James Williamson & Friends
The Bootleg Theater
January 16, 2015
The vainglorious dick measurement contest known as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony — aired annually on HBO for all the Pavlov'd dimwits still paying for cable — offers up a revolving door of goofy guest stars, like Lorde doing Nirvana. It's kitschy shit, American Idol karaoke for people who think rock & roll is Hollywood.
So last year, when Raw Power-era Stooges guitarist James Williamson took bootlegged Stooges cuts and recorded them with guest vocalists (sans Iggy Pop), I couldn't help but think back to Henry Rollins' pedagogical teachings: “Kill your past…kill the fucker, as you go galumphing on.”
Going to see Williamson at the Bootleg on Friday, joined by everyone from Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), wearing a “Fuck the Tea Party” shirt, along with a leather-clad Alison Mosshart (The Kills/The Dead Weather), I felt like a bitter Guns N' Roses groupie seeing Myles Kennedy doing a prim and proper Axl Rose. Without the gimmicky, cock-grabbing Iggy, a few well-rehearsed versions of purposefully dilapidated Stooges recordings like “Scene of the Crime” and Metallic K.O.'s “Cock in My Pocket” were bound to be Time-Life covers by singers unwilling to blade themselves with egg shells.
But while that may have been true for Re-Licked, seeing 10 rock stars join Williamson live, feeding off the crowd, captured something the record never even hinted at: The jumping-off-the-deep-end, primal madness of The Stooges in their prime.
OK, so this isn't The Stooges. This is Williamson rocking out with a few of his friends on a Motor City Traveling Wilburys trip — a punk rock supergroup recreating half-done Stooges licks from 1972-74. Either way, it worked better live. Re-Licked should have been a live record.
Joining me to see Williamson was Don Waller, former lead singer of the trashy Imperial Dogs — an underrated '70s proto-punk group from the South Bay. It was the day after news had spread that the Svengali maestro of gross L.A. rock & roll excess, Kim Fowley, had died after a long battle with cancer.
The last time Don saw the Stooges was in '73, at Whisky A Go Go, Fowley's old clubhouse on the Sunset Strip. Maybe it was Don sharing stories with Bruce Duff of the Streewalkin' Cheetahs, or the fact Fowley's death had brought out the likes of L.A. punk queen Hellin Killer, but the night felt like a buzz show at the Roxy, or the Whisky, way back before hair metal vomited all over the graffiti.
Cheetah Chrome, the madman guitarist of CBGB punk legends the Dead Boys, was what I walked into to start my night. Sweat dripping off his shiny bald head, his gritty guitar work terrorizing the five-minute instrumental intro, Cheetah's scratchy vocals sounded like they were covered in soot and whiskey. On each song, his eyes barely opened as his head rattled like an old bluesman while he played some ripping jukebox power-pop.
I tried to suppress the glee on my face — like I was too punk for roadhouse blues played by an old man. But I couldn't help but pound my foot to the grooving rhythm of Bruce Duff, swinging his bass around like Pete Townshend, while Cheetah squeezed out his road-weary tales. When you have rock 'n' roll for organs, age is just a number.
When Williamson took the stage with Biafra to open with “Head on Curve,” the place was packed with everyone from former Hole drummer Patty Schemel, to some local heroes at the bar who've been ripping off Stooges riffs to the tune of 10,000 Facebook followers (I won't name names). But goddamn it was a riot. Don't know how they did it, but the guest stars lit the stage on fire — especially Lisa Kekaula of the BellRays, who made me forget about Iggy by doing what he'd always attempted: Slicing up the blues into bloody pieces of punk rock shrapnel and skin.
A few of the cats, like Joe Cardamone (The Icarus Line) and Shea Roberts (The Richmond Sluts) did some spot-on Iggy karaoke-dance-party moves that gave the event the humor it needed. Nothing quite like seeing Iggy aping Mick Jagger missing a chromosome — not even close. But Frank Meyer of the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs cut through the bleachers with his artful scream. Meyer's voice isn't on the record, which is just a shame.
Carolyn Wonderland on “Gimme Some Skin” wasn't trying to imitate the Ig's mutated chicken dance. She stood tall and roared like Janis Joplin, playing down-and-dirty blues. Williamson followed suit, proving why Raw Power is still the most influential record for punk guitarists trying to move beyond two chords.
Williamson, who never spoke to the crowd or yapped about the historical significance of the night, played his guitar with precision, while the guest stars tried to keep up. Switching crooners on every song, you'd think Williamson would chat up the crowd, maybe tell an Iggy story or two. Not a chance. He wasn't there to gain praise or ask the crowd to connect with his mojo. Even though his name was on the ticket, Williamson let the singers take the spotlight.
The crowd exploded when Cheetah and Biafra returned for the encore with the opening riff of “Search and Destroy,” a not-so-surprising addition to the set list that made it feel like 1973 all over again. The punk rock supergroup closed the night with “Louie Louie,” not the 55-minute rendition Iggy would have wanted (listen to side two of Metallic K.O. to get that), but a drawn-out anthem that made a few people chuckle — especially the old-timers who know their history.
After the show, one of those old-timers, Don Waller, drove off into the night behind the wheel of his 69' Karmann Ghia. But not before remembering the time his brother used a tape recorder to capture Iggy and the Stooges at the Whiskey in '73, traded it for some shitty MC5 tapes, and saw the recording siphoned into bootleg tapes that eventually became the lost sound of the Stooges, post-Raw Power — in other words, what this night was all about.
So who cares if Re-Licked is too polished for my taste. Williamson and friends needed to be experienced live — close enough to feel the sweat and hear the throwaway lyrics that make it a bit more Stooges than supergroup. No blood-letting or peanut butter molesting to report, but history was made.
1. “Head on Curve” w/ Jello Biafra
2. “Open Up and Bleed” w/ Carolyn Wonderland
3. “Scene of the Crime” w/ Joe Cardamone
4. “She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills” w/ Frank Meyer
5. “Till The End of the Night” w/ Alison Mosshart
6. “I Got a Right” w/ Lisa Kekaula
7. “Pin Point Eyes” w/ Joe Cardamone
8. “Wild Love” w/ Alison Mosshart and Jesse Malin
9. “Rubber Leg” w/ Ron Young
10. “I'm Sick of You” w/ Frank Meyer
11. “Gimme Some Skin” w/ Carolyn Wonderland
12. “Cock in My Pocket” w/ Shea Roberts
13. “Heavy Liquid” w/ Lisa Kekaula
14. “Wet My Bed” w/ The Richmond Sluts
15. “Search and Destroy” w/ Cheetah Chrome, Jesse Malin, and Jello Biafra
16. “Louie Louie” w/ James Williamson & Friends