stooges1971If someone had told you six years ago that a treasure trove of unreleased Stooges recordings had been unearthed and was being carefully restored to listenable quality with the intention of it being legitimately unleashed and wrapped in high-quality packaging, you'd have told them to remove their hand from their pants or switch medication. Not to condemn all of what had gone before under the guise of "semi-official" but most Stoogeaholics had fallen for one sub-par sounding, misleadingly re-named disc too many. Then UK label Easy Action came along and (again) turned perceived wisdom on its head.

If you're a Stoogefan - and why would you be reading this otherwise - you'll already know this is the most important audio document of these guys to emerge since the "Fun House" box set. (Possibly moreso, 'cos you'll play this more than twice. I mean, how many stop-start takes of "1970" so you really need to hear?) So I'll address the balance of this review to the waverers - those who might be considering taking the plunge but are holding back because they've been previously burned by some dodgy bootlegger.

The back-story simply put: This is the second Asheton-Williamson twin-guitar line-up that existed for a matter of months in 1971. Bill Cheatham had briefly held down the bass spot before the reputedly more accomplished Jimmy Recca took it on. Williamson had joined in the wake of the first two albums and the recording of a third, at least by this configuration, would not happen. By August '71, the Stooges were no more.

The first two discs are from shows at New York City's Electric Circus club, a Warhol crowd hang-out on St Mark's Place, a ballroom that was then in distinct decline. Part of the place's problem was that the Black Panthers had let off a bomb on the dancefloor a few months earlier but that must have been a firecracker compared to the detonation represented by these shows. Both sets are identical and Ig's vocals are close to buried, but the band's as sharp as razor blades and much more dangerous.

"I Got a Right" is the one familiar song; the rest were all briefly in the setlist and the legitimacy of their titles is in dispute - mainly because that wasn't something anyone wrote down back then. "You Don't Want My Name" is the archetypal number…a rolling, ominous Recca bass-line pins it down while the guitarists alternately anchor the rhythm line or tear the sky a near arsehole with flaming lead-play. "Fresh Rag" is similarly intense and evidently gave the vocalist a nightly source of amusement in seeing how offensive an alternate title he could conjure up. "Dead Body/"Who Do You Love" is an uber vamp that must have bludgeoned audiences to death.

Iggy croons "The Shadow Of Your Smile" a cappella during a break on the 14 August show and the receptive comments (these are all audience recordings) give you an idea of what the band was up against. To be fair, the songs were totally unfamiliar which, as James Williamson intimated in his recent I-94 Bar interview, is a curious way to win friends and influence people in the live setting.

Disc Three is from a show in St Louis that's done the rounds as a shoddy bootleg. The sound's sourced from a much better quality tape and is considerably cleaner. This gig was truncated when Iggy hit Ron with a microphone he was throwing around and word from Craig Petty, a fan who snapped some of the photos in the lavish package, is that the Stooges were stiffed their payment for not playing the allotted time. The six songs the crowd got were more than value for money.

Quick observation: The ironic thing is that for all the talk of Radio Birdman being so heavily influenced by the Stooges, these songs (coincidentally) sound more like them than the "Fun House" and "The Stooges" tunes they covered. I know Deniz Tek never saw this configuration (he would have loved to) but there's no mistaking the parallel between the way both bands employed lead and rhythm guitar parts.

The final disc from the last show of the tour (also in St Louis) is sonically a little rougher in the first half but musically very together with another song ("Do You Want My Love") appended. It's not radically different from "Who Do You Love?" but worthy of hearing regardless as the band takes it down and then steps back up a gear.

The final two songs (and lengthy band/audience conversation) are from a Pop-and-Williamson-less set at Wampler's Lake in Michigan in July '71, presumably a rent-payer with the band now in disarray or dissolution - most likely both. The first cut is an instro jam that highlights Jimmy Recca's adept bass-playing, the other an updated version of "What You Gonna Do", a very early (1968) Stooge-tune presumably sung by Ron.

Probably the most satisfying EA chronicle to date. Your excuse for not chasing one down is…? - The Barman


A year that saw both Ron Asheton’s death and James Williamson’s return to the fold (not having lost a step in 35 years, from the evidence of the Sao Paulo vids on Youtube) has brought unexpected bounty for hardcore Stoogeaphiles: a box set of audience recordings from the late 1970-1971 lineup that included both Ron and James on guitars, previously only represented on disc by an execrable bootleg of a St. Louis show, a better version of which is contained herein. This set’s a quantum leap over that shoddy release, with Easy Action’s usual sumptuous packaging and attention to detail (bound like a book, including replica Polaroids and a ticket to a concert at a high school on Long Island!). Does anyone do a better job with archival releases of this music? I think not.

