Concert Reviews

Iggy Pop's Frenzied Night at the Opera

They say that there are only three sure things in life: death, taxes and Iggy Pop. The former Stooge simply doesn’t know how to do bad shows – he won’t allow himself the luxury of an off-night. While his age is showing quite vividly on his face and even more so on his grizzled, naked torso, he still has the attitude and energy of a young punk. Performing at Denver's Ellie Caulkins Opera House last Saturday, April 2, the man was a force of nature: the living, breathing embodiment of all that’s great about rock and roll. He sets the bar; when a challenger steps up, as one inevitably does every few years, initial thoughts are, “Can he or she top Ig?” The answer is always no.

It’s great to have a solo Iggy back, even though it’s tinged with sadness. With both of the Asheton brothers now passed, it became impossible for the Stooges to carry on, despite the initial return of Raw Power-era guitarist James Williamson. Without Ron Asheton, the Stooges’ return to touring and the studio was controversial. Without Scott, too – well, forget about it.

What we do have is Post Pop Depression, the new album that bears Iggy’s name but is in fact a true collaboration between the Chairman of the Bored himself and Queens of the Stone Age/Eagles of Death Metal man Josh Homme. It’s a tremendous album, too – perhaps Ig’s finest solo effort in a couple of decades – and Homme has to take some of the credit for that. All but one of the nine songs on this most recent record were performed at the quite magnificent Ellie Caulkins Opera House (any reason for the omission of “Vulture,” boys?), and they fit in perfectly next to the oldies.
Weirdly enough, if you get Iggy and Homme writing together, the result is something very Bowie-esque. There’s a suave cool about Homme; gone are the days of ragged stonerisms. Combine that with Iggy’s punk-rock charisma, natural ear for a tune and songwriting suss, and you get dark cabaret songs like “German Days” and “Gardenia,” which skirt the line between Lou Reed’s Berlin and Hedwig & the Angry Inch.

One has to imagine that Homme and the rest of the band (featuring QOTSA’s Dean Fertita and the Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helder) had some say in the rest of the set list. By our reckoning, besides a rare airing of the theme from Repo Man, everything that wasn’t on the new album was from either Lust for Life or The Idiot (both from 1977).

So besides the obvious (opener “Lust for Life,” plus “Nightclubbing,” “The Passenger” and “China Girl), we got killer renditions of songs like “Sister Midnight,” “Funtime,” “Sixteen” and an extremely rare (and perfect) version of “Success,” which, before this tour began, hadn’t been played live since 1978.

We got no Stooges songs, no “Real Wild One” – nothing from his many solo albums in the 1980s, '90s and 2000s. But nobody cared: This blend of Iggy’s oldest and newest solo material made for a thrilling evening, and the fact that this band is arguably the best of his solo career doesn’t hurt, either. Homme played the shit out of his guitar, effortlessly switching from raw punk to besuited cabaret guitar hero with ease. He pulls notes out that, at times, sing almost as beautifully as the frontman. The guy is a perfect foil for Iggy.

Of course, nobody could upstage the man of the hour. Iggy pulled out a stage dive twice, ruffling the feathers of some concerned ushers, who were surely not used to this sort of thing. He did his usual dance of schizophrenic glee, and he demanded that the house lights be turned on so that he could see the people up in the gods.

In other words, Iggy was his usual self. As we said, he doesn’t do bad shows. He probably wouldn't know how. The idea of not leaving it all on the stage, of not whipping himself into a frenzy and sweating his balls off, is alien to him. He did all of that for us.

Critic's Notebook: Brooklyn guitarist Noveller (aka Sarah Lipstate) opened the show. She may have initially seemed like an odd choice of opener for Iggy, but she actually set the mood for this new phase in his career beautifully. It would be no surprise to the newbie to learn that she’s also a filmmaker – her solo instrumentals have the feeling of a score about them in that they’re gorgeously atmospheric. Sure, she’s a bit of a hipster Joe Satriani, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

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