Live Report: Iggy Pop - Barbican, London

Live Report: Iggy Pop - Barbican, London

Jim Osterberg is no ordinary 72 year old...

This is my third time seeing Iggy live. Twice in a field, off my face, this time in London's elegant Barbican theatre and sober. I’m pretty sure everyone in the room wasn’t sure what they were going to get from one of rock and roll’s most raucous performers (who invented the stage dive) in a sit down, sophisticated setting as part of a jazz festival.

Yeah, but he’s 72 now, you might say. Hmm, Jim Osterberg is no ordinary 72 year old.

Ig gigs of old are usually full of aggressive theatricality as he throws and contorts himself around whatever floor he happens to be on. But this time we begin sat in our seats, listening to him as he stands still under a spotlight as he performs his new album 'Free'. Apart from the almost ridiculous ‘James Bond’, which doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the record, each song and spoken word track is performed with the mastery of a man at the top of his vocal game. 

Describing the album as one, “in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice,” and also a product of feeling “drained” following the 2016 tour of his 17th album 'Post Pop Depression', he recently explained his new change of direction: “I began to recoil from guitar riffs in favour of guitar-scapes, from twangs in favour of horns, from back beat in favour of space, and, in large part, from the effluent of my own mind and problems, in favour of trying to interpret the poetry of others.”

Usually an Iggy gig is all about the visual, the experience of watching him dance and flail around. But tonight it’s time to listen. Opening with the sweeping and ethereal titular track 'Free' he repeats, “I wanna be free,” over Leron Thomas’ mournful trumpet.

The stunningly sombre tracks 'Sonali' and 'Glow In The Dark' are breaktakingly beautiful and perfectly fitting for a venue that has the acoustics to hold space for his talented band. And he still manages to perform with a stage presence like no other. His old moves are there, just more refined and less chaotic. 

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Later, introducing 'Page' from the new album, he reveals it was written about a break up, “and the damage and weirdness that comes with that.” Twenty minutes later, he performs 'I Want To Go The Beach' from 2009's 'Préliminaires': “It’s about when I was depressed,” he tells us. “I didn’t think I’d ever be able to record it, or find a home for it. I didn’t think I’d ever do it live.”

He’s in a reflective stage in his life and sounds genuinely grateful when he thanks us for listening to these intimate performances. But was this a purely melancholic evening? Na, course not.

Halfway through, Ig tells us “it’s time for some songs from the 70s,” to which the crowd exult. Following a slick performance of 'Sister Midnight' from his 1977 seminal solo album 'The Idiot', we’re now in full blown Iggy mode and 1973 Stooges song 'Death Trip' (with spot on lead guitar licks from Greg Fauque) has members of the audience (me included) leaving their swanky seats and legging it down to the front of the stage as he heads down into the crowd.

Fuck the Barbican, this is Iggy, let’s lose our shit!

Suddenly I’m dancing next to him in a hot sweaty circle and it feels like 1973, my legs go to jelly and my heart’s pounding. In a flash he’s back up on the stage and I’m fully hyped. This is only half way through and I spend the rest of the evening in full worship.

More from 'The Idiot' ('Mass Production' and 'Nightclubbing') plus 70s/80s frenetic numbers 'Run Like A Villain' and 'Five Foot One', he’s over to the crowd again and one woman can’t stop herself from rubbing his stomach and tying her scarf around his knee.

The final track from his new album, 'The Dawn', brings us back to the current Iggy, poignant and brooding. The lyrics talk of, “the few moments that make life any fucking good”, and how, “to lay down is to give up. You’ve got to do something.”

And with that, he closes the night with a full power version of the hilariously wild, 'People, Places, Parties'. Adapted from the Sleaford Mods’ 2009 song 'Chop Chop Chop', it features him recounting various sex and drug-related mishaps of his rock star past.

As he cries three times in the song, “and somehow, I survived!” the audience are in raptures, celebrating him, loving him, so grateful he’s still here. He stalks off stage, chucking his mic stand, before returning to thank us one more time: “You’ve made me so happy. You are my friends.”

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Words: Lisa Higgins
Photo Credit: Emile Holba

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