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Lollapalooza, Year Four: The bloom is back

It's been good fun tracking Lollapalooza over these last four years, if only to see the slow but sure emergence of a concept-concert legend. Year One, Lollapalooza was Perry Farrell's private baby, and Farrell was still identified largely with his frontman role in Jane's Addiction, which headlined the inaugural tour. The Lollapalooza concept -- first, of an alternative music showcase, later of a traveling bridge between alternative and mainstream cultures -- was experimental, and not solely for the "alternativeness" of the bands that played. A repeatable name-brand tour wasn't yet a reality in the concert business, and it's since been emulated all the way down the ladder to the inevitable annual Anti-Lolla and Lollapaloser spinoffs in local clubs.

Year Two, Lollapalooza entered the mainstream full force, offering as headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who'd long since saturated Top 40 radio when the tour started, and Pearl Jam, whose sudden ascent to rock goddom almost seemed manufactured to take advantage of the tour. It was a great show -- especially the Chili Peppers' set -- but the alternative intelligentsia had already begun its preliminary sell-out grousings.

Year Three, the grumbling made itself felt, and Lollapalooza was widely slagged for having sold out to mainstream concerns. Interestingly enough, Year Three's headliner, Primus, was perhaps the most adventurous choice of the tour's short history, if not necessarily the most entertaining.

Now here we are facing Year Four, and the bloom is back. Farrell's much-touted renewal of participation is being trumpeted in the press as a return to form, and Farrell seems to have more or less disowned last year's event, making sheepish apologies for dropping the reins. In the passing year, the critics have suddenly realized that star power makes for a better festival than adventurousness, and have wholeheartedly embraced a headliner, Smashing Pumpkins, whose music will be new to nobody in the audience. Nonetheless, Lolla organizers have filled out the bill with a promising line-up that's largely successful in its attempt to balance drawing power for fans and exposure for bands (and fans). The second stage has been almost exclusively reserved, and wisely, for club-sized bands that most of the audience won't have seen before.

Of course, as we're often reminded, the music's not all. You will have an opportunity to buy expensive and pointless crafts, waltz past unengaging amateur art, listen to self-absorbed poets, find out what the Revival Tent is all about, be disappointed by the Chameleon virtual reality ride, stroll through a misting "rain room" or recline in the courteously provided shade tent, collect information on "women's rights, the environment, gun control, education, animal rights and homophobia," participate in the computer dating service, feed your habit at the on-site record store, eat second-string ethnic cuisine, or gape at Lolla's very own live talk show, "Oprahpalooza." You can also, we're told, communicate with the stars backstage via networked computer stations. My fondest hope? That all 35,000 revelers sit down and key in personal and unhappy stories about their dads and zap them to Billy Corgan.

The main stage offers, from first to last, Green Day, L7, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, A Tribe called Quest, The Breeders, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars, The Beastie Boys and Smashing Pumpkins.

On the second stage: King Kong (1 p.m.), Boo Radleys (2:35), Shudder to Think (3:35), Stereolab (4:45) and Shonen Knife (5:20). Pack like youÕre camping, and don't act stupid. You can die that far away from civilization.

-- Brad Tyer

The Lollapalooza Tour hits Houston Friday, August 19 at Houston Raceway Park. Tickets cost $30.50. Call 629-3700 for info.

Crit Picks
Hootie and the Blowfish -- The name should be enough to get a cringe out of anyone who remembers the Hooters, and the gently sincere rock on Cracked Rear View will likely soon retire to a similarly ignominious section of trivia-land -- but in the meantime, the hit single "Hold My Hand" is a mostly harmless bit of contemporary rock puff. Cracked Rear View is a little bit R.E.M.-ish without the mystery, a little bit Bruce Hornsby-ish without the lite piano, and a little bit Counting Crows-ish in its appeal to middle-agers who think rock is a lifetime sport. 'Course the show is at Fitzgerald's, and if an emerging act has the live stuff to build a crowd, this is where they'll prove it. At Fitzgerald's, Saturday, August 20. Call 862-3838.

W.C. Clark -- "Godfather of Austin Blues" is the brief, and true enough, description you'll most often hear applied to guitarist Clark, but that makes it sound like the poor man's repeating stories of the glory days in a home somewhere, when, in fact, Clark has recently released the first substantial solo album of his career, Heart of Gold, on Black Top. The disk features slightly sanitized readings of "a little of everything I do in my live shows: some soul, some blues shuffles, some funk and a ballad or two," and makes the point that while a bulging blues resume may come in handy now and then, it's the red-hot show you play tonight that counts. At Billy Blues, Saturday, August 20. Call 266-9294.

 
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