words and photos by Jacob Sprecher
They don’t make ‘em like Burger Boogaloo anymore. That’s the best/most appropriate cliché I can apply after a weekend spent at Mosswood Park in sunny Oakland, CA. Of course I could talk about the 20 fabulous bands that played over the course of Saturday and Sunday till blue in the face, but that sort of thing is self-evident at a point. You simply look at the lineup and you know it’s going to be good. But when it comes to the festival atmosphere, it's always a wild card. Big or small, they’re hit and miss. Sometimes you shoot Cutty Sark with the drummer of your favorite band; other times you get heatstroke and puke in an outhouse. So it goes.
As it happens, I was immediately skeptical of Burger Boogaloo on Saturday, as the sound was anything but dialed from the early goings. Portland’s White Fang, who kicked Boogaloo off with their slapstick (and at times downright silly) take on rock ‘n’ roll, were sacrificial lambs, which I suppose should be expected to an extent. But when Terry Malts followed with a set whose mix consisted of bone-dry vocals front and center with a kit that was all hi-hat and no kick or snare, I had my doubts. Terry Malts, to their credit, gutted through it, even when guitarist Corey Cunningham had a look on his face right out of a Wayne White painting that read “I’ll smash this guitar over your fucking head.”
I’d already gleaned at this point that Burger Boogaloo was, in some respects, all in the family, as the tweener announcements and band introductions were being made by somebody’s dad (and it showed). I thought perhaps somebody’s cousin was also doing sound. But lo and behold, by the time WAND got on and did all-things-stoner, the sound quality improved by leaps and bounds. And though it took a brief dip during Thunderroads’ Mooney Suzuki-tinged barrage, the Reigning Sound brought it back together. And what can you say about the Reigning Sound that hasn’t already been said? They’re latest LP, Shattered, is set to drop in mid-July, proving once again that Greg Cartwright is in fact a bottomless pit of masterful pop songwriting.
It was in the periphery of Reigning Sound’s slot that the beauty of Burger Boogaloo began to dawn on me. While the absurdity of something like Dad introducing the all-Japanese Thunderroads with an emphatic and ridiculous “Konichiwa!!!” was borderline mortifying, there was a casual lightness emanating from the event. And Mosswood Park being a grassy, public park with a simple stone amphitheater had everything to do with it. There was very little detachment; one could scarcely stand out of eyeshot from the stage below, and, what’s more, was the general good behavior of the crowd mixed with the lack of an iron fist over head. Security was professional but not the least bit invasive, making the divide between the band and the audience nearly invisible.
As an example of said overall feel, take the aforementioned Greg Cartwright. After Reigning Sound’s set had concluded, a buddy of mine, Casey, got into a debate with his girlfriend, who insisted that Cartwright was in fact from the UK and not Memphis, and could not be convinced otherwise. Cartwright though, obviously enjoying the Boogaloo mood, happened to be hanging out drinking beer among the crowd. So Casey went right up to him, professed his adoration, and proceeded to record a video of Cartwright on his phone: “Hi, this is Greg Cartwright, and I’m from Memphis, Tennessee.” If that’s not a momentary snapshot of the relaxed tone at Burger Boogaloo, I’m not sure what is. For these reasons, it wasn’t a big deal that Thee Oh Sees later headlined in relative darkness due to a total lack of onstage lighting, etc, etc.
If I can get nostalgic for a minute, I’ll say that I’ve often wondered what it was like going to Bill Graham’s Day on the Green concert series in its heyday of the 1970s. Also held in Oakland, they were massive events at the Oakland Coliseum filled with national headliners. But they weren’t one-shot deals, and in 1976 alone eight Day on the Greens were held from late-April through early October. Everything I’ve ever been told about those shows speak to their frequently laidback nature; just long days of music, people hanging out getting high and drinking booze. And I tried to picture Boogaloo as a mini, independent and contemporary version of a Day on the Green; just a few thousand people kicking around a good time.
Day two was the epitome of that sentiment. I spent a blissful three-hour block sitting on the shaded hill behind the stage watching the likes of the Gizmos, the Muffs (both of whom still own it), Personal and the Pizzas, and of course, Shannon and the Clams, whose love affair with the churning masses was palpable. (I mean honestly, Shannon Shaw? Is there a greater ambassador to the bridge between ‘60s pop and present-day punk than she? Her womanly yowls thrilled, as they always do.) And then here comes Ronnie Spector for the grand finale. Yes, the Ronnie Spector, 70 years old, strong like a bull, hairdo and the works. You watch her strutting about and jiggling her chest and think, “Wow, she was married to Phil Spector. Wow, she performed on Ed Sullivan. Wow, she toured with the Beatles. Wow, she sang ‘Be My Baby.’ Wow, she’s Ronnie Spector.” And those pipes still ring, by god, trills and all. Perhaps most notable was the reality that she was performing to an audience heavy on its 20s, 30s and teens. This was not a Sunday night casino crew, and the genuine connection between the generational gap was goosebump-worthy. She sang the hits, tossed in a little Johnny Thunders and Amy Winehouse for good measure, brought the female Clams out for backing vocals, and all and all electrified the packed amphitheater with her mythical presence and remarkable exuberance.
So here’s to Burger Boogaloo. The best festival experience I’ve had in a long time. Let’s do it again next year.