Festival lineup from headliners to openers: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Pearl Jam, Lush
Back of ticket ad: I suspect KLSX was already looking forward to adding an act like Pearl Jam to their full rotation if they hadn’t already.
I’ve marvelled a bit at the ticket prices I paid before and this really is no difference. Granted these were of course the cheap seats, ie the lawn area at the back of the venue, and there’s always inflation to bear in mind, but that’s still an amazing price no matter what, given what I know of most current festival pricing.
Meantime, welcome to Orange County, welcome to Irvine. Welcome to my now big local venue.
I’d long since bought this ticket earlier that year, of course, up wherever I was in LA at the time. Unlike last year, I knew at least a little of what to expect. Strictly speaking, everyone did — this wasn’t Lollapalooza, the shoot the moon/hail and farewell to Jane’s Addiction, this was the big alternative festival, almost in capital letters at this point. It wasn’t simply huge, it WAS huge, and was almost immediately the focus of all sorts of attention this time out. The other breakout band from Seattle that wasn’t Nirvana was on the bill, plus one other Seattle band to boot. The LA band that wasn’t Guns and Roses that had broken huge over the previous twelve months was headlining. One of the biggest and most avidly followed hip-hop MCs of the time was on the bill. However much this was packaged and marketed and what have you, this was music as larger event than just music in more than a few eyes.
Which probably included mine, I couldn’t imagine not. I had my own reasons for being there — the three other bands I haven’t mentioned yet, actually, being my priority, most especially Ministry — plus I was going with a clutch of friends from LA, replicating and extending the group that went the previous year. Steve, Kris but many others as well, it was a bit of an extended holiday in a way, and an extension of my LA time just a little bit more. Only instead of going down to OC with them they were going to come along and pick me up along the way, being only a few miles down the freeway from Irvine Meadows. The big shift had already begun.
It had already been heralded a bit by the previous month, my trip to the UK for the Tolkien Centenary Convention at Oxford, visiting friends throughout England and Scotland, an absence that underscored the inevitable change upon my return. I ended up not seeing any shows when I was over there, though I remember being tempted at one point to see if I could sneak over to Reading to catch at least part of that year’s festival — with hindsight I wish I had done, but I would have been pretty much on my own and not too sure what to do, a still pretty sheltered 21 year old on his first trip overseas. It may say more about my somewhat unadventurous side than I care to admit, but such is life. I did end up picking up a slew of albums unavailable in the US — including, very crucially, Disco Inferno’s In Debt, the beginning of a fandom that has continued without change to the present day — and I had the fun experience of going to Ride’s stated favorite record store in their area of Oxford. Plus there was also the unique feeling of reading Melody Makers the day they were released, itself a bonus.
But back to the US with me, back to SoCal, and then down to UC Irvine and settling into prep for grad school and organizing my bedroom (the first time I had a bedroom to myself in four years! that was one phase of undergrad life I was more than happy to leave behind me) and setting up my CD racks and figuring out where the radio station and student newspaper was and and and…and then Lollapalooza. I seem to remember watching the car with my friends come driving up and me heading down the staircase of my new apartment building — grad school dorms, in essence — with undisguised glee. A last little bit of hopefully carefree fun before whatever it was I’d gotten myself into kicked into full.
It was definitely another hot, clear if still somewhat sticky day, as almost every day in September around here is like; by the time we arrived at the parking lot we were all probably overheated and about ready to just stake a place somewhere on the lawn and zone for a while. If the location wasn’t a new experience for me at this point some details were, including a slew more of booths and exhibits and what have you all scattered about the concourse area next to the amphitheatre itself, plus a second stage for acts. Apparently my new bete noires Rage Against the Machine headlined said stage and drove the crowd there into a frenzy but I honestly don’t remember the stage or anyone on it at any point, so I can’t have spent much time there aside from grabbing something generic on the food front. (And I can’t have been too exploratory there either — probably the psuedoburgers the official concessions folks sold.)
