Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Live: Lollapalooza '92

Lollapalooza, Molson Park, Barrie, Aug. 5, 1992

I DON'T KNOW WHY I TOOK THESE PHOTOS. By the early '90s I knew that shooting live music wasn't any kind of thrill, but for some reason I went out of my way to get accredited, then took myself to the sun and dust of Molson Park when the second annual Lollapalooza passed through town.

I might have been responding to a sense of occasion and wanted to capture a bit of musical history. I might have looked at a big summer festival as a challenge. Or it might just have been that a group of local musicians had been booked to perform their version of Jesus Christ Superstar at the second stage tent, and at loose ends, I tagged along for the ride. I was still in my twenties and given to doing spontaneous things that I couldn't explain.

Thank God that wouldn't last long.

Pearl Jam, Lollapalooza, Molson Park, Barrie, Aug. 5, 1992

There's no doubt that this was a moment. One year after Nevermind and seven years before Napster, a generation-defining musical genre had crested and the record industry was in its last boomtime. I showed up in time to catch Lush, the opening act, and even though I liked them more than probably any other band on the main stage that day, the photos aren't anything special, so I didn't bother scanning any.

Pearl Jam were still evolving their unique persona - a synthesis of stadium bore and concern troll - but I already knew I didn't like them. It would be a year before I had that confirmed, though, and when Eddie Vedder stepped to the lip of the stage to survey the acre-wide mosh pit boiling away under the noontime sun, I was there with my wide lens.

Soundgarden, Lollapalooza, Molson Park, Barrie, Aug. 5, 1992

I liked Soundgarden. I'd shot them before in a dingy, low-cielinged club, standing right up against the stage, and while I stared up at Chris Cornell from the photo pit, I realized I'd been lucky; it might be a long time, probably never, before anyone would see them in that intimate setting again.

Perhaps it was this knowledge that widened the gulf between me and the surging crowd at my back. I was one of those old guys who'd be able to pull that anecdote out when a younger person talked about how great they sounded from 800 feet away. Even down in the pit my experience of the band was privileged, and I was sure I'd never see them again as a mere member of the audience.

Ice Cube, Lollapalooza, Molson Park, Barrie, Aug. 5, 1992

I'd done portraits of Ice Cube, so shooting him live just felt like filling out a card in a collector's deck. Even by the early '90s rap concerts were still largely hit-or-miss affairs, with a DJ spinning the record with only the slightest embellishments while the artist did a glorified karaoke over their own voice. Dynamics and pacing were usually an afterthought.

Ice Cube mostly stalked the edge of the stage, wandering out in front of the stage monitors, so I shot most of his show with my widest lens held over my head, pointed in his general direction while I fired bursts with the shutter. In the bright afternoon light, I knew I didn't have to worry about sharpness, and the camera took care of the focus. Since I doubt if I had a client in mind for these shots, the whole day was really just a lark.

Lollapalooza, Molson Park, Barrie, Aug. 5, 1992

I stopped shooting the bands - I have nothing on film of Ministry, the Jesus and Mary Chain or the Red Hot Chili Peppers - and turned my lens on the crowd, who were a much more interesting subject. The action in front of the stage looked brutal, but after several interventions by security, the crowd in the mosh pit, as ever, seemed to find some sort of loose compromise with each other and mostly did their mass impersonation of a snake pit in turmoil without any conspicuous injuries.

They certainly seemed happy when I turned my camera on them, and I have dozens of frames of beaming, mugging faces picked out in the churning mass of bodies.

They looked so young. I was only 28, but I could already feel my perception of myself as a fellow youth slipping away. A year earlier, when Nevermind was released and punk "broke," it felt like a vindication of sorts, a sign that the culture me and my friends had championed for most of the '80s had been acknowledged and accepted.

Two years later, when Kurt Cobain killed himself, I was thirty and under no illusion that the young people looking so dejected on the news were my peers. Which means that these photos of youth, lunging and convulsing in the brief certainty that injury was a minor consequence, were taken in the moment when I would realize I was no longer one of them.


   

3 comments:

  1. loving it
    especially ice cube, any pictures of him in the 90's are always dope

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  2. Did you get any shots from palooza 95? I almost get beaten up by cypress hill that year.

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  3. Would love to see those dozens of shots of beaming faces. Was a great day and spent quite a bit of time having fun up by he stage, beaming. Ha. Thanks!

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