Lollapalooza Proves The Most Successful Tour of the Festival Season

Nine Inch Nails, Ice-T, and more tear down sold-out dates on their "pioneer tour"

Nine Inch Nails perform at Lollapalooza.
Steve Eichner/WireImage
Nine Inch Nails perform at Lollapalooza.
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According to the definition printed on the back of the official tour T-shirt, a Lollapalooza is something, or somebody, very striking or exceptional; also, a big lollipop. To the sellout crowd of surf dudes, skate punks, metalheads, batcave belles and just plain curious folks at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, near Los Angeles – many of whom are wearing that shirt – the Lollapalooza Festival has certainly been an all-day sucker of future-rock fun. Opening under a hot afternoon sun with the torrid angst 'n' roll of the Rollins Band, featuring ex-Black Flag throat Henry Rollins, the day's action has zigzagged all over the so-called "alternative music'' map: the bull-elephant grunge-guitar stomp of the Butthole Surfers; L.A. rapper Ice-T's brilliant double play of hard-core gangster verse and the heavy manners of his new punk band, Body Count; Nine Inch Nails' dentist-drill disco attack; the sociopolitical slamming of Living Colour; Siouxsie and the Banshees' gothic pop; and finally, the epic art-thrash wail of the headline act, Jane's Addiction.

But from the festival's inception, Jane's singer Perry Farrell – the principal brains and balls behind the Lollapalooza Festival, the most successful and provocative package tour of the summer concert season – wanted this movable feast to be more than just nine hours of college-radio fuzz 'n' froth, a portable Woodstock for the black-lipstick-and-nose-ring set. So just before Jane's Addiction's final encore, a fervent reading of the Ritual de lo Habitual ballad "Classic Girl,'' Farrell makes a little speech to the adoring horde.

"This is it, homeboys. Youth revolution!'' Farrell declares in a high, weedy voice. "Last chance. Let's get on with it!'' Later, as the last line of the song – "Yeah, for us these are the days'' – hangs in the cool night air, Farrell looks at the seething mosh pit at his feet, and dives in headfirst. By the time security pulls him out, he already regrets opening his yap.

"When I said it, I really shrank,'' Farrell confesses the next day while the industrial dance din of Nine Inch Nails rattles his dressing-room trailer. "Because I felt like 'Right, these guys could give a shit.' I'm sad to say I came offstage feeling like 'This ain't gonna happen, they are just too happy with life.'

"But I don't believe we can have mass rioting in America too soon,'' Farrell insists. "And maybe I shrank out there. Maybe I felt a little bit alone. But not naive. Because you gotta give it a try. Maybe there's one guy out there who could be a political leader of some kind, who heard that and thinks, 'Right on, that guy onstage has something there.'

"You gotta give it to a guy for tryin'. And I'm tryin'."

If nothing else, the Lollapalooza Festival (which climaxed August 29th in Seattle after playing to almost half a million people in twenty-one cities) is a tribute to Perry Farrell's entrepreneurial nerve and up-the-mainstream attitude. "This is a pioneer tour,'' says Ice-T. "All the groups in their own way have pioneered a certain form of music. And the fact that none of us get played on the radio – to be able to pack arenas and all, it shows people want to hear this. It's also a very educational experience. Everybody's taking a pill they're not used to.''

That's certainly true of the arts-and-issues sideshow at every venue, a Farrell idea rooted in his belief that it'll surely take more than a Big Rock Show to defang the conservative menace. Experimental artists, some chosen by Farrell himself and his wife, Casey Niccoli, display their work on the grounds, while national and local activist groups run voter-registration drives and talk turkey with the fans about the environment, censorship, abortion rights and handgun control, among other things. At Irvine Meadows, the art show is disappointingly small, a meager handful of weirdo sculptures and hangings. But a few days later in San Francisco, a city with a tradition of multimedia events going back to the original Trips Festivals, the art scene is a gas, an outdoor cornucopia of huge vivid canvases and interactive pieces like the Piano Bell From Hell, a pyramid of battered old piano parts that people can bang on, play or kick at will. And in both cities the kids are transfixed by the demonstrations put on by Body Manipulations, a bohemian crew specializing in "piercing, brandification and scarification.'' Farrell even tried to get representatives from the military and the National Rifle Association to take part. Not surprisingly, both groups declined. A U.S. Army spokesman replied to the invitation by saying, "Why should I bother getting into a pissing match with a bunch of left-wing rock & roll punks?''

