For a band that only existed for a short time and released just three studio albums during their original life span, the impact The Stooges had on the world of music was massive. Inspirational to a world of garage rock and punk bands that formed in their wake, their importance couldn’t be understated. Following their demise in 1974 and frontman Iggy Pop’s success with ‘The Idiot’ in 1977, the market was subsequently flooded with bootleg quality recordings of Stooges live shows, many of which somehow reached “official release status” on CD by the 90s. Most of those discs – with the exception of the widely circulated ‘Metallic K.O.’ 2CD set – subsequently became hard to find and began to change hands for ungodly sums of money on the second hand market.
With that in mind, this 5CD box set from Cherry Records (issued at the end of 2020) serves a legitimate purpose in that it brings together various previously available bootlegs in one place and recycles them for a more than affordable price. What it is unable to do, even with the best remastering/remixing in the world, is make any of these shows sound any better. Years before gigs with official bootleg status existed in flat sounding, audience free soundboard sources, the best fans could hope for was that the man with the cassette deck and microphone was standing in a fortuitous place. …And that’s pretty much what we have here: just over four hours’ worth of Iggy and his cohorts as heard from rough source materials taken from decades’ old tapes. It’s an archive of material that really isn’t for the casual fan.
In terms of capturing The Stooges’ raw energy, the set from Michigan Palace, October 1973 is the best. Most of the nine recordings are absolutely devoid of bass, but somewhere within the distortion and painfully brittle sound, it’s possible to make out a band absolutely firing on all cylinders. ‘Raw Power’ – used to kick off these recordings – is played at full pelt, with Scott Asheton smashing ten tonnes of absolute shit from his drum kit at every turn. From a musical standpoint, the second most audible element comes from Scott Thurston’s keys which pierce through the wall of sound at various points – never enough to sound truly impressive, but enough to make you realise there’s a band working up a storm on stage. Thankfully, Iggy’s vocals are always clear; this really helps to give a much more balanced feel of what’s going on and he’s in top form as he spits and snarls through each line. More guitar and bass is present throughout ‘Head On’ due to it being a much quieter and slower jam, and although this number is nowhere near as exciting, there’s no mistaking a great garage band at work. Pop clearly delights in throwing out expletive driven lyrics – far darker and more pessimistic than The Doors would ever manage – and the number’s closing instrumental jam really makes a feature of Ron Asheton’s muscular bass sound, which at this show – at least on the rare occasions it can be heard – sounds like Jack Bruce with the jazzy inflections removed and his temper absolutely inflamed.
Moving through menacing takes of classics ‘Gimme Danger’ and ‘Search & Destroy’, the frustration of this show being in such poor quality starts to hamper the overall enjoyment, but with Iggy in good voice, there’s just enough of a reason to persevere. Thankfully, the recording improves just enough during ‘Heavy Liquid’ to allow everyone on stage to be heard. It’s like hearing a band while visiting a venue toilet, but its all there: Ron and James attack the descending scale within the riff with an absolute anger; you’re just about able to experience everyone tearing the hell out of the lightning fast rock ‘n’ roll mid section, with Ron absolutely wringing the neck of his bass and Iggy already sounding like one of rock’s most legendary and incendiary front men. At the end of the recording, the bluesy ‘Open Up And Bleed’ allows the audience time to unwind a little, despite the performance remaining somewhat threatening. The slower groove and blues influences are empathetic to the lo-fi recording and Ron’s bass, again, sounds great and Iggy’s snake like presence lends the kind of vibe that suggests he could turn on the crowd at any second. Unfortunately, with the recording fading out midway, the listener is robbed of the fast climax and there’s no way of telling whether this was a genuine end to the gig, or merely a vehicle for Iggy to increase tension before the band incited a riot…
Eleven recordings from the Latin Casino in Baltimore just a few weeks later show a similarly intense band. In some ways, Pop is even more on fire, spitting inflammatory remarks as he sees fit – even singling out an audience member and calling them a c***. It could be one of the best Stooges shows on record. It’s hard to make that claim, though, when the whole thing sounds as if it were recorded with a portable microphone pressed against a speaker. It’s about fifty percent worse than the Michigan Palace recording and would impossible to tell what’s being played if you weren’t given a handy setlist. Thurston’s piano sounds okay, but everything else is a distorted mess. That might just about work if Iggy came through just a little clearer, but for the most part, it’s like sitting through a sixth generation audio tape of a band rehearsal in front of an audience of ten people. Nevertheless, for the most patient Stooges fan, there’s a really angry ‘Head On’ with a wealth of fuzz bass, ‘Wet My Bed’ taken at breakneck speed and an unedited ten minutes of ‘Open Up and Bleed’ to be found among the would-be highlights. A still brand new ‘Cock In My Pocket’ shows off the rock ‘n’ roll Stooges going off at full tilt and, in principle, also represents one of this collection’s most exciting performances. The fact is, though, that this really is one of the worst quality bootlegs ever. Despite some claims that it’s the last great Stooges show – at least from a performance standpoint – it’s hard to imagine even the most tolerant fan playing it more than once.
