Heavy Liquid - The Stooges (Easy Action)
Don’t wanna labour the point but the opening years of this century really are turning into The Golden Age of the Stooges, what with the band’s resurrection, the recording of new songs, deluxe re-issues of the first two albums popping out of the pipeline, a live album kicking around and the prospect of a new studio effort. This six-disc box set from UK heritage label Easy Action really does spoil confirmed Stoogeaholics.
You might be sceptical and you’d have a right to be, such is the confusing array of re-issued, re-booted and, in many cases, shoddy Stooges material out there. French labels Revenge, Fan Club and Skydog, plus US company Bomp, did us a huge favour by keeping the Stooges in front of the public for many years, but they also unleashed a few offerings that were mutton dressed as lamb. (I’m thinking Bomp’s most recent “Wild Love”, which reeked of bottom-of-the-barrel in a big way). And while Rhino’s “Fun House” box set was probably for the truly obsessed (like, how many takes of “1970” can you listen to back-to-back?), “Heavy Liquid” manages to mix things up a little more, drawing from live and rehearsal aspects of the “Raw Power” period.
Three of the discs are previously released material, but albums one, two and five are where the going gets interesting. The first is a series of scorching multi-track rehearsal tapes from July 1972 at London’s Olympic Studios (a home to the Stones) and probably demos for the album sessions that followed. Disc two is unreleased material from 1973 Michigan rehearsals with short-term Stooges pianist Bob Scheff which resembles some of the stuff that’s already out there. Disc five is from the October ’73 run of shows at Los Angeles’ Whisky-a-Go-Go and has never been aired, while there’s a speed-corrected chunk of live audio from the ’74 show at Bimbo’s Casino that Bomp released on “Open Up and Bleed” that’s better sounding in this form.
So should you sink your hard-earned into this one? That depends on whether you’re into the “Raw Power” Stooges, who were an entirely different animal to earlier incarnations. With Ron Asheton on bass (and it has to be said that he’s just as much a killer on four strings as six) and the installation of James Williamson on guitar, there was a shift into what most people would regard as a more “musically structured” direction. Iggy explains the essential differences in guitar approach in the accompanying booklet as one of Ron’s lyrical playing versus James’ brutality, and who’s to argue? Personally, I rate “Funhouse” as one of the four or five greatest and most primal things ever recorded, but I still listen to “Raw Power” (even the re-mix, if you’re asking) so I had to plonk down the cash to grab this.
Part of the attraction is undoubtedly the Car Crash Syndrome. You know the way people slow down and stare when they motor past a traffic accident on a busy highway? You have to ask how the Stooges managed to function as a unit once the Mainman money and CBS support dried up and the hard drugs kicked in. Iggy set the meter to Self Destruct and circumstances condemned the band to playing in shitty bars across a largely uncaring Middle America. So what headspace were these guys occupying, and how did they manage not to kill themselves (or be killed)? You can liken the Stooges of that time to a trashed and unregistered car that no-one wanted to steal, spinning its bald tyres on black ice just inches away from a precipice, but the dope-sick reality was much less romantic a notion than that. No Future, indeed.
Of course it should be about the music and it ranged from bar room blues to what we can now retrospectively dub proto-punk, and as such was several years ahead of the curve. Some of the tracks on “Heavy Liquid” are curiosities - it has to be said that their rehearsal versions of “Money” and “Louie Louie” are looser than a Hollywood groupie - but the duplicated outtakes of the “I Got a Right” sessions are different enough to avoid monotony. It’s those songs and the 1973 Michigan rehearsal that do it for me. While the latter may not be all that different from what you’ve hear on “Rubber Legs” or “Open Up and Bleed”, this version sounds a touch hotter. If Iggy and Co put this much into a practice, how intense must the shows have been?
No kitchen sink included but you do get a sticker, a booklet with new insights from Iggy, Rock and Ron plus a booklet of photos from Mick Rock (looking like a plug for the new edition of his Stooges portraits). Impressive stuff.
"Raw Power" notwithstanding, "Heavy Liquid" is the definitive, late-period Stooges release. - The Barman
Back in the 70’s, Iggy Pop’s father taught honors English at one of the high schools in my suburban Detroit hometown of Dearborn and the senior Osterberg would greet each new crop of students with good news and bad news: yes, Jim was his son and no, he didn’t want to talk about it. Now that the Stooges are no longer Detroit’s dirty little secret, it seems no-one can stop talking about him.
To most, initial exposure to the Stooges is akin to being sucked through the roof by a twister and deposited, shocked but intact, in some odd and blissful world. Never mind the Mars probe – one listen to “The Stooges,” “Fun House,” or “Raw Power” provides all of the evidence you’ll need that life exists elsewhere in the universe and occasionally visits Earth.
