Inside a packed LA Forum, a familiar voice rang out with a familiar command, one uttered over forty years ago to an over forty-year old crowd on the other side of the country.
“If we all work together – maybe we can stop this rain!”
For a brief, shining moment, the fifteen thousand people inside the Forum came together and chanted “No rain! No rain!” as they were drenched by a torrential downpour from the arena’s overhead sprinkler system. Only those with the foresight to purchase $1500 VIP passes were afforded cover from the storm, while most of the crowd made do with souvenir ponchos available for sale in the lobby for $125 (management had prohibited patrons from bringing their own rain gear into the venue citing “security issues”). Those without the spare change simply hunkered down in their seats and took it.
At the day-long sensory overload that was Hologram Woodstock, the man made rainstorm was one of the few genuine, tactile experiences to be found.
Some of the acts on the bill performed with at least a couple of original members in the non-digitally- rendered flesh. Queen’s Roger Taylor and Brian May have been touring with Hologram Freddie (along with a statue of original bassist John Deacon) to raves for the last few years, performing all their biggest hits along with tracks from their surprising new album, A Kind Of Illusion. Released last year to great critical acclaim, the album is comprised of unreleased outtakes from the group’s earliest days, along with several new songs written in the studio by May and Taylor.
How’d they get Freddie to sing on the new material? By cutting up snippets of Mercury’s vocals from classic tracks, then altering the pitch to fit the new melody. “It’s really incredible what they’re doing with computers today,” says Brian May. “If we have a lyric that says ‘The sky is a silhouette-o’, then you just take a bit of the line from ‘Radio Gaga’ and a bit of the line from ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, cut them together, and you can alter the timing and shift it to any note you like without altering the speed. So with a little editing, it’s like having Freddie back in the studio with us! People are wondering, ‘Was that really Freddie?’”
Those tracks are performed with gusto by Hologram Freddie, who remains perhaps the greatest virtual performer in rock. Costume changes are now effortless, and the singer’s penchant for flamboyance makes him a natural for digital enhancement. The new album’s lead off single, “A Champion Bites The Dust”, drew chills from the crowd, while the delicate deep-album cut “Somebody Find Me A Stone Cold Bicycle” had the hardcore fans of the group’s latest incarnation in throes of ecstasy. It was the group’s classic repertoire that brought the greatest response from the crowd, though, with Hologram Freddie rising Hulk-like to eighty feet tall for the floor-pounding “We Will Rock You.”
But Hologram Michael Jackson, backed by a crack team of dancers both real and imagined, was in no mood to be upstaged. Freed from the laws of physics, Hologram Jacko dazzled the spectators in every imaginable way, moonwalking his way up to the cheap seats, strutting the balcony of section 236 before retreating to the stage. The reading of “Thriller” featured Jackson’s transformation into Zombie Wolfman, as expected, but then saw him alter his visage into Dracula, Frankenstein, Freddie Kruger and the Creature From The Black Lagoon, each with its own signature dance step.
Just how much of his entourage was real and how much was Memorex was hard to determine; at its start, the Jackson tour featured 40 live dancers, by the time it reached Oakland last week the count was reportedly down to 25. While no one in Jackson’s camp offered precise figures, one executive did note “We have an eye toward the future and our people in the studio are working very hard” with a very loud wink.
Perhaps the greatest anticipation was held for the All-Star Jam featuring guitarist Jimi Hendrix, drummer John Bonham, bassist John Entwistle, keyboardist Pigpen and singer Elvis Presley. The group’s set was constructed in the studio by representatives of the deceased musicians who, having learned their lesson from Queen, deconstructed the players’ master tapes and composed entirely new pieces of music made by “mashing up” their instrumental tracks, then coming up with something for Presley to sing over it. “We mostly use his ‘Oh yeah’ and ‘Uh huh’ kind of explusions instead of actual lyrics – rock and roll music is about feeling, and those guys made lots of records, so we had plenty of tracks to work with” noted project mastermind Jann Wenner, head of Rolling Stone Records, one of the two worldwide corporations that still sells recorded music for money. “We feel this is a great way to pay tribute to some of the musicians who have made our lives so much better and more fulfilled, my life in particular.”
