30 years ago, me and a bunch of my friends stood at the precipice of Perry Farrell’s “Alternative Nation” and lived to tell the tale
It was 30 years ago today when I went to my very first rock concert: Lollapalooza 1991 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in beautiful Saratoga Springs, NY.
It was less than a month before we started our senior year of high school, well at least for myself and my best buddy Mr. Vai. Our two other friends, Weezer and Jimbo, were a grade behind us, while our other good pal Sumo was about to enter his freshman year at Hope College in Holland, MI, at the end of August. For this little squad, it was one of our last adventures of a most epic summer.
My two primary reasons for needing to get to Lollapalooza was to see my two favorite bands at the time, Living Colour and Jane’s Addiction. Not to mention Ice-T, who was debuting the hardcore metal band featured on his classic 1991 LP OG: Original Gangster. Yet when we headed home that night back to Wallkill in Sumo’s family van (in where Mr. Vai mooned a toll collector by putting a cigarette in his tush and asked them for a light), it was Nine Inch Nails, Butthole Surfers and Rollins Band who truly captured my imagination as I reassessed the show. I wound up buying Pretty Hate Machine and Locust Abortion Technician later that week, if I recall correctly, and I picked up The End of Silence the day it came out in February of 1992. In hindsight, however, I remain blessed and grateful I got to see Siouxsie and the Banshees, whose catalog I fully dove into over the last 10 years. I owned both Peepshow and Superstition on cassette back then, but it took me until my 40s to fully appreciate where this band was at the moment Siouxsie Sioux glided onto the stage like she was walking on air in Saratoga Springs, NY that hot August night.
VIDEO: Living Colour performs “Pride” at Lollapalooza 1991
A word about the Living Colour set, which if I’m being super honest was my top priority at the show. From the moment I saw the video for “Cult of Personality” on MTV in 9th grade, I finally felt like there was a band I could call my own. Both Vivid and Time’s Up were always in my Walkman, regularly serving as the motivational soundtrack to my eight mile commute by mountain bike to my job at the local movie theater. And their Biscuits EP had just come out earlier that summer and was one of the first new tapes I would rock once I got my drivers license and original car–a cobalt blue 1984 Ford Escort Wagon. I was ready to see these dudes in concert finally, especially considering how I missed their concert at my alma mater SUNY New Paltz a few months prior (peace and love to the Black Student Union!). And they did not disappoint, playing everything I wanted to hear plus covers of The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean” to boot.
Lollapalooza 1991 marked the first time I not only went to a concert, but got to experience the elation of discovering new music based upon seeing the act performing live as well. It was a bug that still keeps me going out to shows 30 years later at 48. The concert also served as a proper gateway to seeing true activism in action as I walked along the row of booths manned by kids my age or a little older raising awareness on the environment, human rights, racism, mental health, the AIDS epidemic and LGBTQ+ issues via organizations like Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Refuse & Resist!, aka all the topics that were scorned and mocked at my largely white high school in the Hudson Valley.
Of course watching coverage of organizations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International on MTV and owning charity compilations like Red Hot + Blue at the time certainly set me down the right path. But it was interacting with a group of kids in where I was part of the majority not the minority is what truly made Perry Farrell’s vision of the “Alternative Nation” come to fruition in my mind. I remember walking into school on the first day of my senior year with my head held a little higher than it ever was entering through those doors. I was high on knowledge and culture, and it showed.
I had other friends who were at that same Lollapalooza show in Saratoga, and I also had friends who found themselves at the show in Stanhope, NJ, at Waterloo Village. They wanted to share their stories for the 30th anniversary of this game-changing tour and our roles in it as well.