Although the image of Iggy as a one-man primer on a comprehensive litany of anti-social behavior has always been an iconic one, it’s taken 35 years of hindsight, analysis, and fine tooth combing to spotlight the contributions of Messrs. Asheton, Alexander, MacKay, Thurston, and Williamson, without whom the band’s legacy would be secure.
“Heavy Liquid” is a lovingly compiled, stoked-out (what the Brits would call “top gear”) six-disc mini box set that captures the Stootches during a period of flux (July 1972 – January 1974), still gaining their sea legs after welcoming (“welcome” being a relative term when it came to Ron Asheton, who grudgingly switched over to bass) guitarist James Williamson into the inner sanctum after the original line-up – Asheton, brother Scott, and Dave Alexander - crashed and burned in a shitstorm of bad dope and slight mental problems in 1971.
Like Rhino Handmade’s “1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions” box, this one’s targeted at the voyeurs; fly-on-the-wall adventures through a landscape of murder city nights, rehearsal sheds in London, Ypsilanti, and Detroit, and on the boards and under the lights in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, Iggy steadfastly struggling to re-invent The Stooges on Mainman’s dime.
“Heavy Liquid” takes major steps toward putting to rest the band’s image as a bunch of college town ne’er-do-wells entirely consumed with cheap thrills and even cheaper drugs, plugging in, tuning out, and grunting like cavemen inventing the wheel. The Olympic Studio (London) Tapes reveal Iggy The Taskmaster, knuckling down and leading the band through multiple takes of “I Got A Right,” joining in on some and standing back and taking stock on others, honing a black lump of coal into a hardened, sharp diamond, Rock Action’s double snare tap cueing up Williamson’s six-string meteor storm and what sounds like background noise from a Tarzan movie. To break up the monotony, there’s half-hearted passes at “Surfin’ Bird,” Barrett Strong’s “Money,” and a short, punch drunk “Louie Louie.”
Back on terra firma in the Great Lake state, in an Ypsilanti barn called Morgan Sound Studios owned by Scott Richardson of SRC as well as an unnamed Detroit location, University of Michigan music instructor Bob Scheff gets a quick tour of Planet Stooge, his insistent boogie-woogie piano struggling to raise its head above the din laid down by Williamson and the Ashetons, an interesting, but ultimately unnecessary attempt to add a bit of texture to “Raw Power” staples like “Search & Destroy,” “Gimme Danger,” and “Death Trip” as well as early workouts of “Wild Love,” “Open Up & Bleed,” “Jesus Loves The Stooges,” “Rubber Legs,” and “Cock In My Pocket.” Williamson’s guitar snarls, slobbers, and showers sparks over the proceedings, Ron and Scott venting their spleens and other internal organs, and Iggy, well, doing what Iggy does best.
If the live photos depicting Iggy as a bi-polar, shirtless, prima ballerina, complete with tights, sash, and slippers are any indication, it’s no surprise that patrons of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Farm, far to the west of Detroit, straight down Michigan Avenue, incensed by his baiting one particularly cold February night back in 1974, showed up loaded for bear the next night at Ford Auditorium, the ensuing battle of wills scrapbooked for posterity on “Metallic K.O.” Coincidentally (and even less surprising), the Rock ‘n’ Roll Farm was just a short jaunt down the road from the sprawling Eloise complex, at the time one of the country’s largest mental hospitals, known throughout the industry for progressive treatments like hypnosis, electroshock treatment, and music therapy (!).
Despite the singer’s on-stage foibles, the live material unveiled here is as close to the holy grail as you’re likely to get unless somebody in Ann Arbor stumbles across a strongbox filled with tapes buried somewhere along fraternity row. The Max’s Kansas City and Whisky A Go Go performances reveal four guys intent on laying down the gauntlet, recapturing the mojo, and riding off into the sunset, string of scalps hanging from their belts.
Iggy’s attempt at a bit of soul purging, a heartfelt lament on how the band never got any help (ever…), is usurped by a drunk who screams “Your roots are showing!” Shrugging their shoulders and throwing up their hands, the only appropriate response from the Stooges seems to be scorching a few inner ears with an outright malicious flogging of “Search & Destroy.” Run credits…
If you’re as obsessively, compulsively preoccupied with packaging details as I am, comfort awaits within. Easy Action have packed “Heavy Liquid” with stickers, a booklet full of photos and liner notes from Creem magazine hacks, a second booklet of Mick Rock photos, and individual cardboard picture sleeves for all six discs. Nicely done all around.
Until that long-promised/rumored/anticipated new Stooges studio album raises its ugly little head, “Heavy Liquid” is a classy stopgap, another trip in the wayback machine with all dials calibrated to "Palookaville." Stash all items in the overhead compartment, fasten your seat belt, put your head between your legs, and kiss your ass goodbye. - Clark Paull