On April 21, at the second of two sold-out Stooges concerts in San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre, the illustrious J. and I began the evening by ditching our assigned balcony seats. I had bought them online but couldn’t imagine actually sitting in the middle of the balcony for Iggy Pop’s 60th birthday show, and, praise Cthulu, I didn’t have to, thanks to a friend that I now owe a Motorhead DVD. Though we had heard good things about the opening act Sistahs in the Pit (and new Stooges bass player Mike Watt, a veteran of The Minutemen and Firehose, sings their praises in his web tour diaries), they had been replaced by a less than incendiary act on this night, besides which I was too obsessed with finagling our way into the downstairs to pay attention to any damn opening band.
We were on the edge of stage right when Detroit’s finest hit their marks and started off the evening’s festivities with a ferocious version of “Loose,” just as they did at the free show that J. and I drove to L.A. to see at the tour’s opening a month earlier (a gift to fans who responded to an email request for testimonials of love for the Stooges, concert viewable online at http://music.yahoo.com/promo-31904706).
Iggy was gyrating, bouncing and strutting madly around the stage from the get-go (in her rave review of the first SF show, the SF Chronicle’s Neva Chonin said he moved like “Gumby on crack”). Ron Asheton on guitar, his brother Scott on drums, Watt on bass and Steve MacKay on sax, backed the shirtless, sweat-soaked, ultrafit Iggy through a hefty set of older songs taken from the band’s eponymous 1969 debut and their follow-up record “Fun House,” including amazing hybrids of late ’60s hard rock and free jazz that put the wildly compelling interplay of MacKay’s rauchy tenor and the feedback-drenched leads of Ron Asheton (who Iggy later introduced as “the undefeated, undisputed, heavyweight champion of the world!”) to maximum effect. No material from “Raw Power” was covered (for insights into why that music didn’t make the cut, check out the long interview with Ron Asheton at http://www.furious.com/PERFECT/ronasheton.html), but the band performed raging versions of new songs from this year’s “The Weirdness,” along with several numbers from Iggy’s most recent solo outing, “Skull Ring.”
Near the beginning of the show a large, moderately bohemian-looking fellow (an earring in each lobe and a shaved head) reacted with ridiculous macho outrage when a drunk woman with a mop of pink-violet dyed hair lurched into him. As the no-neck individual in question was told not to punch the young woman, I hoped his less than tolerant attitude toward good-natured punk enthusiasm would not be evident in others in our vicinity. But the testosterone-damage individual in question backed away from our section of what is commonly called the mosh pit, and the crowd turned into a roiling, lurching, happy beast that matched the surges of the music. Having dived into the audience by the fourth song, as the band blasted through the opening of “No Fun”, Iggy pulled a sizeable bunch of fans on to the stage. I was only too happy to climb up and join the fray as the giddy fans bounced up and down in a sea of barely controlled chaos. As the song ended, Iggy bellowed “The Bay Area dancers, ladies and gentleman!” like a barker at a deranged rock and roll carnival, and added, “We spazz, we puke, we trip, we come down!” These days, Iggy’s formerly legendary intake of substances is restricted to a few glasses of wine savored at night’s end, but his checkered history gave the words resonance.
As birthday balloons spilled from the ceiling and the crowd launched into an impromptu, ear-splitting shout-along of “happy birthday,” a fan passed up a t-shirt emblazoned with “Birthday Boy Iggy”, and though the legendary frontman stayed shirtless, he beamed in appreciation. The band looked pretty happy too.
In the past few years I’ve seen several bands from the golden age of punk rock well into their thirtieth anniversary (The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Motorhead, The Cramps) who put on scorching shows that showed it was possible to age with an admirable lust for life, if not always gracefully (an overrated virtue anyway). All of those bands were influenced by The Stooges, who are currently celebrating their 40th anniversary, or rather they would be if they were not too busy taking care of business giving longtime and newer fans performances that put younger bands to shame. Anyone who has ever been moved to screaming or shouting or leaping uncontrollably by a Stooges record should seriously consider trying like hell to see the refitted, restoked lean and mean Stooges machine in their 21st century incarnation. They certainly helped me forget the pathological, toxic late capitalist world we’re living in for a few hours, and that’s strong medicine.
I’ll give the great Mike Watt the last word. In his web diary, Watt describes the end of the evening: “I (…) got to give thanks to ig for being such an inspiration to work behind, what a great job he put forth but then again, he amazes me how he does this every gig. there is no one like him on the planet.”
BEN TERRALL is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org