It was Mudstock at Lake Fairfax Park for yesterday's Lollapalooza II, but the dark clouds that threatened off and on during the day never opened up. Maybe they felt threatened by the the industrial-strength cybermetal of Ministry and the mean-street hard-core rap of Ice Cube. Noooo, said those clouds, we're not about to rain on that tirade!
The nine-hour, seven-act concert kicked off at noon with the layered noise of Lush and the Jesus and Mary Chain and ended with the punk/funk of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and light moments were few and far between on this Magical Misery Tour, particularly for those still caught in traffic when the music started. It was so bad for a while that Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, had to get out of his car three miles from the festival site and run the rest of the way to make showtime. Typically, though, Pearl Jam and everyone else hit the stage at their allotted hour. For an event that's equal parts carnival, circus and chaos, Lollapalooza ran like clockwork.
For Pearl Jam, it was a quick return visit, the only major difference from its University of Maryland concert a few months ago being the band's surprising chart position (No. 2 next week) and the size of the crowd. Happily, they're still not-quite-ready-for-arena rockers and the excellent festival production only made the band's rough blues-rock edges more distinct.
The same holds true for fellow Seattlers Soundgarden, who honored the controversial Ice-T with a cover of Body Count's "Cop Killer," which was performed by its originator on last year's Lollapalooza tour and elicited a far more energetic sing-along chorus this time around. Singer Chris Cornell had earlier joined Pearl Jam on "Hunger Strike," a song from their busman's band, Temple of the Dog, and Soundgarden paid fun/homage to Nirvana with a cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (speaking of smells, some free Teen Spirit would have been welcome yesterday). On its own, the band served up thrash psychedelia with a fusion metal backbone, crunching through a set that included "Outshined," "Jesus Christ Pose" and "Searching With My Good Eye Closed."
Ice Cube and the Lench Mob served up the most bottom-heavy show, with bass that boomed to beat the bands. Although there was a surfeit of political consciousness throughout the day, none was as street-credentialed, or as historically immediate. The fires of Los Angeles seemed to rage in Ice Cube's set, which included such cautionary raps as "How 2 Survive in South Central," "The Product," "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted," "Gangsta Fairy Tale," "Dead Homies" and "Endangered Species," as well as the edgy "Ain't a Damn Thing Changed" and a finale of "The Nigga Ya Love to Hate" in which the exceptionally white crowd worked out its profane jollies with the Cubester's encouragement.
That set the stage for Ministry, this year's Nine Inch Nails -- a visceral cult band on the verge of a nervy breakthrough. Ministry's music, a brutal meld of speed metal and droning industrial noise, is not for the faint of heart or art. Celebrating chaos with technical precision and excruciating, unrelenting volume, Ministry is the musical equivalent of a smart bomb. The audience, of course, is the target. Fitting that the band opened with "NWO," its sampled sendup of President Bush's New World Order, moving on to such heady fare as "Deity," "Just One Fix," "Thieves," "Stigmata" and "Hero." The only bare bones about Ministry's performance were those of dead animals, rebuilt into truly spooky sculptures that cluttered the stage. They seemed right at home.
Anything post-Ministry would likely have been anticlimactic and this proved true even with nominal headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Though singer Anthony Kiedis may well have been the festival's most animated performer (he and bassist Flea live up to the band's name), the Peppers' funk/thrash melange seemed merely entertaining. New guitarist Arik Marshall fits in very well -- "If You Have to Ask" featured some solid extensions -- and the set included such crowd-pleasers as "Give It Away," "Suck My Kiss," "Under the Bridge" and the Peppers' roiling cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground."
By night's end, there was only muddy ground and aftereffects of the most fervent mudslinging we'll be seeing until the election campaigns get into full gear. Lollapalooza is the Ross Perot of rock tours, in some ways: cluttered with alternative bands who have nonetheless managed to get deals from major labels (four of seven are in the Time-Warner family) and several of which have managed lengthy stints in the platinum reaches of the pop charts. Still, with a midway mixing freak show with political and social-consciousness raising, this convention of the unconventional gathered a third party unto itself at Lake Fairfax Park, at least for one day.