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Unknowns and forgottens

NEW YORK — Boston’s the Charms had just come off stage at Little Steven Van Zant’s Underground Garage Fest, an all-day punk-revivalist megaconcert held last Saturday at Randall’s Island. The Charms’ Farfisa organist, Kat Kina, a Russian émigré whom the band is still schooling in the canon of American rock and roll, felt someone grab her arm; as she turned, a middle-aged man palmed her hand and shook it. "I really loved your show," the man said, even as Kina gave a nervous look as if to say, "Who’s the geezer?" Her bandmates had to pull Kina aside and explain that the man was Bruce Springsteen. Several hours later, Charms singer Ellie Vee was still hyperventilating as she showed off a newly bruised knee she’d gotten sliding into the organ, and recalled how the show’s MC, legendary girl-group Svengali Kim Fowley, had introduced her ("He said if Jim Morrison and Bon Scott had fucked, they woulda had me"). Guitarist Joe Wizda looked dazed, perhaps because he’d just been interviewed by MTV’s Kurt Loder.

It was a day of surreal moments, and not just for the Boston crowd, which also included the Lyres and Muck and the Mires. By the time the Charms played, around 2 p.m., almost two dozen bands had preceded them, with another two dozen on the way. The rotating stage broke before noon, and a hurricane threatened in the evening; what were planned as 10- and 20-minute sets became two-song dashes, as shifts of go-go girls dressed in Day-Glo wigs and minis did the swim, the bump, and the watusi on a catwalk behind, and movie cameras dollied in front. The line-up mirrored Van Zant’s radio show — a mix of, as one DJ put it, "new bands nobody’s ever heard of, and old bands that everyone’s forgotten about."

In one hour alone, the Creation, the Electric Prunes, and the Shazam rubbed elbows with the Fuzztones, the Chesterfield Kings (introduced by Springsteen), and the Mooney Suzuki (introduced by Chuck "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" Barris). Nancy Sinatra, already the non sequitur of the day, left jaws dislocated by playing new songs written for her by Morrissey and Thurston Moore, the latter sounding like a wedding band playing Sonic Youth. ("So gather your vicious friends," she sang ominously, "and come and service me!") Three dozen go-go girls flooded the stage for the inevitable "These Boots"; soon after, Nancy was seen snuggling backstage with the Dictators. You wondered how the newly re-formed New York Dolls would top it.

As promised, Buster Poindexter showed up in the guise of David Johansen, a 50-year-old man dressed like a 14-year-old hooker, still lookin’ for a kiss. Dedicating their set to their late bassist, Arthur Kane, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, his instrument clanging like a sputtering jet engine, struck up a verse of "You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory" for Johnny, and their songs ("Trash," "Jet Boy," and "Personality Crisis" all made the set) arrived as one electrifying, messy throb. If it wasn’t exactly surreal, what happened next was: the Strokes, young and drunk and not even trying very hard, blew them off the stage. By then the rain had begun to fall in earnest, and Kim Fowley handed the mike to Ellie and Kat, who shouted something inaudible. Then there were the Stooges, who promptly proved that old people can still cause a near-riot. A very expensive-looking camera was sexually violated by a feral 57-year-old Iguana, security guards were baited, fans flooded the stage, and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" got played twice. When it was over, Little Steven staggered on stage, hoarse and giggling, and tried to coax the band back, to no avail. When it became apparent they weren’t coming back, he shrugged and said goodnight.

Issue Date: August 20 - 26, 2004
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