Eight songs sourced from a gig at The Whiskey in September ’73 bring similar thrills in slightly better audio quality. At the point the recording begins, the band are already midway through a ferocious ‘Raw Power’; the piano is hammering up a storm as if Jerry Lee Lewis has wandered on stage and guitarist James Williamson’s power chords present a buzzing frenzied attack. The level of distortion on the recording is far from ideal, but assuming you’re more than familiar with the song, the ugliness combined with the all round lack of stereophonic perfection sort of adds its own charm. Iggy’s voice appears especially rough, but in this case, he still sounds great – and especially so once he’s let loose against a furious lead guitar. ‘Head On’ accentuates a loud snare drum against a great garage rock groove and the quieter parts of the arrangement just about allow the listener to feel as if they’re eavesdropping on a great night. It’s all quite muddy; there are a few times when old cassette dropout is evident, but it’s all there…just about. At the very least, Pop is clear enough to carry this juggernaut of noise and he throws expletives into the crowd with an obvious delight, and screeching in an almost feline like way. Even without being there in person, you can just visualise him snaking his way across the stage, glowering at the front row while Williamson launches into the next lead break. Aggressive renditions of ‘Search & Destroy’ and ‘Gimme Danger’ offer little variation on the Michigan Palace show, but huge fans will find this set worth hearing thanks to an absolutely raucous rendition of ‘New Orleans’ (originally recorded by Gary U.S. Bonds) where the riffs slide into Led Zeppelin’s ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ with abandon and a rare outing for ‘She Creatures of The Hollywood Hills’ with its repetitive and almost hypnotic groove sounding unlike anything else at these final gigs. Also, a full thirteen minute ‘Open Up & Bleed’, with a slow burning intro loaded with great harmonica lines, really captures the broadness of The Stooges’ obvious talents. With Ig absolutely smouldering, this line up rarely sounded any more menacing.
An incomplete recording from NYC’s Academy of Music on New Year’s Eve ’73 finds both band and attendant crowd predictably fired up. The bits of the set that have been taped don’t offer any different material to the Baltimore show, but the differences in performance (possibly caused by a difference in sobriety) makes for an interesting listen. The echo on the recording lends the suggestion that the rock ‘n’ roll piano on ‘Raw Power’ is even more chaotic than usual, but it’s quickly obvious that Thurston’s performance is actually all over the place – and, as if to follow suit, an audibly trashed Iggy barely bothers to make the lyrics fit in their usual way. ‘Rich Bitch’ follows with a slower and sloppier intro, before exploding into a ragged rock ‘n’ roll tour de force that sounds as if Ron’s bass is holding things together. It’s an impossible job: Iggy’s improv howling and a clattering drum part often suggest a band now set to self-destruct. And so it continues, through an especially ugly ‘Wet My Bed’ and a quieter ‘I Got Nothin’, a tune that seems to have an insincerity and just doesn’t fit the general chaos of the night in question. As with the Baltimore show, the still new and very raw ‘Cock In My Pocket’ stands out with a particularly aggressive performance. With this being in slightly better quality, it’s a little easier to appreciate how Thurston and Williamson are aiming to outplay each other at every turn and even though Iggy insists on shouting over the high energy coda where the piano echoes Elton’s ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ it’s a performance that’s worth hearing, even if the audio makes sitting through the whole disc a little like hard work. There’s very little to be said regarding set regulars ‘Search & Destroy’, ‘Gimme Danger’ and ‘Heavy Liquid’, but assuming you’re happy to settle for decidedly poor bootleg quality (occasionally sounding like the tape’s been stretched), these rough performances should make for reasonable collection fillers.
