Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I did it: I saw the Stooges. I braved the sea of shirtless assholes (some draped in Australian flags!) and witnessed The Greatest Band There Ever Was (just about) in all their 3/4-line-up reunion glory. Was it worth it it? Was it worth $140? It's hard to answer that; I can only say I certainly don't feel cheated.

My experience with music festivals is limited. I do not care to share my musical experiences with thousands of others, nor do I care for the long slog of musical offerings which such festivals offer. I've been to the Meredith Music Festival twice in my life: 1995 (rained out, tent collapsed, got waaay too drunk way too early and passed out); 2003 (had a blast, paced myself like a Zen master and drank for a whopping 17 hours straight, caught Radio Birdman headlining); and attended the woefully under-populated Livid festival in 2004 (got free tickets, enjoyed the awesome live glory of Turbonegro and slept through the Hellacopters, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and two-dozen other lame bands).

Big Day Out? Never been interested. Given the fact that this was a case of Very Special Circumstances (the Stooges were not playing any side shows of their own), it had to be done. I will never do it again, and that's not because I had a bad time - I certainly didn't - but because the Big Day Out is a dreadful way to witness a band you may be truly interested in seeing. Too many people, queues a mile long if you actually wish to get reasonably close to the performer in question, and a sound system which literally drifts in and out with the breeze. Until the organisers manage to convince the 1981 5-piece line-up of the 'Flag to reunite for a series of shows, I won't be attending again any time soon.

OK, OK... enough whining... the band: that's Iggy, the Ashton brothers and senor Mike Watt(!!!) on bass. The gig, by any normal standards, was not mind-blowing. I've seen a few old geezers the last few years: Wire, Love and Neil Young, and all three rate as undoubtedly some of the finest live music I've ever witnessed. But the Stooges... they were great, it was terrific to see them finally in the flesh, to hear the originators (as opposed to the 2,000 Stooges covers I've endured played by locals the last 18 years of gig-going) belt out the hits for the masses and to simply be a part of it. Iggy yelped and screamed, hammed it up (I hope) with a few Spinal Tap-esque quips ("We played Brisbane, it was OK; we played Sydney, it was cool; but Meeelboouurne?!!!..." [cue screaming crowd]), humped his speakers and did the well-worn trick of inviting a sea of fans on stage (oh, the humanity...); both Ashtons played like they were embalmed or just came out of a coma but hit the skins and plucked the strings amiably; and Mike Watt proved to be a real highlight (yeah, aw shucks, I'm a fan, 'k?) with his head-down/patrol-the-stage-like-an-animal schtick, but musically it lacked that indefinable oomph which tells you that THIS BAND KICKS SOME FUCKIN' ASS.

It was competent, workman-like and gave the crowd what it wanted, but it never superseded such expectations. It played it safely and I'm not upset by that, but I was hoping Iggy would pull a rabbit out of his hat and, I don't know, throw some shit around, shoot up, pull his pants down, molest a crowd member, cause or inflict a serious injury or even resort to that timeless classic of rock lore: drag the jar of peanut butter out. He did none of those things. It came mighty close with the final, encore rendition of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" when the band started to finally, really let go and Iggy dove into the audience to be quickly mauled, but then the band shut up shop, said their farewells and it was over.

I'm not disappointed; it was a great show, my adrenalin got a-pumpin' and my legs got a-shakin' and if I drop dead tomorrow I can at least say I did something worthwhile with my life, but I didn't go home and change my religion or spin Funhouse 'til the early hours of the morning. Given a smaller, indoor venue it mighta blown the roof off, but in a large field on a sunny, warm and putridly humid day, surrounded by a sea of clueless yo-yos gawking at the spectacle with likely not a hint of any understanding of who in fact they were actually witnessing, it didn't do anything special that a hundred other really great rock bands could do. From the Stooges, I expect more than that!

For the record, the only other acts I managed to see all day were the Beasts of Bourbon (who were flat and lifeless), about 20 minutes of Franz Ferdinand (who were really quite good, I must say. A pop band with smarts who don't come across smug, they're inoffensive fluff I can handle) and roughly two minutes of Hank Rollins The Spoken Word Behemoth. The moment I heard the beginnings of what promised to be a tiring and tiresome anti-Bush rant (nice sentiments, but I've heard it all before) I was outta there. I'll paraphrase a friend who sat through his set: "Rollins is now exactly like that drunken guy you always get stuck talking to down at the pub who bores the tits off you with old stories about the Ramones, Slayer, the Stooges and endless touring yarns... except Rollins is sober, on stage, has a microphone and an audience and gets paid thousands of dollars to do it".

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