There might be some cause for concern when the Stooges play in Detroit this week. Think about it the last two times Iggy Pop and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton played in greater Motown, there was bedlam. First, in 1974, it was the battery-chucking near-riot at the Michigan Palace. In 2003, the band played a triumphant set at DTE Energy Music Theatre, rescheduled after a weirdly timed massive blackout.
So now, they're set to return (with bassist Mike Watt and saxophonist Steve Mackay in tow) for a show at the Fox Theatre in support of a new studio album, The Weirdness. Just what do they have in store this time? Blood rain? Nuclear annihilation? Or maybe just a return of the mythical "O-Mind."
For drummer Scott Asheton otherwise known as Rock Action the success of the Stooges reunion is the culmination of nearly two decades of work.
"This is what I was hoping would be happening in my wildest dreams. I was trying to get this thing going since 1989," Asheton says.
Between the band's founding in 1967 and dissolution in 1974 and intervening years of estrangement, the interpersonal relationships between Pop and the Ashetons have been laden with anxiety, backbiting and drug-fueled fucked-up behavior. But nowadays, the Stooges function more like a machine.
"Things are fine," Asheton says by phone from his home in Florida. "Everybody gets along good. I still think of Jim [Iggy] as a very close friend. We see each other when we're on the road. When we're home we don't hang out or go to bars or clubs or anything, but we remain friends. There's a good business relationship going on."
Asheton says the band will play about a third of the new album "My Idea of Fun," "Trollin'" "ATM" and "I'm Fried" as well as a couple songs from Iggy's Skull Ring album, along with material from the first two Stooges albums. The Weirdness has received mixed reviews, thanks largely to the impossibly high benchmark set by those two groundbreaking records.
"I think it is really hard to compare, and I don't think it should be," Asheton says. "There was a large time span there. It's different every album is a different experience, every recording session is a different experience."
So what's Asheton's take on how the record turned out? "I think it sounds enough like the Stooges that I like it," he says. "There's no other band that sounds like that, and we're obviously not trying to sound like some other band."
He adds that he'd like to return to the studio with the Stooges. "I would like to do another album and make it more a spontaneous kind of thing," he says, adding that such spontaneity yielded better results.
"This one was actually a lot of work. We put in a lot of time for a couple years on and off. We'd go down and see Jim and kick around some ideas, and he'd put them on his little tape recorder," he says.
The band worked up about 17 songs, of which 12 ended up on The Weirdness. That level of preparedness deviated from the Stooge's previous studio efforts.
"The way it was usually done was, 'Oh, we're going to do an album? OK, well, let's go!' We didn't have any songs? We'd just do it when we got there," Asheton remembers.
So now the Stooges are in the midst of a month-long U.S. tour in support of The Weirdness. It's hard to believe, but this is the Stooges' first proper stateside tour in the old days, they'd go out for two or three days at a time and then come home. In recent years, they've done one-off dates here while working the festival circuit in Europe and Asia.
The live setting has always been where the Stooges are the most interesting. In the old days, that interest came by courting the unknown and cultivating a collective band consciousness they dubbed the "O-Mind" (which was referenced in the lyrics to the song "Down on the Street").
"It was our slang, short for 'out of mind.' We would try to make every show a happening and it was more like an event. Every show was different it was never the same. In order to do that, we would call it 'letting one go.' We didn't want to plan what we were going to do, we would just go out there and let one go," Asheton says.
These days, though, the band leaves less to chance.
"We're playing a really tight set and the songs are run close together," Asheton says. "We play a lot of songs, and we get better all the time. The more we play, the better it seems we get. If you've seen us in the past, we're different now that we're tighter and faster."
Asheton adds that the band does an abbreviated version of "L.A. Blues," noting that "that's the part of the set where everybody cuts loose and gets the O-Mind back."
"When everything's right, everybody's playing, this thing starts to happen where it comes alive, and it's almost like you're not playing it, it's playing you. I always look for that," Asheton says. "It's like the animal awakens itself and [the music] comes like it's alive."
OK, dear reader, let's take a step back here a second. That's sort of a cliché sentiment. But let's remember who we're talking about. This is the Stooges, so when Asheton talks about an animal awakening, we're talking about a musical beast of frightening power and primal influence. Which is why it's so baffling that the Stooges have yet to be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. When it comes to the Stooges' perpetual snubbing by the institution, Asheton is diplomatic probably far more diplomatic than he should be.
"Well, I thought for a while that something was wrong with the way that they were selecting the inductees and I thought there might have been some bands we should have been in ahead of," Asheton says. "But all the bands that are in there, they're all worthy, they're all good. I think it will happen someday. It didn't really upset me."
Besides, he adds, "If Joe Tex didn't make it, I don't feel so bad."
Friday, April 13, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 248-433-1515. With Powertrane.
Brian J. Bowe is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]