Henry Rollins: The Raw Power of The Stooges
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]
See also: Henry Rollins: Kill Your Past
If all goes according to plan, a few hours from now, I will be in attendance when The Stooges hit the stage.
This is one of my favorite déjà vu/ritual moments. I can't think of a single band playing today that makes me as excited -- even before they go on -- as The Stooges. I have been waiting for this night for months. The last time I saw them play was in Katowice, Poland, in August 2012. I wanted to see as many of their 2013 dates as possible and planned to go to all their Australian shows earlier this year, but my schedule took me elsewhere.
Many of us music fans have a few bands we consider as essential as air and water. For me, The Stooges are one of those bands. I think their three albums, The Stooges, Fun House and Raw Power, are as good as rock music gets. The Stooges, along with Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, are some main ingredients.
For me, a Stooges show is more than just a night watching a band run through its set. It becomes part of my life that can never be separated.
Besides the actual songs being so great, I always get the impression that Iggy Pop, the band's vocalist, is leaving a part of his life on that stage every time the music takes hold of him. It's as if music has made him its special project, that it has specifically chosen him as the most worthy vehicle to drive until the wheels come off.
Iggy makes every single frontman or -woman I have ever seen almost anemic by comparison. The only ones in my experience who have come close were H.R. from The Bad Brains and the late Lux Interior of The Cramps. Iggy is freakishly unique. There's not even a mold to break.
So, it's 2013. I don't know how many nights Iggy has left up there. Music has hurled him through a lot of brick walls and plate-glass windows. I try to bear witness whenever I can. Always worth it.
In order to see the band play, I had to make the trip to Long Beach, to the Ink-N-Iron Festival. I have nothing against Long Beach, of course, but as a Southern California resident, you may perhaps sympathize with the following: I have internalized the highways of this state and, I must say, some of them depress me when I drive on them. The 5 is a bummer and so is the 710. Why? I have no idea, really, they just are. The 110 makes me nervous. The 134 I find thrilling. I feel two ways about the 101. The 101 south makes me feel anxious, while driving on the 101 north makes me feel like achieving something in life. I have always liked the 405, don't ask me why.
Anyway, my mission would take me down the 5 to the 710 to a parking situation next to the Queen Mary, which I feared would immediately confuse me and cause me to miss the show, so I went early.
I picked up my friend and fellow Stooges fan, Heidi, and we somehow reached the promised land of the LB. By making an illegal right turn and requesting a lot of information from men and women who were vigorously waving at cars and pointing, we found our parking spot and made our way into the band holding area. I could hear The Dead Kennedys playing "Holiday in Cambodia." An incredible song and so strange-sounding when the singer isn't Jello Biafra, who hasn't been in the band for many years. Jello can sing his ass off.
Minutes later, The Stooges' manager told us it was time to go. I found my spot on stage left, the James Williamson/Steve Mackay side. I want an insanely heavy guitar/saxophone mix. This is a most hallowed bit of ground for me. I cannot wait for the show to start.
Suddenly, The Stooges are running to the stage, gearing up and falling into position. The chords of "Raw Power" explode from Williamson's cabinets like jets of volcanic shrapnel at incredible volume. Iggy runs past me, hits center stage, the audience roars with approval. I love that he always runs onstage! There only seems to be on and off with him.
A few minutes later, when the band is fiercely attacking "1970" from Fun House, I realize how physically hard the band is playing, and it hits me that the band makes music that is strong enough to withstand five maniacs trying to tear it to pieces and that it could also do the very same to them. I conclude that The Stooges are at war with music itself. This is so cool.
One of the show's many highlights was the version of "Fun House" that features some deep and dark sax mutations from Steve Mackay. I can't get enough of this song. I have never heard them play it the same way twice. In 2006, I saw The Stooges five times in Australia. Every night "Fun House" went longer and got progressively freakier.
Another standout moment was their assault on "No Fun." It was as if they were taking it out for a Chuck Yeager-esque spin to see if they could shear the wings off and all die in an unforgettable ball of fire. Miraculously, both band and song survived.
The Stooges are a pack of hyenas on the Serengeti Plains, hungry and omnivorous.
As the band encored, I looked out at the audience and saw thousands of faces all lit up and happy. The Stooges tap the main line.
Heidi and I drove back to L.A. All the way, we talked about the show, trying to forget we were on the 710 and the 5. She doesn't like them, either.
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