Iggy Pop at The Masonic. March 31, 2016.
The white marble building holding the Masonic Auditorium stands out, even on San Francisco’s Nob Hill. The Auditorium has been renovated recently and it hosts more events, especially Rock shows. Some big acts choose The Masonic over other venues that would draw a larger crowd. It’s an intimate venue that holds about thirty three hundred. Seeing a favorite act there is a treat for fans.
A bit of a disclaimer. I work events at The Masonic for Live Nation. This would be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me. It may sound like I’m biased about this great venue, but people rave about its intimacy and acoustics, especially after the renovation. It could have been interesting working an Iggy show, but I would be a paying customer tonight. I was chasing legends again.
During the Masonic’s renovation the seats on the main floor were taken out, creating a dance floor area. I would be in the balcony tonight. Chairs are brought in for a “seated show.” I was surprised that they put seats on the main floor tonight. It would be interesting to see what would happen down there. Iggy shows are usually a couple of hours of anarchy.
It’s a Rock cliche, but it’s a miracle he’s still alive. Iggy might be the original, “How is he still alive?” guy. The rest of his original band, The Stooges, are all gone.
The new album is “Post Pop Depression.” It’s a bit of an ominous title. Was it a not so subtle hint that this could be the last tour? Iggy shows have become rare. He plays at big festivals, but his improved financial condition has made it easier for him to avoid some of the stresses of being on the road. Iggy does leave it all onstage. Even if it’s not the last time, there’s no shortage of drama at an Iggy show.
Iggy and The Stooges’ records were abrasive sonic experiments. Their brand of Rock did not sell well. His music was first heard in commercials about twenty years ago. He made more money from a Nike commercial than all the rest of his career combined. There’s an Audi commercial on the air now with his song “Search and Destroy.”
The crowd was a bit of a surprise. It was an older crowd, but there was a wider range of age in the audience. Sprinkled among the geezers were small family groups. There were a few very young kids. It was the passing of the torch to the next generation. The kids could always say they saw Iggy Pop.
The opening act was Noveller. This may be the ultimate solo act. Sarah Lipstate stands alone onstage with an electric guitar. She’s behind a line of what look like wah-wah pedals. The sound of her guitar is synthesized. Each song starts with a slow droning dirge. Layers of sound are added. The sound she got was amazing. The music was grinding and reminded me of Brian Eno’s experiments. What would Hendrix have done with this technology? It was a good choice to go on before Iggy. The sound was oddly relaxing as the audience found their seats.
There was a long line for Iggy related merchandise. One of the vendors yelled out, “We’ve only got one poster left!” How much money do they make on this stuff?
The beginning is the best part. There was some of that pre Big Show tension in the air. I hadn’t seen Iggy since the Stooge’s reunion nine years ago. The band comes on and takes their places. The drummer starts pounding a frantic beat. The band is wearing matching suit jackets. Was it a nod to his first band: Iggy and the Iguanas? There are old publicity stills of them wearing matching suits. A long, wide white sheet of fabric hangs like a ribbon from the ceiling and splits the stage in two. Iggy bursts onstage from behind it. Those not standing quickly get to their feet to greet Iggy. The cell phones are out and recording for Youtube.
He sets an intense pace in those first few minutes. He looks like he’s been shot out of a cannon. He jumps and skips across the stage. Just a sixty-eight year old teenager. The crowd loves him. The lights cast Iggy’s silhouette across the white ribbon onstage. It’s a great effect. He casts a large shadow. He’s wearing a dress shirt and has a little facial hair.
If there was ever an Iggy anthem it’s got to be this first song: “Lust For Life.” As reckless and self destructive as he’s been Iggy does have a unique, intense lust for life. After the first song he waves to the crowd and calls for the house lights to come up, “I want to see them!” It’s Iggy, the old rocking dude, just saying hello. He’s friendly! The band breaks into the heavy beat of “Sister Midnight.”
The first time I saw Iggy was 1971. He was opening for Alice Cooper at the only Rock show ever held at Chicago’s Opera House. Someone had told me about him. It was one of those, “You’ve got to see this guy.” Iggy came onstage and it looked like someone had dumped a bucket of silver paint on his head. Maybe it was some kind of Glitter Rock statement. He looked menacing and a bit insane. Yeah, you’ve got to see this guy ... before he’s gone.
It was a time when many Rock stars acted aloof onstage. They were artists, not entertainers. The crowd would sit cross legged on the floor. Iggy couldn’t stand this. He challenged his audience. He would jump into the crowd. He demanded reaction, and it wasn’t very positive at first. This is the guy who invented stage diving. He created a special bond with his audience. He walked on a sea of hands in the crowd. Later that night Alice Cooper started a feeding frenzy when he threw ripped up posters into the crowd, but it was Iggy who first got them on their feet. Opera House seats were damaged and there was never another Rock show there.
“American Valhalla” starts with some steel drum. It’s the first song tonight from the new album, “Post Pop Depression.” The pace picks up again with the first slashing notes of “Sixteen.” It’s Iggy at his hottest. “Sweet sixteen and the leather boots... I go crazy!” The song is intrinsically illegal. The dress shirt is gone now. He whirls and gyrates across the stage.
