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
September 19, 1991

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.''

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