Akzena Rock Festival,
Vitoria, Spain, September 12 2003
By TONY SANDERS
No one could have predicted a Stooges reunion so long after they disbanded; initial reports seemed merely rumours like so many that have circulated for years. If indeed they were to comeback they had to be nothing short of great, a real challenge for all concerned.
Rightfully considered a central and primary (if not obsolete)
influence on extremist rock n roll. What was even less expected was that the
03/04 edition of The Stooges could deliver a magnanimous series of sets of a
staggering overriding sonic greatness, such as was witnessed in just over an
hour on their northern Spanish (and first ever European) gig. Rather than rely
on bootlegs and the politics of the imagination it is a fact now, in absolute
realtime, that they are a mighty band, the force of which, is to be reckoned
The Cramps, who where on before The Stooges, knew this. Not to take away from their gig, which was really fine, but they certainly wanted to make sure they made some mark through their set, and repeated some (Interior) antics to make some impact with the audience. However when such anticipation builds around the most significant rock event in years any Cramped impact is lessened and it would seem ill advise for them to go on before before the Ann Arbor Panzer Division.
For The Stooges in this live context there is no confrontation with the audience. The band seem very much into the music and crowd reaction to them is nothing short of enthusiastic. A lot of Stooges fans have congregated here for this, most Spanish, they sing along to a good proportion of the songs. During "Loose" the crowd seem to take specific pleasure in grunting; "Ill stick it deep inside".
It couldnt be any other way, The Stooges have been much anticipated and the very fact that they are here is in itself liberating. Myth made flesh. This is a band one can never be ambivalent about, it really is a question of love or hate and theres no room here for the latter. This is beyond a music cult, and The Stooges where destined to rise above mere cultdom.
From the gig's very onset and the opening power chords of "1969", a gloriously heady carnival of decadent sound unfolds itself before us.What a trip it is. Instantly you feel elated, your idealism as regards this band wont be damaged, they instantly sound Stooge righteous & heres where your nervous system begins to reconfigure engulfed by the wall of white hot rippling guitar shades perpetrated by Ron Asheton as he fine tunes the maldolor evident in a significant number of Stooges tunes.
The mighty phoenix has risen from the ashes and its pissed off.
Whatever happened in the past that produced their break up, and lots of things did, infamously the drugs & elements that factor into band dynamics in dealing with creating new brutal dark music of righteous heaviosity. In dealing with said elements it seems retrospectively that a break up wouldve been inevitable. Price to pay for being visionary. The band being active now would indicate that the oportunity exists to build on previous work.I
The set consisted of the first two Stooges albums bar "Ann
& We Will Fall" A new song "Skull Ring" was played, it features
Steve McKay on sax. A real signifier that the freeform must continue. Its
chorus, no doubt more Iggy reportage on societys fabric spews forth; "money,
fast cars, hot chicks"....
Even in this new song it is evident how much McKay was integral to The Stooges sound. His sax primordially oozes through the chaos inherent in Stoogedom. He contributes that mythic tenor sax that factors in the elements of chaotic interplay into the vexed noir sound of the band. A reprise of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" later in the set would incorporate this very sax. What a version it was too!
Throughout the concert the frontman, as he always does when in Spain, made the effort to communicate in the language.Iggy screamed repeatedly; "Necesito algo en esta vida mala" ("I need something in this bad life").Wanting as ever to make a connection and personalise performance even further. This is also true of his saying; "I am you", classic no barriers Iggy- a democratized mantra losing itself in the sound.
A stunning rendition of "Dirt", with its infernal introspection, possibly partially referencing the Nietzchian overman credo, was piloted with exactitude by Scott Asheton. The band on a trip to and from oblivion on a track seemingly only being up to par when played by this greatest of rock bands. It is during such renditions that a band transcends itself becoming greater than the sum of its parts, (and in this case their own historical damnation).
Some feat that these poisoned catalysts of the bleak can still do this, transforming the performance into some idecipherable venomously charged force.
Ron Ashetons stage presence was static, while he marshalled the riffs in his combat fatigues. (A WW2 wermacht cap rested on the Marshall stacks symbolic of a rnr past, now made a vivid reality). A fortunate overlap between then & now.No matter how still he was throughout the performance it was obvious that the genial guitarist was plunging deep into himself, summoning the primeval riff depth charge that even an ocassional bad sound could not deny.
Iggy meantime would plunge the depths of the audience and his soul, their sound could not arise from any other place than said bondaged soul to command this legitimate ferocious attack.
