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Miracle in the Desert 

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Photos by Gregory Bojorquez

Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at Indio Polo Fields, April 26 & 27

THE REAL ROCK ACTION

Sunday at Coachella: Night was falling, and the spotlights pointing skyward from the festival grounds' periphery were now fully visible, forming a dome enclosure by vector light. Wind hit the main stage's unmanned microphones, so that the sound of air itself was audible via the gargantuan speaker system. And then there they were: at left, Stooges enthusiast/bassist Mike Watt, arguably the prime mover behind this most extraordinary and unlikely reunion, in uncustomary T-shirt and studded wristband; at center, of course, drummer Scott "Rock Action" Asheton; and at right, Scott's brother Ron, the stoic guitarist in black. These three we had seen last year at UCLA's Ackerman Ballroom with J Mascis and a parade of demistar vocalists in a Stooges revue that was both credible and powerful. Still, no matter how much the music at Ackerman roared and dirged and just generally aggressed, the central fact remained that none of those singers was named Iggy Pop.


Queens of the Stone Age
We all knew this then, but it was only tonight that we could see what a gaping divide there is between Those Who Is Iggy and Those Who Ain't. From the moment he appeared behind the back walls of Marshalls, leaping and waving his long hair in circling, exotic-dancer motions, Iggy was the very vision of a mad desert banshee on an unholy yet sacred mission. Shirtless, bluejeaned and ridiculously well-cut, for 50 minutes this singular man (just turned 56 years old!) eschewed the stuntwork of his past, the things that at the time made him reviled but would later become the stuff of legend. Tonight, Iggy did not smear peanut butter on his torso, or dive into a pool of broken glass, or walk on his hands. Instead, on a stage ringed by some of the same rock-star Stooges acolytes (Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme) who had sung at that Ackerman show, in front of an audience of what seemed like every record-collectin' geek within 7,000 miles plus thousands of curious younglings, he did something absolutely miraculous: He didn't just turn back the hands of time — he cut them clean off, pissed on them and then danced on the fuckers in an elemental, primordial, impossible performance of pure shamanic will.

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For the length of a perfectly built set of Stooges barechestnuts (opening with "Loose," taking on "I Wanna Be Your Dog" just three songs in!), solidly rhythmed by "newcomer Mike" and Scotty, outlined and elaborated on and fuzzed up by the unfortunately underamplified guitarist Ron, there Iggy was, singing and whooping and snaking and pogoing and shaking and leaping and strutting and undulating in ways that elude humans one-third his age. He pushed against the warm air; he did spells and tricks against time. He mounted the speakers, his androgynous humping motions writ large in silhoutte and shadow. Yes, this was the desert — palm trees and rusty mountains on the horizon, dust in your mouth and your nose and your eyes, merchants selling you 12 ounces of water for two dollars — but this was no hallucination, not even when saxophonist Steve Mackay surprise-appeared to reprise his hotwork for the Stooges' closing "1970/Funhouse/L.A. Blues." As Iggy sang, "We've been separated for far too long . . . I came to play/Let me in!," the lyrics had an obvious added significance: He was back with his old playmates, his anti-dignified elder statesmen, and somehow, together, in giving this collective no-mind middle-finger against decay, they had done something every bit as defiant and remarkable as anything these guys did three decades ago. Unbelievable, unforgettable, untoppable . . . The fuckin' Stooges! (Jay Babcock)

CANDYSNATCHERS

I thought it'd be cute to open a review of Coachella '03 by playing on Forrest Gump's famous saying. You know, Rock festivals are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. This was certainly the case on Saturday as 41 acts performed on multiple stages. Excited about an introduction to the music of U.K. bands Idlewild and South? Sorry, you'll wait out their back-to-back sets in the parking lot on a disgraceful two-hour queue. Interested in the prospect of seeing Queens of the Stone Age in their native high desert? Whoops, the group's massive rock will be rendered indistinguishable by the booming sound system. Psyched to hear the irresistible post-punk pop of Hot Hot Heat? Nope, they'll be too trebly for the sound engineers to handle. The best bet was to go a-wandering, treating the festival as a kind of See's Valentine Sampler for left-of-center pop.


Beastie Boys

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