Onstage however, it appeared as if the musicians, however colorfully dressed, weren’t paying much attention to each other. The jamming sounded a bit clunky and uninspired, Hologram Elvis’ incessant hip-shaking and stuttery “Uh-hey-uhs” seemingly at odds with the heady electric jams backing him up. The crowd went crazy when Hologram Hendrix’s guitar caught fire during the very first song, but the excitement waned as the guitar remained ignited for over ten minutes.
Hologram Entwistle, known for his unimposing stock-still stage presence when he was a real, living human being, kicked the air, pointed to members of the audience and banged his head like a madman, which took some long-time Who fans aback. “We knew that John was an iconic presence, incredibly important to the music,” said Wenner, “but for some reason the only footage we had of him wasn’t that exciting, so we took some films of Motley Crue and based John’s movements on the kind of thing Nikki Sixx would do at that part of a song. Market research showed that the kids who are coming to our show too see ‘rock’ respond a lot better to that kind of thing.
“We’re sold out in every city,” said Wenner. “That’s gotta tell you something.”
Kiss performed with all four members in digital condition, despite the fact that all four members are still alive. The last “partly real” version of the band had the flesh-and-blood Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons performing along side holograms of original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, but in the virtual version touring today, Criss and Frehley’s animated doppelgangers have been replaced by Hologram Eric Carr and Hologram Tommy Thayer. “It’s hard to explain copyright issues to people”, Gene Simmons has stated, “but this is the best decision for the fans.”
The group’s projection of a pretty impressive fireworks display made for a more satisfying set than the one performed by Aerosmith earlier in the day after Hologram Steven Tyler experienced a program error that left him almost unable to perform. Just half an hour after he hit the stage, the roof of his digital mouth collapsed into his digital throat, leaving him unable to perform more than six more numbers.
Texas blues-rock pioneers ZZ Top added something of a twist to the proceedings, appearing not as light projections, but as actual three-dimensional objects: animatronic figures liberated from Disneyland’s long-scuttled Country Bear Jamboree. “I loved going to the Bear Jam when I was a kid, and figured it was a shame to let those things go to waste, so we just picked ‘em up at an estate sale, pus sunglasses on ‘em, and reprogrammed them to sway side to side in perfect synch and spin their guitars around once in a while,” said Wenner. “If you’re sitting behind the tenth row, I don’t think you can really tell the difference.”
Despite the massive turnout, the Forum had nearly emptied by the time Woodstock ’99 headliners Limp Bizkit took the stage as the festival’s closer. The Bizkit was the only group to appear on stage with five actual breathing humans, but perhaps acknowledging the reality that all nu-metal bands on the comeback trail have to face, populated the deserted arena with holograms of audience members, some of whom engaged in a frightening mosh pit. Bizkit has endured criticism for the fact that some of their virtual audience members are programmed to violently assault each other, potentially placing the smattering of actual people attending at risk, but front man Fred Durst waved off the nay-sayers.
“Those people don’t understand us, what else is new? It’s entertainment, that’s all. That’s what people want to see at a Limp Bizkit show. If some hologram dude tries to punch you in the face, he’s not really gonna hit you. And there’s hardly any real people there anyway. I love playing for those things, it looks like the greatest crowd of my life every night.
“If only,” he says with a laugh, “we could get them to buy t-shirts.”
One positive piece of news to emerge from this inhuman shitefest, rapes during Limp Bizkit’s set were down by 98% from their last Woodstock appearance.
Bob Lee is the Los Angeles Beat’s resident psychic. This concert review came to him in a vision following the announcement that Queen do, actually, in 2012, have a working version of Hologram Freddie that they are preparing to unveil. Reports that the new illusion will be be “not like Hologram Tupac” are being met with gales of bawdy laughter across the globe.