Birth of a Nation

By Chris Johnston for Alternative Nation on April 1, 1995

Easter Sunday in Melbourne and it's pissing down. The sky is an endless wall of dark grey, and the wind has a definite chill. Alternative Nation does not need this at all.

Organised as competition to the wildly successful Big Day Out, this badly-named East Coat roadshow needed, at the very least, good weather to let people to forget all the bullshit surrounding its build-up-the cancellation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and subsequent unsubstantiated accusations (by the Big Day Out promoters) of unethical dealings; similarly unsubstantiated rumours that local bands were threatened over which event they opted to appear at (in the end they only got a side-stage at Alternative Nation); and the name. Needing to label something so large and obviously corporate 'alternative' is pretty short sighted, and anyway, since when did Triple M (gaby-commercial shlock rock station) have anything to do with the counter culture? If McDonalds sponsored a health food festival we wouldn't believe them either.

Then it rained. In Melbourne, Sydney and on Brisbane's second day. So we sloshed through the puddles and grime and the cold to Olympic Park and at the gate they confiscated our umbrella. The security people said it might be used as a weapon. We said "no". They said "yes". We handed it over, conceding that because it was a telescopic umbrella they might be right. Thank God then, or thank the Devil, for L7 (****), who bounded onto an indoor stage with devilishly glowing horns stuck to their heads and became the first band of the day to really kick it. Joined at one point by a staggering Cosmic Psycho and at another by a topless roadie with a polystyrene guitar, L7 blitzed through the old ("Pretend We're Dead") and the new ("Stuck Here Again") with just enough punk energy and pisstaking to make us feel okay about even turning up.

L7 re-emerged a little later with the expertly understated Lou Reed (****) for some off key chorus signing on "I Love You Suzanne", then quickly disappeared. Reviews after Alternative Nation suggested that the crowd ignored Lou and his solo magic, but from where I was standing the opposite seemed true. The songs he rolled through-"Sweet Jane", "Satellite Of Love", "I Love You Suzanne", "White Light, White Heat", "I'm Waiting For The Man", "Walk On The Wild Side", "Heroin", and "Dirty Boulevard"- are among his best and surprisingly included some vintage Velvet Underground classics. Respect.

Nine Inch Nails? (****) Goddamn. Afterwards people said "I've never seen anything like that," but in truth they have. Only never with so much explosive rock showbiz. So much showbiz, in fact, that a lot of it would have been taped or triggered rather than actually played because, well, they just couldn't. And they kept falling offstage. "Closer" was the song of the event and Trent Reznor every bit the punch-drunk, nutcase, sado-masochistic Ziggy Stardust identity he admits to taking onstage with him. "We're a college rock fuckhead band," he says, as he tears down the white curtain between us and them. "We don' give a fuck. Hate us." When NIN were done, there were still Ween (***) and Pop Will Eat Itself (***) to go, but on the indoor stage. Twenty thousand people wanted to get into a room designed for ten and for a minute-with cops on horses wading through a wash of punters who weren't allowed in-it looked scarily resentative of the whole day. Someone shouted "riot!" and the steaming crowd fell eerily silent, but nothing happened. People with vegetable-dyed hair turning their faces blue, pink or green in the rain pawed the locked doors and stared through the foggy glass. Some got in, some went home. also at alternative nation...

Faith No More ***- A viciously energetic Mike Patton outdid himself this visit-in Brisbane he drank someone else's bottled piss ("Let's try some of this Brisbane champagne.."), in Sydney he taunted Trent Reznor, and in Melbourne he rammed his microphone down a stage invader's throat for that amplified suffocation effect. Their sound is back to more conventional rock and roll now, with the ejection of metal crazy guitar hero Jim Martin, but it gives them more room to move. Free but unsurprising, just like their new album.

Ice-T ***- It was a double act. The Ice Man came out first with a posse of hooded rappers and gave us 20 minutes of thundering bass and drums and old skool hip hop. Best track: "Colors". Then, with the pronouncement that "rock and roll has nothing to do with skin colour," he ushered on a different crew, with guitars, and burst into Bodycount's blacksteel speedmetal. Best track: "KKK Bitch."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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