Lollapalooza tunes out people, tunes in business Music: Touring festival, which appears at Charles Town Tuesday, seems to have forgotten what drew so many people in its first years. However, another fest is on the horizon.

July 14, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Is Lollapalooza finished?

It's certainly beginning to feel that way. Even though it will be barely halfway through its annual cross-country trek when it arrives at the Charles Town Raceway on Tuesday, many in the music world felt that the festival was over before it started.

Some objected to this year's main-stage bill, which is unusually heavy on heavy guitar bands: Metallica, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, the Ramones and Rancid.

Others worried about what wasn't there -- hip-hop (apart from occasional guests like the Wu Tang Clan), dance music or the sort of edgy alterna-acts that made previous outings so memorable. Most disturbing of all were those who complained that Lollapalooza had lost its original spirit and cared less about creating a community than about making money.

Of course, that last complaint isn't exactly new. No sooner was it announced that the festival would be a continuing affair than purists began to sniff that Lollapalooza had "sold out."

Making money was not what the fest was supposed to be about, but the unexpectedly large crowds it attracted had promoters buzzing about alterna-rock's enormous -- and largely untapped -- market potential. There was gold in them thar bands, and by gosh, Lollapalooza's directors were determined to mine it.

Well, not all of them. Perry Farrell, who served as the festival's spiritual leader on its first outing in 1991, began to distance himself from the Lollapalooza juggernaut almost as soon as the first tour ended.

Before this year's edition got under way, he had finally ceded the franchise to his partners, record exec Marc Geiger, manager Ted Gardner, and booking agents Don Muller and Peter Grosslight. Farrell, for his part, has decided to pursue an alternative vision with ENIT (of which more later).

Response to criticism

Lollapalooza's current leadership is understandably touchy about criticism that the festival has betrayed its alterna-rock roots.

Geiger's statement in Rolling Stone that Metallica, by nature of its uncompromising heaviness, is "actually [an] alternative to what's happening now" smacks of desperation -- if he really wanted an "alternative," why not book totally left-field acts like Tiny Tim or the Kronos Quartet?

Gardner's insistence, reported elsewhere, that Lollapalooza was "never about alternative" makes more sense.

If you assume that "alternative" means a certain specific kind of rock and roll, then no, Lollapalooza never was "about" that. Unlike the kind of cookie-cutter conformity found in current alterna-rock faves such as Bush, Stone Temple Pilots, Everclear and Seven Mary Three, the music Lollapalooza originally intended to celebrate was wonderfully diverse.

In addition to Farrell's band at the time, Jane's Addiction, there was the icy, industrial-tinged rage of Nine Inch Nails, the jazz-schooled hard rock of Living Colour, the vintage goth spectacle of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the darkly comic thrash of Ice-T with Body Count. Wide-ranging as it was, that bill seemed to open a world of possibilities and instantly struck a chord with young rock fans.

Maybe that's what set it apart from everything else that was on the road in the summer. Unlike the commercially calculated creations that have traditionally tried to separate teens from their summer-job money, that first festival offered a genuine sense of community, one which not only accepted cultural differences but encouraged acceptance and understanding.

Because it created a space where any outsider could fit in, Lollapalooza felt like home to all sorts of rock fan misfits -- and that, ironically enough, made it the biggest draw around.

Guests pelted

Compare that "one of us/we accept you" vibe to the opening show of this year's tour, in which guests the Cocteau Twins were pelted with debris for daring to sound too different from the headliners, and you'll begin to see where this sixth-generation Lollapalooza lineup went wrong.

It isn't that the real-life festival has been outclassed by such fantasy ventures as the "Hullapalooza" tour imagined by the creators of "The Simpsons" (whose bill of Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill and Peter Frampton is both more daring and more palatable than this year's real-life offering). Nor is it that the one-two punch of Metallica and Soundgarden has turned the current tour into Metallapalooza.

No, the real problem is that Lollapalooza has become just another brand name, one more excuse to place money in the pockets of trendy bands and clever marketing men.

It's just business as usual, and while that may sell a few concert tickets (though, so far, the tour has played to precious few capacity crowds), it's not enough to build an aesthetic around.

No doubt that's why Farrell has decided to go his own way with ENIT.

Slated for a 13-show debut in September, this ultra-alternative PTC festival will feature five bands -- so far, Love and Rockets and Farrell's own Porno for Pyros are the only confirmed acts -- playing at ecologically appropriate sites around the country.

In addition to the music, the shows will include tree plantings, a communal meal, and a mind-expanding "happy hour." Through it all, the ENIT fest hopes to engage what Love and Rockets bass player David J calls "the sacred aspect of music-making."

Granted, catering to the sacred seems kind of goofy as a marketing strategy. But that's kind of the point. Because if it seems silly to aspire to something greater than a big show with big profits, then perhaps the rock world needs something like ENIT more than it knows.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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