It’s hard to believe that Lollapalooza is 25 years old. For fans of a certain age, the music festival was practically synonymous with alternative rock, and it helped introduce the mainstream to a broad spectrum of artists. Pearl Jam, Fishbone, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Soundgarden, Green Day, and Nine Inch Nails are just a few of the acts whose careers were springboarded by Lollapalooza over the past quarter-century.
While Lollapalooza has settled in one U.S. location, Chicago’s Grant Park, since 2005 (with other Lollapaloozas taking place in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Berlin over the past five years), it didn’t start off as a single-city event. Back in 1991, Perry Farrell conceived the counterculture carnival as the farewell tour for his band, Jane’s Addiction. Farrell modeled it after the annual summer festivals in Europe, which showcased an eclectic range of artists over two or three days, only he wanted it to be on wheels. So for eight years, Lollapalooza zig-zagged through North America, laying the foundation for future traveling festivals, including the Warped Tour, Ozzfest, Lilith Fair, and the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival.
The maiden voyage of Lollapalooza was an ambitious undertaking that included Jane’s Addiction, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Living Colour, Nine Inch Nails, Fishbone, Ice-T, Body Count, Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band, and Violent Femmes.
“We fought over every name on that bill, and have kept on fighting over every bill since then — sometimes near physical altercation,” wrote Farrell in a recent Facebook post. “At times we’ve refused to speak to one another like two countries on the brink of war. I tell you this to let you understand the intensity, effort, and commitment each one of us puts in to securing a shining bill. Our lineups are as important to me as my politics, my identity.”
As forward-thinking and enjoyable as Lollapalooza has been over the past decade, nothing can really compare historically to the first six years of the festival. Before alternative rock became a radio programming format — the equivalent of classic rock for a generation that came of age with the dawn of R.E.M. and U2 — Lollapalooza was a yearly gathering for music fans disenchanted with the mainstream media and its diluted, predictable music. The bands that played the festival were – for the most part – likeminded individuals who strived to break cultural barriers and bask in the transformative power of their songs.
There were numerous groundbreaking performances that included inspired collaborations, daredevil antics, political stunts, total chaos, and wanton destruction. Here are 10 of the top performances captured on video in an age long before the dawn of cell phone cameras and social media.
Nine Inch Nails, “Head Like a Hole” (1991)
As Trent Reznor’s first composition Pretty Hate Machine was hitting critical mass, the NIN mastermind was enraged by his one-sided record deal, weary of constant touring, and disoriented by excessive drinking. So he lashed out with fits of fury that climaxed with the destruction of keyboards, guitars, and mic stands. The antagonism was constant, but it always reached a peak during set-closer “Head Like a Hole.”
Jane’s Addiction, “Stop” (1991)
Since they claimed at the time that their Lollapalooza appearances would be their last, Jane’s Addiction let go of all their animosities and focused every night on blowing away the crowd, as they did at this July 27 performance at the Shoreline Amphitheatre near San Francisco. Of course, there was no way a band this fiery, dynamic, and ahead of its time could end in 1991. Just listen to the pyrotechnic guitars of Dave Navarro, the flailing drums of Stephen Perkins, and the spiritual, experimental vocals of Farrell on this recording of “Stop” (don’t miss his zany swimming on land dance moves and the :30 mark of the video). It’s no wonder they’ll be headlining this year’s fest in Grant Park on Saturday.
Siouxsie & The Banshees, “The Last Beat of My Heart” (1991)
Lollapalooza’s maiden voyage didn’t feature many maidens at all – it was a decidedly testosterone-heavy affair, with a lineup that included Ice-T’s Body Count, Butthole Surfers, and Rollins Band. But gothic/punk queen Siouxsie Sioux — the only female performer on the bill, and also the year’s most seasoned act, having started her career in the ‘70s – held her own and always showed the boys how it’s done. This majestic performance is from the final date of Lollapalooza’s first trek, at Enumclaw, Washington’s King County Fairgrounds on Aug. 28, 1991.
Chris Cornell & Eddie Vedder, “Hunger Strike” (1992)
On Sept. 8 at the side stage of the Desert Sky Pavilion in Phoenix, Arizona, Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder picked up guitars and performed a duet of the Temple of the Dog song “Hunger Strike,” the most popular song from that supergroup’s 1991 self-titled album. “Hey Chris, why are we doing this?” asked Vedder before they began. “We’re just going to make fools of ourselves.” Of course, they didn’t do that, instead making believers out of any skeptics in the crowd. The song rang with harmony-laden vulnerability. Even a crowd singalong didn’t dampen the intimacy of the performance.
Pearl Jam, “Porch” (1992)
Judging by their freewheeling performances at Lollapalooza, no one could have guessed that Pearl Jam would become the elder statesmen of alternative music – or that they’d even still be around. Back then, they were touring behind their first album Ten and were widely considered part of grunge movement. Irritating as it was for them to be lumped into the hyped Seattle scene, being onstage gave Pearl Jam a freedom and a recklessness to escape. Eddie Vedder sometimes took the liberty to dangerous heights, like during the band’s set at Jones Beach in New York, when he climbed the amp stacks and light rig like a monkey during “Porch” and somehow lived to talk about it.
Rage Against the Machine, “Killing in the Name” (1993)
Pioneering rap-metal band Rage Against the Machine had just released their debut album when they were asked to play Lollapalooza. In an effort to stir the waters, they went onstage in Philadelphia naked with electric tape covering their mouths and the letters P, M, R, and C drawn across their chests, one letter on each band member. They just stood there and didn’t play a note. It was a strange gesture, considering the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) had locked horns with the recording industry eight long years earlier. But while Rage had yet to master the art of politics (something they’d quickly learn), they were positively incendiary onstage, as demonstrated by this pro-shot performance of “Killing in the Name.”
Tool with Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De La Rocha, “Bottom” (1993)
There’s no video for this momentous collaboration, but the audio comes straight from the soundboard, so it’s easy to imagine what it looked like when Tool recruited Rage Against the Machine vocalist Zach De La Rocha to handle the part Henry Rollins ranted on their 1993 debut, Undertow. This team-up took place July 8 in Irwindale, California, and cements the collective power that exists between musicians with the same mindset.
Beastie Boys, “Heart Attack Man” (1994)
In addition to playing rap songs from their first three albums, the Beasties pulled out this hardcore gem from Ill Communication, which resembled something from their 1982 punk EP Polly Wog Stew. This previously unreleased, pro-shot video was filmed on super 8, Hi-8, and Bolex and showcases the band’s creativity without any of the hype.
Courtney Love, “Doll Parts” & “Softer, Softest” (1994)
One of the most emotionally grueling clips of Courtney Love is this sloppy solo version of the Hole songs “Doll Parts” and “Softer, Softest.” Filmed just months after her husband Kurt Cobain’s April 5 suicide, the video reveals a totally unhinged, severe inebriated Love losing all of her inhibitions onstage. At the end of the clip, she dives into the crowd, then scurries backstage and hangs upside-down from a horizontal tent pole as he dress drops above her belly. Love returned in a slightly more collected state the next year with her full band.
The Ramones, “Blitzkrieg Bop” (1996)
Shortly before New York legends the Ramones broke up, they played Lollapalooza in Phoenix on July 27. Maybe it was the contempt the members had developed for one another over the years, perhaps it was the hot desert sun, but the performance was electrifying. In less than the two minutes it took them to play a sped-up version of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” it became absolutely clear why they’re widely regarded as one of the most influential NYC punk acts of all time. This amateur camera footage only adds to the DIY spirit of the song.