IGGY & THE STOOGES
PRIMAL SCREAM et al
Big Day Out
Sydney Showgrounds
January 27, 2011


By EARL O'NEILL

Share Flesh!  Glistening, sunkissed, nubile flesh, every third male a junior Adonis in oversized butt-slung shorts, every second female a budding Aphrodite in tiny cutoffs and a crocheted bikini top.  It’s like North Steyne and North Cronulla got together to breed a race of…

...people who like Angus and Julia Stone.  Unwilling to put up with Deftones’ thunkheadedness, we went to check out the latest flavour of the month which turned out to be processed white bread with a little extra saccharine.

Time for a stroll.  Ooh, look, a Motorola charging station where you can sit in deckchair while your poor worn out fone has a bit of R&R.  Food and drink selection none too bad and not as outrageously priced as you sometimes find at these events and the Gozleme mafia were out in force.  The merchandising stall demanded a minimum $30 on digital transactions which might have got you half a tee-shirt before you head over to the market stalls for the usual selection of silverish jewelry, straw hats and plastic sunglasses.

There was a Ferris wheel in the boiler room and some unde-rutilised lighting rigs.  It’s a damned shame that a ridiculously censorious attitude toward hallucinogenic drugs means that kids won’t get to enjoy the full potential of these kinda places.

We attempted to check out the Lilypad but were refused entry cos we lacked the blue wristbands necessary to prove our age.  I’m 44 and several weeks overdue for another dose of Clairol Burgundy 113.  No matter, as the goon explained to me at great length and with much self-justification, it’s necessary to protect the kiddies from the bad language these performace artists use and, well, if everyone at once tried to get into the Lilypad, that’d just be chaos and that’s why you needed a wristband, no matter how obviously middle-aged you looked.  And then he dragged out that tired old excuse “I don’t make the laws, I just enforce them.”

Good for you, my intellectually challenged friend.  Where would the world’s autocracies be without this line of reasoning?

We checked out a few more bands and if I can’t say anything good, I won’t say anything at all.  So we headed over to stake out a spot for The Stooges.  This entailed 15 minutes of John Butler, but, as I find him to be merely lame and inoffensive, it wasn’t as tortuous for me as it was for a few others.  It was the sensible spot of choice, as evidenced by everyone I knew at the BDO that day standing within a few metres, on a straight line out from the guitar amps, as close as we could without ending up in the mosh pit.

The Stooges ran out onto the stage, James Williamson grabbed a black Les Paul and hit thosee stuttering chords that introduce ‘Raw Power.’  Yeah, at last, this is it!  Only it wasn’t quite the blast I wished for.  Sometimes a band aint quite as on top of their game as they can be.  Mike Watt’s facepulling was a bit of a distraction, but not near as much as a shocking mix.

It was the worst mix I’ve ever heard at a major show, perhaps the worst mix I’ve ever heard at all.  The only comparison that comes to mind is an Indian heavy metal covers band in Jaipur in 1994, a truly bizarre experience enlivened by a mixer who was keen to experiment with every dial, fader and knob on the desk, endlessly and at great extremes.  He now has a job with The Stooges, sending relative levels wandering all around the mix.  He has taken his job seriously enough to listen to the records and noted how loud the guitar is on ‘Raw Power’.  Keen to put his own stamp on proceedings, he decided that Steve Mackay’s saxophone should take pride of place.  Except when Steve plays a solo, then he gets turned off. 

The drums were drowned in a welter of digital reverb, the bass guitar was an indistinct murky rumble and the lead guitar thin and fizzy.  Except for James’ solos, when it came as close as it ever got to being a decent sound.  What really pissed me off was that this show, that I’ve been waiting for since 1982, was ruined by the idiocy of some hired flunky who obviously wasn’t up to the task.  Whether he was drunk, stoned, stricken with Alzheimers, I don’t care, he deserves to be thrown naked off the tour bus in Canowindra and left to find his own way home.

There was another aspect, more inherent to the band itself.  Whereas the Stooges of five years ago were seemingly left to be their own band, this lineup had to cover more bases which had the effect of making them seem a bit like their own tribute band, especially in the older songs.

The ‘Kill City’ tracks were the best of the set.  The songs suited the band – they were written for this kind of lineup – and the greater depth of the lyrics and music worked for these ol’ bastards.  ‘Johanna’ was the standout, it sent shivers running the length of my spine.

During the guitar solo, Iggy seized the mic stand, swung it above his head and then slammed it into the stage, again and again.  Much of the crowd whooped and hollered – that Iggy, man, he’s crazy – but there was a lot more to it that simple crowd pleasing.  I don’t believe Iggy was acting out for the sake of the crowd, no, I saw exactly what Lester Bangs wrote about in ‘Blowtorch In Bondage’ in 1977.  You really ought to go and read the whole piece, which can be found in ‘Psychotic Reactions And Carburetor Dung’ (what do you mean, you don’t own it?  You foolish cretin!) but, to quote Lester, after he quotes a British reviewer describing Iggy as “straight out of Michelangelo’s wet dreams… a display that spells one thing – MEAT!”:

"Ignoring the florid prose, I’d like to ask the guy who wrote that how he would like to be thought of as a piece of meat, how he thinks the meat feels.  Or if he thinks it feels at all.  Yeah, Iggy’s got a fantastic body; it’s so fantastic he’s crying in every nerve to explode out of it into some unimaginable freedom.  It’s as if someone writhing in torment has made that writhing into a kind of poetry, and we watch in awe of such beautiful writhing, so impressed that we perhaps forget what inspired it in the first place." - Lester Bangs

At his very best, Iggy is probably the most self-destructive rock and roll singer to ever walk the earth.  It’s that genuine lunacy that saw him wilfully throw himself into drug abuse and brutally crazy behaviour in a manner that even Keith Richards and Lou Reed stopped short of and record ‘Kill City’ on day release from a state mental hospital as part of his therapy.  It stands to reason that Iggy should reveal a bit of this in ‘Johanna’, given that history.  I would have loved to have heard 'Open Up And Bleed', it might have been that whatever made the Kill City songs great would've made this one great too, but 'twas not to be. 

