I was fortunate enough to go to the very first Lollapalooza back in 1991. I and my friend Eric made the 5-hour drive from San Angelo to catch the August 23rd concert at the Starplex Amphitheater in Dallas, TX. I forget how much tickets cost us, but whatever they were -- it was worth it.
We got in line, where we waited for about an hour. Seeing as I had about as much of a tan as the scattered goths who'd braved the sunlight to see the bands before Siouxsie and the Banshees, I slathered SPF 15 on all my exposed parts. Unfortunately, I missed a silver dollar-sized spot on one leg, and the next day that spot would look and feel like it got scorched with a curling iron.
Waiting in line was like being at a carnival-- every subculture imaginable was out in force. Some hippies were towards the front of the line, dressed in tie-dyes and earth tones and ripped up denim, sitting in a circle. One of them was playing a guitar, and the others were singing along and passing around a bottle of wine. A cute, dark-haired girl was passing out Rock The Vote postcards so that we could show our support to a state bill that would automatically register people to vote when they apply for or renew their driver's license. Later, a tall blonde woman with a dark tan came down the line selling copies of an underground Dallas 'zine. Two dressed-to-the-nines goth girls slowly patrolled the line, looking for friends.
They let us into the arena area an hour before the show was supposed to start (although it would be two hours before it actually did start.) When you first go inside, there's an open area with concessions and room for booths and such that runs along the side of the amphitheater. Most importantly, they had three shower heads set up in a wooden frame, and people were constantly lined up to get soaked down. The amphitheater itself has blue plastic pull-down seats in front of the stage for about a hundred yards, and the seat sections are enclosed except for the back. The back open up onto a grassy, sloping lawn that continues for another hundred yards or so to the back wall. The tickets I had managed to get were for the lawn area, where you can't really see a damn thing unless you got binoculars. So Eric and I went a little bit up on the lawn, sat down and people-watched while we waited for the first band.
It was very hot out there, at least 97 degrees and high humidity, which explains why I didn't see anybody wearing chainmail. People started taking their shirts off. I think about 10% of all the women there were running around in bras. Some of them were wearing half-cups or lace bras, so they were essentially topless. Eric, naturally, was agog and adrool.
Despite the heat, the concert atmosphere was great. Eric described it as a "family atmosphere." Addams Family, perhaps, but everybody was in a good mood, no bullies or belligerent drunks. No hassling or shoving or pushing. And, as much as everybody was sweating, no serious B.O. problems. The air mostly smelled like cigarette smoke, a little pot.
We sat there in the sun for two hours listening to the music they were blaring over the speaker system (selections such as "Highway to Hell", "London Calling", and "Some People Gotta Dance, I Gotta Kill"-- Muzak for the alternative crowd.) Then the Rollins Band came out. I didn't really know what to expect of them, since I hadn't really heard much of them before the concert. Rollins was wearing his standard Lollapalooza concert uniform of a pair of black shorts and some black basketball shoes-- he was hard to see, since he spent most of the time doubled over, screaming into the microphone. By the time they tore into their second song, a few people had started moshing and slam dancing up on the lawn beside the wall, and by the time the song was finished there were at least fifty people running around in a big circle, moshing and slamming. A few of the members of the Butthole Surfers came out late in the Rollins set and began to jam with the band.
There was always a 30-40 minute break in between bands while roadies moved equipment around for the second band, the Butthole Surfers. Eric and I had determined that nobody was closely watching who was sitting where, so we went down into the good covered seats. For most of the Surfer's set, we just stood along the wall, scoping out the seats. The acoustics were very bad where we were, so I can't accurately comment on the Surfer's playing ability. Their bassist would periodically pick up a rifle and fire blanks into the air. Their lead singer broke a glass bottle over his own head. Accidentally, I think, since he had been drinking from it & tossed it up into the air when he was done. It broke when it came back down on him, but didn't seem to faze him.
The third performer was Ice-T and his backup band, Body Count. I wasn't exactly keen on Ice-T, but Eric wanted to see him. During the intermission before Ice-T came on, we managed to get seats that were pretty far down, and we had a good view of the stage. At first, he only did raps to a synthesized track. I didn't much care for the raps, but there were plenty of white suburban kids down in the pit pumping their fists to the music. He stopped in between raps to explain that he doesn't hate women, he just wants to fuck us. Uh-huh. Then he launched into his infamous rap that includes the line "Fuck tha' bitch with a flashlight/Then slip in the batteries to give her a charge." (A friend of mine maintains that that particular rap is a parody of the misogynist raps that other rappers have done-- I'm not sure about that; either way, I didn't care for it.) But I have to say this: Ice-T has incredible charisma, and his stage presence is absolutely awesome. Anyway, for the second half of his set he had his live band, and they did heavy metal numbers.
Then Henry Rollins came out, and he and Ice-T did a thrash version of "Fuck tha' Police." The crowd was in a frenzy. The funny thing was, while everybody was chanting the chorus of the rap, I could see a young, black, female police officer leaning against the wall just outside the amphitheater. She had this smile on her face that said, "Why me? How do I get into these things?"
