Did you hear? The guitar is dead. Apparently the world's six-string slingers are either dying or hanging it up, and kids today don't worship guitar gods any more.
So then what's up with Burger Boogaloo? Is it guitar rock's last gasp?
After seeing the massive crowd at Burger Boogaloo 2017, it sure doesn't seem like it. Thousands came out to Mosswood Park Saturday, and I credit the large draw to the fact that the Boogaloos are booked by young underground music lovers and not industry types. Unlike other guitar-focused music festivals, the Boogaloo isn't all about drowning its audience in nostalgia. The majority of the bands on the Boogaloo bill are young and focused on energetic live sets -- not just making sure they're hitting the right notes.
Providing another ray of hope for guitar rock's survival was the diversity of crowd. Though garage rock has a reputation for being too white, I saw all types of music lovers, and the age of the attendees was even more wide-ranging, stretching from barely able to walk to barely legal to barely alive.
Sadly, I arrived a little late to the festival because there was one equally important event happening at the same time: the reopening of the once dead Berkeley cafe Intermezzo (now Mezzo). I wasn't going to be able to stand a barrage of gunk punk without getting a taste of that sweet poppyseed dressing beforehand. But my craving for big salads and honey oat bread meant I missed out on two great bands:
Personal and the Pizzas: For those who live and die by the Ramones, Personal and the Pizzas are Heaven sent. Tight, 3-chord riffs provide a foundation for this band's blitzkrieg of catchy tunes, all sung with exaggerated New "Joyzee" accents. (Pretty deceptive since the band is local.) The last time I caught the Pizzas, they managed to re-create the exact feel and tempo of the Rocket From the Tombs' version of "Raw Power," for what seemed like half their set. If that's your jam -- it's certainly mine! -- then this is your new favorite band.
Wounded Lion: Do you like sing alongs, unconstrained dancing, and your guitar riffs as simple and powerful as a caveman's club? Then buy every Wounded Lion record you can find. And if you're not belting the words to "Roman Values" after hearing it for the first time, then you should give up reading this review.
Now to the bands I did see.
Because I happened to park at what must've been the farthest spot possible from the entrance to the festival, I made it to the Gone Shrimpin' stage (the amphitheater that used to be the only stage at previous Boogaloos) just as John Waters was introducing power pop darlings the Baby Shakes. Waters compared them to the Donnas (pre-major label) and the Angels, but I think that sells them short. The Baby Shakes are unabashed students of early '80s power pop, complete with snazzy matching outfits -- fishnet stockings and denim jackets with the band's name on the back. Singer/guitarist Mary Blount approaches her melodies like Chrissie Hynde but the riffs are pure Undertones- and Protex-style power pop. They probably would've felt more at home in a dark club like The Rat, but they managed to make the best of stage that had them baking in the bright sunlight.
Th' Losin' Streaks
After the Baby Shakes smokin' set, there was plenty of time to saunter over to the main stage AKA "Butt City" (no really) and catch Th' Losin' Streaks (yes, those apostrophes are official). The Streaks are pure white manna for record store regulars who rock their hair in a bob, read true crime and can't own imitation Beatle boots -- only the originals from 1965 matter. They play rougher edged '60s garage, the kind mined by Tim Warren for his Back From the Grave compilations, but with an updated feel so it doesn't come across as cos play like some of their predecessors in the '90s. Gray-haired but far from dead, these middle-aged record nerds took the stage and absolutely KILLED it. If the Who would've seen the Th' Losin' Streaks play their last song, I swear they would've left in tears, mumbling to themselves that they "used to be that powerful and exciting." Really, the only performance I've ever seen come close to Streaks' closer Saturday was the Who playing "A Quick One" on Rock And Roll Circus. Yes, it was THAT good.
Any reference to '50s pop culture is probably kryptonite to the average Bay Area liberal, but to reject groups like King Khan and BBQ, Shannon and the Clams and Bloodshot Bill means depriving yourself of some serious good times. Rockabilly is as bare bones as pop music gets, but is so dependent on swagger that it might as well be re-classified as "proto-Hip Hop."
A Canadian who started out as a one-man band, Bloodshot Bill is a master of the groovier side of rock and roll. In short, he writes the songs that gets the sock hops hopping and the strippers shakin'. Every track features pounding four-on-the-floor drums and tremolo-soaked guitar lines played through a rig he probably got secondhand from Billy Childish. But his most notable feature is his voice, which is simultaneously gravely and squeaky, and when he talks he almost sounds like Hound Dog Taylor at his punchiest. And just like a drunk old blues man dragged on stage to fulfill his obligations, Bloodshot was scatterbrained and hilarious, and the crowd was all smiles the entire time.
