IGGY & THE STOOGES
Big Day Out
January 26, 2011
Words by BOB SHORT
Photos by CARBIE WARBIE
Up against the security rail, James Williamson’s guitar amp is in spitting distance, punk. The guy behind me asks if I’m going to review this for I-94 and I say no. I don’t have a critical bone in my body at this point. I am here to have my mind blown. I’m not here to remember set lists or point out flaws. This is the dream made flesh, baby. This is the real deal. I want to scar my mind with raw experience.
Cut back to the dawn of 1977 and I’m waiting for my man by my Wollongong mailbox. White Light records had put an ad in RAM magazine for a new Stooges single. I had a dodgy cassette copy of Funhouse and I’d lie by the Stereo using speakers as headphones. Endlessly, I’d listen to that glorious wailing and gnashing of teeth. Fuck all that shit the other kids were into. Fuck the Eagles. Fuck Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath. Fuck Led Zeppelin and god damn Elton John. Give me the Stooges. (With a bit of Birdman on the side – just for good measure.)
Now there was something else I could get my hands on; two dollars and ninety five cents plus post and packaging. I sent off the postal order, skipping school lunch for a week just so I’d have the cash. (It’s better to be skinny and own a Stooges record!) Here he comes, all dressed in Post Office blue. Package in hand. Needle to vinyl groove. I’ve got a right! Forty five revolutions a minute. Listen to those god damn chords. How can anyone play like that? And just when you didn’t think it could get any better, James Williamson hits THE solo. It is the best guitar solo ever captured on any recorded medium. Even more blistering than the explosion at the centre of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”. Instantly, I know what I want to do with the rest of my life. And first step was seeing the Stooges...
Historians will note the problem I had just run into. I was three years too late. Iggy was off playing house with Davey and James... well he’d gone straight. But still the tease continued. By July of ’77, “Raw Power” had got a re-release. “Metallic KO” and the “Night of the Iguana” bootleg were doing the rounds. “Kill City”, “Sick of You”, “Jesus loves the Stooges”; these discs were popping up everywhere. Few of them bore a when or a where or a who. It almost seemed feasible that, in some dark secret corner of the earth, the Stooges were alive and pumping this stuff out. It wasn’t like we had the internet to tell us anything different.
Meanwhile, every Tom, Dick and Harry was talking the Stooges talk but there were few who could really walk the walk. If ever there was a moment for the Stooges to return triumphant, it had to be 1977. News rang out. Iggy was coming to Australia with Radio Birdman as his backing band! I had a ticket the moment they were released only to have all hope dashed when the gig was cancelled. I tell you, there wasn’t a window safe that night from the wrath of disgruntled punters. (Well – by disgruntled punters – I mean Jim Savage and me. We took that shit personal.)
And so the years passed. I did get to see Iggy many times with both great bands and shit bands. It wasn’t the Stooges but it was usually fun. Now, cutting a tedious story short, it’s Summer 2010 and the latest reincarnation of the Stooges is about to play the Big Day Out, a series of festivals across capital cities in Australia and New Zealand. Despite claims to the contrary, the Big Day Out is about as Rock and Roll as a trip to Ikea. The worst of the bunch is usually the Australia Day event held in Sydney because it traditionally provides an opportunity for many white folk to wear the flag, get temporary Southern Cross tattoos and slap on a little green and gold sun cream (and –did I mention -consume vast quantities of ecstasy). Apart from the need for ear plugs, it’s like going to the cricket (and if you like cricket, you can just go fuck off and stop reading this review; you are not wanted here).
The main arena at the Showgrounds is brutally exposed to the summer sun on an open flat far enough from the sea that there is no chance of a cooling breeze. It’s a bit like one of those African football stadiums where they round up the political prisoners and shoot the lot. The main difference is that they have concession stands at the Big Day Out and a lot of cash machines because you’re gonna need them. Of course, if you want a beer, you are going to have to queue for an hour to verify entitlement of purchase even if you’re Iggy’s age. On general principle, I never go to the Big Day Out. It is a shallow, money grubbing, dehumanising experience that I wouldn’t put my worst enemy through. Still, the Stooges are playing. The Stooges with James Williamson. I’m strapping on my “don’t-fuck-with-me” boots and my laser glare. Five to one, baby. One in Five. No-one here comes out alive. See you on the front line.