After Ice-T was done, Eric and I moved into one of the more central sections that had better acoustics, but it wasn't as close. We could still see the stage pretty well, though. The Violent Femmes came out next, and we had to stay where we were for the rest of the concert because they began posting ticket checkers at the entrances to the sections. The Femmes were terrific. They played some of my most favoritest songs, such as "Old Mother Reagan", "Country Death Song", and an extended version of "Add it Up". In the middle of it all, they played a deadly-straight Christian gospel song ("Jesus Will Carry Me Across the Ocean"?)
Then Living Colour came out. They played wonderfully, and it was obvious that they were really putting their hearts into the music, but the sound was kinda messed up. Whoever was running the speakers had the sound way, way too loud; I though my teeth would shake loose. Corey Glover, their lead singer, was wearing a rubber and lycra wetsuit. In the middle of the set, the other musicians had to switch instruments or something, and Glover stayed onstage to do an a cappella version of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Sounds cheesy, but let me tell you, it was gorgeous. That man has a great voice, and he has a surprisingly good range. Later, when the whole band was back, Glover jumped off the stage in the middle of a song and sang into his cordless mike as he ran down the aisle. He continued out onto the sidewalk that borders the juncture between the seats and the lawn and ran around the inner perimeter of the amphitheater. The crowd went nuts. Living Colour played longer and harder than anybody else-- too bad the sound guys fucked up the volume.
After a long intermission, Siouxsie and the Banshees came out, right around sundown. They were the first band to have a light show. Their set was pretty interesting-- the backdrop was a stylized "Kama Sutra" type graphic done in neon lights an Indian couple having sex, the woman on top. Siouxsie was dressed in a black sleeveless bodysuit, black jacket and a black, fringy belly dancer type skirt. Her guitarist was doing the Mad Hatter look-- green suit and a red top hat. Steve Severin, her bassist, was wearing a really sharp blue-gray tails tuxedo. Budgie the drummer was wearing a gold head rag, heavily embroidered gold jacket, and tan harem pants. They also had a keyboardist/accordionist/cellist and an Indian guy who was doing auxiliary percussion.
As far as I'm concerned, the Banshees set was the climax of the whole evening. They started off with a relatively laid-back song called "The Last Beat of My Heart," which made a cool opener. The crowd had been sitting around for over half an hour waiting for the roadies to get everything set up, so we didn't get cranked up and excited just right away, and Siouxsie got the teensiest bit annoyed. Evidently, Lollapalooza had played there the day before to only ten thousand people-- pretty pitiful, since the day I went there were well over twenty thousand. Anyway, in between the first and second songs Sioux intoned in a mockingly bored, very British voice, "Don't sit down, you're not watching television. . . couch potatoes!"
After that, the band cranked into some of their faster stuff, and the crowd went into action. The moshers got started again back on the lawn. After the moshing began, some other people on the lawn began to throw their plastic concessions cups into the air, and soon everybody in the amphitheater was throwing them. It was really neat looking, with all the cups arcing up, some spewing out ice and liquid in fans that glittered in the lights from the stage. I was standing in my chair, and I kept hearing them whiffle past my ear.
And then it really started. By the fourth song, there were many circles of moshers up on the grass, and they began to start bonfires. They started burning any damn thing that would ignite, mostly clothing, by the smell of it. I counted five or six bonfires, and a few of them were pretty big. They were sending up these columns of smoke, and the air was thick with it. The moshers were running and dancing around the bonfires in a circle, and periodically one of them would run through or jump over the flames.
At the end of the sixth song, the stage had collected several cups, so two roadies had to run out to clear them off. I don't think people were really throwing the cups at the stage; they were just throwing them, and cups not being especially aerodynamic, they ended up anywhere. While the cups were being picked up, Siouxsie Sioux muttered into the mike, "Good Lord, calm down." As if that was likely.
The Banshees played a really sharp, clean set, and many of my favorite songs got played. Eric Avery, the bassist for Jane's Addiction, came out to play with them on "Kiss Them For Me." Steve Severin is a better bassist than I gave him credit for. Siouxsie's voice was good, too, as good as it is on her most recent albums. They also played a Butthole Surfers song, which of course didn't sound much like the Surfers after the Banshees were done with it. After the set ended, the crowd chanted "Sioux-sie!" and stomped on the chairs 'till they came back for an encore.
After another lengthy intermission, Jane's Addiction played. JA had the best sound, no doubt due to careful attention by the techs. They also had palm trees, giant puppets, dry ice smoke, and films that were projected onto the backdrop during some songs. Perry Farrell, JA's frontman, performed a duet of "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" (written by Sly and the Family Stone) with Ice-T (thanks go out to QXZ for helping me remember the name of the song). On "Nothing's Shocking," two busty, nearly naked blondes came out on stage and did a variety of simulated acts on each other and on Farrell. I really could have done without it. It was hard for me to see much of anything going on, since a diehard JA fan was standing on the arms of his chair right in front of me, and he was a very poor window. I did see a fan jump up to do some stage diving, but the guitarist ran up and shoved him off. JA played well, but their set was just a little too theatrical for me.
All in all, it was a really amazing festival; I dreamed the music I heard there every night for a solid week afterward.