+ A CAST OF THOUSANDS
"Big Day Out"
Olympic Park, Sydney
Thursday, January 26, 2006
WATT + GALLUCCI
Cafe Pacifico, East Sydney
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
WORDS & PHOTOS: The Barman
OTHER PHOTOS & SLIDESHOWS: Richard Sharman
Jesus Loves the Stooges - and so does Australia
It took them a while - just under 1000 days since they reformed for a supposed one-off show at the Coachella Festival in a Californian desert - but the Stooges finally got to Australia. And for an admittedly small but undeniably passionate sub-section of the local populace, it was not a minute too soon.
There are myriad reasons why Australia is a natural place for the Stooges to weave their primal magic, but it's a little tougher explaining why those reasons exist. Australia is generally receptive to tough, no bullshit rock and roll (although, on that score, some of the passion has waned lately). As culturally Americanized as much of Oz may be, there aren't the same parallels between the Midwest of the late '60s from whence these guys sprang.
In short (and generally speaking) we're socially stable, economically well-off and enjoy a moderate climate most of the year round. Not many of us work in factories, we prefer driving cars to making them and we rarely protest about stuff (to the point of appearing not to give a shit). She'll be right mate.
But these guys are the Fucking Stooges, so what's to explain? They just ARE.
Not reference to Stooges: I steadfastly refuse to call them "Iggy and the Stooges", even though that's how promoters around the world bill them. Seems there's a perception that by throwing "Iggy" onto the billing, you're going to attract a whole buncha people who know him through his various solo adventures - especially in Europe where's he's been successful on the festival circuit. Well, the "Trainspotting" fans can kiss my arse. Those of us who have longer memories know that Iggy was mostly appended to the band name in the immediate lead-up to, and period, after "Raw Power". We also know that both James Williamson and that batch of songs (worthy as both they are) aren't along for the ride. So the Stooges they will stay.
Only the organisers of the annual series of outdoor Australasian music festivals called the Big Day Out (BDO) had the financial muscle to lure them to these shores. The all-important financial numbers being bandied about a year or two ago were enough to make James Packer blanch and reach for a volume of L Ron Hubbard and that's well and good. It's high-time the Stooges received something back for what they (largely unwittingly, it has to be said) gave to rock and roll way back then. Hell, when they first bobbed up - as the Psychedelic Stooges - they weren't trying to change anything. They just were what they were.
When word leaked from an impeccable source via this very website on September 22 last year that a deal had been done and they were coming, derision was thick in the air. The odd abusive email even made it past the spam filter. Couldn't be bothered responding to most of it then, but you can eat shit now. The official news a couple of weeks later was sweet enough music to these ears, until the real stuff was served up in January.
The BDO schedule being structured as it is, Auckland and the Gold Coast got to seer the Stooges first, but with all due props to punters in those towns, Sydney is where things got serious. This is something of a spiritual home for all things Stooge. Ever since a wild-eyed med student and expat American by the name of Deniz Tek started preaching their merits back in the early '70s, Sydney's been seriously Stooge-aware.
Of course, Deniz wasn't the only evangelist with a handful of fans clutching import copies of "Funhouse" and "Raw Power" to their chests, but Sydney was the joint that gave rise to a wave of high-energy bands honed out of similar stuff, even if many were unoriginal and thus pale copies of the real thing. But if you don't see so many "Metallic KO" t-shirts in the streets today (tight white numbers with vests and handlebar moustaches being de rigueur at the pub that hosted Oxford Funhouse these days), we in Sydney have Got a Right to claim the Stooges as our own.
There were 55,000 people destined to be packed into the characterless and austere surrounds of the Sydney Showground, many of them old and only there for one band. If others were too young to know much about the Stooges, well they were going to receive an education.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 21
Stooges Week in Sydney dawned fine and warm, but for this Barman there was first a mate's buck's day to survive. It's a mark of how much older you are, the more susceptible to injury you become - especially if you add near fatal levels of alcohol and wear Cuban heeled boots on a drunken harbour cruise.
