I went to see Iggy Pop at the United Palace Theater at the beginning of April. The United Palace is one of those great gilded theaters that have mostly disappeared; It’s up at 175th Street, and it takes a lot to get punk rockers of a Certain Age above 14th Street, much less to Inwood.
And yet, we came. I emerged from the subway and followed graying folks in leather jackets up the sidewalk to the theater. Once inside, it took me 20 minutes to get through the tiny lobby because there was someone I knew or a familiar face every couple of feet. This year of all years, you take the time to stop and shake hands with old drinking buddies, shake hands with the friends you used to run with, and just say “How the hell are you?” to the people you don’t run into any more. There was lots of spandex and dyed black hair and frippery on display from fans of all ages. It was festive. These were your people. This was your tribe. It felt like homecoming.
And it was homecoming. The show opened with the curtain down–I do love bands that will use a curtain these days–and you heard primitive drumming, getting louder and louder, until the curtain opened with the grandest flourish, revealing the band in place onstage. At that moment, the drums charged into the backbeat for “Lust For Life” and the crowd roared their approval. Iggy emerged from behind the scrim to an ever louder roar, Josh Homme stepped to the mic to announce: “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Iggy Pop!” and Iggy started singing the song I once called “The Punk Rock National Anthem.” I remember seeing Iggy play a show in 1986 and watching the toughest kid’s face light up the first time they got to hear Iggy fucking Pop sing “Lust For Life” in the same room as them. I wonder how many people in the United Palace are having that same experience tonight.
Think what you want about Queens of the Stone Age, I was thrilled that Josh Homme made this record with Iggy. I didn’t even care what it sounded like, it didn’t matter, all I cared was that Iggy was alive and out on the road again. To be honest, secretly I was worried about Iggy’s health; this would be the second artist to make a record in secret in the last year and I’m sorry if that makes me worry, but it makes me worry. I worried this would be it. I worried this would be goodbye. I worried that Iggy needed the band to prop him up onstage.
I worry far too much.
Josh and the band all wore matching red suits, like they were backing James Brown or Chuck Berry, and that comparison is not really that far off the mark when you place Iggy in their particular pantheon. It was sweet and respectful and cool as fuck, all at the same time. They set up on the far left and right sides of the stage so that Iggy had the center stage all to himself. There was a white scrim down the back of the stage that provided a stunning backdrop for lighting and for Iggy and for a bare chest that showed up two songs in, when he flung his jacket aside. Everyone was surprised it took him that long.
My word, seeing Iggy singing his solo material with a group of actually talented musicians was nothing short of life-affirming. There were too many years in the 80s where you’d cruise down to the Palladium or the Ritz to see him with some band that was absolute fucking shite, but you’d go because it was IGGY POP. I loved how the band stayed as neutral as they could: they played the songs, and stayed out of the way, even when Iggy would talk about “Joshua” inviting him to make a record. Homme would kind of dip his head and look amazed and thrilled that he was able to do this. I don’t even care if it was fake–I don’t think it was–it was darling and warmed my heart. The band generally just bopped around amongst themselves, dancing and smiling at each other and looking like they were having the time of their lives. They were tight and loose at the same time, they knew every note and played it to the letter. But it was very clear that this was not about them. This was about Iggy.
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