At the time, few if any knew that the September 29, 2013 performance by Iggy and the Stooges would be their final show. A centerpiece of the inaugural C2SV Festival, the concert was a late addition to the band’s already-busy concert calendar. And it was a landmark event on many levels.
The concert marked the first time the band had played in San Jose, and the performance featured James Williamson, by then an established figure in the Bay Area. Moreover, as would only become clear nearly three years later, the show would be the final word from one of the most important and influential acts of the rock era.
The arrangements came together quickly. It was last-minute, says John Kastner, the man responsible for booking Iggy and the Stooges for the performance at St. James Park. He believes that the band’s willingness to add a show – even though their tour had just ended – may have had to do with guitarist James Williamson being a San Jose resident.
“You could tell that they had been on the road for a long time, as they were very tight,” says Kastner. “They were spot-on and played very well.” He notes that a lot of people made the trip from San Francisco and beyond just to see the band. “They couldn’t believe they were seeing Iggy and the Stooges in the park in San Jose.”
The Stooges – as the original permutation of the group was known – roared out of Detroit in 1967. Fronted by the irrepressible Iggy Stooge (Jim Osterberg to his friends), the band was extreme in its primal simplicity. The term punk rock had yet to enter the popular lexicon, and there were few who understood how to describe the band’s sonic assault. Esteemed rock critic Lilian Roxon tried; in her essential Rock Encyclopedia she described the band – then unsigned, unrecorded and known as the Psychedelic Stooges – as combining “politics, comedy and music.” While that characterization may have been wide of the mark, Roxon hit closer to home than most.
The Stooges’ self-titled debut album sported a cover photo that was too-derivative by half (it was a ringer for The Doors, released two and a half years earlier on the same label) but the music was defiantly original. On tracks like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun,” Iggy snarled viciously while a loose and menacing trio (brothers Ron and Scott Asheton on guitar and drums plus bassist Dave Alexander) added to the mayhem.
That record set a template for the future. Subsequent developments in rock (specifically heavy metal and punk) would draw from the approach of the original Stooges. But as is so often the case in popular culture, the innovators found little in the way of commercial success; that would come instead to many of the artists who followed in the Stooges’ wake.
Inevitably, the group splintered. By the mid 1970s, the singer now known as Iggy Pop was pursuing a career on his own, alternately as a solo artist and with a new lineup (pointedly billed as Iggy and the Stooges). The high point of the former would be Kill City, a 1977 a green-vinyl LP on Greg Shaw’s Bomp! Records, credited to Iggy and guitarist James Williamson. The crowning achievement of the latter would be 1973’s Raw Power, featuring Pop, Williamson and the Asheton brothers.
By the late ‘70s and for decades to follow, Iggy Pop focused upon a solo path, building on his now-established reputation as an elder statesman of punk. He even scored some commercial success, including hit singles in the U.S., Europe and beyond. Though it would have been inconceivable in 1968, in the 21st century Iggy would be inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
It wasn’t until 2003 that a tentative Stooges reunion took place, when the Asheton brothers guested on Iggy’s Skull Ring LP. That led to a proper reunion, with former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt rounding out the group (Alexander passed away in 1975). Steve MacKay, saxophonist on the Stooges’ 1969 Fun House LP, joined as well. Praise would be muted for 2007’s The Weirdness, but the band toured widely and to great acclaim.
A distinction has long been made both by Iggy and ardent fans: there’s The Stooges (the original band, and the group that made The Weirdness) and there’s Iggy and the Stooges (responsible for the 1976 chaotic live document Metallic K.O. and 2013’s Ready to Die).
Another important difference between the two is that the Stooges (2003 to 2010) did not play any material from the 1971-and-on lineup. But when guitarist Ron Asheton died in 2009, Williamson came back on board; from that point onward the group was billed as Iggy and the Stooges.
And the set list for live dates reflected the change. Beginning with a November 2009 date in São Paulo, Brazil, the group added songs from both Raw Power and Iggy’s solo catalog. The revived Iggy and the Stooges was now presenting a kind of live career overview; that approach helped to underscore the historical importance of the group. A well-received 2013 tour wrapped up with a prominent spot at that year’s Riot Fest in Denver.
Recalling the concert days later in San Jose, Kastner emphasizes that “Iggy’s not one for gimmicks; you get what he gives you. And what he gives you is all, every night.” Kastner does recall sensing some friction between Iggy and Williamson onstage. Adding to the tension was the fact that Iggy sustained an injury when a mic stand hit him on the bridge of his nose. “He was bleeding,” Kastner says.
Opening with “Raw Power,” the band delivered a whip-smart 13-song performance. The rapid-fire set featured four ‘60s Stooges classics, five from the Raw Power era, three Iggy solo numbers and two from the then-current Ready to Die album. The band also delivered “Cock in My Pocket,” closing the set (and as fate would have it, the band’s live career) with a wild cover of “Louie, Louie.” Both had been highlights of Metallic K.O.
As momentous as it was, the show wasn’t without missteps. Without the band’s permission, Art Live Gallery models painted by controversial artist Trina Perry took to the stage during “Burn.” Kastner says that he was not alone in his disdain for the stunt: “It was not super-appropriate, and frankly, it could have gone either way.” But Kastner emphasizes that Iggy “was very good-natured, and just rolled with it.”
The Stooges went quiet after the San Jose gig. After a few years of band inactivity – a time during which Scott Asheton and Steve MacKay both died, and Iggy released a solo album – the inevitable official announcement came: The Stooges were no more. An era had ended.
Ahead of the San Jose show, newspaper publisher and C2SV organizer Dan Pulcrano had commissioned a special concert poster to promote the event. Shepard Fairey delivered an intricate monochromatic design that spotlighted both Iggy and adopted hometown hero Williamson; the poster deftly combined grace and power in a single image.
And one of those posters – framed and hanging on Kastner’s wall – serves as a visual memento to accompany memories of an historic concert in San Jose’s St. James Park. “And we were lucky to be there to witness it,” he says.