For anyone who ever played “Raw Power” or “Metallic KO” so loud you were yelled at, this was a sight you never thought you’d see: Iggy Pop with an acoustic guitar flanked by a bongo player and an electric bassist. Soft in tone, yes, but with the trademark intensity of this rock ‘n’ roll madman intact, the evening was a journey through half of Pop’s new Virgin disc, “Avenue B,” with a handful of classics tossed in — a version of “unplugged” so unique it might never be approached again.
New album is so un-Pop: Spoken word, tender ballads and a cover of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over.” Just as Pop shocked his longtime fans in 1977 with the arty “The Idiot” and in 1986 with the dance-oriented “Blah Blah Blah,” this is yet another outrageous sidestep.
The pairing of old and new material — remember, only the Ramones used to top Pop in economy of words — revealed his songwriting evolution from the visceral to the cerebral.
Pop placed a Stooge ode to boredom, “1969,” alongside “Avenue B’s” “Long Distance” — two songs built on the thought process in which he announces his age — 21 and 50 — and the trials of being alone. In “1969,” played Tuesday with nerve-splintering pungency, he emphasized the layered lyrics that repeat half a line and then add a few more words, like a rumination blossoming into a tack.
In the laconic “Long Distance,” he allows his thoughts to flow more freely, with little care for a resolution: a break-up has left him alone with no friends to invite over, only the hope that someone from another city might be home and willing to take his phone call.
The two are brilliant takes on aging and relationships and the hushed (!) Viper Room crowd ate up every last word as if he were reading each individual’s journal. “Avenue B” is the product of heartache and no compromise; lyrically it’s a stunning work though musically it won’t attract the die-hard Pop fans. New recruits will really have to wonder where to venture next in the Iggy oeuvre. But in 45 rare minutes, Pop had an industry-heavy crowd sold on this brave concept.
Pop will perform another acoustic show tonight at Shine in New York. A full, electric tour will start at the end of October to support “Avenue B,” which will be released Tuesday.