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Review: The Stooges, “Have Some Fun: Live at Ungano’s”

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Perhaps more than any other band, you can learn a great deal about The Stooges without ever taking a really close listen to their music.

For instance, when Raw Power, the band’s final album before a lengthy split, was remastered and reissued in 1997, chaotic lead singer Iggy Pop personally remastered the album to be as unlistenable as possible. Volume levels were at a violent, threatening level – a potent reminder of the band’s sonic death wish and Pop’s iconic, self-destructive attitude. The album was restored to its original, David Bowie-created mix in a deluxe Legacy Edition earlier this year – but the simplest explanation of the essence of the group came in one quick moment on the bonus live set in Georgia, where an audience member can clearly be heard saying of the snarling, uncontrollable singer, “I don’t think he likes us.”

If you needed more proof that The Stooges can only be truly understood when the music takes a back seat, look no further than Rhino Handmade’s new Have Some Fun: Live at Ungano’s. It’s the latest in a flurry of catalogue activity for the band (named to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year); all three of the band’s original albums were reissued in some way to commemorate the occasion (the Elektra-owned The Stooges was given its second expanded reissue through Rhino Handmade, its successor Fun House had the classic Handmade seven-disc sessions box put back into print and Raw Power – the group’s only release on Columbia – was given the Legacy and deluxe box set treatment). Again, all of those sets were fleetingly about the essence of the music itself – 197o: The Complete Fun House Sessions is a monolithic tribute to how improbable it was to capture the unfettered energy of The Stooges by audio alone – and Live at Ungano’s is no exception.

The spoken-word revelation comes early in the set, with a group of inexplicably recorded Ungano’s patrons talking about the band they’re going to see while heading to the venue. They compare The Stooges to MC5 (another Michigan-based proto-punk outfit) and Mick Jagger, and one proclaims Fun House as “4500 times better” than its predecessor. What follows is a taut set, nearly 40 minutes’ worth, of classic Stooges: raucous, noisy and unintelligible. And it’s those qualities – as with every Stooges set – that will make or break your enjoyment or need for this set.

You see, Have Some Fun is not some pristine tape locked away in a temperature-controlled vault for future generations to fall in love with. It’s a reel-to-reel-sourced recording, and there’s nothing technically astute about it. The sound is occasionally distorted, as Ron Asheton might launch into an angry set of chords, Iggy starts screaming bloody murder or Scott Mackay squawks out a line or two on the saxophone. Other times the sound just warbles as though the tape was about to rotate off the machine, or as if the machine was about to rotate out of the venue. In other words? It sounds like crap, compared to what one expects a live album to sound like.

But maybe that’s the point. Once again, Rhino has helped music fans realize that the appeal and impact of The Stooges had almost nothing to do with music and almost everything to do with sound. While these tracks are riffy, powerful statements in a world that hadn’t learned to quantify such music as punk rock, they’re noisy, obnoxious and mad as hell – just like the punkiest of punk outfits before them. Have Some Fun: Live at Ungano’s captures that essence perfectly, even if it doesn’t offer much more than scraps on the audio side of things; you’ve heard most of these songs before with greater clarity, not counting the malformed jam “Have Some Fun/My Dream is Dead.” (Two reproduced 3 x 5 photographs from the show, featuring Iggy Pop bleating and writhing in the middle of the sparse, young crowd, are nice bits of swag, and the essay adds the color to the picture of The Stooges that we wish we could draw from other sources, namely any vintage filmed performances of the band. The set may also feature the best front cover of any Stooges work, with Iggy sullenly flipping off the crowd with both hands.)

If you’re looking for some sort of sonic revelation from The Stooges with Have Some Fun, keep looking. But if you want another reminder of how bizarrely influential these Michigan men were without even knowing it, this package will be right up your alley, no peanut butter and broken glass necessary.

Written by Mike Duquette

November 22, 2010 at 10:45

Posted in Reissues, Reviews, The Stooges

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