There’s usually a “barrier” in front of the stage at the Masonic. It’s a plastic fence that prevents people from climbing onstage. There would be no barrier tonight. There’s little separation between Iggy and the crowd. It didn’t look like the carnage of past Iggy shows, but it still looked intense down there. No one was using the seats.
Another song from the new album: “In the Lobby.” Then an old one: “Some Weird Sin.” “Just to relax to...That’s what you get when out on the edge.” They do “Funtime” from “The Idiot.”
Guitarist Josh Homme is from Queens of the Stone Age. He’s about six four. Iggy is about a foot shorter. Iggy had texted Homme suggesting they make a record together. The critics love the new CD.
“It’s time for a drug song!” “I saw my baby, she was turning blue! I knew that soon, her young life would be through!” But don’t worry because, “Everything will be all right tonight!” It’s an upbeat ending to a song that has such a grim beginning. Iggy wrote “Tonight” with David Bowie.
Iggy tells us that he’s been lucky to “find employment in my senior years.” He says we all have our weekly routines... “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...” but his “fuck off day” is “Sunday,” another new song. it’s hard to think of Iggy as a working stiff.
Iggy says, “You’ve got to keep an eye on those Germans.” I guess since he lived in Berlin for so long he can get away with this politically incorrect comment. “Mass Production” is another classic from “The Idiot.”
Most of the songs tonight are from the new album or the first two solo Iggy albums: “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life.” After The Stooges imploded Iggy seemed to be at a dead end. He had gotten lost in hard drugs. Iggy had become buddies with David Bowie. Most had given up on Iggy. Bowie was the only one to visit him in rehab. He rescued him and they went to Berlin. They wrote songs together. Bowie produced “The Idiot” and toured with Iggy as a keyboard player. The record opened a new era in Iggy’s career.
Iggy sits on a stool for the next song: “Nightclubbing.” It’s Iggy as a crooner. He does have a great baritone voice. It’s not all shrieking. Iggy doesn’t sit long. He goes to the front of the stage. A woman rubs his legs. Iggy extricates himself before she can grab or fondle him. It’s happened before. I’ve seen him start crazy rushes to the stage by just pretending to expose himself.
The passing of David Bowie was a jolt. It was hard to believe that the rocking visitor from another planet was gone. Bowie’s image was so strong that it was hard to believe he had human weakness of any kind, let alone mortality.
Tribute covers of Bowie songs were done at many shows after his passing. Tonight “China Girl” has a big emotional impact. Iggy said that Bowie had saved his life. Bowie was his mentor and savior in more ways than one. “China Girl” was on Iggy’s album “The Idiot.” Bowie recorded it again ten years later. The royalties Bowie commanded gave Iggy some financial security.
“China Girl” starts out as a wistful love song, but takes a dark turn. “I’ll ruin everything you are... I’ll give you television!” The beat picks up and the song rocks. Iggy seems to be spinning out of control a bit. He goes to stage right and humps one of the speakers. When he crosses the stage, he’s noticeably limping. He’s dragging one leg behind him. He takes one big step forward and then drags the other leg along, but as he limps across the stage he’s rocking. He just keeps going. The crowd senses it and cheers him on.
Iggy leaves the stage and the band launches into a great jam. They make the song their own. Josh Homme says he and Iggy had wanted to collaborate for some time. Matt Helders is on drums. Dean Fartita plays guitar and some keyboards.
Why is such loud music so mesmerizing? It’s the beat! It’s sound that can be felt physically. A clueless interviewer once asked Iggy why he acts the way he does onstage. Why all the wild dancing? It’s a great clip. Iggy grins and says, “I guess it’s just the nature of amplified music.”
The band leaves the stage for a short time. The encore ritual is short, and they play a new one, “Break Into Your Heart.” It’s the most threatening love song since Keith’s “Like A Thief In the Night.” The tune stuck in my head the next day. Another odd love song: “Fall In Love With Me.”
I sure know the songs and lyrics, but I did use www.setlist.fm to check the order of songs. The next song did throw me. I remembered it, but I couldn’t name it. “I’m looking for a joke with a microscope.” There are lines about, “the burning desert sand.” It’s “Repo Man,” from the soundtrack to one of my favorite movies! “I haven’t done that one in thirty nine years,” Iggy tells us. “Well, it’s now or never!” It’s a fitting motto for Iggy. Now or never.
Iggy and the band belt out four songs from the new record. “Baby.” “Chocolate Drops.” In “Paraguay” Iggy is looking for the perfect place to hide. A couple of guys get onstage and dive back into the crowd. The last song, “Gardenia,” promises to be the big hit.
Every once in a while there would be an article in the Rock press about the “new” Iggy. He’s off drugs. He’s rented an apartment on his own for the first time in his life. He’s opened a checking account! The last song is an odd, optimistic song: “Success.” Success eluded Iggy for a long time. He didn’t exactly seek it. “Here comes success!”
About twenty years ago there was a newspaper cartoon mocking The Rolling Stones. Mick fronted the band holding onto a walker and the rest of the band played while sitting in wheelchairs. Now we’re almost really there! Would this be the last time Iggy tours? He might be the only guy who could come out onstage on a motorized wheelchair or Segway and get another generation rocking!