Farrell would have liked nothing better. "Look, it's very easy to dance a dance that everybody knows,'' says Farrell. "But to be thrown things that are not that easy and familiar . . . This whole thing has a bit of tension,'' he says excitedly. "White kids listening to rock & roll are not exactly accustomed to hearing Ice-T or even Henry Rollins or the Buttholes. And people who listen to Ice-T exclusively don't know shit about us.''

Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers figures the kids don't know shit about revolution either. "They've got the Sixties backwards,'' says Haynes. "You look at the Sixties, the changes started with issues and worked themselves back into the music. The music was not the catalyst. And judging from the kids at Irvine, there ain't gonna be no revolution out of this. Maybe they'll change something like putting less vanilla in vanilla wafers.''

Farrell is willing to take that risk. "This is an experiment,'' he says. "This is not a shoo-in. The Who is not going to fly in on a helicopter. And you want to hear some bullshit about Woodstock? Jimi Hendrix played, and everybody split on him. People smashed fences down, ruined this guy's farm and parked all over the place. It wasn't exactly Eden.

"The memory of it, the myth, is something else,'' Farrell continues. "I'm lucky because I have that, times twenty-one. I have twenty-one chances to get it right.''

There are two good reasons why the Lollapalooza Festival has defied the summer's recession-fueled box-office blues – doing sellout or near-sellout business at many stops on the itinerary – while hastily organized copycat packages like A Gathering of the Tribes, the Sisters of Mercy/Public Enemy/Gang of Four tour and the heavy-metal smorgasbord Operation: Rock & Roll have done so-so or shut down altogether. One reason is the ten months of planning by Farrell and his Lollapalooza brain trust: Jane's manager Ted Gardner, the band's drummer, Stephen Perkins, and the group's booking agents, Marc Geiger and Don Muller.

The other, according to Gardner, is that "every one of these bands is a legitimate headliner on their own.'' So were most of the other two dozen acts on the original wish list for the tour, including the Pogues, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Fishbone, the Sugarcubes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Pixies and Public Image Ltd.

The original spark for Lollapalooza was England's annual Reading Festival, a three-day pageant of international postpunk stars and hot U.K. indie-chart bands. Jane's Addiction was scheduled to play last year but canceled due to illness (Farrell's voice gave out). But Farrell, Gardner, et al., went as spectators and came away so jazzed by the event they decided to mount a traveling version stateside, headlined by Jane's Addiction and booked into outdoor amphitheaters.

At that point, Farrell went into overdrive, becoming involved in everything from choosing the bands and judging artwork for display to arranging for free condoms to be distributed at the shows (some of which ended up being inflated into big penis-shaped balloons and batted around the audience). "I was very reluctant to play to a large crowd,'' Farrell says. "So I told Marc, 'If I'm going to do something of that size, I want to surround myself with other great bands and great things on the grounds – food, books, art – to make it worth the money.' I'm very proud of my band. I think we're great. But I don't think it's worth twenty-five bucks to see a flyspeck.''

Some of his schemes didn't pan out, like the illusionist he wanted to use during Jane's Addiction's set. For L.A., Farrell arranged for a cheerleading squad to come on during one number. Except the cheerleaders showed up without pom-poms, which disappointed him so much that he nixed the idea. "The sound, lights and trucking were the easiest parts of this,'' notes Ted Gardner with a weary smile.

Picking the bands just turned out to be a matter of natural selection. Siouxsie and Living Colour shared the same booking agency as Jane's, and the Rollins Band had opened for it on two earlier tours. Ice-T was already tight with the band, having traded epithets with Farrell on a hard, heavy remake of Sly Stone's "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey'' featured in the long-form video The Gift. "For two people who do such different music,'' says Ice-T, "if you listen to the records, we're damn near saying the exact same shit.'' That's especially apparent at the second Irvine Meadows show, when he and Farrell reprise their Sly duet with electrifying results.

Guitarist Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers says Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro "claimed in an interview that he was going to kill himself on tour if not for a tape of the Butthole Surfers that he listened to on his Walkman over and over again.'' So the Buttholes were in, although they were bemused to find skittish newspapers abbreviating their name to "the B.H. Surfers'' in tour ads. "If my sixty-eight-year-old mother can say Butthole Surfers,'' cracks Leary, "what's their problem?''

