Iggy and the Stooges
Royal Festival Hall, London
20 June 2013
I’ve seen and heard Iggy many times over many years. I reckon I know a thing or two about ‘raw power’.
But something funny went down at this latest London gig, a surprisingly brash addition to Yoko Ono’s Meltdown programme, and something inside me got changed. See, when raw power came a-runnin’ to me (just like it always does) this time it got me, readers. It REALLY got me.
There was already magic in the air. You could feel it filling and refilling all corners of the room. It had a few sources. For one thing, there was the mighty and salutary guitar of James Williamson – a signature mix of lion roar and birdy tweet-tweet that flicked unsubtly between just the two volume settings on his amps (LOUD and FUCKING LOUD).
And there’s Iggy, naturally. Traditionally shirtless, thankfully wired, happy and electrifying as always. His voice was in colourful and powerful form – his mood was patient and encouraging.
But no less important to the magical mix was the sheer incongruity of the event. This is the ROYAL Festival Hall, you bloody rabble! The Queen comes here sometimes. These seats you try to climb on are posh – some bloke is paid to run a hoover over them. They have been fashioned from faux velvet for the arses of jewellery-rattling programme-flippers – not for the boots of unwashed Englander riff-raff with fiery punk bellies popping out under torn t-shirts.
And another thi… OH GOD, SECURITY! SECURITY! These Detroit hoodlums have just invited the ENTIRE FUCKING AUDIENCE TO INVADE THE FUCKING STAGE! SHRIEK!
Now, then. Tradionally at this point your reviewer would do the decent thing – and look on, with professional interest, at the ensuing madness as it plays out to a soundtrack of ‘Funhouse’. But, like I said at the beginning, things were turning out differently tonight. The raw power still had its teeth in me. We were twenty minutes into the set and I had already power-frugged my way through three or four songs: Search and Destroy, newie Gun and I Got A Right had owned me. My teeth and fists were clenched tight, my feet had been pounding the back of my seat (well, not MY seat per se – I’d already surged several rows nearer to the front), and my ears and eyes were alert and ready for any call to action. So when Iggy sent his invitation out, I did the honourable thing. I obeyed the Detroit hoodlum call. I invaded the fucking stage.
I’m 49 years old and I could do with losing a bit of weight. The stage was well above chest height and it had an unhelpful venue security guard in front of it. Getting up and onto it was quite a struggle. It took a few goes, in fact, even with helpful hands tugging my arms from on high. I must have looked pretty ridiculous, to be fair, but my head was on fire. I was under complete control of the music. Raw power’s healing hand was waiting for me – right there, on that stage. I had to get there. So I stuck at it. And, after a lot of puffing and shoving, I made it.
I was on my feet, onstage, and euphoric. One minor setback though – I had somehow forgotten that I cannot dance. So I crept behind the growing throng of 30 or so dancing loons, with a plan to check out the Stooges at close quarters and in full flight. This was going to be fun.
First I came face to face with bassist Mike Watt. He was staring right into my eyes, singing the lines from Funhouse. I tried to sing back. He knew the words. But I didn’t. So I sort of screamed a bit. Then I took a picture of him with my phone. And I moved on.
My next stop: smack bang in front of James Williamson. He was shredding his guitar beautifully and noisily. Zero eye contact. I snuck a picture. He looked badass. I knew it would be blurred but time was of the essence. I squeezed past some more dancing folk – I had to move on.
Another yard of stage was gained, and another mobile phone picture was snatched. Steve MacKay. He was working that wailing sax of his magnificently. A stage tech gently eased me away from the monitors. I turned to my right and…
“Fucking hell, John! Fancy seeing you here!” I had found an old friend, a massive Iggy fan no less, bouncing about on a Stooges stage while a Stooges gig was fully in progress. I took his picture and it was in focus. Seconds later, Iggy surged towards us, pushed by an admiring throng. I got a picture of the back of his head. Then I took a picture of the audience out front. Then, along with everybody else, I respectfully dropped off the edge of the stage, back to the rows of cinema-style seats, so the gig could continue.
I made my way back to where I had been stood before, my whole body sweating like crazy. I had punk rock battle injuries – battered shoulders and elbows from the struggle to mount the stage. And I couldn’t have been happier.
All that had gone before had put me in that wonderful but rare state that we all crave from our music – a combination of euphoria, empowerment and something like abandonment. I was feeling the music more than I was seeing and hearing it.
The hustle and bustle had left me in a perfect mood to enjoy the rest of the show. At times, with the houselights on full and Iggy standing at the very edge of the stage, I held the fanciful notion that this might not be too different from one of those old late-60s college gigs that we read about in books. It was messy, beligerent, unifying and all-powerful. And it ended with two unscheduled and rambunctious renditions of the very rudest songs in the Iggy songbook: Louie Louie and Cock In My Pocket.
Hey, South Bank peeps. Thank Gawd he didn’t get his lad out, eh?
All words by Andy Barding. More writing by Andy can be found in his author’s archive.