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A STAGE-TWO BLASTOFF : Loaded With Alternatives, Lollapalooza Fires Up Its Launch Pad for Even More Innovation and Surprises

August 10, 1995|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

One could be cynical and point out that, as Lollapalooza '95 pulls into Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre for a two-day stand on Monday and Tuesday, it brings with it a distinct whiff of warmed-over Weenie.

Two of the bill's most interesting acts, Hole and Elastica (a mid-tour substitute after Sinead O'Connor decided not to go on subjecting her pregnancy to this summer's Great American Heat Wave) were on the same stage just two months ago as part of the KROQ Weenie Roast. Two other Lollapaloozers, Beck and Pavement, appeared at the 1994 Weenie Roast.

But on musical merits, those four acts evoke not cynicism, but enthusiasm. They should be worth another look for those who saw them at the roasts. Meanwhile, with show-closer Sonic Youth, Lollapalooza is topped by one of the prime shapers of today's noise-guitar aesthetic, a genuine alternative-heritage band that couldn't have gotten into Irvine Meadows without a ticket back when it was churning out such genre-shaping albums as "Evol" and "Sister" nearly a decade ago.

Also appearing on this year's Lollapalooza main stage are Cypress Hill, the playfully cartoonish, marijuana-fixated rap group that, in terms of record sales, eclipses all others on this rather off-the-mainstream bill; Boston ska-punkers the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and the Jesus Lizard, a band of Chicago-based noise merchants whose singer has won dubious notoriety for his onstage habit of displaying his private parts.

The three previous Lollapalooza tours were dominated by bands that helped turn "alternative rock" into the new arena rock: Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1992, Alice in Chains and Primus in 1993 and Smashing Pumpkins, the Beastie Boys and Green Day a year ago. Unable to land a multi-platinum-plated rock act this year, Lollapalooza has fallen back on its original franchise of serving up music that might not be quite so familiar to the masses.

One Lollapalooza innovation that has been taken to heart by such imitators as the Weenie Roast and the H.O.R.D.E. Festival is the second stage. Inaugurated in 1992, the second year of Lollapalooza, the second stage remains the truly alternative face of a festival that has become part of the music industry's big-sell machinery.

The second stage has also become the focus for the kinds of surprises all too rare in modern-rock festivals: Last year there were unannounced second-stage shows by Atlanta's Black Crowes and L.A.'s Cypress Hill in their respective hometowns. Patti Smith, an icon of the New York underground rock movement, played a surprise second-stage show at Lollapalooza's recent New York City stop. Over the years, it has become customary for some main-stage performers to play sets on the second stage as well, or at least to put in appearances jamming with friends in second-stage bands.

John Rubeli, who has coordinated second stage talent for Lollapalooza since 1993, said he consults with the main-stage headliners before booking bands. This year, he said, Sonic Youth, long noted for championing up-and-coming talent, took a close interest in tailoring the second-stage bill.

"I try to make it a pretty congruous event, so all the bands are sort of into each other," Rubeli said. "The fans can sense the atmosphere, and if there's tension, it doesn't make for a fun afternoon." With more than 500 bands seeking slots on the second stage, Rubeli said, the trend has been toward greater inclusion: Instead of staying for on the entire tour, second-stage bands now rotate every week or two; over the past three years, the number of bands getting Lollapalooza exposure via the second stage has risen from 10 to 24.

The most distinguished alternative-rock citizen on the second stage at Irvine Meadows will be Mike Watt. Since 1980, when he and his childhood buddy, the late D. Boon, launched the Minutemen, Watt has played an important part in forging the independent, down-to-earth business ethic and the adventurous, stylistically varied musical outlook that represent the alternative movement at its best. In the Minutemen, Firehose and now, with his first solo album, "Ball-Hog or Tugboat?," Watt has played everything from thunderous hard rock to wiry avant-garde music, spiny funk and warm folk melodies.

Watt, who hails from San Pedro and ranks as one of rock's chief bass-guitar heroes of the past 10 years, also embodies the ambivalence that mainstream success--or at least the chance for it--has wrought in the modern-rock world.

"I got into punk to try to [avoid] arena rock; it's a bizarre thing," Watt, speaking by phone from New York last week, said of his presence on Lollapalooza. "But the idea of a festival of a lot of different experiences, not just one circus on the big stage--I like that a lot."

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