The Stooges Live at Goose Lake 1970
For some of us, bands like the Stooges, Ramones, MC5 and Patti Smith were just as important to molding the formative end of the 60’s as Dylan, Hendrix and others. With that in mind, the August 7th release of the Stooges, Live At Goose Lake 1970 on Third Man Records, is a pretty important archival release that captures a pivotal moment just months before the peace and love era of the 60’s collapsed under its own lofty expectations. Coming a few months after Woodstock in upstate New York, and five months prior to the darkness that infected Altamont. The Goose Lake 3-day Festival was supposed to represent the ideals of peace and love of the Bethel festival, only in a more organized manner. Instead Goose Lake ended up an ominous precursor to Altamont’s chaos. The guard was changing. The times were a-changing, the ideals were a-changing, and maybe more important to this document here, the drugs were a-changing.
The Festival’s first day went on pretty much without a hitch, featuring bands like the Small Faces, Chicago, John Sebastian, Ten Years After and more. But as noted by Jaan Uhelszki in the extensive liner notes, by the second day, things had drastically changed. The festival was held in the rural farmland 80 miles west of Detroit, and the August afternoon had turned sweltering. There was pretty rampant drug usage among the festival goers, and combined with the heat, drastically changed the overall mood and vibe. As Uhelski documents, instead of the infamous brown acid that plagued Woodstock, Goose Lake was troubled by a powdered substance, that might have been called angel dust, cocaine or something else depending on who was offering it up. Later, reports indicated the substance was likely some type of ground up horse tranquilizer or combined concoction. Whatever it was, its widespread use toppled many artists and fans alike.
Recollections indicate that by the second day, the festival felt more like being in a maximum security prison, and with the questionable drugs casually making their way through the audience, combined with the sweltering heat, many in the audience had shed clothing, were skinny-dipping in the lake. or both. Essentially, everyone was trying to find some method to beat the oppressive heat. Tempers were beginning to simmer as hot as the temperatures, and sundown did little to alleviate either. The Stooges at this time consisted of Iggy Pop on vocals, guitarist Ron Asheton, drummer Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander on bass. Now, at the time, The Stooges weren’t a band know for abstinence, and like most everyone else, they were partaking somewhat indiscriminately. This was at the time of the band’s second release, an album that was much more exploratory than their debut. To that end, the band now included saxophonist Steve MacKay. The band would never really be the same after this gig, and that in and of itself speaks to the significance of this recording.
Each band was given 45 minutes to play, and The Stooges set list at the time ran about seven or eight songs, and seven is what we get here. During their third song, “Down On the Street,” caught up in a dangerous mix of intoxication, frustration and the heat, the audience began to rush the stage. Near the end of the band’s set, things had reached the boiling point, with fans ripping planks from the wooden fences separating the band from the audience. As the recording captures here, things come to an unceremonious close following “LA Blues” as power gets cut to the bands equipment. The announcer takes over, thanking the band and likely working to subdue the crowd a bit. Later the band would be questioned and exonerated in the backstage area by the police and promoter on suspicion of attempting to incitie a riot. The band had just played a fiery set in front of their biggest audience to date. They had also just escaped arrest and likely jail time. Still, there were was something even more significant that happened In between those two events, Iggy Pop had just fired one of his bandmates.
Reportedly, Pop sensing the gig’s significance, had demanded that bassist Dave Alexander refrain from drugging or drinking, a problem that had often interfered with the quality of his playing. Unfortunately, that decree was too little too late. Alexander, also suffering from various anxieties, had sought to calm his nerves with beer and barbiturates en route to the gig. Once arrived, Alexander like the rest of The Stooges, eagerly sampled the infamous powdered substance to varying degrees of intoxication. Alexander, it’s said, was greatly affected, to the point of being physically unable to play his instrument. Basically, a man holding a bass propped up for appearances. Pop was reportedly incensed, and the ferocity of his vocals certainly seem to confirm. There’s a guttural, subliminal roar to Pop’s vocals that is unique to other live vocals I’ve heard. Truth is, Alexander is playing here, and really, not too badly. There’s a slower pace to begin “Loose,” but then again, everyone sounds at least a little suspect. Hell, even Pop himself sounds a bit questionable. That’s not to say the performance is lacking or sub-standard. Fact is, it’s a fairly strong set. A quick listen to “Dirt,” a song centered on Alexander’s bass line, shows that he was playing pretty well all things considered. Regardless, Pop fired Alexander immediately following the gig. Game over. The band was forever changed, as was the era of peace and love just a few months later. For that reason alone, this is a recording that I’d consider historically important. It’s not an audiophile’s dream by any means. It’s a 50-year old recording that has some crackles and level issues, but I think that contributes to its charm. The Stooges are a pivotal cog in the gear that is rock-n-roll. There’s already some wear and tear, grease and rust built into the music itself. There’s an almost bootleg feel to this release and that really enhances it. It kind of makes it feel even more special than it already is. It provides a backward glimpse of a societal shift, somewhat relevant to today. But, more importantly, this is a lasting example of the piss & vinegar of that historical Detroit Sound captured in full regalia. This is a recording meant to be played loud. Don’t miss it.