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?

Not Just the Ticket — #14, Butthole Surfers, May 17, 1991

Butthole Surfers

Then-current album: Piouhgd

Opening acts: Redd Kross and L7

Back of ticket ad: Pirate Radio. I’m almost happy to see this one again after all the endless National ads. Almost.

Must have bought this at UCLA’s box office (even though it’s not for a UCLA show) given the switch back to typeset, the coated paper and the like. A little bit of a slight return.

So, two days after a show that, as part of Jesus Jones’ larger breakthrough, signaled a shift in the future for a wholly separate band, another such show, only even more directly and even more about the band in question, who once again weren’t performing on the bill. It all came down to something that happened over on the other balcony.

Not that I knew. How could I? I was off to this show for three wholly separate reasons that happened to be one reason, namely this amazingly killer lineup — Butthole Surfers headlining, Redd Kross middle of the bill, L7 kicking it all off at the start. I’m still a little in awe, and I was definitely incredibly thrilled then. I don’t think I felt anything about this show other than ‘oh hell yeah, this’ll be great.’

At this point in time as well I was starting to get into much more of a regular show groove. From months-at-a-time separation it was starting to come down to not merely every other month but almost every other week or, in this case, every other day. So there’s less of a sense of overwhelming anticipation each time, everything all jumbles up together — one show, another to come, time and again. I definitely remember that my friend Jason B. was part of the crowd that went because he headed out to the main floor of the Hollywood Palladium as soon as he got through the doors, either made a flying leap onto the floor or misjudged a step, and ended up spraining his ankle slightly for his pains.

The big attraction for him, and probably for a lot of us, was actually the opening act, who were sound-checking on stage as we all came in and were milling around with everyone else. L7 had become a firm favorite of mine ever since I’d reviewed the Smell the Glove EP on Sub Pop for KLA the year before — “Dude, wow, they rock!” or whatever the hell I thought to myself at the time. But they did, they sure as hell did — didn’t know anything about their first release on Epitaph but this EP looked stellar, sounded great, still does. So many great pissed-off and hilarious and pointed one liners, great gang shout choruses, pretty damn fun all around. And yeah, they happened to be a quartet of women musicians as well. Jason had seen them open for GWAR earlier and knew they were great, I was looking for my own confirmation of same.

Later shows would provide clearer memories but I can’t but imagine that they kicked down the damn door. All the more impressive given that the Palladium’s acoustics were and almost certainly still are a notorious, crazy mess. Slightly dim visions in my brain of a lot of hair being tossed around all over the place, throat-shredding screams and god knows what else — it wasn’t sprawling chaos except unintentionally, L7 were never about a mess for its own sake, they wanted to focus and destroy. No Bricks Are Heavy songs yet in the setlist I think but they would have slotted right on in.

L7 were also definitely the first all female band I’d seen on stage as well. I don’t know whether that was a dramatic moment in my head or not — in fact I only recognize it being the case in retrospect. I’d already seen bands where female musicians were the key driving forces of the group, Lush in particular, but this was a step beyond that still. Call it an unconscious education rather than a definite pledging of allegiance on my part, but even so it was a necessary step for me as a listener, as an audience member, something that had to happen so I could get certain stereotypes out of my head, or at least recognize them for what they were. You didn’t have to have a Y chromosome to crank up the amps and get really loud and mad, with a wicked but still sharp smile on one’s face. I probably just headbanged a bit, really.

Redd Kross, meanwhile, I had seen before without quite understanding who they were. I don’t ever really remember learning about them at all, it was more something I gathered by osmosis. But back in 1989, I was walking near the UCLA Student Center in Bruin Plaza, where bands often did noontime shows. I remember two long-haired guys — REALLY long-haired — kicking up a racket with their band, and while I was sorta appreciative I didn’t hang around. Not sure why, must have had to run to a class, but I did some asking around and my future apartment-mate Rick was I think who clued me in to who they were, at least by name. Not actually having grown up with KROQ, much less Rodney on the Roq, exactly why they were important escaped me a bit then. Two years on I was vaguely more aware and after having had a good time on the floor I retreated to the open audience balcony to watch the racket and see what was up.

Third Eye had either come out or was about to come out by then — amusingly, the inside art featured a photo from that very same UCLA noontime show — and while I couldn’t really get every last level of seventies jokes and references and so forth (they may have been pretty young then and all but I was barely conscious of anything beyond Star Wars by the end of that decade), I still enjoyed it as it stood. The hair was still long as hell but I do remember them doing “Linda Blair” and “Peach Kelli Pop” and otherwise thinking “Hey, pretty good.” Sometimes you learn by inches with a band.

And then the Buttholes. I have Musician magazine to thank for cluing me in to these guys’ existence — the same 1988 issue I picked up with what in retrospect was a crucial New Order interview also featured Hairway to Steven as its lead album review, which was something I doubt Rolling Stone would have even tried to think about doing at the time. My just out of high school self read about them liking strange noises and bodily functions and obscene drawings for song titles and penile replacement film projections and thought “What…I don’t…uh.” Probably. Three years on and college radio and knowing a lot of friends who liked them and actually listening to a lot of their albums and so forth, well, it does things to a person, so I thought I was prepared for whatever kinds of vile nonsense might be served up.

Turns out there wasn’t much vile nonsense at all, at least not on the level of genital slicing or whatever when it came to the backing films — I do vaguely remember a chopped-up overlay of what might have been a Chinese baseball team and a woman either screaming in pain or ecstasy or both, but the films themselves were inaudible because the band was ridiculously loud. The album they were touring behind, Piouhgd, isn’t one of their best — it’s them knowing they have a sound and essentially continuing with it, so Gibby Haynes mumbles and screams and otherwise does things through his vocal treatments, the rest of the band plods and roars along, it’s entertaining but not deathless, and I remember that about the show as well. Haynes stood to the side and seemed to mostly sing to the wings, but Paul Geary did a great high-speed lead vocal on “The Shah Sleeps on Lee Harvey’s Grave” for the encore, and the whole thing was an entertaining enough bout of confusion and hullabaloo. No idea if they did their Jesus and Mary Chain parody “Something” but if they did that would mean they did it on the same stage where I’d seen said band the year before, which would seem right.

Meanwhile, the other balcony. In a previous entry set at the Palladium (probably that JAMC show), I mentioned how one balcony was always kept open for the general public but the other was essentially the VIP lounge for guest list folks, band friends, industry types, whatever — mix and mingle and rock out. What I didn’t know at the time of the show was that over there — as came to light in a variety of stories in the next few years, and can also be read about here, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love met each other for the second and what turned out to be the crucial time for their relationship and everything that followed. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was still months away from release, nobody could guess the rollercoaster of the next three years.

But again, I can’t look back on that show and think “Wow, the unique atmosphere, rock history being made, I was there!” It’s nonsense to think that. It’s an interesting bit of trivia to be sure but I didn’t see it, none of my group would have seen it, none of us would have known what was going on. More than anything it’s a little weird, strange, but no more than that. It’s an accident of history that at a pretty okay overall show something else was going down.

Looking across the hall at the other balcony, I would have maybe just envied them the free drinks.