Not Just the Ticket — #16, Lollapalooza, July 21, 1991

Lollapalooza 1991

Full line-up from the top: Jane’s Addiction, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Living Colour, Nine Inch Nails, Ice-T, Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band

Back of ticket ad: 75 cents off a steak fajita melt from Jack in the Box. Oh don’t tempt me. Really, don’t tempt me. Don’t catch my attention at all. Go away and die.

Browning, ragged but oh so clear, this ticket, telling me to be rebellious, outrageous, to take the day off — which would have been easy since I wasn’t working on Sundays anyway.

And yes, this show, this festival, this whole thing, the whole kit-and-caboodle. And here we go into ‘the nineties,’ I guess.

It wasn’t like there hadn’t been some sort of high profile alternative festival of some sort before in America — and I’m not talking about Monterey/Woodstock/Altamont/etc, that was old, that was something people went to before I was born. Dismissive and somewhat snotty of course but that was the point, I remember the only kind of nostalgia fest in 1989 about it being the twentieth anniversary of Woodstock that I enjoyed were the Randee of the Redwoods ads on MTV. But there had been, as I mentioned in the Charlatans entry a while back, the two Gathering of the Tribes festivals in 1990 organized by the Cult, and little surprise that it took a band who had been through the far more well established festival tradition in Europe to prompt the idea of an equivalent over here. It may not have received national attention but it did capture the imagination, and was the role model in my head.

And it wasn’t the first package tour that had come through and made a mint in my own memory. For me that was the Monsters of Rock in 1988 — Van Halen, the Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica and Kingdom Come, quite the quintet to scratch one’s head at now. I hadn’t gone but I knew plenty of people who did, so none of that was surprising, that one could get a bunch of acts together and take it all nationwide and make something out of it. Putting it and whatever alternative was meant to be together in one place at one time *and* taking it on the road, that was the stroke of some kind of genius or marketing elan or bookers’ backroom agreement or whatever it was.

I’m trying to remember the perspective among those of us who went. That was a group of at least three — myself, Steve M., Kris C., all KLA people, all duly sarcastic about many things, all intrigued enough by the idea to get tickets as soon as they went on sale, all rather dulled to the idea that this was supposed to be something deep and meaningful. Mostly I think I was looking forward to this as a chance to see some bands again — the Buttholes, NIN — some bands for the first time, especially Siouxsie, who had become a massive fan of in the previous years, and one band for the last time, or so I thought. Jane’s Addiction had already started going on about how they were going to be breaking up shortly and this tour was the swansong, this was it. (I seem to remember at least one friend of Steve’s saying that they had to already be planning a reunion at some point — whoever it was, I salute you for your perspicaciousness, because it was more on the ball than mine.)

So more than anything else, that’s what I was looking forward to, that and the to-me novel experience of a full day’s show in the sun at a venue I’d never been at before. I vaguely recall getting together what I called a ‘summer goth’ outfit, given that Siouxsie were on the bill and all — which I’m pretty sure consisted of a black T-shirt of some sort and black shorts. Hey, it was hot out (and it was, and while I salute the full-on goths that DID go in the full outfit down to the last spike of the hair and all, you were all collectively demonstrating why I could never go that route around here…it is too — damn — HOT). Thus dressed up (or down), I joined up with Kris and Steve and off to Irvine Meadows, as it was called back then before Verizon bought everything.

Steve had done Irvine Meadows shows before and thus warned us in advance about what he called the Bataan Death March between the parking lot and the venue itself — time makes it seem like more of a slog than it was, but the heat would have made it a slog even if it was a distance of fifty feet. Built into a hill looking out over the flat terrain of east Irvine and the El Toro air base, the venue itself wasn’t anywhere near as huge as Dodger Stadium but it was still a pretty impressive sight for a first time visit. We had ended up getting seats in the grass section at the back, probably at Steve’s suggestion, meaning we brought along a towel or two for sitting on and claiming a spot more or less in line with the stage on the steep grass section as noted. Bright sunlight, a distant stage.

Down below in a little sort of courtyard area we’d passed by a vague collection of dispensers of some sort of clothing and food and the like down below, which probably made me think more of the similar sorts of people I would see with their booths at UCLA every so often. The crowd trickled in as it did and so did bootleg T-shirt sellers wandering around — and I picked up two, as they were both of better quality than the official T-shirts being sold (which featured a terrible fractal design that looked nothing like the design that had appeared in the print ads for the whole thing). I had god knows how much sun block on and the three of us relaxed and chatted away and listened to the announcements from the KROQ feed coming through and generally shrugged our way along through till, as Steve said, “Grandpa Hank” showed up.

