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 — #8, Jane’s Addiction, Feb. 4, 1991

Jane's at the Universal

Then-current album: Ritual de Lo Habitual

Opening act: Nine Inch Nails


And we’re back to the old typeset approach in this instance — there’d be recurrences of this in the next year or two but otherwise this was a dying approach being phased out. Which would be the cue for nostalgia in many cases, but not here.

Meanwhile, getting to this show took long enough.

Jane’s were very much a college thing for me, an LA thing as well. Perry Farrell would have you believing they were a totally unique thing as well, which they were and weren’t. Later the connections made more sense — at the time people always talked about Led Zeppelin but that was because most rock critics talking about Jane’s seemed to only want to frame them in the most obvious of contexts, and even that wasn’t so obvious upon a second glance. In my head now they’re a culmination of a lot of different things from the area — X and the Germs (both of whom Jane’s covered), the Gun Club, undercurrents courtesy of Red Temple Spirits and Savage Republic and the whole Nate Starkman and Sons. deal and etc.

But that’s in my head NOW. Then, they were just these mysterious gods on earth, sorta.

Jon Edmundson, the coworker who’d set me straight on just who it was that Joan Jett was covering a couple of years previously, was the first fan I knew and he did something that many of us have always secretly wanted to do — play loud music in a library. The SRLF, where we worked, wasn’t actually open to the public, so we could and did play tapes and CDs and things in the stacks to our hearts’ content, and I still remember the sound of songs like “Ocean Size” and “Summertime Rolls” barrelling through empty metallic structures yet to hold books. By the time the then-heavily-delayed Ritual de Lo Habitual came out in summer of 1990 I was one of a horde of people snapping that sucker up on the day of release — bootlegs had been circulating like crazy but I’d held off as long as I could stand it.

Still hadn’t seen them, though, so I kept hearing about random things like shows on top of Mt. Baldy and elsewhere. Then a show was announced for late 1990 at the Palladium but for some utterly unknown reason I couldn’t make it. (Finals? Was I out of town?) To make matters worse, the Pixies opened and so I had to miss them for the second year in a row. Live tracks from the show surfaced on singles and the Jane’s box set that came out last year has the whole thing on it so there’s that, I guess, but still, what a double bill.

But then hot on the heels of that came word of this show. And THAT was a double bill. I’d picked up and gotten into Pretty Hate Machine almost immediately after its release thanks to a coterie of friends at KLA so Trent Reznor was pretty damn familiar to me by this point, though again I’d missed at least one appearance by him already if not more. That wasn’t going to happen again and next thing I know I’m back in the Universal Ampitheatre once more, starting to feel something like familiar stomping grounds.

Though since I have no exact sense of who it was I went with — I want to say it was at least one of my roommates, maybe Beau, and possibly my friends Kris and Steve too — it makes the experience a touch more vague than some. But I was also starting to feel like things were accelerating a bit overall when it came to music, and maybe with life itself (though at the time of the show I still wasn’t even twenty years old yet). Deep into my third year of college I’d been attending shows fairly sporadically as noted but by now I’d fully settled in with a strong circle of musically-inclined friends and roommates — besides Beau (and through him his friend Dave S.) there were Xana and Jen as well on the roommate front, friends included a huge KLA coterie — thus Kris and Steve but also Eric J. L. — and everything was starting to spark off all that much more. Shows weren’t something to space out by months, they were something to start to grab when one could — whenever one could.

And so this show, the first of three times in the space of two decades where these two bands were on the bill together and I was there to see it. I remember entering the theater area and Nine Inch Nails were already on stage, so at last, beyond some video clips and photos, I got to see what Mr. Reznor was all about live. Pretty sure I’d heard or read about his method of randomly attacking or seeming to attack his bandmates — or more properly his touring band, given how closely and clearly NIN was Trent and vice versa — and sure enough I think the first random jumping on a keyboardist was within the space of a song or two. Though I think the most extreme version of that came with the cover of Queen’s “Get Down Make Love,” which found him attempting to do things with Richard Patrick that probably explained why the latter eventually gave up and founded his own band.

“Head Like a Hole” ended the main set and it had already become something of an anthem — hell, it IS an anthem — and I think several roadies joined in on stage to add further guitars. Satisfyingly ridiculous and over the top — and I think I thought the same at the time. I hope I thought the same, but who knows if I did. Mostly I remember one roadie being a bit dumpy.

