IGGY & THE STOOGES
BEASTS OF BOURBON
Hordern Pavillion, Sydney
Tuesday, March 2, 2013
Words: THE BARMAN
Photos: CHARLOTTE REGAN
Don't say you didn't get what you asked for.
Back in the middle of last decade, when the reformed Stooges became a serious touring prospect, all we wanted in Australia was to see them indoors at night. Two appearances later – both courtesy of them being billed on the travelling circus called the Big Day Out – it's finally happening, this time also by virtue of them being included on a festival bill (Bluesfest.)
Two outdoor shows (Perth and Byron Bay) and two indoor gigs (Adelaide and Melbourne) later, 5000 of we Sydneysiders dutifully shuffle up to a famed concrete lined box called the Hordern Pavillion to take in what's likely to be the swansong appearance of Iggy & the Stooges on Australian shores.
Of course that's all supposition, but Iggy's not getting any younger and there are vague hints all round that, come the imminent release of their new album (the optimistically titled "Ready to Die") and the usual run of European and then US dates, that the Ig's jig may be up. With just two men standing (Jim and guitarist James Williamson) from earlier "historical" line-ups, it's hard to find a promo picture that's actually current. Drummer Scott Asheton is said to be in mothballs after recuperation from a life-threatening health problem. Sax man Steve Mackay is still on-board and reunion bassist Mike Watt is now the longest-serving man in his position in the history of the band.
Even so if you're a fan, it feels like it's time to put up or shut up. Get your arse out to the show ($106 plus booking fee) and toast the boys with a $9 beer or a $12 ready-to-drink spirits can. Even bottled water costs three bucks. Dig deep, brother. It could be your last freakin' chance. Buy a $40 T-shirt or a $10 drink cooler. Endure the energy drink promo truck on the forecourt playing totally inappropriate schlock rock hits of the '80s. It's a fine line between pleasure and pain…and you're going to experience both before the night is old.
Opening act the Beasts of Bourbon clatter to life with "Chase The Dragon" and take a few songs to mesh. You might even say than when they started, they were as loose as a goose. From then on, it's a typical latter day Big Beasts Rock Show. If the early Beasts ever had subtlety, it's long been thrown to the wolves and told to fend for itself. Which is fine – you know what to expect. I just wish Tex and Co would play things a little less safe, throw caution to the wind and pull some songs out of left field. Even "Elvis Impersonator Blues" or "Psycho" would be welcome. "Cocksucker Blues", for all its lack of gentility, comes across as juist a little cabaret, these days. We're hard to shock.
Poor Charlie Owen. One minute, he's a Beast and the next he's sidelined and making way for Kim Salmon. The line-up at Bluesfest a few nights before was Charlie-less. I'm told Kim comes in when the money's better. It seems a funny way to run the show but Charlie doesn't look like he's complaining. I'm equally happy watching him or Kim bouncing off Spencer, who's radiating good health and sharp riffs from stage left.
Tex attracts or repels. There's no halfway. The frontman goes through his usual antics, throwing the lyrics out there with hand motions and clinging to his mic stand like a drunk to a telegraph pole. He invites Mr Jones to "get funky" and he does – with "Let's Get Funky". It's the usual set closer. More predictability but also satisfying. Give me the Beasts over 99.9 percent of whatever else is out there.
So to Iggy & the Stooges whose idea of warming up the crowd is subjecting them to a PA tape of '60s garage punk (sublime) and then pompous orchestral bumpf (ridiculous.) There's something of a method to that madness because by the time the band runs on stage and cranks, the contrast is as wide as the smile on most of the crowd's faces.
But wait: An Asheton-less Stooges seems a crime that's Beyond The Law. I was prepared to bury this line-up under cheap epithets about it having fewer original members than the Two York Dolls. Then the remarkable Raw Power of what's on-stage kicked through.
Look, no-one does that snare-thwack-and-lead-encased-kick-with-swing like Scott Asheton. The man behind the traps (and the band intro from Mr Pop generously makes it clear he's filling in) is Toby Damnit, aka Larry Mullins from a decade of Iggy solo bands and three of his albums. He slips into Rock's role with apparent ease and forceful drive. It's a different groove. After "Penetration", I voiced the thought that he'd over-played his fills on that and another song - and was promptly howled down by those around me. What's more, he was modest enough to be spotted milling around in the foyer before the show, seemingly un-noticed but obviously keen to suck up the atmosphere. How he lasts a whole set in that zip-up astronaut flight suit shirt is beyond me.