It was the following day - Stooges Minus 4 and counting - when it was clear that a badly wrenched ankle had to be beaten if I was going to go the distance at a BDO. Sensible application of the R.I.C.E. Regimen (Rest, Ice Compression and Elevation) were applied and things were looking (and feeling) a lot better when the next challenge arose. Healthcare professionals call it "referred pain" whereas we dummies simply say it's bad back shit caused by favouring one leg. Either way, generous quantities of legal drugs and manipulation from a chiropractor are the only response to sciatic nerve spasms that have me bent over like a pretzel.
MONDAY, JANUARY 22
There had been interminable rumours of secret Stooges sideshows to live with these last few weeks, none of them true but one holding a kernel of truth. Mail filtered through from Jules RB Normington (look him up under Sydney Stooges Fanatic and Former Radio Birdman Manager among other categories) that Stooges (and ex-Minutemen) bassist Mike Watt was playing a low-key show with Gallucci. Not "Funhouse" producer Don, but some kids in a local punk band who'd arranged an Australian screening for the Minutemen documentary "We Jam Econo".
Watt himself confirms by email that the show is a goer and he'll be singing Stooges covers. Who knows who else might turn up? The venue is Cafe Pacifico, a smallish, upstairs Mexican restaurant in Riley Street, Darlinghurst. Strapped ankle and sus back, it's a must-see for this fan-atic.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 24
Late afternoon intel reveals that most of Sydney seems to know the gig is on. Sensibly, a limit's going to be placed on the crowd size because, once inside, it's clear that Cafe Pacifico is not the Hordern Pavilion.
Watt himself is already there and attending to a borrowed bass rig, his Gibson thud shaft repaired after the trans-Pacific flight from L. A. left it with a cracked headstock. Also making preparations centre stage is Steve Mackay, Stooges sax player. Rock Action himself props up the bar, responding that "these guys already have a drummer" and it's his night off.
It's a buzz to chat with these guys and moreso when the hastily-cobbled together band (one rehearsal) cranks up.
Watt's busier than a one-legged man in an arse kicking contest, holding the thing together with his vocals, cue changes and bass-playing, the latter a revelation as he embellishes some of the time-honoured Dave Alexander basslines with little touches here and there. Likewise, Mackay absolutely carves it up, filling more holes than a council road gang on public holiday penalty rates.
The Gallucci kids - Benito on drums and Jake on guitar - have the ride of their lives. One of them's reputedly just 17.
It's packed inside. The restaurant owner works to patch up some makeshift sound-proofing that's being blown away from where it's been gaffed to a window. "Dog", "1970" and "Funhouse" cop extended treatments.The gig stops after eight or nine songs when Watt's rig starts farting.
Watt's later comment over a beer that he's just happy to be passing on the torch is well-founded.
There's a smattering of scenesters and seminal Sydney music figures present (Angie Pepper and Mark Sisto prominent) and the whole evening's a rollicking great time. A buzz it is to shoot the shit with Watt and Stooges road manager Eric Fisher who says the online-literate in the band camp dug all your comments in support of the I-94 Bar's "Bring the Stooges Down Under" petition.
Rock Action holds court. at Cafe Pacifico. Richard Sharman photo
Rock holds court over beers at the back of the room, politely complying with requests for photos and autographs and answering all sorts of questions from the curious in a tone that's considerably drier than the Florida winter where he spends half his year.
There's an obvious question for the Stooges camp and the answer is that more than 30 songs are written and a November recording is planned. That done, we can expect 2007 to be marked by extensive touring by the band, especially in their homeland where shows have been thin on the ground until there's a new CD to promote. Consensus seems to be that what's been written sounds very Stoogelike indeed.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 26
At a guess, Sydney's traditionally humid January weather must have been a small but agreeable factor in Iggy's decision to bring the Stooges caravan to Australia. The Gold Coast turned on weather not unlike his adopted home of Miami for its BDO. The reports are glowing. January 26 in Sydney dawns cloudy but steamy.
Today is Australia Day, a public holiday to mark the arrival of European settlement in this very city.
It's also Stooges Day.
I have a Pop-like moment while getting dressed, when I literally Open Up and Bleed. There's no obvious cause of this stream of blood trickling off the top of my left hand. Maybe it's an omen that means Jim will spill blood for Sydney so we Aussies can atone for rock and roll sins like the Vines or Jet? More likely it's a tiny scratch and the protracted bleed is just a side effect of blood-thinning aspirins swilled all week to settle joint inflammation.