And then Jane’s. The importance of Jane’s live was in first encountering a phenomenon that has played out a bit for me since — the sudden sense of knowing that a band is nowhere near as good in the studio as they are onstage. Which given that I’d been playing the albums over and over again might sound odd — but then again, that first album of theirs was a live album to start with (aside from “I Would For You,” possibly their most underrated song, soft, minimal, almost not there, an approach they never tried otherwise and one which suggests alternate histories and possibilities).

Actually seeing Jane’s live, watching the band play, hearing them all go for it in ways that were simultaneously keeping each other and trying to top one another when possible, that was a good feeling for the fact that it was unexpected. As with everything I’d seen so far, at least when it came to the headliners, I knew what to expect and I knew they were good because I’d already heard them and liked them a lot, such was the point. To come in with that and then to have your expectations shredded by just how good a band can be, that was something else.

Now, of course Perry Farrell had a few things to say. Keep the date in mind — at this point the Gulf War was on and nobody knew exactly how it would end up or what was going to occur next. (Arguably we still don’t.) If I didn’t feel the sense of urgent unsure chaos in the background that I did for the Depeche show, something still lingered in the air and I have a dim memory of Farrell using “Pigs in Zen,” as he often did, for a monologue about things that weren’t all profound and/or were terribly annoying. (I’m sure a fair amount of the sentiments I actually agreed with but he has a knack of making such sentiments seem like something you want to disavow.)

But all that was made up for by the performance. If, as any number of writers have rightly observed over the years, it’s a mistake to assume that rock = the pinnacle of all things musical, it’s no less a mistake to assume that there’s no way it can’t beautifully, profoundly work on a person. By this point I had to have heard that first playing of My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon” that clearly divided my general listening life into a before and after, and while Jane’s’ show wasn’t quite as dramatic an experience, all I can say is that the version of “Three Days” they did, especially the extended instrumental break towards the end where Steven Perkins always went absolutely crazy on the drums without playing a dumb-ass solo, ended up leaving me faintly disappointed with the studio version as a result. Somehow it just wasn’t as transcendent as it clearly hoped it was, where the live version WAS.

They also did “Jane Says” too, of course. Another one of those beautiful crowd moments, where everyone clapped and sang-shouted “SHE CAN’T HIT!” at the appropriate points in the song.

So that was all quite something, this first show of 1991. Did I ever have no idea what I was in for for the rest of the year, though.

Remembrance of electronic angst past

A little under eighteen years ago, I was standing in about this same place with the same view below. It was a little earlier in the day, the sun was out more and all, but the stage was still filled with fog and at the center of it was an individual wearing black, on tour with his band on a multi-act bill, playing the song “Terrible Lie” just like was the case when I took this photo last night at what was Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre and is now called Verizon Ampitheatre or something similar.

Hi there, Trent Reznor, leader of Nine Inch Nails. Glad to have you back again and all.

I hadn’t been planning on attending this tour, actually. The announcement of a Nine Inch Nails/Jane’s Addiction co-headlining tour earlier this year — named, with a strained logic, NINJA — caused a flicker of interest, certainly. As I hope has been made clear enough via a variety of past posts, I am quite the fan of Mr. Reznor and have been for years, and have seen him enough times to know he puts on a show and all.

Meantime, Jane’s Addiction has been through enough revivals and the like that I admit my eyes long since glazed over about anything involving Perry Farrell running out of money again (or whatever drives him to reassemble the band every so often). But the fact that this time around the one member who had actually been my hero for never participating in the reunions ever since the original breakup back in 1991 decided to come on board this time — bassist Eric A., whose majestic work, simple but devastatingly effective, on songs like “Up the Beach,” “Summertime Rolls,” “Mountain Song” and “Three Days,” says it all (note how he starts each song, how that bass is at once warm, inviting and powerful, setting the entire tone of each performance that follows).

Still I was kinda unsure. Then my friend Tom picked up an extra ticket in payback for the Depeche tickets I’d scored for us and a mutual friend earlier this year and I figured, “Well, why not?” At the same time, having learned that they were playing at this particular, my own back and forth again qualms about reunion and retrospective shows came roaring back. It’s not that this was planned by the bands per se — this is a venue that acts regularly play and all, that’s the whole point of it to start with. But inevitably I could only flashback.

1991 was the year of the first Lollapalooza, Perry Farrell’s attempt to translate the spirit of the Reading Festival in the UK to the US, only via a collective tour instead of a fixed location. No need for me to go into detail about it but the smash success of said tour and its immediate successors, combined with that of similar tours covering other general styles, helped lay the eventual groundwork for that kind of fixed-festival location approach that now dominates summer shows, with Coachella being the obvious forebear there in turn. Whatever else one may think about the two related models, their impact on assumptions of how music is packaged, seen and appreciated is now simply a baseline commonplace.