Trent Reznor, the singer and leader of Nine Inch Nails, wasn't sure at first if he fit into the music mix or the tour's outdoor setting. "I feel like everyone's got a semipositive vibe, and we're the negative antichrist onstage,'' says Reznor. "I'm not out preaching, 'Be nice to your neighbor,' or 'Save the whales.''' Also, Reznor confesses, "we've just mastered the art of playing in a club.''

His worst fears were confirmed at the first date in Phoenix, when the Nails suffered a recurring power outage that effectively killed the bass and keyboard tapes they use in the show. And let's face it, dry ice at four in the afternoon is deeply bogus; in L.A., the band looked like it was having a hell of a barbecue onstage. But the Nails proved their worth at the concession stands, where they rivaled Jane's Addiction in T-shirt sales.

Without question, the most striking juxtaposition of sound and vision on the bill is that of Ice-T and Living Colour. Ice hits the stage with his posse, firing a pistol in the air and shouting, "Fuck the police''; Living Colour rams its message of cultural celebration and racial responsibility home with avant-metal ferocity. The two acts actually have the makings of a mutual-admiration society going. "Living Colour broke down barriers no one was supposed to ever break down,'' Ice says. (In San Francisco, he was out in the crowd, headbanging to "Cult of Personality.'') As for Ice's own black rock-and-rap band, Body Count, Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun says: "The concept is smokin'. Rappers should use more live musicians, leave the James Brown and P-Funk records alone.''

But the two acts hit a major impasse over Ice's liberal use, in front of a largely white audience, of what Calhoun dryly refers to as "the N word.'' Onstage, Ice uses it without apology but with pride. "People get on me because I use the word 'nigger,''' Ice says before going into "Straight Up Nigga'' from his latest album, O.G. Original Gangster. "In my category, all of yous are my niggers.'' The crowd, predominantly white, goes bananas. Later, during an interview, he sums up the difference between Living Colour and Body Count by saying with a laugh: "Living Colour is black. We are niggers.''

In San Francisco, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid responds with a special introduction to the song "Pride'': "In Africa, there are no niggers. And I will die before I become a nigger for your entertainment.''

"That word is about reduction,'' Reid contends. "It means that for 400 years, anything you could possibly imagine is justifiable. A lot of gangster rap talks about 'this is real, this is what's on the streets.' But is that a reality we can live with, and grow with? Absolutely not.''

Even Ice admits that if he gets anything out of this tour, he'd like it to be the demolition of a stereotype or two: "All I want them to do is come out and say, 'I like him.' Not get the message, not understand a word I'm saying. Just think, 'Those black guys on the stage I used to be scared of, I like 'em.' I want to come out and say, 'Peace.' If I can do that, that's cool.''

Trent Reznor, on the other hand, has more modest expectations. When asked what he figures he'll get out of the festival, he looks down at the sheet white hospital pallor of his skinny arms and says with a smile, "Skin cancer.''

A week into the tour and the Asshole Factor, as the Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary puts it, is nowhere to be seen. "I was a little worried that with all these bands on the tour it would turn into the Battle of the Tremendous Egos,'' says the band's drummer, King Coffey. "But all things considered, it's been pretty cool.''

It's still a little early for forming lasting friendships, and it's unlikely that some parties will ever really get along. The Buttholes can't help but cackle at the veddy English Banshees lounging around the dressing area apres gig in fluffy bathrobes; the Banshees, in turn, probably wouldn't find anything amusing about the Buttholes' endless store of uproarious road stories involving bodily functions. But Vernon Reid has been rapping with Trent Reznor and talking guitars with Dave Navarro. Perry Farrell sat down with Siouxsie over pizza the other night. And the Buttholes are looking forward to playing basketball with Ice-T's crew.

Everybody, however, is totally in awe of Henry Rollins. His fierce stage act is the talk of the tour, and there are often more musicians watching from the side of the stage – Ice-T, Farrell, members of the Banshees and Living Colour – than there are kids in the seats when he hits the stage. "Henry Rollins is not about whether the audience is into it or not,'' says Vernon Reid. "It's about how he's into it.''

