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

Can Perry Farrell's traveling rock and roll circus change the world? Only time will tell

Pearl Jam perform at Lollapalooza.
Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Pearl Jam perform at Lollapalooza.
By |

"Hi, Jim. How's your face?" asks Perry Farrell, stepping onto a tour bus that is parked backstage at the Shoreline Amphitheater, in Mountain View, California. It's day 2 of Lollapalooza's opening weekend, and aside from a surprise twenty-minute set on Lollapalooza's second stage with his new band, Porno for Pyros, the fans at Shoreline haven't seen much of Farrell. Behind the scenes, he's seemed to be there but not really there, a laid-back apparition toting a jug of cheap red wine, blending in and out of the proceedings inconspicuously, always with that odd, half-dazed, I-know-something-you-don't-know smile.

At the moment, Farrell is inquiring about the welfare of Jim Rose, the piratish ringmaster of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. Earlier, to the let's-gawk-at-the-car-crash delight of some 7000 fans who had gathered around Lollapalooza's small second stage, Rose had pressed his face into a mound of freshly broken glass and then grandly invited a few spectators to stomp on the back of his head. Now Farrell wants to know how he did it.

Lollapalooza Through the Years: 10 Iconic Moments in Style

"Am I right?" Farrell asks. "Is it arm strength?"

"No," says Rose.

"No?" asks Farrell. "You really, like, settle yourself comfortably and let them press, hoping there's not a jagged edge that will bust?"

"That's exactly it," says Rose. "What it is, man, is you gotta know your glass. You gotta know a wine bottle from a beer bottle from a Worcestershire-sauce bottle, and then you just hope."

Farrell is enrapt, every inch the awestruck fan. Rose offers another pearl of carny wisdom.

"Mostly, the only thing in the glass is this area right here," he says, touching a hand to his brow and then his cheek. "Your eyes are in the socket, so you've got that little bit of clearance. The only real pressure is on the cheeks and the forehead."

Farrell, frowning, considers this.

"But that's half your face," he says finally.

"Yeah," says Rose, looking pleased.

"Well, fuck, man," says Farrell. "We all do crazy shit."


Was it crazy for Farrell to hope that he could top last year's successful Lollapalooza tour? In terms of more-bang-for-your-buck entertainment, no.

"I have to admit there was probably a little skepticism after seeing the first one," says Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. "Nothing's ever as cool as the first thing. But I'm telling you, I'm really proud to be part of this. We had a bad show yesterday, and the coolest part was realizing that it didn't fucking matter, because there was so much to do. You realize, 'Okay, so the bass guitar went out on two songs' or 'They couldn't hear my vocals – big fucking deal.' It's so much bigger than just individual bands."

Lollapalooza '92 offers a much more impressive display of art, political information and general all-around weirdness than last year's model. But what about the vibe? Was it crazy for Farrell to believe that the tour's artsy, faintly revolutionary air wouldn't be tainted the second time around by the stinking, hype-laden breeze of capitalism?

Maybe. Lollapalooza '91 was the underdog tour that could, charmed by the homespun hippie idealism and I'm-a-freak-touch-me eccentricity that were Jane's Addiction's stock in trade. That it turned out to be big business seemed little more than a side effect, a happy bonus. But that was last year – before Nirvana went quadruple platinum, before Helmet was signed for a cool million, before fans who were hip to the Chili Peppers circa Freaky Styley started looking down their pierced noses at that cheesy, bandwagon-jumping Blood Sugar Sex Magik crowd. This year, everyone wants to be alternative, and Lollapalooza '92 was viewed as a golden egg from the git-go. And the idea that the 40,000 white, suburban, middle-class kids thronging Shoreline this weekend see Lollapalooza as a means of, as Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil puts it, "affirming their alternativeness" – and that the tour's organizers were banking on just that – is a bitter pill for some of the artists to swallow.

"Alternative is just a fucking label," says Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. "I don't think we're alternative; I just think we're a rock & roll band. It's amazing that you can have voter registration and condoms and smart drinks and everything. But I don't like labels."

