If you’d been one of the 200,000 lucky attendees of 1970’s Goose Lake International Music Festival in Michigan’s Leoni Township, you’d have caught some truly stellar acts. Joe Cocker, Jethro Tull and Faces represented the bluesy, progressive and British side of things. Alice Cooper, the Flying Burrito Brothers and James Gang offered a winning sampling of the United States’ very eclectic early-1970s rock scene.
But as good as all of the festival’s big-name groups likely were, the odds are strong that the Goose Lake set that attendees were probably talking about in the weeks, months and years to come came from a homegrown Michigan band listed at the bottom of the bill: The Stooges, straight outta Detroit.
For decades, The Stooges’ Goose Lake performance has been known as an infamous disaster. What could have been their big break, playing to what was likely their largest crowd, actually ended up being the last stand of the band’s original lineup. Immediately following the gig, Iggy Pop sacked bassist Dave Alexander, who had spent the night reeling from a particularly potent mix of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Tuinals and other unknown illicit substances (Iggy himself later admitted to being on a nasty cocaine bender). But a positively scorching video clip of the band playing “1970” to a sea of immense blackness (dial it up on YouTube, for your health) hinted that perhaps Iggy and The Stooges hadn’t bombed nearly as badly as previously believed. Now, exactly 50 years later, we can decide for ourselves.
The 1/4in two-track tape that makes up Live At Goose Lake, unleashed this month for the first time by Jack White’s Third Man Records, was thought long lost — a proto-punk Holy Grail if ever there was one. Its chance rediscovery in the basement of a Michigan farmhouse is the stuff collectors’ dreams are made of. For one thing, it’s the only soundboard recording of a complete concert by the lineup that made the epochal The Stooges (1969) and Fun House (1970) LPs. For another, it’s absolutely fucking brilliant. Live At Goose Lake is messy, thrilling and utterly unhinged. In other words, it’s The Stooges at their best.
By the time the band hit the stage, Fun House was just about a month old, having been released on July 7, 1970 (the LSD-fuelled recording sessions themselves took place in May). Even today, Fun House remains a sui generis statement, a thrillingly abrasive (yet often sneakily tuneful) blotch that makes even the wildest punk rock that followed in its wake seem witheringly tame in comparison. Take it from Jack White: “In my mind, Fun House is the greatest rock’n’roll record ever made.” So it makes perfect sense that White is involved with the belated release of Live At Goose Lake; it’s the ideal companion piece to Fun House’s eternally incendiary charms. The setlist consists of the entire album (in slightly scrambled order). These songs were as fresh as they’d ever get, dangerously close to their white-hot source.
Live At Goose Lake gets off to a rocky start. After a short intro from the MC, a hopped-up Iggy bellows: “TAKE IT!!!” But his fellow Stooges aren’t quite ready. Guitarist Ron Asheton sputters out a few tentative notes. “TAKE IT!!!” Iggy urges again. And then we’re off, riding the rollercoaster of “Loose”, Asheton slashing out the iconic riff, his brother Scott pounding the drum kit and Dave Alexander… Hey, where is Dave? The deeply zonked bassist is definitely having trouble finding his footing; you can practically hear Iggy’s piercing glare across the stage as Alexander flails about, trying to crawl his way back into the song’s groove. This “Loose” is, well, extremely loose. But it’s a total blast nonetheless. What, did you want The Stooges to sound like Steely Dan?
Alexander gets himself (mostly) together for the remainder of The Stooges’ time on stage – especially on the tune where he’s really required to be on top of things: the bass-heavy slow burner “Dirt”. By the time The Stooges are joined by saxophonist Steve Mackay for anarchic versions of “Fun House” and “LA Blues”, the band has achieved what Iggy called “O-mind” — a deep, heady oneness between the musicians. And maybe they became one with the Goose Lake audience, too. Legend has it that The Stooges caused a riot as they wrapped up their set. Listening in a half-century later, at long last, you can believe it.