15 overlooked artists from Lollapalooza’s second stage
by Daniel Sylvester
Helium, Souls of Mischief, and Toronto’s Fifth Column left lasting Lollapalooza impressions.
Photo: The crowd at Lollapalooza 1992 (vialollapalooza.tumblr.com)
July 18th marks the 25th anniversary of Lollapalooza. What’s grown to be one of the world’s largest destination festivals – now based in Chicago’s Grant Park – began as a send-off tour for Jane’s Addiction, as its front man, Perry Ferrell (inspired by the previous year’s A Gathering of the Tribes tour), decided to bring along musicians from disparate genres like goth (Siouxsie & the Banshees), hard rock (Living Colour), industrial (Nine Inch Nails), gangsta rap (Ice-T), alt rock (Rollins Band) and whatever genre the Butthole Surfers may be.
But for as much as Lollapalooza’s main stage deserves celebration, the festival’s oft-overlooked second stage (launched in 1992) stands just as influential to the landscape of underground music throughout the ’90s, thanks to its highly eclectic and deftly-curated line-ups. Focusing (but not exclusively) on independent label acts, Lollapalooza’s side stage helped launch the career of many critically-lauded bands (Mercury Rev, Guided by Voices, Sebadoh, Stereolab, The Pharcyde, Yo La Tengo, Blonde Redhead, Built to Spill, The Roots, Superchunk) and a few future theatre-sized headliners (Stone Temple Pilots, Tool, The Flaming Lips, Moby).
We took a look at some of the many forgotten second stage acts (between 1992 and 1995, the years Perry Ferrell was involved) who, despite never setting the music world aflame, left a concrete impression on the adventurous and curious concertgoers who found themselves straying from the main stage.
After a successful inaugural festival in 1991, Lollapalooza returned the following summer with an all-star lineup (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Pearl Jam, and Lush) and a second stage. Right from the start, the festival got their new stage right, featuring an eclectic mix of acts with a healthy serving of hip-hop that included Cypress Hill, House of Pain, and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.
But it was Washington, DC group Basehead that encapsulated the true spirit of Lollapalooza. The band, led by Michael Ivey, effortlessly mixed hip-hop with alternative rock, blending guitar, piano and turntables with singing and rapping. Their 1992 debut, Play With Toys was lauded bySpin and Rolling Stone, leading to supporting slots for Beastie Boys, Stone Temple Pilots, and Ween.
After 1993’s uneven Not in Kansas Anymore, Ivey would rebrand Basehead as a Christian band, changing their name to dc Basehead and later Basehead 2.0, before putting out their last album, Rockalyptic Music in 2007.
Look People (1992)
The first Canadian band to play a Lollapalooza stage, Toronto’s Look People had the perfect sound and look to attract festival goers over to the maiden side stage. Led by Jaymz Bee, the funkified alt rocker’s wild stage show included colourful, bizarre costumes, jerky, robotic stage movements and Bee’s eternally-theatrical stage presence.
By the time Look People released their fourth LP, Boogazm (their most successful album to date), they embarked on an ambitious European tour before catching up with the Lollapalooza festival. A few months later, Look People were hired to be the house band for the CBC variety show, Friday Night! with Ralph Benmergui.
After the show’s cancellation, the band would release one more album, 1993’s Crazy Eggs, and tour North America for a final time. Bee would comfortably move into the world of lounge music with his group Jaymz Bee & the Royal Jelly Orchestra, releasing eight albums between 1995-2006, while member Kevin Hearn would join the Barenaked Ladies.
The Vulgar Boatmen (1992)
Looking back, The Vulgar Boatmen were perhaps too wholesome to play a Lollapalooza side-stage that included Porno for Pyros, Sharkbait, Sweaty Nipples, and the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. But for a platform designed to showcase some of the best indie talent around, the Gainesville, Florida college rock band led by singer/songwriters Dale Lawrence and Robert Ray held their own.
