Lollapalooza’s 1996 edition may not conform to many people’s definition of “alternative” music, but this first stop on the 25 -city tour, on a hot and humid day just south of Kansas City, was certainly an alternative to the anticlimatic lineup of last year’s Lolla, where the majority left before Sonic Youth’s noisy finale.
Anchored by a relaxed set of heavy tunes from headliners Metallica, the daylong show lacked the communal vibe of years past and the sense of adventure of the other four editions. You knew what you were getting this time, and with only one glaring exception, all of the bands gave the people what they wanted and clearly expected: R-O-C-K.
No, this wasn’t what co-founder Perry Farrell (who’ll mount his own, competing “ENIT Festival” this fall) envisioned at all. But no one was seen here complaining.
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Metallica, which recently played surprise club gigs in San Francisco and Toronto, can take credit for most of the 20,000-25,000 attendees here; nearly all who came to the show stayed until the end, an uncommon occurrence at Lollapalooza, and they all got their $ 37.50 worth.
The Bay-area band, whose “Load” (Elektra) album has been the top-seller in the country — and much of the world — for the past three weeks, offered loose, sometimes sloppy, versions of songs from all six of their studio albums. They also roared through a trio of feisty cover tunes: set opener “So What” (also the name of the band’s fan club newsletter, incidentally) and “Last Caress,” both by punk brats the Misfits, and Motorhead’s “Overkill.”
“For Whom the Bell Tolls,” a fireworks and smoke-filled “One,””Master of Puppets” (arguably a band high-water mark) and, despite an acknowledged muffed ending, “Sad But True,” all drew approving roars.
The crowd was restrained otherwise, except during an abbreviated perf by the decidedly non-hard rock Cocteau Twins (enlisted for this one show at the behest of Metallica guitarist and CT fan Kirk Hammett).
After a technical glitch caused a short delay during the Twins’ moody and strange space-wave set, the metal militia in the house began throwing mud at the band, actually hitting a performer.
Lolla veterans Soundgarden (also on board in 1992) played a strong show as the sun was setting, delivering chunky, Sabbath-inspired riff-rock, led by the low-key but charismatic Chris Cornell.
The enduring Ramones, who threaten finally to retire following this tour, did a greatest-hits set. Epitaph punkers Rancid, who have no new album to promote, came along on the tour, they’ve told friends, to share bills with mentors the Ramones. With a horn section in tow, the band played some Clash-like numbers (“Ruby Soho,””Roots Radical”) while dodging some mudslinging.
Patrick Briggs drew stares for his skin-tight silver Bowie-ish suit, but his band Psychotica (American), the long day’s opening act, drew yawns for its rehashed Alice Cooper styling.
Lesser-known bands, many that more closely fit the “alternative” tag, played on two secondary stages, including the charming Ben Folds Five, hardcore group U.M.I., Girls Against Boys and college radio hipsters Lutefisk.
The site featured the usual booths of food and crafts vendors, as well as those staffed by political and environmental groups. The festive row of carnival rides that ringed the far end of the park and the tractor tracks that criss-crossed the grounds gave the whole day the feel of a state fair.