Woodstock '99 Report #21: Bush Close Festival's Opening Day With High-Octane Performance

Singer Gavin Rossdale surfs the crowd as band breaks out new material for the final set of the night.

ROME, N.Y. — Bush singer Gavin Rossdale clearly relished being in front of the huge crowd at Woodstock on Friday night (July 23).

Playing a mix of old hits, such as "Glycerine" and "Everything Zen"

(RealAudio excerpt), Bush closed the first night of Woodstock '99 with a high-energy set that included five songs from their upcoming album, The Science of Things (Nov. 1).

But it wasn't until the end that sex symbol Rossdale got into the Woodstock spirit of things.

Punching the air, the bare-chested singer shouted "The spirit of love, the spirit of peace." He mixed his signature hair-flinging with touches of R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe's patented hand gestures as Bush covered R.E.M.'s hit ballad "The One I Love."

"We're going to mix it up," Rossdale had said a few hours before his band's set.

When he introduced "The Chemicals Between Us," the new album's first single, he stripped off his black T-shirt and said, "I am a black man, I am a white man, I'm an Englishman, I am an American. This is the chemicals between us. This is the connection."

Guitarist Nigel Pulsford had tipped his hand early that the band would be giving the Woodstock crowd a dose of greatest hits and new material.

"We'll play five songs off of the new album and a couple of favorites," Pulsford said. "It's not worth seeing a band if they play all new material, so we'll mix it up a little bit."

One new song, "Forty Miles From the Sun," was a change of pace from the rockers that Bush delivered during their tight, high-energy set. A slow, bluesy number, it included the lyrics "There is nowhere left to hide/ There was nothing to be done/ No people left to save/ Forty miles from the sun."

Smiling devilishly before each song, it was clear Rossdale relished playing to the audience.

"If you knew how good you f---in' look," he gushed. "It must be one of the best things I've ever seen."

Several times during the set, Rossdale surfed the crowd, cradling his guitar. The crowd grabbed at his back and rust-colored hair as he briefly hovered over their hands.

On two songs, he played guitar in the mosh pit, leaning his head back as the crowd caressed his hair and legs, finally gesturing for a roadie to get him back up onstage.

Alternately rolling on the stage and swaying at the microphone, Rossdale ended the set by giving a figurative tip of the hat to Steve Albini, producer of Bush's sophomore album, Razorblade Suitcase.

Slipping in a few lyrics from the song "Kerosene," a track from pioneering preindustrial band Big Black, Rossdale gave Albini's (Nirvana, Pixies) former band perhaps the biggest plug of its career.

The ballad "Glycerine" was a change of pace from the set's hard-rocking numbers. A beautiful glow was created when many audience members near the front ignited sticks, matches, cigarettes and lighters.

It appeared that Rossdale was alluding to Bush's recently settled lawsuit with their former record label when he said, "It's a beautiful thing to be playing for you again," then paused dramatically before saying, "We're coming. Look out."

Bush also played "Comedown," "Swallowed" (RealAudio excerpt), "Greedy Fly" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Little Things" before closing the set.

At the end, playing the rock star to the hilt, he knelt at the front of the stage and strummed his guitar so fast and furiously one string broke off. He threw the guitar down, fiddled around with the string a bit, then tossed the string into the audience. Then he threw kisses to the audience, raised his fist in triumph and walked off.

Fan Sara Hahn, 17, said, "I came here from Ohio just to see [Bush]. Their music is alternative but you can actually hear the words. [Rossdale] loves to do the rock-star thing, but he talks to his fans and listens to them."