Billed as a reunion of sorts, the release of their 1992 LP, Please Panic, marked the first set of new music from the band in nine years. Representing what popular underground rock sounded like before Nirvana changed the landscape: hyper-intelligent, thoughtful, meek and nonthreatening, The Vulgar Boatmen would stick around long enough to release one more LP, 1995’s Opposite Sex, before disbanding.
In 2004, No Nostalgia Records would release Wide Awake, a compilation covering the band’s career, prompting for Ray and Lawrence to each tour separately under The Vulgar Boatmen moniker. A 2010 documentary about the group, Drive Somewhere: The Saga of the Vulgar Boatmen, would later celebrate the works of this criminally overlooked outfit.
Fifth Column (1993)
The lone Canadian act on the 1993 edition of Lollapalooza, Fifth Column’s brand of angular, socially-active experimental rock fit in with a very loud (Primus, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr., Front 242) and politically-charged (Arrested Development, Fishbone, Rage Against the Machine, Tool and/or Babes in Toyland) main stage.
The queercore trio from Toronto were three years removed from their last LP, All-Time Queen of the World, having only put out a single in the meantime (“All Women are Bitches”). Although Fifth Column were relegated to early afternoon time slots, those who made it out their way witnessed a band at the peak of their musical prowess, as they were only a year away from releasing their final and best LP, 36C.
Caroline Azar and Beverly Breckenridge would later form a friendship with Don Pyle, guesting on many of his albums with Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Phono-Comb, and Greek Buck. In 2012, director Kevin Hegge would release the career-spanning documentary, She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column.
The Goats (1993)
Although they’ve recently been mentioned in underground hip-hop circles as one of the great lost rap groups of the ‘90s, the career of Philadelphia’s The Goats was short lived and largely without fanfare. With an in-your-face East Coast sound reminiscent of frat-hop groups like Cypress Hill, House of Pain, and Onyx, The Goats stood out from the pack due to their clever and socially-conscious lyrical matter.
The multicultural lineup was, in fact, fiercely political, tackling contemporary subjects such as the Gulf War, police brutality and systemic racism. After being signed to hip-hop powerhouse record label, Ruffhouse (home to The Fugees and Kool Keith), The Goats toured Lollapalooza (along with opening slots for Beastie Boys, Dog Eat Dog, and Public Enemy) in support of their well-received debut album, Tricks of the Shade.
Their 1994 follow-up, No Goats, No Glory was panned, leading to the trio’s breakup that same year. In 1999, the compilation Ruffhouse Records Greatest Hits would feature selections from The Goats’ two releases.
For a year that featured an unfortunately male-dominated main stage (the second half of the tour featured no female-led acts), the second stage helped make up for it, featuring Luscious Jackson, Royal Trux, Free Kitten, Scrawl, Genitorturers, and Arlington, Virginia band Tsunami.
Led by the prolific duo of vocalists/guitarists Kristin Thompson and Jenny Toomey (who, at the time, co-owned the Simple Machines record label and were also members of multiple other groups), Tsunami never positioned themselves as a female-led band, rather finding a kinship within the loose, noisy DIY sound that would define ’90s indie rock. Supporting their excellent debut album, Deep End, Tsunami would go on to release their strongest LP the following year, The Heart’s Tremolo, before putting out a singles compilation (1995’s World Tour & Other Destination) and 1997’s A Brilliant Mistake before going their separate ways.
In the early 2000s Thompson and Toomey would both go on to become directors for the Future of Music Coalition, a non-profit advocacy organization for musicians.
As most of their contemporaries on the 1993 second stage were up-and-comers, Unrest came onto the tour at the tail-end of their eight-year career, but the Washington D.C. outfit were admittedly just finding their sound.
Much like Tsunami, Unrest’s front person Mark Robinson owned an indie record label, Teen Beat. As many of the other bands on the bill were found basking in distortion and feedback, the three-piece (including bassist Bridget Cross and drummer Phil Krauth) were bravely eclectic, moving from jangly pop to minimalist and spacious rock that featured little guitar effects.
