In the three decades that have passed since they imploded, a few things have changed about the Stooges -- or Iggy & the Stooges, as they were billed on the Orpheum Theatre marquee for Saturday's sold-out blitzkrieg of power-punk and proto-metal. At the merch table for instance, you could buy hat wear such as "The Weirdness Beanie," named after the band's first new album in 34 years, "The Weirdness," or a hoodie with the group's moniker emblazoned across the front.
We're also guessing that travel accommodations for this reunion tour are comfier than they were in 1970, when too many people were mellowing out to Bread and too few had picked up on the four-headed hydra of sound and fury from Ann Arbor, Mich., whose noise and nihilism signified everything about the punk it presaged by nearly a decade.
But what was truly astonishing Saturday was what had not changed: the Stooges themselves. True, founding bassist Dave Alexander is no longer with the group, but he died in 1975, so there's not much one can do about that (ex-Minutemen bassist Mike Watt inherited his spot). Perhaps most improbably, the Asheton brothers Ron (guitar) and Scott (drums), long presumed missing in action, are back. Both played their parts to primordial classics such as "T.V. Eye" and "Down on the Street" with such thuggish gusto and demented conviction that it was as if they never left. Even Steve Mackay , who contributed saxophone on the band's epochal, epically deranged "Fun House" album, was on stage to deliver the old brass kicks to the solar plexus.
The focal point, of course, was the perpetually shirtless, baboon-limbed lead singer Iggy Pop, born James Osterberg. When Pop bounded on stage for the opener "Loose," one of a slew of songs on gaudy display from "Fun House" and the Stooges' self-titled 1970 debut, the singer's convulsive vitality -- the spasmodic leaps, carnival of shrieks, caged-animal prowl (not to mention that freakish sinew-and-gristle physique) -- was ridiculously unchanged. How ridiculous? Iggy turns 60 this week.
Though the new numbers rang similar themes as the sleazy classics -- alienation, lust, being broke, and bored -- rote rave-ups from "The Weirdness" such as "Trollin'," "My Idea of Fun," and "I'm Fried" paled inevitably alongside the seedy old anthems -- not that anybody realistically expected another "I Wanna Be Your Dog" at this stage of the game. The band's only other concession to mortality seemed to be the limp Pop has earned from decades of stage dives and other novel forms of self-abuse inflicted during a cockroach-tough solo career that's seen him weather everything from commercial and critical indifference to his own drug demons.
There were no antics involving razor blades or peanut butter this time. Pop did, however, smack himself and violently hurl his body to the floor during the savagely maladjusted "Dirt," and then almost risked limb if not life on "Real Cool Time" by exhorting the crowd to storm the stage and "dance with the Stooges!" Iggy was immediately besieged, swallowed up and spit out by his adoring public. "Now," he said happily amid the crazed chaos, "we're getting somewhere!"
(Correction: Because of an editing error, the release date of the Stooges' debut album was incorrect in a music review in yesterday's Living/Arts section. The album was released in 1969.)