Perry's Oddfest

Lollapalooza's architect redesigns a rock festival for the 21st Century

Thomas Wolfe once said, "You can't go home again," but he never ran into Perry Farrell. Repeatedly given up for dead, both literally and career-wise, the 44-year-old singer is darkening our doorstep again. This summer finds Farrell resurrecting both Jane's Addiction and Lollapalooza, the traveling festival originally conceived as the vehicle for the famed L.A. 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 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 magical vibe of the first go-around can't possibly be duplicated (while invariably pointing to Woodstock '99) or complaining that it's all just about filling the Jane's frontman's coffers 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 he 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," Farrell says. "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."

Jane's Addiction retakes the alt-metal throne
Walter Novak
Jane's Addiction retakes the alt-metal throne
Supergroup Superman: Chris Cornell leads Audioslave
Walter Novak
Supergroup Superman: Chris Cornell leads Audioslave

You have to admire his indomitable 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, not distinct enough 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."

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. And from top to bottom, tour virgins to tour veterans, all the musicians on the bill seem genuinely psyched to be a part of the revived festival, which bodes well for the quality of the day's performances.

"I used to mow my parents' lawn listening to Ritual de lo Habitual in, like, ninth grade, so now it's pretty unreal to me to be on tour with Jane's Addiction," laughs new Distillers guitarist Tony Bevilacqua, who hopes to generate the same excitement for this year's fans that he experienced seeing the first Lollapalooza 12 years ago. "I grew up in the woods of Rhode Island, and I didn't have a cool older sister to get me into college music or whatever. So it was awesome seeing all those bands and just having this crazy fun time."

"I don't really think too much about what people are saying about it either way -- I've always thought the idea was cool," says Queens of the Stone Age's Mark Lanegan, who appeared on the 1996 edition of Lollapalooza with his former band, Screaming Trees. "It's a great day of music, and I definitely enjoy playing it."

That despite one memorable incident from seven years ago.

"At one show, I got hit in the head with a sandwich," he deadpans. "It was a big one. I'm not sure what was in it, but it was a foot-long, and luckily it was wrapped. Josh [Homme], who was playing with the Trees at the time, actually got roughed up by the bouncers -- he went out in the crowd after whoever threw it, and apparently they mistook him for a troublemaker. This time should be a little different."

Then again, maybe not -- prankster Steve-O from Jackass is on the tour, and he's prowling for targets.

"Oh great," Lanegan snorts. "Maybe I'll get my balls stapled to something."


Here's a look at this year's lineup:

MAIN STAGE

JANE'S ADDICTION: They've "relapsed," 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. Ironic, don'tcha think?) 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 ('sup, Axl?), but Strays is actually surprisingly good, with at least 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's cemented their icon status.

AUDIOSLAVE: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 its 2002 self-titled debut. That album certainly felt like less than the sum of its parts. The musicianship was excellent, but the songs sounded fairly listless, 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.

INCUBUS: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 Perry 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.

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE:Other than Jane's Addiction, QOTSA are really the main reason to be at this year's Lollapalooza in the first place. Their reputation as one of the more forward-thinking, adventurous, and exhilarating acts in today's rock scene -- hell, music in general -- is well-deserved. Though known for an ever-shifting lineup (which has famously included Dave Grohl behind the kit), the band has been bringing essentially the same configuration for about a year now. That's allowed frontman Josh Homme and crew to tighten their heavy, chugging, arty grooves even further. Bassist Nick Oliveri -- who logged time with Homme in the criminally underappreciated stoner-rock outfit Kyuss some years back -- is the Queens' resident madman: Not only are his frenzied screams a great foil to Homme's oft-mellow croons but he's been known to perform in the buff. But a recent Fort Lauderdale club show (where Turbonegro beat the pants off 'em) may have already quenched SoFla's thirst for the Queens.

JURASSIC 5: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 bit 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'être. 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'. Hope they don't move en masse to the bathrooms during J5's set.

THE DONNAS: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. Plus, South Florida's already seen plenty of the frolicsome foursome in years past.

THE DISTILLERS:This year's breakout act could very well be the Distillers, the gritty, snarling, old-school punk outfit fronted by tough-girl Brody Armstrong. It's been an up-and-down year for the newly expanded quartet -- the singer recently divorced Rancid guitarist Tim Armstrong, and the band earned the enmity of some fans for bolting from Epitaph to Warner Bros. But on the bright side, they just wrapped up recording Coral Fang with famed producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters) at the helm, and they'll be previewing songs that they say expand the parameters of their punk-rock style (whatever that means). But if they stick to the kind of fiery anthems and no-bullshit attitude they've been sporting on the road for the better part of four years, this will be one of the day's highlights and should win the Distillers a lot of new fans.

SECOND STAGE

MC SUPERNATURAL: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.

BOY SETS FIRE:You can hear a few remnants of Boy Sets Fire's sincere emo/hardcore history in the Delaware combo's latest album, Tomorrow Come Today, but it's been nearly obliterated by the generic, Clear Channel-here-we-come production sheen. If they can reach back to their roots and really rough it up live to befit their fiery sociopolitical rants, they could be worth checking out.

BURNING BRIDES:If you like the manic energy of Stooges- and MC5-style garage-punk bands who swagger, scream, and twitch violently on-stage while tearing through big, fuzzy, scuzzy-rock riffs, Philly's Burning Brides will have you grinning from ear to ear. Sure, they're doing absolutely nothing original, but then again, neither are most of the day's acts.

STEVE-O: The Jackass knucklehead promises to mutilate and humiliate himself in myriad ways, some of which are sure to involve blood, vomit, and possibly other bodily fluids -- like Beavis and Butt-head meets the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. Only dumber.

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