Friday night at ATP was inaugurated by The Scientists playing their first stateside show ever. The long-running Australian group are best remembered for a fertile period in the 1980s that produced the classic Blood Red River mini LP, which they played in its entirety. The band comes from the Australian rock tradition of swaggering, wild-haired men who play swampy blues-inflected rock that’s rough around the edges. Cited as a defining influence by artists like Jon Spencer and Warren Ellis, The Scientists’ set the stage for an evening of music that was to be all about man’s relationship to his axe, at times even using a bottle of Jameson’s to grind notes from it.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the smart money on a band breaking out of the Seattle grunge scene was on Mudhoney, not Nirvana. Over 20 years later, the band are still doling out their brand of rhythmically propulsive anthems punctuated by explosive guitar pyrotechnics. Part of ATP’s Don’t Look Back series of bands performing classic albums, Mudhoney performed the Superfuzz Bigmuff mini LP and contemporaneous classic singles like “Touch Me I’m Sick.” Playing to a packed house with maniacally enthused fans — Prefix photographer Tim Bugbee reports that he was standing in front of a young lady who lapsed into intermittent spasms of ecstasy throughout the set – Mudhoney whet the audience’s appetite for the evening’s biggest draw, Iggy & The Stooges; Mark Arm mentioned that being in the sweet spot of a Scientists/Stooges sandwich was pretty surreal.
Rushing to the stage with the house lights still, Iggy and the current Stooges incarnation, which features guitarist James Williamson for the first time, burst into the title track off Raw Power, which they were set to play in its entirety. Williamson’s distinctive guitar sound pierced like a guttural howl through the Stardust Ballroom, and the near capacity crowd went absolutely nuts, a steady stream of stage divers and crowd surfers responding to Iggy’s posturing and come-ons. The antics reached a peak on “Shake Appeal,” when Iggy invited a troupe of audience members on-stage to dance, and specifically requested “spazzers.” After the close of the proper set, the band – including bassist Mike Watt, who had blown out his knee at a show in France weeks prior and was on crutches – rushed back to the stage and performed two classics in quick succession (“Fun House” and “No Fun”), with the mid-set blasts of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and a punishing version of “1970” highlighting the essential contributions of saxophonist Steve Mackay. Iggy executed a farewell stage dive, circling most of the crowd before breaking into a final dance and waving goodbye, leaving the audience in a daze.
But the heaviest was yet to come, with Sleep taking the stage promptly at 11 p.m. to a rapturous reception. The cult group disbanded in 1994, and had only reformed once since to play a previous ATP event in the U.K. in 2009. It was immediately clear that for many in the audience, Sleep’s appearance marked realization of years of empty hopes, with one dazzled fan remarking, “I never thought I’d see this. It’s blowing my fucking mind.” Such a pithy summation was entirely accurate, as the group held the dedicated audience in a hypnotic trance throughout their set, which pushed past the two hour mark. Earlier in the day, bassist Al Cisneros had remarked that for him each show is an event, and that he was aware of U.S. fans’ desire to see Sleep perform live. The band performed their Holy Mountain LP in its entirety as advertised, but that was merely the beginning as the band worked their way through a career-spanning set that included a beguiling cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Over The Mountain.” As the crowd filtered out just past one in the morning, you could still hear Sleep’s massive sound echoing through the Stardust ballroom.