Review: New York Times

In Lollapalooza, Stage is No Barrier
July 31, 1995
by Neil Strauss

NEW YORK – It was easy to tell that Elastica was the new band of Lollapalooza, alternative rock’s biggest touring package, which stopped on Saturday afternoon at Downing Stadium for the second of two shows in the stench of Randalls Island (there’s a sewage-treatment plant nearby).

Taking the place of Sinead O’Connor, who dropped out of the tour to cope with her pregnancy, Elastica performed a consistent, straight-ahead set of two-minute songs probing the intersection between punk and new wave. They didn’t goof off, they didn’t interact much with the audience and they thanked the crowd for being “lovely” (they’re English). This kind of set wouldn’t seem out of place on other tours, but on Lollapalooza, a summer camp for alternative-rock stars, it seemed wooden.

Part of the appeal of alternative rock is that its performers emphasize that they are no different from their audience. By Saturday, 25 days into the tour, Lollapalooza’s bands were relaxed enough to imbue a grand outdoor space (filled with more than 20,000 people) with the casualness and intimacy of the small clubs that these groups normally tour. At big concerts in the past, the stage has always been a barrier separating the artists from the faceless mass of fans, and that border was never crossed except when an audience member eluded security or a performer hovered over the crowd in a cherry picker or another protective device.

But on Saturday, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones brought various audience members onstage to take pictures and to dance to their fusion of ska and punk; David Yow of Jesus Lizard ended his set of distorted, syncopated slop rock by diving into the crowd and singing as the audience passed him over their heads. Courtney Love of Hole waded into the field to try and tear off someone’s T-shirt, which had an offensive picture of her dead husband, Kurt Cobain, on it; Cypress Hill, the marijuana-obsessed rap band, had audience members throw money on the stage to bet on whether it would plunge into the audience.

Also performing on the main stage were Beck, who took a crowd dive after his eclectic set of rap, blues, folk and rock; Pavement, a group of meticulous slackers that deviated from the recorded versions of its songs by changing singers and lyrics, and Sonic Youth, whose riveting set was composed mainly of new numbers – simpler, moodier and catchier than much of their past deconstructed guitar rock – and a few out-of-character jokes.

Many of the highlights of Lollapalooza, perhaps the only music festival at which there’s a longer line at the body-piercing tent than at the beer stand, took place at the second stage, where smaller bands performed.

Built to Spill played twisted guitar mantras for misfits who like to think about why they’re misfits; Redman gave the predominantly white audience lessons in rap history and generalized hate, and Moby bounced from high-speed techno to adrenalized hard-core to classic-rock cover songs, hurling himself into the audience like his main-stage counterparts.