Touring in supporting of their fifth LP, Perfect Teeth, which, like the previous year’s Imperial f.f.r.r. was celebrated by major publications likeSpin, NME, and the Village Voice, Unrest would take on one last tour (with a young Stereolab supporting them) before Krauth left to start a solo career. Robinson and Cross would go on to form Air Miami (along with two new members) releasing the critically-acclaimed album Me. Me. Me. in 1995.
The Frogs (1994)
With a line-up that included The Flaming Lips, The Verve, Guided by Voices, Stereolab, The Pharcyde and Palace Songs, Lollapalooza 1994’s second stage is usually considered the best of the Perry Ferrell years. But it was The Frogs, who played just the tour’s first six dates, that gained the most attention.
The controversial duo led by brothers Jimmy and Dennis Flemion, (who tongue-in-cheekly wrote whole albums around homosexuality and race relations), were handpicked by headliners Smashing Pumpkins to join the festival. Nick Cave and members of the Breeders were spotted watching the band from the side of the stage, leading the latter’s Kelley Deal to recruit Jimmy (along with Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach and Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin) for her band The Last Hard Men.
Playing Lollapalooza despite the fact that they hadn’t released an album since 1989, The Frogs would release six more records over the next 18 years. In the summer of 2012, Dennis Flemion was tragically found drowned in a Wisconsin lake.
King Kong (1994)
Like The Frogs, audiences were often divided over King Kong, but as the former turned people off due to their lyrical content, it was the Louisville, Kentucky group’s music that divided the crowd, which could either be described as humourous and heedless or simply as the work of ‘a bunch of musicians fucking around.’
Formed by Ethan Buckler, who was a founding member and original bassist of Slint, King Kong’s first EP, 1989’s Movie Star, would feature three quarters of his former band. Playing Lollapalooza in support of their second LP, Funny Farm, Buckler’s new line-up would employ an unholy mix of post rock, funk, and B-52s-influenced dance music.
Over their next four releases, King Kong would have trouble winning over critics, although they did find fans in Spin magazine and influential indie label Drag City, who would release most of their albums. Since 2000, Buckler has tapered down King Kong output, playing the odd show for those who took a liking to this odd (but undoubtedly one-of-a-kind) band.
Rollerskate Skinny (1994)
For Lollapalooza’s 1994 edition, a greater spectrum of acts were brought in (with the main stage consisting of Smashing Pumpkins, The Beastie Boys, George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars, The Breeders, A Tribe Called Quest, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, L7 and Boredoms or Green Day), while the second stage inventively added acts who had already gained a following overseas, including The Verve, The Boo Radleys, Shonen Knife, and Dublin’s Rollerskate Skinny.
Formed in the late 1980s under the name The Hippyshakes, the trio of Ken Griffin, Ger Griffin, and Steve Murray would recruit Jimi Shields (brother of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields) before renaming themselves Rollerskate Skinny. Releasing Shoulder Voices, their spectacular 1992 debut, the group’s optimistic brand of shoegaze would find them supporting Smashing Pumpkins, Pavement and Mazzy Star.
After Lollapalooza, Shields would split as they were signing a deal with Warner, who released their final LP, 1996’s Horsedrawn Wishes. Members would then move on to form several groups, including Favorite Sons and Wounded Knees.
Souls of Mischief (1994)
Of all the musicians on this list, Souls of Mischief may be the only ones to release a truly classic, timeless LP; 1993’s 93 ’til Infinity. Paired with A Tribe Called Quest on the main stage and The Pharcyde and Fu-Schnickens on the second, 1994 came off as a terrific year for underground hip-hop.
Hailing from Oakland, California, the quartet would gain recognition as part of the Hieroglyphics Crew that would feature rappers Del the Funky Homosapien, Casual, and producer Domino. Although their debut was highly regarded and influential in underground hip-hop circles (in 1998,The Source magazine would name 93 ’til Infinity as one of the Top 100 rap albums of all time), Souls of Mischief would never beak through to the mainstream (though the album and its title track would both graze their respective Billboard charts).
