Thursday, July 17, 2003

Lollapalooza still has a lotta punch

Concert review

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The lawn crowd tore up the sod again, but thankfully, that was the only thing Lollapalooza 2003 had in common with its lame older brother, Lollapalooza 1997.

After a six-year layoff, the original alt-rock festival tour was resurrected at Riverbend Wednesday and even though it's a very different music world in 2003 than when it began in 1991, Lollapalooza returned intact, with plenty of the old fire.

There were the usual Lollapalooza accessories - a midway/bazaar on the concourse with circus sideshows, scantily-clad dancers and vendors offering everything from body-painting to massive $10 burritos.

But the main attraction was nine hours of music from a solid lineup that took the fest back to its roots, when alt-rock was still more of a scene than a radio format.

The day's best set belonged to Audioslave, a band that combined two longtime Lollapalooza favorites - former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and the instrumental muscle of Rage Against the Machine - guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk.

Morello is that rarest of rock guitarists, a truly unique voice. Whether he was playing songs from the band's self-titled debut or covering the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," he coaxed sounds out of his guitars that were entirely his own. Combined with Cornell's effortless rock star stage presence and supple, powerful voice, Audioslave managed to live up to its superstar hype. Playing second to last (always the prime spot on Lollapalooza), Audioslave stole the show from Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell's reunion of Jane's Addiction, which ended the show.

Farrell, looking very Elvis in a tight gold suit, is a far more theatrical frontman than Cornell, but his movements seemed stiff and studied. The entire Jane's Addiction set felt a bit rusty, as if Farrell and company haven't worked all the kinks out. Guitarist Dave Navarro seemed a bit distracted by the presence of his fiancee, Cincinnati's own Carmen Electra, even stepping offstage in mid-song for a quick kiss.

And while Farrell has lost his '80s edge of eerie danger, his helium vocals were in fine form and he still knows how to put on a decadent show, right down to his three female dancers. When Jane's Addiction clicked into gear, as on "Just Because," the band still packs a punch, floating like a glam band, stinging like grunge.

For the youngest fans, Incubus was the hit of the day, as hunky, bare-chested singer Brandon Boyd, a sort of junior Jim Morrison, led his band through an hour or so of generic hard rock. To their credit, Incubus folds turntable scratching and airy reggae rhythms into the mix, freshening the sound somewhat, but there was still a sense of deję vu running through it all.

Queens of the Stone Age took a more individualized, if inebriated, approach. Some songs lasted less than a minute, while others had odd melodies or off-kilter riffs that really shouldn't have worked, but somehow did. Bolstered by ferocious drummer Kelli Scott, QOTSA was the second most rocking band of the day.

The garage rock of the Donnas arrived mid-afternoon, while the majority of the evening crowd of 10,000 was still at work. Still, singer Brett Anderson got the early birds up and dancing. And while the band's songs tend to sound alike after a few minutes, they were perfect summertime festival fare, cotton candy for the ears.

And after all, that's what Lollapalooza is supposed to be about - a day at an alt-rock theme park. By the time Farrell and his band did their anti-climactic finale, a raggedy, unplugged "Jane Says," the pierced P.T. Barnum and his rock 'n' roll circus had given the customers more than their money's worth.

News story: Lollapalooza bands still hit hard with fans

Lollapalooza still has a lotta punch

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