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Per Nilsen - Iggy and The Stooges On Stage 1967-1974

  by Adrian Janes

published: 29 / 7 / 2021

Per Nilsen - Iggy and The Stooges On Stage 1967-1974


Adrian Janes examines Swedish academic Per Nilsen's new book which provides a gig-by-gig account of The Stooges' chaotic career.

Per Nilsen’s devotion to the Stooges is obvious from the fanatical level of detail in this book. It’s a chronicle of every concert the band played that he has been able to verify – the introduction notes the profusion of inaccurate Internet lists, hence he even gives details of advertised gigs that were ultimately cancelled. Nilsen is a Swedish academic, and this is a work of passionate scholarship - or rockolarship, if you will. If this was all the book offered, it wouldn’t make for much of a read beyond the occasional need to check an errant fact. What makes it readable is that it’s as much a compact biography as it is a work of reference. Each year is introduced with a brief history before going on to a gig by gig record. This, however, can be somewhat unsatisfying to read, inasmuch as the book veers from quite full and lively accounts of some dates (drawing on both interviews and contemporary reviews) to cursory, reference-style entries. Understandably, Nilsen had more material to work with in some cases than others, but it does make the book somewhat bitty. Biographically, a good sense of the band’s evolution is given, from the early antics of the Psychedelic Stooges where Scott Asheton played oil drums for percussion and Iggy Pop an amplified vacuum cleaner, to the gradual emergence of the drones and crude riffs that underpinned the sound of their 1969 debut, and beyond to the attack of the ‘Funhouse’ and ‘Raw Power’ albums. There is also a surprising fluidity noted in the line-up, with even roadies and journeyman musicians drafted in at different times. Iggy as a performer is naturally centre stage in a book with this title. It’s fascinating to see the range of reactions he provoked at the time. Most commonly comparisons are made with Mick Jagger, as many unfavourable as favourable. Early on, Pop himself seems to have been decisively impressed by witnessing a Doors performance in which Jim Morrison berated the audience with no regard for the traditional relationship of artist and fans, but he took it to another level entirely by establishing regular forays into the audience. These often became decidedly physical encounters, and certain incidents where he presses his attentions upon women sound like the kind of thing that would at the least be “called out” nowadays. Pop also pushed his extreme physical performing style against himself, as recorded at various gigs where he cut his chest, hit his face with the microphone or, more nutritiously, smeared peanut butter on himself (13 June 1970, Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival, fact fans). The downside of this already disturbing behaviour was that something of the sort came to be expected if not demanded. When drugs came into the picture from 1970, especially heroin, this probably exacerbated Pop’s distorted sense of giving the public what it wanted. The Stooges have come down in legend as one of the great cult bands, little understood in their time and plummeting to self-destruction in the havoc of their last gig in February 1974, recorded on the ‘Metallic KO’ album in two-way verbal abuse and bottles crashing against the stage. Yet ‘On Stage’ makes clear that there were periods when they seemed on the verge of a significant level of popularity and commercial success. Even in their early days, when the Grande Ballroom in Detroit (where the MC5’s ‘Kick Out the Jams’ was recorded) was a regular gig, they secured support slots to The Who, Fleetwood Mac and BB King. In later years this translated into appearances at large festivals and prestigious gigs, often over several nights, in New York and Los Angeles. Even after forfeiting their initial big record contract with Elektra, one of the most artistically rich labels of the Sixties, it seemed they had landed on their feet through Pop’s friendship with fan David Bowie, leading to deals with the latter’s management company Mainman and CBS. As it turned out, Mainman were overreaching themselves, and with Bowie in the ascendant had no time to give to the Stooges. Coupled with the commercial failure of ‘Raw Power’ and CBS’s decision not to continue with the band, the 1973-4 period is largely a depressing record of decline. Nilsen doesn’t leave the story there, noting how, fuelled first by the punk explosion, appreciation of The Stooges grew in subsequent decades to the point of a triumphant reformation in 2003. This book concisely tells the story of Iggy and The Stooges, and has the bonus of some great photographs as well. If at times it seems a little pedantic (regular references in the text to the location of venues could have been more easily assimilated in a map or two), it nonetheless packs in a lot of information and, despite his fandom, Nilsen commendably doesn’t shy away from the negative in order to give as full a picture as possible.

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