Review: Consumable

by Dan Geller
October 1995

Now that the rock carnivals of summer have bedded down for the fall, Dan Geller takes an extensive musical look back at the current state of Perry Farell’s alterna-juggernaut:

Lollapalooza 95 marked a turning point for the now infamous alterna-rock festival. This year’s lineup finally broke the tradition of convening a bunch of semi to mega-huge outfits with a few lesser known bands. Instead the show consisted of a lot of bands with a strong but minimal following (Pavement, The Jesus Lizard, etc.) with only a couple of few huge names (Hole, Cypress Hill).The result was a lineup that makes you want to call up the guy who set it up and say “Thanks.” This was in sharp contrast to coordinator Perry Farell’s original vision for this year’s show which included the likes of Snoop Doggy Dog and other “diverse” names. Another change in this year’s event was a stronger focus on the music and less emphasis on the “festival atmosphere” Lollapalooza is known for. This year, for the first time, it seemed everyone was there for the music; in most cases, unfortunately, this only meant Hole and more specifically Courtney Love. The Midway consisted of a few tents with attractions that focused mainly on computers and drugs. However, these tents were nothing compared to previous years’ huge interactive displays that were usually inoperative and inefficient anyway. This absence of diversions other than the music resulted in most attendees spending most of their time at the main stage, even if they had no idea who was playing. It was hard to walk to your seat without hearing someone asking the question “who are these guys again?”, especially when the band on stage wasn’t Cypress Hill, Beck, or Hole. This lack of interest in most of the bands was quite a letdown for the fans that came to see specific performances. It was hard to enjoy the music when most of the people surrounding you could care less that there was even anyone on stage.

The second stage possessed a completely different character at most times throughout the day. An incredible lineup including the likes of Portastatic, Versus, Built to Spill, and a special encore performance by Pavement gave the second stage the feeling of an outdoor club. Out there almost everyone knew who they were watching and were damn happy to be there. Aside from the Cypress Hill rip-offs Red Man (who for some ridiculous reason played at the very same time Cypress Hill did) the bands on this stage were closely related musically which produced a very coherent and enjoyable day of music outside the amphitheater.

The Jesus Lizard offered an insane set which should have surprised no one due to all of the well deserved and long overdue hype now surrounding the band. Singer David Yow spent the set screaming his dirty head off and flaying his limbs into the faces of slightly tipsy kids who wanted to impress their friends with their endurance by running up front to the battlefield. Belting out their own special, twisted homages to the insane, The Lizard hit the audience in a way no other band at this rock and roll extravaganza could, motivating the small but eager initial crowd to cause damage to one another. This marked the only part of the festival which actually had a bonified “pit”, and was also the only time in the show that one may have actually been warranted.

Beck took the stage next, and boy did he and his band ROCK! Beck has this certain starpower that I cannot figure out. He seems just like some normal kid who got lucky with a single; but there is something else there, something great. He rolls around the stage in a way all his own and makes his seemingly goofy brand of rap/rock stuff seem legit enough that you almost buy it. He also managed to put a good band together to fill out his sometimes sparse arrangements. A highlight of Beck’s performance which deserves special acknowledgment was this incredible guitar throw which involved him hurling his still strapped guitar around his head and catching it quick enough to allow him to keep playing without missing a note… WOW!

After Beck the Atlanta crowd was treated to a main stage set by Superchunk. They replaced Elastica who replaced Sinead who replaced rock and roll with a baby. Seeing a band like Superchunk on a huge stage, playing an amazing set, was a treat. They played songs off all of their records, including songs rarely heard live anymore. Their singer Mac said it best when he said, “We were sick of playing this next song for people who have heard us play it before. But I think it is a safe bet that none of you have heard us play this one before.” as an introduction to their indie rock anthem “Slack Motherfucker.” Superchunk used the huge stage well running around in circles on it and leaving no inch uncovered. The band maintained a great sense of humor ending the set by stating “Thank you we were Sinead O’Connor and we really like the big stage.” Hopefully this performance will be the first of many for them on the big stage in front of a big crowd.

