The consensus critical impression of the mammoth alternative touring fest known as Lollapalooza seems to be that each year it moves further away from what’s actually meant by the term alternative music. Thus the shows are labeled disappointments by pundits. But don’t blame the bands. As both consumers and the media continue to acclimate themselves to the music, the musicians involved still maintain their unique identities and alternative appeal. In any case, the 3-year-old event and the talent involved were popular enough to sell out the 30, 000-seat venue Friday and Saturday nights.
Some of the eight acts in the 9 1/2 hour show, though, were much more appealing than others: Relative newcomers Tool and Rage Against the Machine made the most of their early timeslots; Alice in Chains and Primus mostly succeeded in holding the attention of an increasingly sleepy crowd; and Front 242 and Fishbone, for different reasons, were the day’s lost souls.
Zoo Entertainment’s Tool was arguably the day’s big winner. The L.A.-based quartet, intro’d by the day’s grand marshal of sorts, Timothy Leary, pounded an aggressive, consistently angry 40-minute set that won the band many new fans. Sharply delivered LedZep-like riffs carried the group’s cynical message, supported by a persistent and somewhat surprising head-bobbing groove. “Opiate” and “Sober,” the latter from Tool’s current “Undertow” album, were this very promising band’s best moments.
The show’s most talented band, the wildly bizarre Primus, had the unenviable task of closing the day’s proceedings. And despite the exhaustion of those who stuck around, the Bay Area power-fusion trio, which records for Interscope Records, did itself proud. Led by the odd schtick of bassist/singer Les Claypool , the group many refer to as the Rush of the ’90s made its intricately crafted songs, all delivered with tongue firmly in cheek, quite accessible.
Claypool, who attacks his bass like a crazed minstrel and sings as if he’s not getting quite enough oxygen, is a performer you either love or loathe. On this day, at least, he was lovable.
The biggest name on the bill, commercially speaking, was Seattle grunge-metal outfit Alice in Chains, and the controversial Columbia rockers didn’t disappoint. After a rough start, the band hit its stride midway with a string of powerfully delivered crowd favorites.
“Angry Chair,” probably the foursome’s most intense song, “Man In the Box” and the dynamic “Sick Man,” where vocalist Layne Staley launched himself into the rolling audience, were high points of a solid set.
The lone hip-hop entry of the day was Chrysalis’ Arrested Development. And true to its reputation as a moving live act, the uplifting group sprinkled funk, jazz, blues and gospel into a mesmerizing, soulful rap message that served as the program’s lone intelligently delivered political effort. Hits “Tennessee” and “People Everyday” were highlights of a set that came off more as spiritual revival than a pop gig.
Rage Against the Machine, the long day’s opening band, will likely end up the big commercial champ of this tour. Its self-titled Epic debut album is currently charging up the album chart, thanks to the no-holds-barred ferocity of its show. The self-help kick of “Take the Power Back” and the fright-night shock of “Know Your Enemy” were the best of the metal/rap/industrial quartet’s set. Unnecessary and somewhat ignorant political ramblings fouled the otherwise effective slot. Dinosaur Jr. was probably the least understood act on the bill. Leader J. Mascis continues with his traveling Neil Young tribute, revealing little of his own apparent talents in the process. The Sire trio caught the attention of some with a take on the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” a song it’s been playing for years, but offered little else in the way of substance.
Biggest disappointment of the day had to be Columbia’s Fishbone, a former next-big-thing candidate that seems to have lost most of its old grace and edge. As the SoCal band continues to move away from its old funk-sea roots and toward a more metal approach, it loses both fans and relevance. A shame.
Harsh techno treatments were the order of the day for veteran act Front 242, which also struggled with a lack of audience interest. It left many to wonder what the Epic noisemakers were doing on the bill in the first place.