Iggy & the Stooges
+ Beasts of Bourbon
Thebarton Hall, Adelaide
March 25, 2013
Words: ROBERT BROKENMOUTH
Photo: G. GRAY
THE BAND THAT WOULDN'T DIE.
Well, that's two bands, really, The Beasts of Bourbon and Iggy and the Stooges.
But let's get the myths out of the way first; the past doesn't matter now, because these men are what they are now. People made their choices. Being in a band can be a perilous occupation; apart from that, everyone has their own ideas of what they should be doing. Bands are thought of as marriages, partly because everyone gets together in the first place in a haze of excitement and then, up close and personal for a long period of time, the haze of excitement can become a dense fog of complex thwarted desire. But bands are a lot more like families; once you're in, short of banishing all contact, you're kind of stuck with them.
What do the Beasts look like, eh? They wouldn't look out of place if you pulled into a truck stop between Olary and Oodnadatta at four in the morning. You'd tread warily, unsure, whether they'd be, in that very Australian way, either sweet or nasty. And their guitars, hell, Cashies wouldn't have 'em in the place. Worn and bashed beyond belief, they seem more battered fighting animal than machine.
We all know the Beasts have had, shall we say, their ups and downs. The current line-up has two of the original members and if they argue, the show's over (hence the very long break between gigs and albums). Tony and Brian have been working together as a rhythm section for an extraordinarily long time, Charlie's been working with Tex for a similar age. However, no-one's actually killed each other yet. And Spencer, well, he just makes it look effortless, you know? In fact, they all do. It's this seamless, powerful roughneck racket they conjure up, like a street fight outta nowhere.
You know how bands often look at each other's guitars (or whatever) to see what the other git's playing? The Beasts barely glance at each other's playing, and the whole thing is a tight, rough, brilliant bulldozer with Tex adding colour and humour. What makes the gig interesting is how they all look happy to be back in the saddle. There are smiles, there is no grim smouldering. Rather wonderful, really; they really are the underground AC/DC that the outer suburbs have yet to adopt.
It did strike me as odd to see them as a support band (they're much better cutting loose up top), but then, supporting the Stooges is as big as it gets. I can't really see too many other bands they would want to support: Acker Dacker, the Stones... um, Einsturzende ... really, they're a top-notch headline act. If the BDO doesn't snaffle them next year they're mad.
Of course, there were a few sound problems (Thebarton Theatre has flying wedges) but not so's you'd notice unduly, although I noticed the sound improved significantly towards the end of their set. Oh, the set. You know the songs; if you don't, get the CDs (or better yet, the vinyl). Stand-out was the last song, Hard for You. The rest was so mighty, mighty fine we can only hope it lasts into another lp, multiple world tours and appearances on Letterman.
Now, then, the reason we're here.
Mutterings all round about not enough original Stooges. As if, really, that matters. If we weren't there at the time, we weren't there, and they weren't always brilliant anyway. Two originals, including the founder, is enough. And the context; well, I really loathe the idea of getting a band to play their famous significant LP. Bands do it because well, why not? And money, of course, which is why the band are there in the first place. They want to make what they do count, as well as more than make a living. Rock'n'roll can be feudal, but it is also very, very Protestant work-ethic. One reason so many bands collapse at completely the wrong time is because there's not enough 'ego taking a back seat to the money'.
The Stooges ran out a minute before they were due, hungry. Mike Watt's knee was - as usual, these days - wonky and by the end he looked utterly fucked. Larry Mullins clambered up onto the kit and Steve Mackay (easily the most under-rated Stooge, his playing has been far more influential than he's given credit) ambled out and stood out of the way. James Williamson stood there and pounded his machine like he was very pissed off.
And Iggy ... Okay, this is where you're gonna get really angry with me. Iggy's performances are slowing down, and he's pacing himself a lot more. No question about it, comparing the last two Stooges shows I saw. It's clearly getting harder for Iggy to maintain the pace of what was always a very, very high bar he'd raised for himself; hell, it wasn't until 2007 (David Fricke's interview in Rolling Stone) that we found out about the hip-cartilage problem and the one-leg-shorter... which had been going on for decades. And then there's his twisted back... So despite the general lack of information, we can assume Iggy moves in considerable pain. And if you're reading this, you know how much he moves onstage. He's what, 66? Most 20-somethings would have serious difficulty performing half as well. I love the man his determination, it really is fucking extraordinary. And remember: he ain't poor no more, he doesn't have to do this, flay himself and go through seven shades of pain to come out in front of us. He doesn't need the money. This might also have something to do with why Mike Watt keeps going with what is clearly a painful problem knee. If Iggy can do it, he feels he has to as well.
It was a very, very varied crowd, from pushing 70 to 14. Old farts to young 'uns, civil servants to bikers in disguise, teen punks to dreadlocked drongoes. The usual deluded tiddlywillies tried their luck crowd surfing (youf, as usual, missing the point, like I spose we all used to). There was the usual crowd invasion which serves to illustrate how most of us have no sense of time (much less know how to dance). The set you mostly know, but the inclusion of a perfectly balanced The Passenger had me blubbing manfully, and an utterly stunning version of Penetration had my jaw on the floor.
