For I, along with about 2,999 others have just spent an evening in the company of polite, intelligent, urbane Miami car insurance salesman (63) James Osterberg’s alter-ego, Iggy Pop. And what an evening. Right from the get-go with blistering opener ‘Raw Power’ Iggy and the Stooges made an unequivocal statement of intent – this was no old fossils’ Greatest Hits jolly, this was the real deal: searing, raw, incisive, naked, ugly (Aghh… I hate the term, but it really is the only one that fits) Rock ‘n’ Roll.
This is the third time I have seen Osterberg undergo this almost daemonic transformation live. The first time (’81) I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t thinking: I didn’t get it. Wood and trees etc. The second time (2007) was with my eldest at the Festival Hall: part of the annual ‘Meltdown’ series of events; which is where the penny dropped. However, it is without doubt, tonight’s performance of the pivotal ‘Raw Power’ (1973) in its entirety which has been the most compelling, and is the one I have enjoyed the most.
Iggy’s ‘Stooges’ are Drums: Scott “Rock Action” Asheton, bass: Mike Watt, and guitar, as replacement for the late Ron Asheton, in a wholly appropriate, though highly ironic echo of his assimilation into the original incarnation of the band (and the subsequent and devastating demotion of Asheton, R) … It’s naughty boy, James Williamson. Together they laid down a powerhouse backdrop of sound, which if you analysed carefully, I’d be willing to bet would contain the building blocks of every Punk motif you could care to mention. A perfectly primed canvas for Iggy, on which to daub, splatter, splash and from time to time exquisitely render his vocal imagery and project his physicality. In fact, it’s what strikes you the minute he half-walks, half-staggers onto the stage. How completely physical Iggy’s performance is.
And yet he cuts such a contradictory figure. For his age, he is in impressive shape. (‘Two hours of Chinese shit every morning’ ) Taut torso, sinewy, part Marvel Comic Super-Hero and part crucified Christ; commanding, he calls the tunes. Yet equally vulnerable: not least when, without a great deal of warning, he launches himself off the stage, diving headlong into his audience relying on their hands and arms to catch him and eventually return him to the stage. Occasionally he looked fragile, but indifferent to it. Indeed, more than anything with his stage dives he appeared increasingly determined as the evening went on, to find a bit of a ‘gap’ through which lay only sudden and violent contact with a hard floor.
‘Go on have a go! Any fool can do this’
Understandably, over the years his stage performances have taken their toll, particularly on his back. But he doesn’t slow down, despite the discomfort he now and again, seems to be feeling. There are times when his gait resembles my own stuttering, stumbling, even hyperactive steps. In fact, I am struck many times during the course of the evening at the similarities between Iggy’s sometimes jerky lack of co-ordination; and my own. The result of what 10 years with Parkinson’s and the drugs used to fight it can do to you.
Jim Osterberg has spoken countless times about this stage persona, and how this unpredictable, dangerous and, at times physically intimidating phenomenon is something he cannot control. He is possessed. I recall an excellent South Bank Show interview (and there’s a combination of words I use very sparingly – if ever) I saw a couple of weeks before his 2007 ‘meltdown’ show, in which he spoke with clarity and precision to the point of cold-bloodedness about his formation of the Stooges with their ‘White Trash aesthetic’ and why this had to be the context within which Iggy was to exist. During the dark opening bars to ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ as they raised the hairs on the back of my neck in the Festival Hall it suddenly became blindingly clear to me what Iggy Pop is all about.
And just what is that? You ask. Well, You’ll know … If you know. And if you don’t, no amount of explanation from Yours Truly is going to be any use to you. Like me back in ’81: If you get it, you get it; if you don’t, well it ain’t the end of the world, but you are missing out on something pretty special.
Unlikely isn’t it? The thought, twenty years ago that Iggy Pop might still be performing in his 60’s would, at least for me anyway, have conjured up images of sad revival tours, the wearing of cheap and unsavoury stage gear, a backing band of ‘session musicians’ whose wooden playing and lack of rapport reveal a complete absence of understanding. All, we could be forgiven for imagining, chaotically magnified by tantrums and out-of-touch histrionics from our hero.
None of it.
Fact (Okay it’s a silly one, but bear with me): The band’s combined age (and I’m not even counting Steve Mackay) were we to travel the equivalent back in time, we would find ourselves in the year the American Revolution began and James Watt patented his steam engine! But the Stooges play with a conviction and energy worthy of musicians a third their age.
Mike Watt gets animated too
For once I make a smart move, and with my Minder, Stig leave the relative safety of our balcony seats, leap down the stairs, then blag, wriggle and push our way to the front for the final few numbers. It really is the only place to be. Meanwhile, Iggy has given so completely (Yes, I know a lot of it is pure theatre) he is on the verge of collapse. So am I. It’s nervous tension. For each successive ill-advised-in-my-condition-mosh-pit encounter brings ever closer the day when I hit the deck and don’t get up too quick (If ever) Or worse, having to, from then on, sit back and watch others younger, fitter (as well as a few older, unfitter taking chances too) as they get on with it.
Video ‘Kill City’
Finally, for those of you who are interested, or who had money on it, I am relieved to report that Iggy’s ‘Old Feller’ stayed within the confines of his highly mobile jeans – Just! But it was touch and go … If you’ll pardon the expression.
To summarise. I couldn’t give a toss how old he is, nor do I give a shit about whether he chooses to pay the rent by appearing in TV ads for car insurance. Iggy Pop, love him or hate him is still able to orchestrate a thoroughly absorbing, carthartic and if I’m honest, a still somewhat unnerving experience for the lucky concert-goer.
‘Shamen or Sham’? Iggy Pop: I know where I stand.
- Raw Power
- Search and Destroy
- Gimme Danger
- Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell
- Shake Appeal
- I Need Somebody
- Death Trip
- Cock In My Pocket
- I Got A Right
- I Wanna Be Your Dog
- L.A Blues
- Night Theme
- Beyond The Law
- Open Up And Bleed
- Fun House
- Kill City
© Andy Daly 2010 Thanks to Stig for video. Mine were shite.