Iggy @ United Palace, NYC – Ramblin’ Pete’s guest review

So Iggy Pop is turning 60??! (If the “facts” printed on his Web site are to be believed…
As with Latin American pitchers, with rock stars you just never know.)

David Letterman just turned 60. I cannot picture Letterman, who has lived a far more sedate lifestyle (less substances, though more open-heart surgery), flailing around a stage and throwing himself about like a madman for an hour and a half. It is exhausting just WATCHING the Ig. He is a freak of nature. Or something.

Enough ink has been spilled on the glory of the reunited Stooges, godfathers of scuzz-rock, survivors, legends…. Their on-stage mayhem may be scripted by this point, but there is still that rock and roll feeling of things threatning to get out of hand whenever, wherever they unloose their monstrous sound.

My ears still ring. We were in the balcony of the “United Palace,” a heretofore little known yet ornate gem of a theater located way the hell up in Wahington Heights. Walking around the “hood,” it was not difficult to spot who was there for the show. The grand old theater has been used since 1969 as a home for the crusades of “Reverend Ike,” a charismatic minister popular in the African-American community. Now suddenly there are concerts galore being held here, courtesy of the folks who book Webster (the ol’ Ritz) Hall and Bowery Ballroom. Bjork is coming. Bloc Party just played. The Stooges sold out the joint and nearly blew the gothic-styled intricately detailed roof off. A Gilded “Palace” of Salvation, indeedy….

Not much to look at from the outside, but inside, the theater (built in 1930 as one of the city’s WPA-era-grandeur-luxe movie palaces) is absolutely gorgeous. Lots of period detail. Carpeting. Balustrades. Moorish, Byzantine, and Romanesque influences. (thank you, Architectural Digest.) And above the stairs, large framed quotations from the gospel of Reverend Ike. Picture a slightly smaller Beacon Theater for the vibe.

We were ensconced in the “loge” about halfway up the balcony. Bird’s Eye view of the proceedings. The opening act, the eponymous “Sistahs in the Pit” took the stage.

Pretty much what you would expect…vaguely metal-ish, occaisionally energetic, thrashy and riff-heavy sloganeering from a butch trio of uniformly punk-attired women of color. Not bad, but not anything that revelatory. They seemed tough. WIth apologies to MSNBC…uh…these were some [GUEST writer inserted Imus’s recent slur]. Excxept the drummer. She (I think it was a she) wore a mohawk.

Sitting (well, standing) way above the fray, I didn’t think earplugs would be necessary.

“Iggy likes the treble high and LOUD.” Gotta remember that. When the Stooges took the stage to ‘Loose,’ the energy quotient went up ten notches. And the volume went up eleven.

I’ve seen the re-formed band three times, and somehow hearing then rip through the material from the first two albums never gets stale. Shirtless from the get-go, Iggy is Iggy. Doing his Iggy-isms. The trademark flailing, gesturing, dancing, writhing, exposing himself, exhorting the audience…

In his NY Times review, Ben Ratliff makes mention of “the delicate middle-state between having pants on and not having pants on…” Amen.

The band was remarkably tight, having been steadily touring for a few years now.

Ron Asheton in his military jacket and hair weave, deliberately slamming out chords somehow recognizable in the din. Remember this grotesque beauty and simplicity, children, when some blowhard starts going on about his Pat Metheney collection. Kid brother “Rock” on drums as primitive and menacing as ever. And Mike Watt, G-d bless ‘im. An avuncular and comforting presence on the four-string, REALLY getting into it, clearly enjoying himself.

Watt pretty much played bass-as-lead-guitar for much of his Minutemen/fIREHOSE tenure, and has said in interviews that he literally had to teach himself how to play all over again to access the Stooges’ gestalt. Well, he done good. Even if the low-end was hardly dominant in the deafening racket.

Iggy was agitated, which is good of course. No peanut butter to be found, but he was very much the performer, and considering his less-than-monastic lifestyle (please site the priceless tome Please Kill Me for details verging on T.M.I.) looked about as ravaged as Rangers’ winger Brendan Shanahan, and pretty much played as physically as # 14 does.

The band tore through the expected “classics,” I don’t remember the order exactly, but most of the first two albums were churned out at breakneck pace in the maelstrom. The fans, a decent number of whom appeared not too far from Mr. Pop’s age, were delirious. ‘Down in the Street,’ ‘1969,’ ‘I Wanna be Your Dog (performed only once this evening….).’ No regrets. The Stooges drove ’em wild.

Iggy repeatedly called for the house lights to be brought up. He threw his mike stand over every 30 seconds. He wanted to interact. Much to the chagrin of the brutish security detail, he had about a hundred fans rush the stage for a couple of numbers to dance, even as the bouncers roughly threw them off (‘No Fun’ indeed.) Mike Watt was surrounded by a bevy of punkettes graciously giving him personal space to riff, and hugged about 50 people after the songs ended and the stage was cleared.

‘Real Cool Time,’ ‘T.V.Eye,…the band brought out not-so-secret-weapon Steve MacKay on his battered saxaphone about halfway through the set, and he managed to cut through the mix to add another primal texture to the noise. The did ‘Fun House…’ it broke down into chaos with Iggy thrashing about in the audience somewhere (it was hard to see,) …was this an ‘L.A. Blues?’ …Can we officially call this an ‘L.A. Blues??’ Hmm…maybe it was an obscure Albert Ayler cover. Regardless, Iggy came back. The band did two encores (the first a three-song bid.)

The newer material held up alright, especially in the chaotic auditory conditions where minute detail and words weren’t as important as phrasing and SOUND. Some complain validly that the lyrical content of new album “The Weirdness” isn’t so hot, but c’mon…people….What do you, expect a Shakesperean sonnet from these guys?! I mean most of us didn’t even know Iggy could read and write until the late ’70s at the earliest.

Regardless, even if the newer stuff isn’t quite the older stuff, Ig performed it enthusiastically, and the band never let up for a second. Songs like ‘Skull Ring,’ and ‘Little Electric Chair’ from his last “solo” album, and ‘I’m Fried’ and ‘She Took My Money’ from the newer Stooges joint at least provided some variety in the set list.

My major ‘plaint: The group has been reformed for almost four years now, hatchets buried, contracts signed, gym memberships for all, etc. etc. It would be NICE (to put it less bluntly than any Stooges dirge) to hear Iggy and the lads take on some more diverse material. ANYTHING from ‘Raw Power’ would, at this point, be greeted as enthusiastically as a ‘St. Stephen’ at a Dead show and them some. Both Ashetons played on the album, but Ron was moved to bass to accomodate the enigmatic (and supposedly still alive) James Williamson.

How about some of Ig’s later material, then? It’s not like he has a lack of back catalog to choose from. Can we please, maybe, once, please, hear ‘I Got a Right?’ Do I hear a ‘Passenger’ down the line? A ‘Five Foot One?’ ‘Johanna?’ Even ‘Lust for Life.’ Hell, enough time has passed since it was a Volvo (?) ad….

Still and all, though, seeing the Stooges live is an experience not to be missed. A journey to the center of the Id. Or the Ig. A chance to see a legend. Who still puts out so much loud noise and buoyant energy that he can barely be restrained. Happy 6-0 Igster. (April 21st).

May you continue to rock out for many years to come.

– Ramblin’ Pete

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