Today is the start of another three-day Riot Fest, this one in Humboldt Park, not too far northwest of downtown Chicago. Toronto hosted her weekend a few weeks back and Denver will be the final stop come next week. Unfortunately for this author, the disheartening combination of dire financial straits and corporate employment that allows for no empathy toward employees who wish to vanish cross-country for a few days of sound and fun leaves me writing about this rather than hearing it in person.
This particular festival is really a much-fantasized wet-dream amalgamated lineup for any fan of the American underground, circa 1979-1985. If you include the addition of Iggy & The Stooges in Denver next week, you’ve got yourself a once-in-a-lifetime lineup that most likely will never be seen again, amazing in that it never should have been set in motion at all). For me, the fact that FOUR (really five since the Stooges are the most cherished of my rock ‘n’ roll outfits) of my top ten-of-all-time bands will be performing has me agonizing over the personal significance such a historic moment, what it would mean to me personally and how someone somewhere conspired with fate to create this unique opportunity only to have my experience revoked before it could even begin.
Two appearances are due to long-coveted reunions that understandably are seen as blatantly opportunistic and craven in their timing and circumstances . Make that three reunions if you count the two competing lineups of Black Flag.
Simply put, these five particular bands have exerted an incalculable influence on this author, who at the time of my introduction to each one, was your typical socially-alienated, angst-ridden young boy living in the suburban dystopia of the American Midwest. Influencing not only my prose writing and whole approach to songwriting but my philosophy and attitude of and for music, rock ‘n’ roll specifically, what it meant to play rock ‘n’ roll, what rock ‘n’ roll is and how no boundaries or restrictions have to exist if you embrace it like the other-worldy experience it is to so many. (I can go ahead and warn you, my dear reader, that there will be a handful of bands that will receive generous and most definitely excessive coverage in future postings, including all five of these groups today.
Who could have imagined a bill like this, way back in 1994? I never would have dreamt that I would have be able to witness this very specific set of bands, no one would have really, if you were aware of all the deaths, tragedies, standard-issue band tension, and debatable loss of credibility and/or integrity baggage that comes along with any musical reunion . There are a few other amazing acts that are on the bill that deserve mention and so I will briefly introduce them as they will also be featured prominently in the future.
I suspect the average Millennial isn’t aware of who Bob Mould is not to mention the wünderband he fronted from the spring of 1979 through a fairly common acrimonious split just weeks into 1988, that band being the mighty Hüsker Dü. One of a handful of THE super-influential bands from an important and vital era for the musical underground and burgeoning influence of a college-centric alternative music industry during those money-hungry, conservative-leaning years of Reagan and Bush, groups that include among many, REM, Jane’s Addiction, and Pixies, The Hüskers can seriously claim almost an omnipresent stylistic presence over most sounds emanating from so many of the commercially successful and derivative so-called alternative rock acts during the 1990s.
I haven’t researched his setlist for his 2013 shows but I’d be willing to bet a nickel that some Hüsker classics will find their way into the set. Hey, a Bob Mould setlist dominated by mostly solo-and-Sugar tunes with a few Dü tunes thrown in is better than none at all.
I find this reunion even more unexpected and intriguing than the Replacements‘ reformation. It’s well documented that after years of public sniping between band members, SST’s sudden ability in the early to mid ’90s to relieve itself of any responsibility for paying royalties along with massive egos that were nurtured like only they can be with trailblazing for a whole generation of underground bands has prevented any sort of true reunion up to this point. Ginn did put on three reunion shows (of sorts) to benefit some sort of cat rescue organization and Greg and Ron did play together for Ron’s 50th birthday in 2010.
