Aidin Vaziri | “We’re not ugly,” John Waters, the cult film director and author, told a crowd of 7,500 or so people from a small stage in the middle of Oakland’s Mosswood Park on Saturday afternoon. “We got character — bad character!”
That was one way to sum up the audience at Burger Boogaloo, the annual Fourth of July weekend music festival that vigorously celebrates do-it-yourself music and values. Now on its eighth edition — and third with Waters serving as the oh-so-quotable master of ceremonies — the two-day event has quickly carved out its own quirky place on the congested Bay Area concert calendar.
The faithful came wearing Bettie Page bangs and beehive hairdos, retro sleeve tattoos, Doc Martin boots, and plenty of leather despite the intense midday heat.
This year saw Burger Boogaloo boasting its most popular headliners to date. The writhing, shirtless punk hero Iggy Pop topped the bill on Saturday, capping off a day that featured 10 other impressively high-volume sets: from the brutal noise of Japanese garage-rock power trio Guitar Wolf down to the surreal rockabilly of Canada’s Bloodshot Bill. (Indie icons the Buzzcocks and X were scheduled to close out the festival on Sunday.)
Introducing Pop, Waters urged the audience, “Get on your knees to worship our leader!”
The Godfather of Punk did not disappoint. Taking the stage at sunset, the 70-year-old singer threw himself wholeheartedly into the classics, thumping on his bare chest for the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and running his fingers through his blond locks during an unexpectedly sensual reading of “The Passenger.”
There was an endearing, loosely organized spirit to the whole thing that made Burger Boogaloo — the showcase event for Burger Records, a record store and indie rock label in Orange County that stubbornly specializes in cassette releases — feel like a throwback to the days before corporate sponsors and smartphones infiltrated sacred spaces.
The concert’s two stages, dubbed Butt City and Gone Shrimpn (their misspelling, not ours), were decorated with gold balloons and an assortment of inflatable space aliens and high-heeled limbs poking out into the sky. Every available surface of the park was covered with empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans. The merchant booths, meanwhile, sold vintage clothes and vinyl records.
For most of the day, as people lounged around the vast lawn on blankets, munching on burgers and sipping on beer, it felt like a picnic that happened to be populated by some very well-dressed people. The audience spanned generations, from toddlers wearing earmuffs to dudes with gray ponytails. At one point, everyone started throwing slices of pizza at each other.
It was truly a unique scene.
Where else could you catch a second stage headlining set by Nobunny, a man who performed something resembling rock ’n’ roll while wearing tight black briefs, a tattered bunny mask and, at least briefly, a biker jacket — backed by three other goons with furry faces?
Anyone peering down at the proceedings from the hospital across the street — those poor patients! — surely must have thought the drugs were having unintended side effects.
As night fell and the area around the stage surged with bodies, Pop delivered an anthem for the insurrectionists, “No Fun.”
With its rumbling drums and primitive guitar riffs, the mosh pit jostled harder as people started toppling over the barricades, to the sounds of Iggy thrusting his hips and singing, “Feelin’ that same old way/ No fun to hang around/ Freaked out/ For another day.”