The secret of surviving the Big Day Out is planning. We are going to the Stooges. Is there anything else we want to see? Rammstein? I’m sure they would be a laugh but not after the Stooges. Who wants their memories of a day fouled by a band you merely consider a good laugh? Jim Jones Revue? They’re on at one o’clock. That’s six hours before the Stooges with nothing but dirge and 40 degree Celsius heat. Sorry, Jim. You are on your own. Enjoy the pay cheque.
The plan is simple. Rock up at five o’clock. That will allow us two hours to run any gauntlet of problems like queues and parking and getting to the front of the stage. As it turns out, we are inside the gates a minute after five. Looking for something to pass the time we hit the Annandale stage to check out the Hard Ons. Now, I’d like to review the Hard Ons but I can’t. The Annandale stage was a concrete amphitheatre with the PA aimed directly at the stone. The sound guy was up on the lip of the pit and maybe you could hear better up there. Down in the echo chamber, I couldn’t make one song out from another. I couldn’t recognise any of the songs but the Hard Ons worked hard to entertain.
We headed into the main arena to work out how we would get to the front. There were two stages next to each other. Currently up were the inconceivably appalling Birds of Tokyo; a band that would actually make Coldplay look exciting. That bad? Worse. John Butler’s pissy symbol was already up on the other stage. The plan was simple. When Butler started playing, the cattle would all move across to see him. That was the necessary opening to get to the front of the Stooges. Like seasoned professionals, we made our move.
Any problem with the plan? Well there was one and that was the John Butler Trio. It meant being in the same arena as those dreary fuck hippy scum bags. Music to dance to (in Crocs) as my companion admirably put it. Oh how that man drizzled. The last of the summer’s diarrhoea. I promise you this, gentle reader; if I ever cross paths with Mr Butler, I am going to punch him square in the fucking face. He will think that this is an unprovoked attack but he will be wrong. That man tortured me and those around me I love. He will pay. Long time readers will note I have the memory of an elephant.
And now, Iggy. Iggy and the Stooges. Surely, no band could live up to the wild expectations I have presented here. Wrong. The Stooges were better than I could have ever imagined. They played the shortest hour set I have ever seen. That hour seemed like ten minutes. I could have stayed there watching the Stooges all night. People had told me they were going to be sloppy. They weren’t. People had pointed them out as old men. Age has not wearied them. James Williamson’s guitar scored paint off of every structure in a three kilometre radius. Mike Watts and Scott Ashton were the rhythm section from hell. They swelled and rumbled, rocking the world old school. Steve Mackay did his best to fill in the pieces everyone else missed.
And Iggy? Well, the weirdest thing about Iggy is that he just can’t believe his luck. He smiles. He’s happy. He’s obviously grateful. There’s no point abusing an audience who adores you. The ugly little gremlin just stands vindicated. The Stooges are, were and will always be the greatest band in the history of the planet and Iggy has the proof. He still is out there jumping, posing and doing all those things a front man should. His only bow to age is letting the band wind 1970 into LA Blues. As that segued into Night Theme, Iggy was nowhere to be seen. I don’t know what they were doing to him backstage but he came back good as new.
What did they play? Raw Power. I wanna be your dog. Search and Destroy. Shake Appeal. No Fun. Beyond the Law. I got a right. Death Trip. Gimme Danger. Open up and Bleed. Any complaints? Well, some people said it was a little staged. Hey, it’s a one hour stadium show, so I think you can give the guys a break. Certain rules apply. I’ll tell you something though, the security guards were taken totally by surprise when Iggy called dancers up on to the stage. I know he’s done this at most recent shows but the ground staff didn’t know what had hit them. It got a bit dangerous down at the front at that point. There was a lot of crush and the Big Day Out has had one memorable fatality at this very stage. The fence was sorely tested. As usual, a lot of rugby playing blokes thought it was their golden opportunity to tread on girls. I got the chance to point out the error of their ways. Iggy, meanwhile, got a chance to be surrounded by a bunch of dorks.
Well, it wouldn’t be the Stooges without some kind of danger and at least a little pinch of stupidity. When the shouting for Iggy was drowned out by Rammstein, it was time to leave. Finally, you may ask why have I reviewed this when I said I wasn’t interested in writing a review? Well, so far I’ve had to tell this story to about 20 people so I may as well write it down for the rest of you. Aren’t you sorry you didn’t come?