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Iggy And The StoogesIggy And The Stooges
Hammersmith Apollo, London
Monday May 3 2010


Well, who would have guessed we'd be doing this - going to an Iggy And The Stooges gig in the twenty-first century?

Not just because the band originally split up in 1974. Not just because Iggy Pop - frontman, showman, shaman, and all-round personification of rock 'n' roll - has lived a life of such untrammelled excess it's surprising to find he's made it this far. Not just because Ron Asheton, original Stooges guitarist, didn't make it this far (he died in 2009, although not before rejoining his colleagues in the Stooges' initial reunion of 2003). Nope: to find the Stooges touring today, sucessfully, playing big venues and being showered with plaudits along the way, is an odd experience simply because nobody much liked them first time around. Their three albums were never big sellers. Their early gigs were hardly on the enormodome circuit. It was only after the band's demise in a flurry of drugs and arguments that their reputation grew.

Some say the Stooges invented punk. Certainly, their rough-edged, ramshackle sound and rampant attitude struck a chord with many bands that came later. But the Stooges themselves didn't return until much later, belatedly reforming in '03 and spending the next few years touring amid the kind of favourable reviews they rarely received in the early days.

Ron Asheton's death might have put an end to the happy ending, were it not for James Williamson - the other Stooges guitarist. He just happened to be alive, well, and available, having recently retired from his day job as Vice President of Technology Standards for the Sony corporation (now that's what you call a career tangent). He was persuaded to reboot his rock 'n' roll soul, and the Stooges have now reconvened under their latter-day identity of Iggy And The Stooges. Tonight's gig is devoted to the album that the band made with Williamson in 1973: the album which, even if it didn't sow the seeds of punk, certainly gave it a good dose of fertiliser  - Raw  Power.

SuicideBut first, our support band. And in a break with big-gig tradition, it's not the usual bunch of never-heard-of-them hopefuls, wangled onto the bill because the booking agent swung a deal with the other booking agent. Instead, we get Suicide, the old school New York electropunks who are just as influential as the Stooges in their way. Tonight they're playing their first album in its entirety.

Instrument-controller Martin Rev assumes showbiz stances at his keyboard with a gusto that's entirely rock 'n' roll, while vocalist Alan Vega croons queruolously at the mic with an odd reticence that isn't. Strangely, for all Martin Rev's rock 'n' rollisms, and for all the loping swagger of the beat, this is a curiously low key performance. Alan Vega's oddly detached demeanour seems to set the tone of the show, and it's weirdly timourous. Even the shuddering anthem that is 'Ghost Rider' barely gets out of second gear. It's good to see Suicide tonight - it's always good to see Suicide - but they're playing down to their support band status at this one, and thus I think we're only getting a half-power show. Not that this bothers the over-enthusiastic and under-informed fan down the front, who spends the entire set screaming 'IGGY! I LOVE YOU!' - apparently unaware that he's got the wrong band.

Iggy Pop doesn't do half power. It's full power, raw  power, or nothing with old Ig. Gyrating like a one-man energy capsule in half-mast jeans, he comes hurtling out as the band slams into their proto-punk bedlam. The band - now featuring Mike Watt, ex-Minutemen, on bass, grinning as if being in the Stooges is the culmination of all his dreams - hangs back. They're ruthlessly efficient at keeping the riffs and noise coming, but this is very much Iggy's show.

As if blown forward by the sheer force of the music, he hurls himself towards the crowd - sometimes, he hurls himself into the crowd. We're told Iggy had previously resolved to give up stage diving. If so, his resolution barely lasts two songs. The misguided fan down the front who thought Suicide were the Stooges gets forcibly corrected as Iggy himself, half naked and flailing, lands on top of him. Now that's Iggy Pop, mate. Make a note for next time, right?

Iggy And The StoogesIt's an odd thought, but the Stooges now are probably a vastly more efficient rock 'n' roll delivery machine than they ever used to be.

First time round, by all accounts, their substance-fuelled shows were chaotic to the point of collapse. Now, focused and efficient, they deploy the songs like military hardware on a battlefield.

'Search And Destroy' is as unstoppable - and as impressively controlled - as a heat-seeking missile.

'Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell' is a ripped-to-shreds roar that knows exactly where it's heading.

No matter how wild it gets, the band are in the driving seat. Scott Asheton, on drums, knows exactly where each beat will land. James Williamson slices out the killer riffs with the precision of cold steel. Self-effacing on saxophone, Steve Mackay lays the honk down as if he's guided by coordinates.

But the show never becomes a mere exhibition of well-honed muso skills. There's no way it could, not with the lunatic whirlwind that is Iggy Pop up front. Not when he calls for a stage invasion, and a large chunk of the crowd duly obliges. The bouncers, obviously well briefed beforehand, let it happen. This is a Stooges show. Different rules apply.

Taking their cue from Iggy himself, stage divers erupt from the audience at intervals - hey, if he can come this way, we can go that way - and they all get a nod and a wink from the man, as they're politely but firmly ushered off the stage. Not for Iggy Pop the aloof rock star pose: the genuine respect he has for his fans, and his desire to break the fourth wall and get messed with his audience, is quite charming to see. At one point a bespectacled young fan - no more than about sixteen - makes a giant leap and ends up on stage. Iggy grabs him, impressed: 'You stage dived in glasses? Cool!' That brief moment probably made the kid's year. I suspect it did old Iggy's heart good, too.

The band slam through Raw  Power and out the other side. Songs from elsewhere in the Stooges repertoire are rolled out like tanks from the barracks. 'Open Up And Bleed' is red mist with guitars, while 'Cock In My Pocket' - a classic bit of rock 'n' roll grandstanding - is almost appropriate tonight, as Iggy's own love truncheon constantly threatens to join the party from above his ever-descending waistband. But Iggy gets away with it, just as Iggy has always got away with everything.

The Stooges are unlikely returning heroes - only a few years ago, with nothing to go on but the band's erratic original incarnation, they would surely have qualified as the band least likely to make a convincing comeback. But they did, and it is. And in Iggy Pop we have a genuine survivor: the gallant, goofball god of rock, hitting his peak when most others with anything like his years and history would have shuffled off long ago. Long may he continue. And may his trousers never fall down.

Iggy And The Stooges: Website | MySpace

Suicide: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find Iggy And The Stooges by name here.

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