It strikes one that this undeniable chemistry has been lying dormant all these years.It really does feel that theyve picked up where they left off.Perhaps this time around with more of a sense of purpose.
It would be a shame if this where to gutter out after these scant yet satisfying series of dates.
It says something of this band that in merely an hour of wanton guitar detonations they succeeded in delivering with such economy what has to be among the most genuine cataclysmic rock sets today. They also have made their reapearance with no hype yet the basic enduring quality of the material will assure them a huge presence among what rock music is on offer at this point in history.
There is no band who can hold a candle to these original industrial strength psychos as they work through say a bestial version of "T.V. Eye".its careering riffage seems to chronicle or soundtrack a black hole & its violent mysteries. Hitting the mark in the rock n roll criminality realms. They remain totems of disengaged avant rock wildness, clawing their way with diabolical intensity. Harnessing the sounds of an apocalyptic spectrum that they break into and become warped within, they govern the cryptic meaning of whatever finds they make within said spectrum.
Its also pleasing to see the Asheton brothers get their due. They have never been given the credit or respect they deserve. (Even individually just think-Destroy All Monsters/New Order/Dark Carnival and Sonic Rendezvous Band. Some track record).
The Stooges could never have been this great without Ron Ashetons skullduguerous deathray fretwork. Or Scotts heathen & tribal anchoring for that matter. It should be a given that these days we should understand Ron Asheton as a byword in rock guitar inventiveness & terms like, if you will, "Ashetronics" should be firmly in place in the rock jargon in relation to Ashetons distinctive sensory overload.
No song sounds dated. The Stooges always in their origins where an archetypal primitivized band. They where conversely so far ahead of the pack & their time, future primitive you might say, that these songs defy compartmentalization historically. They remain as relevant today as in their original inception.
While Iggy has been successful solo and produced a mighty body of work. (additionally his touring has been consistently visceral & challenging). He had stated how in economic terms reforming the band would not be the best choice. The fact that hes reconsidered is all the better for everyone. It wasnt like he wasnt producing killer rock n roll either, its just that puttng The Stooges back together mining what is among the most important catalogues, (albeit all too brief-doubly cool), rock music seems like ultimate revenge, specially on an industry who wouldnt give em any time back in the day. Iggy seems in particularly high spirits throughout relishing saying; "Were the Fucking Stooges". (The festival posters had them billed as Iggy Pop & The Stooges).
While Iggy has played Stooges standards with a conviction few can master, and if you wanted genuine intensity, let alone the music, his scarred stare was a dead giveaway in him being the genuine article. That his Detroit compadres have gotten back together allows all involved as a unit the oportunity to play more of those songs (would say; "Little Doll & Not Right" have gotten an airing otherwise?).In terms of freaking with the music, The Stooges act as consummate navigators of inner & outer space. The unexpected intersection at which The Stooges meet allows the addressing of a new set of impulses that enrich the music no end. Stooges as Iggy avatars or vice versa. Brainstormers of the freeform rock ethic (they invented it after all).
What kind of band is it that can play from solely two albums and still satisfy a crowd? Only one posessing this kind of ingenious calibre of an incandescent blues mutation. It is one beyond question. It The Stooges wanted to prove that they still had it in them, they did, and how.
The Stooge monster is alive!
The concert is on primal burn throughout, molten & timelessly vibrant rock n roll material such as "Loose", "Down On The Street" (greatest ever rock song?), "I Wanna Be Your Dog", "Real Cool Time", "Not Right", a colossal version of "Funhouse" sparked off by Watts brooding bass.....
Tracks to transcend the music of the spheres to become high-octane in orbit, wild classic Stooge abandonment. The band have bridged the gap between existing legend and what they can attain now. There is potential here to make that very legend into a present day continuum.
A portentous set that played itself out as a slalom of intoxicating space grooves. Uplifting, raw, infinite atomized blues with Iggy, as ever, serpentinning his way all over.
All the needles are now back in the red-circuitry is jammed with full bleed emotional turmoil that is switched on. The primeval fires are burning with gusto.
Iggy has gone on record expressing a dislike for exhuming past work. That he reconsidered the much clamoured for Stooges reunion is good news all round. The inherent potential to expand on their legacy seems assured. It is so obvious that the band have their archetypal prowess intact lets hope that a full Stooges recording materializes. Let this essential rock malaise continue.
Welcome back Stooges.
Photo © Andy P/"Fear n' Loathing" zine
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