If Lollapalooza were a bowling trophy, it would be enshrined under glass on an altar on the mantel of alternative rock, surrounded by Bic lighters forever lit in tribute.
Lollapalooza was the groundbreaking, revolutionizing musical and social force in the early 1990s. Its name and the waves of good vibes it resonated still conjure up romantic notions for the survivors of the alt-rock explosion, the same way a faded letterman’s jacket or a half-frozen corsage do for others.
Hoping to ride the new wave of more alternative-sounding, less popish bands, Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, co-owner and founder of Lollapalooza, chose this summer to revive the tour after a six-year hiatus.
The two-month tour’s 33-city swing was billed as a second coming.
But while some rocked out Aug. 1, fueled by a mix of $7 beers and youth, others say the tour probably should have remained merely admired as a glistening tribute, a testament, to a time either too blurred and distorted to remember or too pristine to live again.
Letterman jackets fade. Corsages wilt.
Some things are better left undisturbed and to yellow, like dried lilies folded into the creases of a photo album.
Tucked underneath Nissan Pavilion’s grassy hill, sits a meeker line of vendors, many veterans of the touring business.
Since the July 3 kick-off in Grand Rapids, Mich., one apparel vendor, Mike, 32, has been consumed by the tour, like one is with a month-long toothache.
“There’s not much effort for the art,” he says. “It’s all about the money. I’d love to pump it up and be positive, but it sucks.”
Having attended Grateful Dead concerts and Phish shows, Mike says Lollapalooza 2003 lacks a truly festival vibe. Money is driving the tour and escalating ticket prices.
“I wish it was more popular, but it’s mellow,” says Mike, who attended Lollapalooza in 1997, the year which the tour was pronounced dead by a shrinking fan base and critics.
Not all are so critical of the tour or hold it to the high standard of past triumphs.
“I’m just here to have a good time,” say Zach Heidemann, 20, waiting for his girlfriend outside the restroom. Too young to have attended previous Lollapaloozas, Heidemann says he was attracted this year’s show because of the hard-charging, big-name rock bands.
His only gripe: the cost of beer.
As he waits, two guys ? one with “I’m toasted” scrawled across his chest, the other with “Me 3” ? saunter by. “Me 2” is nowhere to be found but could be any of a number of other festivalgoers milling about and stumbling around.
A mother and daughter pair troop past by wearing homemade T-shirts proposing marriage to Incubus frontman Brandon Boyd.
Ken Schwartz, 32, has attended four Lollapaloozas. Back when alternative rock was not synonymous with mainstream rock, when he brandished tattoos and sneers like a rabid dog does teeth, Schwartz rocked out to Primus and Alice in Chains at early shows.
Now admittedly more mellow ? sporting a Lakers hat and a Polo shirt ? though he is excited to see the reformed Jane’s Addiction, part of the tour’s original lineup in 1991, he says this is not altogether the same Lollapalooza of his youth.
The spirit of Lollapalooza and Perry Farrell’s bridging of the worlds of music and activism is becoming more fragile.
“It’s kind of grown bigger than that,” Schwartz says. “It’s become all about the music, the party. For some people, that’s what it is about.”
Lance, a government worker who has attended three
previous shows all at smaller venues than the mammoth Nissan, says the tour also has lost some of its edgy, alternative sound.
“Ice-T playing with a metal band. … It was bad,” Lance says of the tour’s 1991 lineup. “It’s the baddest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Lance only gives his age as being “over 30.” He then hints at the assumed obvious. To ask someone’s age at a rock concert is almost a sacrilege.
A gravel parking lot separates Xbox’s Cyber Ballpark, a pitching cage and gaming station, and a row of booths, the Just (Be)Causes, bookended by a Verizon Wireless tent and Xbox music mixer.
With banners unfurled, the booths beseech fans to “Do something,” “Save the world” and “Protect seals.” One points out plainly “Extinction sucks.”
The contrast is more jarring than an out-of-tune guitar being dropped to the floor.
“It’s too commercial to the point of sickness,” says Davis Mullen, 19, a blue-haired guitarist in a local metal band, The Seventh Gate. More temperate in his views, Schwartz says big name sponsorship is a “necessary evil.”
Ten minutes before 7 p.m., a line begins to form at the Axis of Justice tent, dwarfing the groups at other booths and rivaled only slightly by the line at the ATM.
Word spreads quickly. Axis of Justice co-founder Tom Morello, the Audioslave guitarist who has nearly reached the iconic stature of Che Guevara pictured so prominently on the T-shirts of his fans, is coming.
Standing in line to get an autograph from Morello, Joe Steinberg, 24, says there’s a lot of solidarity among fans though he admits he is just here to meet the guitarist he considers a “musical genius.”
After watching Ryan Doss from MTV’s “Jackass” attempt to knock himself unconscious riding on a tricycle on the Second Stage, Adam Miller, 27, says the famed Lollapalooza mix of entertainment and the promotion of understanding and diversity remains.
A little after 7:30 p.m., the last of the Xbox gamers and cause-seekers ? some in platinum-colored miniskirts, others in black mesh shirts and leather pants ? trickle out of the Second Stage area.
Peeking out from underneath the “Extinction sucks” sign, Gerta Wrolstad, 22, manning the wildlife works booth, says today has been a little better than other tour dates.
After its stop at Nissan, the tour will continue through the end of August hoping to convert more unbelievers.
“I think that’s why these causes are here,” says Wrolstad, who graduated from the University of Oregon in May, “to get to young people, to get a voice out to people.”
Schwartz agrees. “If one gets involved, Perry wins.”
For Mike, the tour’s lone musical saving grace is the Los Angeles-based psychedelic, spiritually influenced Golden Buddha. Before Jane’s Addiction hits the stage, the shoeless, three-piece band grooves without the aid of 20-foot television screens or a repertoire of songs off of platinum-selling records at a quaint side Dream Circus tent.
Two girls, one with dragon wings tattooed on her back, stand up from the crowd and in the midst of 20 onlookers, whirl through the music, smell and haze usually reserved for dens or drab living rooms.
“Dream Circus keeps the vibe alive,” Mike says.
Trying to beat the traffic, Ann Turner, 23, and Mandy Carlson, 25, skirting off before Jane’s Addiction completes their set, say they will come back next year if Farrell decides to get another tour aloft.
Joined shortly by a growing stampede after Jane’s Addiction hits the last chords of “Just Because,” they are offered free Winter Fresh gum as they leave.
In the song, Farrell reminds the audience, “When we first met that was a long time ago,” and then asks “when was the last time you did anything not for me but just because?”
Farrell’s message is lost on those leaving, drown out by the speakers at the main gate announcing the next tour coming through town.