Lollapalooza as Chicago's time machine to youth
08/01/2012 10:00 PM
I remember my first Lollapalooza.
It was in 1994 at the Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The music festival was in its fourth year of traveling across the country on a mission to expose underground artists to the masses. Grunge and the alternative nation had broken into the mainstream by then, and many of that yearís featured artists had already become somewhat household names, but I didnít care. Where else could I see Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, The Breeders, A Tribe Called Quest, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Flaming Lips, Guided By Voices, and more all on one day?
Lollapalooza was an itinerant beast in its infancy. Though it was a controlled road show, a carnival vibe prevailed. It seemed dangerous. You could do anything and anything could happen. It was no surprise to see a friend tumble out of the mosh pit with a bloodied face or to turn around and see members of local (and national) faves The Afghan Whigs smoking pot while sitting right behind you on the venueís lawn.
Iíve attended many Lollapaloozas since that first experience, shadowing the festival as it transformed from an edgy road hog into a settled behemoth with offerings for the whole family. Subsequent fests have been enjoyable, but theyíve never equaled the energy of first exposure. Not that Lollapalooza hasnít tried to win me over.
The festival rides the nostalgia train hard, balancing hot, new groups with acts who reached their nadir decades ago in an obvious appeal to older crowds. The formula has worked for Lollapalooza, turning it into one of the countryís most popular destination music fests (and a massive moneymaker to boot), but the nostalgia wave never completely worked for me. This is purely a matter of taste. Blues Traveler, Pearl Jam, Violent Femmes, Patti Smith, G. Love and Special Sauce, Love and Rockets and Depeche Mode (amongst others) just arenít my thing. Sorry.
Lollapalooza strikes the right balance this year, however. When the festival opens its gates this Friday for a three day run in Grant Park, it features two acts that take me back to my youth.
Black Sabbath and The Afghan Whigs dominated my high school experience.
Black Sabbath introduced me to darkness. The heavy metal pioneersí deep, guttural riffage and foreboding lyrical themes provided the perfect soundtrack for suburban isolation and teenage angst, all wrapped in a wicked, sometimes cartoonishly evil package. When singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler (original drummer Bill Ward is sitting out due to contract disputes) hit the stage Friday night for their only domestic appearance this year, Iíll be in the front row with devil horns proudly raised.