I hadn't originally planned on going to see the reunited Stooges. Oh sure, I still count Funhouse as, without a doubt, the greatest rock'n'roll album of all time (pooping from a great, splattery height all over your precious Exile on Main Street and/or Pet Sounds, etc.). I think the Stooges' first three studio albums still sound as raw and fresh and vibrant and dangerous as they did when I first heard them (let alone upon their respective inceptions) and can hold their own against any of today's anemic rock (really not saying very much, I'm said to admit). But the notion of going to the trouble of attending their show here in NYC -- jumping through whatever hoops necessary to get tickets and fighting the crowd and whatnot -- wasn't really appealing. Despite the fact that, unlike nine out of every ten "reunion tours" you read about, this one was supposed to be completely wild and "picked up right where the band left off," I just didn't see myself at the show. Two years ago, I flew to England to see a band (I shan't bludgeon the obvious by mentioning their name). Maybe I blew my wad, but ever since then, it's exceptionally rare that I'll go to any trouble to see a band now. If they're not playing nearby, I can't be arsed, as the Brits say.
Then, relatively out of nowhere at the last minute, a friend of mine said that he'd gotten an extra ticket and asked if I wanted to go. The opportunity to see the Stooges suddenly fell in my lap. How could I not take it?
To be honest, I wasn't really that wowed by the Stooges' new album, The Weirdness. In theory it certainly sounded promising: Iggy reunites with the feral brothers Asheton, Ron on guitar and Scott (a.k.a Rock Action) on percussive wallop, with Mike Watt (ex-Minutemen/fIREHOSE) on bass as produced (or "recorded," as he prefers to say it) by Steve Albini. What's not to like? I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it lacked a certain something. A reformation of the band was virtually unthinkable, and I've certainly dropped piles of needless cash on dubious Stooges ephemera before, so of course I had to get this record, but I have to say -- it was kinda a let down.
But to hear them plough through a few classics onstage? Now we're talking.
On the day of (that being yesterday), however, I was beat. Sore, tired, stiff and slightly hungover from a lengthy Easter weekend, the notion of doing anything other than going right home after work and going to bed (let alone puttin' away a few drinks and then trekking all the way up to the 175th & Broadway --- which might as well be fuckin' Canada, as far as I'm concerned), was not even remotely appealing. Not very rock'n'roll of me, I know. But, y'know, I persevered. As it happened, a friend of mine from The Gathering, Gin Goblin Dave, was in town from his native Edinburgh with three of his friends and also going to the show. Given that Mac, the friend who'd supplied me with the extra Ig ticket, was of Scottish descent, I thought a merging of the two camps seemed in order. We made a plan to meet at some far-flung Hell's Kitchen watering hole over on 10th Avenue (across the street from Mr.Big's, formerly the bar/headquarters of notorious Irish mobster, Jimmy Coonan, as documented in T.J. English's pistol-whiptastic true crime classic, "The Westies" and the site of the blind date I went on in the mid-90's that was one of scariest experiences of my life, but that's a Kafka-esque post for a another day). Several pints, introductions and high-volume accent-mockings later, we were suddenly a garrulous gang of eight.
After a few more pints and some hastily consumed slices of pizza, we boarded the A train for the long trip uptown. The venue in question, The United Palace, is evidently an old converted theatre that also doubled as a church of sorts (check out its flashy website by clicking here). It certainly doesn't look like much from the outside, but the interior -- as you can see from the pics -- is nothing short of absolutely spectacular, with sort've a baroque Indian temple sorta aesthetic at work. In any event, it seemed far too nice a space to be hosting an event like this. The assembled crowd was a mix of aging dudes in ill-fitting vintage t-shirts, grizzled music critics, lithe rocker girls in scuffed up Chuck Taylors and leather clad punks of all ages and description. I spotted revered rock photographer, Bob Gruen on the bathroom line (I told him I was a big fan and had one of his famous prints of the Sex Pistols hanging on my living room wall that I bought from him in 1997) and Gogol Bordello frontman, Eugene Hutz, looking as endearingly ridiculous as he usually does.
After several cups of seven dollar shit beer, we found our seats in the orchestra (having gone well out of our way to miss the all-female metal trio opening act, Sistaz In the Pit). The stage was refreshingly Spartan. A bunch of amplifier stacks, Scotty's drum kit and a mic stand. No flashpots, puppets, lasers or zippy special effects necessary when you have Iggy Pop on a stage. Out rolled the band. Riff-Nazi Ron Asheton may have doubled in size since the band's heyday, but portly or not, the man still knows how to manhandle that guitar. Scott on drums no longer looks like a burly stoner so much as a burly stoner's layed-back dad. Mike Watt -- filling in for the long-since departed Dave Alexander, who died back in the mid-70's -- played with a hunched-over animation, watching his front man's every move as if he were one of James Brown's henchmen. Then there's Iggy himself.
Despite being almost sixty (his birthday is the 21st of this month), Iggy simultaneously looks like the most healthy man in the world and the most strangely contorted. Hyperkinetic, shirtless and boasting deceptively youthful blonde locks, Iggy is all sinew, leathered muscle and popping vein. As Ron busted into the opening chords of "Loose" -- 2nd track on Funhouse -- Iggy immediately started dancing as he -- and only he -- can. Many have attempted it -- Perry Farrell, Anthony Kiedis, Michael Stipe, Stiv Bator, Axl Rose, Julian Cope, G.G. Allin, Marilyn Manson and most embarassingly, Scott Weiland of Velvet Revolver -- but Iggy has a style of movement all his own. To watch the man move this way -- at sixty no less - is like witnessing a true force of nature. The place erupted, of course. "Loose," "Down On the Street," "Now I Wanna Be Your Dog," "T.V. Eye," "Dirt," "1970," "Funhouse," "1969," "Real Cool Time," the band covered most of the bases (it would've been nice to hear "Penetration" and "Search and Destroy," but I'm not complaining). They did unfortunately throw in a couple of the new tracks (notably "My Idea of Fun" and the roundly embarassing "Trollin'") and even dusted off a couple of the Stooges tracks from Ig's last record, Skull Ring (specifically the title track and "Little Electric Chair"). There were a few folks in the crowd yelling for solo Ig stuff like "Lust for Life" and whatnot, but they weren't gonna get it.
At one stage in the proceedings (during "…Be Your Dog," if I remember correctly), they staged one of Ig's somewhat contrived stage invasions wherein a mass of overzealous crowd members rush upon the stage for a sort've group sing/shove along, a stunt the venue staff looked none too enthused about. After a few rough and tumble moments of ballyhoo, said throng were ushered back off the stage and order was restored. Afterwards, the placed emtpied out onto the arguably forbiddng streets of Washington Heights, leaving a mass exodus bottle-necking back into the subway. Myself and the rest of our merry crew repaired to the A train and had one more celebratory round at the shamefully collegiate Greenwich Village watering hole, The Stoned Crow, our voices hoarse, our ears ringing (though I did wear plugs, I should point out) and our spirits high. If you get the chance to see The Stooges on this tour -- never mind how meh the album is -- seize the opportunity!