Big caveat: Yes, these are audience recordings, so don’t expect pristine fidelity, but for anyone who’s shelled out for stuff like “Metallic K.O.” in its myriad versions or, say, “Double Danger”, this should be more than acceptable, for these tapes are of much more than “historical significance.” When the band’s in full flight, it’s Iggy’s vocals that get short shrift, so you can probably forget about learning the lyrics to any of these songs, but it’s the instrumental unit that’s the real draw here, so forewarned is forearmed. And Ig’s between-song audience baiting, some of it delivered in an irritating Butterfly McQueen falsetto, is reasonably audible for them that wants to hear it.

Up until their resurrection in 2003, the Stooges never played “old stuff,” so by the time you caught ‘em live back in the day, they were likely as not to be jamming a set of material newer than the current album you just bought. This particular set of songs was their show after they were dropped from Elektra and before they disintegrated and subsequently reformed in their Raw Power incarnation. The only one that was ever officially recorded was “I Got a Right,” and that never saw release until they’d folded the tent. One of the difficulties Easy Action honcho Carlton Sandercock faced in compiling this collection was that nobody could seem to remember what the titles to some of the songs were!

Four discs, four shows, about 45 minutes per: two from the Electric Circus in New York, one from the Factory in St. Louis (erroneously listed as Kiel Auditorium on the bootleg), one from the Vanity Ballroom in Detroit (opening night of the tour), along with some snippets from the lineup’s terminal performance at Wampler’s Lake, Michigan. Having two guitars (Ron: Les Paul; James: SG) definitely fattens up the sound, and you can definitely hear the difference in the two players’ lead styles: Ron’s smooth and fluid, while James (who seems to take the bulk of the solos) is jagged and frenetic. The tendency to vamp ad infinitum that was a hallmark of their ’73-’74 shows is already present, as is James’ propensity for writing songs with lots of fast chord changes.

The songs: “I Got a Right,” of course, presaged punk but was written in the year of “Sticky Fingers” and “Who’s Next”; that’s how far ahead of their time these miscreants were. That said, the ringing chords on “You Don’t Want My Name” and “Fresh Rag” are surprisingly reminiscent of the Who. “Dead Body” has a slinky, snaky groove that almost sounds like a precursor to, um, the Nuge’s “Stranglehold,” while showing its roots in Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.” It’s the closest thing to “Funhouse” of anything here, with Iggy importuning the band to “Break it down” and Ron’s wah-wah pedal in full effect. “Big Time Bum” actually surpasses this lineup’s take on “I Got A Right” in the frenzy stakes. “Do You Want My Love?” ups the ante even further, chugging along like an out-of-control locomotive in the manner of “Gimme Some Skin,” with a suitably over-the-top ride from Ron, culminating in a feedback meltdown even more cataclysmic than “L.A. Blues.”

So how do the shows stack up? The sequencing tells the story. The Electric Circus shows are best, with even a hint of bass audible; the Factory one – which ends prematurely when Iggy hits Ron in the head with a flying microphone -- and the Wampler’s Lake fragments which were appended to it on the abysmal Starfighter bootleg still suffer from boomy echo, but no longer sound like the recording microphone was placed across the street from the venue. There’s more definition to the guitars and drums, although the bass remains MIA, and the vocals are at least audible. Weakest of the lot is the Vanity Ballroom show, although it’s clear from the recorded evidence here that the new lineup was playing well at the beginning of the tour, and it’s worth it just to hear some audience member mutter, “Detroit sucks!” at the end of one of the songs.

While I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone that isn’t a dyed-in-the-wool Stoogefan to plop down 50 Yankee dollars to hear this set, if you’ve already got the Rhino “Complete Fun House Sessions” box and all those Revenge/Bomp/Easy Action releases of the post-Raw Power material (which have a mysterious appeal far beyond their intrinsic merit, possibly because no definitive versions of the songs exist the way they do for the earlier stuff), then you probably own this one already, too, and can vouch for me when I say that “You Don’t Want My Name, You Want My Action” delivers on its promise. This is raw, hot, vital music, too advanced to release in its time. Sure, the wheels were about to fly off this engine, but we now we know how the story ends: with validation and a payday. Myself, I’m still waiting for someone to release some live Funhouse-era Stooges (like the fabled Ungano’s show that Easy Action supposedly lost to Rhino before the L.A. reissue label’s staff was decimated). Film, as they say, at 11. - Ken Shimamoto



Easy Action