009a. The Wait: The Police Picnic I (Part One) with The Police, The Specials, Iggy Pop, Killing Joke, The Go-Go’s, Nash the Slash, John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett, The Payola$, Oingo Boingo, and the David Bendeth Band, The Grove, Oakville, Ontario, Canada, August 23, 1981, $20.
The first Police Picnic and the only one of the three not held at CNE Stadium.
This first of a two part entry on the inaugural Police Picnic will cover the sets by Iggy Pop, The Go-Go’s, Killing Joke, Nash the Slash, John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett, The Payola$, Oingo Boingo, and the David Bendeth Band. Part Two will follow in the future (see details at the bottom of the entry), recapping the performances by the bands that closed out the day, The Specials and headliners The Police.
Exactly one year to the day from Heatwave and here I was once again sitting in a large field at an all day, open air festival under the baking sun.
This first Police Picnic (organized by the bleached blonde rock group, not the law enforcement organization) turned out to be the inverse of Heatwave. Whereas that festival featured a parade of exceptional sets in tandem with my own charming experience of having to deal with buffoonish n’er-do-wells and being left stranded in the middle of nowhere, this musical outing found me getting there and back with ease and with good company, while the sets themselves, with a few key exceptions, fell more on the good side of meh.
I was initially going to attend the PP solely with my friend from the period, Lady Bump. In writing this series, it’s been interesting to be able to note many first, lasts, and turning points for me and it’s wild to realize that this was the first gig I attended with her (save briefly touching base during the Ramones show) considering the amount of time we spent together and how central music was to our friendship.
Shortly before the gig, LB had started dating a guy. They went out for about 3-4 weeks, with this festival falling near the latter part of that mini-courtship. He ended up tagging along with us and did a big chunk of the driving. I remember little about him besides his being nice enough and thinking that they were an odd pair, with LB as a new wave princess and he being more of the meat’n’potatoes FM rock variety. But, he was a good guy and a trooper, and the three of us set off early on the Sunday, arriving at the Oakville site during the later morning.
We pulled into the vast, free-of-charge parking lot and found a spot. On the way in, we spied a smaller one on the other side of the road, charging people $10 to park there (more like $30-40 bucks today). We laughed at the few suckers who were roped into paying, wondering who would be stupid enough to shell out good cash like that when there was parking on offer gratis. More on that later.Unlike the well-drugged and lubricated Heatwave, I don’t really remember the first Police Picnic as being an out-of-gourd experience for me. Considering that we took bennies/beans (speed) like candy, I am sure we were probably popping those energy boomers back with aplomb. Otherwise, Lady Bump was more into booze and pills, but not so much weed, unlike moi. I cannot recall if I brought any with me but I am pretty sure that we at least spent some time hanging around the car consuming a few pre-show beers. My feeling is that this was a relatively dry and sober event for us. I chuckle at the irony that I remember this day overall less clearly than the blotto-fest that was Heatwave.
Upon entering the concert area, we plopped ourselves down in a satisfactory spot and bided our time as there was a protracted wait involved before things got rolling. This delayed start of over an hour had a trickle-down effect as the day went along, meaning that most of the acts had their sets cut short — some substantially. Things finally got rolling with the disco/funk strains of David Bendeth’s Band. I remember thinking about what a change it was, both in terms of myself as well as with others, that people were opening up their headspaces to a greater variety of musical styles and genres. Things were branching out and overlapping, and this was much more interesting to me following the more regimented and rock-based orthodoxies of the ‘70s.
That openness, however, didn’t extend to John Otway and his confrontational goofiness. On stage with his co-hort, Wild Willy Barrett (who, to be honest, I have no recollection of being up there on stage with him), Otway’s minimalist, humour-based set polarized the crowd, mostly towards the negative, being booed and pelted with everything certain segments of the audience could get their hands on. The three of us, however, loved him and his off-beat bizarreness, cheering Otway on. I chuckled at the title “Cor Baby, That’s Really Free” and I believe he did his “hit” “Headbutts,” but otherwise he wasn’t on the stage for too long, given the hostility coming his way.
In my piece on The Boomtown Rats show, I wrote about the imperfections of memory and, boy, is that pertinent regarding this day. In doing some research about this Picnic, I discovered that I had completely forgotten about seeing three of the acts on the bill!
The first of those three came on between Bendeth and Otway, in the form of Vancouver’s The Payola$. I do now have vague recollection of them being up there but nothing of note. They were a Canadian band who had a few hits here, two of which I think are terrific pop numbers: “Eyes of A Stranger” and “Never Said I Loved You” featuring Rough Trade’s Carole Pope. Depending on your point of view, co-founding member Bob Rock (a) went on to have a distinguished career as a top flight, hit making rock record producer or (b) has been responsible from some of the worst air-brushed, inoffensively offensive, big hair commercial rock pablum of the past few decades (I’ll have the latter for $500, Alex).
The day’s first real highlight was the performance by Killing Joke which, according to some online sources, was their first North American appearance. I was familiar with the British group but had just thought of their debut LP as simply so-so. I saw them more as also-rans, sort of an in-a-grumpykins-mood Freddie & the Dreamers of the post-punk set. I’ve never overly taken to them but I must say that they knocked me out live. The band’s proto-industrial pound of “Wardance” and “The Wait” set them apart from others on that day. Frontman Jaz Coleman worked himself up into a right lather of pasty-mouthed fulmination, taunting the good-timey masses that had turned out to tap their toe to “Da Doo Doo Doo,” with screeds of “do you want another poppy love song?” It was just the right touch of darkness that was needed on the shiny afternoon, and despite their attempt to create hostility, the crowd actually loved them and returned their bile with enthusiasm and dancing.
