raw power : the stooges, roseland, 8-27-03
It was sheer luck that I even heard about this show – random email from a rock and roll guardian angel in Philly two days before I started driving cross-country from Seattle to New Jersey alerted me. I didn’t even stop to think, my hands were shaking as I went to Ticketmaster, found the show, and to my amazement, pulled a ticket. I bought it instantly. It meant I drove 17 hours on Tuesday to get to Jersey, but I was there. I wasn’t tired the next day, my equilibrium was off a bit, but I was on the 5:19 train into NYC, hopped the #1 train to 50th Street, and in a split second got my bearings and remembered exactly where Roseland was. The last time I was there was to see the Kinks on New Year’s Eve in 1981 (I think) and the street threw me for a second, and then I saw the line, and then the marquee:
IGGY AND THE STOOGES
I collected my ticket from willcall and stumbled out into the August evening in a daze. Made a giddy phone call, found a Starbucks to fuel me up, and got in line. There are grizzled old punks, parents with their kids, parents dropping off their kids with copious instructions, and everyone in the same stunned bemusement that they were here and were going to see this show. There are tattooed love boys with long hair and eyeliner, channelling the presence of Thunders. People in the uniform, black stovepipe jeans and tshirts and converse. Gold lame pants and fishnets were in abundance.
The crowd was light, and despite my original plan to stand at the back (so I could run out at 11:30 and grab a cab to Penn Station in order to get the 11:49 train back to Jersey), I found myself in the second row in front of Watt. I’m behind a group of highly excited youngsters, and in front of some oldsters, a veteran punk who works in a vintage clothing store in the Village, tattoo of Roy Orbison on his right forearm, exaggerated quiff and Ray Bans, and his pal, who worked in a straight job but had his Stooges shirt on. Once I’m settled and well acquainted, I take a walk. The downstairs at Roseland smells the same, and brings back a whole flood of old memories. Upstairs again, I get a $7 Jack and Coke, and spy an old boyfriend who has not aged as well as I have, I notice with great satisfaction. I took him to his first Iggy show at the Showbox in 96. I may no longer exist in his universe, but there’s a juvenile smugness in noting that my influence endures.
Some MTV idiot comes on to introduce the first opening band and dooms them by lecturing us how these are friends of his and we’re lucky to be seeing them. He’s greeted by many raised middle fingers and boos. God, I love New York. STUN, the band in question, sucked, but at least there was some honest punk authenticity there, despite the little stool the lead singer stood on (what, monitors aren’t good enough any more?) and the fact that their roadie carefully held the bass drum every time the singer leapt on top of it. They played as hard as they could, didn’t get derailed by the lack of reaction, and did the best they could under the circumstances.
Had I realized that fucking GODSMACK was the next band up, I would have had several more Jack and Cokes. To make matters worse, they decided to play an unplugged set. No one even bothered to boo them. Instead, folks turned their backs, read books, took notes, chatted on cell phones. There were handfuls of people clearly really excited to see the set, but my god, I cannot even begin to tell you how much they sucked. “YOU SUCK… and not because you’re an opening band, because you’re Godsmack,” the old punk behind me bellowed. Unlike the first band, their bruised egos were clearly visible, and they left the stage after half an hour. No one felt much sympathy for them.
Now it’s starting to get crowded, and more crowded, and then the stage is ready, and Mr. MTV Asshole is back, and at least this time shows some hubris by telling us that he’s not worthy to introduce the next band. Before we know it, there’s Watt and the Ashetons and Iggy bounds onstage. Ron hits the chords to “Loose” and sheer anarchy breaks out. I snake my hand onto the barrier and hold on for dear life. The crowd is one jumping, teeming, ecstatic mass, screaming every word out loud as though their life depended on it. It’s frightening and beautiful and I am loving every second of it. “Down on the Street” brought the energy down a tad, enough to make sure that I have firm footing (and I am so so so very glad I packed the motorcycle boots and I eschewed a skirt in favor of jeans).
Iggy goes off into an anti-Bloomberg tirade that I didn’t catch because the crowd was surging forward, and then launches into “1969”. The familiar chords of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” start and everyone is jumping up and down, I am jumping up and down, and it is just insane. They still fucking rock. It sucks that they won’t touch the Raw Power material (for stupid egotistical reasons I don’t think they’re entitled to – I mean, dude, okay, you’re Ron Asheton, and I worship what you did, but you haven’t done anything since and you’re only out now because Watt is a fucking saint, get over the fact that you got demoted to bass in favor of the late James Williamson and play the fucking songs we want to hear) because they can not only still fucking play, they can invoke the original muse like a motherfucker. I love watching Watt, who does not take his eye off of Iggy for one fucking second all night.
