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

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"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."

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