Review: Gray Area

by Alan Sheckter

This was Lollapalooza’s fifth tour, while only the third to hit the immediate Philadelphia area. For the record, the 1991 version had no “second stage”, hit only 17 cities, and saw Lollapalooza-developer Perry Farrell lead Jane’s Addiction as the headliner, with supporting bands being Living Color, Siouxie And The Banshees, Ice-T, NIN, Butthole Surfers and Rollins Band. Lollapalooza ’92 boasted the most awesome line-up, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Jesus And Mary Chain. 1993 featured Alice in Chains, Primus, Dinosaur Jr. and Arrested Development. 1994 offered Smashing Pumpkins, Breeders, Beastie Boys and George Clinton. The promoters put together a pretty impressive lineup this year as well, even if none of the acts could be called “superstars” in many pop music circles.

The venue was the third different one in three years for the Philadelphia attendees, and this one was, by far, the most comfortable. That may have been why this year’s version seemed just a bit less edgy and festival-like than the last two. In 1993, the show happened on an open field where famed JFK-stadium had just been demolished and bulldozed. Last year was almost across the street from that, at Roosevelt Park, a place locals call “The Lakes,” because of its little ponds. That show drew a record 43,000+ people. But enough about all of that. “What have you done for me lately?” is the question, right?

The Sony-Blockbuster Entertainment Center is a brand new venue, and it’s on “The Waterfront” in New Jersey. The NJ Tourist Bureau hates to call attention that it is in Camden, still a very nasty town, even with a new large aquarium. The place is nice. It holds 25,000, with nice reserved, covered seating for about 5,000 up front. A big chunk of the orchestra section is made up of numerous box seats, with waitress service! The lobbies are two indoor facilities, air-conditioned, complete with overhead monitors, for you to continue watching the show while buying your beer or cola.

The show wasn’t a sellout, attendance figures in local newspaper listing approximately 21,500 fans. It was dry, but hot. It’s been a tough summer.

There were plenty of us there, though, kind of taking over the Camden “Waterfront” area for a day. There was fun in the sun, dancing, shopping, styling and profiling, foot-tapping and moshing. Lots to see and do for 11 hours. One strange phenomenon was where the bulk of the moshing took place, on the lawn, maybe 150 feet from the stage. At a normal general admission festival setup, those who want to shake and groove gravitate to the front, and that explodes into a crowd-surfing battlefield. Here at the Waterfront Center, there was the large reserved seating area as well as a small front orchestra pit. Those folks, who numbered about 100 had bracelets for access, and danced, but they weren’t the hardcores. The hardcores bought general admission lawn tickets. And that’s where the slam-dancing happened.

I arrived around 1p.m., to the quite amplified sax-laden ska music of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, trying to decide where to go. We had fairly nice reserved seats, or we could opt for the sun-soaked vast lawn. The lawn was okay, but was so bright, that when one tried to view the stage at the front of the big shed, it was like looking into a cave. For evening concerts at the facility (an 99% of events are at night), there are giant screens to watch. They were not used on this day, due to the bright daylight. We did hang on the lawn for a while, enjoying the all-encompassing view of the surprisingly picturesque Delaware River and the proud Philadelphia riverfront beyond.

Aside from the main stage acts (there were eight), and the smaller, second stage acts (there were six or seven of those, including Moby and my fave, the Mary Timony-led Helium), there was a tiny third stage, The Lab, where late-added bands, such as Philadelphia’s own Dandelion among others, played. The stage was emceed by a hot TV in a leopard dress, Torment. By the end of the day, The Bosstones would show up unannounced there, a couple of thousand kids jamming into an area meant to hold a couple of hundred, and Beck would end the festivities at The Second Stage.

The real cool, politically-left, awareness-increasing, very intriguing items were, as has been a Lollapalooza tradition, away from the music. The land of wonderment was called The Mindfield this year and had some real cool shit.. One was a large film tent, which “mixed current short films, animation, experimental, documentary and narrative films from around the world…” Perry Farrell also offered a Mean Art Tent. There was “aroma therapy,” a neat natural perfume kind of environment, a big 3D-viewing area, a perfectly lovely “junkyard environment” of odd objects, as well as huge Robert Williams and Stanley Mouse colorful originals. Outside, one could stroll, catch some sun, people watch, and happen upon festive booths. They offered everything from “ecstasy,” a legal caffeine-laced mood enhancer, “Killer Beads,” tarot reading, body piercing, zine center, as well as a big Sega Saturn station. There were the community awareness booths as well, like the National Abortion Rights Action League, Rainforest Alliance, Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Cities and Schools, as well as Rock For Choice and The Feminist Majority.

Having made clear that the crowd is free, welcome, and encouraged to tour the whole site, I’ll focus on the Main Stage, where the big-name music acts performed. After The Bosstones, David Yow and The Jesus Lizard jarred our teeth with a quite amplified set. Yow wore a nametag sticker that proclaimed “Hello my name is Wood-Burning Oven.” OK, maybe he was a little “out there,” but at least he didn’t take his clothes off on this day. Beck was next, the quirky, baby-faced lad regaling us for a time with his brand of crooning and grunging. His band was adequate and fun, Beck looking nerdy as ever with his Stewart’s Truck Stop baseball cap. Sinead would’ve been next, and frankly I was looking forward to seeing her, but her pregnancy, combined with the heat element had proved too trying. Instead, keeping with the welcome tradition of lots of including lots of female musicians, English band Elastica was next. The mostly all-gal band, threw short, well-played modern rock tunes at us, including their summer hit, “Connection.” They were followed by the most cerebral of the main stage acts, Pavement. More popular with the 25 and up crowd, which was certainly a minority on this day, Stephen Malkmus and company did a set of their low-fi, 90s-psychedelic tunes. The cardboard cut-out stand-up animals that were on-stage never did make sense to me, but what do I know? The next band seemed to get the biggest ovation. It was tokin’, provokin’ Cypress Hill. Led not by crazy, jumping lead singer B-Real, or his main man Send Dog, or even DJ Muggs, the spinnin’ and scratchin’ expert, the main presence on Cypress Hill’s stage was a giant inflatable gold Buddha, with a large pot leaf held in the wise man’s hands. Wreaths of simulated reefer branches hung among shrunken heads and other eerie tribal-like props. They’re popular songs like “Insane In The Brain” and “I Wanna get High.” B-Real unveiled a 15-foot high blue ceramic bong, while the rap group offered the song “Hits From The Bong.” Afterwards, B talked to the crowd like he was our big brother, cautioning us to use a water-cooled bong and not paper-laden joints for our pot consumption. Big personality Courtney Love was next, leading her band Hole through perhaps the best straight ahead rock set. Courtney, drummer Patty Schemel, Bassist Melissa Auf der Maur and guitarist Eric Erlandson kicked out “Doll Parts” and Nirvana’s Pennyroyal Tea.” Courtney did display a little attitude though, fussing with the equipment, bitching to her soundman, and continuously lighting cigarettes and tossing them away when it was time to sing. Veteran headliners Sonic Youth, led by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, led a fine closing set. As has been the case at the last two Philly Lollapaloozas, the final band played to a crowd that was for the most part, streaming out to find their cars. It’s a good thing, really. There wasn’t a massive break for the exits, instead, a meandering spread out stroll.

Though the mosh pit in front of the stage didn’t mosh, and the clean, modern concert facility didn’t have that hedonistic “punk” feel, and the fact that this music, that was pegged underground five years ago now makes MTV click, it was a great day at the park..