Alpine Valley Music Theater
June 13, 1999
Story by Tony BonyataDespite the torrential downpour last Sunday morning thousands flooded onto the muddy slopes of Alpine Valley to listen to some of the most vital music happening today, along with a few nostalgic and roots-related acts as well. What they probably didn't realize, however, is that they were going to learn that there was a lot more to this all-day gathering than just music.
Photos by Phil Bonyata
Now in it's fourth year the Tibetan Freedom Concert is going as strong as ever raising money through donations and educating the world to the plight of the Tibetan people who have been oppressed by the Chinese government for the last 50 years. Co-founded by Adam Yauch, of The Beastie Boys, the Tibetan Freedom Concert has helped bring worldwide awareness to the Tibetans situation through the help of music. Compiling some of the most talented and influential artists around the world, The Tibetan Freedom Concert has turned out to be one of the few summer concerts that is guaranteed to have a blockbuster lineup. Past artists involved in the charity concerts have included U2, REM, The Smashing Pumpkins, Patti Smith, Alanis Morissette, Pearl Jam, Blur, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Lee Hooker, Sonic Youth, Porno For Pyros, among many others.
Its no wonder then that this year's concert in East Troy, which was somewhat unfairly billed as Chicago for marketing reasons, filled the hillside with thousands of music lovers hoping for some of the same musical enlightenment that has graced previous shows. Although it was held on the same day last week in three other cities throughout the world - Tokyo, Sydney and Amsterdam - the Wisconsin show had the strongest, and most diverse, array of artists.
Opening the all-day music-fest was the quirky, aggro-hip-hop of Cibo Matto. Joining this cuter-than-a-button Japanese girl-duo on bass was Sean Lennon, son of John & Yoko. Lennon added an ominous, heavy bassline to the girl's eccentric melodies and Japanese black-faced rhythms that would have been welcomed with open, tattooed arms at Osbourne's Ozzfest.
In between music sets videos on large monitors around the stage and throughout the venue continued to educate the audience while scads of youths clad in "Free Tibet" t-shirts handed out thousands of pamphlets describing how the peaceful Tibetan people, under the Dalai Lama's spiritual and political guidance, have been tortured, exiled from their homeland and even killed for their religious and political beliefs. In addition these youths - all part of a non-profit organization called "Students for a Free Tibet" - also encouraged concert-goers to sign postcards and petitions to President Clinton to bring immediate and unconditional negotiations between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama.
The often underappreciated Chicago bluesman Otis Rush walked onto the stage looking as crisp as a new hundred dollar bill in his black suit and stetson with flame red shirt and guitar. Backed by a strong band which included a rousing four-piece horn section Rush showed off his searing, emotionally charged guitar solos along with his deep, soulful voice that helped define Chicago's West Side blues sound during the fifties. The 65 year-old bluesman, who was born in Mississippi, dug deep into his Delta roots, as well as performing a number of smoking urban blues numbers and even adding a hint of reggae rhythm to one of his songs. Unfortunately, Rush's spellbinding performance fell on many young, deaf ears that were more in-tune to hear something more current.
While not exactly current, The Cult, an English band that brought hard rock back full-force into a meandering new-wave eighties, hit the stage with guitarist Billy Duffy churning out power chords over singer Ian Astbury's howling-at-the-moon vocals on "Wildflower". The band raged through heavy numbers such as "Peace Dog", "Love Removal Machine" as well as the psychedelic metal of "She Sells Sanctuary" as Astbury flung his long black locks and careened across the stage in his skin-tight black leather trousers, conjuring visions of both Jim Morrison and Toxic Twin Steven Tyler. Ironically, just as Astbury sang out, "Here comes the rain" on a shimmering version of their 1986 hit "Rain" the adverse weather conditions that day took a turn for the better, making way for a sunny, if not muddy, afternoon.
One of the biggest draws to this concert was Eddie Vedder. Performing without his band Pearl Jam, Vedder, with shoulder length dyed-blonde hair, solemnly stepped out on stage amidst a vacant drumkit and bass guitar and proclaimed, "This place (Alpine Valley) holds fond memories from the past few summers", as he began to perform a gentle version of the 1964 hit "Last Kiss" alone on electric guitar before inviting anyone from the crowd who could play drums and bass to join him. After picking two lucky participants Vedder informed them to jump in mid-song on Pearl Jam's "Better Man". After a slightly rocky start these two 'newcomers' hit a groove and won the audiences hearts as they pounded out a rhythm worthy of the best of garage bands. As fate would have it Vedder ask them to stay around for a couple of more songs stating, "The rest of the show is gonna be called 'songs that we all know'. As the threesome broke into a punked-up "Watch Outside" and a raucous version of The Police's "Driven To Tears" it became increasingly suspicious that these two novices were a little too polished as they played with Vedder. It was after that song Vedder admitted that it was in fact a "playful lie", and that he'd actually rehearsed with these two before. Ultimately it was a bit of a letdown to think that Vedder would be so daring to bring two unknowns from the audience and allow them a chance to play with him, but it was apparently easier for him to deceive the audience then to pull off a grand gesture. (Note to Eddie: save the charades for a lesser cause).
