Iggy and The Stooges, “You Think You’re Bad, Man: Road Tapes ’73-’74” + “From K.O. to Chaos”

Iggy and The Stooges
You Think You’re Bad, Man: Road Tapes 73-74
CHERRY RED
+
From K.O. to Chaos
SKYDOG/MVD
9/10 

From the Iggy Pop that you see and hear now, you wouldn’t guess that he was once the world’s forgotten boy, a ragged soul with raw-nerved songs about the graceless and the disaffected. Doing azure-blue commercials advertising beach life, writing fresh lyrics about COVID, crooning the romantic likes of “Why Can’t We Live Together” and the neo-psychedelic “Sunshine Superman” with Hammond B-3 organist Dr. Lonnie Smith—this is all part and parcel of the present Pop, the lion in winter smoothing over the scars of his past with salty caramel ease and almost romantic earnestness.

To say that all this is a far cry from the bedlam-based noise-blues, caterwauling vocals, pre-punk performance art, and nihilist-driven everything that was Iggy Pop’s last gasp of the original Stooges (not counting the 21st century victory-lap reunion) is what makes these two collections hyper-energized and essential listening alongside the official canon. Bootlegs or all-but-bootlegged live shows taped on cassette players or hangdog studio recording sessions with cardboard boxes as drums, Cherry Red’s five-CD box set of five fatalistic Stooges gigs in support of their Bowie-produced Raw Power album and an eight-disc box (seven CDs plus a DVD) with all of Skydog’s Iggy and the Stooges releases, old and newer—both topped by the scraggly Metallic K.O., the Stooges “last live show” from 1974—are like the Gnostic Bible set next to Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s mega-work. The latter may be filled with holy poetry, but that doesn’t make the former any less fired-up and brimstoned.

Going on tour with the defeated, newly label-less Stooges—Los Angeles to Baltimore to New York, battered and defeated to their home, Detroit—via the Cherry Red box is akin to living through the hell of the worst tour ever, driving on Highway 1 with a cheap 1965 Chevy, low on gas, with its tires on fire and an incessant burning oil smell on your clothes. The car radio? Its speakers are blown, the perfect shredded tone for repeated, wired versions of “Search and Destroy,” the gothic “Gimme Danger,” and the stammering “I Got Nothin’.” The Cherry Red collection is the sound of brain-numbing, aggressive anger and disgust at a thousand nights of self-inflicted road food, drugs, and fucks tucked into a clamshell box.

Throughout Cherry Red’s city-to-city death trip of blown brains and lost wages, you can hear the contempt (for his art, his band mates, himself) in Iggy’s voice on louche versions of “Wet My Bed” and “Rich Bitch.” Their Auburn Hills show of 1973 is but two steps away from stand-up comedy with a rude handful of rants taking up nearly as much space on the album as does the sludgy, Stones-y riffs of “Heavy Liquid” and “Head On.” The Live in New York CD, (Double Danger Volume II) in particular is a sort of speed-racing anti-show, a rakish, wrongheaded chunk of lo-fidelity metal where Iggy careens from musky moment to moment like a furry pinball against its table’s cushions.

While the Cherry Red box has focused its blurred vision on The Stooges’ (then) race to oblivion, the French Skydog label’s MVD box is interesting as its murk is more dispersed over several periods of time. The epic disaster that is the infamous Metallic K.O.—The Stooges’ 1974 near-fatal finale complete with Iggy fighting fans and taunting haters is here, just as it is on the Cherry Red box, but expanded here, with its two full-source shows on display in all their disgraced and grungy glory. Sure, the rough Detroit endgame is released here with its source tapes pitch-corrected, but that doesn’t mean the mess is too much cleaner or clearer. That’s great news, as the power of Metallic K.O. is in its ragged cinema verite grace.

From there, it’s a worthy mixed bag of Skydog-released, mussed-up studio tracks and live oddities from the Raw Power era through the early ’80s. Like We Are Not Talking About Commercial Sh!t, a covers-heavy album where the cocky Iggy and his band squeak and squeal through Neil Hefti’s “Batman Theme,” Question Mark’s “96 Tears,” and his own Stooges classics “No Fun” and—together with the Velvets—”I’m Waiting for My Man,” before tackling the rarely heard likes of “Hassles” and “Puppet World,” co-written with Patti Smith Band stalwart Ivan Král. The finest moment here is the quietly elongated “One for My Baby,” where Iggy at his lounge-lizard wooziest croons, dips, and quavers.

The Wake Up, Suckers! volume here is much the same odd lot, only it’s Iggy live in the ’80s doing Stooges hits such as “Gimme Danger,” as well as Zombie Birdhouse–era material such as “Run Like a Villain” and then-newer minor metal rackets such as “Love Bone.” That track might not be as smart and taut as his best material, such as “Five Foot One,” but at least it’s not COVID he’s singing about. What that leaves is one raucous but gorgeously recorded 2003 Stooges reunion show in Japan, Telluric Chaos—a live album lush in comparison to the box’s other stage volumes—and Acoustics K.O., a skeletal-spare collection of Iggy alone on a guitar, singing tender self-penned verses (ballads such as “Foolish Dreams” and “Beggar”), pared-down rockers such as “Brick by Brick” and “Nightclubbing,” and, on its DVD version, a cackling version of Jonathan Richman’s “Pablo Picasso.”

Thirteen live and odd-lot Iggy works all at one time? Buy in and believe. You might not get a chance to hear him this raw and powerful again.

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