By Brian Ives
In 1999, Iggy Pop released the album Avenue B, which opened with a short spoken word piece, “No S—.” In it, he said, “It was in the winter of my fiftieth year, when it hit me: I was really alone, and there wasn’t a hell a lot of time left… As I considered the circumstances of my death, I wanted to find a balance between joy and dignity on my way out.”
Judging by Iggy’s performance last night at the United Palace Theatre in New York City, the man has a long way to go before he makes his “way out.” In fact, he seems to find himself totally rejuvenated by his current situation: he just released a great new album, Post Pop Depression, and he’s fronting an amazing touring band. Both can be attributed, at least in part, to Josh Homme, the Queens of the Stone Age frontman (who is also a member of Eagles of Death Metal).
Homme produced Pop’s new album and assembled the band that played on it: Homme on guitar, bass and keyboards, his QOTSA bandmate (and Dead Weather member) Dean Fertita also played guitar and keyboards and Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys played drums. Those musicians, along with QOTSA/A Perfect Circle member Troy Van Leeuwen and Chavez’s Matt Sweeney, made up the touring band.
With that particular lineup, it would have been tempting to play two or three new songs and bash through a bunch of Stooges classics. But Pop and Homme were much more ambitious with their vision for this tour.
In fact, the setlist ignored the Stooges altogether, drawing almost entirely from Post Pop Depression and Pop’s two David Bowie-produced 1977 albums, The Idiot and Lust for Life, (the one exception was 1984’s “Repo Man”). The setlist was clearly drawing a parallel between those two classics and his current album.
In 1977, with the help of producer-collaborator Bowie, Iggy emerged from the Stooges as a full-fledged solo artist in his own right; the two albums he released that year also contain some pretty weird material; he’d left behind the raw power [cough] of the Stooges for even stranger territory. Those albums yielded some of his most beloved songs, including last night’s opener, “Lust for Life.” The band nimbly bounced through the song, as the crowd yelped along with every word. Quickly, Pop calmed things down a bit with another ’77 classic “Sister Midnight,” before diving into the new album with “American Valhalla.” It was the first of eight new songs (out of the nine on the album) that Pop and co. played. Anyone who has seen an artist with a 40+ year history try to play a new song in concert knows that it can be a dicey proposition. But Pop’s fans were with him the whole way. At least on the floor of the theater, the entire audience stood for nearly the entire show.
Which is only fair: at 68, Pop puts out an insane amount of energy. He would be justified in calming down his stageshow somewhat, but he’s pretty much the same as he’s been for at least for the past few decades: he spent the performance topless (he started the show with a blazer on; it really had no chance of staying on him for long, of course), he still bounds all over the stage; he often jumped into the audience. “Hey! Mind if I drop in?” he yelled at one point, as if there were more than one answer to that question.
“Yes, we’re having fun!” he exclaimed at one point. “You’re very f—ing nice people!” The first part of that statement, at the very least, was true.
Also having fun: Homme and the rest of the band. It turns out that when the Queens frontman isn’t bound to a microphone, he’s got some pretty snazzy dance moves. He showed them off often throughout the night, and also hopped around happily during other points. He and Iggy had a great rapport, and the band seemed very much like a band. They’ve said that this tour is a one-off deal, which is a shame (but understandable, as they’re all in other bands as well).
“Nightclubbing” was one of the highlights, featuring Homme’s best dance moves of the night and his best guitar soloing. Although “China Girl” also featured some face-melting string work as well.
And yes, the new songs held up to the classics. Nine out of ten songs from the new album made the setlist; “In the Lobby,” “Break Into Your Heart,” the lovely “Chocolate Drops” and the very intense “Paraguay” were highlights.
Word is, this may be Iggy’s last album, and last tour, and if it is, it’s one to be proud of. Would the fans have loved a career retrospective where he played Stooges classics, 1990’s “Candy” (his one top 40 hit) and some of the ’77 songs? Sure, and maybe he’ll do that at some point.
But this show saw an artist who became a legend by challenging his audience, challenging them one more time. Happily, the fans were up for it: like a jazz legend, he wasn’t just playing the songs that blew our minds in the first place. He reminded that he can still blow our minds today, and that’s a bit more satisfying.
In 1977, Bowie helped Iggy to emerge from the ruins of his defunct band the Stooges and cast him in a new light for a new generation. Homme seems to have done something similar: with the recent passing of Stooges Ron and Scott Asheton, it seems like that band is effectively finished for good. Post Pop Depression marks a creative rebirth in Pop; whether it is as successful in bringing a younger crowd remains to be seen (last night’s audience seemed like more of Pop’s crowd than Homme’s). But with the Post Pop Depression album and tour, Josh Homme may have helped Iggy Pop achieve something even more rare than a creative rebirth: a final effort that stands up to the legacy of a legendary artist.