Since their stint on the Lollapalooza second stage, the group would release five more albums as a group and a dozen solo releases, the latest being their 2014 return-to-form, There is Only Now.
As the first four Lollapalooza main stages celebrated mostly loud, abrasive alt rock and jazzy hip-hop, the 1995 version seemed to skew more towards the underground, featuring Sonic Youth, Hole, Cypress Hill, Pavement, Beck, The Jesus Lizard, Elastica, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. So, for the second stage, organizers dug deeper to find engrossing up-and-comers to entertain the taste-makers who would flock to this year’s festival.
One of the bands that made the biggest splash was Brainiac, a Dayton, Ohio four-piece who melded post-punk rawness with an electropunk sheen. After their appearance at Lollapalooza, supporting their second LP, 1994’s Bonsai Superstar (which Pitchfork deemed- along with 1996’sHissing Prigs in Static Couture – one of the best albums of the ’90s) Beck and The Jesus Lizard would each take the band on tour.
While recording their fourth album in 1997, vocalist/synth player Tim Taylor died when his car crashed into a tree. Guitarist John Schmersal would later form the equally underrated Enon before joining Caribou’s live band.
The Geraldine Fibbers (1995)
With a second stage packed with bigger names like The Roots, Moby, Coolio, Redman, Yo La Tengo, Superchunk, and The Pharcyde, some of the smaller acts were pushed back into the earlier time slots. One act,The Geraldine Fibbers who were coming off their terrific debut album,Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home, won over festivalgoers who traveled to the second stage early.
As the L.A. band was mostly described as ‘alt-country,’ vocalist Carla Bozulich (originally from industrial band Ethyl Meatplow, who played Lollapalooza two years prior) gave the band’s sound an undeniable edge. By the time they released their second and final LP, 1997’s Butch, experimental guitar virtuoso Nels Cline would replace Daniel Keenan on guitar, giving the band an even more abrasive sound.
A few years later The Geraldine Fibbers disbanded, as Cline would go on to perform as a solo artist before later joining Wilco in 2005, while Bozulich would release albums under her name, as well as the name Evangelista, on Montreal’s Constellation Records.
Helium were kinda like a supergroup made up from bands no one heard of. Formed in 1992, the Boston group featured Dumptruck drummer Shawn Devlin, Autoclave guitarist Mary Timony on vocals and her boyfriend Ash Bowie on bass, who would play double duty as the guitarist in math-rockers Polvo.
Putting out their debut LP, the celebrated The Dirt of Luck, weeks before hitting the road with Lollapalooza, Helium would impress audiences with their intensely complex rhythms that paired off well with Timony’s cool-as-a-cucumber vocal style. After the tour, the band would immediately join main stage headliners Sonic Youth on a theater tour, joined by Kim Deal from The Breeder’s side project, The Amps.
After releasing their equally-beloved sophomore LP, 1997’s Magic City, Helium would disband and Bowie would return full-time to Polvo, while Timony would continue to release excellent work as a solo artist, member of actual supergroup Wild Flag (featuring Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney), as well as with her own band, Ex Hex.
By the mid-‘90s, it was known that Perry Ferrell became obsessed with electronic music, launching the ENIT Festival (featuring acts like Moby, Keoki, Sven Vath and Traci Lords) to follow the final Lollapalooza he’d be involved with until 2003. So, it remained curious that there will so few electronic acts on the 1995 bill.
Besides the aforementioned Moby, the only other synth and beats-based group was London, England’s Laika. Formed by Margaret Fiedler and John Frenett, departed members of the post-rock band Moonshake (who would play Lollapalooza 1996’s new ‘Indie Stage’), Laika focused their lush, organic brand of dub-slanted trip-hop that featured synthesizers and samplers alongside guitars and Eastern percussion.
Touring for their debut LP, 1995’s Silver Apples of the Moon, Laika would move into even dancier territories for 1997’s Sounds of the Satellites. After two more albums and supporting slots for Radiohead, Fiona Apple, and Tricky, Fiedler would go on to join PJ Harvey’s backing band in 2000 as well as Wire’s live band in 2008.