... So Why Don't You Kill Me?

Metal roolz at Lolla VI

American arena entertainment is admittedly less depraved than that of ancient Rome -- where wild animals not only fed on human victims, but were sometimes trained to rape them first -- but is certainly depraved enough to avoid. People in large groups have always been capable of behaving quite badly, and arena fare is by definition teeming. I swore off stadium rock after once too often experiencing cattle-car crowds, violence, and sparsely mustached machismo at a Metallica-led Day on the Green some years ago. "Screw this," I thought as I left, patting my pockets for my stolen wallet.

Only the promise of a paycheck lured me to San Jose on Aug. 2 to see my first Lollapalooza. Depraved behavior was thankfully minimal; dumb behavior was of course omnipresent, with tastelessness in tow. Shirts came off where they should have stayed on, revealing male physiques like sourdough starter (and the occasional washboard stomach). Watching the stage from field level afforded a view of Lilliputian musicians and hundreds of sagging, pimply backs. A young fellow walked by in a Hustler T-shirt -- obviously a gent who gets lots of dates. Multiple Dr. Seuss hats, or their human hosts, bobbed about nonstop, craving attention; a barbarian in glitter boots paced in front of the bleachers, screaming for it. An acid casualty Morris-danced with power and precision, waving a black rag. All over the tarped-down grass, big American flesh accumulated, sunburning pink as pork.

At ground level, I witnessed Psychotica embarrass humanity. A profoundly silly outfit that, uh, recalls Bowie, Echo and the Bunnymen, and trick-or-treating, they strutted about the stage in all manner of dumb costumes. Silver-suited lead singer Patrick Briggs, apparently capable of shouting platitudes like "Are you ready for the new age of glitter?" without flinching, did correctly point out that Psychotica was the only big-stage band with a woman in its lineup. (This claim was somewhat tarnished when he introduced her with the words, "Representing the power of pussy!") What was patently the most metal-driven, male-dominated Lollapalooza ever was nonetheless described in the program as diverse and balanced. At the scene, balls were clearly tipping the scale. Toward the end of their set, Psychotica released a fetid green and red fog upon the stadium: a gosh-neat visual effect and possible future class-action suit for cancer.

For me, what made the show tolerable and enjoyable in the long run was wimping out -- becoming one of what Chris Cornell of Soundgarden graciously called "those cunts in the box seats." The press boxes were empty except for me; my crony, Lisa; and members of San Jose's finest, who surveyed the opposite bleachers with binoculars and a video camera. For all their attention on the distant crowd, the cops didn't seem to notice the pea soup of pot smoke billowing in from right under their noses.

The Screaming Trees at times made distorted guitars sound like sitars, and didn't suck, but didn't particularly wow me, either. They are, at best, a reliable, likable band. There is, however, something endearing about watching an obese man make windmills on his guitar.

Next up, the Shaolin Monks demonstrated martial arts to a Windham Hill Oriental soundtrack. One monk smacked another with a pole; another leaned against a spear tip with his throat; another broke off lengths of an iron rod against his skull. All tricks were met with the same enthusiastic whooping given to maneuvers at professional wrestling bouts. The Lollapalooza '96 program guide offered prose regarding the Shaolin entourage about as sensitive as the skull that broke the iron rod: "Fifteen shaven-headed Chinamen in orange robes may not seem incredibly out of place among the dyed hair, body piercings and other human oddities floating through this year's Lollapalooza grounds."

Rancid is a fine cover band, doubly intriguing since they change lyrics and titles -- it becomes a game, figuring out which punk original they've camouflaged -- but I'd heard all of it before.

Within 10 minutes of seeing the Ramones for the first and allegedly last time, I was as ebullient as a Forced Exposure correspondent. Police surveillance tripled in the press box next door during the Ramones' set. The classic onetwothreefour intro heralded oldies ("Teenage Lobotomy," "Rock 'n' Roll High School," "Rockaway Beach," etc.), which seemed to be what everyone wanted to hear. Zippy the Pinhead pogoed out at the end with a "Gabba Gabba Hey" sign -- according to Lisa, a classic gesture. Unfortunately, in the crowd below I witnessed the usual macho crap: mosh-pit attendants fistfighting, then shaking hands or hugging, smeared in sweat and, on one occasion, blood. Guys -- it's OK. Go ahead and touch each other if you like. If you're gay, so be it. Being a caveman doesn't necessarily make you straight.

Devo came out in yellow jumpsuits, assumed a fascist line of scrimmage, played their hit ("Whip It"), and grew tedious. The shtick was groundbreaking, once, and the songs fun, but it's a shtick. Imagine watching James Brown go down on his knees with the mike, get escorted off stage draped in a blanket, shrug off said blanket, and go down on his knees with the mike again for half an hour straight.

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