Sounds, 9 February 1980
THREE BANDS shaped up as good value but that wasn't all. There was an
unannounced surprise star guest – all the way from Vegas let's hear it for
Ah, you don't see him? Well, that's because his presence was invoked more in the
spirit than the flesh. He was mentioned in two Furs songs and then Iggy
performed in full and seriously the archetypal Sinatra number 'Set 'Em Up Joe'.
What this might mean it's hard to judge though it could imply some kind of
salute by these younger artistes to a kindred soul in respect of ego,
self-regard and confidence. If so I'm not about to argue that such confidence is
Well, picture this. A smokey piano. Iggy at the mike, very still. He sings
'It's a quarter to three' and nobody in the place knows the words except
Iggy and me (because I'm also 32). It's a superb song but for Iggy a totally
left-field choice. My first reaction is simply to wonder what the hell he's
playing at. He tells the old story of the end of an affair, bending the
professional listener's ear of Joe the barman. 'So set 'em up Joel It's one
for my baby and one more for the road.' As performed by Sinatra, sitting on
a stool, tie loosened, snap-brimmed hat pushed back, it always hit me as a
Bogart movie made over into music. The hero a perfect sad rugged unvanquished
romantic. But this treatment of the song is sombre, restrained, accepting the
slow power of it.
The only time I met Iggy he told me he was built to last: come back in 20 years,
30 years, and check him out he said. Maybe this song was the start of him saying
goodbye to one audience and hello to another that wasn't even represented at
Friars. Or maybe it was just a whim. But it was a good whim. He sang with a
tight-rein quavering passion and control, qualities which surprised me. Limited
expectations are a hard taskmaster when a performer wants to change though. The
applause was lukewarm and rather bemused.
I suspect that for many this began the downfall of his set whereas I felt it was
the peak. It struck me that one of the great advantages of Iggy's carnally
direct temperament was that he could play a song like that for real where Bowie
could have stylised it and used it as an illustration of his skill.
The four numbers after that, including the two encores, were very much an
anticlimax for everyone. A new one, 'China Girl', and 'I Snub You', 'Take Care
Of Me' and 'Knockin' 'Em Down In The City' from his latest album Soldier
all disappeared up their own rear ends. From the pithy impact of the lyric sheet
this seems a waste and I'd be inclined to blame the band for submerging them all
in the same colourless, savourless thrash, but that may be unfair: for one thing
it's quite likely they were making exactly the noise Iggy had told them to and
for another he tends to be a far less interesting writer of music than he is of
words. The end was a milling disappointment and he shouldn't have let anyone
persuade him to do an encore when the audience were doing little more than
standing around to see what would happen.
That was the dull bottom-deck of a sandwich-type set: cotton-wool Mother's Pride
wrapped around a slice of finest fillet steak. He began with the
not-yet-recorded 'Hassle' and 'Sacred Cow' and his new single 'Loco Mosquito'.
Speed, a racket, no shape. All I had to work up some energy on was Iggy himself.
He was talking to us (a first?) – "This one's about a scumbag sort of a
person fuckin' the butt and so on" – and he was smiling (definitely a
Whether this was the ordinary Tom, Dick or Iggy emerging through the image or
his latest perverse deception I don't know but from a soul who has waded through
hell up to his neck in crap while Satan practiced his water-skiing it was almost
charming. Still, I was inwardly groaning "There has to be more than this".
Thankfully there was.
No less than 'The Winter Of My Discontent', another post-Soldier piece
(this guy is a worker, no question). "It's about being so fucking pissed off..."
he explained before words failed him. Suddenly the music took on sharp outlines
from Ivan Kral's piano and Billy Rath's bass and left a lot more space within,
which Iggy filled with sheer aggro. He didn't smile for a long time after this
and the spit rained in as some kind of acknowledgement. The song took another
great turn when Iggy started to talk it, 'I don't wanna be normal/I don't
wanna be, I wanna pee', and then shifted out of the neurotic jokes into a
stunning recitation of Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' soliloquy over the
rhythm. It ain't Iggy unless he's got you by the throat and this was the man all
Hitting his stride he stripped off his shirt for 'Sister Midnight' and showed us
the muscle definition that you don't get except by weight-training (though he
might have some more-fun suggestions). A boy who made him a certain offer was
advised: "You'll never get close enough to fuck me, prick!" The song was sensual
sleazy slinking. He whirled and pirhouetted into 'Play It Safe' like Nadia
Comaneci on heat and gave it so much commitment that nobody believed his advice.
'I'm A Conservative' didn't get taken too literally either I'd imagine as Iggy
told us 'I'm stuck in a zoo with garbage like you/I think you ought to crawl'
(lines added since Soldier was recorded) and pleaded 'It would
mean so much to me/If you would only be like me'. Clarity meant the stories
got across, more so with Iggy's extravagant miming, and the band rocked your
body instead of oppressing you. 'Five Foot One' and 'Dog Food' actually worked
just as rock 'n' roll riff and chorus, a pleasure Iggy wouldn't have tolerated
in the past.
And that brings us back to 'Joe', as Julie Andrews used to sing. Basically the
middle of a set is the worst time to excel in terms of leaving an impression and
I think Iggy might take a bit of a drubbing if this is his regular parabola of
excitment. He was always erratic though and I don't see any decline in his
capacity to achieve great moments. He appears to be suffering less for his art
which may upset the sadomasochist section of his audience but he's communicating
to me more than before and I do expect to check back in 20 years and still find
him with new insights and insults for the world.
Supporting Iggy must be rather like opening the show for an extra-terrestrial.
If the audience is on his wavelength they probably won't be on yours. So Spiderz
(from Holland, not Mars) were applauded politely like a group of alien folk
dancers on a cultural exchange. What they did was executed neatly but in a
foreign language (pop with a small p in fact).
Then the Psychedelic Furs came on, the DJ claiming for them a 'No. 1 single in
Aylesbury'. They half grabbed me with 'Sister Europe' as their opener and then
never tightened their grip. They were authoritative, credible, promising but not
inspiring, too one-paced and under-using the scope of their six-piece line-up
much as Iggy's band did in its Mother's Pride phases.
Also their singer is a great poseur though I wouldn't hold it against
him. I probably couldn't get close enough.
© Phil Sutcliffe, 1980