Throughout the arc of his career, the theme of survival has persistently trailed behind the saga of Iggy Pop. He is the personification of a man that never surrendered, of the one that could have fallen, and did, but managed to pull himself back up again; and the one that – as the platitude surrounding Pop in the wake of Lou Reed and David Bowie’s deaths contends – now stands tall as the last man of his era.
But it isn’t just that theme of survival that distinguishes Pop’s saga and personality; such an oversimplification would be a disservice to his unparalleled understanding of music’s cathartic powers, as well as his unique ability to convey those powers like no other musician in past or present times. That infectious spirit which can rouse an audience, that can offer them sustained moments of absolute catharsis and primitive and uninhibited joyfulness – that is instead what makes Iggy Pop the once-in-a-lifetime performer and artist that he is. And this quality has never been more evident than during the performance that Pop, together with his extraordinary band of co-conspirators, carried out at the Royal Albert Hall.
For a man like Pop, a place like London’s historic Royal Albert Hall epitomizes a tradition of pristine perfection that he has raged against for the long five decades of his career – a place so immaculate and beautiful that one cannot even move through its circular corridors without feeling the weight of history pushing against its every bend. Unlike the unmarred premises of the venue, Pop’s music has never been afraid to reveal its flaws. Beginning with the Stooges and pushing on with his Berlin classics to the decades-long creative trawl that followed until the splendid Post Pop Depression revitalized his musical spirit, Iggy Pop’s music has always been about the celebration of imperfections in humankind, about the honest admittance of one’s flaws, and the resolve to accept them, appreciate them, and to harness them in a meaningful and dynamic way.
Yet, with all that said, it seems that the Royal Albert Hall, through its grandiloquent claim to perfection alone, happened to be the ideal place for Pop to put on view the power of his personality, his spirit, and the music that propels his energy outward into the world.
From the onset of the show, Pop lay waste to any form of decorum or formality at the famed venue. Clad in black blazer and leaping forth with the opening chords of Lust For Life, it didn’t take long for Pop to rid himself of the unnecessary clothing and to provoke the audience to push against the security and rush towards him. “Free the people!” he shouted at the security separating the people from the first few rows of the floor with the rest, inciting cheers and further pushes from the onlookers towards the stage. This wasn’t going to be just another show with the audience merely expected to dispassionately sway back and forth to dispassionate figures on a stage. A show like this was to be a purely collaborative effort, an exchange of impassioned energies between those performing the music and those looking on.
This is something that Pop understands more than any other contemporary musician. His “job” as an artist – as he likes to call it himself – isn’t to further encourage dispassion and apathy, but to go to war with it, and to prove throughout that tussle that there are more dynamic, productive, and gratifying ways to engage as both an artist and an audience member than to purely stand and sing along. It is because of this perhaps that Pop relentlessly refuses to remain in just one place when he is on stage: If he is not staring at the rafters with hands clasped as a thank you to those up above, he is running to the sides to engage with the audience at the periphery – or he is diving into and over the crowd that is watching him in awe from below.
And this is also why when a fan lovingly climbs on stage to dance with Pop, he doesn’t protest it at all, putting his arms around her instead, letting her plant a kiss on him, and dancing with her until she, by her own volition, makes her way, elatedly, down to the floor.
What Pop makes clear with this form of kindness is that he trusts his audience, and that, as a matter of fact, he expects them to be so spirited and impassioned. If perchance they aren’t – which rarely is the case – he goads them on until they are, just as he did in the beginning of the show to the security, shouting at them, time and time again, to free the fucking people until they finally relented. Those howls at the authorities were merely his way of pledging to them that no one means any harm here, that all that these people want is a good time unbounded by so many unnecessary restrictions.
And as the security slowly comes to realize on their own that none of these fans mean any harm to Pop and company, more and more fans manage to climb the stage to embrace their hero – this idol wishing less to be worshiped than to simply be joined, as he puts every bit of his heart into imparting to his audience that there is no limit to exuberance if one is just in the right place for it. Each fan that makes his or her way onto the stage, each fan that reaches out for a piece of Pop’s flesh from below or for his hands on the sides is simply craving for their private moment with Iggy Pop. And each of them get to have that singular moment as a result of Pop’s own personal crusade to prove to every single person in attendance that there is more to life than just pacified contentment, as a result of his conscious resolve to make every fan reaching out for him feel that they’ve been acknowledged and embraced, made to feel significant, as though they are more than just an audience member, that they are just as vital to the atmosphere as the music being shaped by Josh Homme and company and Iggy Pop himself.
And it’s true: They are just as significant and just as vital.
And beyond the marvelous songs played off the profound Post Pop Depression, the older music that Pop, Homme, and their band rolled through –traversing the dark soundscapes of Sister Midnight, Nightclubbing, Baby, Funtime, China Girl and the ominous Mass Production to the sweeter but desperate sounds of Lust For Life, The Passenger, Tonight, Sixteen, and Success – never felt as though the artist was wading through the past in search of some former glory. That glory was ever-present, with each song reconfigured and revitalized by the band, and bolstered by Iggy’s own refusal to tell tired tales of old or to encourage an atmosphere of nostalgic longing.
The atmosphere, however, nevertheless proved so buoyant and cheerful that even when Pop tried to perform the crosser or more brooding songs of his oeuvre, he couldn’t quite channel the anger that he had left behind in the studio. Paraguay’s vehemence was instead delivered with a smile by Pop, as if to tell the London crowd that they weren’t at all subject to his inexhaustible fury over the modern world – or at least they weren’t anymore, having already proved themselves to him that night. Even the fear of death, as heard through American Valhalla, was subdued by the unbridled joy and energy awakened on that auspicious night.
Ultimately, it happened to be precisely a place as seemingly faultless, upright, and calm as the Albert Hall that proved to have had the distinctive makeup to bring to light, properly, Pop’s spontaneous, unrefined, and fierce power of performance, together with the dynamic music that it consistently brings to life. Only in a setting that seems so serene on both the inside and out can one experience just how immediately Pop and his music can break through every barrier of formality, repression, and unconcern, to decisively bring to life a world and a people that just moments prior might have seemed so static, lifeless, and, as often is the case, so suspiciously faultless. It takes mere moments for Pop to enliven and ignite the passions and the hungers of his audience, encouraging them, in the light of his own example, to shed any and all of their pretense, and reveal their desperate, fervent, and unabashedly flawed selves instead: the ones that crave for movement, for collective catharsis, and for an escape from the humdrum stasis of daily life, dancing and swaying and outstretching their hands and arms to music that celebrates imperfections, and joined as they are by the man at the center of it all, who proves to them, time and time again, that nothing is more important than simply being alive, and living that volatile, tempestuous life to its fullest possible extent.