It hardly seemed fair that Iggy and the Stooges should perform so early last night at South by Southwest in Austin. All they left behind was a smoldering pile of rubble for the other acts to pick through at the House of Vans showcase at Mohawk.
That’s not to say the other big-name acts didn’t also deliver – both the Specials and Ghostface Killah brought plenty of their own heat. But Iggy Pop is a human blowtorch, and the Stooges have to run at a high temperature just to keep pace. They used the occasion to premiere songs from their forthcoming album, Ready to Die, which is the band’s first LP to feature guitarist James Williamson since Raw Power in 1973.
You wouldn’t know it. The band thundered through more than an hour of songs split between new tunes and Stooges classics, starting with a ferocious version of “Raw Power” that was full of serrated guitar and Iggy’s inimitable sneer, which has inspired punk rockers for nearly 45 years. He’s still a dynamo onstage, dancing and jumping around with abandon while Williamson and bassist Mike Watt locked into one bludgeoning groove after another. Though Watt was a driving force behind the music, he looked at times as though he was in the passenger seat, clutching at the dash while drummer Toby Dammit steered a white-knuckle ride punctuated, sometimes forcefully, by saxophonist Steve Mackay.
The Stooges have already streamed the new song “Burn,” which Iggy said was about “scary shit like the flaming assholes of the world, and death.” They added to it a song that Pop said was an excellent example of why people like him shouldn’t have guns, followed by a tune that started slow and menacing before erupting into a punishing meditation (to the extent that “meditation” describes anything Iggy does) on the notion of payback.
Along with songs from Raw Power, the Stooges mined their back catalog on “1970,” with guitar and bass that pulsed together like a malevolent heartbeat, and, later in the set, the churning “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” After “Search and Destroy” and the title track from Ready to Die, the Stooges ended with “No Fun” before Iggy called them back for what appeared to be a spontaneous encore of “Fun House.”
The Specials trotted out plenty of their own classic tunes, prompting three balconies full of people to skank along as the 2 Tone ska band turned nimbly through songs full of round, rubbery bass and upstroke guitars. Guitarist Lynval Golding intoned the opening line of “Gangsters” and sang with lead vocalist Terry Hall on “Concrete Jungle” as a sinewy organ line snaked through bubbling layers of guitar and bass. Golding added harmonica to “Message to You Rudy,” and the band ended with “Too Much Too Soon.”
At the end of the night, Ghostface Killah and former L.O.X. rapper Sheek Louch rolled through a medley of Ghostface songs, some of Louch’s tracks and a selection of Wu-Tang Clan cuts. Ghostface took the stage dressed as if he were preparing for the Iditarod, wearing a knit ski cap, a hoodie and a down vest. (In fact, he had recently completed a Canadian tour where, he said, he got so sick he was surprised he was still standing.) Though he didn’t dip into his forthcoming album, Twelve Reasons to Die, Ghost and Sheek performed “Crack Spot Stories” from last year’s Wu Block collaboration, and invited members of the crowd onstage to help flesh out Wu-Tang’s “Protect Ya Neck,” encouraging the audience to cheer for competent guest MCs and to boo anyone who fell short.