“Ladies and Gentlemen………Mr Iggy Pop!”
There’s an epithet that John Peel is credited for, with reference to The Fall: “Always different, always the same.”
The same could be applied to Iggy.
Live, I’ve seen him at a football stadium in Athens with Andy McCoy from Hanoi Rocks. I’ve seen him at Brixton with a fairly uninspiring pick up band. Always Iggy though. In the hallowed Royal Festival Hall or the iconic Hammersmith Odeon with the Stooges – always Iggy. And always taking it as far as he could.
It has been a mixed bag over the last 25 years on record for Iggy. He wasn’t served well by the CD era (both “Beat ‘Em Up”and “American Caeser” clocked in at over 70 minutes!). “Avenue B” started out as a really interesting proposition with the early stripped back tracks but didn’t quite have the quality to keep it going. The French influenced acoustic albums “Preliminaires” and “Apres” were short and pleasant diversions but didn’t add significantly to his canon.
So when it became known that Iggy was working with Josh Homme and recording at Homme’s Rancho De La Luna, my interest was piqued. The resultant album is impressive. The lyrics again bear out that Iggy is obviously conscious of his own mortality – “Avenue B” covered similar ground. We had noticed when we last saw Iggy in 2013 as part of Yoko Ono’s Meltdown Festival that his leg was giving him more gyp. He suffers from scoliosis. The energy was still there in abundance but the flesh and more pertinently the bone was less willing. In fact at times it feels like a Jimmy Osterberg album (Iggy’s real name). This for me is when Iggy is at his best. Maybe it is a late career golden period on the horizon, like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan or Bowie, reflecting on their extraordinarily lives.
I’ve never particularly wanted to meet my heroes, musical or otherwise. However I remember chatting with friends after a few drinks about “fantasy dinner party guests”. Jimmy is a name that crops up for me as someone that it would be fun to break bread with. That rich baritone voice is a start. He always appears courteous, charming and intelligent. He is knowledgeable, articulate with a self deprecating streak. His BBC lecture from a few years back is worth checking out as is his 6Music radio show. It really is at odds with his musical persona, loud and brash. Underestimate Iggy at your peril. Jimmy is always there too. I read a quote from Jimmy’s wife recently that she just couldn’t live with Iggy. I think it is interesting that his old pal David Bowie is credited with having many faces and facets. Jimmy clearly hasn’t created the same quantity but the quality of Iggy is undoubted.
Seeing Iggy with Homme in the band was probably going to be memorable. Equally I was looking forward to seeing him perform some more diverse material. The last couple of gigs we had seen him play with the Stooges were excellent but they mostly covered Stooges songs (with the exception of a couple of numbers off of “Kill City”). His classic albums with Bowie and the other gems in what has been effectively his solo career didn’t get an airing. Those gems are often when we get a glimpse of Jimmy – “Shades” from “Blah Blah Blah”, “Long Distance” from “Avenue B”, “I Won’t Crap Out” from “Brick By Brick” and even “Some Weird Sin” from “Lust For Life”.
It was telling that the gig really focussed on Iggy’s two albums that he made with David Bowie – “Lust For Life” and “The Idiot”.
These were two albums closest to Homme’s heart. Not long after Iggy texted him in March 2014 and said “We should get together and write something sometime – Iggy“, Homme received a folder from Iggy. It contained Iggy’s song by song analysis of the two LPs with notes of who played what instrument, who contributed which chord sequence, who created the song title etc. In a recent Mojo interview, Homme said:
When that arrived, my wife cried because she knew how much that meant to me
The band were electrifying on this material. Not only was it a note by note, sound by sound recreation of the albums, it came with added strut and swagger. “China Girl” was stunning – you’d never want to hear Bowie’s version again. “Mass Production” was as wonderful as it was unexpected. The euro disco tracks, “Tonight” and “Fall In Love With Me” were carried off with aplomb. The robo beat sat perfectly with the skills of the combined Queens of the Stone Age/Arctic Monkeys rhythm section. They had snap and bite. The backing vocals were pitch perfect. The “Lust For Life” refrain was delivered almost in falsetto. The call and response on “Success” stunning – “Here comes my Chinese rug”. Iggy sang “Nightclubbing” perched on a bar stool with Josh strutting on wobbly knees, smoking a cigarette.
In short, these louche, shawl collared, red satin tux wearing lounge lizards were simply the best band I’ve ever seen Iggy play with – and that includes the Stooges. Iggy clearly likes and needs to work with a decent collaborator. He had said of Homme:
I was looking for someone to make one last, good, formalist album with – meaning completely realised, with production and musical values that might have a chance of anybody hearing it in the “music scene”
There you go. There’s Jimmy’s intelligence and self awareness shining through his Iggy persona. But Iggy hasn’t left the building. A more physical performer you will not see. Stage diving, crowd surfing, balcony climbing, trips through the auditorium – time and again Iggy went out to his people. And he got the love back in spades. I don’t think I’ve seen such levels of affection for a performer since I last saw Leonard Cohen. At one point, a girl jumped on stage and gave Iggy a protracted embrace. Iggy responded with a deep sonorous “Well Hi!” – beautifully disarming.
Here’s a selection of shots from Twitter. These really give you a sense of the visceral nature of the performance and the sense of communion:
The new material didn’t pale in comparison either. Iggy introduced “German Days” with “Howabout some robotic euro disco with Germano-Slavic overtones” before the band swung into Brecht/Weill cabaret mode. “Gardenia” was fantastic with her “hourglass ass and powerful back”. “Break Into Your Heart” had tenderness at the end with Iggy’s voice sotto voce at the end.
Iggy confessed recently that he recalled watching TV as a child with his dad and him saying:
These entertainers are new aristocracy
It obviously struck a chord with young Jimmy.
I will be very very lucky if I see a better gig this year or this decade. It really was that good.
P.S. The beautiful poster image is by Drew Millward (@DrewMillward)