In case there was any doubt that Woodstock ‘94 said at least something about our times, the proof arrives in Woodstock ‘94, the album. Not much in the way of peace and love here; with 27 bands compressed onto two discs (or two cassettes), the second festival comes off as one big, loud frat house bash, with the gnarled sound of ’90s rock as its party tape. The recording quality is terrific — you can practically hear the squishing of mud all around you — and every artist, whether it’s Metallica, Porno for Pyros, or Crosby, Stills & Nash, is accompanied by the roar of a juiced, leering crowd. (At one point, guest emcee Tom Arnold pleads with the crowd not to destroy the grass, and he doesn’t mean marijuana.) Peter Gabriel resuscitates the social consciousness of the first Woodstock when he brings up apartheid during ”Biko,” but, tellingly, it’s the last song on the album. More typical is Henry Rollins telling fans that they’ll have to deal with their problems alone, and then tearing into one of the Rollins Band’s intense, nearly unlistenable, thrash tunes.
As for the rest of the music: The veterans (Traffic, Joe Cocker, Aerosmith) present period re-creations of classic rock; without the mud-pack visuals, festival conquerors Nine Inch Nails sound surprisingly muddled on ”Happiness in Slavery”; and a high number of normally uninspiring acts, including Sheryl Crow, Jackyl, and Live, come off better than they had any right to. Not even an in-your-face sound mix can redeem phonies like Melissa Etheridge and Candlebox, but even the weakest bands seem wired by the event. Nearly free of good vibes and heavy on statements about personal torment and social alienation-and capturing a time when rock is divided into small, rigid camps — Woodstock ‘94 is more of a time capsule than anyone could have imagined.