For sound quality, the final show in this box is by far the best. The band’s last performance for several decades, the recording from Michigan Palace, Detroit, Feb ’74 is of great historical value. It gives a reasonable representation of a whole band being present – there’s audible bass throughout and some degree of separation between the instruments. There’s distortion present throughout, especially so on some of Iggy’s vocals, but never enough to spoil the overall enjoyment if you’re a big fan. Cutting in midway through ‘Heavy Liquid’, The Stooges’ raw power is somewhere near full power; the riffs hit quickly and somewhere through the wall of noise, a barrage of rock ‘n’ roll keys lends a genuinely 70s feel and Iggy sounds a little…wayward, but the band seem more together than at the New York show. The improvement in audio finally allows ‘I Got Nothin’ to have the kind of presence it deserves and although Mr. Pop isn’t in particularly good shape, Williamson’s guitar work makes up for it with more of a bluesy feel than usual.
At the beginning of ‘Rich Bitch’, the audio source clearly changes. Everything becomes brighter; the band louder; the overall sound is much clearer. At the same time, it never loses its obvious bootleg origins. Throughout the next ten minutes, the band crank through a furious rock ‘n’ roll jam somewhere between The Stones circa 1971 in a bad mood and MC5 taking a more bar-room stance. Regardless of the muddy recording, there are various points during this lengthy piece where it’s an absolute thrill to experience Williamson’s proto punk guitar riffs weaving in and out of Thurston’s reckless piano. In many ways they steal the show, despite Pop’s best efforts at making things uncomfortable with a semi-improvised performance.
Having road tested it a couple of times, the rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Cock In My Pocket’ finally starts to sound like an old Stooges classic. The tempo on this night is slightly slower, allowing Thurston to hit more of a groove, but that doesn’t mean any less of an edge: Iggy’s gravelly, sneering voice sounds like it belongs to a man with an absolute contempt for his audience. …And as this recording pulls to a close, it seems that’s very much the case. He’s dealt with a crowd who’ve thrown projectiles all evening and he goads them into throwing more things at him, before suggesting there should be a riot. Finally, he asks them – with some resignation – whether they “want something real slick…or ‘Louie Louie’…” The final Stooges show for several decades ends with a rendition of the old Kingsmen classic, littered with improv and sounding like a really bad bar band. The final Stooges set ends, as they say, not with a bang but a whimper. It’s a sad and almost self-parodying end. As tragic as it sounds, it actually brings things full circle with the band who helped invent punk casting a knowing glare back to their musical forefathers. It may be rough; it may be incomplete, but this disc is the one that’s guaranteed to have you returning to this bootleg collection.
Hearing these shows in quick succession really shows how every Stooges show was different, even if the core of the set remained the same from night to night. Coiled like a spring, the angry Iggy could turn on the audience at any moment. Other times, he’d joke with them, but he always kept them – and the rest of the band – on edge. To say these recordings are far from perfect would be a severe understatement, but let’s face it, we’re lucky to have any kind of record at all of these final live shows. These four hours may well be in ear-bleeding quality most of the time, but there’s often something about hearing so much of this bootleg material in context that still makes it a worthwhile experience. …And if there’s anything at all that this box set shows, it’s that time spent with The Stooges was rarely less than an experience – good or bad.