He might be scratchy on record but Iggy never does lame when it's live. Tonight he's twisting, waving, looning and exploding all over the stage - bad back, shortened leg and fuck knows what else he's carrying. If, like half of Australia's professional footballers, he's using peptides to bounce back from injury and live to fight another day, then I'm happy to cut him that slack. If he's not, at 65 going on 66, Ig's still a wonder of biomechanics.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was once described as looking like "a condom full of walnuts". Iggy's more like a strip of biltong (look it up) poking out of boots and jeans with old style curly guitar leads masquerading as veins, impregnated under his skin – just like a cyborg in Arnie's "terminator" films. The sheer energy radiating from his eminence, even when he stands still or taking (human-like) pauses for breath, is impossible to understand.
In 2006, I watched the "Fun House" Stooges from side of stage at the Sydney Big Day Out. The Great Truth then was that Ron Asheton's molten, bluesy guitar was the lifeblood of that line-up. Watching tonight's set two heaving bodies distance back from the crash barrier, it's equally true that James Williamson's wall of sound is the glue that binds this ensemble. Switching to an acoustic pedal for "Gimme Danger" (strategically placed as second song in, after the opening salvo of "Raw Power") or searing through the mix with overdriven strafing runs for any number of solo passages, he's the driving force – punctuated by Steve Mackay's classy jabs on sax – of this Stoogemusic.
Speaking of Mackay, there was a time when the Stooges over-used him live but he's now perfectly integrated into the songs. Top marks for his resolve, however, when he swaps sax for clapping sticks – exactly how that little piece of percussive work could snake its way through the roaring mix is extreme optimism in action. Williamson plays through two 100 watt Blackstar heads and two-and-a-half cabinets of 12-inch speakers; Mike Watt has a wall of heads and cabs behind his bass. So there's plenty of competition for who can push the most air. From what I do hear in a brief trip back to the desk, the mix seems much better than what was reported in Adelaide and Melbourne.
"Fun House" signals the stage invasion and normally I find the pre-meditated nature of this a bore. Tonight, however, there are so many punters on-stage that it turns into a challenge for the Stooges road crew of Jos and Eric to stay upright long enough to prevent themselves, and Iggy, being pushed off the lip of the stage. The rest of the band wisely retreats to the relative safety of the backline as the crush starts.
Beasts of Bourbon bassman Brian Henry Hooper is spotted amongst the throng. There's devotion for you – to the point of double duty.
I worry about Watt's bung knee and James Williamson's pedals. There's one of the former and quite a collection of the latter. James' pedals must have been imperceptibly scooped up and spirited away to safety by the crew just before that wave of humanity arrived. Watt's knee emerges relatively unscathed (my money's on gaff tape holding it together) and the band free-forms as the people are slowly cleared – not before malingerers pause to whip out phones and snap selfies. It wouldn't have happened at the Michigan Palace circa "Metallic KO" and that's a measure of how times have changed. People wanted to kill
Iggy and his Stooges back then. Tonight, save for one can that some dickhead manages to toss onto the stage early in the set, this is a room over flowing with LOVE.
The adulation doesn't extend to the new songs ("Burn", "Gun" and another whose name eludes me) but they're delivered well enough and received in good spirit. They just suffer from a slight lack of familiarity. It's the old tunes that naturally extract the biggest reaction.
"1970" is positively brutal. "I Got a Right" gets past an early glitch to pass the chequered flag with flying colours. "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell" rips the Hordern Pavolva a new one and "Dog" is stinging with the lead break all James' own. "Penetration" is probably lesser played among Iggy and the Stooges classics so it's warmly welcomed. "Cock In My Pocket" skids along like the barely controlled bar tune it is. Hearing "Johanna" reminds me of seeing Iggy and band on the "Instinct" tour in this same place 20-something years ago – only back then, the stage was on the opposite wall. "Kill City" and "Beyond The Law" get a look-in from post-Stooges days but, let's face it, they're eratz Stooges songs and would have been on the next album, had it been recorded way back then.
An expansive "Open Up And Bleed" closes the three-song encore (highlighted by Iggy telling us that he's "off to fuck a kangaroo") before the various band members limp off, one by one, instruments left feeding back and players having given their all.