There’s something about Stooges music that suggests promordial ooze. Although their music is sophisticated, in a subtle way, the reaction it provokes in the tuned-in listener comes straight from the reptile brain. Theirs are chord progressions sharp enough to rip holes in the wall, over beats played like a kick in the teeth, with a lead singer giving voice to every bad impulse that ever felt good at the time. While the singer emotes on these lines, he does a little dance that sometimes resembles a kid cheating at hopscotch. If their method has become a cliche in the last forty years, their band has not: the physical effect these songs still have on people, their ability to get both middle-aged beardos and wayward youth foaming at the mouth, is damned impressive.
It certainly helps when they’re performing at the height of intensity, and their set at Ink N Iron Fest at the Queen Mary this weekend was the most chest-pounding apelike of the half-dozen I’ve seen them do. The audience down front was more genteel than the foaming-mouth psychos that packed the Palladium a year ago, but the band seemed to be out of their fucking minds, especially during the show’s second half. I’ve seen Mike Watt do the hump-my-amp thing before, but not the throw-my-bass-into-Williamson’s guitar thing, that was a first. I don’t think Williamson was too happy about it either, as they re-started their encore after realizing his guitar had been knocked hopelessly out of tune. It’s not Metallic KO-level craziness by any means, as if that was still a thing to wish for, but for the post-milliennial version of the band, it was pretty out-there.
Original drummer Scott Asheton’s presence was missed, but Larry Mullins, from Iggy’s solo band, proved to be a faithful replacement, lifting off the seat when landing a particularly momentous snare hit. James Williamson evidently now has a pedal that makes him louder than the whole band, just like on Raw Power, and those muscular lead lines that open “Search And Destroy” were wonderfully easy to hear. He looks like the Silicon Valley retiree he is, but he still plays like a 24-year old gutter rat.
And Iggy just can’t be stopped, still singing great, still looking like the Dionysian prince of desire, still moving like the Real Lord Of The Dance. Do not stand in the man’s way. The guy’s pushing seventy, and he is un-fuck-with-able. Even when he invites the audience on stage and some of them try to fuck with him while they are in his face or behind his back, they can’t reach him. Iggy’s been doing this too long, he’s slithered away from scarier than you, lady. He can probably catch bullets in his teeth. They did a fair number of new songs that sounded pretty good alongside the old ones, a healthy slab of Raw Power and tracks from the same period – “I Got A Right”, “Johanna” and “Open Up And Bleed”, as well as favorites from the first two – “Funhouse” was the choice for the audience dancers to come on stage, though it was “No Fun” that got the people near me shaking their things most excitedly.
It’s to the band’s credit that they managed to avoid being upstaged by the act that preceded them, a recently-rejuvenated Rocket From The Crypt playing its first announced American show following an eight year layoff. What better band could you ask for at a tattoo festival than the one that famously let people with Rocket tattoos into their gigs for free? (I wonder how many tried that at the Queen Mary and if any were successful.) And they always seemed like the kind of band that, if they weren’t gearheads themselves, probably had a lot of fans who were. They are the best reckless driving soundtrack you could ask for, and the 2013 edition is no less fierce than the one I saw many times twenty years ago.
It was a compact, high-powered fifty-minute set spanning their history, and it felt so good to hear these songs played as they were meant to be played for the first time in almost a decade. The 1-2-3 punch of “Stuck In The Middle”/ “Born In ‘69”/ “On A Rope” that opens Scream Dracula Scream is one of the great bits of sequencing in rock history, so good they should have given titled it like one of ELP’s three-part suites, and it was great to hear it kept intact in the set list.
“I’m one of you, Long Beach!”, hollered John Reis. “Tattoos! Tattooooooos! I saw some great dogs today ladies and gentlemen, pit bulls with boners, it was so good…” It was over too soon – literally, as the band got cut off midway through its encore – but it was an electrifying jolt while it lasted. Here’s hoping they get some LA dates in while they’re back at it.
This was my second time seeing the Jello-less Dead Kennedys and the second replacement singer, and both times it was amazing how little emotion I managed to dredge up listening to those songs being sung by anyone else. The songs are great, the band is fine, and the new singer isn’t a disaster or anything, he knows the words and knows how to move around the stage and point at things to get people riled up. He even does a couple of political rants between songs, which made it even worse than the last guy, who didn’t say much outside of “How ya doin’ LA!” It just shines a light on the obvious – this ain’t what it used to be. Even on his last tour with then in 1985, Jello was intense – never stopped talking between songs, never missed a lyric even while riding the audience like a wave. This guy, introduced as Skip McSkipster, is trying hard but it’s a losing battle for the others, trying to live up to the memory of their own past when their most irreplaceable element has been replaced.
Photos by Elise Thompson