When the Stooges splintered in 1974, they left unfinished business: at least two albums’ worth of songs that never received a proper studio recording. There’s an entire chunk of the band’s history when James Williamson and Ron Asheton were both playing guitar, playing mostly all-new songs at a handful of shows, that were never captured in the studio at all. Others from around the time of Raw Power exist in demo form and on live tapes, mostly awful sounding. Forty years later, Williamson took it upon himself to record these songs with other musicians and a rotating cast of singers, resulting in last year’s Re-Licked album. Friday at the Bootleg Theater, he brought the set to life with a one-off performance, with many of the album’s guest singers reprising their roles. And while rock’s most ferocious frontman may have been missing from the picture, his essential Iggyness pervaded the air like a stench.
Because even watching Jello Biafra be Jello Biafra as only he can, opening the show with a hurricane-force “Head On”, you can see the Iggy in it, the jazz hands and explosive energy. You can hear him in the blues-powered tones of Lisa Kekaula and Carolyn Wonderland, both floor-pounding intense. You can see his leering grin on the mugs of Joe Cardamone, Ron Young, Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs frontman Frank Meyer and Richmond Sluts singer Shea Roberts. Nobody is trying to “do” Iggy or ape his mannerisms, but those mannerisms are now part of the physical vocabulary of rock music. If you don’t want to stand there like a stick in the mud, you will eventually do something Iggy-like.
The net effect was incredibly powerful, much more visceral and fist-raising than its studio realization. Part of the reason was Williamson himself, his unmistakable guitar tone cutting through everything in its path. This is essential hard-ness, with sophistication and charm on call when they’re needed. It was also, frankly, just a lot of fun to hear a well-played set of these songs, some of which I was familiar with, some I barely knew and some I’d never heard before. It’s like discovering a new album by one of the greatest bands in history. By the time they encored with a couple we’d heard before – “Search and Destroy” and “Louie Louie” – the crowd was positively foaming.
One of the guests on that “Search and Destroy” encore was Cheetah Chrome, who’s been covering the song since joining Rocket From The Tombs in 1974, back when it was new. His opening set, backed by local shit-kickers the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, contained a handful of Dead Boys favorites amidst several solid tunes from his more recent recordings, including the fine Solo EP, and a surprise nod to Rocket guitarist Peter Laughner with a rousing cover of “Amphetamine”. There are still few things in life more thrilling than the opening riffs to “What Love Is” and “Sonic Reducer” and, like Williamson, he still plays with piss and vinegar. It was a night for old wounds opening up, bleeding, and feeling new again.