Fire up the flux capacitors, set the Delorean for Memorial Day weekend 1983, and travel back to a time in rock history before Live Aid or Lollapalooza.
Before Back to the Future, even. Back when we’d just learned Luke and Leia were brother and sister.
Glen Helen Regional Park in sunny San Bernardino, California was the site of the second annual US Festival (May 28-30, 1983). This was no rock and roll charity show; that “We Are the World” level of celebrity philanthropy wasn’t in vogue just yet. Rather, US Fest was a technology expo-cum-concert bash thrown by Steve Wozniak to the tune of $10 million.
You remember “Woz.” He’s the guy who cofounded Apple Computers with Steve Jobs in the mid-1970s. And his Apple II was just one of many cutting-edge devices on display in the US Fest vendor booths.
Imagine stepping out of your time machine and beholding the ocean of people gathered on the freshly-bulldozed grounds. To hell with scorching temps; those youngsters came to rock. They braved sunburn and dehydration, stripping down to their string bikinis for a chance to check out some of the Eighties’ biggest names in music: The Divinyls, Men at Work, English Beat, Triumph, and more. By the time it was all said and done, US Fest Part II attracted 650,000-plus people over all three days.
Remember, if you will, a time when Michael Jackson’s latest, Thriller, was just starting to catch fire, crossing over from R&B to mainstream charts on the strengths of the ultra-smooth “Billie Jean” and guitar-powered “Beat It.” The Gloved One could thank that new cable channel, MTV, for putting his video clips into heavy rotation. Why, there’s “V.J.” Mark Goodman now; he’s one of hosts here and will introduce the bands, whose performances will be filmed and broadcast around the globe, via satellite. Even in Russia! It’s all very exciting.
Thirsty? Let’s grab a Pepsi Free.
Now fast-forward your VHS three decades.
MVD has issued the first official DVD covering the historic US Fest ’83 event, so you’ve got time to drop it in someone’s cyber-stocking this holiday. Key performances by Van Halen, David Bowie, and a few others don’t make the cut this time out, thanks (we presume) to legal wrangling and assorted backroom fiddle-faddle. But Glenn Avini’s restored film (logos, captions, and trivia intact) includes incendiary sets by the now-legendary U2 and Stevie Nicks, and is bolstered by fist-pumping shenanigans courtesy those “metal gods” in Judas Priest and Scorpions.
These tidbits alone are worth the price of admission (with all due respect to Messrs. Bowie and Roth). Everything else is frosting.
And what sweet crème it is. Split across the “lost” three-day weekend, the DVD assembles highlight reels from most of the New Wave, Heavy Metal, and Rock acts who answered Wozniak’s call. So yeah, it’s sort of a piecemeal affair. It’d require several DVDs to contain all the performances by every band (a fourth day featured Country artists like Willie Nelson and Alabama), assuming such footage still exists. And while some of the bands showcased have since issued clips of their US appearance on various DVD packages, this marks the first time a Unuson-sanctioned survey of the entire weekend has hit store shelves (and iTunes).
We know a few of these guys (and gals) progressed to even bigger, better things, even before Reagan left office. For example, U2’s third effort, War, was still oven-warm as of US Fest—but those plucky Irish lads would grace the cover of Time Magazine and become Rock and Roll Hall of Famers soon enough, abetted by the critical and commercial successes of The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, and Achtung, Baby! Remember the band’s inspired rendition of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” from the Under a Blood Red Sky video? Sure you do. Bono does his white flag routine here first, two weeks before seducing the cameras at Red Rocks.
Love that mullet!
The Divinyl’s Chrissy Amplett burns through “The Boys in Town” in torn nylons—and with an unidentified red substance smeared on her cheeks. An impossibly young, sliver-slim Michael Hutchence leads INXS on their breakthrough Shabooh Shoobah hit “The One Thing,” accompanied by Garry Gary Beers (bass) and the brothers Farriss. The band’s saxophonist, Kirk Pengilly, sports an unfortunate haircut and loud shirt (even by ‘80s standards), but Hutchence compensates with his confident vocal and carefree swagger.