There's some business to be done in town so I get that out of the way early. It's wall-to-wall Australian flags and families in The Rocks district, where the local government authority is staging a country music festival. I do what I have to do and hook up with a couple of traveling companions, one of whom is Pete Patterson (ex-Rattlesnake Shake/Mother Jones/Melting Skyscrapers) who's copping my spare admission ticket. We all make the fast train-trek out to Olympic Park, the place the BDO now calls home, appropriately talking music.
Things were less complicated when the fest ran at its original base, the quaintly rustic old Showground at Moore Park, which was a short stumble from the rock and roll dives of the inner-city. The place had a lot more trees and pokey little green spaces where you could grab a quick beer or veg out, as the need may be. Grass - the legal sort - seems to be in short supply at the new Showground, although the smell of the illegal variety occasionally wafts around despite a concerted police sniffer dog presence at the gates.
Speaking of which, I know the organisers are paranoid about crowd control after a moshpit death a few years ago, but the practice of corralling punters through bottlenecks just the enter the site seems to be a little dangerous. There's also a lack of sensible signposting - which sees prospective drinkers channeled into a tent to obtain over 18 wristbands, only to find the line winding straight out the door and around the other side of the structure to a second entrance that leads to the same place. It's all very Irish but not a patch on other horror stories about guest services offices that are impossible to find. That might make more sense later.
Can't tell you a lot about most of the early bands because in most cases I couldn't give a rat's arse. Faker sound like they're well-named. Gerling should be called Gerbil. Hilltop Hoods is Australian hip hop and about as dangerous as straight Red Bull in a shot glass. Magic Dirt do a lot of hands-over-heads clapping and urging the crowd to join in these days, which is not a good thing.
Wolfmother is the first act to send the punters absolutely off their nuts. These guys peddle a mix of Led Zep riffs and Deep Purp keyboard vamps that's more retro than my boots that fucked up my ankle, but don't the kids go apeshit for them. I catch Sleater-Kinney on a secondary stage and find them OK, but on this occasion they don't seem to create much of a riot for girrrrls or anyone else. Maybe it's the venue.
Would have liked to have seen the Greenhornes. Subsequent mail is they played a party earlier in the week in Sydney and had a blast. Not sure what The Go! Set are all about but sampling and soul together - well, it doesn't do a lot for me.
Henry Rollins' spoken word set is a lot more interesting with lots of rock and roll content. His Johnny Ramone rap is nice and his raves about Iggy and the Beasts of Bourbon timely and fulsome plugs for things to come. Now, I don't care what side of politics he bats for, but I don't need a muso, let alone an overseas one, telling me how to vote in my own country. A few more comments about Kylie's arse in his rave about Miss Minogue's commercial failure in the US might have gone down well, but it's clear that (a.) Henry gives great conversation and (b.) the punters love him. Christ, there's even an audience banner to show support. All he needs a tartan kilt instead of shorts and he'd be the Bay City Rollins.
Tex Perkins - Beast of Bourbon. Richard Sharman photo
Charlie Owen gets funky with the Beasts. Richard Sharman photo
There's no prospect of conversation on the crowd side of the barriers when the Beasts bob up on the adjoining stage. They are brutally loud and in sensational form - not sure how they were at Homebake in December but they're even better than Sydney show at the Gaelic Club a few months before that.
Much is down to Spencer and Charlie meshing like teeth around a corncob, and Tex is in loquacious and very focused form. Maybe it's the head-bobbing presence of Rollins at side-of-stage (seriously, the man is a true fan) or the slavish attention of the crowd, but this is has the makings of an inspired, dirty and downright dangerous set that should have been on a big stage. It's a tragedy to have to leave mid-way through but text messages on the mobile (it's way too loud to hear the three missed calls) confirm the invitation of a lifetime.
Don't flame me with jealous emails but here's the rub: I'm in a group of people who have generously been promised backstage access for the Stooges set. Through some horrible alignment of the planets, however, up until that point, it seems not to have come off. Cell phone calls and text messages haven't found their mark. There's no doubting the resilience of some people, and one of them talked her way backstage. The connection was made and within minutes there's a laminate with the Barman's name on, it swinging from the neck.
