It looks like the girls of Lilith Fair are definitely getting the better of the boys on the rock festival circuit this summer. Just like this year’s Lollapalooza lineup, Horde ’97 comprises a rag-tag assembly of bands with little in common, and presents them in such a way as to take all the fun and spirit out of the all-day festival.
How else do you explain the timing of the performances here, where one band starts to play on one stage as soon as another finishes on an alternate stage. For example, watching all of Morphine’s brilliant but too-short set as second-stage headliners meant missing the first song or two from Neil Young. And who decided that a weak band like lounge chumps the Squirrel Nut Zippers even belong on the same stage as Young?
Nothing connected any of the bands’ efforts here (save for the improv sessions over at the jam stage), so the eight-hour show played like nothing more than a series of extraneous individual perfs, the best of which weren’t even found on the main stage.
The kick-ass bass-saxophone-drums attack of Boston’s Morphine, in front of a large and loud second-stage crowd, was the most compelling set of the day. Leader Mark Sandman’s vocals were smooth and smoky, his slide-bass playing cool and sexy, while sax man Dana Colley jumped between tasty tenor and baritone sax parts and drummer Billy Conway kept a solid and shuffling beat.
Also on the small stage, Ben Folds Five — actually a buoyant and lively pop trio — were supplemented here by a nifty four-piece string section, and almost brought the house down during their early evening set. Leader Ben Folds showed off his impressive piano skills and slick songwriting style, reminiscent of Joe Jackson and Billy Joel, but only if either had the indubitable energy of, say, Tiger Woods.
Headliner Young’s encoreless 90-minute set was mostly obscure material, surprisingly short on jamming and long on questionable midtempo excursions. It was a decidedly low-key and workmanlike set, peppered with tracks such as “I’m the Ocean,” from the “Mirror Ball” album he recorded with Pearl Jam, and the B-side “Don’t Spook the Horse.” His guitar playing, whether electric or acoustic, was powerful and assured.
Primus debuted for L.A. their new drummer, former Limbomaniacs member Brain, but he’s a poor replacement for the departed Tim (Herb) Alexander, who turns out to be more responsible for the proper execution of the group’s elastic funk-throb-metal sound than had been previously acknowledged.
Middle-of-the-road sets from Big Head Todd & the Monsters and Toad the Wet Sprocket did little to stir the sun-weary crowd, though Leftover Salmon’s pickin’-and-grinnin’ routine on the second stage was hands-down the most irritating entry of the day.