By DONNA BALANCIA
James Williamson’s response to challenge is change.
Williamson took select Stooges songs, recruited top talent to record the vocals, and created the latest “Superband” of Alternative A-listers.
The resulting album, Re-Licked, is different than any recording Stooges fans might have predicted.
And now, Williamson’s latest band is taking its act on the road — at least once.
On Jan. 16, the group which includes The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and Dead Kennedys former frontman Jello Biafra, will perform cuts from Re-Licked, appropriately enough, at Bootleg HiFi on Beverly in LA.
“I’ll probably never be able to do it again, although a lot of people are already asking for it and we haven’t even done it yet,” Williamson said of the upcoming performance. “We had bounced it around a lot. Everybody on the album kept saying we should do this live, but the logistics of getting them all together is pretty daunting.”
Williamson and his bandmembers, drummer Michael Urbano, bassist Dan Rothchild, and keyboardist Gregg Foreman will back up Mosshart; Biafra; Lisa Kekaula of the BellRays; Joe Cardamone of The Icarus Line; and Jesse Malin, formerly of D Generation.
Re-Licked is comprised of lesser-heard songs written by Williamson and the Stooges’ famous frontman Iggy Pop. And as is typical of any rocker-turned-techie-turned-rocker again, Williamson has broken the songs down, assigning each a decidedly new role, and surprisingly welcome gender-neutral cachet.
“I feel really lucky to have these people performing and the guys are good, but the women are unbelievable,” Williamson told CaliforniaRocker.com.
Next week’s superstar performance of the only (for now) Re-Licked show will be a defining moment that the audience can enthusiastically support, perhaps without comparisons to rarely heard, prior renditions of the underground-circulated songs.
Oddly, the standard mark of the new “superband” phenomenon — consider The New Basement Tapes comprised of Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, Taylor Goldsmith and Shannon Giddens — seems to be the absence of (and simultaneous tribute to) the most central figure. In the case of The New Basement Tapes, the band created and recorded music for the writings of Bob Dylan. That was followed by a terrific one-off performance in Hollywood. SEE #TNBT VIDEO
So, of course, the obvious drawback with the Re-Licked show is that Iggy won’t be on hand to sing his own songs.
But on an evening when not only Williamson and Iggy’s mutual friends are all on stage together, across town in West Hollywood, Handsome Dick Manitoba’s Dictators will be out from New York to play. So one can always hope.
They say, “Change is good,” and it may take a while to realize that, and at the very least, change is inspiring. Much in the way that the entire Re-Licked effort is inspiring — on several levels.
For one thing, Williamson’s gargantuan task of assembling the talent and scheduling them to record could require a degree in social engineering and advanced calendar management. He already has the degree in technology, obtained when the Stooges were in flux and the band’s future uncertain.
For Re-Licked, Williamson traveled near and far tracking down leads on artists, such as Carolyn Wonderland whom he thought could be appropriate and agile enough to interpret and appealingly present some challenging material.
It’s unfortunate that in their day, the Stooges songs that would be on Re-Licked didn’t get a lot of play, but like Kekaula singing Iggy’s “I Gotta Right,” that could actually work in the artist’s favor.
So one common trait Williamson shares with partners on this project is confidence.
With the reviews and the distribution of the March, 2014 recording well in hand, the show then becomes the central focus.
“Most promoters wouldn’t be able to afford this cavalcade of stars coming from all over the world to do a show,” Williamson said. “As it turns out we’re doing a few songs for the Carson Daly Show so we’re already in LA to do that.
“I just said to some of the people coming, ‘Hey we’re already here why don’t we just do a show?’ and everybody wanted to do that, and they decided to stick around for an extra day and do it and that’s how it happened.
“All these singers came because they wanted to do it,” he said. “I’m very flattered they’d spend their time, energy and talents on my record.”
While it may not have been there during its own time, over the last three decades, there has been a growing wave of respect for 70s-era music. Stooges music in particular has found its place among an enthusiastic and younger audience looking for a different sound.
“We’re kind of like the old blues guys,” Williamson said of the Stooges’ resurgence. “When I was growing up we had Eric Clapton, Cream, The Rolling Stones, we thought they were cool and everything, then we came to find out they weren’t the guys, the real guys were the blues guys. And we went to see them while they were still alive. That’s sort of how it is for us now. They recognize us as the guys that were authentic original sources of that music.”
Naturally, the respect of younger artists for the music and style of the Stooges emerges as enthusiastic collaborations. It could be argued that Iggy, who more than held his own as a solo act, was an innovator in the area of era-spanning collaborations. Among the bands and artists with whom he has collaborated are Sum 41, Green Day, Peaches, Cat Power, Kesha and many others. He will be working two shows in June with The Foo Fighters.
Williamson, on the other hand, seems to be oblivious to the age of the musicians with whom he’s working, saying that he is working with the most active musicians in the business.
“I honestly feel lucky not only to attract these people but to get these performances out them and these musicians,” Williamson said. “You can really tell on this album the people were excited to do it. It comes across, the enthusiasm is there and that’s a kind of magic you can’t predict and you can’t expect to get it. You’re just lucky when you do.”