Rare Chance to see Rock ‘n’ Roll Legend Iggy Pop in Hungary


File photo shows Iggy Pop during his performance at the Metronome Festival in Prague, the Czech Republic, on June 25, 2016.

Photo by yakub88 / Shutterstock.com

On July 30, somewhat battered but still vital rock and roll icon Iggy Pop will play Veszprém’s newly opened pop-up venue Factory’ard CulturePark. He appears with his band as part of the Veszprém-Balaton 2023 European Capital of Culture program.

Now 76, Iggy (real name James Newell Osterberg Jr.) achieved notoriety around 1967. Early appearances featured Pop with his face painted silver wearing a maternity smock playing an amplified vacuum cleaner as frontman for Iggy and the Stooges. He became a punk rock icon in 1970 when, appearing at the Cincinnati Pop Festival, he was filmed balancing on the raised hands of the audience covering himself in peanut butter.

From then on, Pop achieved a name for himself by challenging audiences, cutting himself on stage, being knocked unconscious by a member of a biker gang, and generally being as confrontational as he could.

Pop has paid the price for pushing his body to the limit for decades. Today, he prowls the stage with a pronounced limp. Although his performances have mellowed enormously, he still does his best to provoke, albeit with a smile on his face.

I’ve seen Pop perform several times since the late 1970s, and there’s never been any sense that he’s going through the motions. The last time I saw him, he bounded on stage and midway through the first number was crowd surfing, held aloft by a gleefully baying crowd made up of fans, including me.

Liberation is the essence of a Pop performance. He’s the onstage embodiment of rock and roll’s promise of freedom. If you go to Veszprém, check out the people around you. I guarantee they’ll be transformed, their faces wearing a mixture of glee, cartoonish defiance and bemusement.

But the primal rock and roll joy of being part of a Pop performance shouldn’t ever obscure the power of the music.

Deceptively Simplistic

The sound created by Iggy and the Stooges took the aggressive stomp of 1960s British bands such as the Who and Rolling Stones, the knowingly dumb simplicity of American garage-punk acts like the Kingsmen and the confrontational psychedelic smarts of the Doors and refined them into a deceptively simplistic roar.

In 1968, the Stooges released their first album, “The Stooges,” to widespread indifference. It was followed by “Fun House.” Neither did more than reach the lower numbers of the American album charts. Today, they’re regarded as classics.

Appraising the debut album on the Allmusic website, Mark Deming wrote, “The band managed the difficult feat of sounding ahead of their time and entirely out of their time, all at once.”

Self-revered rock and roll critic Robert Christgau wrote of the second album, “Now I regret all the times I’ve used words like ‘power’ and ‘energy’ to describe rock and roll because this is what such rhetoric should have been saved for. Shall I compare it to an atom bomb? A wrecker’s ball? A hydroelectric plant? Language wasn’t designed for the job.”

Hamstrung by poverty, made even worse by addiction to hard drugs and the alcohol-related death of an original band member, the Stooges staggered on. Their performances became hit-and-miss, but on a good night, they were impossible to follow. Then, in 1971, Pop met a rabid fan: David Bowie.

Bowie got the band a record deal that resulted in the now classic 1973 “Raw Power” album, which blew me away as a 15-year-old punk obsessive. Like its predecessors, it was a failure commercially but hailed by rock and roll critics with a taste for the extreme.

‘Fascinating and Authentic’

Gonzo rock critic Lester Bangs wrote of “Raw Power” and the Stooges, “Whether you laugh at them or accept their chaotic rumble on its own terms, they’re fascinating and authentic, the apotheosis of every parental nightmare.”

Despite receiving Bowie’s blessing, the Stooges continued their downward plummet to oblivion. The band split. Pop spent time living in a garage in Los Angeles and committed himself to a mental institution suffering from the side effects of horrendous heroin addiction.

Bowie and Pop reconnected when the latter was at his lowest ebb around 1975. It took a while, but eventually, they got it together sufficiently to record what became “The Idiot” album in 1976. Described by Pop as “a cross between James Brown and Kraftwerk,” the album was far more successful than anything the Stooges had ever done, making it into the U.S., U.K., and Australian charts.

“The Idiot” was also serendipitously timed to bring Pop to the attention of a new, younger audience who only knew of him as a legend, and he began touring the United Kingdom and the States. He followed that album with the superb, groundbreaking “Lust for Life” in 1977.

It included Pop classics, its title track and “The Passenger.” Featured in movies and TV commercials, these have gone a long way to secure Pop a healthy degree of financial security. Now touring his 19th album “Frenzy,” Pop lives in Miami, Florida, with an Amazonesque Argentinian former model.

“Frenzy” mostly features punkish hard rock, emphasizing that Pop has no intention of going quietly. The galloping title track includes the apt line, “My mind is on fire when I ought to retire.” But it also includes quieter, more intriguing cuts such as “New Atlantis,” a twisted hymn to Pop’s adopted Miami.

If you do choose to head for Veszprém to catch Iggy Pop and his band, the inaptly named Losers, which may well include Guns and Roses bass guitarist Duff McKagan, you’ll have the opportunity to witness one of rock and roll’s authentic originals in glorious action.

Go to www.veszpreminfo.hu for ticket information.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of June 30, 2023.

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