Alternative Realities
Chicago Tribune   
Dec 7 '99
(Chicago's Twisted 6 concert - Dec 4 '99)

by Greg Kot

Here's a memory to savor from the year that was in music:  Fiona
Apple
followed by Blink-182.


There was a perverse genius at work behind the scenes at Q101's eight-hour, eight-band marathon Saturday at the Allstate Arena, and I don't mean on the stage. But whoever decided to throw the waifish, insecure, complex and prodigiously gifted Apple to the wolves at the Allstate Arena, to be quickly followed by the three prodigiously simplistic, have-fun-at-all-costs louts in Blink-182 deserves some kind of award.


Such juxtapositions are what used to make the late Lollapalooza so enticing: the idea that what was left of the rock counterculture was just one big fish bowl of outsiders, encompassing everyone from the Butthole Surfers and A Tribe Called Quest to Front 242 and the Breeders. Now radio festivals such as Twisted 6 have made Lollapalooza obsolete, and Saturday's lineup was among the strongest assembled in Q101's short life as an alternative-rock tastemaker.


With the Apple/Blink-182 pairing, two worlds collided -- and it wasn't pretty. Here was Apple, a diminutive prodigy looking like a vagabond hippie, pounding her piano, doing strange belly dances and screaming into the microphone both during and between songs, a cabaret performer simulating a nervous breakdown. Apple, once one of the pop world's most annoyingly self-absorbed performers, has made a strong, confident new album with an unfortunate 90-word title, and part of her appeal is the implied threat that she could fall apart at any minute. She represents the dark side of the Lilith Fair parade of singer-songwriter earth mothers, and her act did not go over well in the testosterone-drenched atmosphere of the sold-out arena.


Apple struggled with a faulty sound mix and trudged off after 25 arduous minutes, booed and shouted down by those who found her bohemian Laura Nyro-meets-Alanis Morissette bloodletting too slow and self-indulgent for their overstimulated hormones. The performance, though flawed, was easily the most fascinating of the night, if only because it represented a true alternative to everything that followed.


In a way, Apple's self-absorbed style needs bands like Blink-182 for balance. Their intentionally offensive, crudely drawn songs exploded across the arena like a Seattle riot squad, getting concertgoers out of their seats. Loud, dumb and obsessed with their bodily functions, the trio was just the breath of foul air the crowd craved. As rock 'n' roll, it worked -- though every politically correct bone in my body tried to deny it. It was a hot flash of energy with high-speed melodies that took nothing, including itself, seriously. And bravo for that.

But as a statement about the mindset of the young record buyers who are the backbone of the music business, consider Blink-182's multimillion-selling success a capstone to a year that gave us the rape-and-pillage Woodstock '99, the violence of Columbine and the anti-intellectual dude-rock of Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit. Anything -- anything -- goes. The culture of respect for women, gays, minorities cultivated by the early alternative-rock powerhouses (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam) and perpetuated by Lilith Fair has given way to an atmosphere of intolerance that suggests we're not on the doorstep of a new century, but trapped in Alabama, circa 1954.


The acts who countered that mood were buried early in the Twisted 6 lineup, playing to a half-full house: Moby's energetic techno-rock and Run-DMC's pioneering hip-hop barely registered with the crowd. Filter's attempts at rock-star entertainment were laughably cliched; singer Richard Patrick used lots of leather, dirty four-syllable words and deafening pyro effects, as if to deny the flash of vulnerability displayed in the hit "Take a Picture."


Like Apple, the Foo Fighters were sabotaged by a terrible mix--Dave Grohl sounded as if he were singing from the bottom of a volcano. That left Oasis and Bush to offer two different takes on British superstardom. Oasis sounded magnificent almost in spite of its sullen demeanor, cranking out five long anthems in 30 minutes, including a dirty take on the Beatles' "Helter Skelter."


Bush's front man Gavin Rossdale, on the other hand, pandered like a Bourbon Street strip-show barker, wading into the crowd, tearing off his shirt, performing gymnastics on the stage. His band blasted with the polished finesse of professionals, a great but meaningless roar that sent the crowd home with a head full of emptiness.