Detroit Rock Icons James Williamson and Deniz Tek Reinvent Stooges Classics
You might think that a collaboration between the two greatest living Detroit guitarists would be a conflagration second to none. That’s a new album whose unexpected intensity will no doubt be echoed at Bowery Electric on April Fool’s Day – no fooling – when one of the guys on it, Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman joins the Fleshtones’ Keith Streng, leading their brand-new band to kick off their upcoming world tour. Another first-class, gritty guitarist, Palmyra Delran and her group open the night at 8; cover is a measly $10.
Tek, the incendiary master of chromatic, distantly Middle Eastern-flavored guitar rock, has a brand-new ep, wryly titled Acoustic K.O., with the Stooges’ James Williamson, due out tomorrow. A nod to the legendary Stooges double live album Metallic K.O., a more apt if less witty title would be Symphonic K.O. Although both Tek and Williamson completely flip the script and play acoustic here, the story is how lavishly and richly orchestrated this is. For anyone who thinks that symphonic Stooges might fall in the same bloated nightmare-world as orchestral Jethro Tull, this is a wake-up call.
The first track is I Need Somebody, which makes perfect sense since the Raw Power original bristle with spiky picking. Tek’s rasp does justice to Iggy’s original vocal, and the band has stunning intensity for an all-acoustic unit: Michael Urbano on drums, Gregg Foreman on piano, Petra Haden and Annie Hardy on violins, with Bob Glaub’s old Kay hollowbody bass being the only electric instrument on the record.
Penetration is even more radically reinvented, arguably to the point of being superior to the original. The Awesome Orchestra’s dynamically shifting backdrop, with its washes of strings, brass and concert harp, is a revelation. On any other album, the achingly gorgeous, titanically orchestrated take of the instrumental Night Theme – penned by Williamson and Scott Thurston, originally released on one of the multiple versions of the Kill City album that have surfaced over the years – would be the highlight. But that designation goes to No Sense of Crime, Kill City’s mostly-acoustic, pinpoint-eyed centerpiece. “Drugs and death are our place in time,” Tek and Haden harmonize. Thousands of bands have done Stooges tributes over the years; it makes sense that the best of them all would be by these two insiders.
Tek hasn’t done a lot of acoustic work, but what there is out there is underrated: not only is he one of the greatest guitarists ever to come out of Detroit (via Sydney, with Radio Birdman); he’s one of the greatest guitarists ever. And Williamson more than validates the argument that he’s every bit the equal of Keith Richards, and has been since his days when no less iconic a guitarist as Ron Asheton moved to bass to make room for him.