More than any other act on the bill, Rollins embodies the street-hardened rebel moxie that Lollapalooza aspires to. As guitarist Chris Haskett, bassist Andrew Weiss and drummer Sin Cain fuse jagged riffs and choppy rhythms into a punk-jazz-metal firestorm, Rollins – in raggedy shorts and bare feet – anchors his rock-solid physique in an attack crouch, veins popping out of his neck like steel pipes as he rails against convention, complacency and fascist authority. "Next time someone convinces you that they know what you think and they strip you of your self-respect,'' he announces at one point, "pull this out of your pocket. This is called 'Brick'." Which is exactly what the song feels like when it hits you.

"It's the blues,'' Rollins says of his music. "If anything, we're an industrial-strength, urban-blues-band assault unit. I'm fueled primarily by rage, and if I don't do music and writing and a lot of physical working out, I get very depressed and very destructive. I'm not a musician. I'm the kind of person who just ended up onstage, and it was perfect for a freak like me.''

As a teenager in Washington, D.C., Rollins, who is thirty, used to work out his frustrations via street violence "with other boneheaded males.'' In 1981 he found a more productive outlet as the singer for the seminal L.A. punk outfit Black Flag. Since forming the Rollins Band in 1987 (soundman Theo Van Rock is the fifth member), he has recorded and toured relentlessly, sweating out his "unadulterated crystalline hatred'' onstage. In his spare time, he also runs his own publishing company, 2.13.61. (his birth date), and gives spoken-word performances.

Rollins recently signed with a major, Imago Records, but his no-nonsense gigging ethic remains the same. "When we do work, you get destroyed,'' he writes in his press bio. "That's just the way it is.'' And to prove it, the Rollins Band careens through a daredevil medley at one Lollapalooza show that includes his own "Fireman,'' the anarcho-hippie anthem "Do It'' by the Pink Fairies, a voodoo crawl through Canned Heat's "On the Road Again,'' and "Ghost Rider'' by Suicide. There is scattered applause in the crowd; the musicians, managers and roadies in the wings just stand there, mesmerized.

"The way I relate to people and music now is just 'Let's do it, let's let it happen,'" Rollins later says with a shrug. "If you put your soul into it all the way, like James Brown, people will see it and feel it. And today, I was all the way there.''

Perry Farrell's first Lollapalooza Festival is barely underway and already he's thinking about the next one. He's thinking small, too - more intimate surroundings, a more adventuresome crowd, a menu of "real bizarre stuff.'' Because the next time, Jane's Addiction won't be around to top the bill and draw the mainstream teens. After this tour and a handful of extra Jane's dates in Australia and Hawaii, the band is breaking up, much to Farrell's relief.

"Musicians have a funny thing that follows them – their past,'' Farrell says backstage one afternoon. "An actor doesn't have to play the same roles over and over. An artist doesn't have to paint the same picture. I, if I stay in Jane's Addiction, will have to sing 'Mountain Song' or 'Jane Says' or 'Ocean Size' every night. To try to fit Jane's Addiction into what I want to do next is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.''

It's too bad he doesn't find Stephen Perkins's bold tribal drumming and Dave Navarro and Eric Avery's thundering guitar-bass crossfire malleable enough for his purposes. At the three Lollapalooza shows at Irvine Meadows, Jane's is in blistering form, rampaging through "Stop!'' and "Three Days'' as if the band had just stepped out of the garage. With his closely cropped hair, oversize red woolen suit and jittery, stick-figure dancing, Farrell looks even more extreme and dangerous than when he had braids and wore an S&M bodysuit – like a psycho-ward cross between Mr. Natural and Groucho Marx.

"I'll probably feel a little sad when I don't have it anymore,'' Farrell says of Jane's. "But that will just make me work really hard to do something that will top Jane's Addiction. I like pushing. Singing a Jane's song now, the band could fall asleep and play it. To be able to conquer shit, that makes you bigger. To drop Jane's, man, and break that fear barrier – 'Can I top this?' - that's what gives a man power and courage. My problem is, I think ahead, to the point where I get really annoyed with the present. I can't wait to get the hell out of things.''

And into something else. Farrell is annoyed that his Lollapalooza ideal has been necessarily compromised by using an existing rock-concert infrastructure. He intends to bag that at the first opportunity. "There is so much you can do with this,'' he says. "In the proper environment, I can entertain people, I'm sure of that.

"But,'' Farrell concedes, "this is reality we're talking about. I have only so much clout and so much time. And this is a great start.''

This story is from the September 19th, 1991 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 613: September 19, 1991
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