The Stooges Live At Goose Lake  Is An Interesting Albeit Inessential Historical Document

Shortly after their 1970 sophomore album Fun House’s release, Detroit proto-punk legends the Stooges played the Goose Lake Festival in Jackson, Michigan, 80 miles west of Detroit. Intended to be a Midwest Woodstock of sorts, with acts like the Small Faces, Jethro Tull, and Chicago (among many more) the 3-day festival drew 200,000 attendees over a stifling weekend. The environment became tense; in this LP’s liner notes, Jaan Uhelszki writes of 500 people attending the Open City LSD bad trip rescue tent, with countless others also being stoned on PCP masquerading as cocaine. Still, the festival itself was well-organized. Bands played on a rotating stage, were limited to 45-minute sets without exception, and a six-foot fence and trench blocked performer/crowd interaction.

But of course, no amount of organization could control the Stooges. While singer Iggy Pop instructed the somewhat inconsistent bassist Dave Alexander to stay sober that day, at least three of the four band members including Pop and Alexander indulged anyway (the notes don’t mention which member, if any, was relatively sober). Iggy was extremely strung out, but before the performance came to alertness and pulled it together. Dave Alexander didn’t.

As the legend goes, the group takes the stage and Alexander is too stoned to play. Pop gets frustrated, fires him, and finishes the tour with the Asheton brothers (Ron on guitar, Scott on drums) and roadie Zeke Zettner on bass (as documented on Have Some Fun: Live At Ungano’s, recorded the same month as Goose Lake). After often skipping rehearsals and disappearing, Alexander’s less-than-desired Goose Lake performance was the final straw for Pop.

By this time, the Stooges had already released two Elektra albums that commercially underperformed but in punk rock’s development became seminal. The first, 1969’s The Stooges, was produced and initially mixed by John Cale. Its unfiltered raw sound was deemed unmarketable, so Jac Holzman and Iggy Pop made a cleaner, more “commercial” mix to release. Even then, it only peaked at #106 on the Billboard 200, sounding too “dangerous” and ahead of its time. July 1970’s Fun House was even wilder, with Iggy’s screams backed by aggressive riffs and on the second side complemented by free jazz elements. While those brilliant records are monumentally influential and remain relevant, most of the world wasn’t ready quite yet.

Taking the Goose Lake stage that August day, the Stooges performed the entirety of Fun House in their preferred running order (Elektra chose “Down On The Street” as the record opener, but the band preferred “Loose”). The festival promoter claims the band went overtime, but they actually finished their set five minutes before the scheduled cutoff. During “Down On The Street,” two security guards prevented Pop from breaching the barriers; one of those guards says the crowd acted on Pop’s call for disorder (on “TV Eye” he complained “there’s a wall,” and after “1970” expressed disdain over guards blocking a fan), but the recording doesn’t capture much of that. Dave Alexander, though at times sloppy and behind the groove, does indeed play bass for most of the concert, and on some songs even sounds nearly identical to the studio LP.

For as wild and historically important it was, is the Stooges’ Goose Lake concert any good? Because of the short setlist and time constraints, these live renditions aren’t too different from the studio versions (though Have Some Fun proves that the Stooges wouldn’t have gone longer anyway). I greatly appreciate Live At Goose Lake’s significance, although would personally rather listen to the more refined, higher-fidelity studio disc. The Goose Lake show’s magnitude would probably be wasted on casual fans, and I wouldn’t call this an essential listen for everyone. It’s still an easy recommendation to Stooges devotees, considering its energy and vital role in the band’s story. Simply put, they weren’t the same after Pop dismissed Alexander following this show (Pop still stands by his decision). The rest of the 1970 live performances lacked the spark that made the studio album and Goose Lake record so unique, and the Raw Power lineup with guitarist James Williamson felt like a completely different (albeit still great) band. Unfortunately, Iggy Pop never reunited with Dave Alexander, as the latter died in 1975 (“How about Dave?/OD’d on alcohol,” Pop says in “Dum Dum Boys”).

Third Man obtained the original 1/4” stereo board recordings (the only soundboard recordings of the original Stooges lineup) from sound engineer James Cassily’s son, and after restoration by Vance Powell released LP, CD, and digital editions. It was discovered in a Michigan farmhouse basement, and since not recorded or preserved under ideal conditions sounds rough but surprisingly decent. There’s little instrument separation, but despite that and some tape glitches most of the “raw power” comes through. That said, you have to pay close attention to notice Dave Alexander’s bass (or lack thereof). The record cut by Bill Skibbe and pressed on standard weight vinyl at TMP is flat and quiet; Third Man’s recent pressings (many from fully automatic Pheenix Alpha machines) have been consistently good. The LP is packaged in a Stoughton tip-on jacket with a 4-page insert featuring Goose Lake Festival memorabilia and Jaan Uhelszki’s informative liner notes. For the $19 retail price, it’s a good package for Stooges fans and rock historians.

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(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music lover, record collector, and highly opinionated sneaker enthusiast. Follow Malachi on Twitter @MalachiLui and Instagram @malachi__lui.)

creativepart's picture

In August, 1970 I was 20-years old and home for the Summer from my college not far from Jackson, MI. Home was in northeastern Ohio and it was time to go back to school. So, a friend and I started out on August 6th for the Jackson area.

Every gas stop along the way we encountered all manor of grooved out kids with backpacks, dogs, sleeping bags and typical "hippie" attire. We knew nothing of the Goose Lake festival but after seeing more and more hitchhikers with "Goose Lake" signs we got the gist. I had room in the car for 3 hitchhikers but we ended up with 5 additional riders. As you can imagine there were good vibes all around and what seemed like a million young people walking, hitching and jumping into the back of pickup trucks.

We dropped off our new found friends as close as we could to the entrance of the festival, which wasn't all that close due to the massive crowd.

I often think how wrong I was to not follow all these folks and enjoy all that a 1970's music festival had to offer. Even after 50-years missed opportunities are a drag.

dial's picture

I think it's an essential purchase.

Whizzy Stradlin's picture

As a Stooges fanatic, this is a well-researched article. I agree with both the ratings. Ron Asheton felt the day Dave Alexander was fired the band officially died. I don't know if I agree with that sentiment as I, too, liked the Raw Power version of the band, but there is no question the band lost a valuable component to their sound they would not re-discover until Mike Watt joined the band (and then was under utilized). Instead of picking up this album I would recommend any Stooges fanatic pick up the book, Total Chaos which does a better job of detailing the Stooges mythology.

Glotz's picture

I'm checking that book out fer sure...

And thanks for your insights on Watt- I'll check that out too!

Kudos to Malachi for another great review and research.