Dave Navarro + Billy Morrison Lead All-Star ‘Above Ground’ Cast Through David Bowie + the Stooges Albums [Photos]
"Who's next?" is probably the question most on the minds of concertgoers after Monday's Above Ground benefit in Los Angeles. Following last year's Lou Reed and Velvet Underground celebration, organizers Dave Navarro and Billy Morrison sought to "complete the triangle" of influence, performing classic albums from David Bowie and The Stooges.
"I was always attracted to theatrical music. I was into KISS, I was into Elton John and then when I discovered David Bowie it was the theatrics with the substance,” Navarro told us prior to the show. Morrison relayed that he went down a rabbit hole to initially discover Iggy Pop and the Stooges. “I was getting started in punk rock and a friend said, ‘You can like the Pistols, but you’ve got to understand where they come from,’ so I learned about the Dolls and the Heartbreakers and then we went back to the Stooges and MC5 and Bowie and the Velvet Underground."
Some of those key influential figures for both musicians gave of their time to take part in the second Above Ground benefit, aiding the Recording Academy's MusiCares organization. Wayne Kramer of the aforementioned MC5 gave an electrifying performance, armed with his red, white and blue guitar blistering through The Stooges' "Real Cool Time." Other big gets for the night included David Bowie bassist Carmine Rojas, who sat in for a majority of the Bowie set, and Bowie "Spider from Mars" keyboardist Mike Garson, who lent his stellar skillset to "Lady Stardust" and "Star" during the performance. "Tonight is about serving the records," said Navarro, thrilled with the cast and the production surrounding the performances of The Stooges' self-titled debut and Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.
The night started on a high note with Navarro and Morrison joined by rock icon Billy Idol and his legendary guitarist Steve Stevens for a rousing open of the Stooges' "1969," complete with backing footage from that era in time helping to set the mood. Completely embodying the energy and stage majesty of Iggy Pop, Juliette Lewis gave a commanding live wire performance on "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "No Fun" while Prophets of Rage's Brad Wilk pounded away on the drum kit.
Before the show, Navarro reflected on his own struggles that led to the event's creation: “A couple of years ago, I was close to suicide, and if it hadn’t been for reaching out about it, none of this would be here." He continued, "[Billy and I] rolled it into a concept where we could give back to people that are in the same boat and at least tell them they’re not alone. At least tell them they don’t have to be ashamed. At least tell them there is help available and where to get it, and I am here standing as an example of what it is to reach out.”
After performances of one of Morrison's favorites, "Ann," and a raw energy embodiment by Donovan Leitch on "Not Right," the big finale of the Stooges set brought out Ministry's Al Jourgensen and veteran guitarist Twiggy Ramirez to play "Little Doll." As Jourgensen took the stage, he paused for a moment to honor the late Ric Ocasek, stating, "This man was so cool." Jourgensen and Ramirez remained, adding The Cult's Billy Duffy to the mix for a scorching bonus performance of "Search and Destroy."
Between sets, host Tom Arnold and special guest speaker Dr. Drew auctioned off paintings from the special guests artists who had been working closely with the organizers, raising over $15,000 for MusiCares. When discussing the decision to partner with the organization, Morrison stated, “MusiCares is pretty much the only people we’ve dealt with because they are boots on the ground. They’ve demonstrated how amazing they are by literally being on the end of the phone." He relayed a story of how quickly they responded when a call was placed to help a fellow musician in need, providing a place to stay and receive treatment.
As you might expect, the second half of the evening continued to raise the bar. After a silhouetted Morrison, profiling very much like Bowie, sang the celestial "Five Years" to open the Ziggy set, Deadland Ritual's Franky Perez was joined by a pair of dancers and one of the night's more psychedelic backdrops for "Soul Love." The performance was one of the first instances of the night where the audience was audibly singing along.
One of the biggest ovations of the night came for Billy Idol, who told Navarro he approved of the selection after once again teaming with Steve Stevens on "Moonage Daydream." It proves out he was right as the performance was one of the tightest and raucously great takes of the evening. Bush's Gavin Rossdale, just home from tour, gave of his time to come and deliver a standout performance of "Starman," leaving Morrison and Navarro to remark how great his take and command of the song was. Meanwhile Stitched Up Heart's Mixi Demner imbued "It Ain't Easy" with plenty of attitude adding to the stellar mid-section of the Ziggy album.
Following "Lady Stardust" and "Star," the room rose once again with Dave Navarro inviting his Jane's Addiction bandmates Perry Farrell and Chris Chaney to the stage, along with Farrell's wife Etty Lau. The chemistry was electrifying on the lively "Hang On to Yourself" as the Farrells shimmied around and seemed to be fully enjoying the moment. The remained for "Ziggy Stardust," which featured a collage of Bowie imagery for a backdrop. The two song collaboration with Navarro's Jane's Addiction pals got one of the night's biggest responses.
Though that could have easily been a high point, there was more to be had, and probably the lasting memory from the night was the arrival of guitar god Steve Vai, Tenacious D's ball of energy Jack Black and show-stealing drag queens for a blow-the-roof-off performance of "Suffragette City." Vai remained to close out the night with Franky Perez returning on the moving "Rock and Roll Suicide," with the point of mental health being driven home by the a backdrop of legendary musicians and entertainers no longer with us playing on the screen. From Chris Cornell, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley and Scott Weiland to Jim Morrison, Chris Farley, Freddie Prinze, Janis Joplin and even a more recent fan favorite, The Prodigy's Keith Flint, it's staggering to see the amazing talents gone too soon.
“For me, it’s the older records that I grew up with and had on vinyl that are firmly implanted on my soul and my core and my being and no matter what happens, those records are going to stand the test of time in my lifetime," stated Navarro. By the end of the night, there was no doubting the passion of the organizers in bringing these great albums back into the spotlight and their dedication to the supporting the mental health battle. "Who's next?" Let's hope that Morrison, Navarro and their musical friends will be back for another year to salute two more classic albums.
To learn more about MusiCares efforts and to donate, head here. Check out our photos from the Above Ground II performance below.
Above Ground II Photo Gallery