Iggy & The Stooges
performing “Fun House” [Don't Look Back], Carling Apollo, Hammersmith, August 30, 2005
Thirty-five years ago to the month after Fun House lifted my summer holiday and scared away a girlfriend, I've finally watched it played live on a UK stage - by the nearest you can get to the original Stooges line-up. Somebody pinch me. I still can't believe this happened. But it did, and it was glorious.
Those All Tomorrow's Parties people really pulled one off here. For a start, the original Stooges never played the UK. The legendary but ill-attended show at King's Cross Scala on July 15 1972 - which Iggy and Bowie's management thoughtfully double-booked with a Ziggy Stardust 'secret' showcase in Aylesbury for the world's press - doesn't count. That was the later Stooges which made Raw Power and, tragically, switched Ron Asheton to bass. Of course, Iggy has played here regularly, with the results depending on his backing musicians and the state he was in at the time. But we have never had anything like this.
The Apollo - remarkably unchanged since it presented the likes of Stooge-contemporaries like Bowie, Mott, Lou Reed and Roxy Music over 30 years ago - was rammed with a generation-spanning gamut of nutters ranging from original fans through old punks to those of the current generation astute enough to realise they better check out where their current NME-favoured pale-copy heroes got it from. I took my girlfriend Michelle, who wasn't born when Funhouse first appeared. I considered it a matter of duty. I know she'll still be talking about it when I'm long gone. It was that kind of night. A special occasion. These days that's rare. You only had to watch coverage of the endless crowd-wanking dullness of this year's festivals to realise that.
There is a vibe to the Stooges which nobody else has got - back then or [especially] now. Maybe the Doors, funnily enough. [Iggy would be the first to agree there]. They realised the power of energised dynamics, repitition to hypnotic levels and an intense sense of drama, liberally sprinkled with sex, shouting and danger courtesy of the front man. There are rumours circulating about Iggy's health, but he was in amazing fettle that night. Uncontainable, in your face and never sounding in stronger voice. How old is he? Late 50s. I first saw him in May '77 on The Idiot tour and then he was more or less rooted to the spot. Here he was like an acid-crazed young stallion doing an impersonation of a pinball in semaphore. My girlfriend got quite overheated, so he must have been doing something right on that front too.
But Iggy was only a part of it that night. It was the Asheton brothers I wanted to see in action. Ron on guitar and Scott on drums. They didn't disappoint either. Here was the primeval blueprint for punk rock. That sound could only be achieved by guys who liked hanging around on street corners staring at the ground. Sullen, blank and aggressive, but also possessed of a mesmerising voodoo rumble which defined the classic Stooge sound. When necessary, they cranked up the most amazing energy levels with the minimum of fuss and physical exertion. Ron is quite capable of axe pyrotechnics, and occasionally turns it on to create an effortless kind of death-bomb devastation, but there was no room for frills. Sadly, original bassist Dave Alexander died in '75,but his stand-in - Dave Watt from the Minutemen - was more than up for the task of nailing down the sonorous sonic attack of the Ashetons. As a band, they were the ultimate power trio.
But it didn't end there. What was one of the most distinctive sounds on Funhouse? Steve Mackay's squalling sax, of course. And there he was, the little guy on the right, kicking some serious parp action. Once famously reported by Nick Kent to be dead, it's a simple fact that the Stooges could not have played this album without him.
With players intact and firing on all cylinders, it was down to the execution and set list. The staging was designed for stark impact. White light, big stacks, a simple kit and no frills: Iggy took care of the visuals. The evening was billed as 'The Stooges Performing Fun House' and that's just what they did. The opening three-pronged attack of 'Down On The Street', 'I'm Loose' and 'TV Eye' were fired out with almost manic intensity. No gaps, like on the record - just Iggy shouting 'We're the motherfuckin' Stooges!' - and a crowd standing with their collective jaw hitting the ground. At times, it seemed like the group themselves didn't quite believe what they were doing. The songs were a bit faster and seemed to be over with quicker than on the record. The album's 'ballad', 'Dirt' - which received one of the biggest cheers of the night - did seem to reach its sighing climax sooner.
Put yourself in the place of the Stooges. They were mainly out of their gourds on drugs when Fun House was recorded. It was the very product of that LA craziness. Trying to replicate it 35 years later fuelled by a few drinks must've been quite strange. So what do they do? Play like a gang of teenage speedfreaks, yet carrying the authority that only years of excess, mayhem and sheer experience can bring. 'We're happy to be here - We're happy to be anywhere!', bellowed Iggy, echoing Keith Richards' stock survivors' line on the 2003 Stones' tour.
Steve Mckay comes on for 'I Feel Alright' - the one many had been waiting for. Here the low-slung menace of the patent Stooge-groove comes to the fore, the rhythm mutated from Bo Diddley or something much older. 'Fun House' itself next. This is the sax showcase, riding that sleazy stop-start soul revue vamp. Never mind punk, the Stooges were pushing far bigger musical boundaries. Tonight, it doesn't seem to stretch for the album's seven minutes but makes its point and the whole evening make perfect, unhinged sense. The most degenerate noise on the planet.
The one I'm waiting for is 'LA Blues', the album's insane closer and the ultimate primal scream of wracked, wasted excess. The closest anybody got to marrying rock 'n' roll with the much talked-about free jazz influences of pioneers like Sun Ra and Albert Ayler. On the record, it's obviously improvised and quite frighening in its escalating spontaneous combustion. I thought they might have trouble doing this one straight. It wasn't as long, or as wild, as the recorded version. It was more musical! On the other hand, it was wonderful to see them try what amounts to the ultimate musical anarchy and still send shivers up the spine.
That one did need to be deafening...which brings me to my one minor gripe. The Stooges might have been enjoying the benefits of modern amplification technology which wasn't around back in the day but it still wasn't quite loud enough [up in the balcony, anyway]. Midway it got a bit muddy. This should have been shaking the walls of the Apollo. Or maybe those years of sticking my head in the speakers is finally taking its toll.
So that was Fun House played from start to finish in about half an hour. Then a strange but oddly effective choice for main set closer - 'Skull Ring', the title track from Iggy's most recent solo album. Thinking back, it was a good choice. 'No Fun' would have been too obvious. They had to close this particular chapter with something unexpected [although the Standard called it a cynical move]. The 21st century Stooges played on the album version anyway, and it's a strong track, so what the hell.?
If they had just played Fun House it would have been enough, but the group were soon back on for an encore/second set. Nothing off Raw Power (because that was a different group). Now it was the first album's turn to get replayed and shaken down. They could never have played this one all the way through because of 'We Will Fall' [Although that would've been great!]. 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', 'No Fun', '1969, ''Little Doll', 'Not Right', 'Real Cool Time'. Iggy had the crowd onstage for two songs and they finished with another recent one, 'Rock Star'. The last half hour was like one big disbelieving mass going mental having the time of their lives.
The 21st century Stooges are a killing machine. They take the breath away. No old timers cabaret here.
Historic? Yeah! Once in a lifetime stuff. That was indeed the motherfuckin' Stooges. And it feels so good to say that.
Stooges gig rider
NB – Big shout out to Jonas Stone for sorting the above.
Kris Needs – tMx 21 – 09/05