Korn may be a one-trick pony, but that pony proved it could buck with the broncos during Woodstock's opening night. Everyone knows the band's funk/metal-with-bagpipe routine has touched a nerve with today's disaffected youth; what's surprising is that Jonathan Davis owned the souls of 250,000 kids on Friday night. When he lit his lighter, the acres-deep audience lit up like the Milky Way. When he pumped his fist in the air, a quarter million arms shot skyward in unison. When he sang, they moshed until the stretchers came out. Whether it was "Freak on a Leash" or some "new shit," it's clear there will be no escaping the children of the Korn.
It was hard to imagine anyone would be able to follow Korn's fiery performance, but Bush -- well-rehearsed from their recent string of U.S. club dates -- were up to the challenge. From the set's first few seconds -- the instantly recognizable riff from "Machinehead" -- the audience was completely rapt, especially the thousands of girls who nearly swooned when frontman Gavin Rossdale had security guards carry him out into the first few rows of the audience. Later, one young lady ran across the stage, planting a kiss on Rossdale's cheek on her way. In the context of the event, Bush stood out as one of very few old school rock stars -- the kind of lads you want to grab at like a beautiful butterfly that you'll never quite reach.
Rousing the audience from the apathy induced by Buckcherry's lackluster set were The Roots, whose flowing rhymes and deep grooves stood as an interesting counterpoint to the white-boy rap being plied over on the main stage. The highlight of the Philly posse's set came when, met by screams of excitement from the audience, Erykah Badu sauntered out on stage, dressed all in yellow with her hair in a mile-high wrap. She joined the band for "You Got Me" and then hung around for the rest of their set, which included ?uestlove's unreal drum solo and Rahzel's always-thrilling human beatbox routine.
At least three other acts on the Woodstock bill owe a portion of their schtick to Rage Against the Machine, whose groove-heavy metal is some of the best that genre's seen since Faith No More. What's more, the group remains one of the most staunchly political rock bands out there. But at their Saturday night performance, RATM's songs were powerful not so much because of the outrage expressed in their lyrics but because of the cathartic build and release of their music. After frontman Zach de la Rocha introduced the song with a vitriolic condemnation of Leonard Peltier's continued imprisonment, the band launched into "Freedom," only to outdo itself with the explosive "Bulls on Parade."
It's a great irony that today's guitar bands (all of which are direct descendents of Jimi Hendrix), have a chip on their collective shoulders while the electronic bands carry on the good vibes and psychedelia that characterized the original Woodstock generation. Appropriately, as Metallica struggled to master yet another round of puppets on Saturday night, England's Chemical Brothers fully surrendered themselves to the beat and logged one of Woodstock '99's best performances. Improvising along with a captivating visual display, the Bros. showed how even the most danceable material can be deep.
As the East Stage's closing act, the Red Hot Chili Peppers lived up to their name and then some. Not only did their scorching, hits-heavy set ("Me and My Friends," "My Lovely Man," "Suck My Kiss," "Soul to Squeeze") heat up the crowd after hours of temperate fare from the likes of Jewel, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson et al., it actually torched the playing field. As a half-dozen bonfires lit the cloud-splotched sky and sent plumes of smoke and noxious fumes into the chilly air, Kiedis and Co. ripped into a worthy cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" and ushered Woodstock '99 into the history books on a fitting note. All the while, Flea furthered his reputation as rock's pre-eminent gentleman by playing stark naked and warning any goons in the crowd to let girls go topless in peace.