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In my excoriating review of the 1995 version of the Lollapalooza festival ("Stick a Fork In It," July 12, 1995), I wrote, "Once an institution like this gets rolling, it's hard to stop. So there may be a Lollapalooza next year--and if there is, you can bet that the money men will trumpet it as a return to form. Perhaps some forward-looking bands may even step aboard, but it will be too little too late. Because as a must-see indicator of a time and a place in American popular culture, Lollapalooza is over."

Jeane Dixon couldn't have made a more accurate prediction, as the passage of time has proven beyond any doubt. Last year's Lollapalooza skipped most major cities (including Denver) under the theory that fans in smaller burgs would be so excited by its appearance that they wouldn't notice if the music came up short on the adventure scale. But notice they did: The lineup, led by Metallica and a raft of largely interchangeable guitar bands, earned middling support at the box office and largely negative notices. But instead of doing the right thing and deciding to quit while the quitting was good, organizers convinced Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell, who had sat out the 1996 edition, to return to the fold in an effort to save the concept from tumbling into the River Styx. Despite his attempts to infuse the spectacle with the credibility it has been losing for years, Lollapalooza Mark VII, which rolled through Fiddler's Green on August 10, was not what you'd call a major improvement. Rather, it was a lumbering, dull-witted beast that symbolized the crisis in which the Alternative Nation finds itself. What was once a dynamic form is limping badly--and if it's not careful, someone's going to put it to sleep.

A been-there-done-that quality was obvious in every element of the festival. Although several of the past Lollapaloozas have included a third stage featuring local acts or spoken-word artists, this year's model replaced it with a platform on which dancers lip-synched ditties while climbing brass poles a la Demi Moore in Striptease. Also on hand was a mist tent (an unnecessary accoutrement given the day's overcast skies and intermittent rain), a collection of agitprop posters, a "Brainforest" exhibit that combined continuous dance music with a display that equated meat consumption with planetary destruction (later in the day, I ate a hamburger), and the same old collection of booths selling overpriced sunglasses and clothing made out of hemp. Zzzzzz.

The second stage, often a highlight of previous Lollapaloozas, delivered even fewer surprises. Despite a certain percussive quirkiness, Skeleton Key was an utterly typical alt-rock ensemble, as was Failure, which played two numbing sets. (In addition to its second-stage turn, it kicked off the main stage bill left one act short by the mid-tour defection of Korn.) And while the Pugs, a punky Japanese combo, and the Demolition Doll Rods have decent CDs to their credit, their live presentations were embarrassingly lame. The various Pugs relied too heavily on dopey costumes and the ditzy demeanor of lead singer Honey K, while the three Dolls were too busy shaking and/or boasting about their near-nude bodies to put across their Cramps/Jon Spencer Blues Explosion sonic vibe. Only the Lost Boyz made much of an impact, delivering their generic but bouncy hip-hop to the largest second-stage throng of the day. But even their set had a hitch: Midway through it, two Caucasians suffering from overdoses of testosterone tried to beat the hell out of each other. The name of the Lost Boyz CD? Love, Peace and Nappiness.

If anything, the acts that performed in the primary amphitheater acquitted themselves with even less aplomb. Julian & Damian Marley and the Uprising Band was an embarrassment--a blatant attempt by the title pair to ride on the back of famous father Bob Marley's cadaver; it must have taken a great deal of pride and self-restraint to wait till their second song to cover one of Papa's tunes ("Rastaman Vibration"). The players in James were only slightly more coy about parading their biggest influence, U2; as vocalist Tim Booth, dressed like a poor man's Bono in a sequined shirt and cowboy hat, meandered through the cheap seats bellowing into a cordless microphone, I half-expected him to belt out the chorus of "Pride (In the Name of Love)." As for Tricky, whose headlining date at Boulder's Fox Theatre earlier this year was so mind-blowing (see "Tricky Vs. Metallica," January 30), he was the worst sort of artist for a massive event like this one. He gets so into his music that he seemingly forgets that anyone is present when he's making it. This was certainly the case at the Green, where he spent much of the set with his back to the audience. It's a testament to the power of his dark, trance-inducing tracks that the crowd, which fell considerably short of a sell-out, didn't walk out in droves.

Attendees were much more favorably disposed to Snoop Doggy Dogg, even though he spent his moments in the spotlight spouting every rap cliche known to man. Clad in a new Broncos jersey, thereby confirming that the darker color scheme appeals to people with gangsta mindsets, Snoop mumbled his way through a predictable selection of tunes, but he was more animated when leading ticket buyers in chants of "hell motherfuckin' yeah." How innovative. The nadir was reached when Snoop's assistants exhorted the folks in front to heave some "chronic" onto the stage, then urged them to "fuck up" any police officers who tried to punish the Dogg for smoking some of it. In hip-hop parlance, that's some weak shit. Somewhat better by comparison was Tool, even though lead singer Maynard James Keenan's idea of shock value was to perform in a bra, white makeup and a red wig that left him looking like Tina Louise as a member of Kiss. (The Pugs and the Demolition Doll Rods also featured men in drag, a gambit that was creaky in ancient Greece.) Tool's aggro-art rock--imagine Yes with hardcore roots and more of an interest in prison sex than in castles and unicorns--is utterly humorless, but at least it's more distinctive than the sounds made by many of its heavier contemporaries.

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