Up in the lawn area I can’t remember too much of us doing anything big besides sitting around with the scattered crowds waiting for Lush to kick things off. This ended up being the last time I saw one of my hands down favorite groups of those years; they did tour America again for further releases but somehow I kept missing those shows until it was too late, when Chris Acland’s suicide ended the band on a tragic note. It would have been nice to say that they absolutely killed it at this show — and funnily enough it wasn’t the first time they’d played this venue, having ended up on a mixed bill headlined by the Sisters of Mercy the previous year that I had to miss. But whatever familiarity gained by that didn’t quite translate here; while they weren’t bad or anything they were stuck being the opening band on a long hot day in a venue that they wouldn’t've been able to fill even a tenth of on their own, however strong their fanbase was at the time. Miki wore white I think — a sensible decision — and their combined sound of sonic cathedral reverb and sharp hooks felt pleasant instead of truly crushingly big. The applause was polite and a lot of people were waiting.
What they were waiting for happened almost immediately afterward and I’m still a bit stunned by it. That Pearl Jam had become huge I wasn’t surprised by, that they had become THAT huge in the space of nine months, when I had last seen them for the Fugazi-headlined Rock for Choice show, was almost stunning. Their position on the bill had long been locked down but in terms of where they should have gone they might as well have been headlining — the parking lot was already full and so was the venue, every seat filled and the lawn area similarly packed too. It was the last time I would ever see the band — and while I think this was the legendary show that Chris Cornell joined them for to do Temple of the Dog songs, I’m not sure (the festival was there for two nights), it was already clear that the obsessive fan relationship with the band was getting well and truly established. Not only were some utterly unknown songs to me getting sung by nearly everyone around, at one point Eddie Vedder invited some kid up front to trade off verses on either what was a new or obscure number. Beyond that I just remember a lot of hair and jumping around a bit.
Which made the contrast to what happened next the most inadvertantly funny — and hilarious, and telling, and much more — thing that entire day. It was a little over two years since I’d seen the Jesus and Mary Chain on what had been a strangely magic summer night in LA, and they’d been top dog on the bill there at the Palladium. Here they were midrange in the bill — and like Nine Inch Nails the previous year, seeing JAMC in this kind of mid-afternoon light and weather really didn’t work. But more to the point, this unquestionably great band, touring on a partially great album with Honey’s Dead, had to be feeling like yesterday’s news in the worst way when they came on stage to a now nearly empty amphitheatre. Not stark empty, but everyone who had been there to see Pearl Jam could, it seems, care less about them and had headed off to mingle or eat or see the other acts or just talk about the great set they’d seen.
This had to have been the case throughout the entire tour, I’m guessing, but the setup of this venue maybe made it worse, who knows. I certainly was there to see them and from my perch in the lawn section it was a good enough show. But at some point, I forget when, Jim Reid had finally had it, seeing a constant stream of people heading out or milling about or probably just ignoring him in the pit. So between two of the songs he looked out at some bunch down front or around the area in particular, pointed and, in the broadest Glaswegian I’d heard to that point in my life, shouted into the mike, “LOOK! THE WAY OUT’S OVER THERE, YOU FOOCKIN’ COCKSOOCKERS!”
We all sympathized with him up top but there wasn’t much we could do except laugh at his frustration, which I’m sure we did. Sorry about that.
Soundgarden were up next, the third time I’d seen them that year and by virtue of my distance from the stage and general familiarity with their performances on this tour it was the least of those shows, but still pretty good by any other standard. I seem to recall Chris Cornell looking or sounding a little tired — the tour as a whole was about to wrap up and maybe he just wanted to go home after what had been a busy as hell year for him — but they did pretty well demonstrate why they were so unimpeachably great before stepping aside to let Alice in Chains rule the next twelve months (after which is when Nirvana and Pearl Jam both came back and…well, you get the drill; Seattle really did seem like the center of a rock universe then).
Ice Cube’s performance is one that I should remember better than I do. It’s frickin’ Ice Cube, after all, and I am absolutely sure he started with a blistering version of “The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit.” The Predator was either just released or about to be and “The Wicked” had to have had an airing for that reason as well but beyond that it’s a bit vague in my head. I wonder what he was thinking as he saw the end of this tour coming up, especially since Dre was about to take over the airwaves with The Chronic and further introduce the world to a guy called Snoop Doggy Dogg…but speculation is just that, and all I was was the random dude who knew about him but honestly didn’t know his work all that well. Seems like strangely ancient history now, that mindset, that time.