It is sheer insanity and I cannot believe that I am actually doing this. “No Fun” starts and Iggy invites people onstage – the security on my side is stopping them and then they realize that he really wants this. I help several people over the barrier out of a combination of altruistic brotherhood, and also because once they are gone, I can claim their space at the rail. It is scary and it is dangerous and idiots are stage diving, I get kicked in the nose and worry for half a second that it’s broken, but can’t take my hand off the rail for longer than half a second to make sure. I reach up a second later to try to pull my hair back tighter – something earlier made me take off my earrings and my necklace and put my hair up – and I realize the clip is broken and that I can’t do a damn thing with it.
“Real Cool Time” follows the white riot that was “No Fun,” and just when I thought it could not possibly get any wilder, “TV Eye” proves me wrong. Oh, my god. It was fierce and biting and white fucking hot. You know that break at the end when it’s just the guitar and the drum kicking in behind it? I screamed so loud and so hard when that started that I got dizzy. It was the one of the greatest feelings ever. It was loud and pulsing and raw and so incredibly physical. It’s 2003 and the Stooges are still causing that kind of reaction.
At one point during the next two songs – probably “Dirt” and “1970” but I don’t remember for sure, I wasn’t taking notes, and I can’t find an accurate setlist anywhere – Iggy decides to go out and run through the VIP section, which is on the old original Roseland stage, against the back wall. I was pretty sure I saw Ryan Adams either get out of the way (or run towards him), and I read that some idiot from Def Leppard had his table turn over and drinks spill, but it was a great thing. Ig also dove into the audience at least three times, each time those already low-slung jeans getting even lower. There was a little girl next to me who was freaking out from the crowd, but she didn’t want to leave, and I kept trying to reassure her. At one point after Iggy returned to the stage, and walked over to our side, his jeans were unbuttoned and the zipper was at half-mast. He walked to the center and I swear, he stuck his hands down the front of his pants, and… the little girl next to me was freaking out again, and I grabbed her, leaned over into her ear and shouted, “Look! He’s gonna pull his cock out!” and that cheered her up instantly. Christ, I found myself entertaining vague notions of what it would be like to pull that zipper down all the way…
(Okay, I’ll stop now.)
Finally, “Fun House,” the song I saw open the Asheton-Mascis-Watt Stooges tribute at the 2002 All Tomorrows Parties, and this time, it’s with that glorious, skronking, psychedelic saxophone. I don’t know where I have any energy left but I am just shakin it for all I can manage and for all I am worth, the music is just pulling it out of me. I wanna say that they did a bit of “LA Blues” next, but can’t be sure, and then there was a new song that required Watt to sing some backing vocals about “hot chicks,” which kinda cracked me up. (Then again, Watt could sing “Loose” with no irony, so more power to him.)
To close, here we are again, one more time, “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” but with the energy and amplitude and power a million times louder and stronger than the first time. I know this is the last song, but no one else does, and it takes the MC5 coming up on the PA to get people to realize that it’s over…. but no one wants to go. No one wants to move. People are lighting cigarettes in violation of the Bloomberg ban and large NO SMOKING signs everywhere. My tank top has been stretched out of all recognition, I manage to pry the hair clip out of my hair, somehow, and I stumble out of the crowd, pretty sure that I saw Thurston and Kim through the mob scene, but it could have been wishful thinking. (Why the fuck couldn’t THEY open for god’s sake? And where’s Mudhoney when you REALLY need them??)
I had enough time to walk to Penn Station, so I did, wanting to give the whole thing a chance to sink in. I strolled down 7th Avenue through the theater crowd and the tourists, swaggering in my boots and studded belt, bra showing through the tank top (nothing I could do about it and it was too hot to put my long sleeve shirt on over it). I felt giddy and dangerous and gleeful and happy. To me, it felt like homecoming. Heather flew to Coachella and talked about going to Jones Beach, Vic had a friend driving to Detroit, I had consoled myself with attempts to cajole a friend who works at the EMP to book them there, mailing him a copy of the Coachella show. I didn’t even consciously think that I needed to see them in New York, but walking back to the train, I realized that was why none of the other opportunities had tempted me in the slightest. I needed to see them here, in my home, where I first learned about this music and took it into my heart, where the streets pulse with that undefinable energy, and where I always feel at home, no matter how long I have been gone.
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