Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Hard to beat

So - Iggy and The Stooges play their seminal album 'Raw Power' plus assorted tracks from their back catalogue at The Hammersmith Apollo. Do I think :-

(a) that it's one of the greatest things that I'm ever going to see and drone on and on about things like 'the power of rock 'n' roll' before eventually descending into the usual over-emotional pretentious nonsense that I normally get sucked into at times like these?


(b) that they're a bunch of talentless chancers that shouldn't ever have made it out of the rehearsal room let alone to the stage of such a prestigious London venue, and then damn them all to hell for contributing to the destruction of 'decent' music like early '70's prog rock?

Well obviously the answer is (a) or something like it - but why?

When I first heard of Iggy Pop you couldn't actually hear Iggy Pop; pretty much every punk band name checked him and The Stooges as a major influence along with other near-mythical names like The New York Dolls and The MC5 and some even played their songs, but their records had only sold in very small numbers and were long since deleted (the same criteria applied to The Dolls and MC5) so there was no way of actually hearing anything by them. I remember Iggy teaming up with David Bowie to record 'The Idiot' and 'Lust For Life', both of which I heard and enjoyed although they didn't sound anything like the way people described The Stooges sounding; when I eventually got to hear them I realised that nothing - nothing! - actually sounded like The Stooges. You could hear how they'd influenced the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Damned (who respectively covered 'No Fun' and '1970') but you could only wonder how their primal riffing had sounded to people at the time of it's release, when self-obsessed naval-gazing 'musos' seemed to be more concerned with playing in an unusual time signature and singing a song about goblins than doing anything that might actually be relevant to what was happening in the real world, all the while looking down their noses at anyone who dared to suggest that what they were doing might be soulless and, let's face it, boring. Meanwhile Iggy and co. rallied the soon-to-be punk foot soldiers for the fight that lay ahead of them as when all else failed there was always The Stooges, the world's forgotten boys or as Iggy himself later put it, 'the band that never bit the weenie'.
Eventually it seemed like the whole world caught up with Iggy, who went on to have great solo success and to star in the odd (very odd!) insurance advert... and everyone caught up with The Stooges too as they reunited the best part of 30 years after they split up to perform and record together again - and of course people everywhere came out of the woodwork to say that they were the greatest, most influential rock 'n' roll band ever, that 'Fun House' is the best album ever released, that Iggy is the greatest front man of all time... yeah right, they'd have sold millions of albums and played in stadiums if that was true wouldn't they? Or would they? Leaving aside the fact that many of the people saying that they'd liked them all along actually had liked them all along (for example I spotted Nick Cave, Bobby Gillespie and Jarvis Cocker in the bar, all of whom are long-standing Stooges disciples) I personally think that bands like The Stooges remain outside of the mainstream for the very reasons that they were never there in the first place, there are just more people able to find them these days - and of course in The Stooges case Iggy's popularity hasn't exactly harmed their chances of reaching a wider audience. And anyway, The Stooges are one of the greatest, most influential rock 'n' roll bands of all time - right?

Last night support came from Suicide whose pulsing synthesiser drones and half-spoken vocal rants probably sounded even less palatable when they emerged in the early '70's that The Stooges had in the '60's. Frontman Alan Vega seemed to be having trouble with the smoking ban whilst keyboardist Martin Rev presided over a wall of throbbing noise whilst wearing a neon lit headband; as far as I could tell they played their first album through although I'm not sure how much difference the material made as the overall effect was akin to having someone tapping your entire body for 30-odd minutes whilst you're watching a strobe light, although it was actually much better than that description might imply. Probably.
9.30 and from nowhere The Stooges are on the stage and we're into 'Raw Power' almost before you can say 'that looks like Iggy Pop over there'. Guitarist James Williamson (replacing the sadly deceased Ron Asheton) looks like a rich bloke who's bought himself some nice guitars and amplifiers (probably because he is and he has!) but sounds like, as Johnny Marr brilliantly put it, 'how you would imagine Darth Vader would sound if he was in a a band'. Mike Watt and Scott Asheton hammer the bass and drums home, Steve Mackay adds the jazzy bits on the saxophone and Iggy, the street walkin' cheetah himself, spends almost as much time in the audience as on the stage and redefines the word 'hero' in the process. They play the Raw Power album through and it still sounds like nothing and no one else, just as 'Fun House' did in the very same venue 5 years ago; they follow it with 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', '1970', 'I Got A Right', 'Kill City', songs that sounded so out of place when they were first released - should that be unleashed? - all those years ago but now sound like the very definition of punk rock in all it's gory glory and in the process show why they were right all along. There are rock 'n' roll songs as good as 'Search And Destroy' but if there are any better then I can't think of them just at the moment, and if there's a more chilling line in the whole of popular music than 'there's nothing left alive but a pair of glassy eyes' (from 'Gimme Danger' in case you were wondering) then I've yet to hear it. Idiotically loud and intense from start to finish, it's among the best live performances that I or indeed anybody present will ever witness. That's how good it was, and that's how good rock 'n' roll can be. I'll stop now before I run out of superlatives. There - is that over-emotional and pretentious enough for you?

And, maybe best of all, no goblins were harmed before, during or after the performance.

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