The Stooges / SXSW
The Stooges, at Stubb’s
It’s hard to find the line between journalistic appreciation and gushing fan girl. There have been quite a few occasions when I’ve had to put aside my love of Converse-wearing guitarists or cowbell-crushing drummers in order to sound more professional or just to get my point across.
So, here’s my confession: Finding objectivity is especially hard when writing this. Not to be too Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, but the Stooges are one of my all-time, top-five favorite bands. In my heart, this is real rock & roll. It’s dirty. It’s raw. It’s loud. It’s got soul. And I think the riff from “T.V. Eye” might still be the hottest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. See? “Hottest”? Forgive me, I can’t stop myself.
I’d been budgeting my energy all week. Since the Stooges were scheduled to take the stage just after midnight on the last official night of SXSW, I planned to combine all of my cries of, “Let’s sit down” and “I really should get back to the hotel” and cash them in for one big “I CAN DO THIS.” When it was time to stand among the crowd, get smashed in one place for hours, push off burly punk-rock guys and survive the slow torture of completely unremarkable opening bands (Kings of Leon, Spoon), I was ready.
Through the miracle of text messaging, I met up with a friend and we cruised down to the very middle of the crowd, about 30 feet from the stage. We sat down on the gravel and made plans to stick together when times got tough. Just like all girlfriends, we promised to never to let a man get between us; and if he did, we’d elbow him. We had three-and-a-half hours to wait.
After each band ended and their fans left, we’d jump up and claim new ground. During their sets, we’d worm our way even closer. Finally, after we’d been standing for more than two hours pressed against old friends and new comrades, we were about four feet from the stage barrier. Then the lights went down and the crowd went crazy. Instantly, I knew we were dead. There was no way we were going to survive the full show in this pit. We’ve both been through things like this plenty of times before, but this time the feeling was different. It wasn’t just aggro, testosterone-fueled raging; it was full-on insane fandom — which is way more dangerous and unpredictable.
Scott and Ron Asheton came strolling out on stage with honorary Stooge (and fellow rock royalty) Mike Watt (The Minutemen, fIREHOSE) on bass. Iggy Pop waited for the beginning drum hits of “Loose” before he came jumping out, already shaking and gyrating to the thump of the bass. There’s no way of knowing how this lean, muscular 59-year-old gets his endless spastic energy, but I like to think it’s from a deal with the devil. Pop’s senior serpentine is more genuine and sexy than Axl Rose’s ever was.
Live, the Stooges are exactly as you would imagine. Pop is out front comanding all the attention, and the other band members are in the back, dutifully mixing up the magic. After “Loose” came a string of Stooges classics, among them “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “T.V. Eye” and “1970.” It was about this time that we knew we had to get out of the pit for fear of grievous bodily injury. We moved off to the left where it was still crowded, but no longer a battlefield. From here we watched Pop jump into the audience quite a few times and cause a crowd-crushing wave of bodies whenever he was near. For the majority of the show, he sang with his tight jeans hanging half off, threatening to expose Little Iggy at any moment. His sweaty performance is as fearless and wreckless as it was 35 years ago. And Pop’s full-bodied entertainment made newer Stooges songs much easier for the crowd to get into. They surged and slammed to “Trollin’,” “ATM,” “My Idea Of Fun” and “She Took My Money” just like they were proven classics.
After at least an hour of non-stop… uh… rawk… they took the customary pre-encore break. We prepared ourselves for all hell to break loose. When they came back out on stage, Pop asked for dancers to come to the front and “dance with the asshole Stooges.” We all looked at eachother in confusion. What does he mean? Push forward? Is he asking us to hop the barrier? Should we hop the barrier? Just then he made it more clear by saying: “Come up here!” We needed no more words of encouragement. My friend and I were up and over the speaker stack before security could move to stop us. Suddenly, we were dancing with about 30 other people on stage to “No Fun,” jumping up and down, screaming and shaking a little ass. We got close enough to sing in the microphone and wrap our hungry hands around Iggy himself. All too soon the song was over and we dancers were all standing on stage staring at each other, fully in shock. There was nothing else to do — we licked Iggy’s sweat off of our hands. How’s that for commitment to an article?