[30 September 2011]
The famous Redhook Brewery knows how to throw a party. And the recipe for its 30th birthday bash was truly inspired. Put three popular bands active in 1981 in its grassy, bowl-shaped amphitheater, cook up some good food and… oh, yes, throw in an enormous amount of suds, including the brewery’s new, “Extra Special Birthday” beer—a tribute to its original ESB.
Prior to the event, Redhook’s neighbors in the lush, picturesque, affluent playland of Woodinville (just northeast of Seattle) probably dismissed the affair as a quaint picnic for 4,000 people—and doubtlessly, some of the concertgoers had the same assumption. However, an unpredicted change in the weather turned an enjoyable Saturday afternoon into an enjoyable, but endurance-testing evening; ale and some of the season’s best music not only flavored the day, they saved it.
Mitten, a Brooklyn-based synth-pop trio, warmed up the gathering crowd with a selection of retro-leaning originals and a cover or two - including a nifty version of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again”.
Their short set, combined with some technical difficulties with some of Tom Tom Club’s apparatus, provided more than enough time for the growing audience to acquire more burgers, dogs and drinks before festivities began in earnest.
With the first pedal-step of the kick drum, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth’s off-and-on “side project” established a groove that, in a perfect world, would have lasted all night. With vocalist Victoria Clamp harmonizing alongside Weymouth and DJ Kid Ginseng working the turntables, the band resurrected the semi-forgotten club single, “The Man With The 4-Way Hips”, as a sea of rumps shook and shimmied.
Half of the Club’s too-brief set was culled from the band’s first album, which was released in October, 1981. “L’elephant” and “On, on, on, on…” were good-foot teasers to what everyone came to hear, “Genius of Love”. As with every other offering, that oh-so-influential number was performed brilliantly, with a top-notch sound quality that got even better as the party progressed. Keyboardist Bruce Martin brought a nice touch to “Genius” and others when he doubled on percussion; “Genius” brought rock-steady Frantz, the cherubic Charlie Watts of CBGB’s, closer to the microphone for some choice vocal interjections.
Frantz and Weymouth continued on with a cover of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” and their own priceless “Wordy Rappinghood” before closing by covering themselves—“Psycho Killer” and “Take Me to the River.” Altogether a bucket-list, yet too-brief, show by some legendary musicians who were all smiles and funky fun. David who?
Breakdown and setup allowed for more trips to the beer booths, and for the crowd (average age: 45) to marvel over what they had just witnessed.
The Psychedelic Furs, whose recent “Talk Talk Talk” tour celebrated another coincidental anniversary, are somehow at their very peak, performance-wise, more than three decades after forming. On this night, the Furs mixed it up a bit with a set that seemed tailored for Mars Williams’s punchy sax embellishments. The obligatory “Pretty In Pink” arrived fairly early, after the somewhat surprising inclusion of the darkly tinged “Alice’s House”.
A stellar “Heaven” and the Williams vehicle, “Heartbreak Beat”, were among a small handful of hits presented to the casual admirers; the rest were obviously what the band wanted to play that night for the diehards. No matter, for eternally raspy Richard Butler could’ve sang the phone book and still had every last one in the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Grinning, gesturing, posing, bouncing across the stage with all the spark of someone half his age who had just won the lottery, this true rock god has kept his vocal edge, while seemingly abandoning all but a hint of the oft-brooding persona that once spawned “Sister Europe”.
Kudos to the band for the Beatle-esque “Sleep Comes Down” and the lean, mean “Only You and I”, but the Furs’ finest moments came during “No Easy Street”. What a beautiful, sexy jewel; an oft-overlooked, majestic marriage of Butler’s neo-Romantic crooning and Williams’s horn—with Tim Butler’s melodic bass and Amanda Kramer’s shimmering keyboards acting as sonic ring-bearers.
Recovering their breath and balance, quite a few party people competed for scarce cover as soon as the Furs left the stage; a surprise drizzle that began halfway through the set had become a surprise downpour. Rain bounced off bare heads and the occasional Energy Dome, turning the flattened, brew-enriched grass into a slip ‘n’ slide in some spots. The picnic was getting washed away, adding to the epic nature of the evening—a veritable “Hook-apalooza”. It became very dark and chilly quite quickly, however, and the Spudheads were getting very anxious.
Finally, suddenly and in a burst of bright light, Devo arrived with all the fanfare of an alien spacecraft hovering over a soggy pasture. Soaked clothes, painfully full stomachs and agonizingly full bladders were instantly forgotten as the New Wave precursors proceeded with one of the best concerts of this reporter’s lifetime.
“Going Under”, “Girl U Want”, the newer, yet true-to-form “Fresh”, and “What We Do”... the boys from Akron offered up a meat-and-potato, no-filler feast of aural delights for 90 minutesd. Buoyed and propelled by hard-charging Josh Freese, the Casale and Mothersbaugh brothers erased the mists of time as if their guitars were magic wands… except that, in 1981, they didn’t sound quite this good. Before anyone had time to ask, three fellows who could easily pass for pudgy, middle-aged accountants, a lean axeman with a Les Paul Sunburst and a furiously working drummer served up “Whip It” early on—presumably so the faint-of-heart could excuse themselves.
The band was partially protected by the covered stage, but as Gerald Casale pointed out, they were standing in puddles. No matter, for the boys were protected by not only grounded gear, but by their numerous, infamous costume changes. They first took the stage in what appeared to be mutated, grey hockey masks and surgical scrubs; blue Power Domes, the well-documented yellow radiation suits and kneepad-accentuated sporting attire followed.
After a spot-on rendition of “Planet Earth”, a video screen sprang to life with a short film to mark the show’s halfway point. The group then returned with all the energy of fully charged Energizer bunnies, reminding the crowd that, instead of a mislabeled “synthesizer band”, they were a “guitar band with synthesizer”. Or, in the case of the pogo-inducing “Uncontrollable Urge”, a power-chord punk band. It was as if “Urgh! A Music War” had been filmed last year, instead of three decades ago.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Jocko Homo”, “Mongoloid”, “Freedom of Choice”, the glorious “Gates of Steel”... one couldn’t tell differentiate between streaming raindrops and tears of joy amongst the ecstatic crowd. The voices, especially Mark Mothersbaugh’s strong pipes, have not changed an octave. Except, perhaps, for the finale, “Beautiful World”, when Mark donned his Booji Boy outfit and sang the lyrics in traditional falsetto before tossing dozens of superballs into the crowd (earlier, he had flung potato chips and Energy Domes to the faithful).
If it weren’t for the supremely confident musicianship and showmanship, one might have thought—from a distance—that these geniuses were a new group hungry for their big break. Like the Furs and the ex-Talking Heads before them, Devo proved that they were just as relevant—and almost as spry—now as they were in 1981.
The same couldn’t be said for some of the exhausted, hangover-destined audience members. As they stumbled over forgotten blankets, mole-hill piles of discarded cups and each other in attempts to flee the scene afterward, two things became apparent: some of the hip, yet aging children of the ‘70s and ‘80s might not be able to make a Redhook 40th birthday blowout—but it wouldn’t be too surprising if these iconic bands returned ten years from now.
Tom Tom Club:
The Psychedelic Furs: