Perry Farrell is the George Foreman of alternative rock: He’s fought his way to fame and fortune, walked away from it all when he was on top, and repeatedly returned to the game to varying success. And he’s taken his share of punches without turning into a mumbling idiot (for the most part). This summer finds Farrell making yet another comeback, resurrecting both Jane’s Addiction and Lollapalooza, the acclaimed traveling festival originally conceived as the vehicle for the famed Los Angeles band’s 1991 swan song. The carnival of music, arts and activism ran for seven editions, boosting the careers of numerous bands and helping define the Alternative Nation generation, before fizzling out in 1997 due to a lack of vision and a host of newly spawned, competing package tours.
Its return this year has sparked both celebration and pessimism among fans and music-industry types. It seems that for every person thrilled to have the chance to experience the sights and sounds of Lollapalooza again or for the first time, there’s a skeptic insisting that the magic vibe of the first go-around can’t possibly be duplicated (and invariably pointing to the disastrous Woodstock ’99)—or someone complaining that it’s all about filling the coffers of Jane’s frontman once more.
Farrell may be esoteric, but he’s not oblivious. He’s heard all the negative voices, yet declares he’s brought back the festival for all the right reasons and won’t allow the naysayers to get the best of him.
“The way you rise above it is that you just gotta know in your heart that what you’re doing is wonderful,” says Farrell. “We got some spectacular live talent and we’re doing all kinds of amazing, groundbreaking things. You just go forward because the people that will try to mess it up can’t.”
You have to admire his spirit, but on paper it’s hard to look past the narrow scope of this year’s bill: It’s primarily heavy-duty rock acts, and as such, only slightly distinct from Ozzfest, Warped, or even Metallica’s Summer Sanitarium tour. Only hip-hoppers Jurassic 5 deviate from that norm on the main stage, and there’s nary an electronic act to be found.
“That’s the one thing that was so hard to do right,” Farrell admits. “This year the tour promoters did not have a good feeling about electronic music. [Moby’s] Area:One and Area:Two didn’t do well. So I just couldn’t get any money from the promoters for those kind of artists.”
And Salt Lake City also gets the short end of the stick, since this leg doesn’t include the exhilarating, hard-groovin’ rock of Queens of the Stone Age (we get art-prog snoozers A Perfect Circle) or the snarling, old-school punk of The Distillers (we get unremarkable rockers Rooney). Still, Lollapaloozas don’t happen on paper—only when the crowd has gathered and the music’s pouring from the speakers can anyone know if it’s a success or a dud. Mooney Suzuki guitarist Graham Tyler, for one, thinks fans are in for a day of quality performances, and he’s as excited to see all the other bands as he is to rock the second stage.
“I’m a huge Jane’s fan; the Donnas are great—we’ve toured with them a bunch. [Audioslave’s] Tom Morello is really cool. There’s definitely a lot of good music,” he says, adding that he couldn’t care less about the conspicuous corporate-sponsor presence or the tour’s extraneous bells and whistles. It’s all about the tunes.
“If people want to go jump on trampolines and play games and buy their T-shirts and Coors Light hats and eat funnel cake, then that’s up to them. Have fun. But it’s really a matter of what happens ‘on the pool table,’ as they say. It’ll be way more fun in front of the stage, I promise you that.”
They’ve “relapsed” again, only this time Perry and company insist it’s for good and have offered up a new album, Strays, as proof of their collectively recharged engine. They’ve also got a new bassist—onetime Alanis Morissette low-end rider Chris Chaney—in tow. (Original Jane’s bassist Eric Avery now plays with Ms. Morissette. Is it still irony if it’s so damn obvious?) Of course, purists and cynics will scoff, saying that the real band died in 1991, and that this is a sad attempt to recapture past glories after watching their solo careers fall upon deaf ears. Granted, these types of reunions usually reek of greed and mediocrity (hello, Axl), but Strays is actually kinda decent, with a handful of songs that will hold their own in the quartet’s classics-laden set. Jane’s might not be the mysterious and dangerously depraved juggernaut of old, but they’re still more than able to conjure up the epic, arty, hard-rock bombast that cemented their icon status. (Main Stage, 9:50 p.m.)
From all accounts, Audioslave has been the highlight of the main stage thus far, which comes as a bit of a shock to those who were certain the supergroup—pieced together from remnants of Lollapalooza vets Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden—wouldn’t even stay together this long. Remember, Chris Cornell initially bailed on the band a year after signing up, claiming the project wasn’t proceeding to his liking, then rejoined just before the release of Audioslave’s self-titled 2002 debut. That album certainly felt like less than the sum of its parts. The musicianship was excellent, but the songs sounded somewhat listless (including current power-ballad hit “Like a Stone”), neither as incendiary as Rage nor as darkly powerful as the ’Garden. Now, though, this seeming marriage of convenience has apparently evolved into a true connection, as the foursome is taking those tunes to a much more inspired level. Fans will only benefit from the added heart and soul. (Main Stage, 8:20 p.m.)
Whether you actually like Incubus—or you’re smarter than that—their inclusion on this year’s bill has given even more ammo to the critics who think the festival’s return is just a crass marketing opportunity. After all, didn’t Farrell say he bailed on Lollapalooza in 1996 because organizers were destroying the tour’s pure, eclectic, alternative vibe by signing up Metallica? The presence of the slick, trendy, multiplatinum-selling Incubus seems more like Lolla’s mating call to a large fan base that could help fill seats rather than Perry’s stated goal of a “new music revolution.” For its part, Incubus is road-testing new material and new bassist Ben Kenney (formerly of the Roots). Ho-hum. (Main Stage, 6:50 p.m.)
