Hot, loud, long -- and superb

Concert: With 29 acts on the bill, there was more than enough good music to go around at this year's HFStival.

May 30, 1999|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

It was long, it was loud, and it was very hot, but this year's HFStival, at the Raven's PSINet Stadium yesterday, was worth it. Not only was the music generally marvelous, but the sound and staging were superb.

With a total of 29 acts on the bill, the HFStival (which was sponsored by the modern rock radio station WHFS) offered more music than any one listener could absorb. Even so, the festival's high points were clearly the two headliners, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Offspring.

For the Chili Peppers, HFStival worked almost as a reintroduction. Not only did the band preview much of its new album, "Californication" (which arrives in stores Tuesday), but it also got to show off its new look, with singer Anthony Kiedis now a bleached blond and bassist Flea boasting shaggy brown hair.

Still, it was the band's sound that mattered most. Reinvigorated by the return of guitarist John Frusciante, the Chilis played with remarkable power and precision, storming through the set-opening "Give It Away," and making the new material seem as familiar as the old favorites.

Where the Chili Peppers had funk on their side, the Offspring opted for punk, an approach that had much of the capacity crowd moshing. But even though their songs tended to be simple, tuneful and blunt, the band wasn't above slipping a bit of showbiz dazzle into its set.

"Come Out and Play" was particularly entertaining, with the Offspring stretching the song to several times its original length, then inserting an "intermission" -- complete with a dancing fat man in novelty underwear -- so singer Dexter Holland could puff a stogie before finishing the tune.

Frankly, though, the real star of the show was the Ravens' PSINet Stadium. That the field was wide and commodious and the ramps easily maneuvered through was blessing enough, but that would have meant little if the sound and visuals weren't any good.

And they weren't good -- they were great. Unlike Washington's RFK Stadium, the sound at PSINet was good regardless of where you sat or stood. Even better, the stadium's Smartvision screens gave a clear, crisp view of the onstage action all day, no matter how bright the sun got.

Local heroes Jimmies Chicken Shack opened the concert with a typical set -- puckish, energetic and heartfelt. Although an attempt to "christen" the stadium's stage with champagne failed when the bottle bounced without breaking, the rest of the band's too-brief set was first-rate, peaking with the irresistibly kinetic "High."

Putting the crowd directly in front of the stage into motion was pretty easy; some of the kids would mosh even when there wasn't any music. But getting the rest of the audience to jump around -- or even pay attention -- was a major achievement for most of the HFStival acts.

Silverchair came close to losing the crowd midway through its set, as the band drifted into epic, lugubrious art rock. But once guitarist Daniel Johns led listeners in the "We are the youth!" chant from "Anthem for the Year 2000," Silverchair had the crowd in its palm.

Interestingly, the most important factor in grabbing the audience's attention was melodic charm, not rhythmic intensity. So even though the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' full-throttle ska had the mosh pit roiling, the band didn't fully win the crowd over until it got to the irrepressibly tuneful "The Impression That I Get."

Likewise, for all the energy and charm Sugar Ray exhibited onstage, the band didn't get a full-stadium reaction until it launched into the lilting, familiar refrain to "Fly." It was smooth sailing from there, though, as the band jokingly performed bits of Fatboy Slim's "Rockafeller Skank" and Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" before bringing its set to a climax with the jangly, upbeat "Every Morning."

Variety was also the order of the day for the Goo Goo Dolls. Augmented by a keyboardist and extra guitarist, the Goos came out rocking, hitting the stage in a swirl of roaring guitars. When they rocked, they rocked hard, but they also left plenty of room for the softer side of their sound. Indeed, acoustic-flavored ballads like "Iris" got the crowd just as pumped as the raucous material.

Naturally, the HFStival was -- big surprise -- packed with acts currently on the WHFS playlist. Problem is, many of those bands are basically one-hit wonders, and had trouble parlaying the appeal of that one song into an entire set's worth of entertainment.

Blink-182 tried to bluster its way past the fact that the only song anyone in the crowd was likely to know was the brash "What's My Age Again?" Unfortunately, even that song's smart-alecky charm was plowed under by the band's sloppy, unfocused attack.

Citizen King, by contrast, took the loose-limbed charm of "Better Days" and honed it into a crowd-pleasing fusion of hip-hop and rock, delivering it with a loping, infectious groove that had most of the Street Stage crowd swaying happily.

Orgy, though, came closer than anybody to beating the one-hit-wonder rap. True, the band's snarling, stylized remake of the New Order oldie "Blue Monday" got greater applause than anything else Orgy played, but by that point, Orgy had already beaten the crowd into submission with its arch, aggressive electro-rock.

It wasn't all rock bands, though; DJs in "Trancemission Tent" kept a crowd of dancers entertained with throbbing techno music.

Todd Terry was particularly stunning. Where other DJs stuck with a single style -- Josh Wink devoted the bulk of his set to hypnotically pulsing trance beats -- Terry drew from a variety of dance beats. After teasing the crowd with a taste of funk, he dived into the hip-hop cadences of Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome," which he spiked with a deep house bassline. Two tracks later, he was deep into a drum 'n' bass groove, alternating gut-shaking bass with fevered breakbeats.

Pub Date: 5/30/99

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