In retrospect, I can place my first manic episode somewhere in the year 2002 or 2003. Time is fuzzy, but the situation is not: I was in Toronto on a weekend long field trip to see the Beauty and the Beast musical, the NHL Hall of Fame, and other Canadian stuff. We went to the CN Tower and I spent the visit looking through the tower’s glass floor, trying to imagine what falling from that height would do to my pudgy 14-year old body, whether I’d die on the way down or feel everything on impact. At night, apropos of nothing, I had my friends I was rooming with watch as I stood in the shower and poured Mountain Dew on myself, rambling about how it tasted different in Canada. On the last day of the trip I discovered that two of my favorite CDs had been stolen, walked up to the person I knew had taken them, punched him in the face, started crying, and said he could have them. Those CDs were Limp Bizkit’s 2001 remix album Old New Songs and Family Values Tour 1999.
Family Values Tour 1999, if you do the arithmetic, is 20 years old this year, or two-thirds of my life. My favorite Built to Spill song came out in 1999. My favorite Sleater-Kinney album came out in 1999. 1999 was a great year for music I’d come to love in 2006, but in 1999 I was squarely in the “angry white kid” half of the TRL demographic, sitting in the computer lab at school and voting endlessly for nu-metal videos. I had plenty of reason to be angry, I suppose. I was 11 and, though definitely butch, my friends started figuring out that I wasn’t quite like them. The word “faggot” went from being ambient noise to accusation, which is weird when you think about how that word was dropped in the music we were listening to. Usually guys like Fred Durst or Jonathan Davis sang about being called a faggot, as did Eminem when he wasn’t calling someone else one. Everyone I hung out with listened to that music, and for awhile it and the fact that we lived in the same neighborhood was enough to keep us all friends. When it wasn’t, I sat in my bedroom with my Discman, volume cranked up, Family Values Tour 1999 on.
While I can’t imagine spending real money on a concert compilation now, in 1999 you had to go for value if you were working from an allowance. If the Britney/Christina/Backstreet/N*SYNC kids had the NOW series, kids like me had albums like this and soundtracks to movies like Little Nicky and The Matrix. Family Values Tour 1999 gathered some of the stars in the nu-metal constellation, pared the one hit wonders of the genre down to their one hit, and left you with the knowledge that there was more out there from groups like Limp Bizkit and Korn if you were lucky enough to score them used, which I eventually did. Since nobody seems keen on commemorating this miserable little corner of the universe now that it’s of anniversary age, I will. It can’t all be 10-year celebrations of records by the xx, y’all.
1. Break Stuff - Limp Bizkit
This is it, Limp Bizkit’s magnum opus. Their anthem. Their reason raison d'être. “Break Stuff” is a song I think about constantly, a song that exists as a kind of shorthand for this period of my life and the lives of many others. Within the last three years I have drunkenly screamed this song’s lyrics on a New York City subway platform, where, thankfully, the only other people were the transsexuals singing it with me or laughing as we did so. That performance, I promise you, was more in tune than the version that’s represented on Family Values Tour 1999, which takes all of 40 seconds to make me suspicious of Limp Bizkit’s in-studio prowess.
By the time the chorus kicks in, Fred Durst manages to find his bark, but during the bridge he says “Kansas City / Limp Bizkit Committee” and it’s all over. All I can hear from this point forward is a band that veers from cutesy dad jokes to an attempt at tough guy karaoke that’s too nasal to really land. This is meant to be a victory lap, but instead I find my conception of the band falling apart. I always thought the moment Limp Bizkit started to decline was at the end of the video to “Re-Arranged,” where the band is executed by the state via drowning in milk, ascends to heaven, and plays PlayStation with Method Man. Looking it up, that was 1999, too. Time keeps on slipping into the future, I guess.
2. Lacquer Head - Primus
I always skipped this song. I want to skip this song right now. Primus, to me, sounds like what would happen if the Seinfeld theme got high and started asking questions about the universe. There’s more crunch to “Lacquer Head” than that, but I can’t believe that “slap bass, but threatening” has been a winning formula for 35 years. The album version of this track was produced by Fred Durst, and given that Tom Waits produced a few tracks on Antipop, my theory that Waits is one of nu-metal’s godfathers is looking real good. The funk-metal equivalent of an anti-drug PSA, I’m mostly glad that Les Claypool didn’t drag poppers into the conversation. Thank you, Les Claypool, for leaving us gays with our inhalant.
3. Staind - Mudshovel
Aaron Lewis was nu-metal’s poet. We’ll get into this more at the end of the album, but to listen to “Mudshovel” is to know that, beneath the grunge and distortion, some of the men fronting these bands really did bleed when pricked. Something I didn’t know until now is that “Mudshovel” was a reworking of a song on Staind’s debut album. Lewis says that the album’s sound was an attempt to compete with Boston hardcore by dabbling in the group’s heavy metal roots, but all of that is bullshit because Staind just sounds like Bush if Gavin Rossdale did his choruses in a monotone. By the time “Mudshovel” became Staind’s breakthrough single, Lewis figured out that hooks need to have a melody, so Staind sounded like Bush if Gavin Rossdale was from Massachusetts. That’s an improvement, I swear.
