Iggy Pop makes his Detroit return

A real cool time

Mar 30, 2016 at 1:00 am
Iggy Pop makes his Detroit return
Photo by Andreas Neumann

Iggy Pop will play his first solo show in Detroit in 15 years on April 7 at the Fox Theatre. And, as surely you must know, this is a big deal. Born James Osterberg, the onetime Iguanas drummer; sometime character actor; former junkie and Ann Arborite; the once and future vocalist and lyricist for the Stooges, who might have made the single greatest album of the entire rock 'n' roll era with 1970s' Fun House: The Iguana is fucking back.

When last in town in May 2001, Pop played the Fillmore when it was still the State. He's been back since, of course, with Stooges appearances at DTE and Meadow Brook. And as great as I understand those were (and though the Stooges did record and perform new material) they were reunion/nostalgia events. Not one single person on all of Earth said, "Wow, I can't wait to see the Stooges, and I hope they primarily play that new album they just recorded decades after they broke up." Pop is now touring behind a new album that's not at all half-bad. It has a really dumb name. (Post Pop Depression (Loma Vista)? Oh man, couldn't anyone talk him out of that? That's like the most half-assed Dad joke, uggghhh.) But you'll not mind hearing the material, especially if you're a bit of a fan of his conspirator Josh Homme. Fully half the show could be new songs, and you won't be bummed; this thing might be nearly as good as New Values, The Idiot, or Lust for Life.

An Iggy Pop show in Detroit naturally is going to have a certain extra element of anticipation, and not just because he's not played here in so long. Hometown shows carry the most excitement, and expectation. This might be a bit like seeing Springsteen play next to the boardwalk in Asbury Park, or Prince in Minneapolis.

Whatever Pop means to you, he means at least that much to everyone else packed into the likely sold-out venue, which holds about 5,000.

Was an obscure B-side of his your favorite song in eighth grade? The woman in front of you got to it in seventh grade, and loved it even harder. For you, is Pop the living embodiment of the spirit of punk before punk, who cut himself and bled onstage in advance of the Damned ever playing a single note? Is he the last great crazed 1960s rocker, who slathered his chest in peanut butter, downed drugs, and broke on through to deeper places than even Jim Morrison, to whom he was so often compared early in his career? Is he the deep and icy crooner who found a perfect soul mate in that master of reinvention and glam, David Bowie? Is he that cool guy whose song plays behind every other cruise ship commercial you've ever seen?

Dozens of folks in attendance will be able to regale you with stories of seeing the Psychedelic Stooges at the Grande in 1968. Others will be able to talk about later shows with James Williamson, or punk-era solo gigs that were alternately awful and stunning. I've only seen him once, at the Ritz in New York City in the late 1980s: There were too many keyboards in the mix for me, but his voice was in perfect form, and the show was later released as an off-brand live album. He opened with "I Got a Right," which was close to my favorite song at the time, so I was floored. I never got a chance to see any of the reformed Stooges gigs, but I understand they were quite nearly as brutally great as people expected them to be. With both Asheton brothers now deceased, one can assume and hope that the Stooges are officially kaput.

One reason to be excited about the new record is that, thanks to its existence, we get to see Pop in the first place. His tour started last week in Seattle. The grainy cover to Post Pop Depression is a photo of the band that made the record, captioned by their names. It looks way more like a back cover than a front one, which might be a concession to digital reality. If a majority of sales are going to be digital, then at least you know who's playing on the record you downloaded. But there's a democratic sentiment to that image, and it underscores that this is not just a band, but as MT's Michael Jackman points out in our interview with the photographer who took that image, this is a punk rock supergroup. The players are singer and guitarist Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal), Pop, guitarist/keyboardist Dean Fertita (QOTSA, Dead Weather), and drummer Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys).

Another reason to be excited about the new record is that it's actually exciting; this is not 2003's Skull Ring, friends. Yes, it's his 17th studio album, but crucially, he's not trying too hard to reinvent himself. The dude turns 69 at the end of April; he has done this stuff for a while, now. He knows what works, and so do his band mates. Post Pop Depression might not make it to the list of his top five best solo records, but it's certainly in the top 10. The songs are accessible, fun, and alternate nicely between living room croons and bedroom howls, but it's far more of a serenading vibe. It's not Bing Crosby territory ­­— it's both adult and contemporary. But no one is trying to shout so loud their viscera escapes their body. Homme's muscular voice is not nearly as prevalent as one might have thought, but when present it meshes remarkably well, notably on the first single, "Gardenia."

"I proposed to him by text from my flip phone," Pop says with a toothy grin on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, when asked how he and Homme came to work together in the first place. The recording of the album, conducted early last year in a studio in Joshua Tree, Calif., over a couple weeks, was kept secret. Their appearance together on the show in January was the official announcement of the project. This is at least partly because if it didn't work out, then they could just delete and dump all of it, then walk away, and no one would be the wiser. Homme put it in broader terms. "When you make a record and no one is aware that you're doing it, you're kind of making it for each other, and are there to excite and dazzle each other," Homme says during the broadcast.

Pop, who next month embarks on a solo tour of Europe, has always stayed abreast of up-and-coming underground sounds. Just last year, he hosted a Friday evening radio show on BBC's Radio 6, mixing old and new sounds in the vein of a self-described "atmospheric bartender." Opening up for the Fox Theatre gig is Noveller, the solo guitar project of Brooklyn, New York-based musician Sarah Lipstate, the former guitarist for Parts and Labor. Lipstate's hypnotic work alternates between absolute shredding and subtle and meditative drones. You have to show up early to check her out, and please don't talk throughout the whole thing. Later in April, for other shows, he'll have the garage-pop trio Jacuzzi Boys, the innovative performance art of US Girls, and the slurred and poetic Americana of Bill Callahan open up.

This continual curiosity about and love for new music is one of many similarities between Pop and his longtime friend and mentor, David Bowie. When Bowie died on Jan. 10, just days after turning 69, Pop spoke up on Twitter with the message that "David's friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is." Pop is said to have sent notes to Homme describing the working process that he and Bowie had when they collaborated together, and the two emulated those songwriting methods. Homme and Pop came to the process with parts, rather than entire tunes, and stitched these songs together. "German Days" certainly emulates the punchy, avant-pop sound of those classic Bowie/Pop collaborations Lust for Life and The Idiot.

It's fair to say that we can expect some sort of nod to Bowie — perhaps an acknowledgement of him before launching into "China Girl," a song they co-wrote in Berlin in the late 1970s, and which became an international hit that guaranteed financial stability for Pop. Pop has said that Post Pop Depression might be his final studio record, so it might also be one of your last chances to see him perform.

The folks who made the record have been joined on the road by guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen (QOTSA) and bassist Matt Sweeney (Endless Boogie, Chavez, Bonnie Prince Billy). If YouTube footage of the band in action in Austin for SXSW and in Los Angeles as a warmup as anything to go by, the entire show is going to be fun as hell. While the record is sparse, the live sound is fuller and more guitar-heavy. The whole band will be dressed nattily in suits. Pop's suit will not stay on for long; the dude is a free spirit, the original rock 'n' roll nudist, after all. Their playing is pro but loose. It'll basically be like a terrific garage band, but playing a wedding reception.

Iggy Pop plays the Fox Theatre on Thursday, April 7. Doors at 7:30 p.m.; 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-3200; A limited number of tickets might still be available, from $39.95 to $115.95.