"There's nothing revolutionary about playing for big commercial monopolistic rock promoters for damn near forty bucks a ticket," echoes former Dead Kennedys mouthpiece Jello Biafra, who was on hand to hang with his pals in Ministry. "There are some interesting organizations allowed to set up booths. That, at least, is a start for these suburban kids who are used to simply marching down to the cattle hall, staring at the icon onstage and then going home. But it's still Vegas with a flannel face."

"Don't you have to be an incredible idiot to actually swallow some of the shit that's presented to you?" asks Thayil. "Is it cynical to say, 'I won't swallow,' and call something what it is? This whole tour is entertainment for the leisure class – there's no pretending about that. All it is, is a guilt release for the establishment's kids. I'm tired of the lie that alternative music somehow offers something that's anticorporate."

Yesterday, from the stage, Thayil's bandmate Chris Cornell took time between songs to address another common gripe about this year's festival. The moment the lineup was announced, detractors began grumbling about the lack of diversity on the predominantly male, hard-rock bill. "I'd like to apologize for all of us," said Cornell. "My penis would also like to apologize," he added, lowering the mike to his crotch and chiming, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," in a reedy Mr. Bill voice.

Photos: The Rise of Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and More

Judging from the crowd response to Soundgarden's and Pearl Jam's sets, Cornell's apology wasn't necessary. But there's no doubt that Lollapalooza '92 is heavy on the testosterone; the bill is so overtly macho and feedback-oriented that the female-fronted Lush and the Scottish art-pop band the Jesus and Mary Chain had serious reservations about participating.

"We were a bit intimidated by the whole thing," says Miki Berenyi, Lush's neon-haired frontwoman. "We thought, 'Oh, God, they're gonna think we're just a crappy little English pop band.'" As it turns out, Lush's attack, aside from the ethereal vocals of Berenyi and guitarist Emma Anderson, is nearly as gritty as that of the Seattle stalwarts on the bill, and the Shoreline crowd has been receptive. "We thought they were all gonna be, like, Soundgarden fans, standing at the front giving us the finger," says Anderson. "But it's great."

Asked whether they've made new fans of any of the other bands on the bill, there is an excruciating pause, and then both Berenyi and Anderson break up laughing. "The circus people like us," says Berenyi.

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."

"This is about the largest crowd I've played," says Ice Cube, cooling down backstage after his set. "I can't wait to get to the 30,000s. I look on TV at the rock & roll videos – I like the concert videos, 60,000 or 80,000 motherfuckers out there just going crazy. As a performer, you would love to perform in front of that many people."

Cube is having a good time. During both shows this weekend, he and his group, the Lench Mob, have had the entire Shoreline audience eating out of their hands. The spectacle of 20,000 white kids boogieing to fare like "The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit" and "How to Survive in South Central," waving their hands in the air and being led in repeated chants of "Fuck you, Ice Cube" has been the talk of the tour.

Cube had his own reservations about playing Lollapalooza, which is another reason for Ice-T's presence this weekend. He showed up to lend Cube some been-there, done-that moral support.

"I knew Ice-T had Body Count out," says Cube. "And I was like 'Well, were they more receptive on your rapping or Body Count?' He said: 'Just go out there and do your songs, man, they love your shit. These are kids that buy your music but never had a chance to go to a rap concert. Just do your shit, have fun.'

"To be honest, I didn't know what to expect," Cube adds. "But when I did the first two or three songs and saw everybody was into it, I had to jump out into the crowd. They want you to get up there and go buck wild, you know what I'm saying?"

The fans at Shoreline aren't the only ones who've flipped out over Cube. He also wins the prize for the highest number of cast members watching his set from the side of the stage. Some of the other artists – especially Chili Peppers bassist Flea – seem to be as caught up in the proceedings as the audience, and all of them have been singing Cube's praises. "I think Ice Cube is like what Dylan was in the Sixties," says McCready. "I see him in that kind of light."

