Bringing 'The Weirdness' to Tel Aviv

Punk star Iggy Pop and his Stooges arrive for their first shared Israeli show.

iggy pop 88 298 (photo credit: AP )
iggy pop 88 298
(photo credit: AP )
Nearly four decades after getting their start on the Michigan punk scene, Iggy Pop and his most famous backing band will take the stage in Tel Aviv Saturday night for a much anticipated exercise in weirdness. Fans, of course, should expect nothing less: The Weirdness is the name of the band's latest album, its first in 34 years and the one it's promoting this summer with shows across Europe and at major festivals including Lollapalooza in the U.S. After a break of more than three decades, "it's fun coming back and being the original group again," says Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, who will perform with Pop at Tel Aviv's Ganei Hata'arucha Saturday at 10 p.m. "The original," he adds, "is always the best." It's been a long journey since the Stooges and their famous lead singer - birth name: James Osterberg - first signed with Elektra in 1968. The group's eponymous debut, produced by Velvet Underground auteur John Cale, sold poorly, but it endures as an seminal artifact of the punk/thrash genre just as the movement was getting started. The Stooges quickly made a name for themselves with a wild, occasionally even bloody road show, and perhaps because of their volatility lasted just one more album, with Pop leaving the group and dissolving, at least temporarily, into one of rock's most famous heroin addictions. The singer resurrected his career a few years later via landmark collaborations with David Bowie, some of which were backed up by the Stooges, but from the mid-Seventies through the millennium, Pop was off experimenting with an array of backing line-ups and musical styles, achieving another career milestone in 1986 with New Wave project Blah Blah Blah, a joint effort with Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. In 2003, however, Pop reunited with Asheton and the guitarist's brother, Scotty, for recording sessions for the singer's Skull Ring compilation disc. The sessions soon blossomed into a short series of reunion appearances, and eventually into The Weirdness, which was released this March to appreciative reviews. The album was co-produced by the Stooges and Steve Albini, the legendary guru who's worked with the Pixies, Low and Nirvana. (The band had also considered working with Rick Rubin, a collaborator with Johnny Cash and the Beastie Boys, as well as fellow Michigan native Jack White of the White Stripes.) The creation of The Weirdness "turned out being just a perfect situation," Asheton says. It was "very comfortable and very unlike our other recording sessions. [W]ith the first record, I never even heard any of the mixes or even the final record until it was an actual album shipped to us, already packaged and everything… [With] this one, we tried a different approach, which brings us into also being producers." With the exception of some guitar solos added in post-production, The Weirdness was recorded live, with the band limiting itself to just three or so takes per track and just two or three tracks per day. The result is an album that sounds, Asheton says, a lot like what he envisioned in the studio. "This time around, there were no surprises," he says. "I enjoyed what came out of the first [albums], but this is way different, and I really enjoy recording now. It's more of a whole process." (The band's new musical approach has earned mixed reviews from Pop, who jokingly told Rolling Stone, "Promoting, touring, running the band business ... It's Ron Asheton's bloody fault!") The band's Israeli tour stop, its first, will undoubtedly reflect that its leader singer is now 60, far from the 20-something wild man who first became a legend on stage. Life on the road is a whole lot more staid than it used to be, Asheton claims: nowadays, Pop needs nothing more than the occasional glass of wine to unwind, and rarely leaves his hotel rooms for fear of overzealous fans. There's no drug use going on at all, Asheton says - for anyone. This is a cleaned-up, more responsible Stooges, however excitable they still appear on stage. Regarding the group's visit to Tel Aviv, Asheton sounds more like a scheduling agent than a punk guitarist. "We were offered it as a job," he says. "It's a new place to go. We've never been there, and we've heard a lot of good things about it."