Stooges

Live Music: Iggy Pop and the Stooges @ the Warfield, December 6, 2011

Earlier this week, I saw Iggy Pop and the Stooges perform live at the Warfield to an audience of about 2,000 people. The band was supposed to swing through San Francisco in September, but their tour was postponed when Iggy broke his foot. And as soon as he bounded out onto the stage, shirtless of course, his compact wiry frame and deranged expression giving truth and life to this rock icon who sneered before us, it became all so obvious why a broken foot befell Iggy those few months ago: At 64 years old, the dude is still a fucking insane performer.

That he is a captivating wild man was certainly no surprise to anyone, myself included. But I had never really understood the extent of his persona until seeing him live and in the flesh for the first time. And once given the opportunity to breathe him in, it is immediately apparent that this reigning godfather of punk is not going quietly into the night. In his weathered and wizened state, he has lost none of his edge; few musical performances are as inspiring as watching him unravel on stage.

And let’s not forget the band, of course. The Stooges are still a formidable outfit. Iggy and drummer Scott Asheton (brother to original guitarist Ron, who sadly departed in 2009) are the only original members still standing, and are today supplemented by another punk icon, Mike Watt, on bass and James Williamson on guitar, who first joined the band in 1970. Tenor saxophonist Steve MacKay, who played on the Stooges’ epic second album Fun House,  feeds an element of jazz into the beast, rounding out the mix. These musicians provide a transformative instrumental narrative for Pop, and together they channel those early days of burgeoning revolution into the band’s Michigan bred music. The Stooges offer a powerful musical platform for Iggy, who then offers himself powerfully to the crowd. (Two lackeys close at hand offered assistance to Iggy when his mic cord looked in danger of strangling him or when he plunged into the pit, which happened often.) And as mesmerizing and quintessential a performer as he is, Iggy is eager to share the spotlight. He urged audience members up on stage with him very early in the show and clearly feeds off the musicians playing behind him; the gratitude for the company he keeps is palpable.

At times, Iggy would lift his head up and offer his mug to the crowd, and it was then that we could see how ecstatic he was to be performing for us, a new generation of fans filled and satiated by his charisma, by his drama. And he didn’t want to quit, seemingly not wanting the encore to end, coming back for more and more, throwing himself into the pit again and again. The physicality of his performance was unbelievable; it’s quite clear how he got that physique. Speaking of physique, Iggy unbuckled his pants late in the show, the entirety of his groin in clear view, and though we collectively waited for his pants to fall down as he continued to strut around the stage, somehow he kept them up just enough and we did not, in fact, get an Iggy Pop full frontal. Magic in its own right.

As triumphant as these gestures were, and as much as the Stooges nailed the performance, I found it hard not to consider Iggy’s age and wonder if we could ever expect to see him in a state of such ecstatic standing again. There was something otherworldly about what he was unleashing, an unfiltered rawness from another time, another age, and to say that he met my expectations, this living legend who changed the landscape of music, would be underestimating the impact of the performance.

Forty years into a career, Iggy Pop and the Stooges are still a consummate band, forever and always beyond the precipice of ordinary rock ‘n’ roll.