Music News

THREE HITS, THREE MISSES, ONE DRAW

No one would have believed that the summer's biggest tour would feature seven cult bands that don't get a stitch of airplay. But a recession that's turning tours into a rarity and the coming of age of punk have combined to make the twenty-city Lollapalooza spectacular the summer's main event.

The good news is this eight-hour extravaganza, which began its nationwide journey at Compton Terrace on Thursday, had enough brilliant moments to justify, for 18,000 people, being outside on a 108-degree day. Most of the day's highlights were supplied by an act that looked, on paper, to be an unlikely choice for this tour, rapper Ice-T. Most of the day's low points were provided by Jane's Addiction, whose lead singer/love god Perry Farrell organized the tour--judging by his performance, only for the money. This is a new twist for Farrell, who has usually stood for love, art and madness.

Of the rest of the groups--Rollins Band, Butthole Surfers, Nine Inch Nails, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Living Colour--there were two hits, two misses and one draw. After opening with a crackling set of his best-known hip-hop numbers, like "Let's Get Buck Naked and Fuck," "New Jack Hustler," and "Colors," O.G. ("original gangsta") Ice-T switched gears and unveiled his new funk-metal band Body Count. Actually, Body Count had been on stage the entire time, playing live behind screens during the rap numbers.

Although funk-metal isn't anything new--the genre's forefather, Bad Brains, is already a thing of the past--seeing Ice-T take an energetic stab at it was the best part of the entire concert. People smiled. The entire band was kickin', but guitarist Ernie C. distinguished himself by ripping out screaming leads that found something new in a style that Bad Brains, 24-7 Spyz, and Living Colour have beaten to death. The only togetherness, at least among the seven bands on tour, came during this set; almost everyone lined the wings to watch Ice-T's new thang.

Speaking of togetherness, that concept is never going to be a big part of Lollapalooza. Even allowing for attitude and opening-night glitches, the mix-and-match nature of this ambitious package kept it from becoming a workable whole.

One solution would be to change the line-up. Slotting an urban dance band like Nine Inch Nails after Ice-T's showstopper was a minidisaster. It put the Nails in an impossible situation. It's no wonder they trashed their equipment and stomped off like spoiled children when their samples broke down. "Power surge" was the official explanation for the failure of the group's electronics after only two jams.

Except for the Nails' childish display, equipment was the one thing this tour had down. Getting seven acts on and off stage is a mammoth undertaking, but the entire show went off like clockwork. Less successful, however, was the much-talked-about "art and issues" tent in which local artists and activists were given space to set up and do their thing. Housed in a tall, sweeping, blue-and-white structure, both the issues booths and art displays felt a little thin. The original idea was to provide space for groups on both sides of issues like gun control. Conservative groups like the NRA, however, know the only thing they're going to get at a rock show is abuse, and didn't show up. The most interesting local-issue groups at Compton were the Arizonans for Safety and Humanity on Public Lands, which was gathering signatures for its Ban the Steel Jaw Trap campaign; and representatives of Hyacinthe House, who were extolling the virtues of body manipulation. Some of the more interesting local art came from Jerry Allen Gilmore and Janet De Berge Lange.

Most people were more interested in the music. Opener Henry Rollins was suitably gritty and loud. Watching "Hank" grind and growl in 100-plus heat gave new meaning to the word "sweat."

Although most bands are better in nightclubs, the great and powerful Buttholes (who walked out without introduction and whose name was not mentioned from the stage) may never be ready to play in front of 18,000 people. The band's exorcising brand of noise/hard-core doesn't translate well to a large space. With vocalist Gibby Haynes sucking on Beck's beer and furiously working his effects rack, the group put on a quick but mildly eccentric set and then disappeared for the rest of the evening.

The three later bands all did longer sets than the four openers; the best was Living Colour. The group has toured a lot and so presented no big surprises, but it is, without a doubt, the best-looking band in America.

Siouxsie and the Banshees put on a take-it-or-leave-it set combining oldies like "Cities in Dust" with newer material like "Cry." Playing in front of overworked smoke machines and the event's most lavish set--a flashing backdrop of two lovers out of the Kamasutra--the band would have been a big deal ten years ago. Then they were brave punks. Today Siouxsie's harem gestures and leather hot pants seem like museum pieces. And the music just laid there, expecting the synthesizers to carry it away.

The day's biggest disappointment was Jane's Addiction. If this performance was any indication, the end is near. That's a pity, because when this group is on, it's the best. Tortured vocalist and Lollapalooza creator Perry Farrell never connected with the audience. Though he admitted to being "a little drunk," that wasn't enough to explain his strangely nonsensical and cranky stage banter. If I were a surgeon, I'd say Perry's heart wasn't in it. He's still got plenty of great performances left in him, just not with this band. Besides sensory overload--seeing seven talented acts in rapid succession is almost too much--you walked away (and got stuck in traffic) with a strange taste in your mouth. You could almost see Perry thinking, "Now that Jane's is huge, we'll squeeze a few more dollars out of it before we call it quits.

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Robert Baird