Sunday, August 15, 2004

1916 Hrs. Brooklyn.

Listening: Too Tough To Die - The Ramones

Little Steven’s International Underground Garage Festival: Psychotic Reactions and Hurricane Charley
The first thing I remember was telling my wife I was too sick to go to the big show, and then kissing her goodbye as she tromped down the stairs carrying everything she’d need for a pleasant week away on the Cape. I felt like SHIT yesterday morning! This “common” cold has had its hold on me for days, and I could barely talk, breathe, see, hear, or move. I promptly pumped my system with cold medications, Echinacea, fruit juices, and Tylenol till I was able to pronounce myself healthy enough to attend what I expected to be Little Steven and Dunkin Donuts Present 12 Hours of Rain, Garage Music, Mud, Coffee and Jungle Rot: The Great Randall’s Island Mocha-Latte Wetfest.

I got SOC to jump on my extra ticket, and we planned to head up there at about 4:00, until he called me back with some radical new info. He’d just gotten texted from his friend, Rachel Real World (who was working the audio truck for the show). She relayed the news that the promoters were speeding the schedule up to get everybody off the island by 8. That amounted to a three-hour schedule shift. (Shit. Does this mean Iggy’s going on at 6:30?!)

We rallied ourselves and got on the subway as soon as we could. (Before I left, I dosed myself once again with what I thought would be enough medication to keep my mucus together and fever down for the next, uh, 1, 2, 3…9 hours.) At the 125th Street four-dollar-subway-to-bus changeover (because a “transfer” would be free), I was surprised to see how many young’ens were making this trek. Wow. Me and the bus driver were the only ones who got our drivers licenses before M*A*S*H went off the air. (Or Seinfeld, even.) SOC reminded me that kids will always go where there’s good music being played, which made me feel pretty good about things, but still…my fellow passengers were a little too Sum 41 for comfort.

We got to the fairground and wait! What happened to the enormous soccer stadium where they used to hold all these paloozas? Is it no more? The stage was set up right there in the stadium’s front yard. Is this it? Are all the bands going to play on one stage? And hoo boy: this thing is DEFINITELY not sold out. I glanced at the mersh table for a minute. It’s not really the same anymore. If you really want something, you could always get it later, on the internet. (And I mean later: want a double-sided jersey from Van Halen’s Diver Down Tour in ’82? They’re out there.)

Just as we walked through the field toward the stage (with one stop for beers), Creation went on. I dig these guys. You know, a couple months ago I wrote about them here when I wrote down the track list of some CD-R I made. Their first song: “Biff Bang Pow.” Right on! Their second song: “Making Time.” (You know it. The movie Rushmore gave that track a slight resuscitation a few years ago.) And then, it was “Thank you, we’re the Creation, good night!”

THAT was how they planned on avoiding Hurricane Charley: limiting the Category 5 lineup of bands to two-song sets. I would have liked to hear what “Ostrich Man” sounds like in 2004, but maybe this truncated set idea was gonna work. I mean, hit the stage big and end big. That could probably benefit a lot of the revival acts between here and the Dolls.

(And just a word here – I’m not against revivals or reunion shows per se, it’s just that I prefer to avoid them. Ninety-nine percent of the time you go to these things and it’s all alright, but you end up wishing you’d seen the band THEN rather than NOW. I wrote some about this in January before the Mission of Burma show. Most times those types of shows leave me sad, wishing I’d caught my heroes while their comets were still in flight. Having said that, after looking at the amazing lineup of new and old – and even OLDER – on this bill, I didn’t know what to expect.)

When I was in college a hundred years ago, I used to hang out with this girl, Lisa from Rochester. She was the Chesterfield Kings’ #1 fan, and she took me to see them whenever they were within a 100-mile radius of our school. I saw them a lot – and they were a good time. They weren’t a good time yesterday. They sounded fine, but they were hard to watch. To the lead singer: Dude, it’s time to quit squeezing your paunch into those skin-tight “stage costumes.” Also? Even Nikki Sixx gave up on that haircut. You can, too.

Also “hard to watch”? The stage. Some design GENIUS thought it would be so cool, so rock and roll, man, to put several columns of white spotlights along the back of the stage, and AIM THEM AT THE AUDIENCE. I’m not talking about the occasional flash that blinds you for a second and makes everyone go wow. These lights were on the whole time. Imagine standing in a parking lot and staring at a row of cars, all with their headlights pointed at you. Not good.

The Paybacks, from Detroit, were a huge surprise. I know little about this band except this: from Detroit, sounded great yesterday. I’ll check out more of their stuff as soon as I can.

By this time – three bands, two beers – I realized that those fluorescent, hotpants-clad go-go dancers were going to be onstage for every act. Fine by me, except during the ridiculously quick downtime between acts, when stage emcee Kim Fowley (yes, THAT Kim Fowley) would talk to one of them, it would devolve into painful double entendre and bland suggestion. (Kim himself was great, though. He paced the stage, giving a caffeinated rant on the band that was about to take the stage. It was like, here’s everything you need to know about this act in 25 seconds.)

