JEORDIE WHITE | BASE TENDENCIES
Let's get straight to the point: A dozen years later, the mother of all modern festivals is still hard to top.
As such fiestas have gone this summer, Lollapalooza, which stopped Saturday at Irvine's sold-out Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, was narrowly better than Summer Sanitarium and significantly better than Ozzfest and, in slight ways, even better than the jam-packed Weenie Roast - though, yeah, that's comparing a couple of apples and an underipe tangerine to Lolla's juicy orange. And it runs the risk of overstating Lollapalooza's greatness, which no doubt has been sporadic.
Yet it's easy to get excited about this return. Looking back, we can see why Lollapalooza had to die: It had become bloated and boring, with no vision behind it. That it has re-emerged revitalized leaves one prone to hyperbole, especially given how many fests offer only one sound these days.
You could tell pretty quickly that Perry Farrell was once again in charge of the overall atmosphere - the Hare Krishnas and ragtag gang of costumed freaks dancing along the Grassy Knoll gave that much away. The signs were increasingly obvious as the show wore on; only the perpetually horny Perry would use the downtime between Incubus and Audioslave to spotlight the curvaceous Bellydance Superstar, or later have Carmen Electra emerge to introduce a trio of erotic dancers in booty shorts just before Jane's Addiction took the stage.
But his presence was most noticeable in this Lolla's kinder, gentler lineup. Farrell split from the project in '96, when Metallica headlined, presumably because that band invited more aggression than the spiritualist cared for. By contrast, even when Lolla '03 was relatively intense - mainly during sets from Audioslave and a reconfigured Perfect Circle - the performances stillput brains before testosterone, with most frontmen (especially those past 30) pausing to impart hard-earned wisdom and good vibes.
"Feels good, huh?" Chris Cornell asked while engaging the masses in a sing-along on the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." That Audioslave dared a straight-faced cover of that recent smash - and wound up with a worthy alternative to the original, the remnants of Rage Against the Machine playing it with funky fury - is precisely the sort of chutzpah that makes this outfit interesting, if not groundbreaking. (Also helpful in that respect: visual tricks, like having drummer Brad Wilk play with his back to the crowd, facing instead a long mirror that surrounded him with fans.)
That former Soundgarden singer Cornell seems hellbent on screaming his voice into oblivion, however, is what keeps me from being too supportive. Half the time Saturday, what at first seemed soulful quickly turned into hoarse shrieking, partly because Cornell concocts melodies that require a younger man's stamina to be sung every night. Worse, the abuse of his vocal cords - from diaphragm-rupturing howls to slapping his throat with the side of his hand to create an exotic vibrato - well, it's simply painful to watch.
People ask if Audioslave will continue past this first album, and I say not as long as Cornell keeps shredding himself like this. He's apt to deprive us of some great moments - here, for instance, the despairing beauty of "Like a Stone."
Farrell, on the other hand, could wail his 44-year-old lungs out and still be clear as a bell. If only the prancing dandy and his surviving support made more meaningful music. This hourlong turn was not unlike any other Jane's Addiction appearance: started out invigorating with "Stop" and "The Mountain Song," lost vibrancy during "Been Caught Stealing," which they've never been able to bring off live, then went off the rails with a few forgettable new ones and several aimless messes.
Incubus was far sharper - tighter, even, thanks to new bassist Ben Kenney, formerly of the Roots. And the L.A. band's untested tunes stacked up sturdily against tender- and-tough hits like "Nice to Know You" and "A Warning." If they can ever make their meandering verses as catchy as their choruses, they could become unstoppable. For now, they present crafty Nirvana retreads at a time when few others are, stretched out by Brandon Boyd's uplifting platitudes and squishy sentimentality for angst he's outgrown.
A Perfect Circle, however, clearly had the best overall set, delivering ataut assortment that teetered between melodic radio fare and the sort of mind-boggling math- rock made by singer Maynard Keenan's other band, Tool.
As gripping as Maynard could be from beneath his Alanis wig, the Circle's strength came from guitarists Billy Howerdel and James Iha, the latter establishing master credentials in ways he never could in the Corgan-controlled Pumpkins, and without sacrificing his role in the sort of float-vs.-chug interplay he's known for. Former Marilyn Manson bassist Jeordie White - whom Keenan quipped "you might know from his bad decision days," when he was called Twiggy Ramirez - brought plenty of power as well, but I couldn't help wondering how original bottom Paz Lenchantin (now with Zwan) might have countered and contoured this sound.
As for the rest of the day
Jurassic 5, a lonely token of musical diversity this day, remains one of the sharpest rap crews around, trading verbal jabs with uncommon skill, never cluttering the main rhyme, only accenting it with sick syncopation, unmatched dynamics and an ever-widening array of DJ gimmicks.
The Donnas, bless their tenacious hearts, are wearing thin. A little of their chicks-do- AC/DC shtick goes a long way, mostly because Brett Anderson doesn't have the presence to match Allison Robertson's fun Angus Young rip-offs.
Rooney's happy-sad Weezeresque power-pop with shades of the Cars has gotten more infectious. In a sea of dour clones, they are refreshing.
And the side stage was a big bust, save for Kings of Leon, who, along with Drive-By Truckers and My Morning Jacket, may represent some kind of new, garage-based Southern rock movement.
The long schlep from stage to stage in nearly triple-digit heat kept me from bothering with Jared Leto's dull 30 Seconds to Mars or the typically entertaining Mooney Suzuki, who, unfortunately, were up against Incubus, time-wise. As the day wore on, I caught only English band the Music - and after listening to a pair of its so-so Jane's knockoffs, I wished I hadn't.