By Stefania Ianne
We write and take pictures so that we don’t forget. We pay ridiculous amounts of money to see our heroes from absurd distances, to see them in halls that were not built for music just to be able to say: ‘I was there’. Think of gigs in stadiums: people pay loads just to see an image on a monitor, to dance to music blasting out at record-high volumes, so loud that you must wear earplugs to bear it. For many, the event is just an excuse to give free rein to an alcohol-fuelled self that is usually repressed. Iggy Pop would call that character ‘the clown’, a natural born attention-seeker who would do anything to get such attention. Iggy Pop has done anything possible to draw attention and be successful in his career spanning nearly forty years, but fame came late for him. He has never earned huge amounts of money, but maybe now he could retire and live comfortably. However, on the eve of his 70th birthday, Iggy has no desire to quit. He loves contact with his crowds too much: ‘my fans’, as he calls us tonight at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The venue is an opulent hall holding up to 5,000 people sitting neatly in their numbered seats. Not tonight. Tonight the audience will stay seated only for the opening artist, Sarah Lipstate, aka Noveller, from Austin, Texas. She performs solo, with a guitar playing atmospheric instrumental music: a waterfall of special effects, often powerful, but never particularly passionate for me, as far as I can judge from just a couple of songs.
Red is the dominant colour in the hall: the huge acoustic bowls on the ceiling are painted vermilion by the lights. Red are the uniforms of the ushers; red are the seats and red are the blazers on stage, except Iggy Pop, who is wearing a black tuxedo on bare skin. A septuagenarian body to die for, a big smile on his face, boyish enthusiasm, an intense warmth radiating from him, unexpectedly. Mr Pop has no barriers between him and his audience: he repeatedly dives on the front rows and hugs anybody in close proximity. He punches the air, striking a pose, he jumps joyously, in the throes of an obvious pain in his leg, probably caused by his usual diving and hitting the barriers. It feels like an irresistible urge, his need to touch, embrace and crowd surf. Iggy is credited with having invented crowd surfing in 1970. ‘Hey baby!’ he amiably greets the many women who literally throw themselves upon him, hug him, French-kiss him. Those in the front rows constantly touch him and grab his legs, trying to lure him towards them, pulling his trousers. Everyone reaches out or moves closer from the remotest areas of the venue just to touch his sweaty skin briefly, as religious people would do with a holy man or a relic, and then walk back with a satisfied smile towards their seats. From my privileged position in the balcony, the scene is enjoyable, sometimes funny. The red stripe of Iggy’s boxer shorts gets exposed when passionate fans tug at his trousers: 5,000 people, his fans. It’s been a lifetime since I last witnessed such a scene of adoration. It’s been a lifetime since I last saw an artist determined to joyously give themselves entirely to their audience: not just the music, but body and soul. It’s a sight to behold.
The rest is almost redundant: a minimalist backdrop with a white cross on stage to facilitate light effects and the super group surrounding Iggy Pop. That is: Josh Homme (Kyuss, QOTSA, EODM) on guitar and Matt Helder (Arctic Monkeys) on drums. It is a hub of tense energy; the guitars backing Iggy have never been so equally vicious and nonchalant. Homme embodies an enviable, effortless, infinite coolness as he performs, while strutting the immense stage. All musicians exude sheer class during the performance and their desire to impress is apparent. The playlist includes a series of Iggy’s classics: from ‘Lust for Life’ to ‘China Girl’ (written with David Bowie, in the latter’s attempt to boost Iggy’s fortunes), through ‘The Passenger’. ‘If I were a hitchhiker, would you give me a lift?’ asks Iggy while introducing his masterpiece. The positive response from the audience is drowned by the initial notes of Homme’s guitar. Imperturbable yet a touch impatient, Homme lights up a few cigarettes on stage and then nervously stubs them out while walking in a cloud of smoke, the only act of defiance tonight. Everything else is pretty much within the limits set by the musical establishment and the rules of the live market.
Post Pop Depression, joint effort of Iggy Pop and Josh Homme (Loma Vista, 2016), is obviously featured heavily tonight. It was initiated by a text message that Pop sent to Homme over a year ago now: ‘Should we make a record together?’ And the outcome is not bad at all: Pop’s baritone voice and restless lyrics blend smoothly with the natural edginess of Homme’s guitars. The recording was completed in the studio/motel Rancho de la Luna, in the Joshua Tree National Park, but, paradoxically, the final product lacks the magic of the Californian desert, primary source of inspiration for Homme. Tonight many are here to see the charismatic leader of QOTSA. My seat neighbour obsessively tries to capture him on camera. Suddenly, a man of indefinite age jumps on stage and hugs Homme from behind, while he keeps playing his guitar. A sweet moment before the security discreetly grab and drag him by his trousers back into the parterre. Bye.
During Iggy’s only speech, in which he tells us all about how difficult it was for him to succeed and how little he trusts people (‘Through your own sensitivities or the malevolence of people in the industry, you could not make it…’), he also tells us that he likes us, that often people are not nice, but not us. Even though far too many people spring out into his face like Jacks-in-a-box, screaming his lyrics. At some point, Iggy says: ‘you can try and grab my mic!’. But it’s clear from his tone that nobody will ever succeed: he’s ready for a fight. Iggy never parts from his wireless microphone, which allows him to go around the entire hall, slowly, hardly visible in the mob. He keeps the mic while crowd surfing and while rolling on the floor. The mic only leaves his hand to be strategically shoved in the front of his trousers for a brief interlude. Rock’n’roll baby.
Iggy often requests for the hall to be fully lit to see his fans and he repeatedly calls for the public to be freed from the oppression of security men who try to block the spontaneous rush towards the stage. At the beginning of the evening, it had taken the ushers 30 seconds to figure out that any attempt to block the crowd would fail, so they silently retreated, leaving the task to the muscular security staff at the front. In the parterre, the crowd is so jam-packed after people leave their seats that the rest of the hall is almost empty. They could have done without the seats, they would have had more standing fans, although judging from the gear in the room and the lorries outside, probably the concert was filmed or streamed live. From my balcony seat, despite being at the front, I realise that my photos are going to be all blurred because the whole circle is dancing. A very positive, energising evening. The finale, after the farewell, is classic Pop: Iggy, exhausted but smiling, stays behind to greet and absorb the applause. He rolls on the carpet after a failed attempt to exit the stage, but clearly he just doesn’t want to leave. He wants to soak it all, up to the last joyful, well-deserved cheer and applause from his fans. In a disastrous, deadly year for rock’n’roll, I just couldn’t miss this gig. Long live the Iguana!
Lust for Life
In the Lobby
Some Weird Sin
Break Into Your Heart
Fall in Love With Me