“We’re the f—ing Stooges,” Iggy Pop (above) announced after this evening’s first two songs, and his choice of words was noteworthy. No, not due to the gratuitous F-bomb, but because technically this was a performance not by “The Stooges” — the name under which Pop’s group released two grimy slabs of proto-punk (1969’s self-titled debut and 1970’s Fun House) — but instead a concert by “Iggy and the Stooges,” as the reshuffled band was billed later.
The distinction is relevant for two reasons. For one, that latter version of the band — with James Williamson on guitar and original Stooges ax man Ron Asheton shifting to bass — recorded 1973’s Raw Power, the outfit’s third and last album, at least until a reunion three decades later. Plus, following Asheton’s 2009 death, Williamson is back on guitar for the Stooges’ latest go-round.
All that intertwined history might be worthy of an episode of Behind the Music, but it was rendered little more than semantics during the set by these reconstituted Stooges — also featuring founding drummer Scott Asheton (Ron’s brother), latter-day bassist Mike Watt and Fun House-era saxophonist Steve Mackay — as they tore through a chaotic, 17-song, roughhouse romp that showcased Raw Power in its entirety. They also revisited select nuggets from Pop’s post-Stooges, mid-’70s collaborations with Williamson (such as the epic, slow-burn set closer “Open Up and Bleed”) while touching on highlights of the earlier discs (“I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “No Fun”).
That Raw Power, a punk touchstone, would make up the core of the show was to be expected, and not just because of Williamson’s presence: The disc was given the spiffed-up, expanded reissue treatment earlier this year, and ostensibly this is the reason the band has been gigging this summer. From the moment the quintet stormed the stage as soon as the lights went down, and Williamson scratched out the ear-shredding opening notes to the title track, it was made apparent that Raw Power is more than a classic album; the name itself sums up the Stooges’ live blueprint. On this night, the “power” was evident in many forms: the opening twosome of “Raw Power” and “Search and Destroy,” a dizzying one-two combination that most acts would save for the late-round knockout; the sleazy chug of “Shake Appeal”; the guttural stomp of “I Need Somebody,” where Williamson rattled off bluesy licks; and the slinky, psychedelic funk of “Fun House,” which found Asheton and Watt locked in an extended groove, Mackay’s colorful sax salvos floating over it.
The rhythm section was particularly sturdy, in more ways than one. Asheton, in his eternally upright stance, did not play the drums so much as hover over them with a compact chopping motion, displaying minimal dexterity and even less emotion behind his tinted shades and backward baseball cap. Watt was even more immobile, but with good reason — he was clearly hobbled, sporting a huge brace over his injured left knee, and thus remained stationed at the corner of the drum riser. Williamson was largely understated himself, but showed no signs of having been retired from music for decades as he nailed the trademark fiery fills on “Search and Destroy” and, during the encore, propelled the deep cut “Johanna” with his meaty riffs.
Of course, any band fronted by Pop need not worry about exuding much showmanship or expending excessive energy in the name of working the crowd. Shirtless as usual (he tossed aside his vest with the show all of a minute old) and still unusually chiseled for a man of 63, the tightly wound frontman pranced, whirled, flailed, twisted, skipped, stomped and shadow-boxed his way up, down, across and even off the stage at various points, while rarely missing an opportunity for a well-timed yelp or shriek to ensure that the songs retained their original bite. In this sense, Pop came across as much more than an age-defying, freak of physicality; his stage presence was as much about intensity and endurance as channeling the angst of the disaffected young punk who wrote much of this music some four decades earlier.
Whether with the Stooges or during his lengthy solo career, these qualities have long allowed Pop to connect with audiences, so it was no wonder that late in the show he told the 1,000 or so in the half-empty club, approvingly, “We feel like you are our friends.”
And to these friends, no matter how “The Stooges” were billed, they ultimately needed no introduction.
— By George Henn
“Search and Destroy”
“Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell”
“Above the Law”
“I Gotta Right”
“I Wanna Be Your Dog”
“I Need Somebody”
“Open Up and Bleed”