November 13, 2011

The Stooges at the peak of their decadence

The Stooges – Metallic K.O. (1973, 1974)

This album sounds like it was recorded at some smoke-hazed cellar club where people are doing both kinds of blow in the bathroom, and it’s too crowded to even try and walk through the sea of rabid, dysfunctional twenty-somethings. The recording quality is so bad you’d think the sound guy was just some idiot picked off the street trying to score some money for pot. The album sounds so rough, the performances are full of obvious mistakes, and after you blast these tracks through your speakers you’ll be clinching like you just heard a thousand nails on an electric chalkboard.

So, why would anyone hold this album in high regard? Fuck man, ‘cause this is exactly what The Stooges are supposed to sound like. I don’t want to hear these guys playing a sold-out show for 100,000 people at Wembley stadium. The Stooges are a band who play shitty clubs for a handful of people, concerned with stuff that today's rock 'n' roll superstars wouldn't think twice about – like Iggy Pop yells into the mic back in ’74 “how much time do we have ‘til the power gets cut off?” 

This album is made up of a show on October 6, 1973, and The Stooges' final show–on February 9, 1974–before they broke up. You can tell in both shows how influenced Iggy is by Jim Morrison; he’s conversational on stage, he rants, he talks in slurs, and he improvises a lot of the lyrics on the spot, but you can’t ever mistake the two, especially not on a show like this.

What Iggy lacks in poetry, he more than makes up for in power and passion. He doesn’t sing the words, they burst out of his throat. Each time he barks, it sounds like he's about to cough up a lung. James Williamson is full of flaws as a guitar player, but he too, makes up for it with a guitar sound that could be used for a demolition crew. You can hear him pushing his amp so hard and so loud you can almost feel the speakers ripping apart from the inside. On bass Ron Asheton's—I’m just going to guess who was on the bill those days, so correct me if I’m wrong–Scott Thurston’s also got his amp so loud that his bass is distorting and causing so much feedback he has to keep it pounding harder than usual. With Scott Asheton setting a thunderous pace on drums, you don’t just have a wall of sound. You’ve got a fucking battalion. (Thanks to Dustin James for confirming the line-up).

Even the slow numbers sound visceral and diseased. “Gimme Danger” and “Open Up and Bleed” are full of improvised, almost pretentious lyrics–especially the latter. It's like Iggy’s some kind of Warholian exhibitionist selling the crowd his own decadence, and if he were in front of me right now–after I get over being starstruck–I’d gladly let him have every dime in my wallet. That’s because this guy challenged our perception of what art is and what art should be.

Punk rock was all about the message, and their depraved aesthetic was the building block for a new school of rock music. The Stooges invented punk rock along with The MC5, and The Velvet Underground, and what sets them apart from the ’77 bands is that they all oozed a different kind of personality, charisma, and some kind of charm that danced on the land-mine line between rock 'n' roll and punk. It was something different, almost Vaudevillian in its decadent attractiveness, and no one did it better than The Stooges.

The Stooges remind me of Hunter S. Thompson describing his character Gonzo from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: “There he goes. One of God’s very own prototypes. Some kind of high-powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.”

If you don’t like it, and you feel compelled to cast the proverbial tomato, Iggy would probably tell you what he told the crowd back in ’73: “you pricks can throw every goddamn thing in the world, and your girlfriend will still love me, you jealous cocksuckers.”
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The Stooges preach the credo of raw power. This live album is as raw and powerful as a bloody steak slapped across the face. Finding any live material from pre-1974 Stooges is a hassle enough on its own, but to find two full bootlegged shows available to anyone with an iTunes account (or Internet access, really) is incredible. I only wish I could see these shows live.

You hear all these myths and legends about The Stooges' live performances back at the peak of their decadence, but we're only exposed to a handful of bootlegs in audio and even fewer video recordings. If you've chewed up the records and need an extra fix, cook up a batch of Metallic K.O. and serve it straight up your favorite vein.

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