Bumbershoot ’05 Festival
Seattle, Washington, USA
September 2-5, 2005
WORDS: ig (eyegee)
PICTURES: Peter Whitfield
Rock & roll goes where it wants to, baby. that’s the story of THE STOOGES. self defined proto punks, leaving conceit of the blues to the masses, they marshalled expression to surge into a whole new synthesis of sound fury, at once metal, electricity, rhythm, beat, words and attitude.
D id they look back? You know they did, from the swimming pool high above Hollyweed, the toilet at the Whiskey, the stage at the Michigan Palace. the habits, the dead, the knock-out beer bottles, the succession of rock road signs, from Sonic’s to the Monsters to Five Foot One on a 27-Inch Screen, decades of bringing it up . all great, all not looking back, all more testament to a continuum of conception. REAL O MIND.
A nd in the meantime, one thousand bands taking THE STOOGES at their word, using them and their fiendish stripped-down confection, pushing it, from Australia to Spain to Cleveland to London to New York City to Los Angeles to Seattle ... and back again to Detroit.
No matter, the Stooges are back and playing like they never did, or would, or could. this is the once-again triumphal return to native soil, in Seattle even, where the stone the college town drop-outs threw into the pool of America’s vast reserve of talent has finally rippled out to the shore, marks of waves on the shore of grunge, the bastard commercial stepchild ‘alternative’ and now the ensuing huge contemporary hit of ... of ... of ... nothing else but rock and roll.
The gig sneaks up sudden, the 35th anniversary Seattle Arts Fair, “Bumbershoot”. It seems The Stooges have been called upon to close the show out in the place of the Ohio art rock/movie soundtrack band, Devo, who just can’t get it together in time. The Stooges are the penultimate headliners, coming up after four days full of a plethora of contemporary talent from all over all place.
The comeback began in the great North American desert almost two-and-a-half years ago (and you can read about it here), but in the meantime Iggy and Co. have been picking up the euros, playing five shows overseas for every one here in the USA. They played a one-off last summer, Steve Van Zandt’s garage rock festival, but it seems the biggest impression was left on the dozens of other acts who revolved thru the stage. Stooges are King, Long Live the Stooges.
So why not go to Seattle? It’s a great town, full of cool laid back middlebrow white folks. Tourist wise, bring an umbrella. For your faithful correspondent it takes just 5 seconds of decision, and the solution is a plane via Portland, having reserved a deluxe suite at one of Seattle’s finest Belltown hotels.
There’s tons of acts scheduled for Bumbershoot, from Bo Diddley to Garbage to that little kid playing ukelele while balancing on a ball wearing a clown suit. So the temptation is to try and see some of it. Mistake! Here is some sound advice --- when going to see The Stooges, don’t fuck around!!! Don’t waste your energy, and your buzz, on any of the pretenders and pretensions --- YOU ARE THERE FOR THE STOOGES. and they are there for you – guaranteed. If you don’t believe me, look at the other review here and see if any of THAT shit is something you’d want to suffer thru.
The site is less than a mile away, a walk from downtown parallel to the Sound thru Seattle’s nightlife district, which seems like it could get very lively, only it’s Labor Day, a Monday holiday, and everything is mostly closed. The space is kind of retro-urban-future, set on the old World’s Fair grounds, Seattle Center, with the Space Needle looming above (the monorail is broke, however). Nearby is the ugly chrome turd of Mr. Microsoft’s “rock ‘n roll experience”, a hideously expensive multimedia taxidermical sham.
Even though it’s probably a mile square, the grounds are packed. Like any ‘festival’, huge crowds are involved, and this one is mostly young. They’re all so white, too, and with the trash fashions so huge right now, everything seems particularly Stooge-like. A lot of Not Right. Man, I’m even happy about ‘grunge’ and its spawn, ‘alternative’. Anything that brings the Stooges back live is A GOOD THING, no matter how many ‘mallpunks’ it’s responsible for.
There’s a bullshit procedure thing going down, wherein to see the ‘headliners’ in the big quasi-football stadium (about 15,000 capacity on the astroturf) one must first get their grubby hands on a custom poker chip AND hold onto it until dark, and showtime. Entering the grounds in the early afternoon, all one hears in the crowd is “stooges” and “get yer chip” and “as early as possible”. I get my chip ASAP, stuff it in the securest pocket I got, and try to check on it only every 15 minutes or so. I bail on the afternoon acts and the lines; they’ll clear the headliner’s stadium in the early afternoon and re-open the doors in the evening. The openers are the not-inconsequential locals, Mudhoney, and I consider showing up when the doors open, spend a few hours crammed in front of the stage, catch Mark Arm and Co., and then be in good position to catch the one and only Iggy.
But best-laid plans, as they say, and I’m honing that edge in the suite for a few hours, and time gets away from me. Perhaps the edge is too finely honed, as the evening begins with your correspondent getting “86’d” from the notorious hotel bar, the “Nightlite”, perhaps for being too enthusiastic about the fortunes of his team on the sports teevee (that, and the $1 draft beer).