“The Wait” from Killing Joke’s 1980 debut disc.
Killing Joke were — following The Payola$’ featuring Bob Rock — the second of three bands who played that day that featured a member who went on to fame and fortune in another capacity. In the case of KJ, bass player Youth became an in-demand producer, working on some of my favourite records by Kate Bush and The Verve as well as collaborating with Paul McCartney under the moniker of The Fireman.
Local favourite Nash the Slash appeared next in his standard bandaged phantom garb and electric violin, getting a big response, particularly during his cover of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” here humorously delivered as “Dopes on the Water,” before inexplicably having the plug pulled early on his set, pissing off both audience and artist.
While I had forgotten that he was on the bill, the memory of having his set abruptly cut rushed back once I was reminded that he was there.
I’d also forgotten about next-up band, Oingo Boingo, and for good reason. Anyone who knows me is fully aware that I can be a deeply silly person with a decidedly odd-sense of humour and a pre-disposition towards the perplexingly ridiculous and ludicrous, usually of a transgressive nature. If John Otway represented one of my cups of tea during the Picnic, then Oingo Boingo didn’t, being more of a distinctly L.A. brand of “hey, look at wacky ol’new wavey me” that I find totally grating (see also: The Dickies, The Dead Milkmen, and all those radio-friendly pop-punk groups like Green Day, Sum 41, etc).
They were over soon enough, allowing lynchpin Danny Elfman to get on with his far more fitting and successful career writing film scores, notably for Tim Burton. And allowing us to finally get to see one of the two acts that truly brought us to Oakville that day: Iggy Pop.
I had been an Iggy fanatic for years and I was more than a little thrilled to finally be seeing him live. And he did not let me down.
He vaulted onstage, exactly as I had hoped, a whirling dervish of kicks, twirls, gyrations, attitude, and, er, raw power. It is not for nought that Iggy has such a great reputation as a live performer and he gave his usual all, delivering a set filled with many of his best known numbers such as “Lust For Life,” “Search and Destroy,” “Funtime,” and “I’m Bored.”
“Here’s the deal. I’m Iggy Pop and I have a brand new album out tomorrow called Party,” he announced (or something close to those words), going on to play that disc’s “Bang Bang,” “Rock&Roll Party,” and “Pumpin’ For Jill.” OK, Party wasn’t one of Ig’s best — in fact, as much as I love Monsieur Pop, his only truly great recordings are from the 1969-1977 period encompassing the first three Stooges albums and his first two Bowie-collaborated solo LPs, The Idiot and Lust For Life. Still, he pulled out the best tracks from post-’77 along with the highlights from his golden era, delivering a set that had the throngs by the throat and on a high from start to finish. The crowd lost it!
Iggy Pop from his classic appearance on The Dinah Shore Show, 1977, promoting The Idiot and performing “Sister Midnight” backed by a band including David Bowie and the Sales brothers. Dinah, David, and Iggy: now there's a dinner party.
Throughout the first half of Iggy’s set, a biker couple stood next to me. At the end of every song they would launch into the same ritual of shouting:
She: Fuckin’ A, Iggy. Fuckin’ AAAAAA!
He: Give ‘er shit, Iggy. Give ‘er shit!
The routine repeated after every number. As they did this, so many thoughts and questions swooshed in my skull: Did they do this at every gig? Did they practice at home? Did they ever switch catchphrases? Did they have a repertoire of catchphrases that they would alternate for different gigs? I guess these will forever remain mysteries of the universe for me.
I wish I could remember who constituted Iggy’s band but unfortunately can’t. Research shows that Blondie’s Clem Burke often played drums for him around this period as did the Bowie-affiliated Carlos Alomar on guitar (also the co-writer of The Idiot’s “Sister Midnight,” later reformatted as “Red Money” for Bowie’s Lodger). I would certainly have recognized them both but, alas, it’s gone from the mental hard drive.
Following an encore, Ig came back on stage one more time, each arm draped around a groupie while he grinned and gave a thumbs up salute.
From The Dinah Shore Show, 1977, performing “Funtime” followed by an interview with Iggy and Bowie. And, yes, that’s Rosemary Clooney! (Thanks for the clarification lschmoopie) Somewhere out there, there is also a video of a hilarious interview directly following “Funtime” but it seems to have disappeared from YouTube.
I’ve gone on to see Iggy twice more (and hope to one day see the reformed Stooges) and will talk more about his overall career with those entries.Iggy’s blinding set was followed by a tepid hour of The Go-Gos. At this time, their debut album Beauty and the Beat was just starting its vault up the charts toward multi-platinum success. It was a bit of a coup for the Picnic as the fivesome would have still been a relative obscurity at the time when the fest was booked. I’ve always had a take-em-or-leave-em opinion of The GoGo’s, mostly the latter, and their set was in keeping with this. It was perfectly pleasant if unmemorable.
Actually, I do have one very clear memory regarding their time on stage, namely that we wanted it over as soon as possible simply because up next was the other key reason as to why we were there that day: The Specials.
NOTE: I will be publishing the second part of this piece on the first Police Picnic ... at some point in the future. Most unfortunately, we have had a computer crash at home. Among the untold hours of work on that main drive are scans and photos that were meant to accompany Part Two. Apparently, we should be able to retrieve them, and once I have access, I’ll return to writing this blog series. In the interim, my nose is stuck in Keith Richards’ autobiography.
© 2010 VariousArtists