Iggy & The Stooges
You Think You’re Bad, Man?
Released 20 November 2020
Boxset of five live shows termed “The Road Tapes 1973-74”, documenting the final days of Iggy & The Stooges in post-Raw Power freefall…LTW’s Ian Canty listens as “your favourite well-mannered boy” and his associates advanced at great speed headlong towards total destruction…
Iggy And The Stooges had pretty much used up all their chances by the time this new live collection begins. Despite high hopes, the Raw Power album, with the weight of Columbia Records behind it, plus Mainman’s management team and David Bowie in the production chair, had made virtually no impression. The record stiffed commercially, despite Bowie’s phenomenal star power at the time and the Stooges were quietly jettisoned from their label, who probably saw them as little more than Dave’s vanity project.
Iggy, the Asheton brothers and James Williamson returned home to the USA from their extended stay in London somewhat chastened, but with all the bad and self-destructive aspects of the band members given free range. Like a juggernaut with a brick strapped to the accelerator, they ploughed on regardless – after all being Iggy And The Stooges was all they could do, so how could they possibly stop? They even began to write new songs for a projected fourth album, but neither Columbia or any other imprint were really interested in the aftermath the Raw Power debacle.
The band kept gigging, hoping for one last shot at the big time. They sought to enhance their sound by bringing in a keyboardist, firstly Bob Sheff and then Scott Thurston. This nod towards softening the band’s approach was set against Iggy’s growing heroin intake and instability. Added to that, the other Stooges had their own drug habits. This had the result of performances that already pretty close to the edge often becoming theatres of chaos. Some people came along to gig purely to see Iggy mess up, rather than gain some enjoyment from what the band were offering.
Aside from all those issues, the lack of funds and record label support/interest and hostile audience reactions had a marked impact. This as well as ever worsening band inter-relationships, most vividly with the increasingly side-lined Ron Asheton, meant there was no avoiding the conclusion that The Stooges were in a whole heap of trouble. They were bad news.
You Think You’re Bad, Man? documents those bad, mad days in the dim light of low fidelity. Taped by audience members, some of the recordings are, not to put too fine a point on it, as rough as the proverbial bear’s posterior. The first disc’s set, coming from the Whiskey A Go Go gig in LA on 16th September 1973, is a “good to fair bootleg quality” case in point. Through the murk, there is evidence of new, lengthy numbers taking shape. A tense Head On is a good one and the more hard rock jam of She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills has some biting James Williamson guitar licks. Ron and Scott power Open Up And Bleed and New Orleans along, the latter of which seems to take as its jumping off point the Gary U.S. Bonds number of the same name.
If the longer duration of these songs doesn’t quite tally with the proto-punk reputation, The Stooges can be heard as tight and focused through the audio grime, with Iggy’s voice a gritty sneer. The keyboards are perceivable while other elements’ audibility comes and goes, but the rhythmic drive of the songs is always there. Neat versions of Search And Destroy and a lurching I Need Somebody are the highlights from the older material, but the new songs show a band with a possible different future than one might have thought.
There is a basic blues drive at the bottom of New Orleans, Open Up And Bleed (with harmonica) and She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills and this is where the post-Raw Power Stooges drew strength from. With the latter two both flaming out in feedback and drum thunder, this suggests an earthier version of the band than before. The unfocused sound quality suits these offerings, but one can’t but hope it was a little better for the elegant and mighty take of Gimme Danger which curtails this section of the boxset.
Disc two features the show at Michigan Palace Detroit on 6th October of the same year. The first three songs from this set, Raw Power, a feisty Head On and Gimme Danger, ended up on the Metallic KO LP (the whole six songs featured here were issued on the 1998 Jungle 2CD reissue of MKO). The sound is not bad, a notch better than on the previous disc because James Williamson worked in the studio later to clean up fans’ cassette recordings of the night. With these adjustments Iggy’s vocals become clearer and a pumping piano is much in evidence. Heavy Liquid, actually New Orleans under another name, shows up and this gig appears quite well-received. Though it is also notable for three Iggy “rants” as the band setlist winds on, a pointer to his berating of the crowd which would figure heavily in The Stooges’ eventual downfall.
He lambasts some members of the audience in the first of these rants after Head On. But after respectable versions of Gimme Danger and Search And Destroy, Iggy performs a volte face and pronounces the crowd beautiful. He then touches on the trials of being Stooges, before the band embark finally on Heavy Liquid. Busily percussive and with some upfront backing vocals, it works better than in its previous guise on disc one. Pop then canvasses opinion if the crowd want to hear anymore (a good proportion do) and concludes “a riot isn’t going to do anyone any good”. He finally then teases the assembly with an acapella excerpt from I Wanna Be Your Dog, before blowing a sweet harp on final number Open Up And Bleed. Neatly summing up the band’s mindset a minute or so into the intro to this one, he blankly states “Who hates The Stooges? We don’t hate you, we don’t even care”. The tune fades out abruptly halfway through, when presumably the tape ran out.