The Mooney Suzuki. What can you say about the Mooney Suzuki? Go ahead, say it, because I got nothing. They played. They didn’t suck.

The audience wasn’t all so terribly young, as I’d expected from my assessment on the bus. Actually, the folks were mostly 30s and 40s, with healthy handfuls of 50- and 60-year-olds – though the pompadour-wearing 60-year-olds who make rock festivals so much fun. For every backpack with a Misfits button, there was at least one person my dad’s age dressed like Brando in Wild One.

And wait – I thought the website said “No backpacks,” etc.? I had my little pocket memo notebook wrapped in a sandwich baggie to protect it from the (potential) rain. SOC thought this was pretty funny. Later, he’d ask me to take it out and show it to his friends (Joe the Artist and J.). But for now, the Pete Best Band is onstage, and SOC is on line for a round and a half of beer. (Is the cold medication drying me out? I can’t remember the last time I drank beer so fast.)

How about Pete Best? I figure he was so long waiting for Ringo to die, so as to jump behind the sticks for the ultimate reunion paycheck, and his share of lost glory. Best’s run of crappy luck continued, though, when the only two talented members of the Beatles were the first to die. Who’d pay to see McCartney/Best? Yesterday, Pete and band opened with a decent version of “What’d I Say.” Good ENOUGH for a bunch of white Liverpudlians. (On Ray Charles’ stellar original, the call-and-response of the bridge was pure aural sex: Ray moans, she moans, Ray moans, she moans…. It had radio programmers and southern Baptists in a snit. In the hands of Pete Best’s by-the-numbers Band, this bit came out sounding like a high school football cheer. But points for trying.) And then, then did “Twist and Shout.” GodDAMN, I hate that song.

Nancy Sinatra was allowed to do three songs, and she gave wooden performances of each. Botoxian renditions of songs written for her by Morrissey and Thurston Moore, and then the obligatory Boots came on. For that hit, the ranks of the go-go girls were swelled by dozens. (As a Dunkin Donuts rep excitedly told me later: “We had 60 girls up there!” And then she asked if I was in a band that played already. I said yes and watched out of the corner of my eye as she stared into the side of my head, while waiting for me to brag about which band I’m in. I didn’t give.)

The Romantics came on. I ignored them when they opened for the Bangles (or was it Adam and the Ants?) at Radio City Music Hall in 1985, and I wasn’t going to start a case study now. It was my turn to buy beer. The line was awfully long, so I did it Aussie style – two rounds at once. By the time I got back to our spot, the Romantics were off and the stage was set for Big Star. I love Big Star. I “never travel far without a little Big Star.” But their three-song set was sabotaged by audio cutouts and, in my opinion, poor song choices. And I believe the sound guy was so spellbound at the thought of having Alex Chilton onstage that he forgot to pot up anyone else’s mic. This really sucked, as the drummer handled the vocals for the first song. The Mighty Big Star did not go over well with the audience, at best getting a couple nods of recognition when they played “Down The Street.” (As in, the theme to That 70s Show, before producers got Cheap Trick to bastardize it.)

Kim Fowley wasn’t the only one on stage between acts. At various times we were blessed with Little (not “Miami”) Steven’s elfin presence, as well as Chuck Barris (yes, the Gong Show guy, but I think he was there because – didn’t he co-write “Palisades Park” for Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon?), that big guy from the Sopranos who acts like he’s an actual Mafiosi (and who, SOC informed me, lists Paul’s Boutique as one of his favorite albums), and Bruce Springsteen (the guy who did a shitty cover of Tom Waits’s “Jersey Girl,” but a couple good songs, too).

It was around this time that my wife sent me a text message letting me know that her brother, Jumps, was working the show. I got in touch with him just as he was walking Iggy to his bus. He said he’d come out and see us when he could.

And then the Dictators came on. Amazing. Handsome Dick Manitoba is the weirdest front guy ever, in that he’s such a regular guy that he’s captivating onstage. The band got to play a healthy handful of songs, and they sounded fantastic. (Of course - Del Lords, Manowar, Manitoba's Wild Kingdom - they’ve never really stopped playing.)

Just a few years ago, the Ramones would have been here.

Brother Jumps showed up with a couple of soft patches to get me and SOC backstage access. We said see ya laters to Joe The Artist and J., and followed Jumps to the backstage tents.

This is where things start to get hot and hazy. I’m certain that I was running a fever, and pouring – what’s that shit called?...Budweiser on top of the meds was doing me little good. And then, the backstage tents ran out of beer. And then we switched to white wine. (Stop laughing.)