My one and only Lollapalooza ever. Gibby Haynes and his shotgun and all that noise chaos won me over early. Before Living Color, I literally shimmied my way to the rail to see them, Siouxsie And The Banshees, then Jane’s Addiction. I didn’t get Siouxsie and still don’t. Jane’s Addiction, at the time that was like a life highlight and damn it’s incredible I don’t think about that moment often enough. It coincides with the fact that I thought, back in 1991, Jane’s Addiction were the next Led Zeppelin, a timeless act that’d play on classic rock radio for the next many generations. It’s bananas how much they kind of shimmied into irrelevance considering how monumental they were then. – John Bongiorno, Arrival Artists
VIDEO: Butthole Surfers at Lollapalooza 1991
I was on the list for the Lollapalooza gig you asked about. (I was reviewing it for The New York Review of Records, a tiny NYC giveaway magazine.) The venue did not have their shit together, and at the first gate I tried to enter, they said they didn’t have me on the list and I should go to the other entrance, all the way around on the other side. So I trudged around (they wouldn’t let me go across, of course, because that would have meant letting me inside), a 20-minute walk, because that place was HUGE, and in the broiling sun. The other entrance sent me back to the first one. This repeated for about an hour before I managed to find a payphone and call the publicist (who had a cellphone in 1991?) and it got sorted out. Fortunately I was super early, because I’d gotten a ride from my friend who worked concessions there and she had to be in place well before the music started. Thus, I didn’t miss a thing. Rollins Band was fucking amazing. Butthole Surfers were insane. Ice-T I don’t remember. Trent Reznor as usual was not in a good mood and trashed a keyboard and flung drinks around. Living Colour wasn’t really suited for a big outdoor venue, because Muzz Skillings’s bass lines were way too busy and just came out like mud in that sonic context (in a small club with good sound, like CBGB, he sounded great; after Doug Wimbish took over bass in LC, I tried to get Vernon Reid to address that difference but he wasn’t gonna be quoted saying anything negative about Muzz.) Siouxsie was a joyous celebration in the sunlight, funny given their reputation, but they always were more versatile than people gave them credit for. And Jane’s was amazing. I vaguely remember there was a special guest with Jane’s but I don’t recall who it was. – Steve Holtje, ESP-Disk Records and RNR Globe contributor
VIDEO: Jane’s Addiction Lollapalooza 1991
Oh….mygawd, what an oppressively hot day. Like, I anticipated the sun to be relentless and dressed accordingly in a white T adorning Siouxsie’s trademark “cat eyes”….but, WOW, I didn’t expect kiln-like conditions.
So, ya, there I finally was, 20 years young, along with my cousin Jim and school friend Melissa, at a festival I’d read
about several months earlier in Entertainment Weekly no less, mentioned in a Perry Farrell interview and was
immediately sold by the inclusion of both Nine Inch Nails and Siouxsie And The Banshees amongst his hand-picked
roster of vital alterna-bands. Rollins Band were first on duty to jumpstart the audience who were still trickling in, a slow moving parade of college-band T-shirts and pre-grunge fashion do’s and don’ts. They didn’t have much to work with, but gave their all nonetheless.
I don’t recall a single, actual song during the Butthole Surfers’ set. It was all blisteringly, chaotic noise with frontman Gibby Haynes burping, yelping and farting into a megaphone punctuated by a rifle shooting blanks towards the sky. And I loved every second of it. Melissa and I made our way up front, against the barricade, mostly in an effort to be as close to Nine Inch Nails, who were next, as we could. I honestly was at a loss of what to expect from Ice-T and co. If it were going to be a fish out of water scenario….especially sandwiched between the avant garde anarchy of the Butties and
Reznor’s upcoming brand of electro-nihilism. NOPE! Their onslaught of hardcore/metal was instantly invigorating and the audience responded like an agitated hornets’ nets. We were foolish to think we’d remain within spitting distance. Not too long into the set Melissa took a boot to the face by a crowdsurfer. The sight of her blood
streaming from nose to chin prompted the closest bouncer to pull her out. I asked him to take me too, for I had no idea where she was being escorted. He shook his head and I screamed “FUCKING ASSHOLE!” at the top of my lungs, which he may or may not have heard above Body Count’s magnificent din. I laboriously made my way out of the swirling pit to where I thought she may have been taken, and waited ’til beyond their set but no such luck.
VIDEO: Ice-T and Body Count perform “Cop Killer” at Lollapalooza 1991
So….initiate Operation Melissa Recovery.
I’d spent nearly all of Nine Inch Nails in search of her. At that point the grounds were packed so I remained on the periphery, keeping a lookout, perusing the tents, thinking she wasn’t daring enough to go back into a tumultuous sea of people with a possible concussion. Oh, ya….Nine Inch Nails. One of the bands I was actually there to see…but only half paid attention to. Don’t get me wrong, they were great…everytime I took a few minutes to watch. And as much as I loved the Pretty Hate Machine material, the song that had the most impact, for me, was their blazing, pummeling rendition of Adam Ant’s “Physical(You’re So)”. Whoa! I’d reconnected with my cousin Jim who I lost while The Butthole Surfers were causing a ruckus and moved in closer for Living Colour while explaining what happened to Melissa.
Living Colour were fine. I was more impressed with Corey Glover scaling the tower of stage speakers like an expert gymnast while singing. Their slick version of melodic funk-metal just wasn’t my thing at the time. Though I saw them a few years back and was blown away. So there’s that. Plus, they were the interlude before the band I’d waited all day to see.