4. Korn - Falling Away From Me
There was probably a time in my life when I thought Korn was the best band in the world. That time was probably 1999, when the breakdown on “Freak on a Leash” was something I’d skip back to again and again and again on by Discman, trying to figure out how, exactly, Jonathan Davis’ scatting could convey the exact amount of rage I was harboring on that given day. My sister and I watched TRL every afternoon and had our minds blown by the fact that the video for “Freak on a Leash” transitioned directly into the video for “Falling Away From Me.” I mean, those songs were on different albums! These guys were artists!
When I decided to listen to Family Values Tour 1999, I figured that Korn would be the band whose sonic aura embarrassed me the least, and I was correct! Beyond the bit at the beginning where Davis (I assume) is shaking a tambourine instead of goofing around with his naked lady microphone stand, “Falling Away From Me” is almost scary in its fidelity to the studio version of the song. Like most frontmen in 1999, Davis has a little trouble screaming “FUCK!” at the moment you really want a nu-metal frontman to nail the word “FUCK!”, voice breaking the way my voice broke when screaming the word “FUCK!” in 1999. I was 11 in 1999, so it wasn’t puberty that strangled the word, just the kind of vague, pillow-smothered anger that plays in the background when you’re in physical (cluster headaches) and psychic (sad Catholic) pain. I feel like Davis really got that when writing for his legion of disaffected youths, and 20 years later “Falling Away From Me” still feels note perfect, maybe the zenith of nu-metal as a state of mind.
5. Method Man & Redman - Rockwilder
How High didn’t come out until 2001, and I think the first time I heard Wu-Tang Clan was 2006 or so—used rap CDs, particularly the classics, being few and far between. I lived in a Ruff Ryders neighborhood, so this may have been my first exposure to Wu of any kind. In 1999 this sounded a lot like my mom’s hip-hop. “My mom’s hip-hop” is a weird phrase, looking at it in the word processor, but if my mom didn’t have good taste in music I probably wouldn’t have reached for outlets like the Family Values Tour as a means of rebellion. The only outright hip-hop song on this compilation, the presence of “Rockwilder” here is an easy shorthand for nu-metal’s relationship to the genre, a kind of arms-length acknowledgement that leeched as much of the cool from the rappers in its orbit as possible without making the most suburban kids bumping Significant Other in the back of the school bus nervous. It’s an entirely different energy than what’s come before, and, listening to it on repeat, what I really want to do is drop the rest of this album and listen to more of Rockwilder’s tracks. I can’t, though. There’s the rest of an era left to encapsulate.
6. Filter - Hey Man Nice Shot
In getting the “This song is called” bit of crowd banter, Filter frontman Richard Patrick gets Family Values Tour 1999’s bit of Cheap Trick at Budokan flare. This is the most “live version” take on a song since “Break Stuff” opened the CD, as Patrick later tells the crowd that what they’re doing with their hands is cool and that they should keep doing it. I remember really, really liking Filter’s Title of Record when it came out, but if time hadn’t already put these jawns squarely in the rear view, this take on “Hey Man Nice Shot” argues for Filter as a band genetically engineered to have songs featured on albums with the words “from and inspired by the motion picture” on the cover. If you imagine the names of dozens of CG artists scrolling past, you can come understand how some of Filter’s hits were as ponderously long as they were. This version of “Hey Man Nice Shot” clocks in at just over seven minutes, probably because Patrick has to do some really sharp intakes of breath to get any length on his Grunge Bro vocalizing of the words “hey, man.” You don’t get from “hey, man” to “haaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY MAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaan” without breath support.
7. Limp Bizkit - Re-Arranged
This is Limp Bizkit’s attempt at being soulful, something they’d really hit later in their career with a cover of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” when things for the band and their genre were at an end and it was time to get wistful about how easy it was to get radio airplay and make money. Had they waited until 2018 like Disturbed did to drop their cover of “Sound of Silence,” maybe they’d be the nu-metal band of choice for middle-aged moms bopping their heads to their Discover Weekly playlist in-between Uber rides. But alas…
“Re-Arranged” is a real downer of a song, absolutely the wrong choice for an album that is ostensibly about the fun party atmosphere of the Family Values Tour. This take is better than Limp’s earlier crack at “Break Stuff,” but between the bass-heavy instrumentation and DJ-Lethal’s turntablism, “Re-Arranged” sounds more like the child of a mid-range Incubus song and the bridge of a Linkin Park song than anything distinctly Limp Bizkit-ish. I came here to celebrate Limp Bizkit, not be crushed under the weight of knowing that the songs I found most emotionally relevant as a teenager sounded more like other bands than the one I resonated with.
I’m exactly halfway through Family Values Tour 1999 and well beyond the word count that a respectable publication would have allowed me for a piece like this, 20th anniversary or not. If Family Values Tour 1999 ever gets reissued on vinyl, this is where the first LP would end, just in time for Korn’s “A.D.I.D.A.S.” to pull you out of the mire of personal betrayal that is “Re-Arranged.” After one is drowned in milk, one is resurrected. Expect part two of this review next week.
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NEXT: Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping,” Sleater-Kinney’s new album, and the conclusion of Family Values Tour 1999.