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Little Steven’s International Underground Garage Festival (Concert Review)

Randall’s Island- NYC -14 Aug 2004

In this Playstation generation age where getting up from the couch to take a piss is now regarded an Olympic feat, it is commonly accepted as forgone conclusion to expect less from people than more. But underground garage mogul Little Steven Van Zandt is either an over achiever, completely mad, or has never plugged in a console in his life. The project: Little Steven’s International Underground Garage Festival. One festival, one day, one stage, half a million bands. Surely a feat beyond both science and common sense. The trick? We create a rotating stage, where as one band is finishing up their twenty minute set, the next band is setting up behind them ready to rock the minute the last chord is struck. Brilliant. What could possibly go wrong??? All we can say is that within an hour of the festival, there was one stage engineer wondering whether or not he was going to get paid today. Though to my limited knowledge there are a fair few kids in the New York garage scene who think Little Steven is “a complete tosser” and felt little sympathy for this colossal fuck up, the mechanical failure of the stage was a real shame and almost ruined what could have been one of the best festivals in recent memory. While I openly admit to not being a big garage music fan or an authority on sixties psychedelia, you didn’t need to be a baby boomer with a backpack full of flashbacks to know that you were amongst some true pioneers of the garage scene. The Electric Prunes, The Creation, The Chesterfield Kings, The Pretty Things, and lots of other bands starting with “The”; the mere fact that most of these bands are still alive let alone rocking like forty years had never passed was a total joy to behold. The only problem, and I hate to keep harping on the negative, was that with only ten minutes of band and twenty minutes of complete and utter mindless bullshit chatter from cult producer Kim Fowley, Brit DJ Martin Lewis, and any go-go dancer they could find to answer stupid rhetorical questions like “Are you ready to witness rock and roll history???” ad bloody nauseum, both vibe and patience were starting to wear a little thin. I wonder if this will show up on Chris Columbus’ film? But when the music was blaring, it was worth every second. New York hard core kings The Dictators were on fire, Big Star provided some much needed light and shade, and Bo Diddley though an ill fit for a garage festival was engrossing with his hand-made guitar, impromptu hip hop performance, and a voice that could melt butter. But it was the performances of the last three bands that really made this a festival to go into the annals, though maybe not for the reasons you’d think. Firstly, to see the remaining members of the legendary New York Dolls play their home town was like being in Bethlehem for the second coming. David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain and the “new” Dolls ripped through classics such as “Trash” and “Personality Crisis”, and by the end of their thankfully extended set, there were a lot of New Yorkers who could have died happily right at that very moment. And then it was The Strokes, put slap bang in between The Dolls and headliners The Stooges. Now don’t get me wrong, I think The Strokes are fantastic, but if I was Julian Casablancas, I would have said, “There is no fucking way I’m going to sandwich myself between two of the most old school super cred acts, no way no day. Why, that could look like arrogance!” I don’t know whose decision that was, but it certainly didn’t stir any humility in Casablancas if his banter was anything to go by. They were clearly taking some heavy hits from the crowd, but fighting arrogance with arrogance is not really doing anything for your cause. “I know some of you don’t like our band, so if you don’t you can just fuck off and come back when we’re finished” or words to that effect. A pity because they sounded absolutely amazing and undoubtedly exposed a lot of the younger crowd to some bands who they may never get the chance to hear. New York City bands, I guess they ain’t so smart. But if The Strokes did anything to divide the crowd, it was all forgotten the minute The Stooges hit the stage. To be honest, I’ve never been a big Iggy head. I’ve always thought he was the ultimate showman, and I’ve always thought his music was good, but after this performance I am now a disciple for the cause. Normally when it comes to seeing bands from back in the day, it’s like reliving old memories, trying to give people a stolen sample of the magic of an era that will never return. The Stooges however, don’t seem to pine for “the good old days”. Musically, these guys could easily take on any band of the current day and wipe the floor with them, as long as they didn’t have to bend over too far. They were amazing. And Iggy, well he’s just got to be cheating science. It’s the only rational explanation. Iggy Pop is never going to get old and wither away, he’ll just be walking down to the corner store one day to get some milk and “pop!”, Iggy will be gone. For a guy who is getting close to sixty, he shows no sign of ageing what so ever. The man is cut. He’s a machine. From the opening beat he bursts on stage, shirt off, gristly muscles bulging, low cut jeans and boots, being 110% Iggy just as everyone feared he would. He’s on the floor. No he’s hanging off the stage. No wait he’s climbing on the cameras and shaking like a man possessed. It’s everything rock and roll should be and more. “Get em up! Get em up!” Iggy shouts, as half the crowd climbs onto the stage to dance with the man. They rip through “1969”, “Fun House”, and “No Fun” with fresh energy as if they’d just written them. They play “I wanna be your dog” twice. Why? Well why not? It’s a brilliant end to a bizarre day, and a decisive hands-down win for senior citizens. By: Chris Deal: Sydney Austraiia (Visiting NYC) Exclusive content