My name is not The Barman. It is Charlie Bucket, I am entering the Chocolate Factory and this is a Golden Fucking Ticket. Neither Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp are to be seen.
(Truth be known, I had a backstage ticket for the taking back in 2002 when the Stooges were scheduled to play their homecoming in Detroit. I only had to fly there as a friend was touring Europe and his girlfriend had a spare. I didn't arrange a fare and stayed home. As it happened, the gig was put off for weeks after a massive power failure blocked out most of NE America. Then, in 2004, I was up for the Little Steven's Underground Garage Festival in New York City - and had all but bought tickets online - but couldn't arrange frequent flyer points flights at the right time. So if I'm enjoying this moment, well, I Got a Right).
Arriving at the Scene of the Crime and various heads, some of them familiar, are in place. We gather behind the stages for riding instructions. These are that it's a closed stage for the final three bands (Franz Ferdinand, Iggy and the Stooges and the White Stripes) meaning side-of-stage access only will be granted for a fortunate few with the respective act's pass clearly on display. For those of us who do, we'll be crammed into a tiny viewing space, with perfect sight-lines.
The stories about BDO backstage areas with touring muso's assembling around a communal bar are not in evidence tonight. The stage area itself is a working zone, unsurprisingly, and the closest thing to a bar is a fridge packed with bottles of water and soft drink. It's unplugged or broken down, and there's no explaining the soft toy jammed in there. The bands themselves are off with their riders in caravans some distance back from the stage, and only emerge when it's time to play.
Fitting 'though that Deniz Tek is one of those here tonight, being a close mate of the Ashetons and a former bandmate of each in separate combos (New Race with Ron and the Deniz Tek Group with Scott). Angie and the family are present too - and they probably should have been the first people invited, considering their closeness to the Ashetons. The only tragedy is that Radio Birdman never made it onto the bill. It would have been a neat closure of the circle - Birdman not only learned from the legacy of the Stooges, but gave them a profile in this country for so many years. It would also have been an entirely suitable musical match-up.
Various people are catching up with Niagara and husband Colonel Galaxy, in Australia for an exhibition. Niagara (need you ask?) is, in nightfall's half-light, clutching a curious-looking yellow spirit drink in a glass and wearing sunglasses. She slips them off to strike up a conversation with Henry Rollins.
A few of us catch a bit of The Living End who, for the uninitiated, are a high-velocity rockabilly-derived act from Melbourne. They're good players (Mark Sisto comments: "Big backbeat and lots of attitude") and a sharp contrast to Franz Ferdinand who follow. As I can't see them I have no idea what they look like or whether they wore kilts in response to the Living End guy's Aussie flag boxer shorts, but they seem like a bit lightweight and light on for songs. You almost have to feel sorry for them because you know what's coming next...
Just before 8.15pm, Iggy and the band appear at the rear of the stage, surrounded by personal crew and looking clearly psyched. They wait briefly on the ramp that'll land them at the rear of the stage. The last strands of Franz expire on the adjoining stage and and the Stooges pass by in seconds. There's a massive roar as they take the stage. They rip into "Loose" and our laminated group rushes up some steps to the appointed spot at stage left, just near Ron's amp.
This is so surreal there's no way to adequately describe it. Firstly, the sheer fact that the Stooges are standing on a sunset stage in Sydney, playing to 40-50,000 people is astounding. Secondly, to take it in from a backstage vantage point. There are faces around who are known or at least vaguely familiar. Deniz and Mark Sisto are on the floor in front, Angie to one side and everywhereman Henry Rollins at right. Somewhere behind are Niagara and her husband The Colonel. Ex-GoBetweens Lindy Morrison and Amanda Brown are to the left, Brad Shepherd of the Gurus and his toddler-aged daughter (sporting industrial ear protectors) is here as well for a while. Flea from the Chili Peppers must be in his Australian birthplace on holiday because he's also hanging out.
The energy levels coming off the stage are simply stunning. It's not being transferred by way of gimmickry or tricks. There's only a simple white backdrop onto which is thrown a straight wash of colours by the light rig. You can feel the weight of this music and the personalities playing it like few, if any, other bands.