As dangerous as this has been for him, as close as it’s come to killing him on several occasions, it also allows him to hit heights that few would dare imagine.  By their very nature, these heights are few and far between, but we saw one of those moments during ‘Johanna’. 

So, for all my nitpicking, I still got to hear James Williamson play guitar and I caught a glimpse of the essence of Iggy Pop.  Two things I long thought would never happen.  They wound up the set with a rampaging "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell" and Iggy had a large chunk of the crowd punching the air and chanting "Hey -Hey - Hey" at the end which struck me as a tad Nurembergian. 

Rammstein were thunderously loud.  Tight mix, too.  Fireworks explode, only blue and white gels get a workout, the first three songs sounded alike and we were hungry.  They have six pyrotechnicians in their crew of 40 and they'd slung a big curtain over the stage while they set up.  The band were dull but I'd've loved to see the stage get set up with undoubted Teutonic effiency, especially as they would've hated waiting for John Butler's crew to finish wandering about.  It's all kinda arse-backward, if the act is German, you don't wanna see the band, you wanna see the crew in Wehmractian action.

Waiting for Primal Scream, we got to catch a chunk of Sia's set.  She's got a bunch of great pop songs and a crack backing band.  She's also in possession of an annoyingly twee line in stage patter and was kitted out in an alarming outfit that looked like she'd been the victim of the striped sheets of the living dead.  I wouldn’t buy her record, but I might download a few tracks.

Sometimes life smiles upon you.  ‘Raw Power’ and ‘Screamadelica’ are two of my alltime Top Ten albums, what are the chances that I get to catch both bands within an hour of each other??  Especially as Primal Scream were, for the first time, playing Screamadelica in its entirety.  There’d been a lot of work put into this, the musical arrangements, the visuals  For a band that have never looked back or trod water, they cared enough about their past to make this one hell of an experience.

Even down to the clothes, tho I doubt this was a concious group decision.  There was a mod, a 70s rocker, Bobby Gillespie sliding about the stage like a psychedelic trance rock shaman and Andrew Innes dressed like, ahh, David Attenborough.  A seven piece band who’ve never really stopped touring and recording for 24 years, tight and professional yet still loose, to catch the vibe and shake it about.

Night had fallen.  The coloured lights of the amusement park rides shone bright, pink and blue and green and yellow against the purpled sky.  They kicked off with ‘Movin’ On Up’ , a tribute and testament to the power of music, with a guitar solo that references ‘Sympathy For The Devil’.  The album was re-sequenced, re-arranged, stretched out and a magic groove coursed through the thousands dancing and digging it all, moments of quiet beauty, of earth-rattlin’ funkin’ rock and roll, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever caught.

They wound up with ‘Come Together’, seven or eight minutes of groovin’ and movin’, they pulled in all the good feelings of the day, the heat, the joy, the sex, alchemised it and offered it up to the gods and to us, they took our energy and sent it back magnified in beauty. 

Sometimes a show just makes you dance, you can’t help but shake your hips and shoulders.  Sometimes a show goes beyond that and transfixes you.  I was transfixed.  I’d look from the seriously psychedelic projections to the lights of the amusement park, going all the way with this glorious celebration of music, and I’ve never felt so close to an acid flashback.  Life simply glittered.

Primal Scream are a post-modern kinda band.  They take in everything that went before and give it back in their own way.  They’re massive fans of rock and roll and soul and, yeah, of some things I don’t care much for.  They have, like no other band I know of, an ability to encapsulate 50 years of musical history in a few songs, because they love it and have immersed themselves in it.  As they walked offstage, I slowly realised that I’d had a manic smile across my face for most of the hour, I was deeply and genuinely happy.

They ran a few minutes over time, and why the fuck not, cos sticking to the timetable is in no way an inherent part of rock and roll.  So we didn’t get even a few seconds to come down before the truly horrible Pnau were thumping a robotic 4/4 and pogoing in unison on the adjacent stage.  We left before they had a chance to ruin the magic.

I grabbed a Pine-Lime Splice on the way out, my favourite ice-cream since 1973, from a cart run by a friendly and beautifully spoken young Sudanese fellow.

“Aren’t you going to buy one for your lady friend?” he asked.  No, she didn’t want one.  We floated out, high on life and music.  No booze, no drugs, not even a cigarette.  Just so long as there’s rock and roll – and sex.  When you get to catch a bit of magic from two of your alltime Top Ten on the one evening, all the fears and worries and miniscule dramas of your everyday existence are wiped away and won’t be bothering you for some time to come.

I was blind, now I can see
You made a believer out of me

I’m moving on up now
Getting out of the darkness
My light shines on
My light shines on

I was lost, now I’m found
I believe in you, I’ve got no bounds

I’m moving on up now
Getting out of the darkness
My light shines on
My light shines on



 

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