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Lollapalooza '92: On The Road With the Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden

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The Jesus and Mary Chain haven't gotten around to laughing just yet. "We got ourselves into this," says vocalist Jim Reid. "I'm not saying it's a bad thing. But it's scary. It scares the shit out of us.

"The thing that worries me the most," he continues in a soft brogue, "is that everything is like uh, uh, uh, motherfucker! uh, uh, uh, another motherfucker! A lot of what we do is kind of laid-back, a little soft. I don't know if we've even got a set that fits this situation. You couldn't go out there and do a ballad and get people stomping their boots to it. We've got a song called 'Just Like Honey,' and it's one of our best songs. But if we did it out there . . ." The unfinished sentence hangs in the air, and Reid shakes his head wistfully. "We hinted at it yesterday," he says. "We did songs similar, and those were the ones where everybody went, 'Hey man, I could do with a hot dog.'"

"I Bugged off That Lifto," Ice-T Is saying. "Lifto ties a brick to his dick."

The rapper, who wowed audiences on last year's Lollapalooza and is serving as an informal MC at the Shoreline shows, is referring to the bizarre shenanigans taking place out on Lollapalooza's midway. The second stage at Shoreline is featuring Boo-Yaa Tribe, Cypress Hill, House of Pain, Sharkbait and a performance-art troupe known as Archie Bell's Future Kulture and will showcase different local acts in each city. But the absolute must-see act is the Seattle-based Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, which does two performances daily. One of the Jim Rose attractions, the Amazing Mr. Lifto, a bald giant who takes the stage in black tights, high heels and a pink kimono, has become a favorite of the main-stage bands. His shtick is hanging various heavy objects from his pierced body parts, the items highest in shock value being the cinder block and the pair of steam irons he hangs from his penis and his nipples.

Among the other performers: the Torture King, who eats shards of a broken light bulb (holding a mike to his mouth, naturally, so you can hear every excruciating crunch) just to warm up. Paul the Sword Swallower is probably better known for what else he swallows – an assortment of live worms, crickets, slugs and – the biggest groan-inducing snack – maggots. Matt the Tube Crowley's specialty is siphoning various glop into his stomach through a nose tube and then spewing it back out. Audience members have been known to drink beer that Crowley has regurgitated. Yummy.

Through it all, Jim Rose serves as a hip barker for the other acts – "A cricket! Lick it!" he shouts, as Paul the Sword Swallower smacks his lips over a bug, or "It's science . . . . I am riveted!" Rose also spends a lot of time on the torture trail himself, his crowning achievements being the Human Dartboard (the darts are real – you can tell by the way they quiver when they hit his back) and the aforementioned face-in-glass spectacular.

Rose and his cohorts are drawing sizable crowds; most of the spectators appear to be more fascinated than grossed out.

"The show's about body altering," says Rose. "It should be interesting, but it shouldn't be controversial. The stuff we're doing is right out of the 1840s to the 1950s, stuff your great-aunt Betty used to watch. The difference is the way we do it – edgier, with a lot of energy and fast paced."

What Rose fondly calls his "circus of the scars" is Lollapalooza's oddest exhibit, to be sure. But there's a lot more to see at this year's festival – so much that seeing everything basically means seeing more than one show. Even fans who stay rooted in their main-stage seats for the twelve-hour music-o-rama absorb more than sun and long-term hearing damage: An electronic statistics board offers factoids during the set changes, ranging from the obscurely amusing ("Estimated percentage of nuts that squirrels lose because they forget where they put them: 50") to the political ("Records don't kill kids – bullets do").

The art display is expanded this year; canvases and sculptures are scattered over the entire area. The Rhythm Beast, a Gargantuan interactive sound sculpture made of various bangable objects, seems to be a big hit with the fans. Among the thirty-some-odd visual artists traveling with the tour are Zippy the Pinhead's creator, Bill Griffith; painter and airbrush artist Robert Steven Connett, whose gory, surreal images are striking but not for the squeamish; and Bruce Pollack, a foe of media manipulation who recombines familiar images to "shock and destabilize the traditional responses provoked by advertising" – typical of Pollack's work is a billboard featuring the Visa and Master Card logos, a huge UPC code and the legend You Are Under Constant Surveillance.

There are stalls hawking everything from books to temporary tattoos (doing a booming business, from the look of things at Shoreline), virtual-reality displays and amino-acid smart drinks for the cyberpunk set, bungee-jumping at seventy-nine dollars a pop for the thrill seekers. For the charity-minded, there is the Safe Sex Wheel of Fortune, the proceeds from which go to local AIDS research organizations; fans take a spin to win CDs, backstage passes, condoms and turns in the Crush Cage, a structure set up next to the second stage that is filled with sledgehammers and smashable old televisions and appliances. "Wake Up Mr. President, What About the Homeless" is a test-of-strength meter, the proceeds from which are earmarked for the Coalition for the Homeless in each city.

And, of course, the political booths. From Rock the Vote to the Cannabis Action Network, dozens of organizations hoping to bend young ears for a moment are out in full force.

If any one issue dominates this weekend's festivities, it's censorship, and given the recent fracas over "Cop Killer" (not to mention that Body Count performed the song at last year's Lollapalooza to nary an offended peep), Ice-T's presence has been truly symbolic, inspiring more onstage commentary than anything else. During the first show, the crowd got two freedom fighters for its money when Ice-T and Jello Biafra took the stage together to introduce Ministry. Biafra let fly with a dig at Tipper Gore, then informed the crowd that he wasn't going to vote for either presidential candidate. "That doesn't mean I ain't gonna vote," he added, clarifying that he was going to pay much closer attention to Congress, state representatives and, especially, ballot initiatives.

"I figured the least I could do was give 'em a little bit to chew on regarding a certain weasel by the name of Clinton and his choice of an even worse weasel for a running mate," says Biafra. "There was one guy in cutoff shorts and a ponytail flicking me off the entire time, but otherwise, it went over pretty good."

But did any of it stick? Will any of the privileged kids here at Shoreline ever really be pissed off enough to wreak any havoc with the nation's political system?

"I've tried to meet people and find out what their attitudes are," says Ministry bassist Paul Barker, "and for the most part, it is like a middle-class morass. But if the idea is to invest in the future – I mean, we're getting a generation of politicians now who grew up listening to rock & roll. So it's certainly a changing-of-the-guards type of thing. In the short run, I don't know how much impact it's going to have – maybe it's still just an all-day beer bash. But it could have a lingering effect."

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