If anything, Iggy (who's 58!) is a little more subdued than the numerous times I've seen him in solo band mode. He also has a pronounced limp, the legacy of pushing his physical bounds way past the edge. Even so, he only has to shake his arse, jump around on the spot, twitch and throw his body into electroshock spasms to throw off an aura of super-nova proportions. No, that's wrong. He only has to stand there - as he does at several points, taking in the crowd and silently daring each and every one of them to take him on - to radiate this fearsome energy.
Standing and delivering is the forte of Ron Asheton. He's statue-like for the most part, feet firmly rooted to the ground as he reels off superb lick after lick, like some alien in a camo jacket with a death ray. Stun guitar indeed. It sounds so much unlike any other guitarist to have graced this festival stage during the day - which is why he's an original. Playing at deafening volume with a tone that's both jagged and warm, like a big tidal wave of sound, he locks in and puts it out.
A couple of songs in Iggy, who probably knows how some youngsters are out there are oblivious to who this band is, thinks it's time for a formal introduction.
"WE ARE THE FUCKING STOOGES!!!"
Thousands know - and even those who don't, cheer. The declaration amounts to this:
"We are here, despite everything over the years. This is our stage, our show and we are here to have a good time and to fuck you all up!!!"
Which is what they preceded to do.
There's nothing surprising about the set list (I've heard 20 or so current day Stooges shows) but it's still a thing of beauty, with small and subtle changes to the songs, and an immense and awe-inducing power.
There is no better drummer in the world to play these songs than Rock Action. Full stop (or period - if you're American). He sits atop that big, shiny kit, shades in place and baseball cap back-to-front, and lays down a crushing backbeat that summons up a massive groove. It's self evident that he hits hard; moreso up close. Scott and Ron are at the core of the sound, playing off each other to make this band sound unique.
"Dirt" is so deceptively simple, you might think an eight-year-old could play it. The real fact of the matter is that no-one can quite play it like Rock Action. Tonight, he plays it a little faster, it seems. No problem. That feel sticks imbeds itself into the brain matter and goes straight to the lower gut.
Ig apart, Watt is the most animated figure on stage and his driving basslines are fundamental to what's happening. Years ago, Gary Rasmussen was touted as the guy to fill that bass spot (when a reformation was first spoken about) and of course that made perfect sense. But, with all due respect to Rasmussen (a Stooges contemporary and former bandmate of Scott Asheton), Mike Watt is the guy who bridged eras of Stooge (non) activity and provided the practical spark for the band to happen. His drive and determination was the cement for the Watt-Mascis-Asheton-Asheton combo that toured Stoogetunes through the US and Europe a few years back. That venture put the brothers back on the musical map. Iggy had, by then, played music with every backing group on the planet - except the one that mattered most. A phone call to Ron and Scott invited them to join him in Miami and the rest, as they say, is history.
I reel off a few digital pix early in the set, but they're duds without the assistance of fill-in flash which has been shut down to avoid distracting the band. Henry Rollins does the same with his camera but lets his flash blaze away, so I decide if it's good enough for him, it's fine for me. If someone gets the shits, I'll point 'em at Hank and he and his tatts can sort 'em out.
"1969" is pure and powerful, all Bo Diddley beat and Ron telling 'em how Ig feels. "I Wanna Be Your Dog" the most simple nihilistic anthem ever to grace human ears with its ill-mannered presence and is thunderous.
"Real Cool Time" arrives and the usual stage invasion is a crack-up. The bouncers in front of the crash barriers moat must be pre-briefed because they assist, rather evict, the lemming-like wave of punters who head topside. A handful of the privileged few from behind join them; Mark Sisto's first, quickly followed by young Hana Tek, onto whom Iggy latches for a dance. Mum later says it's her daughter's biggest rock and roll moment since meeting James Brown.
Ron's just struggling to stay near his effects pedal during all this chaos but Iggy resists any thoughts of clearing the stage and summons the band for "No Fun". I'm guessing but Ron appears to be fastidious about his gear and it's noticeable that his amp head and speaker box are firmly lashed together, no doubt because of previous mishaps.