Those of you who know, know. But for those of you who might still think that “backstage” is the coolest place around, trust that it just isn’t. Especially at shows like this. This is not backstage at Max’s in 1974. It’s more like: under the marketing and hospitality tent at the big Dunkin Donuts/XFM show. Here’s what we did: drank limited beer, walked around, drank bottomless cups of white wine, walked around. We used the more civilized toilet facilities. SOC ate a sandwich that smelled like a donut. He ran into a stylist friend. A girl winked at me. I watched three minutes of Bo Diddley’s performance on a TV monitor. I bumped into Julian Casablancas as he scurried toward his bus. We saw Iggy sitting on the dashboard of his bus.

Then we made our way onto the stage, where we could stand off to the side during the New York Dolls performance. This…was…cool. David Johansen announced that this show was “dedicated to Mr. Arthur Kane,” and then (this version of) the Dolls ripped into things. (That was one-time Hanoi Rocks bassist Sammy Yaffa standing in for Kane.) They were great. I never thought I’d get to see the New York Dolls, and even though this was Johansen and Syl Sylvain, it was close enough to touch that comet. At one point, Sylvain got on the mic and said “Hey, how about Johnny Thund-uhs?” (Incredible. No matter how many times they travel the world, that 14th Street patois never fades.) They performed Thunders’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory.” On the palm of my hand, I scribbled “YCPYAAAM.”

Pretty in Pink: Johansen. (Photo: Christie M. Farriella) Posted by Hello

In the middle of the Dolls’ set, I had a serious problem. I started to feel really hot and sweaty, and seriously woozy. My eyes couldn’t focus, and I felt them rolling back into my head. I tried to blink my eyes to snap out of this, but I just got dizzier. I felt myself moving a few steps to the side, and my knees began to buckle. I was going down. I thought, I don’t know what’s going on, but at least I’m here with a trusted friend. I tried to put my right arm onto SOC’s, to steady myself and get his help, but I couldn’t lift my arm. Instead, my left arm went up as I fell into the guy on the other side of me. I set myself, and just like that, everything was OK again.

What was that?! It wasn’t drunkenness, I can be sure of that. I imagine that those 30 seconds or so was the exact moment when the alcohol and time-release cold medicines shared my bloodstream.

After the Dolls set, we went back out to our spot on the grounds, dead center, about 200 feet from the stage. We reunited with Joe the Artist and J. for to watch the Strokes and the Stooges.

Casablancas and Co. hit the stage and the audience greeted them like hometown heroes. (Hello? Those were the NEW YORK fucking Dolls that just left!) Now, I like the Strokes. I liked the first album, I liked the second album. Some of those songs take me to nice places. I couldn’t care any less about whether they are retro or unoriginal or trendy or rich kids or spoiled or whatever the hell else it is that people like to complain about. By me, they’re forgiven for any of those supposed crimes simply because they make good music. The guys themselves – I don’t know anything about them and I don’t care to. (OK, I do know one thing: Platinum sales, apparently, do not cure acne.)

As well as they played, it’s hard to root for a band when their lead singer doesn’t seem to want to be there. OK, OK, so that’s his thing – he’s half-stoned and he’s wishing he was somewhere else. Sell that shit to the douchebags at Irving Plaza when you’ve got Sugarcult or someone like that opening up for you. But when you’re sharing the bill with some unquestionable superstars, you’ve got to bring your A game. If you don’t, you’re simply afraid. Pre-emptive failure. Let's sink our own shit, before we get blown off the stage by the others. Casablancas did venture around the stage a lot and uttered some between-song “attitude.” Attitude in finger-quotes; purely textbook. I can't speak for the rest of the band, because they played their parts with passion, but Casablancas couldn’t even muster a bead of sweat. Complaining that the audience wasn’t loud enough (we weren’t, no), he correctly surmised that we were “all waiting for the big main event…Iggy and the Stooges.”

The ultimate sin of any performer is contempt for his audience. The so-called “King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley had it in buckets. That’s why the notion of Elvis as King is so hilarious to me. Hilarious and wrong. If you want a sniff of what the Rock Kingdom’s throne smells like, well…you’ve got to wait for Iggy Pop to stand up. Arriving on stage last night, shirtless and primed for attack, he is the only male performer I have ever seen, to whom I responded sexually; not actual arousal, but more of an erection of the heart. One look at him, and I was taken over by desire and worship and envy and self-projection.

The Stooges did a solid set comprising their first two records. (And, here: if you want an entire semester’s worth of “Iggy as King of Rock and Roll,” put on Fun House and sit yourself squarely in front of the speakers. The first eleven seconds will tell as much about the history of this music as an entire Folkways library.) The performance was savage. Every moment hinted at possibilities both violent and sexual. Iggy sounded great; the band (including the Mighty Mike Watt on bass) was scorching.

Just about a third of the people around me in the audience knew the songs, and no one took their eyes off the stage.

I couldn’t believe I saw it all. This was no revival act. Iggy has been doing it this way for years, and watching the Stooges last night made me feel like I finally caught a comet in mid-flight. It could have been 1970, but it didn’t have to be.

I said goodnight to my troika of friends and turned my back to the stage as Little Steven chanted “Stoo-ges” for an encore that had already happened. I had to get home. I’d been off my medication for hours.

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