Thing was that the Rollins Band, Butthole Surfers and Ice-T sets all kinda blended into each other. I’d seen the Buttholes already, I knew Rollins’ own solo work vaguely, and Ice-T was, well, Ice-T — EVERYONE knew who he was, even if you had the albums and singles or not. But the memories of the heat and shimmer and general ‘I think I don’t want to move all that much’ impulse meant that it was all this undifferentiated flow of stuff from down below, no matter whether it was Rollins going on about things or Gibby and crew once again doing things with sirens and vocal distortion and Ice-T introducing a new little project of his called Body Count that would yet be heard from some more. If it was a dawn of a new era, it just felt…hot. As noted. Though I do remember two gothed-up women happily grooving to Ice-T down in front of us, which felt about right somehow.

And then as things were sorta/kinda drawing towards late afternoon and the shadows were sorta/kinda starting to stretch out some, a whole bunch of fog appeared on the stage — to our general amusement because it just didn’t quite work. Nonetheless there had to be some sort of atmosphere going and Trent Reznor wandered on, singing the song “Now I’m Nothing” I’m pretty sure but I’ll probably get corrected there by someone along the line. For the first time I remember the crowd actually getting pumped up, people coming into the audience area to stay rather than to rubberneck briefly and then leave. We were all fans and we loved it pretty well, even if some of what was on stage looked a little familiar from our various past times observing Mr. Reznor at work (“Okay he’ll tackle the keyboardist right about now…”). But for the first time in the whole day there was an actual energy, a reason to be there, rather than a sort of sense of ‘well this is all an interesting experiment I suppose.’ Then again that was probably just my head talking.

Living Colour was enjoyable too — I’d liked the band for a few years, Vivid was actually one of the first CDs I bought back in 1988 — but I admit I was thinking that this would be a good time to get a burger or something. It’s a bit of a sad fact but I wasn’t the only one thinking that — still, I caught a good chunk of the set, including what remains my favorite song by them, “Type.” Siouxsie and the Banshees was way more to my interest and, happily, by that time it was actually dark and the stage lights needed to be on. They were touring for one of their most uneven albums, Superstition, but even that had a killer single in “Kiss Them for Me” which made up for the dull stuff like “Got to Get Up.” (Based on one the Twice Upon a Time singles collection they also did a lovely version of “The Last Beat of My Heart” but I admit I don’t remember that at the time.) Combine that with a rip through “Peek-a-Boo” that was an understandable audience hit given how it had owned KROQ three years back and what I’m pretty sure was the conclusion, a fiery “Dia de Los Muertos,” and there was, once again, an actual sense of full energy at work.

That left Jane’s. By this time we all had to be a bit tired and exhausted; even with the sun fully down and night settled in it had been a long day by default thanks to the lack of shade and the general sense of not wanting to move or do much — and two to one says this is a large part of the reason why I’ve never been to Coachella yet, but that’s another story. And I couldn’t be surprised by Jane’s now as I had been earlier that year; like NIN or the Buttholes I had a context to draw on. Still, I was figuring that knowing that they were that good — and that they were playing one of their last hometown shows, as the tour had only just started and was going to make its way across the country from there on out — that the show would be a barnburner.

So it proved, even if it was the familiar touches that hit the hardest — “Been Caught Stealing” completely beating the heck out of the recorded version, “Three Days” being the monster anthem that it always was, “Jane Says” getting the crowd singing along. Lights and glowing skulls and all sorts of Mexican-inspired art everywhere on the monitors, what looked to be a bunch of people going insane down in the pit, it was all a way to see things out, whatever sort of vague only-clear-in-his-head vision Perry Farrell always had for how huge Jane’s should have been or how huge they were going to be or whatever it would be. I’m sure there were more rants about this and that during various midsong breaks, maybe even something about the following year’s election but I doubt it.

It couldn’t have felt like it was going to be the start of something at all, it felt like it was going to be the end, a definitive one. The end of Jane’s and then things would just keep going from there in musical life, up against ‘the mainstream’ or whatever it was supposed to be. There wasn’t a feeling of rebellion in the air at all, there was just a lot of exhaustion at the end of a long day, waiting for the parking lot to clear some so we could leave and make our way back north. I’m sure Kris and Steve and I just talked our way through all that and back up the freeway. Lollapalooza would go on about the country and then…

Who knew?

Vapor trails over UCI on a Sunday night


Just as it says…

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