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The Iguana at 60

Iggy Iggy Pop is missing some bones. I’m sure of it. There’s no other way to explain how his 60-year-old frame can slither through space the way it does. The rippled wall of lithe-yet-steely muscle he calls a torso compensates for the bonelessness, suspending The Iguana like a marionette. Fewer bones, more muscle, and just a little bit of celebratory butt crack to seal the deal (unless he gets pantsed, in which case all bets are off). Iggy’s body is one of the most beautiful canvases ever to grace a stage, which makes it all the more amazing that after all these years of hard living, Iggy still has no tattoos. It’s as if he knows that any art would detract from, rather than add to, the visual spectacle of his body. Wonder if Henry Rollins sometimes wishes he had stuck with his birthday suit.

Iggy Pop turned 60 yesterday, in front of an audience wishing it had half as much energy at 40. But make no mistake – this was a Stooges show, not an Iggy Pop show. All tracks were from the eponymous first Stooges album, Fun House, or their recent The Weirdness, with not a single nothin’ from the dozen-plus albums released under Iggy’s own name or recorded with other bands. That was OK, since some of us consider The Stooges and Fun House to be Rosetta Stones of rock, untouchable and unrepeatable in their massiveness, both in sound and in influence (it’s hard to imagine what punk or heavy metal might have evolved to become without these two albums). And yet Iggy seemed oblivious to his own birthday, until the band launched into a thudding version of “Happy Birthday” late in the show, and balloons silkscreened with Pop’s praying hands Raw Power image fell from the sky. The SF Chronicle summarizes last Thursday’s show pretty well: “Punk’s godfather is now its grandfather.”

Confession: My obsession with ex-Minutemen bassist Mike Watt is half the reason I swung for a ticket. Which was stupid, since A) The fact that The Stooges are still The Stooges should have been reason enough, and B) I should have realized that the bassist’s role in The Stooges is deep but supportive, not a showcase for the pummeling virtuosity Watt is capable of (for that, go see Banyan). Watt hung back throughout the show, often in a hunched, about-to-pounce position, driving it home but never quite pouncing. In his humility to the man who probably kept him plunking at the thud-staff through his teen years, Watt never upstaged Pop, not even once.

Brothers Ron and Scott Asheton were there and wailing, as was Fun House saxophonist Steve MacKay, if a little worse for wear (though he was either playing from the wings off-stage or so deep stage-left that we couldn’t catch a glimpse).

Over the years I’ve come to think of The Stooges as a somewhat dark band. Maybe it’s just me, but the dirges, the themes, the junk … it’s amounted to an aesthetic impression that The Stooges were all about Detroit’s underbelly of smack and rock and unapologetic nihilism (“Another day for me and you, another day with nothing to do…”). While Saturday’s show didn’t exactly put that impression to rest, something else emerged – this music is a total celebration. Stompin’ joy is present in everything The Stooges do, though it may not be apparent in the lyrics or the atmosphere of the recorded output. But live? Ain’t nothin’ but a party y’all. Despite appearances, Pop is one happy lizard.

Toward the end of the show, Iggy ranted something like: “There’s a creepy little contraption that’s been with our society for decades…” Since he’s the only rocker I know of who has ever succeeded in bitching about the high price of Apple hardware in a rock song and and still had it coming out as un-self-conscious as anything else he’s ever written, for a brief moment I was convinced he was about to launch into “Knucklehead,” from Naughty Little Doggie:


But I was wrong – dead wrong. It was a track from The Weirdness, about as close to political poetry as Iggy gets:

They’ll be fryin’ up that hair
In that little electric chair

If the other half wins
Let ’em eat pigeons
And live in prison

And they’re fryin’ up that hair
In that little electric chair

We were left wondering why “I’m Fried” came before the single-song encore performance of “Electric Chair,” but one thing I know is I definitely wasn’t fried when the lights came up early. Things were just getting juicy. But hell, it was Iggy’s birthday. He’s 60. Give The Iguana a break.

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