By now it had to have been getting plenty dark, and from where I was that was perfect given who was about to appear, and who I was finally getting around to seeing. Ministry had been a band that had in some ways defined a lot of my UCLA time — I first heard them a few weeks after starting there when The Land of Rape and Honey came out and had been impatiently waiting on the release of Psalm 69 earlier that year, grabbing it the day of the release, and then there was everything in between. But I’d still not seen them, and given that we were still two months away from the election of Clinton they still, as I would see it in retrospect, made sense, a sprawling, angry rampage against the previous decade-plus’s wound up mess of institutional hypocrisy thanks to the right. I overstated the exact politicized nature of Al Jourgensen and company in my head, perhaps, but they still made a perfect soundtrack for my angrier moods that year.
Which is why when Al came out on his cowboy hat and started speaking in a George Bush impersonation about the ‘new world order,’ with the band pounding into the melodramatic introduction of “N.W.O.,” everything felt just perfect. The combination of light show insanity, skulls on stage and on the mic stands and the overdriven metal/electronic fusion that I’d learned was ‘industrial’ in my first experience — and finally seeing it live — was manna from heaven for me. It all careened along from there, marred only by the weird fact that while Gibby Haynes joined them on stage, they didn’t in fact do what I was most wanting to hear, “Jesus Built My Hotrod” — instead, he took over Chris Connelly’s part on “TV Song,” saying something about ‘Bain de Soleil tans’ and the like. Figures.
One other thing of note, though — at one point, standing where I was in the lawn area, a body flew past me. A little startling, you might agree. It wasn’t a dead body or anything, it was quite alive, if somewhat out of control as it plowed across in front of me by a couple of inches from my right to my left and then down the hill. Curious, as you might guess, I turned my head to the right. It was then I discovered not merely the many fires that had been started in the lawn section — a tiny touch of what was already becoming Burning Man, I guess — but that huge moshpits had been created, one of which had already taken up a lot of the central area. Which I was now bordering, as I realized with due concern seeing as a slew of people were hurtling along at less than an arm’s length from me. I found it in myself to ask Steve, a former high school linebacker, to switch places with me.
That left the Red Hot Chili Peppers to close out the night, and I have to say it was a bit exhausting. I had never been much of a fan either way outside of a song or two and had regarded their ascent to commercial godhead with a certain indifference — didn’t seek them out, didn’t ask that the radio be switched over or off when they came on. I don’t remember any big sense of megaanticipation, more than anything I was kinda wiped by the day, but they kept at what they were doing energetically enough. John Frusciante, who later became my hands down favorite member of the group thanks to his varied if sometimes upsetting solo work, had already left that year for his extended hiatus, but whoever it was standing in for him did well enough, I guess. Anthony Kiedis did a lot of prancing around, Flea was, well, Flea (no animal pants this time out) and Chad Smith played drums as he does. Yay rock, I guess.
I remember bits and pieces — a rampage through “Magic Johnson,” the title track to BloodSugarSexMagik actually feeling pretty sweepingly powerful, and so forth. Oddly enough I don’t remember “Give It Away” or “Under the Bridge” at all but I half suspect that I was slightly distracted by Kris’s friend Amanda at this point, given that she had decided to take off her top and wear only her bra in response to an invocation from Anthony to the crowd. She wore it well.
I do remember the flaming helmets for the encore when they busted into some Hendrix — not “Fire,” I think, but “Crosstown Traffic,” a good enough version. The whole thing must have seemed a bit like a crazy homecoming for them, the hometown (well, LA area rather than OC) kids made good and happy to be the new funk/rock/metal/whatever gurus with Jane’s gone. I think I was mostly out of it but happy to have been there, part of it all, whatever it all supposedly was. But eventually I was mostly happy to get to my new home and sleep.