Iggy Pop (photo: Aaron Rubin)
Burger Boogaloo, a quaint little punk fiesta held at the apex of summertime, pushed open its gates and rolled out its strange, sweat-stained carpet for fun and kitsch-coated debauchery this past weekend in Oakland.
This year’s Boogaloo hosted its most well-known headliners yet: Iggy Pop, Redd Kross, X, and the Buzzcocks. However, that did not appear to have contributed more than a marginal boost in attendance; most of the people I talked to while wandering around the radiantly summer-soaked fields of Mosswood Park claimed to be repeat attendees.
“Oh, I come every year,” said a chipper, pink-haired woman in between bites of vegan elote. “I wouldn’t miss it. I mean, it’s kind of like you’re getting to hang out with your friends all day and chill in the big field, like the cool kids — but we’re not the cool kids.” As if to illustrate her point, she capped her statement with a snort of a laugh that sent a little bit of corn flying from her mouth and onto the ground. “Sorry,” she stammered as she wiped her mouth. Her statement would be echoed by many people throughout the day. This was a great place for the strange, and friends of the strange, to fit in.
As the hippies across the Bay were still basking in the flower-powered glow of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, East Bay counter-culture caterwaulers were being led by master of ceremonies John Waters in a parade dubbed by festival organizers, Burger Records, as the “Summer of Filth.” Waters quipped from the stage, “I’m from a time when punks hated the Beatles. Those long-haired hippies were always so cheery. Who needs that?”
I pitied the Burger Records announcer who fielded cries of, “When’s John getting here?” from eager fans while he announced the earlier bands. Arriving fashionably late but somehow also right on time, Waters rolled off some prepared speeches that sounded like the valedictorian speech from imaginary Rat Fink High – funny, flirty, filthy, and smart as hell. He fit right in with the scenery, with The Tidy Shoppe offering free Bee Hive hairdos and tattoo-coated folks dressed their finest poodle skirts and pleather pants as far as the eye could see. Yes, it was the perfect environment to host our host.
The vendors even had that Boogaloo charm. The thing I thought I hated most about music festivals is that I feel like I’m constantly being sold something while I’m there. Boogaloo made me realize that’s not it. It’s that I’m constantly trying to be sold things I don’t want to buy. Here, there were booths from record stores flush with good vinyl, freshly screen-printed T-shirts, sexy guitars, sexier consciousness-raising literature, vegan meats, and relatively cheap beer. No one was trying too hard to cajole any buyers. There were no girls in tank tops and matching baseball caps emblazoned with corporate logos pushing samples into my hands. The products, not the people selling them, seemed to be the only thing for sale. My kind of marketplace.
The focus of the weekend, though, was the music. Smaller acts, mostly Burger Records affiliates, were impressive. Notably, Baby Shakes, Personal and the Pizzas, Glitter Wizard, Vertigo, and La Luz lit up the Gone Shrimpn stage with stirring energy. Local favorites and Boogaloo constants Shannon and the Clams packed the smaller stage with die-hard enthusiasts. The woman next to me scolded her boyfriend, “I told you we should have got to this stage earlier; I’m not even going to be able to see them.” Seeing was half the delight as the band swirled with cartoonish drama while pounding out solid sound.
All the headliners put up great sets. On the second night, X, a band cooked up 40 years ago in an age before Internet searchability was even a consideration when choosing a band name, played their ballistic rock with Exene Cervenka’s charmingly charging persona leading the way. They were followed by the Buzzcocks, who brought their frantic, Muppet-like exuberance to the stage and played like teenagers wearing middle-aged man costumes. The boys from Manchester united on stage and gave the crowd what they wanted with “Orgasm Addict” and “Autonomy,” and had Converse-clad audience members bouncing together and singing along.
Redd Kross have a special place in my heart — any band that names themselves after the dagger-like masturbation scene from The Exorcist deserves that. While it is true that California has no shortage of good musicians, there is sometimes a little anemia when it comes to crunchy guitar rock. Redd Kross is the iron-fueled drip cure to this. Their first-night set was half their material, half covers, and all them – their sound was as powerful as ever. They even managed to make a KISS song sound like it had some soul and depth to it with their cover of “Deuce.”
The champion, of the weekend, though, was that nice old man from the Midwest, Iggy Pop. The grandfather of punk closed the first night with a muscle-stretching set that brought even the most jaded of punks to their feet. Despite being from the Mitten State, Pop’s shirts-optional philosophy continued with his sinewy, tanned form triumphantly on display as he performed acrobatics with the help of some security guards and the chain-link fence skirting the back of the stage. His body seemed ambivalent to the fact that his 70th birthday was months ago; he appeared to be sweeping some sort of collective energy from the crowd and using it to power his manic front. He was all show in the best way, and the musical end of things was right up there with the theatrical aspect.
Pop started the evening with a ripping rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” You have to have faith in your audience that they can keep up with you if you start with that. “Dog” was one of the first songs I heard that challenged the idea that good music and ugly music were mutually exclusive camps. It’s so simple, but it’s not ignorable. It doesn’t work as the background music used as the soundtrack to a party scene in some terrible sitcom or “edgy” movie about adolescence – unlike more accessible punk songs of the era like “Blitzkreg Bop” or “God Save the Queen.” That needling cadence coupled with Pop’s characteristic vocals and depraved lyrics have stood the test of time — they remain just as gritty and produce as amazing a performance as ever. “Gimme Danger” and “Lust for Life” were other highlights, as both showcase Pop’s ability to cull unnecessary flourishes from a song and just get to the boot-stomping charge that makes his brand of punk great. I was a little disappointed he didn’t play more from Raw Power – particularly “Search and Destroy,” but what kind of punk would Pop be if he gave me everything I wanted?
Boogaloo was one of the best times I’ve had enjoying live music lately, and I deeply enjoy live music. Catering to a community that is often characterized as having anti-social tendencies, Boogaloo was a celebratory gathering that proved that punks are up for a picnic and a party as much as anyone, given the right conditions.
The only thing that was a real disappointment about Boogaloo was there seemed to be a lack of clarity on the part of disability access to the festival. Hosting a festival in outdoor area such a Mosswood can present specific challenges to people with specific needs, and it was unclear whether or not the festival organizers were accommodating. Some people I talked to said that they knew people who did not attend because they could not bring in seating or water beyond the generally allowable limits, and that those things were necessary for their specific health needs. Other people in the park said they had no problem brining in such items once they explained at the gate that such items were necessary. As a festival seen largely by those who attend as being by and for those living on the fringe, I urge Boogaloo to be most assertive in their inclusivity efforts – even if that just means upping the clarity of their communication surrounding this issue. As John Waters announced from the stage, Boogaloo attendees are those who “don’t fit in our own minority.” With such efforts made to include the excluded in this joyous celebration of eccentricities and self-expression, it’s a sour thought that some people still felt it was a space off-limits to them.
Photos by Patric Carver & Aaron Rubin