Cube's presence has also sparked a fair amount of backstage debate about why he and the Lench Mob are the only black group playing on the main stage. Several artists zeroed in on the fact that the crowd was only as diverse as the bill.

"I thought Cube was brilliant," says Thayil. "But it just made me realize how incredibly white and affluent the audience is."

"Ice Cube's the greatest – we love Ice Cube," says Flea. "But I wish there was another black band playing, like an R&B act. As much as I love hip-hop, there's no black bands playing anymore like all the bands we grew up loving – Funkadelic; Earth, Wind and Fire; the Ohio Players – there's none anymore."

"It smacks of fucking tokenism," says Jim Reid.

"Rap music's probably more popular in this country than rock at the moment, or at least as popular. Why the one fucking rap band on the bill?'

Cube prefers to see it as a start. "This is paving the way," he says. "As rap is more accepted, and they see that everybody wants to see it just as much as they want to see the other bands, maybe Lollapalooza will add two rappers next year. Things like this expose people, and maybe people will better understand rap music, instead of hearing it from the media. They'll say, 'We went to the Cube concert, we had no problems, we had a good time.' And that's what I did, try to get up there and really give them an experience. Because this is an experience for me. I've never seen the Chili Peppers play or Soundgarden."

A cacophony rumbles up outside the dressing room; Ministry, apparently, has just launched its assault. "Ministry is the loudest, craziest motherfuckers ever," Cube says. "I met the lead singer – he's buck wild, you know what I'm saying? This shit is just loud." He points out a notice on the dressing room wall. "This shit says you can't go over 98 decibels. These motherfuckers are at 140. They're like 'Fuck the fines, fuck everything.' I love this shit. Anything hard-edged, anything parents want to ban and get rid of, I'm with that."

Ministry's gear had tongues wagging before anyone ever played a note. Some were impressed by the quantity; others were intrigued by the huge skeletons of an undetermined species that were flanking a backstage ramp like creepy sentinels when everybody showed up for rehearsals. What were they for?

As the band's set yesterday revealed, they are mostly for Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen's entertainment – he rides them across the stage like bony skateboards. That alone – the sight of the dreadlocked, sinister-looking Jourgensen zipping around on a rolling skeleton with a towel draped crazily over his head – is worth the price of a ticket. ("Actually," says Paul Barker, "I have to keep my eyes open so I don't get fucking broadsided.")

Ministry initially turned down the offer to play Lollapalooza but reconsidered, according to Barker, because "part of our five-year plan was to have our own studio, and we still don't." Lured by the thought of partial funding for their own private Chicago Trax, the band members presented a list of demands to Lollapalooza's organizers – one of which was that they be given a nighttime slot – and eventually a deal was struck.

"It's kind of crass," says Barker. "It's difficult for us, because it's a total compromise in many ways. All of a sudden we're part of this package, and we don't have any say-so in what organizations in various cities we play for. That's the kind of thing we never want to relinquish control of. We've been burned in various places, and we never want to work for those fuckers again. So we have to eat our own words, and believe me, man, that's not what we're about."

Yesterday, Barker and his vampirish band mates were grumbling – ticked off about the media circus at Shoreline and the fact that it wasn't yet dark when their start time rolled around. But the mood lightened when twilight struck about midway through their hour-long set. "It's no longer a picnic," Jourgensen intoned from the stage. "You can put away the wine and cheese."

Ministry changes its show nightly; yesterday the band drew primarily from Psalm 69, 1988's Land of Rape and Honey and 1989's Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, also tossing in the version of Black Sabbath's "Supernaut" that surfaced last year as a 1000 Homo DJs twelve-inch. The crowd ate it all up with relish; many in the audience appeared fairly well acquainted with even the newer Psalm 69 fare. On older songs like "Thieves," from The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, they had the timing down on every whip crack and drill-bit whine.

Coming after Ministry and Ice Cube, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have their work cut out for them; especially since they're still working out the bugs with newcomer Arik Marshall, who stepped in after former guitarist John Frusciante abruptly quit the band in May.