Next came Pavement, a great follow-up to the high energy pop of Superchunk. They played on a stage consisting of props resembling a twisted Mexican desert which contemplated their warped and sometimes country flavored set of music. Led by drunken singer Steve Malkmus, Pavement played an unlikely bunch of songs on the main stage which only contained a few of their better known songs namely “Range Life” and “Cut Your Hair”. The rest of the songs were more obscure cuts mainly from their last two records. The band played like true rock stars with a (phony?) arrogance that went well with the mood of the festival. Pavement, like many of the other bands seemed to have a certain contempt for the crowd. This may have been warranted by the crowd’s lack of interest in this band while they sat idle and waited for the pot smoking rap group that was to follow.

Cypress Hill entered the stage in a puff of..yawn..smoke, and continued their set to include about a thousand more clich├ęs that one would expect from a group that has a song entitled “Hits from the Bong.” I guess that if you smoke a lot of pot you were really supposed to like this or something, but I just didn’t get it. They jumped around the “hemp” filled stage and motivated the eager crowd to do the same in their seats. I guess that was an accomplishment in itself since up until this point most of the crowd was content to drink beer and complain. One has to admit, these guys have a lot of fun with what they are doing, and they translate that fun to the crowd well. They just need to get over the fact that most of their success is attributed solely to the fact that they exploit a boring, old, bad habit.

After the smoke cleared came the moment they were all waiting for. Mrs. Cobain was about to play. It was this attitude of the crowd that really put a damper on Hole’s performance. Hole is a good band, a really good band – regardless of any relation to other really good bands. But for some reason, people will not let go of the past. From the first minute that the band took to the beautifully decorated stage people were shouting out comments about dead rock stars. With a reaction like this to every performance it is no wonder Courtney Love can be such a bitch. The crowd spent most of the set trying to get Courtney to pull up her dress which, unfortunately, she did. Also, at one point someone threw a shirt with Kurt’s face on it up on stage. Courtney picked it up and kissed it tossing it back in to the crowd. After this she got into some argument with some guy who she challenged to a brawl on stage, when for some unknown reason, the guy backed down. The music definitely took a back seat for this performance, which was too bad; Hole played everything one would expect them to off their first two releases and threw in some wonderful new songs that makes one believe their songwriter’s marriage definitely had some positive results.

More positive results were achieved by Hole ending their set; over half of the crowd left. This prompted headliners Sonic Youth to ask security to stop checking tickets and allow the fans in the lawn seats to come down to the reserved seating section in the front. And did they ever; I thought I was going to be crushed by the avalanche of noise rock fans that cascaded down to the front rows. Sonic Youth began their set on the ambient set with an amazing version of “Schizophrenia” which was enough to make the whole day worth while. SY had a light show that could rival a Techno club which focused on three or four giant orbs covered in Christmas lights which hovered above their heads. This eye candy complimented the band’s intense musical performance. They drew songs from many of their early release and included five new songs that are as incredible as anything the quartet has ever produced. Most songs ended in a wall of noise that was so textured and precise it could bring a tear to the eye of anyone who has ever stepped on a distortion pedal. Every member of the band would have been able to hold the attention of the crowd by themselves and combined it was almost overwhelming. They ended the night with a new song called “Diamond Sea” that is literally the best song I heard all day and perhaps the best Sonic Youth song ever. It began slow and pretty with Thurston singing lightly over sparse guitars (Kim Gordon traded in her bass for a guitar about 3/4 into the set) and culminated in a 20 minute noisefest that was the most intense rocking I have seen in my short life which suddenly reverted back to the pleasantness of the beginning. This ended the day on a note so sweet that Lollapalooza ’95 definitely gets my vote as the best version of Lolla to date.