As always, it is so strange seeing Iggy these days. Up close, he has come to resemble some strange dark-brown Galapagos lizard, emphasised when he pokes out his Gene-Simmons-esque long bright pink tongue... that bizarre rolling gait, the body twisting into a question mark, the cheerful, goofy grins and smiles. Still somehow human, still somehow superhuman.
I saw him twice thirty years ago in Melbourne; he and his band were up themselves (to put it mildly) and clearly considered themselves rock royalty (each night Iggy left the stage backward kicking his feet, like a cat kicking over its shit). The band were, I spose, good if they were playing your local pub, you were well on the way to being hammered and the support were Wah-Wah-Nee or the Venetians or something, but on these occasions the newly-formed New Christs (with Masuak) were playing support and ... they were so filthily superb the crowd mostly stood there with their mouths open. On the first gig, Younger plunged furiously into the crowd and demanded (of me, for crying out loud) why I wasn't dancing. I could only offer a feeble and rather shell-shocked, 'you're too good' (in other words, if you think I'm gonna take my eyes off the stage to dance when this is ripping up the floorboards, forget it). God knows how many times Iggy's ideal backing band blew his current poorly sorted confectionaries offstage on this tour, but if I could've followed any tour that decade I would've followed that one. One woman's response to the Christs that first night was to squeak, 'they were disgusting!'. Well, precisely.
Callow youf. And now the crowd are singing along to Cock in My Pocket, stoopit anthem of the biggest loser band of the early seventies. Talking of stoopit, it looks as if, with new songs such as Dirty Deal and My Job Don't Pay Shit, that the new lp (unlike"The Weirdness", which took more than four listens to start to 'get') may be a backwards to the future thing. Which, really, was always on the Stooges' list (think 1969). There were also four songs from Kill City, and two more from the new LP. The rest you can guess.
They ended with Open Up and Bleed; the last time they played this town they were at the BDO in the usual appalling dry blazing heat where we all stand in a field for hours on end. The sound wasn't as loud as their previous appearance (by a notable chalk) and as you know, BDO's go by the numbers. No unexpected encores, you'll upset the railroad where the rebel rockers turn up on time and finish on time. The crowd yelled for more, but on t'other stage were some flash german band (with fireworks), laboriously set up and teetering in place in disgusting temperatures with their huge shitty deutsch flag concealing the stage... when, instead of going off and staying off, the Stooges returned to play Bleed. And it went on, and on, and on... I couldn't believe it wasn't deliberate. Utterly brilliant. Of course, after that, I stayed for a bit to watch the aforementioned uninteresting german glam band, then ... buggered off to see Primal Scream, who were thrilling in themselves (not needing fireworks - even Kiss' fireworks are incidental).
Where was I? Ah. I don't know who was handling sound for the Stooges, but Ig's vocal was reedy for about a third of the set (not his voice packing up, the mixer), the sound was unbalanced around the hall (I walked around to check) and the bass fed back and mushed up Dirty Deal dreadfully. It wasn't until the latter half of the 90 minute set-plus-encore that the sound picked up properly. I'd expect this from a shitty pub down the road, but if the Billion Dollar Bums can deliver a stonking sound in strip-bar, I tend to expect a little better of a million-plus dollar sound system. Like getting the engineer to roam the theatre to fucking check. Gerry McCaffrey, where are you when we need you?
Lastly, if you've never seen the Stooges because of some misplaced idea that everyone who is no longer with us ain't up there, you're an idiot. You probably weren't there at the time, so so what? If you were there at the time there's no guarantee the band would've smoked, or even that you would've got it. For years the Stooges were a fucking joke; punk may have come from them, but punks and anything resembling punks were spat on and beaten up back in the day.
Seeing Ron Asheton play with the Stooges was for me the defining live Stooges reunion gig, a band I never thought I'd see. Now, I love James' work but it ain't Ron, they've got different biases and I confess I love Ron's one-man orchestra. But, was I disappointed? No. James is a great, precise guitarist, and I mean, apart from his historical importance his approach is simply unique, and it's a treat to watch. There was a rumour that Rock Action was gonna be on the drums tonight, but was I disappointed? No. Larry Mullins has been playing Stooges songs with Iggy for over a decade, and apart from being a damn fine drummer there were moments where it was like he was channelling Rock. Iggy couldn't have found a finer drummer short of Rock, so ... don't believe me? Take a look at the Avenue B live dvd (1999).
So it's 2013, we're reaching the point where Iggy simply cannot fucking do this to himself anymore. I wouldn't be surprised if these are his last 18 months with the Stooges, or in fact any rock'n'roll outfit. I'd more than forgive him if he quit. He loves what he does, it's an addiction of course, but if you don't see him now, you're gonna have to keep your mouth firmly shut in twenty years time when your kids find out you had the chance to see this band and you piked out.
If you love the Stooges, you go to see them each and every chance you get. Hell or high water. If you say you love the Stooges, but don't go, you don't love them, you might like 'em fine but you don't love them.
I hope they come back, but I ain't expecting. Jesus, as they say, loves the Stooges.