I had two overarching fantasies as a 16-year-old in the Fugazi-free sticks of northeast Ohio: (1) becoming Quentin Tarantino's understudy, and (2) sliding down a muddy slope at Lollapalooza with Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder, giggling, cavorting, whipping our dirty locks around, living the grunge dream. The sad thing for all of us: I guarantee that a great many of you in your mid-20s just nodded in shameful, quiet empathy.
Time taught me that Lollapalooza was at bestmaybe in its maiden season onlyan unsightly, if generally well-intentioned mass embrace of suburban alternative youth culture. As summers of the '90s steamrolled by, the festival devolved into an insatiable corporatized locust, an accessory to the exploitation of every remotely marketable aspect of that culture. It stood idle and laughed as freak ideology was manhandled into such a stupor that we can only communicate about it today in ultra-ironic, withering, heartless, puerile, contradictory tonguesthe gruesome chatter of bars, shows, and, oh yes, music columns.
So Lollapalooza's back and I'm staring at one ugly motherfucker of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Will I be progressive or prurient? To borrow (reaaaaal loosely) from Freud, sometimes a pierced nipple is only a pierced nipple. You've heard the cynical, embittered 26-year-old's take; wouldn't his decade-younger incarnation puff a more entertaining chronicle?
Hell, yes, he would, bro! I still love me some ultraviolence and alt-rock. This revamped Lollapalooza is like an old-timers all-star game: totally watchable and more than a little pathetic. Key members of vintage Lolla veterans Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, and Jane's Addiction have realigned into lesser, albeit still extraordinarily popular main stagers Audioslave, A Perfect Circle, and, um, Jane's Addiction. APC/Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan has a word for what his band plays that can be applied to the lineup in general, and I can't decide if it's hilarious or heartbreaking: munge.
I don't know if the "m" is for "metal," "modern," or "moribund," but I do know that Lolla's nonmusical double standards are still festering. When co-founder/ Jane's leader Perry Farrell took to the second stage for an alternative energy seminar in which hydrogen fuel cells were utilized to make smoothies, he was met by jocks yelling "Discovery Channel!" and "Hydrogen! Fuck, yeah!" with a bit more intentional ironic brilliance than I was prepared for. Confounded, I took Perry's side and jerked around, itching to tell these jokers to shut the fuck up (getting my ass beaten: always good for the column), then noticed the Marines-sponsored pull-up bars marring the thoroughfare. What kind of man did Perry want me to be, exactly? An environmentally conscious killing machine? The catcalls continued uninterrupted, my erection subsided, and I re-entered the waking slumber state.
It must be said that the second stage was kinda diverse, featuring the BOC-meets-Strokes licks of Kings of Leon, a surprise set by Porno for Pyros that I fucking whiffed on, and the unbridled insanity of 30 Seconds to Mars, Jared "Jordan Catalano" Leto's ridiculous space/glam quartet. Doused in mascara and blush and shredding with such . . . blankness . . . well, here's a thought: There's conservative cocaine use, and there's edge-of-reason, all-night vacuum action. Just a thought, mind you. 30 Seconds to Mars and I likely concur: Cocaine is illegal and not cool. That said, if my press pass got me any perks beyond bottled water, I would've genuflected backstage and begged Lord Jared to show me the rings of Saturn.
No such (hint of) hedonism in the pavilion. The Donnas vamped through "It's on the Rocks," their bassist did her shrill rock-chick stand-up routine, dudes brayed "Take it off!", and I'm pretty sure they weren't requesting the ladies' lone hit of the same title. Brandon Boyd, vocalist of ever-dangerous n-metal hippies Incubus, came out of the gate sporting a samurai-style bun and mustache. His shirt came off midset, as it's prone to do, just because. A Perfect Circle, opting for stylish black dress shirts and slacks, kept Keenan in a silhouetted tent during the first song. Tension escalated, the poles fell, and the mercurial, enigmatic star was finally revealed . . . in a wife-beater and Adidas track pants. Mungy!
Audioslave, on the other hand: unexpected delight. Cornell invited a bespectacled, cowboy-hatted Keenan onstage for a measured acoustic cover of Nick Lowe via Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, & Understanding?" and later led a rousing full-band smash-up of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."
Tom Morello, unsurprisingly, couldn't resist a wank-out delay-heavy take on Jack White's solo; with Jane's on deck, the wank-out was only beginning. Farrell and crotch-rockin' guitarist Dave Navarro glammed out in blue latex and black fur, nearly everyone stuck around for "Stop," "Been Caught Stealin'," and "Mountain Song," and if you closed your eyes, it was just like 1991. If you opened them, there was a tubby, shirtless man moshing in place to "Jane Says." Keep 'em closed.
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