Limp Bizkit: The Last Great Band of the Nineties?

I’d never had much interest in Limp Bizkit until I saw the Netflix documentary, Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99. Nu-metal didn’t do a lot for me, and there was something that felt just a little bit entitled about Fred Durst.

The Bizkit have always had a fairly strong clutch of detractors, I felt justifiably so. Coming from a love of older, more obscure music, the pressed, synthetic production of their sound felt like trying to eat a frozen dinner while still wrapped in the plastic.

I’d heard stories of all kinds of misogyny and other indiscretions committed by their audiences at concerts, and here in Australia, our first concert death was during their set at the Big Day Out in 2001.

The following year, festival goers had to contend with a ‘D’ barrier that divided the showgrounds in half, in order to prevent people in the crowd being crushed. Gone was the freedom, and innocence, of general admission.

I’d seen what I considered to be a big crowd; I had worked front of stage for Rage Against the Machine in 1995, and watched the entire crowd jump up and down in unison as Zac De La Rocha led them in chanting, ‘Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!’.

Google tells me that crowd was 40,000 strong. Woodstock ’99 was 250,000: over six times that number. I’d heard that Limp Bizkit were responsible for the riot at Woodstock, so my attention was piqued when the doco made its way to their set on the afternoon of day two of the festival. Most of the bands prior to them were quite forgettable, at least from my point of view.

Limp Bizkit struck a note of solid professionalism when they ascended the stage. Five guys; three up front, guitar, bass and vocals, slowly began stirring the elemental body of the crowd that roiled like a storm-swept sea.

There was something about the primal voltage of that body, and the way guitarist Wes Borland wove in front of it like a snake-charmer, manipulating the currents via his outrageously amplified, low-slung guitar.

Such a bizarre sight to see a skinny young man with all that power, emanating from a piece of wood.

Anyhow, possibly the most gleeful, entertaining commentary of the doco comes from music journalist Dave Blaustein, who was present in the moshpit during their set. He describes watching Fred Durst’s ‘Id, ego and superego battling it out onstage’, before the id finally wrested control and the band launched into the most notorious episode of the documentary: the song ‘Break Stuff’, during which the audience tore plywood panels from the sound tower and set about crowd surfing on them.

There is much boo-hooing and crossed-arm tutt-tutting of this activity, and all are generally in agreement (talking heads at least) of how naughty Limp Bizkit and their fans were. Personally, I was surprised how good they sounded, and how masterfully Fred Durst and co. marshalled the energy of that crowd to such a crescendo that seemed to build and build to ever greater thresholds of nutso.

Iggy Pop is often cited as the greatest front man of all time, and inciting riots and destruction was a regular feature of his performances. The thing he had on his side was scale; there were never enough people at any of his shows to actually execute the apocalypse. But again, in our politically fraught times, fashion rules the day.

Later in the doco, we learn that the Mayor of New York beseeched the Red-Hot Chili Peppers to go out and try and calm the crowd. The band’s response? A cover of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’, just before the crowd set about burning the entire festival to the ground.

I’ve seen the Red Hot Chili Peppers live, and they sucked.       

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