A muddy sound blights the contents of disc three of You Think You’re Bad, Man?. This section is drawn from a concert at The Latin Casino, Baltimore, taped at a unspecified date in November 1973. A furious Raw Power sets things off and the band debuts four new numbers, just a mere month on from the Detroit gig. The titles pretty much tell you all you need to know about Iggy Pop’s life and psyche at the time – Rich Bitch, Wet My Bed, I Got Nothin’ and Cock In My Pocket.
The baleful Rich Bitch starts with tinkling piano, again the blues comes to mind, whilst the band loiter menacingly in the background before steaming in. I Got Nothin’ was redone for Iggy’s Kill City LP and was the only one of the four really built to last, a truly soulful song of regret and lost opportunities. At the other end of the scale, Wet My Bed (“What did you say prick?” Ig earnestly requests on the conclusion of this one) and Cock In My Pocket are the stupid and fast freewheeling punk precursors. Both offer a great deal of dunderhead fun, with the latter probably the best of the pair, a foul-mouthed Route 66 really. I wished for better sound quality on this set, as I found it the most enjoyable.
The Stooges are full of life and energy, vamping new bits into Heavy Liquid and I Need Somebody. Iggy is at his dynamic, combative best and the new songs give everything a lift. If you didn’t know how this all ended up, listening to this you could feel this was a band gamely salvaging a future from the direst of situations.
The penultimate disc comes to us direct from The Academy Of Music, New York, eight songs pounded out on New Year’s Eve 1973. The keyboards are a bit too loud, drowning out Iggy for some of the usual opening song Raw Power. Yes we’re talking about fair bootleg quality here, probably the worst of the entire set. A wobbly-sounding piano introduces Rich Bitch, though it gets a bit more intense from there on in. Wet My Bed sounds more of a glam bounce this time, moving wildly with cutting guitar and they barnstorm through the rest of the set, despite the sleeve note including Iggy saying it was their worst show ever. The bad sound does make it probably the most frustrating disc of the set though.
Though the final disc here is the infamous Metallic KO show, the endgame for Iggy’s own personal death trip arguably came later with the solo show at Rodney’s English Disco in 1975. Rumours had been flying around beforehand that he was planning on committing suicide live on stage, as a final, desperate act of the nihilism that indelibly marked the Stooges’ darkest days. There is a photograph that shows Iggy and future Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison on stage at this gig. As Pop pulls out a knife and shapes to plunge it straight into his chest, the sheer look of horror on Harrison’s face is still chilling to see even now.
But getting back to disc five of You Think You’re Bad, Man?, this show from Michigan Palace Feb 9 1974 has been reissued a few times over the years. For those who haven’t heard it before, this is presented in decent clarity, so you can hear the gig unravel before your ears. Iggy had called out a motorcycle gang on local radio prior to the gig and they duly turned up with mayhem on their minds. Mr Pop proceeded to outrageously bait the already wound-up bikers, which led to them pelting The Stooges with ever more dangerous projectiles.
Things start off in deceptively low key, with a truncated Heavy Liquid and I Got Nothin’ not giving much of hint of what is to come. Towards the end of Rich Bitch things are ratcheted up a tad when Iggy shouts “get him out of here, he’s a prick”. Things go from bad to worse from here. Iggy riles up the bike gang all the more, proclaiming “I am the greatest” as the volley of missiles towards the stage grows in ferocity which you can actually hear on tape, eventually prompting the band to exit the stage some minutes after steamrollering through Cock In My Pocket (counted in with “1,2, fuck you pricks”). They do return to run through a hateful version of old garage classic Louie Louie, with the Ig all the time taking the rise out of the motor bikers, taking time at the end to thank the person who threw a glass bottle at his head. He lived to fight another day, but The Stooges didn’t. There was no way back after this.
Most of the sets on You Think You’re Bad, Man? are pretty familiar, having been made available in the past either piecemeal or in full. Thus it is a little difficult to figure out who this set is exactly aimed at. Total newcomers are far better steered first towards the three official albums as a starting point. Obsessive Stooges fans will in all probability already own most of this boxset, or at least have heard it. There isn’t anything that rare here, though perhaps if fans missed the Bomp Double Danger releases might be tempted to take the plunge.
Despite the audio drawbacks, this set does paint a vivid picture of The Stooges in their terminal phase, self-destructively zooming towards oblivion without a backwards glance. I suppose there’s an element of rubbernecking about it, which doesn’t say much complimentary about this listener, but I found it compelling. It is perhaps a shame that You Think You’re Bad, Man? doesn’t unearth anything previously unheard, but it is good to have all these various recordings brought together in one block and the booklet that comes with it is quite informative.
This is the sound of a band pushing already hostile audiences as far as they could and the tense, spite-ridden songs gave no respite. This is not a comfortable experience, but an essential one for Stooges fans, collecting the post-Raw Power material and telling the story of their demise. Like re-watching a disaster classic, just because we already know the catastrophic ending doesn’t make the ride any less thrilling.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here