"It's a cosmically confusing, fucked-up situation to lose a family member like that," says Peppers vocalist Anthony Kiedis, "and we didn't want it to happen. Emotionally, it's very sad and disheartening. But that's what happened, and we had to carry on. That's what he wanted, and that's what we had to deal with."

Marshall, from the sound of things, won't have any trouble picking up the ball dropped by Frusciante. With only two Belgium shows with the band under his belt as a warm-up before the tour, he's slipped right into the Peppers' groove. The band's set, which kicks off with "Give It Away" and zigzags through Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Mother's Milk and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, is a powerhouse affair shot through with the usual wacky touches, from the stage wear (Kiedis's pants last night bore the slogan Save our Ass, and Flea wasn't wearing any pants) to Flea's falsetto, singsong a cappella turns. Much of the show probably leaves the audience battling vertigo, thanks to a revolving black-and-white pinwheel set up behind drummer Chad Smith that looks like it could hypnotize Texas in seconds. There's only one way to top something like that – namely, to come out for your encore sporting a hard hat that shoots flames from the top of your head while you play "Crosstown Traffic." Yes, they did.

It would've been tempting for the Peppers to bow out of Lollapalooza following Frusciante's departure – or at the very least allow the incident to put a pall on the proceedings. But it's clear that they'd rather concentrate on the positive aspects and just get on with it.

"There's great things about a tour like this," says Kiedis. "One of them is, we don't have to sound check, so we can get lots of rest. Another is that we get to make new friends, develop new musical relationships."

Whether he realizes it or not, Kiedis has just touched on the only real reason that any of the acts on the bill wanted to play Lollapalooza in the first place.


"I was standing between Ice-T And Ice Cube, and Perry Farrell was playing basketball right behind me," says Eddie Vedder. "When the fuck did I ever think that would happen?"

Two days into the tour and tenuous bonds are already forming. Last night, at the hotel where the bands are staying, Ministry and Boo-Yaa Tribe wrested the equipment away from the salsa band playing in the lounge and proceeded to systematically destroy the amps. Tonight, during the Chili Peppers' set, Boo-Yaa Tribe, Ice Cube and Ice-T came up for a jam. Ask the band members about it, and one right after another, they'll tell you that that is why they're really here.

"There's a real camaraderie amongst the bands and crew, the people who are putting on the show," says Kim Thayil.

Vedder concurs. "There may be media shit flying around, some band may hate some other band," he says. "But when it all comes down to it, and we all hang out together, we know we're all going through the same shit."

"The key to this tour working is groups coexisting," says old-timer Ice-T. "If you take one group on this tour and they're assholes, they won't make it. There can't be any outsiders. What I got out of it, more than just performing, was learning about the groups. I ended up being friends with Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Butthole Surfers; me and Henry Rollins are now like best friends. Now, Cube knows the guys in Ministry, he was hanging out with the guys from Pearl Jam. That's what this shit's about.

"Maybe that's why I came," he adds. "Being an alumni member of this thing, I wanted to see if it was gonna work, so I'd know there was a chance for it to happen next year. All these people are gonna be connected to this tour that way."

Is it just about music then? Jamming? Has Lollapalooza's change-the-world political vibe been lost in a blur of musical bonding and clever marketing? Was Perry Farrell talking to a brick wall yesterday when, at the close of his Porno for Pyros set, he told the crowd, "We will inherit this earth – it's ours . . . It's ours . . ."?

Farrell isn't denying that Lollapalooza has to some extent gone the way of Doc Martens and flannel shirts – mainstream. But he's not quite ready to see it as a plain old rock show.

"What Lollapalooza II has proved," Farrell says as the last of the fans are leaving Shoreline, "is that there is a serious market for a youth counterculture. That's the bad news. The good news is that these people will sooner or later be in positions of prominence, and we have taken them to school."

This story is from the September 17th, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.6

From The Archives Issue 639: September 17, 1992