The Banshees, who I was first exposed to in a concentrated dose in the summer of ’89 with the previous year’s album Peepshow, opened their performance with the sedate “Last Beat Of My Heart” while the sun was going down and a gentle, refreshing rain cooled the heat battered crowd. I mentioned “sedate” because at the first measure of the hushed, rolling tom tom drums there were already a couple of douche-bros, within arm’s length, gearing up to slam dance. One of the black clad brigade who they bumped while doing so put a stop to it by sternly informing them that this was NOT the type of music once dances like that to. And they abided!! Their set was an even mix of the last two records….and a few early career tunes to appease longer-term fans. The second the band launched into their booming and house-y modern rock hit of that summer “Kiss The For Me”, the crowd went absolutely berserk. It was a conflicting throng of goths, moshers and ravers all fighting for space to dance to a pop song that was about the bizarre, untimely and supposedly spell-cast death of actress Jayne Mansfield. It was my first time witnessing Siouxsie And The Banshees live and they did not disappoint.
VIDEO: Siouxsie and the Banshees perform “The Last Beat of My Heart” at Lollapalooza 1991
Jane’s Addiction, on the other hand…..
Perhaps it was the fact that I was completely exhausted, or that the rainfall was hard and steady…or both, by the time they took the stage mid-evening. But I was just so severely unimpressed and indifferent to the band fronted by the man who was responsible for this amazing, eclectic festival that he’d branded Lollapalooza. I liked the performances of “Mountain Song” and “Stop!” well enough, but his lengthy psycho-babble between songs wasn’t very endearing….especially when the rainfall was pelting us with the intensity of granite hurled from the heavens.
Our vantage point during Jane’s set was way in the back, close to the exit. Eventually the deluge came to a standstill….and within that brief window who do we see sitting on a towel looking like she’s fought for her life in the battle of…uhh, Waterloo, chatting with a stranger??? Melissa! I ran up to her, she introduced me to her newfound friend and told me that she did indeed go back into the violent crowd for Nine Inch Nails where she managed to get a piece of Trent’s guitar which he destroyed on stage…and there she remained until getting nearly obliterated in the Jane’s Addiction pit. I let her know that we’d thrown in the rainsoaked towel long ago and she was of the same mindset. We made our escape during one of Perry’s monotonous monologues.
All in all, it was a phenomenal day….a concert experience that has gone unmatched even having attended my second and last Lollapalooza in ’94. Not even close. – John Matthews, DJ and frontman for South Jersey New Wave greats Strange Things Done In The Midnight Sun
VIDEO: nine inch nails performs “Head Like A Hole” at Lollapalooza 1991
This was my first outdoor all-day concert. I arrived early with friends. We stood in line early to submit our tickets and watched with eagerness as they stamped the backs of our hands. We found a quiet place on the lawn and laid out some blankets.
The show got off to a late start, then the Rollins Band stepped out onto the stage. Henry screamed diatribes into his microphone about the dangers of doing drugs, citing Sid and Nancy as an example, then wrapped up his set. He left the stage only to be replaced by The Butthole Surfers and then Ice-T with his metal band Body Count. Nine Ince Nails was next. It was weird to see them play songs from Pretty Hate Machine in the daylight. We danced in the mosh pit and watched with awe as our hero wrapped himself in black magnetic tape and smashed his guitar over our heads. The pieces floated into the audience and I managed to grab one. I wore that piece of broken guitar around my neck for years.
As day moved into night, we were graced by Siousxie Sioux’s presence. She did not disappoint. Flaunting her Louise Brookes bob, she sang about Jane Mansfield’s deal with Satan and her decapitation in a fatal car crash in the pop tune, “Kiss Them for Me.” If only the radio stations knew what she was really singing about – lol!
At nightfall, we prepared for the headliner, Jane’s Addiction. Perry Farrell was the creator of this event, so we knew that they would be phenomenal. Singing tunes from “Nothing’s Shocking,” they opened up with “Mountain Song.” As the bass pounded through the air, lights swirled and penetrated through the smoke. The silhouetted crowd wildly flailed about, expressing their teenage angst the only way they knew how… through dance!
The mosh pit quickly became violent. I lost my footing and fell into a pounding sea of combat boots and leather. Gasping for air, I groped around, looking for a way out, but there was no opening to be seen. I was being trampled on. I thought, “Oh my God, I’m going to die down here.” Before I knew it, someone was pulling on me and dragged me out of the mosh pit onto the lawn. There I sat in disbelief and enjoyed the rest of the concert from a distance; all the while, making a new friend who happened to be a representative from the Beggars Banquet record label in Italy.
To this day, no show has quite lived up to this level of energy. I’m grateful for the opportunity to partake in a part of music history. Now, I’m managing two bands – lol! – Melissa Holt, filmmaker and manager of Serious and the Girls
VIDEO: MTV News Lollapalooza 1991