It might have started with the Eagles, but the concept of the unlikely rock band reunion that manages to happen anyway has flowered way beyond what Don Henley and his cohorts could’ve ever predicted. Just in the last decade or so, we’ve seen, Roxy Music prove their heart was still beating, the Soft Boys soften up again, Camper Van Beethoven take the skinheads out for another ten frames, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant rock and roll again after a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time of crappy solo albums. Could the Stooges be next? Rumors had bubbled up before with Iggy even going so far as to confirm the reports, but it wasn’t until his recent Skull Ring that anything solidified. That record wasn’t a full-fledged reunion, featuring the dum-dum boys on some but not all the tracks, but still, it was something, and it whetted appetites nationwide for a tour. And that tour came to pass, giving the legions of fans that had never seen the band in its lifetime a chance to feel the magic for themselves.
The biggest problem with this tour (if you don’t see the thing itself as a problem) was that it had far too few dates. Just like in the good old days, not that many people got to see the Stooges, although this time, there weren’t as many good reasons for it. Perhaps no one but the Igster himself can say exactly why more cities weren’t graced with the presence of this now-legendary band, but as a consolation prize, the powers-that-be have offered us a DVD of a show in Detroit called Iggy & the Stooges: Live in Detroit, naturally enough. Since there is precious little footage of the band in its glory days and no documentary on the group has risen to glory, this video comes out of the gate with few competitors in its quest to be the must-own visual document for Stooges freaks. And yet the all-important question beckons: will this live up to the massive expectations or just be a default victory?
Musically, Live in Detroit gives little cause for complaint. Even held up to the unfair standards of music these men made over thirty years ago, the Stooges acquit themselves remarkably well. Ron Asheton’s chops have improved even though that was never the point with this band, and today, like Steve Jones, he sounds like a metal guitarist playing punk, for better and worse. Scott Asheton, looking for all the world like Chief Bromden from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, plays like his rudimentary chops have been frozen in amber for the past three decades (again, for better and worse), and bassist Mike Watt of the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, filling in for the dead Dave Alexander, is never more nor less than fine. Of course, the main attraction is Iggy himself, and he is hell-bent on making sure that everyone in the house gets what he/she came to see. He yelps and screams like the intervening years never happened, giving a performance that, while not quite up to the watermark, comes close enough that all is forgiven long before the conclusion of the set. Since James Williamson was not invited, they play no songs from Raw Power, but considering that the production of that album since its remastering would make anything else sound tame by comparison, it’s actually a decent idea for the band to stick to juicing up the songs from their shoddily produced debut and doing solid recreations from Fun House.
But while the sounds of this DVD are great, other things are not, starting with the cinematography, a feature so bad it seems inappropriate to grace it with such a word. It’s too much to ask for every concert film to be The Last Waltz, but it doesn’t seem that fussy to hope that a video of a band as monumental as the Stooges be treated with a bit more gravity and skill than you would get from cable access. Alas, such is not the case. Live quick-fades (nary a normal cut in the whole thing) among the four members of the band as if contractually obligated to give each man equal screen time and never gets close enough to any of them to really feel intimate. Iggy is as wild as any man half his age could ever hope to be, but the video switches from oddly distant shots of him humping a Marshall stack to Ron Asheton hunched over his guitar. God bless Ronnie, of course, but he’s no more visually interesting than your friend’s creepy older brother in the basement reading comics, and it would have been nice if the producers of this DVD would have realized that.
Not all the blame for the shortcomings belong with the folks behind the scenes of Live. Some of it should lay at the feet of the Stooges themselves. It’s never fair to judge artists by their past work, but the Stooges’ body of work did stand for something, and this concert, while reproducing it well enough in superficial terms, feels a bit hollow, too. The very feeling that drove the band’s music — some kind of loathing that was spread amorphously inwards and outwards — is absent, replaced instead by a lovefest between Iggy and the crowd. He proclaims his love for them and for Detroit in between lyrics of dread and angst, and the disconnect between the sentiments never seems to bother anyone, least of all Iggy. The movie is fun and enjoyable, but is that what you really want out of the Stooges?