Take a deep breath, let it out, try not to cough. It’s not pollen you’re inhaling. Only the sweet fumes of Nostalgia Fever currently polluting the airwaves at seemingly every crossroads. Whether you’re Iggy Pop or Whitesnake, you’re gonna figure out sooner or later that resurrecting your youthful glory days is a lucrative business now. Nowhere was this more apparent than at Berlin’s ColumbiaHalle on the last Monday in June, when a suffocatingly thick horde of (mostly aging) fans descended upon the temporary throne of one of their rock heroes, Iggy Pop, reunited with his first band, the Stooges.
Although Iggy has gone on record stating that the Asheton brothers are idiots, and that he’d never play with them again, not even the Master of No Fun could resist the sweet temptations of Nostalgia Fever, and has gone on tour one last time with the ol’ boys, in what is guaranteed to be a historical occasion each time they play. What’s more, as Iggy will be hitting the Big 60 in less than a decade, it makes sense that he do it now while he still has enough energy left to have a real cool time.
Energy he still has plenty of. From the moment he walked on stage wearing nothing but a pair of blue jeans, his gym-toned torso tinted with a south Florida tan, it was all raw fucking power emanating from his bleach blond skull as he darted to and fro, climbing up on the stacks and inciting the tightly packed crowd to rock out like it was 1970 all over again. The set consisted mainly of tracks from the first two albums. Problem is, they don’t have enough songs to fill an entire set. They could back in the day, when they were young and drugged-out, when every song was dragged out beyond its logical conclusion to ten minutes or longer until collapsing unto itself alongside the singer, but the energy motivating the band now ain’t rooted in youth or meth, but raw adrenaline and maybe a teensy bit of the bittersweet nostalgia motivating the fans to shake their hips. I say “maybe” in the sincere hope that the more cynical hypotheses behind the decision to reunite are all false. But as possibilities, we can’t dismiss them completely; at 40 Euros a pop, this was far from a cheap affair.
From opening number “Loose” on down, the band executed a sped-up version of their original songs. “I want it fucking fast!” Iggy screamed out at one point. Without realizing, of course, that the biggest problem with their whole shebang is that they were going way too fast the entire time, effectively sacrificing the original oomph, the raw power of their music, to more current conventions of speed in rock music. They have to make the kids happy, after all, while simultaneously denying their soon-to-be geriatric status as dinosaurs from the Stoned Age. Yet this probably also has a lot to do with the fact that in the thirty years since the band last played together, they’ve learned how to play their instruments. Not that they were ever the idiots Iggy derided them as being before. But we have to come to terms with the fact that the reason why the Stooges were such a great band to begin with is because they really played like idiots. Over time, when you lose that primitive essence, one way of dealing with that loss is to bring speed into the equation as a substitute for genuine feeling. Watching a graying Scott Asheton behind the drum kit, I witnessed a composed sober guy tapping away in perfect time, whereas thirty years ago, I would’ve seen the same guy banging and bashing his way through a song, as though searching for the right rhythm to subsequently destroy.
So, what do you do when you’ve already played through the entire set in record time? You repeat yourself. And thus, at the end of the set, we got a second rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” No one seemed to mind much, caught up as they were in all the hype surrounding this once-in-a-lifetime gig. Still, I was left wondering whether or not it had all been really so worthwhile. At the Stooges’ “last ever” concert, as documented on the infamous Metallic K.O. record, a drug-addled Iggy encouraged the audience to keep hurling things onstage; after all, things onstage; after all, they had paid their $5, and he’d be making $10,000. I paid my 40 Euros to witness the Stooges execute their own imitation of their former glory. But did they really deserve ten times that much this time around?