Friday night’s showcase at Mohawk was one of my favorite functions. Hosted by indie record label Ecstatic Peace, it featured a headline performance by label founder Thurston Moore, long-time Sonic Youth guitarist and living mop-topped rock encyclopedia. Forgoing his feedback-heavy, noise-based roots, Moore’s acoustic (!) set was pretty — even delicate. Joined on stage by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley (billed as a “special guest”) Moore debuted new, unreleased songs called “Friend,” “Frozen Guitar,” “The Shape” and “Silver.” By the last song, however, Moore couldn’t resist the urge to jam out, incorporating snippets of favorites such as the Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” into a loud swirling, trippy climax.
Moore’s label-mates, Pagoda, are best known for having actor Michael Pitt as its lead singer. Pitt recently played the lead in Gus Van Sant’s Last Days, a film based on speculation surrounding the last few days in the life of Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s singer and a God-like cultural icon. I thought the movie was mostly tedious and boring as hell, but Pitt is riveting on-screen and on-stage. Actually, it’s so easy to be distracted by Pitt’s Cobainesque guttural caterwaul that audiences might miss some of the best ingredients in the band’s sound. First of all, they have an amazing cellist who seems to think he’s playing an electric guitar. His hands alternately caress and attack the cello viciously, creating an explosive noise that’s very different than what you would expect from the usually snooze-inducing instrument. Overall, Pagoda sounded a little like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a bit like Sonic Youth and fully like the second coming of grunge. But in the good way, I swear.
David Fricke (a veteran writer at Rolling Stone) made no effort to hide his delight and took the opportunity to ask many intense, discussion-provoking questions. Though he made every attempt to contain himself, Iggy Pop commanded 90% of the talking time. When he managed to pass questions on to his bandmates, guitarist Ron Asheton released hilarious antidotes. I fully realized how old the Stooges were when drummer Scott Asheton finally spoke. Though his drumming might just be as hard-hitting and solid as the old days, his speaking voice is the measured, scratchy voice of an old man. Betraying his age once again, Pop spewed forth witty observations about topics such as rock & roll legends (the Velvet Underground’s John Cale “looks like the antagonist from Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls”), his own fashion adventures (he purchased his legendary dog collar from “the bowzer boutique”) and the state of new music (“contemporary tuna melt standard”). Pop also casually deconstructed classic Stooges tunes. For example, in the song “No Fun,” the riff was inspired by belly dancing, the construction is lifted from Johnny Cash’s “Walk The Line,” the “no” is from the Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction” and the “fun” is from the Beach Boys’ “Fun Fun Fun.” Who knew?
“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.” [River Front Times]
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?
The Weirdness is the first new studio album released by the Stooges in 34 years. Not surprisingly, there was considerable doubt as to whether the Detroit legends could pull off a new album. But rest assured: They have. The Weirdness manages to capture that distinctive Stooges swagger while still sounding appropriately evolved. Original members Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton and Scott Asheton (with help from Mike Watt of the Minutemen) manage to mix the loose, intoxicating thump of Fun House with all the shake appeal of Raw Power to create music that still sounds vintage — yet undeniably fresh. This is in large part due to the inclusion of production genius Steve Albini, who engineered impeccably clear drum and guitar sounds that work perfectly as the foundation for the Asheton brothers’ dirty sonic fuzz. The lyrics are loaded with classic bored Iggyisms such as “I can’t tell if I’m dead or having fun” and peppered with Pop’s trademark yelps, hoots, wooos and praises of the female figure. On standout tracks such as the raucous “Mexican Guy” and “I’m Fried,” listeners can feel the same guitar-fueled, gyrating stomp that keeps the Stooges so sexalicious all these years later.