If bands reflect show's status, Lollapalooza is past its prime

By Noah Lopez

Arizona Daily Wildcat

In the past, it's always been easy to determine why the acclaimed Lollapalooza festival has been so dull. Living Colour, Rollins, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Primus, Smashing Pumpkins . far from being anything "alternative" or challenging, the meat of the festival has always consisted of radio-friendly rock that happens to be enjoyed by people whose age dips below that of the average KLPX (or any other AOR "classic rock" station) listener.

Add to this the strange concept of attempting musical diversity that has resulted in such awkward moments as Arrested Development, George Clinton, or Ice T, and you really have the beginnings of an ill-conceived event.

The real tragedy, however, has occurred when Perry Farrell, perhaps the only near forty-year-old to claim heritage to the pulse of the "alternative nation," has wisely insured the festival's "credibility" by lining up a parade of Ghosts of 120 Minutes Past, largely gothic groups who should never have been thrown up in front of 20,000 shirtless alterna-jocks, especially in the middle of the day. Siouxsie and the Banshees ... in 1991? Nick Cave? The Jesus and Mary Chain six years after they've had a decent album? What kind of logic does this follow?

Never one to learn from their mistakes, however, the festival organizers decided to pull out all stops in picking the lineup for the 1995 Lollapalooza. After a meticulous screening process, the Selection Committee has found seven bands that are either past their prime or will never reach their "good years." They've found bands that have either had radio hits, or could if they tried. They've found Sonic Youth, Hole, Cypress Hill, Beck, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Pavement, and The Jesus Lizard.

As the festival opener, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones came on like a hot blast of intestinal air. Within seconds, they began acting out nearly every stereotype associated with "ska" music imaginable. Natty little retro suits, short hair cuts, poor horn players playing simple lines, bad dancing, the same song repeated ad nauseum. Maybe the Arizona sun was too much for their Vespa scooters, but I'm sure they were parked somewhere. Luckily, the Bosstones blend their ska with a little punk rock, pushing their musical boundaries that much further. Some kids too young to have heard of The Specials, too ignorant to have good fashion sense began dancing inanely to the Bosstones, but not enough to mask the few thousand that never left their seats.

Next up, the Jesus Lizard. Yawn. I know some would say that this is the "Best Live Band in America" but I wonder how many of those really believe that. Needless to say, The Lizard ran through a sound-a-like set of quirky time change oriented sludge. This sound was exciting once, but c'mon ... it's over.

I guess you could say the same for the career of America's favorite "folk iconoclast" Beck. Yeah, he did "Loser" and "Beercan" and a couple of other witty songs sung with distorted vocals, but he also played some of the worst bar band blues I've ever heard. And the crowd reacted justly.

In fact, it wasn't until halfway through Elastica's set that the masses at Desert Sky Pavillion stirred. Like some pathetic Pavlovian experiment, as soon as the Wire sample from the British band's runaway hit "Connection" blared through the P.A. system, the crowd rose to their feet screaming. Unfortunately, the reaction was unsustained despite what was easily the most exciting performance up until that point in the show. As soon as "Connection" had been completed, the thousands of bare-tattooed-chested boys and bikini-topped girls sat down.

When I ventured into the Chips and Salsa Tent set up for "V.I.P.'s" read radio station giveaway winners, friends of Desert Sky Pavillion workers, and, uh, press geeks I saw David Yow of Jesus Lizard infame, and, more importantly, Bob Nastovitch of Pavement legend. I admit I was pretty impressed (I used to think Pavement could do no wrong), but seeing them play quickly reminded me of their comet-like fall from grace. Pavement ignored any of their seminal years' material, opting for the lesser material of their two recent albums. They sounded pretty good together, but it was still pretty lifeless. At times they seemed to meander in trite, well rehearsed walls of sound a la Sonic Youth, and at others lead singer Stephen Malkmus opted to "stylize" the vocal lines of several songs. Ugh. Pavement openly apologized to an audience that had largely not heard of the former indie rock kings, dedicated a song to Tucson legend Al Perry and the Cattle, then quickly left the stage. I would soon follow suit.

In sharp contrast to last year's festival, when opening act Green Day had the Lollapalooza tykes storming fences and running through security guards, this year's show was decidedly ambivalent. After four hours of sitting down, four hours of absorbing the heat, expensive food, lack of side attractions, and lack of decent second stage bands, Arizona's Alternative Nation half-heartedly mustered up the energy to greet Cypress Hill. Like Pavement, Cypress Hill's best work is a few years behind them, but with marijuana imagery en vogue these days, the pot advocates had some people rushing the stage.

With my tail between my legs, I decided to leave the alternative playground. I'd been bored enough, and it didn't look like much hope was in sight. I could guess that Cypress Hill would blast a joint on stage and that Courtney Love of the squalid Hole might say something dumb onstage, but I didn't need to witness it. Indeed, I missed Love shockingly playing with a condom and alternating between flipping our photographer off and flashing her panties at him while he obligingly captured both Kodak moments. I had already seen Sonic Youth and wasn't looking forward to hearing anything they've written in the past five years, so I packed up my gear and left.

"Alternative Music" is a dying genre, quickly being replaced with the boogie rock of the Dave Matthews Band and Phish. Lollapalooza is as responsible as anything else (except for MTV of course) for putting the atrocities committed under that moniker to rest, and this year's festival should help expediate things. Hopefully there won't be a next year.

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