I don't think there's a band out there that loves rock music as much as Redd Kross. Every show the McDonald Brothers play they seem to living out all of their childhood fantasies, pulling out stage moves that could only be mastered in front of a mirror at home. Burger Boogaloo regulars at this point, this was the first time they played the festival with Dale Crover of doom metal pioneers the Melvins behind the kit. For this set, the band took the crowd to their own sect of rock church, pulling out a massive array of awesome covers with their best originals sprinkled in between. Highlights included a perfect rendition of the Quick's "It Won't Be Long" (a Beatles song molded into a Sparks track? Pure genius!) and the entirety of their 1984 EP of covers, Teen Babes From Monsanto. Redd Kross's version of KISS's "Deuce" is so good that I don't think KISS should be allowed to play it any more -- like Otis Redding's "Respect," he might've written it but another performer owns that song now.
Talk about a triumphant return! After living for years in the Bay Area, where he wrote the songs for his eponymous debut album Love Visions while sleeping on various floors and couches, Nobunny had to head back home to Chicago just a little while back. But life's hurdles have done nothing to hinder Justin Champlin's aspirations and love for sticky-sweet punk, and the band he put together in Chi-Town have Nobunny's sloppy and fun feel down pat. From the first note, Champlin and crew had the packed crowd in the palm of his hand, or at least pogo-ing with the undying energy of another bunny known more for hawking batteries. Band or not, Nobunny would've been up there in his signature mask and briefs -- he's been known to play shows backed by just a boombox -- and it was great to see such a large audience loving his brand of Jabbers-era GG Allin punk and girl group melodies.
It's surreal to see Guitar Wolf on a big stage. Back in the 2000's, you could catch the Japanese rock trio almost annually at your local rock club. The story back then was that it was actually a treat to see them on such a small stage as they played arenas back home, but that was always hard for me to believe. Guitar Wolf is like many of the experimental rock bands to come from Japan that record nerds in the states salivate over: unbelievably noisy. Like test-the-limits-of-your-hearing noisy. And while their thunderous brethren like Mainliner and Les Rallizes Dénudés find their inspirations in '70s era rock, Guitar Wolf has developed their own sound that they call "Jet Rock and Roll." It comes from a mix of Joan Jett worship and a love for the noises of a jet engine, and out of all the styles of noise rock to come from Japan, Jet Rock and Roll might be the most difficult to appreciate. Notes and rhythms don't matter -- their cover of the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams" is unrecognizable -- and some of the sounds that come from their amps could be criminal. Their earliest albums border on being almost unlistenable, and one of their best-sellers, Jet Generation, came with a warning that the LP could cause "irreparable damage to stereo equipment."
So when the trio came out onto the Butt City stage wearing lizard masks and their signature black leather jackets, I expected a mass exodus. Yet the crowd stayed. Certainly they'd bolt after the first song? Nope, not then either. Then I realized that it's all about Guitar Wolf's live act, which has varied little over the many decades they've been playing. In a small club, the outfits, the jumps and points, the dramatic pauses and the constant shouts of "Rock and Roll" are like if garage rock was crafted into performance art. On the giant Butt City stage, Guitar Wolf proved that they truly are meant to be playing arenas, and watching thousands embrace this ear-splitting spectacle was truly beautiful, in a rock-and-roll kinda way.
Iggy Pop, the undisputed godfather of punk, has reached the point in a career where his fans go see his shows to make sure they catch him before "it's all over." Not to say that he's teetering on the edge of death; it's just obvious that he could retire from the rockstar lifestyle at any moment.
Though his most recent tour behind the album Post Pop Depression was well-received, his set at Boogaloo was how real Iggy fans should see him. This was the kind of set he played during his decades-long fallow period, releasing albums with little fanfare on whatever label would pay for them. Back in those days, Pop cobbled together musicians to tour with and played an almost predictable set of hits. He always brought the Iggy experience -- never wearing a shirt, always dry-humping guitar amps -- and for punks, seeing an Iggy show was a rite of passage.
For Boogaloo, following a rousing introduction from Waters, Pop prowled onstage to a pitch perfect rendition of "Now I Wanna Be Your Dog," which was followed up by 1-2-3 combo of "Gimme Danger," "The Passenger" and "Lust For Life." The rest of the set included most of Iggy's greatest hits -- "Search and Destroy," "T.V. Eye," "Repo Man," just to name a few -- as well as some new tracks like his recent single "Gardenia." Though no amps were violated, the 70-year-old Pop even staged dived at the beginning of his set. It was about as glorious of a set you're were going to get out of Iggy at this stage in his career, and a perfect ending to a great day -- despite the fact that Pop thought he was playing in San Francisco.
But Before I Go...
The crowd during Iggy was packed to the gills, which made for some tense interactions over territory on the lawn. Though this country might've been founded partially on the pursuit of property, being difficult to those trying to squeeze by and head deeper into the crowd is uncalled for at an event that's supposed to be about bringing people together. Yes, we all know that it's annoying to have people needling through a crowd, but it's an annoyance we all have to do deal with, and you don't know exactly why that person is trying to get to the front. So, in the future, instead of worrying about where you are in the crowd, concentrate on where you are in the moment.