Burger Boogaloo Festival
Saturday and Sunday, July 6-7, 2013
Mosswood Park, Oakland
Better than: What MC Oscar declared as the usual activity at the coliseum in Mosswood Park: drugs and defecation.
At first glance, a crudely illustrated hamburger shouldn't signify much -- maybe a small fast food franchise or an apparel company -- but for the devoted followers of Burger Records, the Fullerton label responsible for over 350 releases on cassette, vinyl, and digital formats, the burger symbolizes a sort of rock 'n' roll sect. It's a contingent somehow within and decidedly apart from the indie rock sphere, boasting followers from all walks of life and similarly branded offshoots springing up throughout the land.
The Burger Boogaloo, a weekend long music festival in Oakland's Mosswood Park co-presented by an affiliated local booking group called Total Trash, illustrated that this subculture operates similarly to Juggalos, those followers of the garish rap duo Insane Clown Posse. Both groups arbitrarily select unhealthy food to obsess over (Faygo soda and hamburgers,) celebrate apolitical music and, most significantly, converge to enjoy live music together in festival settings. Considering Burger followers' identifiable fashion traits -- denim jackets, yellow buttons three inches in diameter -- it's only a matter of time before the FBI dubs the entire lot a gang of semi-autonomous cells.
Along the edges of the edges of shabby coliseum vendors peddled burgers, doughnut burgers, records, and clothes. MC Oscar hosted the event with a litany of crass commentary. Eccentric soul DJ Jonathan Toubin's box of 45s provided the fuel for dance competition judged by Burger staffers and players. The primary difference between Juggalos and the Burger cult was evident as the first few bands performed to committed early risers.
Nostalgia is Burger's great unifier. Nearly every band ton Saturday dealt in some form of pining for a past rock 'n' roll purity, with varying success. The Wet Spots, Guantanamo Baywatch, the Stompin' Riff Raffs from Tokyo, and reunited local group the Trashwomen were the most overtly nostalgic, deliberately eschewing originality in favor of an homage to 1960s garage, surf rock, or rockabilly. Peach Kelli Pop peppered her set with nostalgic flourishes; girl group back-ups here and a surf lead there, but her strongest songs were those without sly references, where her vocal melodies soared on their own merit above economic song structures. Of all the retro stylists early on Saturday, Shannon and the Clams were the most convincing, not because their nostalgia is hidden or tempered with modernity, but due to their great strength as performers. Guitarist Cody Blanchard's instrumental skill is staggering, and his vocal interplay with Shannon Shaw is an athletic display of sustain, projection, and pitch range. Shannon and the Clams aren't any less nostalgic than the aforementioned groups, just better studied -- and they delivered that afternoon.
Mikal Cronin, whose set at that point in the afternoon sounded the most contemporary, took stage with a additional guitarist, bassist, and drummer. All shades, tie-dye, and unruly hair, Cronin at first sounded less like the dynamic pop of his recent album on Merge Records and more like low-end guitar rock. Due to ongoing sound issues, both in the audience and on stage, evidently, the first half of Cronin's set didn't do justice to the newer material, although his coos and plaintive vocals cut through the murky mix. By the time of "Weight," levels were dialed in, but the rolling piano lead was sorely missed. The pummeling single "Change" fared well with the crowd, as did Cronin's closing cover of Wreckless Eric's power-pop classic "Whole Wide World."
Although Jonathan Richman's first album with the Modern Lovers from 1972 is a venerable proto-punk classic frequently cited as influential by contemporary garage and punk bands of the Burger ilk, Richman's career since puts him squarely out of place with the Boogaloo scene. Despite that, Richman and drummer Tommy Larkin dazzled the audience, which stood up and doubled in number as the duo took stage. Richman looked unassuming in a white T-shirt, and Larkin's unbuttoned Navy jacket was puzzling, but with their modest instruments and salt-and-pepper stubble the duo performed an engrossing set. Richman swung his nylon string acoustic (no strap) around when he preferred to dance, and serenaded attendees in Spanish, Italian, Arabic, and Portuguese. His songs emphasized appreciation of art, wine, dances, and nature through odd anecdotes and observations, but exuberance underpinned everything. When the whim to celebrate the quality of a party in Italian dictated the next song, Richman's beaming smile and joyous movements translated the sentiment for us.
At one point Richman shooed a photographer away and asked, "What's that screen with a typewriter attached to it? Do you think the body wants to sit in front of that eight hours a day?" Another time he cryptically explained that the most fashionable people at a party are most likely to be "dipshits." The technophobic former proto-punk teaching us to love Rembrandt once sang in the early '70s, "I wanna be dignified and old." He's arrived.
Los Angeles group Pangea served nasally screams about party themes above raucous garage punk. The same goes for fellow Southern Californians Audacity. Portland's party contingent sported Mean Jeans and Guantanamo Baywatch, although the two seemed more inclined to soiree at Warped Tour or the beach, respectively. Ty Segall's reunited power-trio simply did it better. More exuberant, intuitive as a unit, and expressive with the voice of their instruments, the Traditional Fools clustered in a triangle at center stage and commandeered the audience. Segall's current power trio, Fuzz, elicited an even stronger crowd reaction the next day with its homage to '70s proto-metal and the low-end heavy dirges of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath.
For a weekend festival of acts nostalgic for certain microcosms of the rock 'n' roll past, Redd Kross were ideal headliners. In the early '80s, Redd Kross committed some of the snottiest adolescent punk screeds to vinyl, then gracefully evolved into hook-laden power-pop in the next decade. Redd Kross' output of late, like last year's infectious Researching the Blues, sounds relevant and contemporary. In each stage of the band's storied career, Redd Kross released highly influential music, strands of which could be heard in many Boogaloo acts; the group's own set represented each era. Last year's single "Stay Away From Downtown" felt as essential as '90s classics like "Jimmy's Fantasy" and "Switchblade Sister." Redd Kross' live power was rooted as much in the strength of its classic songs as in its instrumental chops, showmanship, and charisma. The McDonald brothers dove into in the rock fray younger than most, and seem likely to project youthful exuberance longer than the rest. Let's hope the legions of Burger bands will similarly refine and develop their sound over such bounteous careers.