back view article in its original form

Indie rock icons create fireworks for thousands of sun-baked fans at This Ain't No Picnic

(July 6, 1999)

Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney dishes out advice. "Do you guys have enough water and sunscreen on?" asked Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker from behind movie star sunglasses. "Now would be a good time to drink more water and put on sunscreen." Ah the joys of all-day outdoor summer festival concerts. But beyond the dehydration and sunburns, July Fourth's This Ain't No Picnic concert bore little resemblance to its summer festival concert cousins.

There were no deejays or radio personalities hamming it up in between performances. There was no rotating stage or elaborate set designs. There were no raffles, political messages, skate ramps, mosh pits or fights. There weren't even any representatives from today's most popular music camps, such as teen pop or rap or hard metal-influenced rock. Still, 6,000 people flocked to Oak Canyon Ranch in Irvine, Calif., to pay homage to twenty bands -- including Sonic Youth, Sunny Day Real Estate, Superchunk, Guided By Voices, Rocket From the Crypt, the Get-Up Kids, the Boredoms, Apples in Stereo, Will Oldham and Mike Watt -- that changed the course of popular music at the end of the century.

"This song is dedicated to Sonic Youth," said Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein before tearing into "I Wanna be Your Joey Ramone." By the end of the long day, though, the Portland band would offer Sonic Youth, arguably the most acclaimed and most important-with-a-capital-I band on the bill, more than just a song -- they also would lend them their sparkly silver drums. The day before the festival, all of Sonic Youth's gear was stolen, forcing them to piece together their long, dirge-y feedback-drenched set on borrowed equipment.

Whether due to time slot or material, bands that played earlier in the day seemed to have a more direct connection with the crowd. Osaka's the Boredoms, featuring three drummers, played a riveting propulsive set while San Diego's Rocket From the Crypt had the crowd bouncing to their tuneful anthemic rock even as they looked to be cooking in their matching shiny black shirts. Sunny Day Real Estate, the Seattle band that spawned bunches of emo copycat bands (some even playing the concert's small third stage) vowed years ago that they'd never play California for reasons undisclosed. Hence, their handful of California shows since they revoked the California embargo have seemed like special events. This set was no exception and the beatific audience -- eyes closed and exhibiting an almost creepy devotion -- looked like they were about to explode or cry as they mouthed all the words and yelled obscure song titles. Obscurity, however, was the order of the day: "My favorite guitar is back," singer Jeremy Enigk said as he strapped on his red Gibson SG. The audience cheered. "Not really, I hate it," he promptly added.

The promoters of This Ain't No Picnic originally wanted to book at least three dates up the coast for the tour, but the bands involved weren't enthusiastic about the idea. They preferred doing a one-off, presumably due to fears of alternative rock's waning potency. With the affirmation of these 6,000 adoring fans still reverberating at the end of the day, such fears seem a little premature.