The parents of an appropriately shirtless toddler (again wearing ear protection) usher junior on - and proud mum and dad follow to shoot some digital pictures. Iggy pokes his tongue out at the kid who isn't used to leathery rock legends in low-slung jeans making faces and visibly recoils. More mirth when Watt comes across stage to join in. He shakes that thud staff in front of the youngster, a massive grin visible under his handlebar moustache but receives the same terrified reaction. Despite his leeriness, this kid's not a bad dancer, so I cry injured and stay on the sidelines for fear of being shown up. At least I can say (to paraphrase the Dictators in "Who Will Save Rock and Roll"), that "I saw the Stooges, covered in bruises" - only they were all mine.
(Post script: Turns out the bare-chested kid dancing onstage was Marshall Tucker-Bangs His dad is Lance Bangs. Marshall's mom is Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney.)
The stage clears and it's a mark of the efficiency of the Stooges crew that no-one comes a cropper and the set moves along in quick time. Ig's frequent forays over the lip of the stage or onto Watt's amp to do a bit of humpin' are always shadowed by eagle-eyes roadies, endlessly feeding the mic lead or hoisting the singer out of trouble. It's still fascinatingly dangerous in a sense, but also well controlled from the man management side. And Iggy is a real pro who never misses a cue.
Steve Mackay's arrival pushes things into tight-loose avant gardism, the sort of touches that make "Funhouse" just about the best album of all time. "1970" soars but it's the big skanky groove of (the actual song) "Funhouse" that takes a hold like a massive bull mastiff, tearing away at the marrow of a bone and not letting go. It's reassuring to hear new material as it means a band is moving forward, but as good as "Skull Ring" is tonight, it's getting on a little. Another newer tune, "Dead Rock Star", gets a guernsey but is simply a lesser moment in the Stooges canon.
Not so the closer. It's predictable but perversely no disappointment. The reprise of "Dog" (brought on by the Pop's call of "Double Dog!") is made all the more cutting by Mackay's sax accents.
The band leaves. Iggy stays, close to the lip of the stage. He looks out over that vast crowd, one more time (a moment captured in the pic at the top of the page). He's spent but defiant. There's an expectation something might happen, like he might bring the band back out. But he can't. The White Stripes are in place nextdoor.
Iggy hangs there momentarily to soak up the roar, and finally drags his scarred body off, his jeans stained two tones by a lather of sweat.
An emphatic win over lame music. Stooges 1-0.
You can't bottle this shit and it's not confected.
Next are the White Stripes. I can take 'em or leave 'em - and on this occasion it's the latter. There's no way they or anyone else could have matched what we just saw.
PS - Mucho thanks are in order to a few people - you know who you are.
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Fantastic review and photos of the Stooges at the BDO. Did crowd carer duties during the morning, but finished in time to enjoy bands in the arvo including Beasts and Stooges. The review summed it up perfectly, even down to the tedium of the White Stripes after the blitzkrieg that was the Stooges. A great day - even though I said I'd never go to the BDO at the "new place". All the best to everyone at the I-94 Bar. - Robyn Watkins
Fantastic review,captured everything that one could expect from the Stooges. Great to watch from the side stage, but even better being up front in the sweating ,hot, loud moshpit. Gotta say I'M getting too old for that shit though. Yeah, saw the Melbourne Igg Day Out .Like yours truly and a few other hundred fans ,couldn't give a toss about any other bands but a couple. This year' s BDO in Melbourne was sporting a new venue, Princess Park ,a huge expanse of grassland and trees near Carlton and I gotta say that this new venue was by far a better layout. No problems getting drinks, plenty of space. In short what can you say about the stooges that hasn't been said before. Got to front of stage just after Living End, had to stand for over an hour listening to Franz...Fern.. without a drink. How can they be one of the best bands in the world today? Got me tossed. Then it came: Iggy and The Stooges, something I've waited years for. The first bars from Loose were totally awesome, powerhouse rock. Each song after another. Iggy was mesmerizing. Ron's blistering guitar licks. Scott's simple but ever powerful drum style. Great show,one that wil hold in my mind for many a year to come, Why wasn't Birdman there? "Saw The Stooges and The MC-5". - Ron Dogman
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