Spend a while chatting with a Red Hot Chili Pepper about life on the Lollapalooza '92 tour, and you get the penthouse view: The vista could hardly be more panoramic or the accommodations more satisfactory.
Then pay a conversational visit to one of the principals in the Jesus and Mary Chain, and you find that even this eight-week, sold-out, alternative-rock juggernaut--the hottest concert ticket of the summer--has, figuratively speaking, cold, bare basement lodgings.
Flea, the antic but articulate bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is in the penthouse these days. His band is headlining the seven-act Lollapalooza bill; the tour exposure has helped vault its album, "Blood Sugar Sex Magik," into the Top 10, and, in the one area that looked a little iffy, Flea said the Chili Peppers' new guitar player, Arik Marshall, has worked out fine on this, his first tour with the band.
From a personal standpoint, Flea (nee Michael Balzary) said, Lollapalooza has regenerated his formerly flagging enthusiasm for live performance. And, as a player who loves to jam in new settings, Flea finds a kennelful of appealing possibilities in the on-stage and back-stage opportunities for cross-band collaboration.
"I'd say it was probably the most fun tour I've ever been on," the bassist said on the phone last week in New Orleans, speaking already in the past tense about a tour that ends with a three-day stand starting Friday, Sept. 11, at Irvine Meadows (in addition to the Chili Peppers and the Jesus and Mary Chain, Lollapalooza features Lush, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Ice Cube and Ministry).
"It's a community moving from town to town. There's a lot of people to hang out with, and everybody gets along with everybody. If you had asked me about touring three months ago, I'd say I hated it and was sick of it and never wanted to do it again.
"Now, you see these people every day, make new friends and develop relationships. It's definitely a communal type feeling. I get there sometimes six hours before we play, which is extremely unlike me."
However, it's hard even for friendly communities to live in perfect comity. Flea admits that there have been a couple of small altercations behind the scenes at Lollapalooza.
"A member of one band punched a member of another band in the face. That's all I'm saying," he said.
There also were some ruffled feelings over the unsanitary disposal of a quantity of Flea phlegm during a magazine photo shoot in New Jersey involving all the Lollapalooza guitar and bass players.
"It was a case of me spitting a loogie and someone from another band telling me I'm disgusting," Flea said. "I had a lot of phlegm because I've had a throat infection. (One of the Jesus and Mary Chain sidemen who accompany bandleaders Jim and William Reid) said, 'It's really disgusting; you don't do that in public.' I went up and stuck my finger in his face" in a universally recognized gesture of ultimate contempt.
"Then I felt bad about it--it's a bad vibe; it's not a nice thing to do." Flea said the incident was smoothed over, with apologies on both sides.
"I'm sure if there's a traveling circus, once in a while they punch each other--the clown punches the juggler or whatever," the bassist said. "But dude, it's cool--those are the only incidents. On the whole, I've had more peace of mind and been more relaxed than on any other tour. I think this is a great gig, and I'm proud of what we've done."
While Flea buzzes with enthusiasm, one can imagine the post cards that William Reid, guitarist of the Jesus and Mary Chain, might be scribbling for the folks back home in Great Britain: "Having an awful time; wish people would stop having lunch while we try to play. Also have discovered how Dracula must feel after sun-up."
"It becomes pretty oppressive going on at 3 or 4, and the sun is in your eyes," Reid said from New Orleans on a day off from Lollapaloozing. "Some places have been great, but some of the shows have been awful, where people haven't even looked at the band, or are walking about buying hot dogs or pop corn" while it plays, he said.
"Also, it's not really our audience. I think because Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers have sold 5 million records between them, 90% of the people come to see them. Playing to 10 empty rows at the front--that can be very off-putting, very discouraging."
The band knew going in that it would be playing in daylight, which might not be the best setting for an act whose interesting duality--an introverted personality, combined with songs that reach for vitality and exuberance--might not come across on a big, sunlit stage.
"Getting a lot of media exposure, and the chance to play to an incredible amount of people in North America" were inducements enough for the band to warily try its luck in the sunshine, Reid said. "We've been a cult band for too long, and nobody wants to be a cult band. What it means is lack of sales. All my favorite bands were mainstream bands--the Beatles, the Stones and Sly and the Family Stone."