Lollapalooza 2003

Still an Alternative?

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Lollapalooza 2003

  Lollapalooza 2003 - Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, August 16

IRVINE, CA—The first Lollapalooza tour since 1997 was a respectable show, but not a truly exciting event. Its lineup was as adventurous as alt-rock radio gets these days, but since mainstream radio rarely offers anything to write home about, this year’s festival looked an awful lot like one of those FM-station sponsored annual affairs—only on wheels.

Perry Farrell may have originally masterminded the whole Lollapalooza concept, but it was guitarist Dave Navarro—costumed in some sort of frilly, rosy red outfit—that drew the first cheers when headliners Jane’s Addiction took the stage. What followed was an hour of the group’s unusual instrumental toughness, underpinning Farrell’s fey vocals.

Audioslave, who preceded Jane’s Addiction with a powerful set of soulful hard rock, may employ vocalist and Seattle native Chris Cornell, but the rest of the all-star group is what’s left of now defunct LA outfit, Rage Against The Machine. Appearing on a stage that looked like a hall of mirrors, the group performed selections from its self-titled debut as well as a few surprising covers, including an acoustic guitar-accompanied rendition of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” a song made famous by Elvis Costello. Given Cornell’s outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq, this song’s inclusion made perfect sense. Perhaps in light of how this controversial military action has been playing out, Cornell’s singing on the peace anthem was soaked in a tone of sad resignation. The group also broke into an aggressive, full-sounding take on The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” that contrasted markedly with the original version’s stripped-down blues feel.

Incubus made an immediate audience connection on the strength of its empathetic songs, which included “Make Yourself” and “Nice To Know You.” Though the group travels with its own turntablist, one heard nary a hip-hop or funk element in this late afternoon set of music. Instead, the group relied upon the contrast between loud and soft confessional rocks songs for the bulk of its performance. Artsy, alt-metal group, A Perfect Circle, also applied a similar dynamic. Singer Maynard James Keenan (Tool) stood atop a giant video block, for lack of a better term, that blinked visual images in time with this brooding music. Although Keenan’s a fine singer, A Perfect Circle’s propensity for progressive noodling caused even this short festival appearance to loose some of its momentum midway through.

Hip-hop ensemble, Jurassic 5, made obvious just how much the main stage lacked musical diversity later in the show. The second half of the afternoon was comprised entirely of blustery, testosterone-drenched rawk. It was clear the crowd enjoyed getting their groove on to Jurassic 5, especially digging its silly antics—like when the rappers pulled out kazoos for a playfully absurd take on the Rocky theme song.

All-girl rock group, The Donnas, was also in the minority. There were only four women on the main stage all day, and they were all in the same group. The band’s set was preceded by the playing of Spinal Tap’s “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” over the PA, but many in attendance didn’t appear to be in the right mood for the plain and simple ACDC-influenced hard-rock of The Donnas. Vocalist Donna A. got a little perturbed by the crowd’s refusal to surrender to the rock, but this didn’t prevent the band from giving it their all.

Rooney had the unenviable task of being the first group on the main stage, and with the blinding early-afternoon sun overhead, about the only ones there to see them were the folks camped out at the far-end of the lawn. Most of these people were in the amphitheatre only to stake out a plot of concert-watching land; not to see this delightful power-pop outfit. Adding insult to injury, Rooney was scheduled to perform at the same time as southern-fried garage band, Kings Of Leon, whose side-stage performance offered some fierce competition.

The second stage offered many enticing up-and-coming acts. But because it was such a long walk—especially for the poor folks entrenched way up in the far reaches of the lawn—from the main stage, most people avoided it. Nevertheless, the side stage presented garage rockers Moony Suzuki, moody British band The Music, and the colorful hip hop of MC Supernatural. The Killingtons opened the festival with synthesizer-soaked alternative rock that let screamed: ‘80s rock is back!’ (if it ever really left the building at all).

Lollapalooza  was, and is, intended to be a touring package of alternative music, but it didn’t offer much in the way of new musical flavors. Judging by the sea of people that streamed into this venue, one imagines the festival, once idealistic, has become nothing more than a moneymaking venture. And while the girls who were sitting in front of me—wearing Ozzfest T-shirts and endlessly smoking pot—seemed perfectly happy with this safe lineup, I doubt I’m the only one who walked away from this day of music sober, let-down and generally unimpressed.

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