In a minute I’m down on the street, it’s a beautiful evening with a salty tang coming over from the Pacific. I’ve got about 6000 Stooges stickers that I’ve dummied up, and those suckers are going up whenever and wherever possible. Before I know it I’m back in festival land, make my way to the stadium entrance, hand in the prized chip to channel thru the barricade rat maze, the edge of anticipation so honed I tip over it once or twice and take a tumble. But no worries – Stooge Power!
I worm my way through the youngsters – and they are lookin’ good! – to about 50 ranks of standees away from the stage, where Mudhoney is holding forth with well-received but fittingly mud-like, bass heavy grunge type sounds. The acoustics in these outdoor shows always leave something to be desired. I’d like to get closer, and begin plotting how exactly to do that without needing to crawl.
But Mudhoney draws to a quick close, too early, and there’s no movement out of the crowd – just ranks of groovers coming in closer to get a look at the legendary Stooges. The buzz is palpable – the crowd is docile but ready. I must be the rowdiest guy around – goddamn Detroiters! There’s about 10 minutes of quiet – it seems the headliners will actually need to come on earlier. That’s unusual.
The stage goes dark and then that movement of the band taking its positions – it’s a rush and a peak when the whirling Iggy races on with the first chords of – what else -“LOOSE”.
OK, a lot of buildup for you readers, and I must apologize, for I have few specifics about the show. But I can tell you this, rock ‘n roll fans – hell, music fans -- there is NO BETTER BAND working the planet today. The Stooge Sound is so complete, so organic, so happening, tight, wicked, grooving, immaculately yet flexibly played, dynamically voiced, perfectly phased and timed and spot-on, the only word for this show is REAL-O-MIND. This is a conception perfectly couched to explode in your intellect, body and soul. The set is so far beyond what I saw in Coachella and Long Beach, and better by far than the recorded sets I’ve heard from all over (including the suburban Detroit ‘black-out’ make-up show).
The songs keep coming, every one with the luster of years and presented with pride. DOWN ON THE STREET, 1969... WANNA BE YOUR DOG is a great sing-a-long, with the young Seattle crowd really getting into it. The kids are having some fun, bodies being passed overhead up to the front and some shape-shifting crowd shoves where I’m at. TV EYE is wicked, and DIRT kicks in with a brief intro by Iggy, its sinuous groove giving us all a little breathing room. In general the set is stripped down, the stumbles and little out-of-phase moments completely eliminated. If 35 european shows were needed to tweak the 21st Century Stooge Sound to this level, I’m all for Europe. Freedom Fries for everyone!
There’s only one moment where the Stooge juggernaut pauses, a brief deflation (.................), then it’s back to songs from the first lp. REAL COOL TIME is, the chicks are really getting into it now. The crowd comes up on stage, a bit hesitantly, mobs the band, and then Iggy sends them back down with a “back to 2nd grade now”. The Homecoming King in action. NO FUN is dashed off, then 1970 makes us feel alright, especially when conceptual saxophonist Steve MacKay comes on, for once perfectly up in the mix from the get-go, his nuclear tenor leads synching with Ron’s brilliantly voiced guitar counterpoint. The rhythm section boiler room battery mates of Watt and the one-and-only Rock Action are presenting a lesson to the world, baby, of how to rock. This shit can’t be taught – it must be lived! We segue into the tune called “MIND ROOM”, which is sort of a capper to the set and excellent lead in to my personal favorite, FUN HOUSE. FUN HOUSE has the very best kind of unison rockin’ groove playing, something Detroit bands excel at, if we’re lucky. This band has got it locked down.
Then come the new songs, SKULL RING, which is funny as ever, and the one dragger, DEAD ROCK STAR, which gives Iggy a chance to croon. This is the one moment when the crowd begins to doubt the invention, but ever the pro Iggy brings us all back, starting with the girls, with LITTLE DOLL and its tribal erotic stomp. C’mon shake ...
We get the DOUBLE DOG (Dog reprise). Iggy is bathed in white light and he looks as good as ever --- almost like one of those Roman marble copies of ancient Greek mythic figures. He’s basking in the adulation. It’s a whole new generation of Stooges fans now. They believe. I look around – everyone is rapt and carried away. Faces shine --- it’s REAL O MIND.
Finally, to remind us of our roots, the set closer is NOT RIGHT. What is it about being not right that makes it right? Seattle is coming full circle from its grunge conception. Thank you Seattle!
No encore, and why should there be? This band has done it all. The crowd starts to shuffle out, still not believing they’ve seen the mighty Stooges and it was everything promised. We have heard the sound of the universe orbiting around us – the music of the spheres.
I break out my remaining 500 Stooges stickers and they are grabbed in seconds. A 10-year-old rock ‘n roller slaps one on his forehead – now that’s REAL O MIND.
Cheers, all! hope they come to YOUR town!
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