“Radio burnin’ up above/Beautiful baby, feed my love.” (“1970”)
Wither thou, radio?
You used to be something magical—the original wireless, a transmission from the satellite heart that filled our ears with static, speech and song.
Then you were replaced by the internet—what with all of its torrents, dark-web dumps, “free” this and that, and LOLcats—and suddenly you struck us as antiquated. Less relevant. Quaint, even. “Stuff dad used to prattle on about.”
Thankfully for humanity, institutions such as Seattle’s KEXP-FM still exist: community-supported radio stations free of playlists, payola, robo-DJs and corporate influence. And in an effort for one of our nation’s last remaining bastions of “all music, errywhere” to remain proudly on its own two feet (sort of like radio antennae ears, upside-down), KEXP is relocating to new digs that will sustain the station well into the future and, in doing so, has sponsored a series of benefit gigs intended to raise the capital required to free itself of the few links that still tether it to something as trifling (yet, real) as a “rent payment.” Wilco recently came to town and added a night to its touring itinerary for the sole purpose of raising some of the funds still required to complete the station’s new home. So on this night, four Jet City music heroes lent their capabilities to the cause by playing a one-off gig whose proceeds (private afterparties, etc.) will facilitate moving the station into what will become its permanent site in Seattle Center in 2016.
Mark Arm (Mudhoney shouter and bemused cynic for all seasons), Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Skin Yard, Mad Season, Tuatara), Mike McCready (energetic Pearl Jam six-string slinger/Hendrix channeler) and Duff McKagan (former Guns n’ Roses and Velvet Revolver bassist, but more relevantly for Seattleites, ex-Fastbacks drummer and hilarious if only sporadic columnist) spent a hazy summer evening up on the roof of the iconic Pike Place Market making one helluva racket, channeling the angst, anger and aggression of prime Iggy And The Stooges while an appreciative (free) audience of 9,000 grunge holdouts, indie kids, rock n’ roll survivors and tourist types looked on at the spectacle as though it were either a miracle beamed down from above, or final validation of Martians walking among us.
Which—either way you look at it—is what winning looks like in 2015.
McCready essentially bootstrapped the quartet and gave it its musical direction, telling local journos that he had first discovered the Igster at a 1982 party he had attended in which members of Green River (hence, Arm) had been present. “’Search And Destroy’ had the meanest-sounding lead in it. ‘I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm/I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb!’ Those lyrics say it all about why I love this record!” So: enthusiasm, sloppiness and sheer manic energy were clearly meant to be the order of the day, and on that score, Raw Power delivered in just about every way imaginable.
Perhaps the coolest part of the event was how non-obvious the entire thing was. The Raw Power quartet had a mere four rehearsals under its belt by the time the gig rolled around, and even though bands that the individual members have played in have covered the Stooges before (G’nR raced through a reckless version of “Raw Power;” Mudhoney has messily covered “I Wanna Be Your Dog;” Pearl Jam has taken a turn on “Search And Destroy”), the setlist for the evening was far from a “bust out Iggy’s fan favorites” affair. After opening with a guttersnipe take on “Little Doll” (McKagan taking center stage in a pair of aviator shades and a “In Memory Of I Don’t Remember” black tank top), the band segued quickly into “TV Eye,” “I’ve Got A Right” (with McCready switching from his tortured vintage Strat to a Johnny Thunders-esque double-cut Les Paul Jr., wah-wah’ed into infinity) and a downright sleazy version of “I Need Somebody,” with Arm hilariously/profanely recalling the fuzzy details around how the entire gig was assembled. The four then quickly raced through the rest of their set: “Down On The Street,” “Search And Destroy,” and a killer version of “Loose” to close things out. It was a short, sharp shock to the heart of Seattle, with the patient living to tell the tale over drinks at the bar afterward.
No “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” No “1969.” No “No Fun.” Not even “Raw Power,” ironically enough. Just the Stoogemusic the band loves best, played as loudly and forcefully as possible, kicking out the jams for Seatown’s faithful high above the fishmongers.
The artist known to Ann Arbor, Mich., as James Osterberg, Jr. wouldn’t actually have a close brush with radio until much later in his career (via “Lust For Life” and his pal David Bowie’s take on the Iggy-penned “China Girl,” which finally secured his financial future if not exactly his mental stability); the Stooges were all about proto-punk, a slobbering, drooling mess of a band that would set the stage for the New York Dolls, the entire downtown CBGB scene and the London punk wave that followed, who were all equally inspired by the Stooges’ unique blend of atonal skronk (think: Coltrane’s weirder flights of fancy) and their raw, unschooled barre chords played at max volume through a slippery wah filter. It was a seminal sound but one that radio wouldn’t come anywhere near at the time of its creation—that moment would have to wait for bands like Nirvana to make viable two decades later.
I can’t help but think that a guy who established his bona fides by more or less inventing stage diving, or carving up his bare chest and bleeding on his audience, would have appreciated four fans bringing Seatown traffic to a standstill for an hour by generating a tornado of noise. Turn up the radio, y’all.