Near the end of the Stooges‘ tribute concert to their late guitarist Ron Asheton at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater last night, Iggy Pop did something virtually unprecedented: he sat down, hushed the crowd, and addressed them in a calm, measured tone that was clearly the voice of Jim Osterberg – and not his psychotic alter-ego. “I need to thank Ron,” he said. “He sort of peed this beautiful music all over me. When I started a band Ron was the first guy who got behind me. I owe him…I know he’s trying to flick ashes on my head from heaven right now.”
When he wrapped up his short, moving speech to his friend, James Williamson – the man who usurped Asheton’s role as the Stooges’ lead guitarist in 1973 – began playing a composition entitled “Ron’s Tune” on the acoustic guitar. Up to that point in the show every song was written during the Stooges’ brief existence from 1969 to 1974, but this track was brand new. “This is your requiem,” Osterberg sang. “I never got to say goodbye. You were my friend. I’ll always think of you again.”
Lifelong Stooges fanatic Henry Rollins – who served as the evening emcee – addressed the crowd after an opening set by a local high school band called the Space-Age Toasters. “Ron Asheton is not just a peerless guitar player,” Rollins said. “He’s also a brilliant bass player as well…Stooges albums were dissected by Black Flag. Deconstructed by that band. Analyzed by that band. Put under harsh light and interrogated by that band. Water-boarded by that band. We were trying unlock the secret of the bass and drums and were all that power came from. We listened to those records until they fell apart.”
Immediately after the speech, Rollins led the current line-up of the band through a powerful version of the deep cut “I Got A Right.” During the performance, Iggy stood on the side of the stage bouncing up and down, looking like a racehorse itching to bolt out of the starting gate. From the opening chords of “Raw Power” he was off. Williamson looks like a retired Sony Electronics executive (which he is), but 30 years in the business world didn’t rob him of his chops. When he emerged as Iggy’s new collaborator of choice around 1972 it completely realigned the band’s power structure and the Asheton brothers were nearly thrown out of the group. His return after Ron’s tragic death in 2009, however, has given the band yet another new lease on life.
The Michigan Theater – which is around the corner from where the Stooges first met and played together – is a gorgeous, restored movie palace from the Twenties. It’s the kind of place where they still tear your ticket because they don’t have scanners, and ushers immediately chastise anybody who steps one foot into the aisle. They were not prepared for Iggy. “I promised I wouldn’t do this,” he screamed about 20 minutes into the show. “We’re in a nice fucking theater…but invade the stage!”
At least 100 fans dove onto the stage and crowded it to the point that Iggy was thrashed about like a rag doll and neared knocked down to the ground many times. It took a good five minutes for everybody to clear everybody off.
The rest of the main set was a normal Stooges concert. Iggy repeatedly dove on top of the crowd with little regard for his safety, and the band played a set heavy on Raw Power classics like “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell,” “Search And Destroy” and “Gimme Danger.” Whatever diet and exercise routine Iggy practices, the 63-year-old should seriously consider writing a book about it. His energy level is seemingly unchanged from the Stooges’ initial go-round 40 years ago.
Williamson does a very fine job aping Asheton’s fuzzed-out guitar tone, but for the encores Radio Birdman’s Deniz Tek took over. He played “TV Eye,” “Loose,” “Dirt,” and “Real Good Time” like he was possessed by Asheton’s very soul. It was incredible, and he seemed hugely honored to have the opportunity. Even more amazing was the orchestra joining the group in the back of the stage for the Fun House material. It was the perfect way to demonstrate how timeless and beautiful Asheton’s songs are. Iggy made incredible music when he stopped writing with Ron Asheton, but it was never quite as good.
The show ended, of course, with “No Fun.” All of the evening’s performers played, and despite the valiant efforts of the ushers and house security, the fans once again stormed the stage. It was absolute chaos – which is just the way Ron would have wanted it.