But it wasn’t until the Flag’s first official singer Keith Morris , founding member/bassist/Propaganda Minister (thanks, Mike Watt for that one) Chuck Dukowski, former drummer Bill Stevenson along with the Descendents’ guitarist Stephen Egerton played the 30th anniversary show for longtime Flag promoter Golden Voice that a REAL Black Flag reunion took place. With all members (except Stephen) being crucial and early critical members of Black Flag, this lineup could lay claim to credibly carrying the Flag banner, unlike Ginn’s spiteful lineup. To avoid legal issues from Greg and confusion with fans, they played as Flag. So successful and rabid was the public and audience reaction to this show and reunion online and around the world that it caught Greg’s attention, who most recently has been touring behind all his little eclectic projects (I caught his set at Coachella a few years back) and living down in Tyler, Texas with his family. The success of this lineup spurred Greg Ginn on to reignite Black Flag with the second vocalist Ron Reyes, aka Chavo Pederast, who was living in Vancouver and born-again when he got the call. They have a new album in the can and are out on tour battling for the hearts and wallets of Black Flag fans, old and new alike. Not surprisingly, Greg felt threatened enough by the old gang that he’s suing “Flag.” With all subjectivity, as a musician and writer, not paying royalties to those who helped build the legacy of your label makes you an unsympathetic asshole, nor does it help that Ginn has long been predisposed to recording an eclectic but dull glut of noise during the past decade or so. Anyone can poke around on YouTube and see firsthand which lineup is the one to see. And it ain’t Greg’s version.
One of rock ‘n’ roll’s feel-good, well-earned comeback stories of all time, this reunion actually took hold way back when in 2004 and has moved through several tours, lots of money, a release of a few new singles, a 20th Anniversary tour of Doolittle, the quitting of founding bassist Kim Deal (The Breeders are currently on tour and doing their thing not to mention Kim’s history of wanting to be the boss which she is in the Breeders and the songwriter, she’s no follower), the hiring of the hardworking, and impressive bassist Kim Shattuck of the Muffs and the recent release of a 4-song EP of new material, their first in nearly twenty years. They sound as good as ever live, even if Chuck’s screams don’t carry quite the punch they way they used to, he also has developed more nuances to his singing, melody-wise. I was slightly disappointed when I saw them on tour in New York City in 2007. Little did I know that they’d stick it out, together and continue touring behind new material over five years later. I have been hooked on EP1 and “Andro Queen” in particular these past few days and that gives me something new to look forward to when they make it out to the Bay area.
This band’s mystique, legend, lies, history and influence is incalculable, especially when it comes to me in particular. To attempt to address anything about this band leaves me at a loss to view them through any lens other than unconditional love. Everyone knew that a true ‘Mats reunion died when Bob passed away in 1995 but for fanatics, the second option of Paul, Tommy, Chris and Slim was more than adequate to keep our hopes alive. Hell, even Steve Foley behind the kit would still have been worth a ticket but sadly, Steve’s life was cut short quickly and unexpectedly due to a prescription overdose soon followed by Slim’s suffered a debilitating stroke last year. Though a possible reunion had been flirted with by Paul and Tommy for years now (Chris is a successful artist who has no interest whatsoever in getting involved in the music industry but has given his blessing to Paul and Tommy) it took Slim’s tragic turn to get them recording the first new ‘Mats tunes since their retrospective double disc a few years back.
Iggy & The Stooges
The Stooges are like no other. In fact, I always have to listen to Stooges at the end of the day. Any and all other records come first, since the Stooges are so heavy that everything afterwards sounds lightweight, sonically, emotionally and energy-wise. These rock ‘n ‘ roll pioneers reformed years back during the Bush-43 years, bringing about a much-deserved profitable tours and heaps of praise and accolades for being the accelerant for so many a bunch of young rockers. Original bassist Dave Alexander passed away from cirrhosis of the liver brought on by alcoholism in 1974, and Ron Asheton, original guitarist, was demoted to bass when Iggy and James restarted the Stooges with the financial acumen of Tony Defries and MainMan. So it’s only natural that when they reformed in 2003, they went out and got the best living bassist, fellow Stooge fan and Minutemen anchor, Mike Watt. Ron Asheton’s death in 2009 was followed by long-lost-to-the-straight-world gunslinger James Williamson, and with a 3/4 lineup still intact and sounding better than ever, even if the seemingly indefatigable Igster has finally began to succumb to the restraints of age when it comes to performance. I’d still take this gig for any other available. Iggy is the embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll and time is running out for fans such as myself.