View the US Festival ’83 trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21keOzB_6Mo
Australian darlings Men at Work dish up “Who Can It Be Now” and then-new hit “It’s a Mistake,” from their sophomore effort, Cargo. Front man Colin Hay conceals his lazy eye behind a pair of shades, but loosens up and ditches the glasses later. Brian Setzer and The Stray Cats round out New Wave day with “Rock This Town” and “Please Make Up Your Mind,” unleashing their Built for Speed rockabilly (and perfect pompadours) on unsuspecting thousands as darkness falls over the valley. Drummer Slim Jim Phantom makes the most of a two-piece kit (towering over his snare and kick-drum), and bassist Lee Rocker thrums an upright while Setzer plucks sizzling solos on a hollow-body Gretsch. Marking his final appearance with The Clash, Mick Jones wows with “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.” The British punks apparently had a pissing match with Van Halen over who was paid more for their US Fest appearance (Van Halen received $1.5 million to The Clash’s $500,000).
Spearheaded by leather-clad Rob Halford, Judas Priest launches the Heavy Metal portion of the disc with crowd favorites “Breaking the Law” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.” Guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton trade riffs as grounds crew cool the jam-packed fans up front with fire hoses. Halford—who takes the stage astride a motorcycle—appears to be having a genuinely good time and breaks into smiles throughout the JP set. Canadian rockers Triumph pump the audience with the anthems “Fight the Good Fight” and “Lay It On the Line,” singer / guitarist Rik Emmett easily taking the award for the afternoon’s best licks. Klaus Meine and German bad boys The Scorpions rock into the dusk with “The Zoo” and “Can’t Get Enough, elevating the throng with the twin guitar attack of Matthias Jabs (in bumblebee spandex) and Rudy Schenker (in a Japanese “rising sun” tee).
Rock Day finds Terri Nunn and Berlin instructing the masses on “Sex,” which ends so abruptly that one wonders if there’s something missing (more footage is devoted to Nunn mugging for cameras backstage than the song proper). Chanteuse Rindy Ross steers Quarterflash on “Find Another Fool” and spars with spouse-guitarist Marv Ross (dressed like a Christmas elf) on her sax. Triumph pops up again for “Magic Power,” whereon Emmett brandishes a monstrous double-neck guitar. Missing Persons’ Dale Bozzio vamps in a barely-there chromium brassiere and matching hot pants on “Words,” backed by then-hubby Terry on drums and fellow Frank Zappa alum (and future Duran Duran member) Warren Cuccurullo on guitar.
In one of their many storied appearances throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, U2 dazzle with “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and “Electric Co.” Larry Mullen, Jr. keeps time in short-shorts while burly bassist Adam Clayton prowls in refreshingly ordinary blue jeans. The Edge conjures huge sounds and intriguing textures from his guitar as iconic singer Bono takes to the scaffolding and greets the audience from atop the massive stage (the biggest ever constructed at that time). Fleetwood Mac songbird Stevie Nicks casts spells with “Stand Back” and “Outside the Rain,” the Welsh Witch finding her feet as a solo artist with a little help from the inimitable Waddy Wachtel on guitar.
Watch U2 perform “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” at US Festival: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/u2-at-the-us-festival-in-1983-p...
The DVD is a bright, boisterous time capsule that does a competent (if incomplete) job documenting the first major festival concert on American soil since Woodstock. It’s amusing (and occasionally wince-inducing) to behold the skimpy bathing suits, cut-off jean shorts, and porn star moustaches favored by the audience, but hey, we’re all slaves to the fashion of the day. Many of the acts on the three-day bill have since gone the way of Rubik’s cube and Jaws 3-D, while others remain active (or spawned new groups and soloists).
Yeah, it’s a bummer that lawyers and accountants have prevented the release of a more “definitive” compilation spanning the entire weekend (and touching on landmark sets by Van Halen, David Bowie, Flock of Seagulls, Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, Joe Walsh, The Pretenders, and Ozzy Osbourne). And Goodman’s modern-day comments and reflections should’ve comprised a beefy Bonus Materials section instead of being dropped bit-by-bit into the middle of the performances, where they distract from—if not spoil—the moment. We blame the editors (who inexplicably splice in the same shot of a random jock angrily yanking his girlfriend by the arm in two different places on the disc), not the V.J. One suspects there are miles of additional live and backstage footage out there.
But this’ll do in pinch, flooding the 30-40 set with nostalgia while sating eardrums their with throwback hits in glorious 5.1 Surround sound.
It’s a bittersweet memento, considering the number of participants who’ve passed on: Michael Hutchence, Chrissy Amplett, Greg Ham (Men at Work), and Joe Strummer (The Clash) ascended that ol’ stairway to heaven. Even Wozniak’s days at Apple were numbered; the shaman of the circuit board parted ways with Jobs by decade’s end.