A PERFECT CIRCLE
A Perfect Circle offers the same kind of overblown, self-indulgent, art-rock pretension with which the Smashing Pumpkins ruined their once promising career from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness onward. Fronted by Maynard James “Am I Still a Tool?” Keenan, APC has enjoyed plenty of personnel connections to head Pumpkin Billy Corgan during their four-year existence. Current axeman Billy Howerdel used to be a guitar tech for Smashing Pumpkins, while former Circle bassist Paz Lenchantin now plays in Corgan’s Zwan. Here’s one important difference: Corgan has actually written a few memorable songs. Somehow more tedious than the ponderous pseudo goth-metal APC commits to tape is their plodding live show, and it’s unlikely that even the recent addition of former Marilyn Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez—who now goes by given name Jeordie White (even that’s boring)—can do much to liven things up. Looks like a fine time for a bathroom break. (Main Stage, 5:35 p.m.)
The overwhelming Big Guitar Rock of this year’s bill will be momentarily interrupted by the old-school-informed Los Angeles hip-hop sextet Jurassic 5, which offers more diverse and credible music than most anything you’ll find in the mainstream rap world. It does get a tad boring when so-called “underground” crews spend their precious stage and wax time taking incessant shots at chart-topping MCs, but J5 don’t make it their raison d’Ãªtre. Instead, their clever, nimble rhymes tackle bigger issues with depth and vivid imagery, though in this setting, it’ll be the dope beats, loops, and truly insane turntable maneuvers that really get the crowds movin’. (Main Stage, 4:30 p.m.)
Lest you think this year’s Lollapalooza lineup is one big sausage party (Lilith Fair it ain’t), all-female four-piece the Donnas bring their Ramones-meets-Kiss riffage to the main stage. A few short years ago, the quartet seemed destined for the novelty cutout bin with its power-punk rehash, but it’s somehow managed to ride the antipop backlash to both critical praise and a healthy TRL following. Frankly, though, if Lolla really wanted to offer some truly kickass all-girl power, better bets would’ve been Le Tigre or Sleater-Kinney. (Main Stage, 3:25 p.m.)
In case you haven’t noticed, the Cars are the new Stooges: Ric Ocasek’s quirky-sweet ’80s new-wave pop sensibilities are quickly supplanting Iggy Pop’s scuzzy ’70s trash-rock thang as the influence du jour. So it goes for the shaggy-haired SoCal quintet Rooney, whose frontman, Robert Carmine—also known in Hollywood circles as celebrity son Robert Coppola Schwartzman—wasn’t even alive when Shake It Up came out (isn’t that how it always goes?). They’ve also got some love for sun-baked Beach Boys-type harmonies, as well as an unsurprising Weezer fixation. Scrunched all together it makes for some occasionally pleasant, if entirely prosaic and predictable, summertime retro-rock. (Main Stage, 2:25 p.m.)
THE MOONEY SUZUKI
Just like many of the day’s other acts, New York City’s Mooney Suzuki have little in the way of originality to dispense. You’ve heard it all before from bands that literally or stylistically hail from Detroit—grimy MC5-type garage-punk riffs conjoined with groovy, classic-Motown soul. Despite that, the Mooneys have without fail more energy to burn than all the Iraqi oilfields put together, and no matter how much you want to write them off, they’ll still get you to shake that ass. (Second Stage, 6:25 p.m.)
KINGS OF LEON
If the Kings of Leon were college students, they would have been booted out of school for plagiarism a long, long time ago. But this ain’t academia—this is rock & roll, 2003-style. The number of obvious wayback-sound ripoffs you can fit into a 3:40 song is directly proportional to the number of British music journalists who will drool over you, thus earning you some mainstream American press, a few months of face time on MTV and a slot on one of these summer package tours. The four Follohills (three brothers and a cousin), who hail from Tennessee, bring some Skynyrd ‘n’ Petty ‘n’ Crowes, oh my, to their take on garage-rock. The term “Southern Strokes” might be played out by this point, but hell, it doesn’t get much more apt than that. (Second Stage, 4:55 p.m.)
MC Supernatural offers the best reason for ditching the bigger acts for a little while. Arguably the best freestyle rapper in the history of the game, the Indiana native has been putting other battle MCs to shame for more than two decades. Sharper than an infomercial knife, he’ll crack you up and blow your mind by instantly rhyming about the contents of your pockets, letting the crowd choose the words he freestyles with, or doing dead-on impressions of other rappers’ famous flows. (Second Stage, 4:10 p.m.)
30 SECONDS TO MARS
Sure, we could go on and on about this Southern California band’s curious, sorta-industrial neo-prog sound and futuristic vision, but let’s face it: No matter how much the group wants to downplay it or pretend the novelty’s worn off, 90 percent of you who are going to check ’em out are doing so because they’re fronted by My So-Called Life’s “Jordan Catalano.” To his credit, frontman Jared Leto has more musical ability than most other wannabe rock star actors, and there’s no question he’s putting the band ahead of his own ego. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the group merits all the buzz they’ve received, but just be thankful you’re watching 30 Seconds to Mars instead of Russell Crowe’s atrocious 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. (Second Stage, 3:25 p.m.)