Last Night: the Stooges at Art Basel's Art Loves Music
“I AM YOU!!!” Stooges frontman Iggy Pop bellowed, extending a bony finger at the swirling mass of flesh bouncing up and down on the sand in Collins Park on South Beach. “Funhouse,” the title track of the Stooges second and greatest album, was climaxing into an angry musical orgasm. Steve McKay’s sax rocketed off the syncopated groove thrown down by drummer Scott Ashton and bassist Mike Watt. Scott’s guitarist brother, Ron Ashton, alternated between tightness of the rhythm section and the free jazz insanity of McKay – until all four of them blasted off into outer space and created a beautiful noise with the screaming Iggy – a living, breathing entity that blew the lids off the multi-generational throng of 4,000 sandwiched between Collins Avenue and the Atlantic Ocean on this balmy subtropical winter night and had them screaming for more.
As with great sex, the musical journey to the “Funhouse” climax was equally rewarding. Beginning with the slinky, hypersexual ode “I’m Loose” – the Stooges busted through nearly every song off their self titled debut and Funhouse. (The material on the Stooges final album, Raw Power, was not played, much to the frustration of the Mohawked clique in front of the stage who repeatedly screamed for “Search and Destroy.”) As they powered through classic proto-punk songs such as “TV Eye” and “1970” the Stooges proved that every rock and roll idea worth having over was either internalized or created by them nearly 40 years ago. Punk, Hardcore, lo-fi garage rock, feedback-laden noise rock, multi-genre fusion – all on display, with an ass-shaking beat. Mike Watt, the bassist for 80s funk/punk greats the Minutemen, and lone non-original member onstage, more than held his own with his elder bandmates, at time displaying “the hook,” the bass plucking method made famous by legendary Motown Records session bassist, James Jamerson. Rather than the roaming, fluid style he is famous for, Watt played it close to the vest, and tailored a perfect pocket with the Ashtons.
Halfway through “Real Cool Time,” Pop stopped the contortionist ballet he’s famous for, waved toward the stage and yelled: “C’mon Up – we’re the Stooges!” His populism was rewarded by a gang of 100 people vaulting over the barricade, filling up every inch of the stage until it resembled Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video – a pogo/slam dancing throng that included a skateboard-brandishing teenager, two gray hairs who could have passed for his grandparents, a bevy of punk rock babes and Joe Koontz, the guitarist of Against All Authority, who for some reason drew the ire of Pop’s mop-topped personal tech, instead of the mass of fandom that threatened to bump Pop off the stage and bury him in a dog pile before he finished the song.
After clearing the stage of the hundred invited guests and ending the set with “Funhouse,” The Stooges returned for an encore that began with three songs from their much-maligned 2007 comeback record: The Weirdness. Live, the new material held up – “My Idea of Fun” particularly shined as Ron Ashton’s guitar blazed while pop jumped offstage and conducted a sing-a-long. Finally, the band kicked into a reprise of the Stooges most famous song, “I Wanna be Your Dog.” As this happened, the stage lights came up, multiple mosh pits broke out, and the whole crowd sang the chorus with Iggy. The time warp was complete.
In kicking off their week-long event with the Stooges concert, Art Basel pulled off an illusion David Copperfield couldn’t pull off -- it had turned South Beach, a dance music theme park for the rich and wanna-be fabulous, 14 years removed from its last decent live music club --- back into a punk rock paradise. Bravo! -- Tom Bowker