And there I was, twenty years old, going to enjoy the show. Some acts I’d already seen, others I was finally seeing for the first time. That included NIN and Jane’s both, who I’d actually seen earlier that year together in LA, NIN being the opener there of course. They’d only just started to fully catch fire over the previous year, where Jane’s at that point were legitimate hometown heroes — only Guns’n’Roses were bigger as a rock act when it came to LA and they were already in a stratosphere all their own, where Jane’s were rapidly rising but still just enough of a personal secret of sorts, a classic example of being able to catch a band still arcing upward.

What I remember of both Lollapalooza sets was that they were pretty good — Trent’s aggressive/artistic approach to performing and staging was already well set, and if everything since then has been little but refinement, it’s because he’s always been able to throw poses and shapes with the rest of them, if not better. A friend once said that he destroyed industrial music in order to save it, and while that’s an exaggeration it does sum up the endgame approach he ended up playing — the logical product of a previous decade’s music wrapping up everything in a ball of wax and figuring out how to sell it back to America. What matter if he looked a little goofy playing Pretty Hate Machine songs in almost total daylight when darkness and bright lights suited things better, really?

And Jane’s were Jane’s — one of those acts that was always better live than in studio, much as I love the studio work. I regret not seeing them more at the time than I did — there’s a Palladium show from late 1990 in particular I wish I could have seen, with the Pixies opening; happily that show is included in the new Jane’s box set. But like Radiohead, for instance, everything great about Jane’s in studio kicked up so much more live — the versions of “Three Days” I saw them do at those shows remain jawdropping moments of absolute perfection, willful self-rock-god deification that worked.

Last night Tom, his friend Sue and I made it into the parking lot and discovered that Trent was opening this night, and in fact was about to play. I admit nothing was going to stop me at that point and as soon as I could I found myself at the point where I took the photo, sitting back against a barrier and letting it all happen. A great set, certainly — I’d been told to keep an eye out for Ilan Rubin, the drummer (thanks Brad for the trip!) and he was a monster but also knew how to do things subtly — not bad for someone who was only a year old when Pretty Hate Machine came out. Meantime plenty of people in the crowd were younger than that too, emphasizing the weird time-warp feature that was running in my head during the entirety of the show.

Another time warp thing was more unfortunate, but reflected the last time I saw the band in 2007 in London — a set list that relied heavily, too heavily really, on The Downward Spiral. A great album then and now, but also not an album I need to hear again, it’s pretty much inculcated in my memory. Frankly it’s the newer stuff I keep wanting to hear from Trent and company, as well as the interesting oddities like (as played last night but this link is from a few days ago) his cover of Gary Numan’s “Metal,” first done in studio about fifteen years back. But that was relegated to the side for the most part — only about four songs or so were even from the whole of this decade, doubly frustrating given that this has been his most productive yet, releasing more albums in the past five years than he had done in the previous fifteen. And to be sure, the killer conclusion of “The Hand That Feeds” and “Head Like a Hole,” (the latter from an earlier show but anyway) a smart combination of then and now, was worth it.

Still, it fed into the whole sense of grinding my wheels a bit — I understand why he takes this approach, and maybe I just keep catching him on the wrong nights (more than most he varies up his set lists). Of course, if I was eighteen instead of thirty-eight and this was my first time seeing him I’d be feeling a LOT different. And on balance it was a fine show, no regrets.

But after that, as we were waiting for Jane’s, Tom, Sue and I talked and we all agreed — we didn’t need to stay. Home sounded pretty inviting and Jane’s, well, even for me and even with Eric A. on board, Jane’s just wasn’t thrilling me as an idea this time around. I would have been happy to see them if they were opening for NIN but that was not the case this night, and I’d already literally been there and done that with both bands, NIN opening for Jane’s, twice before. I didn’t need a third time — and NIN, at least, had always kept going, a one-man band of course but still, working, touring, releasing, being busier than ever, resting on past laurels to an extent but never actually stopping. Not the story of Jane’s by a long shot, where the jokes about their inevitable reunion were being made back in 1991 even before their final shows then.

So we left, and as we did so we heard the opening notes of “Three Days” begin, Eric A.’s basslines prompting the crowd into a huge roar. I hope they all had a great time. I already had.

RIP Bo Diddley

As reported here.

Others will say what has to be said in much more detail. [EDIT: My own further thoughts are now posted.]

For now:

And if you need a sense of the impact:

And I am so only scraping the surface.

RIP. Bo Diddley is Jesus.