Following Vedder's prank was the Philly-based rappers The Roots who, on their last couple of albums, have helped put the 'hip' back into hip-hop. Without the aid of turntables, or, for that matter, human beat-box Rahzel who was not with them that evening, The Roots performed their deep-groove inner-city music with conventional rock instruments - drums, bass, and keyboards - without losing the core sound of rap and hip-hop. Highlights included the songs "The Next Movement" as well as "Step Into The Realm" from their latest album Things Fall Apart.
Mixing eighties arena-rock with the more distressed sound of nineties alternative, the Pennsylvania-based band Live, lead by vocalist Ed Kowalczyk, put on an impassioned, emotionally charged set with songs such as "Let It Go", "I Alone", "The Dolphin's Cry" (from their upcoming album) and "Lakini's Juice", with sinister guitar, deep-tribal rhythm and Kowalczyk's vein-bursting screaming, before Blondie, featuring Deborah Harry and original bandmembers, tore into early new-wave chestnuts such as "Dreaming", "Hanging On The Telephone", "Call Me" and "One Way or Another", as well as "Maria" from their latest album. Slightly overweight and aging, Harry nonetheless oozed cool. With a voice that sounded stronger then ever she purred, moaned, cooed and shouted along with her band which sounded as if they'd never left the seventies scene at New York's CBGB's.
Tracy Chapman brought things back down to earth with a set that featured her rich, soulful voice and folk / blues-flavored rock. "I'd like to dedicate this song to all the people who worship freedom" she said as she broke into the reflective "Crossroads" before stepping things up on a rousing R&B cover of "Hound Dog", which was spiced with a zydeco accordion.
It was the the raw angst of Los Angeles-based industrial / rap / metalists Rage Against The Machine that slapped the entire audience upside the head. Although they were originally slated to perform at the Amsterdam show, they had a last minute schedule change and switched slots with rap act Outkast, who took their place in Amsterdam that day. With songs to tenderize meat by The Rage broke into manic versions of "People Of The Sun", "Know Your Enemy", "Bulls On Parade", "Killing In The Name Of" and the funky metal of "No Shelter", from last year's Godzilla soundtrack. The crowd went berserk, bouncing up and down, head-banging and pounding their fists in the air in time to their bombastic rhythms, making this late addition to the bill the most appreciated of the day.
Billed as old-school rap Run DMC came out and hoarsely screamed over JamMaster J's turntable scratchings on a few old numbers which included "It's Like That" and "King Of Rock" as well as a respectable version of "Walk This Way", which they originally recorded with Aerosmith. With more stage banter than music, they proceeded to lather the crowd with stadium atrocities such as, "Let me see your hands", "Let me hear you say yeah" and other inane crowd prodders through their set, proving that hip-hop is better left in the hands of 'new-school' rappers like The Roots and the headlining act of The Beastie Boys.
Adam Yauch (MCA), Mike Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad Rock) of The Beasties flounced onto the stage in casual attire that made them look more like the road clowning around on stage than a major act. With flailing limbs and more chaotic movement than the keystone cops the threesome opened with a solid version of "Body Movin'", backed only by the turntables wizardry of DJ MixMaster Mike. The B-Boys had the crowd worked into a pogoing frenzy on "Super Disco Breakin'", "Three MC's and One DJ", "Intergalactic". Although their show was dominated by songs from their latest album Hello Nasty they managed to squeeze in the punky "Heart Attack Man" as well as the hip-hop anthems "Sure Shot", "So What'cha Want" and a couple of funky instrumentals that not only saw the threesome playing their own instruments - Yauch (bass), Horovitz (guitar) and Diamond (drums) respectively - but also added to the texture of their set. In between numbers Yauch and Diamond kept reminding the crowd why they were all there that day. "Keep thinking about Tibet! Not only today but every day of the year, and maybe one day they'll be free!", Yauch yelled into the audience, who by that time had all graduated their 'Free Tibet 101' all-day seminar.
Now if they could only make learning at school this much fun.
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