Monday, August 4, 2003

Lollapalooza 2003 rolled through Nissan Pavilion Friday with a little help from Verizon Wireless and Xbox, Microsoft’s video-game system. Not a few in the rock press have noticed the “irony” that the resurrected Lollapalooza tour, the alt-rock revue spawned by Perry Farrell in 1991 and shuttered six years later, is now backed by corporate sponsors.

No, this isn’t your older brother’s Lollapalooza.

But has Mr. Farrell, frontman of the reformed Jane’s Addiction, “sold out”? Hardly. He has shrewdly noticed what his audience hasn’t: that corporations are not culture warriors and will happily throw their weight behind the counterculture if it will accept them.

That’s because there is no real counterculture anymore. It has gotten jumbled up, much as writer David Brooks said in his best-selling “Bobos in Paradise,” somewhere in bourgeois-bohemian crossbreeding: the cultural seeds sown by boomer CEOs with 1970s social mores, wafting on the revenue stream that follows a percentage of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream profits into organizations that promote “world peace” and sprouting TV commercials that market luxury cars with classic rock music.

Where early Lollapalooza outings showcased Rage Against the Machine, a band that set Noam Chomsky-esque rants to metal, this year’s model features what’s left of Rage — Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk and Tom Morello — backing ex-Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell. The sonic fury is still there, and it’s as invigorating as ever, but the polemics are gone.

Offstage, too, the rough edges of Lollapalooza were sanded down, polished and spruced up technologically, with the whole shebang wired together by Verizon-bannered digital screens detailing the times each band was scheduled to hit, and where.

The Sierra Club, (a clothing company that supports wetlands protection), Axis of Justice (a nonprofit co-founded by Mr. Morello that backs a bundle of left-wing causes) and other “progressive” outfits had prominent booths in Lollapalooza’s second-stage bazaar.

But joining them this year were apolitical attractions such as batting cages and the Xbox tent, in which video-game enthusiasts competed for prizes.

Another between-set attraction, found on the plasma video screens hung on each side of the stage: Verizon commercials.

Since Lollapalooza suspended operations in 1997, corporations and liberal cause-rockers such as Mr. Farrell have reached a modus vivendi, the contours of which look something like this: Let’s both make some cash.

On that score, Lollapalooza hasn’t been faring all that well since it kicked off in Indianapolis July 5. Friday’s show was far from a sellout, and the tour overall hasn’t cracked the top 20 of Pollstar’s concert sales index, which has been dominated this year by established boomer acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles.

Still, while weak sales have forced cancellations elsewhere, the tour, an all-day affair that opened at noon and lasted till 11 Friday night, drew solidly here, attracting a host of Gen-Yers who were in training pants when Lollapalooza first hit the road.

The young set, especially its female members, had a particular soft spot for the L.A. alt-metal band Incubus, led by the hunky Brandon Boyd on vocals. Incubus’ “Wish You Were Here” has been omnipresent on alternative radio for several months, but the band is more than just the flavor of the moment for girls in their late teens.

Mr. Boyd has impressive range, and guitarist Mike Eiziger plays with inventive verve, which should be enough, but isn’t these days, to justify dispensing with the rap-rock and turntable gimmickry that kit out the band’s basic hard-rock core. On records, these flourishes may work fine, but onstage, they’re little more than bland distractions.

Considerably harder-edged were the Queens of the Stone Age, another alt-metal band that preceded Incubus. After announcing that “this is a love song,” bassist Nick Oliveri lit into a primal-scream thrash rocker typical of the band’s stoner-metal sense of irony.

The meat of Lollapalooza’s bill, though, was Audioslave and the resurgent Jane’s Addiction, both of whom justified their respective second acts.

Mr. Cornell was one of the great vocalists of the early-‘90s grunge movement, and his pipes are still ferocious. While the band may have sacrificed its modish political appeal, Mr. Cornell is about as suitable a replacement for Zack de la Rocha as Rage fans could have hoped.

Rounding out tunes from the band’s self-titled debut, such as the minor radio hits “Cochise” and “Like a Stone,” Audioslave added a White Stripes cover to its set as well as a solo acoustic spot for Mr. Cornell, who took a stab at the Nick Lowe-penned “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” a song made famous by Elvis Costello.

How fared the new Jane’s? A pioneering band of the mid- and late-‘80s — it helped put the alternative into metal, along with such groups as the Red Hot Chili Peppers — Jane’s Addiction is in mostly fine shape.

We didn’t hear much from the new album, “Strays,” but what we did hear from it,”Just Because,” for instance, sounded pretty unadventurous. The Jane staples, though — “Stop!” “Been Caught Stealing,” “Jane Says” — still sound like the vital bar-raisers they were when first released.

Mr. Farrell knows how to sell flamboyance, a quality in short supply with most metal and hard-rock acts today.

Dressed in a satiny white suit with silver fringe, the singer was in hammy glory Friday, prowling the stage set’s industrial-looking catwalks and ramp, shedding articles of clothing every five minutes until he looked like a bare-chested stand-in for Siegfried & Roy.

Friday night’s revue sure sounded like Lollapalooza; the Burning Brides, a highly promising Philadelphia-based garage-rock band, harked back to Lollapaloozas past and was the highlight of the second stage.

Mr. Farrell also took great pains to make it look like Lollapalooza. With Jane’s Addiction on the top of the bill, it almost seemed like 1991, the band’s first and last run with the tour, all over again.

Except that 1991 is gone, and it’s more distant than mere calendar years. What’s gone, and unrecoverable, is Lollapalooza’smoment.

In the heady early ‘90s, Perry Farrell was an intrepid impresario. Today, he’s a singer, a showman, a chatty gadfly with lots of opinions.

And a business partner of Bill Gates.

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