“My F’in Night at the Opera”: Iggy Pop channels the spirit of ’77 at the Academy of Music

Iggy Pop | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com
Iggy Pop | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com

This story begins on March 19, 1977. It’s the day after the release of Iggy Pop‘s solo debut, The Idiot, and he’s performing at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia with his collaborator and producer, David Bowie. Also in attendance is my concert connoisseur / photographer mother, Nancy. She has brought her camera, hoping to catch photos of Bowie but unwittingly bearing witness to a musical partnership that would connect Iggy Pop to another musical brethren decades later.

Fast forward forty years – I’m standing in front of the Academy of Music, waiting for my turn to photograph Iggy Pop. This time, he’s in town for Post Pop Depression, his collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age’s Joshua Homme. There’s been plenty of talk about Iggy Pop’s legacy surrounding the March 18th release of Post Pop, from Homme in particular, who has lauded Iggy as “the last of the one-and-onlys”. The album Homme has created with Iggy, along with QOTSA bandmate Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helder, is built upon the foundation of Iggy’s first two Bowie-produced long players. Perhaps Post Pop could be interpreted as the third in a trilogy that began with The Idiot and its successor, Lust For Life, but what’s more certain is that it is most likely the final chapter of Iggy Pop’s musical saga. So if Post Pop Depression is Iggy’s swan song, and its ensuing tour his victory lap, then the time seems right to complete the circle on a legacy of my own.

Iggy Pop | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com
Iggy Pop onstage at the Tower Theater in 1977 | photo by Nancy McCardle 

It’s a story I’ve heard in pieces throughout my entire life – “I was told Iggy would cut himself onstage,” mom would say. “To be honest, I was scared of him.” Those words echoed in my mind as the house lights cut to darkness in the Academy of Music. A wash of wild coyote howls and stampede-like rhythms emanated from behind the velvet curtain, lasting long enough that I too felt a flicker of fear, as though the sound would grow so intense as to actually trample over me. Just then, the curtains opened to reveal the Post Pop Depression crew, rounded out in the live setting by QOTSA guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and Chavez bassist Matt Sweeney. Clad in matching glittery red smoking jackets complete with leopard print pocket squares, they looked like Satan’s lounge band as they hammered into that unmistakable opening drumbeat of “Lust For Life”.

Iggy came pouncing out like the street-walking cheetah he has always been, clear-eyed and deliberate in his delivery but still wild at heart. Mid-song banter was kept to a minimum as he seemed to prefer full body contact instead. After four songs, he yelled, “How’s it going, guys?” and stumbled directly into the front row to comedic effect only to have the audience lift him back to the stage in a graceful, almost Christ-like pose. It was the first of at least six dives into the crowd.

Iggy Pop | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com
Iggy Pop | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com

I can only describe Iggy’s stage presence as pyrotechnics of the flesh. He skips around the stage like a giddy schoolgirl, pounds his fists against his chest Donkey Kong-style, then jerks and spins back like a junkyard dog snapping against its chain. He’s a human sparkler, a leather-skinned unicorn. Equally elegant as he is crass and invincible in his complete fragility.

For the Post Pop Depression tour, the band has chosen to perform in beautiful theaters like the Academy of Music, rather than clubs. It’s a strategic attempt to see if Iggy can still cause a disruption. In the belly of Philly’s theater district on Friday, the plan was working as Iggy’s die-hard fans lined the corner of Broad and Locust Streets waiting for the chance to see their hero. Within that cluster of punks, pin-ups and psychobillies, somehow I became the unofficial information center for passersby. “No, Iggy Pop is performing tonight, not Philly Pops,” I explained to a pair of grannies looking to catch a matinee. “It’s a concert, not a musical,” I later explained to a young couple who, frankly, should have known better.

Iggy Pop | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | <a href=http://www.wendymccardle.com/ target="_blank">wendymccardle.com</a>
Iggy Pop | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com

Those who didn’t ask questions offered at least a side-eye or a raised eyebrow. Little did they know Iggy Pop was made for the Academy of Music. That night, it felt as though the Academy exists only for him. Its Corinthian columns seemed to bend to match the s-curve of his degenerating spine. The golden walls took on the texture of his skin. And everyone who came to see the show became part of an elite class simply for being there.

“This is my fucking night at the opera!” he declared, pacing the setlist evenly so that almost every other song was a new track from Post Pop Depression. The new material was driven along by classics from Lust For Life and The Idiot such as “The Passenger” and “Funtime,” the latter being an absolute highlight of the set for me. The walls of that grand opera hall seemed to swell under the harmonies of Pop, Homme and Van Leeuwen. If the Post Pop crew are indeed Satan’s lounge band, I hope when my time comes, that refrain of “All aboard for funtime” will be the sound that greets me at the gates of hell.

As the show progressed, the line between Post Pop Depression, Lust For Life and The Idiot seemed to blur. The sheer force of the music and surreality of experiencing it inside such a magnificent theater rendered coherent thought semi-useless. I was convinced newer tracks like “German Days” must be a Lust For Life deep cut I’d yet to discover. But actual deep cuts like “Mass Production” and “Some Weird Sin” sounded completely fresh and native to Homme’s desert-weathered hands.

My altered perceptions aside, one thought was becoming very clear – I was hearing these songs just as my mother heard them, delivered with the same intensity and raw power, and for the material from Post Pop Depression, perhaps with the same vulnerability with which Iggy hit the stage in ’77, presenting brand new material from The Idiot.

Did my presence at the Academy of Music on Friday help Iggy Pop place a bookend on his career? Maybe. What’s more important to me is within my own little family of Philadelphian music fans, a circle is now complete.

Below, look at a gallery of photos including my mother’s photos of Iggy Pop in ’77 and my photos of him Friday night, plus the concert setlist and some fan videos of the show.

Lust For Life
Sister Midnight
American Valhalla
In The Lobby
Some Weird Sin
German Days
Mass Production
The Passenger
China Girl

Break Into Your Heart
Fall in Love With Me
Repo Man
Chocolate Drops

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