Boilermaker
I Wanna Know Why
Then Comes Dudley
Gladiator

BECK: 3:45-4:22

SUPERCHUNK: 4:54-5:35

PAVEMENT: 5:53-6:37:

Grounded
Blackout
AT&T
Motion Suggests
Kennel District
Fight This Generation
Range Life
Heaven is a Truck
Serpentine Pad
Father to a Sister Of Thought
Half A Canyon

CYPRESS HILL: 7:04-8:01

HOLE: 8:30-9:29

SONIC YOUTH: 9:54-11:01:

Tom Violence
Self Obsessed and Sexee
Bull in the Heather
Starfield Road
Washing Machine
Saucer Like
100%
Becuz
Junkie's Promise
Silver Rocket
Bone
The Diamond Sea


Copyright 1995
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